Pride 2011 • The mom of Caven Enterprises

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From cooking Thanksgiving dinner for Daire Center clients to heading up the team that builds the Caven parade float, parade co-grand marshal Chris Bengston has been a force behind the scenes of the community for 26 years

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

GRAND MARSHAL

When Caven Enterprises’ Chris Bengston saw the list of people nominated for grand marshal of Dallas’ 2011 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, her name was not on it. And she wasn’t at the Dallas Tavern Guild meeting where her name was added.

So when Caven Enterprises President Gregg Kilhoffer called her to come back to the office, she had no idea what was going on.

When Kilhoffer called, he told her that there was an incident at one of the bars and her name was involved. So Bengston ran back to the office as quickly as possible, frantically trying to figure out what she had done.

Actually, everyone at Caven Enterprises just wanted to see her face when she found out that she would be one of this year’s Pride parade grand marshals.

What they saw there on her face was shock.

To Bengston, all of the events she planned and dinners she cooked and money she raised for practically every organization in the city over the years was just something she always did out of love for the community.

“I guess people were paying attention to what I was doing,” she said, still incredulous that she would have been named to lead the parade.
Kilhoffer calls Bengston the company’s mom.

Before moving to Dallas, Bengston was married. Her husband served in the Army and went to Vietnam.

“When he came back, things didn’t work out,”she said, adding that she just never remarried.

“That’s just the way things worked out,” she said.

But when she was in her 40s, Bengston became pregnant, even though, she said, “I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant.”

Her son, Alex, was the first Caven baby. He’s now a sophomore at Texas State University in San Marcos.

But while Alex was the first Caven baby, he wasn’t the last.

“What’s neat,” Bengston said, “are the number of employees with children now.”

Kilhoffer said several employees became like a dad to Alex.

When Alex was young, Bengston took a number of young Caven employees along with her son on a variety of outings — to the Fort Worth Zoo or the Arboretum or sporting events. She exposed many young people to things they’d never done before.

Kilhoffer said Bengston gave many of the company’s young employees the family they never had. He said she was “Caven’s own Youth First Texas” and “It Gets Better” campaign before either existed.

“I’m constantly getting emails about her, thanking her for going above and beyond,” Kilhoffer said. “She’ll drop anything she’s doing to help anyone.”
Bengston has been involved in hundreds of projects over the years that benefited the community.

One of her fondest memories is working with the Daire Center, an adult daycare center for people with HIV/AIDS, when it was part of Oak Lawn Community Services. Kilhoffer remembers the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that Bengston cooked for the center.

“At 4 in the morning, she’d call to see where I was,” he said. She was already preparing the holiday meal.

He said she spent days, not just cooking, but doing all the shopping and making more than just a ham or turkey. She wanted to make sure, he said, that people who had nowhere else to go would have a holiday celebration that started with hors d’oeuvres and didn’t end until they had her homemade desserts.

“I could go on and on,” Kilhoffer said. “She’s been involved in so many things. Everyone knows they can call on her and she’s the volunteer who will make things happen.”

For years, Bengston and fellow Caven employee Donald Solomon have been involved in the holiday gift project for students at Sam Houston Elementary School. That school, located just a block behind the Cedar Springs bars, is one of the poorest in the Dallas Independent School District. Each year, Caven employees, led by Solomon and Bengston, make sure that every child at the school gets a gift at Christmas.

And before the school year begins, they make sure that there are enough school supplies. During the year, Bengston will get calls from the school for additional items, and she always responds. The Oak Lawn Library also has relied on her help when they’ve needed supplies.

“For Razzle Dazzle Dallas [revived this year by Cedar Springs Merchants Association, of which Caven is a member], she was the one who calmed us down and kept us focused,” Kilhoffer said.

Bengston organized a fundraiser after Hurricane Katrina for people who had been evacuated from New Orleans and were staying at Reunion Arena. And she’s helped stage fashion shows in an alcohol-free Rose Room, located in Caven’s Station 4 bar, to benefit Youth First Texas.

Bengston’s also involved with GayBingo, held monthly in the Rose Room, helping Resource Center Dallas and a variety of other beneficiary organizations raise money. And she helps with LifeWalk. And the Pink Party, which raises money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Much of the $50,000 that the Dallas Bears raised for community groups at their weekend round-up this year came from the Bear Dance — an event that Bengston made sure went off without a hitch.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, Caven lost quite a few employees to AIDS,” Kilhoffer said. “She [Bengston] was such a help to those who were dying, and to their partners. She sat in the hospital and comforted so many people in their last days.”

For years, Bengston spent the night before the parade building Caven’s parade float along with three friends. Then she spent parade day working behind the scenes.
So she’s rarely gotten to just enjoy the parade.

But after she was named grand marshal this year, Bengston said she asked those three friends — Scott Pepin, Stacy Golf and Bill Scott — to join her in the carriage to enjoy the parade with her.

Bengston said she does the things she does because she’s worked in the LGBT community for 26 years and she wants to see it remain strong.

“I am truly blessed,” Bengston said. “I’ve made a very nice living and appreciate all of the years of memories and acceptance. I’ve had the best times of my life here.”

And she plans to keep on giving. But there’s one lesson she said she learned that keeps her humble after years of working with Caven.

After staging so many fundraising events at the Rose Room, Bengston said, “There are so many guys who look better in an evening gown than I do.”

For more information on Caven Enterprises, go online to Caven.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Drawing Dallas

Even with a big family (3 kids and 5 grandkids), retired schoolteacher Richard John du Pont projects a dandy’s fashion sense

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

Name: Richard John du Pont

Occupation: Retired elementary school teacher

Spotted at: Kroger’s on the Strip

Colorful and vibrant, Richard was born and reared in upstate New York in a small town on the Mohawk River called Crescent. Retired since 2003, this tireless educator spent 30 years teaching 4th and 6th grades, and continues as a substitute teacher for the Dallas I.S.D (Sam Houston Elementary and Maple Lawn Elementary). He graduated with a bachelor’s in elementary education from the Central University of Iowa and a has masters in education from North Texas State University at Denton.

A man of taste: This silver-haired taste maker owns an exquisite collection of antiques, tastefully chosen to accent his beautiful home. He also lends his skill and expertise as a salesman to two estate sales and as a sales rep for Metrotex at the four large annual shows at the Dallas Trade Center.

Daddy dearest: This proud patriarch of two sons, one daughter and five grandsons sees family as the root of his life. His close-knit clan lives in the area so he is able to spend a lot of time with his children and grandchildren.

His hobbies include volunteer work for DIFFA, Legacy Counseling Center and Fresh, as well as traveling, reading, working out at Gold’s Gym Uptown, dancing and shopping. He collects vintage clothing and jewelry (more than 100 suits at least — he attends the Cathedral of Hope every Sunday in one of them with an antique brooch), and Converse and Vans shoes.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

A week of being the subject, not the reporter

For the last week or so, we at Dallas Voice have found ourselves in an unusual situation: Being the subject of a story instead of reporting on it.

Well, sort of a story. A grad student from Texas State University in San Marcos has been working on a thesis about gay media, and he wanted to interview — and more notably, videotape — the inner workings of a gay newspaper. In Texas, that means the Voice.

What that has meant is coming into your office and seeing a handsome young man filming you who does not expect you to put cash in his G-string. (I did so anyway, just out of habit.) Andres has been great, if a little pushy. “Let me know if I’m invading your space,” he’d kindly say as he maneuvered his lens closer into my person than anyone since my last colonoscopy. I tried to smile, as I always do in those situations.

It’s odd how you become aware of yourself in ways you probably aren’t when someone isn’t filming you. I have a habit of singing when I walk through the halls or proofread pages; for Andres, that was visual (and aural) gold. Suddenly, my version of Rihanna triggers someone grabbing his camera and shoving it up my nose. He’d zero in on my layouts, and all of a sudden I’d become acutely aware of my notoriously appalling handwriting.

Anyway, yesterday was Andres’ last day in the office filming (he’ll complete interviews later in the summer). And the video diary he put together won’t actually be available until next year, when he submits the thesis for a grade. I hope the professor likes me. Maybe I should buy him an apple.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Texas State music theater students perform Andrew Lippa’s ‘It Gets Better’ song

Playbill.com reports that gay composer and Tony Award nominee Andrew Lippa has released an “It Gets Better” song performed by students in the music theater department at Texas State University in San Marcos. Lippa, known for composing the music from The Addams Family and The Wild Party, teamed with the students while serving as Texas State’s first composer in residence. Watch the performance below.

—  John Wright

Equality Texas action alert on anti-bullying bill

Equality Texas has issued an action alert calling on people to contact their representatives and urge them to vote in favor of HB 1942, an anti-bullying bill by State Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington. The bill has been placed on the House General State Calendar for Monday. Click here to send an email to your state representative. Here’s the full text of Equality Texas’ alert:

ACTION ALERT

Vote is Monday, May 2nd on Anti-Bullying Bill HB 1942!

Fact: Time is running out on the Texas Legislature to pass meaningful legislation to address the loss of life associated with bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment. Barely over one month remains in the Session and lawmakers are focused on the budget and redistricting.

Fact: According to information compiled by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University – San Marcos, there have been four bullying-related suicides of Texas students since the 2009 Legislative Session when lawmakers also failed to pass meaningful legislation.

Fact: House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick has just been placed on the House General State Calendar for Monday, May 2nd.

Fact: We need thousands of Texans to contact their State Representative now and urge passage of  House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick .

We simply cannot allow the clock to run out again without taking meaningful action to protect the lives of Texas children.

Please act now.

Click here to send an email to your State Representative.

—  John Wright