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2000 Biographies

Michelle Barnes
Artist and Director, Community Artists’ Collective 

Michelle Barnes is an artist, educator, community activist, business woman/entrepreneur, wife, mother and-like so many women of the nineties—a juggler!

Although born in Austin, Ms. Barnes has lived in Houston since 1954. She is a product of Houston public schools including Blackshear, Turner, Miller and Yates. After graduation in 1970 from The University of Houston, she began teaching art at Sharpstown Senior High, remaining there for ten years. In 1981, Ms. Barnes started teaching art at the Kinkaid School. Her teaching career in traditional settings ended officially in 1988 at which time she turned her full attention to the development of The Community Artists' Collective as an institution supportive of the African-American artistic community of greater Houston.


Gertrude Barnstone
Artist and Activist 

Native Houstonian Gertrude Barnstone began her art education at the age of seven at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. She received an English degree from Rice University and for several years was active in art and theatre work in Houston.

A sculptor, specializing in "art furniture," Barnstone also has a strong activist history. She served from 1965 to 1970 as an HISD board member, working for desegregation, the free lunch program and other efforts for children. In the early 1970's she produced "Sundown's Treehouse" for Channel 2, a non-commercial children's program. She has served as state president of the Women's Equity Action League and as national president of the Coalition of Women's Art Organizations. She is the founder and president of Artists' Rescue Mission, a group of artists who act in solidarity with artists in trouble spots (their first effort was Sarajevo) by providing art supplies and everyday necessities.


Anita Bunkley
Novelist and Motivational Writer 

Novelist, inspirational educator, and lecturer, Anita Bunkley was voted one of the fifty favorite African American authors of the twentieth century by the on-line African American Literature Book Club. Her anthology, Girlfriends, is a 1999 nominee for an NAACP Image Award, and many of her novels have been Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selections. She has presented inspirational programs throughout the world, including Cairo, Egypt while working with the United States Embassy in 1995.

A full-time writer, Ms. Bunkely is involved with several organizations, including The Houston Writers League, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, and the Federation of Houston Public Women. She has received many awards for her work, including the Stan Houston Literary Award and the Woman of Distinction Award.


Meryl Cohen
Vice President of Education, Planned Parenthood 

Meryl Cohen began her career as a high school biology teacher at the High School for Health Professions, Baylor College of Medicine, and later became a research assistant at Baylor College of Medicine's Population Biology Sexuality Education Program. Since 1982, she has been a Certified Sexuality Educator through American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. For the past 14 years, her career has been education and training of parents and professionals on the wide spectrum of reproductive and sexual health issues. She trains over 2000 people a year.

She has been Vice-president of Education for Planned Parenthood since 1986.


Cath Conlon
Founder; Owner, Blackwood Land Laboratory; Blackwood Construction Company 

Cath Conlon holds several degrees from the University of Texas medical school and the University of Houston. She teaches across the country as part of the Tracking Nature Wilderness and Survival School and has worked extensively in the United States and Costa Rica teaching and lecturing. A native of Texas, Cath is the owner of Blackwood Building Group, a building contracting firm established in 1980.

She established the Blackwood Land institute in 1990 and continues to serve as the Director. Blackwood Land Institute is a living, breathing outdoor classroom suited on 23 acres of land, and features a pond rich with aquatic life, a straw bale house, organic gardens, and hiking trails. Blackwood has been part of the learning process for several schools, and numerous corporations and organizations have utilized Blackwood’s setting for team building, seminars, and other activities


Sarah Cortez
Poet and Police Officer, HPD 

Sarah Cortez is a native Houstonian and a graduate of Rice University. She has published in numerous literary journals as well as in international policing magazines. She won the 1999 PEN Texas Literary award for poetry. Her debut volume of poetry, entitled How to Undress a Cop, will be published soon by Arte Público Press, Houston, Texas.

Ms. Cortez has been a police officer for over six years and still works the streets. She has been a resident writer for Writers in the Schools for the past three years. In addition, she currently holds the position of Visiting Scholar at the University of Houston's Center for Mexican American Studies.


Eunice Drexler Scott
Owner/Chef, Drexler’s Barbeque 

Born in Baldwin, Louisiana, Eunice Drexler Scott was the eleventh of twelve children. After graduating from high school she married and had 4 children. Divorcing some years later, she moved to Texas with her children in 1967. Once in Houston, she worked with Rice Foods for 20 years. In 1982, she and her family opened Drexler's BBQ, a Houston institution.

She has worked hard to raise seven children and now enjoys spending time with her grandchildren. She has been an active member of Bethel Baptist Church for 34 years.


Sissy Farenthold

Sissy (Frances) Farenthold graduated from the University of Texas, Law School in 1949 and worked briefly in her father's law firm. Involvement with the Legal Aid Association and the Corpus Christi human relations Commission led her into party politics. Farenthold served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives and became one of the leaders of   “The Dirty,” a legislative reform group, during her second legislative term in 1972. Farenthold became the first woman to run for governor of Texas since the 1940s. Her platform was based on reform, integrity, equal rights for women, environmental responsibility, and humanized government.

She remained active on the national political scene and in Texas political circles, and served as chair of the National Women's Political Caucus. Currently Farenthold is active in the movement towards nuclear nonproliferation and other international political groups. A pioneer woman in politics, Farenthold has opened the door for other women to follow.


Bettye Fitzpatrick
Resident Company Actress, Alley Theatre 

Bettye Fitzpatrick is in her 43rd consecutive season as a resident company member at the Alley Theater. She has appeared in over 150 roles. Some of her most recent roles include Miss Goodleigh and Mrs. Dilber in A Christmas Carol; Mrs. Tarleton in Misalliance; Grandma in The American Dream; Mag Folan in The Beauty Queen on Leenane; Mildred Peake in Spider’s Web, and many others. Other theater credits include Grandmother in Close Ties at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England, and in her 15th season, Cousin Sook in Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory at the Christ Church Cathedral.

Ms. Fitzpatrick received her BFA from North Texas University. She enjoys fishing and traveling. She believes that theater is a career that you can work on for a lifetime and never learn it all.


Barbara Foorman
Professor of Pediatrics and Reading Researcher 

Barbara is a Professor of Pediatrics, as well as the Director Center of the Center for Academic and Reading Skills at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School. She has authored Scholastic Spelling and Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum. In addition to writing her books, as well as many chapters in journal articles on topics related to language and reading development, she is on the editorial board of the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

Dr. Foreman has been actively involved in outreach to the schools and to the general public through such acts as chairing HISD’s Committee on a Balanced Approach to Reading and having worked to revise and validate the Texas Primary Reading Inventory, used in 83% of the school districts in Texas. Currently, she is a member of the Primary Standards Expert Panel and recently completed membership on the NationalAcademy of Science’s Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children.


Cynthia Freeland
Professor of Philosophy, University of Houston  

Cynthia Freeland's interest in horror dates back at least to the time she was forbidden by her parents to see Psycho when it came out in 1960. She did finally get to see it, and her ambivalent interest in the genre culminated in her most recent book, The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror (Westview Press, October 1999). A native of Michigan, Freeland earned her B.A. (in Philosophy and Psychology) at Michigan State University, and her M.A. (1976) and Ph.D. (1979) at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of numerous articles, abstracts and reviews on topics in aesthetics, ancient philosophy, and feminist theory. She is currently at work on Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction (contracted with Oxford University Press for 2001 publication). Her previous edited books include Philosophy and Film (Routledge 1995) and Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle (Penn State 1998).

She is currently Professor of Philosophy at UH and has also been a faculty member or visiting fellow at several universities nationwide. She served for three years as Associate Dean in the College of Humanities, Fine Arts, and Communication at UH and was also the founding director of the Women's Studies Program, a position she held from 1991 to 1995.


Elizabeth Ghrist
Corporate Director; Former Director, Harris County Commissioner 

Elizabeth Ghrist completed her doctoral work at the University Houston, and is the president of Liz Ghrist & Associates, Inc. She is the advisory director for Chase Bank of Texas, and was director of Entex, Inc from 1974 to 1999. Dr. Ghrist has been involved in a variety of civic and political organizations, including the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), and Foundation for the Retarded. She has served as president of the Republican Women's Club and is the secretary of the County Council of Republican Women.

She has received numerous awards, such as induction into the 1999 Texas Women's Hall of Fame by the Governor's Commission for Women, and the Alice Graham Baker Crusader Award from Neighborhood Centers, Inc.


Hon. Vanessa Gilmore
Federal Judge, U.S. Federal District Court 

Judge Vanessa Gilmore received her J.D. in 1981 from the University of Houston College of Law and has served as the United States District Judge for the Southern District of Texas since June of 1994. Judge Gilmore has given speeches on a variety of issues and is a member of a number of civic and professional organizations, including the Child Advocates Board of Directors and the Federal Bar Association, on the board of which she has served since 1996.

Judge Gilmore has received several awards, including the Makeda Award for 100 Black Women and the 1998 Woman on the Move Award from Texas Executive Women.


Patricia Gras
Journalist & Reporter 

As a reporter, producer, and back-up anchor for Weeknight Edition, Patricia Gras has been working for PBS, Channel 8, and KUHT-TV for ten years. Since her graduation from Columbia University with a Master of Science in Broadcast News in International Reporting, she has been involved in numerous projects and areas. In addition to her work with PBS, she serves in a variety of roles at Gras Production Company, has worked in a variety of roles with Telemundo, and has also worked on several independent projects. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Axlem Silver Award of Absolute Excellence in Electronic Media, and was a Great Plains Film Festival national finalist in 1999.

Patricia is fluent in several languages and has lived in a total of fourteen cities across the United States and the world.


Laura Groppe
Chairman and CEO, Girl Games, Inc.  

Laura Groppe spent seven years as a co-producer and assistant director in the entertainment business. In that time, she received numerous awards, including an Academy Award in 1992 for Best Short Film, “Session Man” and an award for Best Cinematography at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival in 1994. Laura launched Girl Games, Inc. in 1994 in her home state of Texas. Her company is dedicated to providing young women with interactive entertainment that encourages the exploration of cutting-edge technology. Laura regularly addresses women's universities, girls' organizations, and industry seminars with the goal of promoting and encouraging young women in the field of technology.

Laura serves on the national advisory board for Another Chance and Planet 10 (a NASA initiative to get girls into science), in addition to several other organizations. During the rare times that Laura is free, she enjoys surfing, going to movies, and making time for her family and their goat Fritz.


Elaine Kennedy
Announcer/Producer, KUHF Radio  

Elaine Kennedy grew up in a musical family in Waterloo, Iowa, and has studied piano, clarinet, oboe, and voice. Her most unusual job was that of a singing waitress. After surviving three college summers of countless performances, tired feet, and her share of waitressing mishaps, Elaine earned a BA in music from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and decided to pursue a career in radio after a month-long college internship with Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. She then held full-time announcing positions in Bowling Green, Kentucky, WBJC in Baltimore, and WGUC Cincinnati.

Currently, Elaine can be heard middays on Houston's KUHF, 88.7 FM Tuesday through Saturday 10 am to noon.


Yani Rose Keo

Yani Rose Keo received her BA in home economics at the University of Sankum-Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1964, and later received the Social Work Associate Certificate from the Texas Department of Human Services in counseling and career planning. She has held a variety of positions, including that of president for organizations such as Cambodian Garden, Inc. and Khmer Relief Association. She is the volunteer and resource development coordinator as well as the resettlement manager for Refugee Services Alliance.

Yani is fluent in English, French, and Cambodian, and holds membership in a myriad of associations such as the Refugee Women Network Leadership and the Diocese Council on Multiethnic Relations.


Sandy Reese-Kesseler

At the age of thirty-four, Sandy Reese-Kesseler is a woman driven by compassion, knowing that even in America, uncontrollable circumstances can quickly throw a hardworking, financially secure family into the depths of poverty and despair. Sandy has endured many tragedies within her own family, which led her to enroll in the School of Social Work at Abilene Christian University with a goal of working with people whose dignity had been taken away.

For the past seven years, Sandy has been Executive Director of SEARCH, a one-of-a-kind organization that provides resources for homeless people who are committed to rebuilding their lives. She currently leads a team of 106 employees and more than 1,500 volunteers, providing a menu of services including job training, GED preparation and adult education, a health care clinic, and Houston's first childcare Center for homeless children.

Kessler, her husband William, and their daughter Alexis reside in Clear Lake Shores.


Monica Lamb

Monica Lamb spent two years at the University of Houston, where she led the Cougars Basketball Team in scoring in her freshman season. She transferred to the University of Southern California and graduated in 1987. After college, she went on to play ball for nine seasons overseas in a variety of cities in Italy, Spain, and France, and averaged 21.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

In 1998, she joined the WNBA as a center for the World Champion Houston Comets and started for the first time on June 15th of that season making her first career double-double against Los Angeles on June 21, 1998. This was only the sixth double-double in franchise history. Last season, she played only three games after suffering a traumatic orbital hemorrhage to her left eye, which later required surgery.

Monica, the youngest of six children, is a native Houstonian and first became interested in the game when her aunt, a high school coach for 25 years, "bought me my first pair of Chuck Taylors, and put a ball in my hand.” She considers her father Moses her role model because of his love for the sport and his stress on good work habits.


Ninfa Laurenzo

Ninfa Laurenzo has more than 50 years of experience in the restaurant and food service industry. She spends an enormous amount of time contributing to civic and charitable organizations, and is a sought-after lecturer, keynote speaker, and fundraising chairperson or charity advisor. She is the founder of Ninfa's Mexican restaurants, which she opened at the age of 49 after her husband's untimely death, and has owned a chain of over thirty-five restaurants in her career.

She is the honorary spokesperson for the American Cancer Society and is the celebrity spokesperson for the Harris County Children’s Protective Services. Ninfa has received a number of business and civic awards, including a "Woman of the Century" award from the Austin, Texas Chamber of Commerce in 1999, and the "Human Race Award" from the Holocaust museum in 1999. She has been featured in numerous local, state, and national publications such as Newsweek, Business Week, and Forbes. 


Mariquita Masterson

Mariquita Masterson turned an arrangement of glass samples by a noted glass sculptor into an inspiring pattern that launched her jewelry designing business. Currently, Masterson has a studio/ boutique on Welch Street (in Houston) where she employs a small staff and sells her jewelry at Tootsies, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her jewelry designs embody both art and fashion. She is involved with such organizations as Houston Grand Opera, the Museum of Fine Arts, AIDS Foundation Houston, and the Contemporary Arts Museum.

Masterson is the recipient of Houston Grand Opera's Grand Foyer Award for Philanthropy and Style, an award given every other year to a Houstonian of "exceptional talent, grace, style and accomplishment.” She and her husband Stewart Masterson have five children.


Linda May

From 1981-1989, Linda May was associated with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, where she served as Governmental Liaison. Prior to that she was director of Corporate Planning and Marketing for Pete Engineers. She is the first Executive Director of the Greater Houston Women’s Foundation (GHWF), and has been active in the community for over thirty years. She has served on various volunteer boards, such as the Panel of American Women, of which she was the National President, and the Houston Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, of which she was the first woman president.

Ms. May is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Woman on the Move award in 1997, and she was named an Outstanding Woman by the YWCA in 1995.


The Rev. Leonora Montgomery

The Rev. Leonora Montgomery received her Ph.D. from Rice University in Religious Studies in 1985, is the Minister Emerita of the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church of Clear Lake, and has been the Continuing Education Representative for the Southwest Unitarian Universalist Ministers' Association. She also serves on the Roman Catholic Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Houston-Galveston Diocese, along with several other boards. She has been widely involved in Houston civic activities, including Sheltering Arms and is a founding member of the Harris County Drug Abuse Council and the Child Care Council.

Dr. Montgomery is a native of Anderson, Indiana, and moved to Texas more than thirty years ago with her husband. At his passing, she finished her doctorate and pursued a path in the ministry. Her four children are college graduates, and she is a friend of each of her twelve grandchildren.


Monica Pope

Born in Germany, Monica Pope has been living in Texas since age of two. She began her career at the age of eighteen in the prestigious Cafe Annie, and later went on to Europe where spent the next three years working in restaurants in Greece andLondon, and earned her Chef's title from Prue Leith's School of Food & Wine. After working in several restaurants in both San Francisco and Houston, Ms. Pope went on to open the Quilted Toque in 1992 (now closed), Boulevard Bistro in 1994, and 43 Brasserie in the Fall of 1999.

Considered the "Alice Waters of the Third Coast," Monica is a leader in the garden-to-table movement among American chefs and is an original charter member of Chefs Collaborative 2000, an organization whose work addresses the concerns and philosophy of clean food sources, seasonal food preparation, and healthy food choices.

Pope has received several honors for her culinary and restaurant packaging talents in several publications such as Bon Appetit, Gourmet Magazine, and Food & Wine Magazine where she was named the Top 10 Best New Chef in the United States in 1996.


Bapsi Sidhwa

Bapsi Sidhwa is the author of four internationally acclaimed novels. She began writing in her twenties after the birth of two children. She self-published her novel The Crow Eaters in 1978 at a time when publishing in English was practically non-existent in Pakistan. Since then, The Crow Eaters has been published in England, the United States, India, Russia, and Italy. Cracking India, Sidhwa's third novel, was declared a New York Times Notable Book for 1991, and received the Literature Prize in Germany, and was nominated by the American Library Association as a Notable Book the same year.

Sidhwa has received several honors in her career, including the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest national honor in the arts in 1991. She has worked on the advisory committee to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Women's Development and has taught at several universities. Her novels have been translated into several languages. Cracking India was made into the film Earth by director Deepa Mehta and was released in the U.S. in September 1999.


Brenda Beust Smith

Brenda Beust Smith graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in journalism. Since then, she has gone on to become the editor and co-founder of The Garden Merchant, for which she won the Garden Writers of America National Award. She was a reporter/assistant editor at the Houston Chronicle for fourteen years and has won numerous awards, including the Penney-Missouri National Award for Feature Writing.

Currently, Ms. Smith is a freelance writer, and the Houston Chronicle's Lazy Gardener columnist. She has published several works, including The Lazy Gardener's Guide and the Parents Guide to Facilitated Communication. She is a frequent lecturer/slide show presenter, and is involved in many community activities, including being a member of the Board of Directors for Urban Harvest, an online mentor for the University of Houston School of Communication, and is the Harris County Master Gardener.


Carolyn Sumners

Carolyn Sumners received her BA in Physics-Astronomy from Vanderbilt University and her PhD from the University of Houston in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Science Education. She is Director of Astronomy and the Physical Sciences for the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For 29 years, she has overseen the Museum's Burke Baker Planetarium and has directed development of the Brown Solar Observatory and Earth Forum environmental simulator. In 1988, Dr. Sumners created the Lenger Learning Center problem-solving simulator, which has now been replicated in over 30 Museums and Science Centers.

Dr. Sumners makes frequent presentations on astronomy and science teaching for teachers and civic groups. She is a the author of Science Discovery Works, the nation's bestselling elementary science textbook series, and a writer and producer of planetarium programs. Her latest large format video planetarium presentation, The Powers of Time, opened in the Burke Baker Planetarium in January 2000.


Suna Umari

Suna Umari was born and educated in Beirut, Lebanon, a multicultural and multi-religious environment where she learned Arabic, French, and English. She received her degree in Sociology and Anthropology from the American University of Beirut in 1971 and worked for the newly established UNICEF office in Abu Dhabi.

Suna moved to Houston in 1981 with her son, and started working for the Rothko Chapel, a supporter of interfaith dialogue and cultural and human rights programs. In 1997, she became the Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel. She is a member of a number of different cultural and community organizations, such as the Commission on Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations, and the Mickey Leland Center on World Hunger and Peace.


Genevieve Vaughan

Genevieve Vaughan was born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1939. She moved to Italy in 1963 where she lived until 1983, participating in Italian political and feminist movements. She wrote essays during that period, which were published in academic journals of semiotics. She returned to the USA in 1983 determined to use her resources to create social change by practicing the theory of gift giving that she had been developing in Italy.

She started a donation program and began several projects of her own. In 1987 she founded the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, an organization  consisting  of a diverse all-woman staff working for social change from the perspective of women's values of care. The Foundation closed in April 1998 and its work is preserved by a new organization, the Center for the Study of the Gift Economy, which promotes the gift economy in other ways, at the consciousness level, through books, exhibitions, and workshops. Four of the Foundation's projects remain: FIRE, the Feminist International Radio Endeavour in Costa Rica, Casa de Colores a center for indigenous people's resources and spirituality located on the Texas-Mexico border near Brownsville, Stonehaven Ranch, a retreat center near San Marcos, and a temple dedicated to the ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhmet near the national nuclear test site in the Nevada desert.

Genevieve's book, For-Giving, a Feminist Criticism of Exchange, was published in 1997 and is available through Plain View Press, Austin Texas. The entire book is also now posted on the internet at its own website: www.For-Giving.com. Genevieve is divorced and is the mother of three daughters.

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