History

Marcia DeBock Is Retiring The Yard Sharks by Michael Graves

Marcia DeBock has been teaching swim lessons in the backyard pool of her home on Woodland street for 26 years.  By her own estimation she has taught some 1200 neighborhood children how to swim through her program the Yard Sharks.  The last week in June marked the final chapter of the Yard Sharks as Ms. Marci has elected to retire. 

 The shark that gave Yard Sharks its name.

The shark that gave Yard Sharks its name.

Ms. Marci has delighted generations of young sharks and inspired their parents. With abounding patience, an admirable aptitude for remembering the name of each swimmer, and a gift for teaching as enviable as her vegetable garden Ms. Marci is dually energetic and warmhearted.

Incredibly, given that she teaches preschoolers, I’ve never seen an unhappy swimmer in Ms. Marci’s class. Her heated pool, flanked by towering bamboo and generously shaded by a large palm tree is welcoming to children and adults alike. 

In fact, the DeBock’s entire backyard, (which children enter by passing beneath a giant shark sculpture and through the metal gate crafted from a bicycle seat) is a wonderland. There children can delight in observing a chicken, “Blue”, (who by Marci’s account does not lay eggs) dragonfly, frog, and feline yard art, and an elephant fountain that spouts water through its trunk and currently houses hundreds of tadpoles, while they wait for their lessons to begin.  (Ms. Marci teaches 30 minute classes M-TH from 3 pm to 7 pm offering makeup classes on Fridays in the event of a thunderstorm earlier in the week).   This environment fosters relaxation in the children and helps diffuse any fear of the water newcomers may have. 

 Ms Marci with students Parker, Carrie, and Luke June 2018. 

Ms Marci with students Parker, Carrie, and Luke June 2018. 

Ms. Marci breaks swimming down into a series of analogies including pizza strokes, rocket ship arms making it both accessible and interesting to children as young as 3 years old.  Her playful approach to class almost guarantees it is the children’s favorite half hour of the week. Few if any traditional swim lesson moments can be observed in Marci’s classes. Rather, her allegories are punctuated with games of water baseball, fishing, and, much to the envy of small siblings not yet old enough to participate in swim classes, rides on her oversized inflatable whale.  By the end of the season children who were reticent to put their toes in the water have been transformed and emerge as confident and capable young swimmers who’ve made new friends and joyful  memories in the process.  

Thank you Ms. Marci for 26 years of enthusiastically nurturing our neighborhood’s children.  Thank you for helping them to uncover an innate love of swimming and for instilling them with self-confidence and pride that will serve them far beyond the walls of the pool. Congratulations on your retirement! 

- Andrea Gorney

Most beautiful outdoor site for hiking, biking and contemplation? Gorgeous (and close by) Glenwood Cemetery by Michael Graves

Only a few feet from the intersection of Washington Avenue and Sawyer is Glenwood Cemetery, 84 acres of history, serenity, and beauty (natural as well as man-made).

Since it was established in 1871, Glenwood Cemetery has been recognized as one of Houston’s special landmarks. Enclosed within Glenwood’s confines is a priceless collection of Victorian statuary that is available for all to enjoy. Glenwood’s horticultural specimens rival those of many arboretums, and its gently rolling landscape, unique in Houston, provides a place for quiet refuge and peaceful meditation amid inspiring natural beauty.

Designed in the tradition of other romantic rural cemetery parks of the 19th century, Glenwood’s beautiful landscape and towering trees provide the visitor a place of quiet respite just one mile west of downtown Houston. Glenwood’s collection of statuary and monuments are reminders of Houston’s history and the people who shaped it. Among those buried at Glenwood are the last President of the Republic of Texas, four Governors, and more than 20 Houston Mayors, along with founders of major oil companies, religious and professional leaders, and celebrities of their eras such as Howard Hughes and movie star Gene Tierney (known in later life as Gene Tierney Lee).

Countless gravestones in Glenwood Cemetery, tell stories in a few words (lacking details that you know are painful. This gravestone memorializes the short lives of little brothers, laid to rest in the same grave. The little boys died together in a fire. Later that same year (1877) in December, the family lost a baby girl who died at eight months of age.

The cemetery gates are open every day from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. When Daylight Saving Time is in effect, the gate closing is extended to sunset or 5:30 p.m., whichever is earlier. The cemetery is protected by security guards, and no visitors are permitted when the gates are closed.

- Rosie Walker

Little Free Library on Highland: Inspiration and creativity in a box by Michael Graves

When the Little Free Library on the corner of Highland and Michaux (946 Highland) opened for service in 2014, the first books donated came from the collection of the library’s founder, Laura Meadows. Her title in the Little Free Library movement is “steward.”

The Little Free Library movement began in 2009. Today, there are some 50,000 Little Free Libraries in the U.S., and in 70 other countries. In addition to Laura’s library, there are two others within the boundaries of Woodland Heights, with others located in nearby neighborhoods.

The operating concept of the libraries is simple: “Take a book. Leave a book.” Stewards like Laura operate the exchanges and maintain the libraries’ premises (usually, but not necessarily, a wooden box). Laura’s library is decorated for Halloween and has recently undergone roof repairs and a refreshing paint job inspired by the Jackson Pollock technique.

Creativity and innovation by way of community involvement have kicked in for Laura’s library. When she sorts donations, she finds not only books, but other objects as well, especially toys. “It’s become like a toy exchange,” she said. Toys that have been donated range from GI Joe dolls, stuffed animals and toy vehicles to finger puppets. People sometimes leave videos. Donated books have not been limited to English. There have been books donated in Spanish, French and Korean, among other languages.

In the sorting process, Laura sets aside materials that are not suitable for placing in a Little Free Library. She does not circulate books of a religious nature or X-rated publications, for example.

When someone leaves an actual library book belonging to a public library (we cannot refer to such a book as a donation), Laura tries to get the book back to its proper place. Books belonging to Houston Public Library and Harris County Public Library systems have turned up in her library, as have books from other states.

Due to the volume of donations, Laura has added “an annex” (a box on her front porch) to house classics. An anonymous library supporter installed a set of steps to help small kids reach the library’s entrance. Big kids like to visit the library, too. “Skateboarders stop on their way to wherever they’re going and check out the library,” Laura said.

Children’s books are donated and withdrawn in greatest quantity. Weekly circulation (book turnover) is normally 20 to 30 units. “But occasionally, I get an entire library.” That happened when a woman donated the library that had belonged to her recently deceased mother.

Anyone may take a book from her library, but what you may not do is request a “hold,” a service provided by Houston Public Library. If you are hoping to find a favorite title or genre, it will be up to you to visit the Little Free Library frequently.

Little Free Library is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, whose mission is to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world. Most Little Free Libraries are placed in front yards, parks, gardens and other easily accessible locations. They are built to withstand weather and to hold 20 to 100 books. To learn more, visit littlefreelibrary.org.

P.S. - In the pictures you'll notice a small stool. This was donated by a patron of the little library. They needed it to get access to the books, and felt that other might appreciate it as well. It's become a permanent feature of the installation.

Birthday bash on Bayland: 101 years ago by Michael Graves

Young Zolene Matzinger was feted at a party on her sixth birthday at her family’s home: 411 Bayland Avenue in Woodland Heights. The date was September 25, 1916. What a party it was: dozens of kids (several of them her cousins), as well as clowns and a calliope

The honoree is the girl seated on the banister at the far right of the picture (in front of the porch column).

Among Zolene’s party guests were her “Foley cousins,” Carrie Mae Foley and James Foley. Their father was founder of Foley Bros., later to be known as the Foley’s department store chain. Carrie Mae Foley is the fourth child from the left on the second row. James Foley is the second boy from the right on the second row.

The party for his cousin made such an impression on one little boy, Francis Wead (the last little boy on the right, top row), that he still talked about the event when he grew up and became a father. Each child who attended the party was later sent a copy of the group picture. Francis Wead held on to the image the rest of his life.

This image and story shared is shared with WHCA, courtesy of Jimmy Wead, son of Francis Wead. The site of the party, the house at 411 Bayland, is still standing and in good shape.

- Rosie Walker