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Exploring Lives – Interview with Dorothy Richter

Editor’s Note: Born in 1921 and affectionately known as the “Mayor of Hyde Park”, Dorothy Richter is only months away from celebrating her 50th year as a resident. While her activism extends well beyond the borders of this neighborhood, it would be no exaggeration to say that Hyde Park would not be anything like it is today without her efforts and accomplishments. Her extraordinary successes in citizen action reminded this editor of Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War, the fictional tale of how the traditional pushcart vendors of New York’s Lower East Side, against all odds and through collaborative non-violent action, defeated the big Mack Trucks and their allies at city hall who were trying to drive them off the streets and in the process destroy their livelihoods.


Pecan Press: You grew up in the depression in rural Texas. What was that like?

Dorothy Richter:   For one thing, Stockdale, where I was born, had no electricity until 1926. We relied on wood stove and fireplace. Wagons and mules were used to haul produce. While I was growing up, though, improvements were occurring. In addition to electricity, we got some paved roads.

I wasn’t really aware of the depression, perhaps because people were so poor to begin with.   On the other hand, my family did seem to have more privileges and money. I had a Shetland pony and a bicycle. My father was a county commissioner and a rancher

PP: You have become a force to be reckoned with in defending causes you take up. Any inklings of that as you were growing up?

DR: I’m not sure why, but from early on I didn’t like to see anybody bullied. I guess it offended my sense of fairness or justice. Because of a misalignment of her spine, my cousin had to undergo surgery that resulted in a humped back and small size. People made fun of her, especially this group of boys. I remember two incidents. As we were standing in line at school, one larger boy was bothering my cousin. When I jumped out of line towards him, he ran. I am right behind him and beat him with a stick that I had picked up. He didn’t fight back.

On another occasion when we were coming back from an Easter Egg hunt, these five bullies started to bother my cousin again. In running after them, I threw eggs and hit the ring leader in the back of his head. It made a real mess. The egg was not hard-boiled.   They threatened me, but never did anything, perhaps because I was popular, good at sports, and captain of a team. After these incidents, my cousin was much better treated.


PP: When you were young, did you desire to pursue a particular career?

DR: In those days, about the only careers open to a girl were to be a teacher, nurse, or secretary. Me, I wanted to be a vet. I loved animals, felt protective toward them. Still do. From early on, I raised and took care of birds that were injured. I was also inspired by my uncle who functioned as the town vet. But A&M, the only vet school in Texas, didn’t take girls.

PP: That was a significant limitation on you as a girl. Anything else in your upbringing that worked against or for you as a girl?

DR: I was driven to do my best. In retrospect, as an only child, I think I sensed that my father would have preferred to have a boy to carry on the family name. I compensated for that by trying to be the best in whatever I did.

PP: So what was your back-up career plan?

DR: I liked home economics in high school and was actually chosen to compete at the state level for dress design. So I went to college at Southwest Texas Teachers College [now known as Texas State] to become a home economics teacher. That’s where I met my husband Walter, whom I married in 1941. I worked for a short time as a teacher, but during the war mostly helped my uncle in his drugstore.

PP: Your husband became a state senator in 1963. What did you think about that?

DR: I didn’t really want that. Not sure why. I didn’t say no, but did tell him that I wasn’t going to help. As it turned out, his opponent came up with some untruths about him and I got really mad at the injustice of it all. I then worked on some projects that helped him get elected.

PP: It’s hard to imagine you just playing the role of a politician’s wife.

DR: I was happy for him that he won but I just didn’t like always getting invited to this or that event. I hated when people were lined up to shake hands. You had to say you were glad to meet these folks, but I wasn’t and didn’t like not being truthful. I hated to dress up, and those terrible pointed shoes you had to wear!

PP: Did your husband ever try to rein you in?

DR: He never complained about anything I ever did. No other man would have put up with me like that. He sort of had me on a pedestal.

PP: Was it then that smoking started to be an issue for you?

DR: Yes, I was really bothered by all the smoke I had to endure at those political meetings and events.   It made me sick. Everybody smoked. This was an injustice, I thought at the time. Not fair to me. These people are doing something that is messing with my health.

PP: So what did you do about it?

DR: I started to be outspoken at places where people smoked. I’m sure I embarrassed my family on many an occasion. I remember once telling Price Daniels he couldn’t get into our car if was going to puff on that cigar of his. After persistent complaints, I got Green Pastures to agree to make one room a non-smoking room. Eventually I founded Texans United for the Rights of Non-Smokers in the early 70s. Through its efforts—and this is something I’m very proud of—a state law was passed, the first one in the country that outlawed smoking in some public places.

PP: His senate seat was in Gonzales. Why did you move to Austin and Hyde Park?

DR: Our son was very talented on the piano. A UT professor of graduate students training to be concert pianists had agreed to be my son’s piano teacher for free. And just by chance, a suitable house in Hyde Park was for sale.

PP: How many children did you have?

DR: Two. My son still plays the piano, but eventually decided to go in a different direction. He’s now a professor of mathematics at Southwestern, right here in Georgetown. My daughter is a teacher of EMS at Austin Community College. I chose not to work out of the house after the war. I don’t think there’s anything more important than a mother who stays home to take care of her children.

PP: Why didn’t your husband continue his senate career in Austin?

DR: There wasn’t an opportunity at the time; and besides, we thought his income would be too low to meet family needs if he stayed in the senate. An opportunity did occur later on in 1973 when Walter announced his candidacy for an open senate seat. At that time, a young Lloyd Doggett was wanting to enter into state politics. After a visit from him, I convinced Walter to withdraw his candidacy, and thus Doggett’s political career was launched.

PP: Hyde Park must certainly have been different when you arrived in the mid-60s. What most comes to mind about it?

DR: At first I didn’t pay much attention, but the neighborhood was a mess. The houses were run down, yards were not kept up, the city had designated the area for student housing.

PP: So what sparked your interest in getting involved in Hyde Park issues?

DR: Well, it just sort of happened.   I first got involved with the Shipe House right across the street from me at 39th and G. It was in bad shape and was probably a drug house. Someone from the city who was taking a picture said they wanted to change the zoning and build student apartments. And for some reason I didn’t like that idea. When I don’t like something, you better watch out and get out of my way.

I knew nothing about zoning. A neighbor and I hired a lawyer. I did a survey of neighbors in the immediate area; a lot of them didn’t think having a bunch of students on the corner would be a good idea. At a Planning Commission meeting, I was designated to speak out against the zoning proposal. I was successful enough there that the proposal never made it to Council.

From that point on, I was focused on neighborhood issues. I boned up on zoning issues, and learned how to fight zoning changes that go from single-family to multiple family. I trained people on how to fight those changes and sign petitions. In the early 80s I won a seat on the city’s Board of Adjustment, where I had a great deal to say and a lot of influence about zoning issues throughout Austin.

PP: Can you name 3 or 4 of your accomplishments in Hyde Park that you feel are particularly important?

DR: Saving our neighborhood fire station was of course a big one. And later on, a major tree preservation ordinance resulted from my standing in the way of bulldozers to save a tree at the fire station. I also cherish my role in preventing the demolition of the Barker House, the beautiful 2-story brick home with white columns that sits near Hyde Park on Duval.

Some other accomplishments were ensuring there were sufficient restrictions on what could be developed on the vacant lot covering a whole block at Avenue H and 41st and keeping the post office from moving out of Hyde Park.

PP: You were active in issues in other parts of the city, too. Can you talk about that a bit?

DR: I was involved in efforts to ensure that our state capitol remained visible from major roadways. And I became active in Barton Creek protests. I was the first to join a group to fight zoning changes there, and later fought development of the Barton Springs Mall. I was a daily swimmer at the springs, and it really upset me that I could no longer see my hand in the water because of construction of the mall. To this day, I’ve never spent a dime in any of those stores. In all my protests it took others to help. I couldn’t have done anything by myself.

PP: You’ve seen a lot of changes in Austin, including its rapid growth. How do you view these changes?

DR: Naturally I am not happy with these changes. I thought Austin was pretty nice as it was—it had a capitol, a river, a university. We’ve grown too fast, and now we just have sprawl. Mansions are springing up because of the technology boom. I wouldn’t even know how to live in those places. Maybe we’re living on quicksand. What if our boom goes bust, and we’ll have all this expensive infrastructure but no funds to maintain it.

PP: You’ve won quite a few awards in your lifetime. What recognition has meant the most to you?

DR: The most recent one, my induction into the Women’s Hall of Fame, was very important to me. It seemed to sum up everything I’ve done. What affected me the most, though, was all the people who made such an effort to come to the ceremony to honor me. Even my yard man showed up, looking dapper.

PP: It’s hard to imagine you just sitting back relaxing even in your 90’s. Any plans for the future?

DR: I’m still working for change. For the last four years I’ve been agitating to get rid of daylight savings time in Texas. It’s not healthy, and it’s no longer needed for energy reasons. I introduced a resolution at the precinct level, hand out stickers, and everywhere wear my “Don’t Mess with my Body Clock—One Time for Texas” sweatshirt. I’ve heard a rally is being planned in Austin. We’ll see what happens.


Opinion: Is HPNA Inclusive and Democratic?

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Associations has a lot of power—don’t let them tell you otherwise. The city officials and staff pay attention to what gets voted on by HPNA.

Anyone who was present at last month’s meeting could see that. Austin’s two remaining mayoral candidates, Mike Martinez and Steve Adler, gushed over what they considered “democracy in action,” with more than 60 neighbors crowded into the Griffin School auditorium having a lively debate on important neighborhood issues. During the candidates’ remarks, they repeated time and again that neighborhoods should be left to make decisions on what is best for them, and that the city needs to listen.

I agree with that last sentiment, but do not agree that what our esteemed mayoral candidates witnessed was in fact democracy in action. What they did not see is that HPNA is beset by inclusiveness and participation issues.  From what I have observed so far, the decision-making process at HPNA is confined to a tight group of regulars whose philosophy basically boils down to this: Change of any kind is considered bad (with a healthy dose of “get off my lawn” thrown in).

Taken as a whole, HPNA bylaw provisions seem to ensure that an old guard and their allies come out ahead on all votes. Here are the facts on the bylaws. Meetings are held once a month; and in order to vote, you have to be present. Online voting, or early/delayed voting are not allowed. So it’s tough luck if you couldn’t find a baby sitter, or you’re at work late, or you have a family emergency. You do not have a vote. Also, we have a thriving small business community that the neighborhood depends on; but unless you also reside in Hyde Park, as a business owner you do not have a vote. And if you own property in Hyde Park, but you do not reside here (even though your livelihood might depend on the neighborhood), you do not have a vote.

Another significant feature of the bylaws that hinders inclusiveness, and has affected me personally, is the 30-day waiting period. This provision disenfranchises neighbors of their voice. While the bylaws make a member wait 30 days after paying dues in order to be able to cast a vote, these same bylaws only mandate the association inform the neighborhood of upcoming votes 7 days prior to a meeting, making it impossible for non-member neighbors interested in voting on an issue to have their opinions counted.

There are some valid arguments against some or all of the points I am raising, and they need to be discussed. Inclusiveness, however, must also be a part of that discussion. But it hasn’t been. In fact, it was reported to me that when someone brought up the issue of inclusiveness at a recent Steering Committee meeting, the reply from a long-standing member was, “HPNA bylaws specifically do not require that the association represent the interests of Hyde Park residents.”

Let me give you a second to let that sink in.

An organization that calls itself a neighborhood association—that makes recommendations (most of the time adopted) to the people that decide the fate of the city—actually admits that it holds no desire to represent our interests. And it’s true: its bylaws do not require it to do so. And they do not require it to make efforts to increase participation.

That’s just not right. As decisions are being made, hundreds and hundreds of Hyde Park residents are not part of the decision-making process.

The first step to addressing this problem is to admit that there is one. So far, I don’t think any HPNA officials have done so.  As a homeowner in Hyde Park, and as a brand-spanking-new-dues-paying-member of HPNA, I hope that discussion starts pronto (but hopefully in more than 30 days so I can actually cast a vote).

–Alejandro Puyana





New Turning

In the middle of a waking night;

The cold blew in. Literally blew in

To replace the sticking heat;

Now, it is cold and harbingering winter,

Cooler, cold and colder air;

Becoming winter, gray, brown, lifeless, cold,

But, not the change into winter,

Put your clothes on! Put on your best,

Your coats, your scarves, put on

All the rest! If we are to die,

If we are going to die, let us do it

In style, with panache, with color!

Come out and frolic in the cold.

The autumn is a dance, a lark,

A parting glance

The heat of summer turned

To colors in the leaves,

Turning orange, turning red,

Turning on its branch from

Green and live to dead,

But not without a fine salute,

A tribute to the now pale,

Once hearty and hale,

Green of summer




I like wind sniffing about

to feel our faces, the trees,
the sea, and in gratitude
offering her own salty perfume.

–Elzy Cogswell


The Sanctity of Ordinary Folks

I like good things people do:

answering the phone from deep sleep;
struggling against impossible odds;
speaking when silence is safer.

–Elzy Cogswell

The Tao of Names

I think it’s true

that everyone has a secret name.

Inscribed on your soul

There’s a unique sound

That’s your real name.

it’s what you’re about

on the very deepest level.

And you never tell it to anyone.

They have to tell it to you.

so how many times in a lifetime

do you hear your secret name

coming to you across

the distance and the darkness

the infinity of the universe?

Not many.

Maybe a half a dozen in a lifetime.

The rest of the time

you’re all alone.


— Huffstickler

May 31, 2000

Trite Images

I’ve got nothing against

kittens, rainbows and butterflies.
Quite right for others to list them.
I just prefer my pulse, pounding.

–Elzy Cogswell

Unity with Each Other

I like people, all of them. Each of us

whirls out unexpected nuance.
In every separate instant
I discover, this too is who I am.

–Elzy Cogswell

Holiday Spirits Not Dampened by Rain

Although the weather presented some last minute challenges, it definitely did not deter neighbors from sharing cheer at the traditional Hyde Park Holidays Party.

The rain did, however, force a change of venue. And so, very pecial thanks is owed to Adam and Caroline Wilson for generously stepping in with very little notice, opening up the Griffin School to the community for this event. Not only that, they were extraordinarily helpful in setting up and cleaning up the space, making available whatever was needed for the evening. Many thanks are also due to the staff at the Elisabet Ney, preparing for the party at the museum up to the last minute change of venue.

Attendees were warmly welcomed to the event by greeters at the membership table, where we were reminded of the benefits of being part of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. Moving into the kitchen, one discovered nibbles provided by Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, along with delectable cookies from Cookie Peace and scrumptious hot cocoa from the Chocolate Maker’s Studio. Kids watched a family movie in one of the classrooms, or played outside on the wide lawn when there was respite from the rain.

Guests then made their way into the library/common area, which was beautifully decorated: lighted paper stars hung from the vaulted ceiling, tea lights twinkled from the tables and windows, and fragrant garlands and oranges with cloves added scents of the season. At the stage in front of the room, violinist Laura Poyzer and cellist Amy Diehl entertained the guests, as kids played on the steps before them.

Although the “Wish Tree” was stationed at the Elisabet Ney Museum, the wish tag tradition started by Nancy Mims was continued from last year, where guests were invited to create a “wish” which would be placed on the tree. A common theme was “I wish for racial harmony” or “I wish for peace and happiness for all.” There were also practical requests such as “I wish that I pass all my finals,” and whimsical ones like “I wish I could fly.”   The wish tags are hung on the tree at the Ney through New Year’s.

As always, a theme of the evening was helping others, especially those in our own community. During the evening, over $350 in monetary gifts and donations were collected, along with many toys, all of which was donated to the Helping Hands Home, which is located in Hyde Park. This nonprofit organization strives tirelessly to make life better for the children in its care.   The gifts and donations were dropped off the next day and they were thrilled!

The evening would not have been possible without the team of volunteers. Led by the inspiring Tammy Young, the committee of Nancy Mims, Susie Roselle, Nhaila Hendrickse, Samantha Constant and Amy Diehl found time in their own busy holiday schedules to make this party happen. Hearty thanks also go out to the volunteers who greeted, set up at the beginning and cleaned up at the end.

It was a perfect way for neighbors to celebrate the holidays together and mark the transition from 2014 to 2015.

–Angeline Tucker




HPNA Meeting Minutes – December 2014

HPNA Meeting Minutes: December 1, 2014

The meeting was called to order at 7:11 p.m. by Kevin Heyburn, co-president. In opening remarks, Kevin introduced the various officers, welcomed everyone and particularly encouraged those who were not regular attendees to attend future meetings.

The agenda was announced. The two specific resolutions that needed to be acted upon were (1) a re-vote on the resolution regarding ADUs (the new vote was necessary because in the previous month the agenda had not been posted to the bulletin board at Fresh Plus, a technical violation of the bylaws) and (2) a vote on resolutions regarding the proposed restaurant (and associated zoning changes) at 4500 Speedway. In addition, all were invited to the HPNA Holidays Party, to take place on December 14 at the Ney Museum. At a later point, it was announced that early voting had begun and that the dates for the Contact Team and the Steering Committee meetings were Dec. 2 and Dec. 8 respectively.

ADU Resolution

The proposed resolution was as follows: “City Council resolutions concerning Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) should not override the neighborhood planning process or neighborhood plans. Therefore the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association does not support a city-wide or blanket policy change pertaining to the construction of ADUs, such as resolution #20140612-062 passed by the City Council on June 12, 2014. We see our neighborhood plan, which grew out of a process of civic participation, as central to maintaining the character and the quality of life of our neighborhood.”

It was mentioned in advance that the resolution was open to amendment but not substitution. Despite that, a substitute motion in support of the city ADU resolution was proposed and considered. There was a vote taken, with 59 opposing and 12 favoring the substitute resolution.

As the meeting then returned to the business of the original resolution, there was a proposal to amend, retaining only the first sentence since city staff had yet to come back with details. This amendment was rejected by a vote of more than 40 to 6.

Then the resolution as originally offered was brought to a vote, with 59 favoring and 17 opposing.

4500 Speedway Resolutions

The two resolutions under consideration were (1) “The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association does not support the zoning change and the changes to the neighborhood plan” and (2) “The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association supports the restaurant with minimal zoning changes.”

A proposed amendment to add the words “and NCCD” to the end of the resolution (1) was accepted.

After much back and forth about the relative advantages and disadvantages of accepting resolution (1), a vote took place. The amended resolution read as follows: “The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association does not support the zoning change and the changes to the neighborhood plan and NCCD. This resolution passed, with 47 favoring and 28 opposing.

Mayoral Forum        

Mr. Adler went first on the basis of a coin toss. His opening statement included the information that he had lived in Austin since 1978, some of that time in Hyde Park. He noted the spirit of Austin and that he was running for mayor to preserve what he felt made it special. He noted in particular two issues: property values that have been growing well ahead of incomes and transportation challenges. Zoning and inequality in general were also noted as being important.

Mr. Martinez remarked that this was a particularly important election due to the move to single member districts and that institutional knowledge would be specifically important during this transition. He also mentioned that he would not revisit closing Firehouse No. 9 or ADUs; local input was important. Issues should go in the direction wanted by “regular people.”

A lively question and answer period followed.

The meeting was then adjourned around 9 p.m.

–Submitted by Artie Gold and Reid Long, HPNA Co-Secretaries


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