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I find it difficult to describe my journey through life without mentioning two influential people. Certainly my father was the first. Despite living in the very urban setting of Houston, he made certain our family experienced nature firsthand. We took summer vacations to settings such as Colorado, Arkansas, and Tennessee. I remember waiting impatiently on the size of a freezing mountain road, while my father followed an elk down a snow-covered slope. When he returned half an hour later, he was wet and out of breath, yet energized by his experience. Unfortunately, I was too young at the the time to understand why he was so thrilled.

Once we nearly lost our travel trailer off a steep incline high in the Ozarks. The grade was too much for our old truck to handle the weight, and we were stuck in a precarious spot. Luckily, some strangers came to our rescue. We made it to the top safely and saw one of the most incredible views of our lives. I also still remember the serenity of driving through a different mountain range early one morning, the dawn bringing just enough light to understand why these were called the Smoky Mountains.

My father also instilled in me the value of charity and the importance of volunteerism. As a member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, he would often prepare care packages and deliver Christmas trees and presents to less fortunate families in our parish. the highlight of the year was our church bazaar when he would create and set up a game booth. I considered it a great privilege (and a lot of fun) to work the booth with him.

As I floundered through my twenties, briefly attending Texas A & M to study journalism, teaching in preschools, and waiting tables, my father was always there for me. He supported my decision to move to Austin. I had visited Austin and loved the green space. At the same time, I thought it would be great to finish college at the University of Texas.