By: Malcolm Mayhew
Junior League of Fort Worth President Michelle Marlow figures the more than eight-decades-old organization will put $250,000 into community projects it supports and funds this year.
That money has to come from somewhere, and the League is hoping that a big chunk will come from its second Grand Entry Gala, a preview event to the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
“Last year was a great success, and this year it’s going to be even better. It’s down in the arena,” says League Sustaining Member and Adviser Martha Williams. “It’s a really fun party and a great way to kick off the Stock Show.”
There’s a long-standing relationship between the League and the Stock Show. Junior Leaguers began selling programs at the rodeo in 1957, with part of the sales price going to support the myriad programs it funds in the city. This year’s Gala is scheduled for Jan. 11. The 118th edition of the Stock Show runs Jan. 17–Feb. 8.
Jerri and W.R. “Bob” Watt are the honorees. Watt was the sixth president in the history of the Stock Show and served from 1977 until his retirement in 2010.
“The Junior League of Fort Worth has had an active and important role in our Stock Show for five decades,” Watt said. “Having these young ladies on hand and assisting with the show has significantly contributed to our success.”
Both he and his wife said they felt privileged to be the honorary chairs of the event, but Watt also recognized others for the show’s success.
“This is a nice honor,” he said, “but it is only appropriate to share this with a vast number of people responsible for the Stock Show’s success.”
The idea for the Grand Entry Gala was born three years ago when Marlow was assigned the task of researching a possible new fund-raising event.
“After looking at other leagues and surveying our membership, it was apparent that a gala was warranted,” she said. “With our long tradition and love for the Stock Show, it was an easy decision that this would be the perfect fit.”
Unlike many events held in the arena that last only eight seconds, the Galas are a full evening of boot scooting and boogie. The inaugural event raised more than $190,000 that the League used to fund projects such as the Alliance for Children, reakthrough Fort Worth, The First Tee of Fort Worth, Opening Doors for Women in Need and Safe Haven.
“We were truly honored that our community embraced the Grand Entry Gala the way they did,” Marlow said. “I am hopeful to see continued growth and success of the Grand Entry Gala each year.”
So, too, are the folk at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
Stock Show President Brad Barnes says the organization is proud of its relationship with the Junior League. “The Junior League volunteers are always exploring ways to improve their community by directing resources to positively impact the well-being of children and families,” he said, and the Grand Entry.
Gala is a “fantastic way to involve the community, celebrate the Stock Show season and raise needed funds for their worthy causes.”
And this year’s celebration honors a family that has given greatly to the show.
“The Watt name is synonymous with the legendary Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo,” says Barnes. “Bob, and his father before him, laid the foundation for what this Show is today. I am proud to call Bob Watt a mentor, but, more importantly, a true friend.”
If your image of a Junior Leaguer doesn’t necessarily include a rodeo arena, you are missing the point.
“It’s a Fort Worth thing,” says Williams. “You’ve got Junior League volunteers who are involved in many aspects of the community. I can’t imagine us not being involved in the Stock Show.”
Marlow agrees. “Our members love it and have embraced our partnership with the Stock Show. A large part has to do with the women who have come before us and have left us with such tradition and love for this signature event that takes place each year in our wonderful city,” she said.
The Junior League of Fort Worth was founded in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression when 10 women formed a Junior Service League to benefit the city. By the next year, the organization had grown to 63 members and was admitted to the Association of Junior Leagues of America. Today, the Junior League of Fort Worth has more than 1,800 members. Last year it granted $230,000 in funding requests.
The president gets to pick the theme for the year, and Marlow picked “Our League. Our City.”
It’s more than a theme, she says. “It is a declaration to Fort Worth and our citizens that whatever is needed, the Junior League will be there,” she said.
The Junior League is a founding partner of Leadership Fort Worth, and Marlow is an alumna of that program. One theme LFW stresses is becoming a trustee of the community. She sees that reflected in the League and its programs.
She feels blessed by being president of the League this year. “I have met friends of a lifetime, have grown to have even more respect and love for our city and our schools, and, most of all, it is teaching my four boys true life lessons of being a servant leader,” she said.
Both Marlow and Williams point with pride to the Junior League’s growing involvement in Fort Worth’s public schools.
“Because of successful fundraisers like the Grand Entry Gala, we are able to make significant community impacts,” Marlow said. “I am so proud that our provisional — new — members will be mentoring, inspiring, nurturing, tutoring and supporting the children and their families in the Fort Worth ISD.”
The program is called Junior M.I.N.T.S. — note those are the first letters of the list of involvements she mentioned above. The League is providing more than 4,000 volunteer hours and focusing on mentoring, reading buddies, special events and campus support at three school campuses, the district says. In all, 83 provisionals will spend 50 hours each over the school year. The three campuses involved are Western Hills Primary, Western Hills Elementary and Eastern Hills Elementary.
“They inundated the public schools this fall, and, so far, it has been a true success,” Marlow said. Added Williams, “The League is doing so much with the public schools now. It’s very exciting.”
By: Malcolm Mayhew