All posts by Vaughn-zel Lloyd

Midtown Express Project reaches halfway mark

Contractors and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have crossed the halfway mark for Midtown Express Construction Project, which is the reconstruction of highways 183, 114 and Loop 12 in Dallas and Tarrant counties. SouthGate Constructors hosted a public open house to allow residents to speak with project experts, who showcased the progress on the $847 million project, at Christ Church in Irving on Sunday, May 18.

“As of today we are at 50 percent completion of the project,” said Selma Santin, public information officer for the Midtown Express. “We have one more year of construction left. The project is expected to reach substantial completion in summer 2018.

“According to TxDOT, 183 is one of the most congested roads in Texas, so the addition of these toll roads is going to help alleviate congestion. They are a great addition if people choose to use them. If you choose to use the toll lanes, you are guaranteed at least a drive of 50 mph.

“This is an $850 million dollar interim project. Unfortunately, TxDOT didn’t have enough funds to do the ultimate project, which would have added three lanes.”

Beca Delaoch was impressed by the number of people involved in getting the project this far.

“I had no idea that all of this went into the project and how many employees they have working,” Delaoch said. “Close to 700 people are working on this project and that just blows me away.”

Although the construction on 183 has been troublesome, Delaoch has remained optimistic.

“We have ignored them as much as we can. You have to,” she said. “You have to drive on 183. Every time we go that way something has changed. The thing that scares me the most is when the lanes change and the stripes are still in the middle.

“We were surprised to hear it’s going to be finished earlier than we thought it would. Now they are saying by the fall, and that’s fantastic.”

Lisa Walzl, a representative of TxDOT, indicated the state still plans to build the entire reconstruction project once the funds become available.

“If we were to have built the entire project at one time, it would have cost $2.5 billion dollars,” Walzl said. “We were able to allocate $850 million dollars for this project. We took the funds that were available and we’re building as much of the project as we can at this time.

“The remaining portions of this project, when they are funded, will be constructed. At this time, the funding for the ultimate project hasn’t been identified yet.”


Preschoolers rock out at Mister G concert

Latin Grammy Award winning musician Mister G graced the stage at the Irving Soccer Complex Thursday morning, April 27.

“This is awesome,” Irving resident Mike Leaf said. “This is the first one of these, and it’s really cool. We came from Massachusetts because they don’t offer things like this. I think it was awesome for the families that were in attendance today.”

Mister G was the first of three artists who will take part in a music series hosted in the city of Irving.

“The Irving Concert 4 Kid’s Series will be three concerts geared for children who are preschool age children from toddler to five years old,” said Special Events Coordinator Jacqueline Madden. “We’re hoping that we will attract a lot of mothers who are staying at home with their kids and looking for entertainment options for their children at this time of day.

“It builds community, brings people together, and as you see, there are a lot of mothers with young kids,” she said. “There’s always a target audience for the parents who are not working but staying at home raising their kids. It’s a good way to network with families that are similar to them. We just wanted to mix it up and target some young people and have entertainers that entertain specifically for the kids.”

Imani Forte, who took her four-year-old daughter, was surprised by the how engaging and talented Mister G is.

“He is really cool and entertaining,” Forte said. “I wasn’t expecting to see this caliber of talent. I would have thought it would be some local actor or something, however it was a Grammy award winning artist that has toured nationally, and it shows that Irving has really stepped up the game.”

She also wished the city could have more events like these during the afternoon hours for parents who work during the day.

“I just wish there was the opportunity with something like this during the evening hours or after school for our working parents,” Forte said. “I also understand that they have to keep it small so that’s why they do the weekday, but it would be beneficial for all children.

“I like that it is a multicultural event. We can look up and see all the colors of the rainbow, and I don’t know if it brings the community together but it definitely is inspiring and helps,” she said.

Madden said the main goal for the program is to expose kids to different arts while dancing, learning, and singing at interactive shows.

“We chose this location because it is a central location for all of Irving to get to,” Madden said. “It has a playground for the kids and a big open area space for the concert.”

People, pets party during Pawlooza

Irving pet owners came together at the Irving Animal Care Campus to enjoy games and live entertainment during Pet Pawlooza while their four legged friends received free vaccines and microchips.

“It has turned into a giant dog party, and it’s so much fun to do every year,” said Corey Price, Animal Services Manager for the City of Irving. “The last three years we’ve had a live band and food trucks. It happens every year, so we try to make it a little bit better.

“One of the big draws over the past two years has been the free micro-chipping and the rabies [shots] that we do with TCAP (Texas Coalition for Animal Protection). People can also get other vaccinations for their pets. They usually have a big line, which is why they have their own stand.

“They can even vaccinate their cats. We had everything from goats and chickens, snakes and tortoises. Then as they get done with all the medical stuff, they can visit vendors. This year we also had child ID kits inside the shelter as well.”

Carolos Chacon, who attended the event with his wife, feels the microchips are beneficial to the community.

“The microchip thing is good because there are a lot of stray dogs here in Irving,” Chacon said. “There are numerous dogs in my neighborhood, and I don’t know if they have owners or anything. My dog doesn’t walk out on us, but if he ever does I know they will be able to check him and find out my information to get him back to me.

“I know that if your dog gets lost, the Irving Humane Society will scan him and your information will pop up and they will tell you where you can pick your dog up at,” he said.

Jerri Moyes attended the event as a junior volunteer from MacArthur High School.

“The event gives pet owners a reason to come together,” Moyers said. “There are a lot of charities and a lot of booths with animal specific products to sell. There’s a giant tortoise just walking around the dog park.”

Charlotte’s Web snares South Irving Library

Children were entangled in a number of arts and crafts activities at the South Irving Library on Friday, March 24, culminating in a viewing of Charlotte’s Web.

“We have crafts programs and a lot of fun,” librarian Amanda Hipp said. “People can check out books and come visit us. This event is celebrating Charlotte’s Web, so we’ve got a live pig.”

The event featured pink refreshments, books about pigs and a live pig named Hamlet.

“By the end of the night, we had roughly 200 to 250 people,” Hipp said. “It’s just a good way to introduce them to the library in a relaxed atmosphere, because we do a lot of programs for all ages and everybody’s welcome. It is good, free entertainment on a Friday night.”

Librarian Susan Cox, who a lot of the kids mistakenly thought was an actual pig because of her costume, put the event together with the help of Hipp.

“Well this month, actually March 1, was the first day of National Pig Month,” Cox said. “I happen to like pigs and pig lovers. We have our little friend Hamlet. He’s an adorable 10-week old pig. I knew our library did different programs once a month and I just asked if we could do something centered around pigs.”

Cox also shared that she was most surprised by the turnout that started with the story walk.

“We had our story walk at Centennial Park,” Cox said. “You walk one way and read a story, and on the way back, you read another story. The kids like to interact with the story. Some women were ninja-pigs, and they were showing the story time person their karate moves, which was really kind of cute.

“I think everybody’s having a lot of fun. I know I am. I had a lot of little girls who had their picture taken with me, which was cute,” she said.

Terry Rodgs attended the event with his kids and grandkids.

“My daughter is a big fan of the library,” Rodgs said. “My daughter is 20 years old. She is special needs and mentally challenged but she reads on the level of a first grader. She was real excited when she found out that they would have a live pig and all the other stuff. She wanted to get her nieces and nephews, my sons’ three children, and make sure that they would come, so it’s kind of her opportunity to be the cool one.”

Rodgs enjoys library programs centered on books that both he and his children and grandchildren have read because it helps bridge the gap between generations and gives them something they can all talk about.

“I liked the fact that it’s based on a book and the theme they have chosen,” Rodgs said. “It’s a good book. I don’t know how old that book is but I know I’m not as young as I used to be. I know it’s been around a while. I’ve read books like that and I try to steer my kids to books that I have read.”

Great Days of Service lends helping hand to homeowners

Not even heavy rain on Friday, March 24 could stop the Great Days of Service’s over 150 volunteers working throughout the Irving community to help restore homes.

Great Days of Service is a two-week event that entails cleaning up and restoring 29 homes. The event will conclude on April 2.

“The goal is to help these homeowners and make them feel better about themselves and improve their home,” Operations Coordinator Eddie Shaw said. “It’s really more than just the home. It’s about how they feel as an individual and how they feel better about themselves because their house is cleaner and their neighbors won’t look down on them as much. It’s about that self-esteem. That’s the real goal and benefit.

“More than helping someone is bringing faith organizations and non-faith organizations and participants together, because it’s people helping people. There may be differences in core philosophies and outskirts of philosophies and beliefs, but those differences tend to be minute.”

Great Days of Service has been around since 2002 helping those in the community in need once a year, around the Easter Holidays. 

“We find out about the homeowners through neighbors, the churches that are involved, their members, relatives and the city code enforcement,” Chairman of Great Days of Service Andi Schellenberg said. “Different churches have been the host. This year’s host is Plymouth Park United Methodist. Some of the same people such as myself have been involved from the very beginning. We get to meet different home owners and volunteers that we wouldn’t know if we weren’t involved with this project. We work in different areas of the city. This year and in the past year, the zip code 75060 had the most homes that we served and repaired.”

The service program receives contributions from over 30 businesses with additional businesses providing discounts on supplies.

“A lot of the projects include the houses being painted and also some work being done inside,” Schellenberg said. “Some work will be done inside; however, a majority of the work will be done outside.

“Something new this year is that we provide smoke detectors and install them for the home owners. We give them information about fires and how to escape and what you do in case of a tornado.

“We are a faith-based organization. We believe that by helping people in need, we’re serving God and bringing hope, care, and blessing to the homeowners because we are called to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’” he said.

Local heroes honored with hamburgers

The Irving Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (IHCC) hosted its second annual Irving’s Big Heroes Service Appreciation Day in the parking lot of Irving Police Headquarters on Friday, April 7. The event celebrated the work of first responders from the Irving Police Department and Irving Fire Department.

“We want to thank all the police officers, firemen, and EMTs for what they do for the community,” said Maryann Kellem, president of the IHCC. “We want to thank them for putting their lives on the line for us every day. We wanted to bring them out so the community could come out and support them. It’s about the community.”

During the event, volunteers prepared and served hundreds of hamburgers to everyone who attended. Food was also taken to on-duty members of the police and fire departments. Doves were released in memory of the fallen members of the Irving Police and Fire Departments.

“It means a lot,” said Captain Jonathan Timpf of the Irving Police Department. “It’s really an encouraging thing for the Chamber and all their corporate sponsors that have donated to have come out. The volume of volunteers just shows a lot for support for the police department and what they do in the community.”

Kellem stressed the importance of having the event for the first responders.

“The special thing about today is that we honored our fallen heroes,” Kellem said. “We talked about those that have lost their lives in the line of duty and honored the six fallen heroes that died in Irving.

“We had two of their families present today. It was very meaningful to them that we took time to remember their loved ones. It was very touching. There were tears, and the release of doves brought more tears, so I think that was key today.”

Scientists, technicians from across globe attend Proton User Meeting

Two hundred of the top cancer clinicians and therapists gathered from 20 different countries and four continents for the annual IBA Proteus Users Meeting presented at the Texas Center for Proton Therapy on March 19-20.

“It’s wonderful and beautiful,” Medical Director of Willis-Knighton Cancer Center in Shreveport, La., Dr. Lane Rosen, said. “I don’t think they have spared any expenses. I’m sitting here just looking around the facility. It’s just very high end. I think they did a very wonderful job trying to make it not only aesthetically pleasing, but calming, and I’m very impressed by it.”

IBA is the world’s leading provider of proton therapy solutions. The Willis-Knighton Cancer Center in Shreveport and Texas Center for Proton Therapy in Dallas worked together to host the event.

“Today is the IBA user meeting, which is a proton equipment vendor who manufactures more proton equipment than any vendor in the world,” Director Gary Barlow said. “There are 25 proton centers operating in the United States today. Over two thirds of them are IBA vendor proton centers, so all of the engineers and all of the sales people and scientists will be here today to see this proton center. We have IBA equipment, and they are looking at it from a clinical perspective.

“The meeting is also a collaborative meeting where they bring together all the proton centers in not only the United States, but all over the world. They also come and share collaborative data on how to use proton therapy to eradicate cancer without damaging normal healthy tissue.”

The event gave those in attendance a chance to learn about how the Texas Center for Proton Therapy operates.

“I have visited almost 30 proton centers in my career along with the Texas Proton Center here in Irving,” Rosen said. “Together Dallas and Shreveport hosted the IBA International Users Meeting. We have actually been in Shreveport for the last two days where we had a big Cajun and creole party with a zydeco band and crawfish and a bar all out of a plantation home. Then we had the pleasure of coming to see this beautiful facility to learn about the physicians here in Dallas doing really great work with proton therapy as well.”

This year was the first time that the Proton Users Meeting was hosted at the Texas Center for Proton Therapy as the event alternates between Europe, Asia and the United States annually.

“There were roughly 125 guests here today,” Barlow said. “When they came in, we divided them into five groups so they could see the different areas of this 60,000 square foot world class cancer facility. They got a chance to see the various areas imaging, treatment planning and go to treatment delivery and spend about two hours with us. They also heard from our medical director Dr. Andrew Lee who talked to each group for 15 minutes about the future of proton therapy and where it is going in regards to being able to treat more cancers without side effects and without compromising the patient’s quality of life.

“In a nutshell that’s what proton therapy does. [It provides] hope for more cancer survivors to be cured from their disease without side effects and compromising their quality of life.”

Don Williams a representative of the Irving Chamber of Commerce who strategically partnered with Barlow and the IBA to bring the Texas Center for Proton Therapy to the North Texas region is a cancer survivor. He feels that the center is an asset for the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

“I’m an accountant by trade, not a scientist, but I do know from being around them that this technology will zero in on the tumor itself and not damage the other parts of the body, which is very critical to patients,” Williams said. “Patients coming from out of town will stay in extended stay hotels and after their treatment they will want to know where the golf courses are, the malls so they can go shopping and all of that, so you don’t have the typical sickness that you would have from radiation and traditional cancer treatments. It’s a true asset for North Texas, and for the residents in Irving it’s just unbelievable, a tremendous asset.”

Yo-Yos aren’t just for fun any more

Courtesy Photo: Val Oliver shows her yo-yo star design

The West Irving Library hosted the Science of Spin Yo-Yo Program on Saturday, March 18, as part of a series of programs for students enjoying the spring break holiday.

“I think the kids left being excited about yo-yos, but they also retained some key concepts of spin that they will take with them into their classrooms at school,” Val Oliver said.

Val Oliver began yo-yoing and top spinning at the age of six. She presented a sampling of her talents to a group of roughly 50, teaching and reinforcing concepts across all education disciplines, including social studies, language arts, art, science and math.

“Once I was an adult, I could see the value these skill toys had, not only in eye-hand coordination and physical education benefits, but in teaching science in a fun way,” Oliver said. “Students learn concepts of spin and motion easily when it is presented in a way that is meaningful to their lives. Gravity, friction, levers, planes of spin, rotational inertia, for example, once I’ve shown them that using levers is what gives their yo-yo the longest spin time, they will remember that principle and relate it to other things as they grow up.”

Abdul Hefez, a 10th grade student from Irving High, had never experienced success trying to yo-yo but he learned a lot.

“It was my first time seeing anything like it,” Abdul said. “I used to own a yo-yo but couldn’t really get it to work before, so I kind of moved on. However, the tricks and stuff that she could do with the yo-yo were incredible.”

Oliver who has judged at the Texas State, National and World championships was really impressed by the small group that was in attendance.

“I have been presenting the Science of Spin program to schools and libraries throughout Texas and the United States since 1995, and I think what stood out to me was the fact that all ages stayed engaged and were able to answer my questions as we discussed spin,” Oliver said.

Senior Librarian Debbie Brown, the event organizer, said she has seen Oliver’s program a total of six times. It has been as exciting every time, as if seen for the first time.

“She’s been here five or six times,” Brown said. “She has a website called science of spin and she also sells yo-yos. She comes [to Irving] about once a year and teaches the kids about yo-yos.

“We have a lot of STEM programs. Hers is always one of the most fun and entertaining, but it’s fun, creative, and a learning experience, which are how a lot of our children’s programs are.”

Brown added that the West Irving Library has many other programs in store for children and those in the Irving community.

“We had programs every day this week for spring break,” she said. “Monday we had a petting zoo and we had 325 people here. During the summer we will have programs every Tuesday since the kids are out of school.”

Volunteers help maintain Sowers Cemetery

Photo: Volunteers clear trees and brush at the century-old Sowers Cemetery. /Photo by John Starkey

Volunteers arrived at Sowers Cemetery in Irving on Saturday morning, Feb. 4, to clean and beautify the aging graveyard.

“We did a lot more tree trimming and pruning this year than we did in the previous event,” City Councilman Gerald Farris said. “The property is about four acres, so it required a lot of walking to drag all those limbs into the roll off at the back of the property. 

“We also did a lot of fencerow cleanup on the northeast fence. Several teams were able to prop up some of the settled gravestones and set some of the broken ones. Its importance is in the names on the gravestones. Many of the names are of those that settled this area and most of our parks, streets and schools are named after them. This represents over 150 years of Irving history and even predates the existence of Irving, Texas.”

The cemetery, located on Pioneer Drive near Beltline, was created along Sowers Road. The roads have changed, but the cemetery remains. 

Kathy Bognfeldt has four generations of family buried at the site.

“[I enjoy] seeing people that I’ve known all my life out there and reconnecting with families that I have known through church or just growing up in Irving,” Bognfeldt said. “It was great to see scouts, the AMBUCS, and the fire department out there and other groups from the community coming out and acknowledging the importance of the cemetery.

“[The cemetery is] important for me, because I have four generations of family there. It’s important for the community, because that is a historic site and Irving is made up of several different communities including the Sowers community, which was home to Irving settlers. Important figures in the community were buried there in that cemetery,” she said. “It needs to be upheld and up kept. I think it’s a great thing for the community to come out and support that heritage.”

Alan Goodgame, a volunteer for the Irving Fire Department, said there are multiple cemeteries in the city of Irving that could use a little cleaning up.

“I think it has been cool to see the restoration while enjoying history and really being able to walk out here and see what they have done,” Goodgame said. “I actually visit old cemeteries. We have more cemeteries in Irving that could use this.”

Farris, who organized the event, hopes to make the event into an annual clean up.

“I can envision us having smaller, more specialized work events also,” Farris said. “For example, we have a lot of gravestones that need attention and areas that need fill dirt. There was also a large tree [that needed] trimming, but we couldn’t get to it because of lack of equipment and expertise.”

TEXPEX delivers history through stamps

Photo:  Lyle Boardman, treasurer of the Philatelic Association, showcases a collection of stamps at TEXPEX 2017, an event that draws stamp hobbyists from across the country. /Photo by Vaughn-zel Lloyd

TEXPEX 2017 packed stamp enthusiasts, dealers, hobbyists and experts from the postal, stationary and philatelic classics under one roof for three days for the “Railroads and the Mails in Texas” event.

“This is the world series of philatelic shows, and there’s probably 30 or 40 of them going on around the country,” said Lyle Boardman, treasurer Philatelic Association. “Each show competes in what’s called the ‘champion of champions.’ This is also the venue for the 120th meeting of Texas Philatelic Association, which is a group of stamp collectors that has existed since the 1890s.”

Featuring a multi-frame stamp competition that included the unveiling of the five-cent Grape stamp as well as presentations from both the Grape Growers Association and by the United State Postal Service, the event took place at Hilton DFW Lakes Conference Center in Grapevine from Feb. 24 – 26.

“It’s an opportunity for collectors to come and see dealers that are either from out of state or that have different things they might want to collect,” Boardman said. “A lot of these dealers are from all over the country.

“We have had this show in Grapevine for a while. The last two years, we’ve had either an ice storm or snow storm, so it was very different to set up yesterday with it being nice and warm.”

Rich Firestone, a member of the CSAC (Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee) was in charge of issuing and selling the five cent Grape stamp. The stamp was a recreation of last year’s stamp in a different coil.

“We take input from the general public on what the [public] would like in a stamp,” Firestone said. “Then they create what the public wants to see. We sold a lot of [stamps], which tells us [the public is] happy with them.”

Afra Roet flew from San Diego prior to attending TEXPEX.

“I have never collected stamps, but I bought some stamps today,” Roet said. “So this could be the beginning of something new.

“We don’t use that many stamps anymore. We don’t use the postal service that much anymore, but I wonder if sometimes kids still know that it exists. There’s a certain romance about stamps and travel way back when mail would go by boat and take a long time; or you would send a letter by plane and had to buy a specialty air mail envelope. It wasn’t even an envelope. It was just a piece of paper folded, right? It was all very special, hand written notes to remember those days.

“I walked by an exhibit of propaganda stamps. I looked at the ones from Vietnam from the war. They were listing the number of Americans that they took prisoner. I took pictures of those, because friends of mine went to Vietnam recently. You don’t see North Vietnamese propaganda images very often so to find them here on these stamps is interesting. It’s a perspective from a population expressed in a stamp that you normally don’t see,” she said.

According to Boardman, the number of events similar to TEXPEX has declined over the past several years, but the hobby of stamp collecting will continue.

“There is a lot of [stamp] stuff out there, and there’s still a lot of history to learn,” Boardman said. “It’s fascinating when you’re discovering that you can tell when a person traveled from country to country by knowing when they shipped. You know there are people that study the ship charts, so they can know when this letter went back and forth. There are countries producing a lot of stamps, and they are not always for the use of postage. They’re for collectors.”