Sunday, January 2, 2011

Under the protection of trash busters

You'll find on display in Angela Farias' office in the Stephen F. Austin building what, at first, might seem an odd assortment of items from foreign countries.
Old shampoo bottles from Brazil and Denmark. Encrusted plastic bottles from China and the Soviet Union. An all-purpose cleaner from Singapore. A dirty milk carton from Australia. A box from Venezuela.
A strange collection, you might think, for a woman who has never been to any of these countries.
Strange, that is, until you discover that Angela's passion is beaches, pristine white beaches free of litter and debris. And the oddities are pieces of trash collected from beaches by Angela, the founding director of the 3-year-old Texas Adopt-A-Beach program.
Perhaps surprisingly, the worst beach offenders are not the sun worshipers or shore walkers with their beer and soft-drink cans, suntan-lotion bottles, cigarette butts and picnic debris.
Says Angela, referring to her office collection, "Eighty percent of the trash on Texas beaches is from offshore."
Several years ago Angela was a member of a task force assigned to investigate the beach-litter problem, we learned at The Winter Beach Party fund-raiser. It was staged in behalf of Land Commissioner Garry Mauro at Palmer Auditorium on one of our recent cold nights.
Garry, Angela's boss, tells us she "has taken what we thought would be a small, extracurricular activity and turned it into a major environmental initiative. Now 23 other states have modeled programs after ours."
Angela speaks to conferences, as she did recently in New Orleans, sharing ideas on how Texas encourages citizen involvement.
She helps groups like the Oak Hill and Travis Heights Girl Scout troops adopt a mile stretch of beach. The scouts travel to the shore and clean the beach of debris three times a year.
She travels around the state promoting clean beaches by giving slide demonstrations in libraries and putting on puppet shows in schools. (Angela, wife of Farm Credit Banks loan officer Louis Farias, gets advice on her puppet show texts from their children, Jennifer Farias, 6, and Philip Farias, 3.)
Angela works with representatives of oil companies, shrimpers and seismic-vessel crews to spread the message of litter-free beaches.
Her current project is promoting the recycling of plastic. Says Angela, "Anything from plastic takes 400 years to degrade.
"I really believe in what we're doing. We're making a difference. We're teaching people to protect beaches, the ocean and the wildlife that live there."
Warns Angela, "If we continue trashing our beaches and polluting our water, we'll kill the wildlife. And the only wildlife we'll see will be in zoos, a book or Sea World."
What was the North American director of that Italian fashion house Genny doing recently in the small Central Texas town of Salado?
Travis Winberg jetted in from New York, accompanied by corporate chef Laura Portaluppi, to stage a seated dinner for 60 folks with informal modeling of Genny's spring line.
The setting was Grace Jones' O'Neil Ford-designed home.
Yes, Salado, with its 1,350 registered voters, is the American outpost for high fashion, thanks to Grace.
About 29 years ago, Grace established her chic shop by Salado Creek in the ranching town between Austin and Waco.
Much against the advice of bankers who told Grace flatly: "It won't work. You have to have traffic."
Salado, with a population of 300 at that time, didn't.
Not that sleepy historic Salado, once a stagecoach line stop, has a ton of traffic these days.
But today Grace is a member of the Salado National Bank's advisory board.
And women from all over the state and country patronize One Royal Street. That's where the couture designs Grace buys on shopping trips to Milan, Paris, New York and California are housed and sold. Somewhat ironically, we might add, in a renovated 1910 limestone building that was the village's first bank.
Grace is a Smithville native who returned to her Texas roots after a stint flying airplanes during World War II with the Women's Air Force Service Pilots and a New York modeling career.
We asked her how, against the odds, she has made her couture venture work.
"I think first you have to know your business. I know my business and love it," says Grace. "I've lived in New York and Tokyo and I like to shop where it's peaceful and they take care of me.
"I give special attention to my customers, like they did in the good old days."
Footnote: When visiting Salado, don't forget to check out Grace's sale room, where you'll find designer's duds at greatly reduced prices.
Lee Kelly puts the spotlight on people every Thursday and Sunday. Write to her at the American-Statesman, P.O. Box 670, Austin 78767.

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