It’s the celebration of the century: the University of Texas at El Paso turns 100 this year, and the whole community is invited. Behind the scenes are busy volunteers and UTEP staff members who have been planning events since 2010.
One of the busiest volunteers is Laura Tate Goldman, co-chair of the 2014 Commission, the group of 100 alumni, community stakeholders and campus leaders hand-picked by UTEP President Diana Natalicio to direct the celebration’s planning. At last their work is coming to fruition.
Goldman, who received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Theatre Arts and Communication from UTEP, is a community leader who gets things done gracefully. She’s working with commission co-chair and fellow UTEP alum Edward Escudero, the CEO of Sierra Finance, and honorary chair Paul L. Foster, the CEO of Western Refining. Along with the rest of the group, a great deal has been accomplished, but much more is yet to come.
Some signature events have been under way, like the Centennial Lecture Series started in 2011. The Orange New Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31, which honored the 2014 Commission members, kicked off the new calendar. The next major events are in March, with the campus-wide Texas College of Mines Day, and in April, with the month-long Campus Open House, all building toward the 100th anniversary of the first day of class, Sept. 23.
Goldman is a veteran volunteer; many El Pasoans know her for her work with UTEP, the Junior League of El Paso, the Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations. However, many may not know that she is a talented professional singer and actress who’s been entertaining on stage since she was a child in north Dallas.
In addition to living and performing in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville before moving to El Paso in 1996, she toured the country singing with The Laura Tate Band.
She also had an exciting career in film production, producing music videos with major singers and bands in Hollywood and Nashville. While running her own production company in El Paso, Laura Tate Films, she directed an award-winning documentary about the Buffalo Soldiers titled “Held in Trust” and starring Colin Powell, Ossie Davis and El Paso’s own Bob Snead, who has written extensively about the Army’s black cavalry troops and the battles they fought. It ran on many PBS stations and received a Golden Apple Award for educational excellence and then was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute Film Archives.
A number of people here have heard Goldman sing at fundraisers over the years; she most recently wowed audiences at two El Paso Museum of Art concerts held in conjunction with the modern art exhibitions. But they may not know that she just released an album of popular American standards, “Songs from My Suitcase.”
Recorded in Nashville last summer, the CD is gaining a national and even international following for its soulful and bluesy renditions of beloved hits like “Cry Me a River,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Stormy Weather.”
Unlike other El Pasoans, I knew Laura first as a singer – in high school. Back then “Lollie” Tate, as she was known, was a star, literally. She was the star of every play and musical put on by Richardson High School’s highly competitive drama department.
Whether she was hamming it up in “Barefoot in the Park” or singing in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, she was clearly talented and destined for the stage. Even though it was a big school, with about a thousand students in each grade, I can safely say that everyone knew who Lollie Tate was.
I can also safely say that she did not know who I was; we were in different grades and ran in different circles. But here in El Paso, she laughs and graciously says she did know me in high school, which is both very kind and very typical of Laura Tate Goldman.
Q: Since 2010, you’ve co-chaired the 2014 Commission, the group tasked with planning UTEP’s Centennial Celebration. Were you surprised to be tapped for this role?
I was absolutely surprised! But when the president asked, I was very honored to accept. It’s an opportunity to give back to the university that gave me so much and that was life-changing for me. I think she selected me because I am a UTEP alum and a past president of the Junior League of El Paso, where I was responsible for leading a large organization. So I knew how to speak in public, conduct meetings, plan agendas, and most importantly, organize community volunteers.
Q: What has the planning process looked like for the centennial?
President Diana Natalicio personally selected the 100 members of the committee. They include a cross section of people and my fabulous co-chair, Edward Escudero, and I have truly enjoyed getting to know them.
At first we met regularly as a large group and then the group was divided into four working committees. The executive committee and UTEP staff members meet monthly.
We have great volunteer chairpersons who are paired with UTEP staff. Cindy Aboud chairs the events committee, Richard Castro handles outreach, Henry Quintana is the marketing chair, and Suzanne Ramos chairs the keepsakes and publications committee. Expectations were high, but the committees and their ideas and their involvement have made the celebration so much bigger than what we first envisioned. It’s very exciting.
Q: What have been the high points for you in the process?
Getting to know and watching President Natalicio in action. The university and our community are so fortunate to have her at the helm. The president has helped bring national and international recognition of UTEP’s impact as a 21st-century public university. I’ve learned so much about UTEP from the inside out and all the educational opportunities available to students.
Q: What have been some challenges and how has the group worked through them?
We needed someone to take all of the 2014 Commission’s ideas and all of the information we gathered and put them into play. Dr. Natalicio recruited Dr. Keith Erekson from the history department, to work with us.
Keith and his assistant, Roberto Ransom, have helped us organize and execute everything. We can’t thank Dr. Erekson enough.
Q: What made you decide to pursue your undergraduate and master’s degrees at UTEP?
After graduating from high school, I went to University of North Texas (then North Texas State University) and majored in theater arts and music.
In my last semester, with only six hours left, I auditioned for a play, never expecting to get a part, but I landed a role in “The Sunshine Boys” with a national touring company and decided to leave college. My parents were upset, but I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.
Fast forward to living in El Paso. One of the things I always regretted was that I didn’t finish my degree after being so close. So one day I walked into the UTEP theater arts department and the department chair, Dr. Charles Finch, had his door open.
I walked in and talked to him and ended up enrolling that semester. If it wasn’t for Dr. Finch and the other members of the faculty, I wouldn’t have appreciated and enjoyed my time at UTEP as much.
I truly encourage anyone who has the desire to return to school to go ahead and complete their education. UTEP is the place!
Q: In many ways, you were not a typical UTEP student. Did you feel like you fit in?
I found that there were all kinds of students; I never thought I was so different. The professors and students made me feel welcome. I quickly received my bachelor’s degree and then went on to earn my master of arts. It was life-changing.
After I finished my degrees, I was all ready to return to Los Angeles to work in television production and reunite my band. And then I met Merton Goldman. My plans changed! We got married in 2000.
Q: The Junior League of El Paso has been a major part of your life here and you were president in 2008-09. Why did you get involved with Junior League?
Back in 1999 when I joined the Junior League, its focus was “Break the Cycle” of domestic violence. I had experienced an abusive relationship in my past and the experience made me realize that I am a very strong woman.
I was able to get out of it, but I can understand how women – and men – can be intimidated and get stuck in an abusive situation. They can feel powerless. I wanted to be connected to an organization that had the courage to focus on that issue. So I became involved.
The Junior League is a group of women who are dedicated on a strictly volunteer level to create and work on worthy projects for our community. I wanted to be part of that and try to make a difference, to do good work. I always pull this out – I love this quote from Winston Churchill (pulling a bookmark out of book): “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
I’ve had a wonderful career, I’ve been fortunate to learn from talented individuals, but nothing has given me more pleasure than to try to make a change for the good for those in need.
Q: You’ve also been active in the Alzheimer’s Association. What made you interested in that area?
When I was a young girl, everyone thought my 50-year-old grandmother was crazy. They eventually put her in a home. And then later in life, I chaired a Junior League project that worked with the Alzheimer’s Association.
The executive director, Denese Watkins, and I became good friends and she taught me so much about the disease. A light bulb went off in my head. My grandmother wasn’t crazy – she had Alzheimer’s disease, profoundly.
That’s when I started to become more involved with the Alzheimer’s Association and they asked me to be a member of the Texas State Star Chapter. I began to spread the word about the warning signs of Alzheimer’s because it touched me so closely. I produced an Alzheimer’s awareness documentary and several public service TV spots in English and Spanish.
Q: El Pasoans have enjoyed hearing you sing at events. What was it like to record “Songs From My Suitcase” in Nashville?
It was like putting on a pair of comfortable shoes! I’ve lived in Nashville, I’ve got family in Nashville, I’ve sung in Nashville, and it was great to be back there. Jeremy Spillman, my producer, selected some very talented musicians to back me up. The whole experience was amazing.
I am about to complete a music video of a song from the CD, “I’m a Fool to Want You,” at Sonic Ranch Recording Studios in Tornillo. I’m working with producer Imelda Correa and we plan to do two more. I have been on the other side of the camera in producing other musicians’ videos, so it was really fun to sing in my own. This has been very exciting and I’m already working on material for the next CD.
Q: Why is it called ‘Songs From My Suitcase?’
I grew up listening to songs like “Blue Moon” by Rodgers and Hart and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Cole Porter. I loved Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and other great singers of that era. Wherever I’ve sung across the country, I’ve been able to pull out favorites like these from my proverbial suitcase. People have loved them and some even sing along.
I think the music is hitting a chord with people. People from all over are listening to the tracks on Spotify and other radio streaming sites and buying it on iTunes and on my website, www.lauratategoldman.com. I like the idea of introducing a new generation to these great American standards.
Q: You’ve accomplished so much for our community that you’ve earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award from both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Do you have any tips for other busy people ready to be active volunteers?
It’s important, you make the time. There is so much need in our community. Everyone has a special talent – something to give back. I’ve been able to live in many great places, but El Paso is my home. I love living in our border region and want to be part of its growth and success. Volunteering is one way to do that.