The usually straight-faced executive director of Austin’s longtime community activist organization showed a little emotion as friends and colleagues honored him for his decades of service.
Bob Vondrasek first joined the South Austin Coalition Community Council in 1978, just one year after the group started. A self-described “behind the scenes” guy, Vondrasek was front-and-center, though somewhat reluctantly, as the guest of honor at the organization’s annual dinner Nov. 12 celebrating SACCC’s 33rd year. More than 100 people, including elected officials, clergy and fellow activists, attended the evening dinner at Regency Inn Banquet, 5319 W. Diversey.
Vondrasek, 73, was the guest of honor for a “Roast or Toast” celebrating his 32 years with SACCC. The Chicago native, though, received more toasts than roasts last Friday. The evening’s emcee, Rev. Greg Livington, former pastor of Austin’s Mandel United Methodist Church, did joke that in the year’s he’s known Vondresak, this was the first time he’d ever seen him eat anything. Others who spoke also noted that fact, insisting that Vondrasek’s energy comes from helping people rather than food. The pastor also repeated a refrain often associated with Vondrasek – that he’s actually a black man wrapped in a white man’s body.
Livingston acknowledged Vondrasek’s fearlessness in going into parts of Austin and the West Side as a community organizer that few black folks would dare go. As SACCC’s executive director, he has and continues to be on the front lines – but in his custom behind-the-scenes role – in many of the group’s causes. Fighting unjust foreclosures and slumlords, helping families with their energy bills, fighting crime and mentoring youth are just a small sampling of his activism.
But others toasting him talked about the things that don’t end up in the headlines, like driving SACCC’s elders to doctor’s appointments or giving someone their first job by offering a position with the coalition.
SACCC’s Elce Redmond and Theresa Welch-Davis praised Bob’s dedication to the organization and community.
Vondrasek was joined by his family, including wife Alice, at Friday’s dinner. Typical of his mild-mannered way, Vondrasek wore his trademark sweater, this one with the words “Fight Back With SACCC” on the front, worn under a modest blazer. Vondrasek thanked everyone for their kind words and shared a few of his own, before cutting a little rug with Lillian Drummond, SACCC’s longtime firebrand and one of its leaders, and friend Dr. Louverta Hurt of Another Chance Referral Services.