An Extraordinary Volunteer

June 1, 2006 by  
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Charities are the name of the game for this Houstonian

Photo by Harry Gendel

Diane Gendel is by far one of Houston’s most celebrated charity fundraisers. The Symphony Ball, which she recently co-chaired, reached a pinnacle by topping the million-dollar mark for the first time. While in the middle of making history, she rounded up volunteers for the Baylor Partnership, helped guide the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, served the Blaffer Gallery and the CCFA – and, without even breaking a sweat, helped her son, Keith, plan his wedding, which took place shortly after the ball! Just reading her resume is exhausting. This dynamo seems to have chaired everything in Houston. Of course, it’s understandable that every charity wants her help. She creates events and raises funds gracefully while making it look effortless. But then, she did get an early start.

Talented youth
“I chaired my first charity event when I was 9 years old,” Diane joyfully recalls of her first experience as a young philanthropist. “It was a neighborhood talent show similar to productions of ‘Spanky and Our Gang.'” She and her sister Gloria rounded up all the kids, made fliers and sold tickets. The stage was set in their backyard, complete with lawn chairs, decorations, and, of course, cookies and lemonade. The girls encouraged the kids to do “whatever they could do – sing, dance, or just stand there in a costume!” The money raised by the backyard production was donated to the Mother’s March and was, as she remembers, “a smashing success.”

Growing up giving
Throughout her years at Cullen Junior High and San Jacinto High School, Diane served as an officer in almost every volunteer or extracurricular club, including Yearbook, Spanish Club, National Honor Society, Booster Club, Sunday School Choir and Candy Stripers. Diane lived by the motto, “If it was there, I was there.” And she still does.

While a student at the University of Texas up to this day, Diane continues to be “there.” “I like being in the whirlwind, being aware of the achievements that are occurring every day in our city.”

But mostly, it’s about the people. “Houstonians are exceptionally philanthropic and caring.” It’s these people that keep Diane’s love affair with charity work growing. “In addition to my family and childhood playmates, my life has been blessed with immensely talented, accomplished and dear friends who I have met because of my volunteer involvement.” Diane firmly believes that Houston’s volunteer circuit really does operate on friendships. “Throughout the years, we are always there with loving support to help each other succeed in every endeavor. We work to improve the quality of life in the city and to support one another.”

Music lovers
Much of her volunteer work stems from her love of music – a love that started even before she was born. Diane’s father, Herman Shoss, played violin for the Houston Symphony, beginning in 1929. Although he later went on to pursue real estate and other endeavors, her father’s musical profession blossomed into a favorite pastime for Diane and her husband, Harry, who have been season ticket holders with the Houston Symphony for 37 years. “Harry gave me season tickets for my birthday when we first started dating,” she reveals. “We went to every symphony!”

It is not surprising that their two children, Jackie and Keith, each sang, wrote and played bass guitar in rock ÍnÍ roll bands. Keith’s band, Pappas Fritas, rose to international acclaim and toured Europe. Jackie’s band, Team USA, garnered lavish press during its U.S. tours. After living life like rock stars, Keith went on to become an architect in L.A., and Jackie became an artist in New York.

Summer of celebration
As immediate past president of the Moores Society, Diane is looking forward to the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music Texas Music Festival, beginning June 4. The event brings students and professional musicians from around the world every year to compete in an intensive four-week series of classes and workshops led by the Moores School of Music faculty, members of the Houston Symphony and internationally recognized musicians.

As board member of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, Diane is also eagerly awaiting the launch of its online museum of Houston history, a project whose funding was approved in April.

More than anything else, the most exciting event of the summer for the proud mother is the June 1 opening of her daughter Jackie’s art show at the Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district.

Humanitarian for life
Professionally, Diane has been a teacher, a public relations and marketing director, a mortgage broker, an executive director of the American Diabetes Association and has even followed in her father’s footsteps by making her mark in the world of real estate. But, above all else, her true passion lies in volunteering for the city of Houston, its deserving organizations and upholding her lifeÍs motto of always being “there.”

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