Memory Lane: Chay Runnels

Chay Runnels was the first coordinator of the Texas Forest Trail Region, a position she held from 2000–05. She remains active with the organization as a current member and past president of its board of directors. She is now an assistant professor in the Hospitality Administration at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

"One of my favorite memories as the Texas Forest Trail Regional Coordinator was when the Heritage Trails program was honored with the Preserve America Presidential Award in May of 2005. I received a phone call late one afternoon in my downtown Nacogdoches office from someone claiming to be from “the White House.” I remember being skeptical and sort of laughing off the caller and they said, “Ma’am, I’m serious, we are calling to invite you to a reception at the Rose Garden next week!” I traveled to Washington, D. C., with several of my fellow regional coordinators and with Janie Headrick, who was at that time state coordinator for the Heritage Trails Program. I remember we had a whirlwind 24 hours in D. C., and we did get to go to a special awards ceremony at the Rose Garden with President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. One of my favorite memories of that day was seeing Barney, the Bush’s dog, padding down the corridor of the White House and also seeing his toys strewn about the lawn. The whole experience was truly defining for me. It was a great day for preservationists.

Through historic preservation, I’ve been able to meet a lot of wonderful people and learned a lot. I was fortunate to receive a degree in historic preservation from The University of Texas at Austin, and also fortunate to have known Anice Read [founder of the Texas Main Street Program] as a personal friend while I was an undergraduate. From sharing a stage in Linden with Don Henley to rallying preservationists over local issues, I’m thankful for all the experiences I’ve had. I try to bring issues surrounding preservation to the attention of my students at Stephen F. Austin State University. My greatest hope is that my own children continue to have a passion for preservation, and I feel certain they will as the Texas Historical Commission continues to protect 'real places that tell the real stories' of Texas."

This is one in a series of “Memory Lane” blog posts in which former THC employees, commissioners, interns, and partners recall their favorite moments at the agency. It’s part of our “60 Years in 60 Days” campaign on Facebook and Twitter, which began on September 19 and leads to November 17, the 60th anniversary of the THC.

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