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The Happy Foundation’s quest to save a bit of LGBT history
QSanAntonio, May 17, 2006

It’s down a long narrow hallway, far away from the dance floors and video screens of the Bonham Exchange’s public areas. The room is filled, floor to ceiling, with file cabinets, old display cases, and boxes of magazines, newspapers and miscellaneous memorabilia. This is the home of the Happy Foundation, a fledgling non-profit and San Antonio’s LGBT archive.

Trying to keep order among the clutter of historical artifacts is the Happy Foundation’s founder, curator and board member, Gene Elder -- a local artist and activist. It was Elder who in 1988 began collecting bits of local gay history that have since filled every nook and cranny of the 400 or so square feet of the room the Bonham Exchange has given him to house the project.

Last March the Happy Foundation became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization paving the way for Elder and the board of directors to begin raising funds to help preserve the archive for future gay generations. "All this time it has just been me saving newspapers, books, posters, T-shirts, political buttons, photos, etc.," says Elder. "I start a file on pretty much every topic or person that becomes the latest news. It changes regularly -- art, military, murder, marriage, politics."

The Happy Foundation is named after Arthur P. "Happy" Veltman who died of AIDS in 1988. Veltman was a local gay entrepreneur who was involved with the development of the Blue Star Arts Complex and real estate projects throughout San Antonio. He was the owner of the now defunct Kangaroo Court Restaurant and the San Antonio Country, the gay bar that eventually moved downtown and became the Bonham Exchange. It is Veltman’s legacy vis-a-vis the Bonham Exchange and his surviving partner Kenneth Garrett that currently funds the Foundation’s efforts.

"The goal is to save the history of the LGBT communities and create a resource facility so that people doing research can find information on who and what we were, and what we did to change the world," says Elder. It’s a serious goal with a lighthearted point of view. The Foundation’s mission statement reads, "The Happy Foundation is dedicated to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; the preservation of GayBLT history; encouraging contemporary art; and promoting ballroom dancing."

The Happy Foundation’s collection is a treasure trove for gay history buffs. One could easily spend days exploring the contents. However, until the materials are thoroughly catalogued, preserved and stored the archive is not open to the public.

Now that it’s a non-profit the Foundation can begin the work of turning the contents into a place for serious scholarship. With the help of the community and some extra cash, the Happy Foundation will be precious resource where San Antonio can recall and reflect on the life and times of GLBT generations past.

For more information about the Happy Foundation, contact Gene Elder via email at: elder4tomato@yahoo.com.

Gene Elder interviews "Sordid Lives" playwright Del Shores
QSanAntonio.com, September 24, 2007

Gene Elder, the chief archivist at the Happy Foundation, sat down with Del Shores, the playwright who penned "Southern Baptist Sissies" and "Sordid Lives." Shores’ adaptation of "Sordid Lives" debuted recently as a LOGO television series. Elder elicits comments from Shores on everything from the influence of Texas on his writing to what’s wrong with the Log Cabin Republicans.

Elder: So Del, I'm delighted to get you on the Chartreuse Couch. It's not as important as a Hollywood couch but it'll do for a good Texas interview. So, let's see. I believe we got to meet in person when you came to San Antonio for "Southern Baptist Sissies," which I greatly enjoyed. Were you happy with that production?

Shores: Yes, I love Paul Boskind, and the Church Theatre was just amazing for that production. Honestly, it's always hard for me to watch any production other than the ones I direct and produce, because those are my vision, but I've learned over the years to watch the audience and their reactions to the production as well as what is going on stage. The San Antonio audience adored the play and I really did enjoy the cast, the audience, the direction and the production. Well done! Thank you, Paul.

Elder: And now you are getting a good response with "Sordid Lives" on LOGO?

Shores: I am. The show is their biggest show to date -- by far. They tell us that it is in a league all it's own. I wrote, directed and produced all episodes, so I really took a chance, knowing that if it worked, I'd get a lot of praise, if it didn't, I'd be the fall guy. So I'm getting a lot of praise which I prefer. My fan mail has exploded to the degree that I can barely keep up. I still answer all My Space messages (myspace.com/sordid_lives) and all my fan mail that comes to del@delshores.net personally and I'm getting such amazing letters from everywhere.

Elder: That is really great to hear because, I am, and I suspect that you are too, a Texas chauvinist. And I'm glad to know this tale that takes place in Texas --meaning "Sordid Lives" -- is getting a good reaction. I am interested in one thing right off the top of my head. How did your Texas experience serve you in creating the play and TV series?

Shores: When asked how my Texas experience influenced my writing, I always respond, "How has it not?" All the people I grew up with, the sayings, the church, the family -- everything has gone into my writing. I love my home state, warts and all, and it has given me a wealth of material.

Elder: And most important, we need news about all the interesting actors you get to work with, particularly about my hero Delta Burke.

Shores: I work with so many great actors and we are all good friends. Rue McClanahan is a doll and I adore her. She is gearing up for her one-woman show. Leslie Jordan is on the road, promoting his book with his one-man show "My Trip Down The Pink Carpet." The show is wonderful, as is the book. I recommend both highly. I see that he has several Texas dates coming up. Delta and I remain good friends, even though she wasn't able to do the series. I hope to bring her in for a fun cameo in Season Two.

Elder: As you know I am the Archives Director for the HAPPY Foundation, San Antonio's GayBLT history archives, and I do keep a file on Leslie. I know about his performance. I plan to see it. And LOGO what are they like?

Shores: LOGO is MTV's gay channel, about 3 years old. Part of the Viacom family. They are wonderful to work with and are very invested in the series and allowed me creative freedom. Like most new networks, they are limited in terms of budget, but we all got creative to make "Sordid" happen. It is my pleasure to work with them.

Elder: OK, enough of that. I want to move on to politics. Is there anyone you know in that bunch who likes Bush and how are you going to use "Sordid Lives" to help correct all of the world's problems? That is what I want to know.
Shores: Yes, there are people who still like Bush. Kathy Griffith said it best when she said (and I paraphrase) "Southerners are so proud of their ignorance." Some people, no matter how glaring the evidence, just CAN'T BE WRONG! Regarding Texas and "Sordid," I just write characters I know and love and adore. They happen to be from Texas (mostly) and I try to tell the truth.

Elder: I know we both are very concerned about all the problems in the gay community and I like to keep up with GLAAD. I have been out and causing trouble in San Antonio since 1972 and watching the groups come into existence and fight is one of my favorite soap operas. What do you think about GLAAD?

Shores: I actually have been nominated for two GLAAD awards, one for the play "Sordid Lives" (I didn't win) and one for "Southern Baptist Sissies" (I did win). Besides the fact that they give awards and I have great memories of those awards shows, I happen to think GLAAD does amazing work.

We need you and GLAAD and HRC "causing trouble", fighting the fight. I had an experience in Nashville when we were touring my plays "Sordid Lives" and "Southern Baptist Sissies." A TV show there invited Leslie Jordan and Delta Burke to be on their show, then uninvited them because "they felt their audience would be offended by the subject matter." I cried foul, GLAAD stepped in and helped expose how the station was supporting homophobia. We didn't get back on the show, but thanks to GLAAD we exposed the truth and stirred it up.

Elder: Well, about the Log Cabin Republicans and the Stonewall Democrats, what do you think of their organizations? I know you won't say anything hateful, but give us some constructive criticism at least.

Shores: Me, not say anything hateful? Oh come on, you know I have a mouth (laughs). Look, I love what the Stonewall Democrats are doing and have real issues with the Log Cabin Republicans.

When the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Bush in 2004 (which they had endorsed the first time the monster won)... but this time they didn't because of his proposal for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage... well, I wrote them and said, "What the hell did you expect? Your party has never supported gay rights or gay marriage; the only difference now is they want to make it a constitutional amendment. But every time you voted Republican, gave your money to that party, you gave to a party and a candidate WHO DID NOT SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR EQUAL RIGHTS. And that fact has never changed. Sure, the Republicans accepted your endorsement, they accepted your money and support, but THEY NEVER ACCEPTED YOU. Don't be mistaken Log Cabin Republicans, you will always be the redheaded step sister in the Republican party!" Needless to say, I did not hear back from them.

And now they've endorsed McCain and Palin (don't get me started on her!). Gene, I have never known a gay Republican who was a Republican for any other reason than money. It's always fiscal. Always. A party that is anti-gay rights, pro war, pro guns, wanting to take away a woman's right to choose -- that's what you are endorsing Log Cabin Republicans and I say shame on you. There is a line in my "Southern Baptist Sissies" -- "How do you embrace something that doesn't embrace you?" Enough on that subject!

Elder: Del, this was great talking with you and I know your two plays are an inspiration to all of Texas -- gay, Baptist and confused. Thank you for sitting on the Chartreuse Couch with me and know that Alamo queers are your biggest fans, and I don't care who knows it. Also, see if you can work a chartreuse couch into "Sordid Lives" somewhere.

Shores: Thanks for inviting me and I love you San Antonio.

Researcher seeks interviewees for lesbian history project
QSanAntonio, March 19, 2010

Melissa Gohlke, a graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio who’s working on a lesbian history project that covers the decades between 1980 and 1999, is looking to interview local women for her research.

According to Gohlke the project, Women’s History, Primary Source Research Project – Spring 2010, will seek to "discover and discern how lesbians in San Antonio created spaces for themselves which differentiated them from, and incorporated them into, the city’s greater gay and heterosexual communities."

"I will look at social, political, religious, and family organizations that provided avenues for, and support of, the development of a lesbian community within the city," says Gohlke. "I will also explore how some lesbians challenged social norms and created their own families and kinship networks."

Additionally, Gohlke hopes to uncover and address obstacles faced by lesbians in San Antonio as they sought ways to connect with other lesbians and forge identities within their local space. To add additional contextual information, the research will provide background material on GLBT issues and communities at the national level within this time frame.

This project represents Gohlke’s initial exploration of this topic. She will be conducting more extensive research on this subject beginning in Summer of 2010 which will continue throughout the remainder of her graduate studies and will be part of her Master’s thesis.

Anyone interested in being interviewed for the project should contact Gohlke via email at mgohlke09@gmail.com.

Intern helps bring order to Happy Foundation archives
QSanAntonio.com, October 24, 2009

Melissa Gohlke, a graduate student at UTSA, has courageously volunteered to intern at the Happy Foundation Archives and work with founder Gene Elder in helping bring some organization to the collection.

Their duo’s mission this fall is to organize and catalog the extensive collection of GLBT material that Elder has been collecting for 21 years. Ultimately, the archives will be organized so they will be easily accessible to researchers.

The meeting between Elder and Gohlke was purely serendipitous. After attending the dedication of an urban island to the late Arthur "Happy" Veltman, Gohlke contacted Elder and visited the archives the very next day.

Gohlke is a historian who is researching San Antonio’s GLBT community. "When I discovered the archives I couldn’t believe my good fortune," she says. "Who knew such a wealth of information was housed in the back of the Bonham Exchange."

For those who have never been to the Happy Foundation, the collection of GLBT materials is very extensive. It includes such topics as: gay men and lesbians, Pride, military matters, political and religious organizations, protests, marches, murders, arts, theater, court cases and many others.

Additionally, the archives house a vast collection of periodicals dating back to the 1970’s. For anyone interested in conducting research on the local, state, and national GLBT community, the Happy Foundation is a treasure trove of primary material.

It was clear that Elder needed help organizing such a massive collection. Therein the idea was hatched; an internship was the perfect solution. The two are making great headway in their undertaking, which will continue through the beginning of December.

After December Gohlke will become a regular visitor at the archives as she pursues research for her Master’s thesis. She is beginning a two-year project to examine the history of San Antonio’s gay community and uncover the valuable contributions that gay San Antonians have made in shaping the city’s urban landscape.

Early next year she will begin interviewing members of the community and collecting recorded oral histories. Ultimately, Gohlke hopes to collect enough information for a book. For more information Gohlke’s project, contact her by email at mgohlke09@gmail.com.

The Happy Foundation accepts donations of publications, periodicals, books, newspapers, personal papers, and anything else that is related to GLBT history and heritage. The email address is elder4tomato@yahoo.com. The Foundation can also be reached by phone at (210) 227-6451. The Happy Foundation is named for Arthur "Happy" Veltman, a prominent San Antonio businessman, who died in 1988. Kenneth Garrett, Veltman’s partner, is the president of the Foundation.

Another Conservation Society grant for Bonham Exchange building
QSanAntonio.com, December 13, 2007

The San Antonio Conservation Society has awarded a $5,000 grant to the owner of the Bonham Exchange to repair the facade of the historic building it occupies near the north wall of the Alamo. This grant comes on the heels of a similar award for $10,000 that was given last year to help rehab the building which is on the National Historic Register.

The Turnverein Building, as it is known, was erected in 1891 and has housed San Antonio’s most popular gay disco since 1981. James Wahrenberger, a prominent Swiss-American architect of the period, chose a French Renaissance revival style for the edifice which was originally built as a German social and athletic club.

Local entrepreneur and club owner, Arthur "Hap" Veltman, purchased the building in 1981 as a successor to the San Antonio Country that was located on North St. Mary’s Street. The new club was named after James Bonham, one of the heroes of the Alamo. Velman, who died in 1988, left the club to his partner Kenneth Garrett and his colleague Wade Strauch who died in 1992. Garrett still owns the building today.

The Bonham Exchange has evolved into one of San Antonio’s most popular and successful gay clubs. Its interior spaces are large and vast. There are several full-sized bars, a disco, an outdoor bar and a large ballroom on the second floor that once served as a theater for live performances. The building is also home to the Happy Foundation, San Antonio’s GLBT archive.