"Writers Who Care"
Valley Byliners Historical Timeline
The Rio Grande Valley Byliners has a long and interesting past which you can read about here (see also the attached). If you have information to add, please contact us through the contact page. A significant contributor to this historical timeline is Marge Johnson from Weslaco, a Byliners member since 1959. In an article for our newsletter in January 2004, she provided names and dates and wrote about Byliners’ happenings and events that she herself lived through.
In 1943, the year the Byliners was founded, newspapers were written and managed mostly by men. Few women were journalists. So, given the male-dominated field at the time, it was unusual that the Byliners was started by women, for women. Minnie Gilbert of San Benito and Lucy Wallace of Mission were among the founders. If you have lived in the Valley a long time, you may know that Minnie wrote for the Brownsville Herald and the Valley Morning Star and Lucy for the Mission Times.
Starting in 1975, the Byliners began writing and publishing their own books. The first, “Gift of the Rio” was spearheaded by Lucy as part of the 1975 Bicentennial activities in Mission. She managed to get a grant for the publishing costs from the Mission Bicentennial organization. Singlehandedly, she rounded up the writers, helped come up with subjects, and pushed the project to completion. Each chapter, which was written by a different writer, told of places and events in Valley history. Minnie and Ann Washington edited the book and Ann did the index. Marge Johnson recalls all of them sitting around her dining table going over the galley proofs and laying out the pages. The book came out and was very well received. About 3,000 copies were printed. It sold well and the Byliners ended up with some money in the bank.
After a while, Lucy got a second wind and decided that the Byliners should write another book, this one about the people who settled the area and those who left a special mark on the Valley. Someone came up with the name “Roots by the River.” The press run was 3,000 again. The book was also well received and eventually made some more money. Roots by the River is now a collectible book and sells for $50.00 on Amazon.
A third book was conceived when it turned out that a lot of people were left out of the “Roots” book who deserved recognition. The book was called Rio Grande Roundup because it “rounded up” others who had done much for the area. This time the press run was 5,000 and was paid for by the monies made from the first two books. It did not move as fast but enough copies were sold to pay the printing expenses. Rio Grande Roundup is a collectible book and sells for $93.00 on Amazon.
Both Lucy and Minnie wrote several chapters in each of the books, as did Ann Washington; their work was always well researched and well written. Lucy died in the late 1980s and Minnie lived to age 99, leaving her writing days behind in the late 1990s. Marge Johnson remembers them as bright, interesting ladies who pursued their own careers, as well as the goal of creating these publications to leave a lasting legacy to the historical literature of the Valley. Others participated by writing a chapter or two, but Lucy and Minnie did the real work.
The Byliners was started to encourage women to become more professional in their writing and to find opportunities in the writing field, as well as to get to know each other. They wanted to exchange ideas and have fellowship with other women writers and wanted to concentrate on women’s interests without the men feeling they were the only ones who could write. Thus, for many years the Byliners had a “women only” rule for members.
This changed in the early 1980s when Ann Washington’s husband Tom became active in helping with the books the Byliners had published. So, the “women only” rule was dropped and men were invited to be members. Gradually, over the years, more men became interested in joined and now the membership is fairly even between the sexes.
The Byliners had a period of low membership, perhaps because a potential member had to be a published writer and had to be invited and recommended by two members to join. After the rules were changed in the late 1980s, membership increased again.
1980 - 2010
Since then, Byliners leaders including Eileen Mattei, Adrienne Ostmann, Mona Sizer, Jeff Harris, Ruth Harris, Sandra Vela, Janet Wilder, Jack King, and Don Clifford have helped the organization to continue its high level of achievement – with Excellence in Writing Contests and publications of the winning entries, monthly newsletters, annual Writers Workshops, monthly Writing Challenges, attainment of non-profit status, and publication of two more books: Tales Told at Midnight Along the Rio Grande, edited by Mona Sizer and published in 2006, and Collected Tales From the Rio Grande, edited by Don Clifford and published in 2010.
After Don Clifford completed his tenure as Valley Byliners President, Sue Groves took over that duty for the next 3 years. Sue was a great asset and had the Byliners join the local Chamber of Commerce during her term as group president.
During that time, Frank Cortazo, who had become a Byliners member during September of 2010, served as Vice-President of Programs. He brought in a variety of guest speakers into the monthly meetings, including, among several fiction and non-fiction authors, some poets, a comic book writer, a musician, a forensics specialist, a 12-year-old published author, the head of the , at the time, local Sarah Book Publishing Company, and others. He, also, brought in some excellent guest presenters for the annual Valley Byliners’ Writers Workshop such as Poet Laureatte Jan Seale and Alaskan author Laurel Bill. During this
time, Bruce Nelson was the Byliners Vice-President of Publicity with his colorful monthly newsletter that graced the group membership e-mails every month. These were, also, the first 3 years that Jose Alvarez served as group treasurer, a position that he would hold until the beginning of 2020.
With Sue Groves vacating the position of Byliners President, Frank Cortazo took over running the group with Ann Greenfield taking over as Vice-President of Programs until 2016. Frank would ‘double-up’ as President and as ‘acting Vice-President of Programs with, not only monthly speakers, but writing
activities, critique sessions, oral readings during his 3 rd year as President. During this 3 rd year, the office of Vice-President of Publicity, which had remained vacant after Bruce Nelson withdrew in 2014, would be filled by James Arnold.
With Frank Cortazo moving, for the next 3 years, to being one of the group’s 3 board members, (a slot that he vacated in May of 2020,) James Arnold took over as Byliners President. During this time, with assistance from the group, James did an excellent job of continuing the group meetings with monthly speakers and with providing some excellent workshop presenters. Ana Cavazos took over the office of Vice-President of Publicity from Jose Campos who had held it for a while. The, still-vacant, Vice-President of Programs office was filled in, briefly, first by Mark Esperanza and, later, by Delma Rodriquez, (who would assume the duties of the board member slot vacated by Frank Cortazo.) Mark Esperanza resumed his position as Vice President of Programs in August 2020. Kaitlynn Renteria took over as treasurer from Jose Alvarez in early 2020. During this same year, she vacated the position to finish her masters education.
Writing Challenge Writers Contest: The monthly Valley Byliners Writing Challenge Contest has been
an on-going aspect of the Valley Byliners since it was created by member Jack King who was the first person with the duty of running it each month. Since that time, members Don Clifford,
Edna Ratliff, Christina Bennett, Jose Campos, Ana Cavazos, James Arnold have each taken a turn at being in charge of running it each month.
The current president of Valley Byliners is James Arnold. The year 2020 brought on a devastating pandemic that sent our organization scrambling to create an online presence. James and the current Valley Byliners have successfully moved the organizations meetings to a hybrid format. For the year 2021 Valley Byliners , and hold their monthly meetings and Poetry Night on ZOOM and face to face.
See Events for the zoom link.
Valley Byliners Writer's Workshop Presenters 2012 -2020
2012: Laurel Bill---‘Get That Book Published’ writing tech-
2013: Jan Seale---writing and publishing.
2014: Laurel Bill and Verne Wheelwright with special
panelist Brenda Riojas---marketing and promoting
of one’s writings; creating platforms.
2015: Brenda Riojas--- the ‘aha’ writing strategies.
2016: Fern Brady of Inklings Publishing Company---writing activities.
2017: Fern Brady of Inkings Publishing Company---more writing activities.
2018: Emilio Cueto---the history of Cuba.
2019: Laurel Bill---writing and publishing and marketing.
2020: Evaliza Fuentes---museums and local history.
Byliners meetings are held at the Harlingen Library on second Saturdays at 1:30 p.m., except July. Writers and would-be writers seeking to perfect their craft and meet others who are doing the same are invited to attend a meeting and to join. Who knows? -- a sixth book may be in our future!
Books by Valley Byliners
Gift of the Rio. Valley Byliners Book I. 1975. Collectible.
Roots by the River Valley Byliners Book II. 1978. Collectible.
Tales Told at Midnight Along the Rio Grande 2006.
Collected Tales From the Rio Grande . 2010
Valley Byliners Writer's Organization
Valley Byliners is a Texas based non-profit organization registered as a 501(c)(3) public charity. All donations to Valley Byliners are tax deductible.
A Timeline of Valley Byliner Authors
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
excerpt from The Rio Grande: The River with a Thousand Tales
Jose A. Alvarez is a first generation immigrant to the United States. He grew up in Havana, Cuba and left the island in 1960 to attend college in the United States where he settled after graduation. He began writing personal essays and short stories after his first trip back to Cuba in 1997. He has lived and worked in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico, Israel and the Netherlands and enjoys writing about his experiences living in different cultures. Recently he moved to the Rio Grande Valley where he has been an active member of the Valley Byliners since 2010. He has also been a member of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito, where one of his stories was published in the 10th Anniversary Anthology.
Hugh Barlow is a stay-at-home father who has worked in a number of industries, such as a truck driver, gas pump jockey, junkyard mechanic, electrician, cook, and meat cutter in a packing plant. He has worked on road crews, and has his own business doing home and house trailer repairs. He collects Volkswagons and currently has four air-cooled VWs. He loves reading and writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. For fun, he repairs computers. He has been published in his college newspaper and had one poem published nationally. He hopes to go back to college and finish his education.
Mary Jo Bogato has taken her love of nature and turned her South Texas ranch into a natural outdoor classroom. With lots of love and hard work, she took an over-grazed ranch and turned it into a balanced and natural habitat for native species. She was featured on Texas Parks and Wildlife TV for winning a Lone Star Land Steward award. She is an avid outdoorswoman, nature photographer and angler. Wildlife photos including alligators have been taken on the ranch and published in books and articles for years. She has been recognized and known for being passionate about outreach and education. As a master naturalist, hunter, angler, instructor or guide, Mary Jo is a model of how to motivate people about conservation of wildlife and habitat.
Don Clifford is a retired U.S. Air Force officer whose nonfiction articles appeared in various archaeological journals, UT/Brownsville Historical Studies and Valley newspapers. His first published fiction is The Outhouse, a short story that appears here as the first-time winner in the history of the Jack King Writers' Challenge. In 1995 he served as editor of the prizewinning NEWSLETTER of the Cameron County Historical Commission; in 1996 he co-edited A Blast From The Past for the Brownsville Historical Association; in 1998 he coauthored A Kid's History of Brownsville; in 2008 he published his first novel, Ben Solomon in Destiny Diverted. In 2010 he was the chief editor of the Valley Byliners book Collected Tales From The Rio Grande. His latest work is a children's book Zoo Nonsense, a zany collection of rhymes with crazy animal antics illustrated by Olga Cruhm. Anticipated in 2014 is Squeaky, The Littlest Angel.
Frank Cortazo , a retired elementary school teacher and parttime dance instructor, wrote his first short fiction story when he was nine years old, a crime tale patterned after a 1940’s television movie serial. His earliest influences were western movies from Mexico with characters similar to the fictional swordsman Zorro. They led to his interest in super-hero comic books, classic Hammer Films and Universal Studios horror and science-fiction movies. Since high school he wrote rhyming narrative poetry. Some of his poems were published in several anthologies during the late 1990’s. He uses comic books, paperback novels, videos, and other items pertaining to the super heroes, horror, sciencefiction, western, and mystery genres as sources for his writing. He credits authors Louis Lamour, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Ian Fleming, Robert E. Howard, and many others as influences in the creation of his own works of fiction.
Marge Flados is a retired registered nurse who has authored two books. The Road From Spink, published in 2005, is a perspective on life while growing up in the rural Midwest during the Great Depression and WWII. Retro Parenting was published in 2013 and offers methods of parenting that 21st century parents no longer employ but would work better than the organized lifestyle children endure today. According to Marge's resume, she has moved 28 times, lived in 20 towns and cities, 10 states, the Panama Canal Zone, and served in the U.S. Navy. She and her now deceased husband, Norman, eventually settled in Harlingen, Texas. Her story, A Cat's Tale, is a Jack's Writing Challenge winner.
Rudy H. Garcia lives in Laguna Vista, TX., and he and his wife Rita have four daughters. His poems appear in Telling Tongues, Calaca Press, Northwestern University; poets of the east village N.Y./N.Y.; and poetry pachanga, Border Senses.
Pete Gray grew up in Kearney, New Jersey, at the end of World
War II when rock and roll was popular and times were prosperous. He intended to become an automotive design engineer but fate drew him to California and an initial career in photography. His photographs won prizes, were published in magazines, and sold in two art galleries in Orange County. His embellished career included computer programs, fiction, poetry, travelogues, essays, self-help books, instruction manuals, business plans, technical reports and a few letters. Since retirement, Pete has had articles and photographs published in such magazines as Messing About In Boats, Trailer Life, RV Life, and Escapees. In 2007, he married journalist Grace Guido and when they are not writing about their travels across North America, they spend the winter at the Fun N Sun trailer resort near San Benito.
Eunice Greenhaus was born and raised in New York City. She went to school in Massachusetts, lived in Connecticut, California and Texas. She settled in a San Benito, TX trailer park where she teaches Mah Jong and writes. Her memoirs and poems appeared in two previous Valley Byliner books, Tales Told at Midnight Along the Rio Grande and Collected Tales From the Rio Grande. As a member of the Writers Group at Fun N Sun, she wrote for and helped edit Fun N Sun Then and Now, a history of the RV resort, its residents and activities.
Ann Greenfield is a native Texan, born in Austin, raised in Amarillo, and lives in McAllen with her husband and two cats. She received a B.S. in Education from Texas State University, and is a member of the Writers League of Texas and Valley Byliners. Ann has attended the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, Jodi Thomas’ Writers’ Academy and Sandi Ault’s Wild Writers’ workshop. Ann’s career began when she took a local writing course in order to help her son with college English. During the course, she had an opportunity to submit a ghost story to a the Valley Byliners who accepted and published her first story: “The Hanging Room,” in Tales Told at Midnight Along the Rio Grande. Ann writes romance, mystery, and fantasy. Published writing credits include: “Winter Traditions” and “They’re Heeeere!” in Valleysong; and
“Ghost Sheriff” and “Entertaining Angels Unaware,” in Haunted Texas Highways.
Sue Groves is an Emmy-award winning photojournalist, who moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 2011, after spending many years in broadcast journalism and the entertainment industry. She worked with the West Coast Bureau of NBC Network News and the Walt Disney Studios. While in southern California, she wrote and produced several documentaries, industrial and music videos, and traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Soviet Union. After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mass Communications, Groves spent her junior year in London, studying British theater, film, literature and politics. She later pursued her masters degree in Cinema at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Currently, Groves is a contributing writer/photographer for Beyond ARTS and the Church Reporter magazines in the Rio Grande Valley, and volunteers as a pastoral services lay minister, lector and elementary school teacher for the Catholic Church. She enjoys softball, fencing, and horseback riding, and can kick-start a Harley.
Susan LeMiles (Holmes) has authored a novel, an historical brochure published by the South Padre Island Bureau of Conventions and Tourism, and is a featured columnist for the monthly magazine, Valley Business Report. The poetry, she writes for herself.
A romantic suspense novelist, she sets her stories in the rich historical context of the Rio Grande Valley. Touch the Mayan
Moon, reflects her understanding that The Rio Grande Valley is neither Texas nor Mexico, but a land of its own, with its own history, its own people, mingled in a cross cultural environment. This book is available in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon or her author website www.susanlemiles.com. Her next novel is set in Port Isabel in 1865. She plans publication to coincide with the 150th anniversary events of the Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War.
Milo Kearney is a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Texas at Brownsville. He and his wife, Vivian, now live in San Antonio, Texas, in order to be near their daughter Kathleen and son-in-law Danny Anzak, their son Sean and daughter-in-law Lisa, and all their grandchildren. Milo has published nine books as editor and eleven as author, including Stories that Brownsville Told Its Children and Border Walls, A Musical About Redbeard of the Rio Grande. His latest work, published in 2013, is Man, God, Satan, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, a collection of poems that comment on our spirituality, the meaning of life, the roots of Faith, and the role of the Church.
Jack King was born in 1936 in Raymondville, Texas, and after some moving around, he went back to Raymondville and finished high school. He pulled a three-year hitch in the Army, then worked eighteen months in heavy steel fabrication and 5 ½ years in gas pipeline construction. He started college at the age of 29 and earned an A.A. in architecture at San Antonio College, then a B.A in Humanities at U.T. Austin. He worked for the Texas Department of Health for ten years, taught high school English for two years, and art classes for more than 20 years. Some of his short stories appear in Collected Tales from the Rio Grande, for which he designed the book's cover. Jack is a Byliners Past President, lives in Harlingen with wife, Nina, and daughter, Miranda. His son, Cody, is in college.
Bruce & Marianna Nelson sold their Connecticut home in
1997 to travel in a 26’ house on wheels. Their on-the-road adventures plus tales of their present life in the Valley are chronicled and photographed in a blog called “Nelson’s Notes” (www.otr.studoio221.net). Three of Marianna’s previous stories appear in Tales Told At Midnight Along the Rio Grande and Collected Tales From the Rio Grande. Her contributions in this book come from her stories about growing up in the northeast.
Bruce’s creative bent finds outlet in several videos including “The Computer Fix-It Shop” which won Best Technical Achievement from the WILD’s Film Contest in 2008. Fog is Bruce’s first appearance in a Byliners anthology. Bruce served as Byliners Vice President for Public Relations and Newsletter Editor while Marianna served on the Byliners Board of Directors.
LeRoy Overstreet writes mostly about his unique adventures that began during the Great Depression and continue today. His stories include experiences on some vast cattle ranches of central Florida, rodeos, alligator hunting, inventions, and many other subjects Most of these stories are contained in his latest book published in 2013, Adventures and Escapades with Friends, Foes and Renegade. It's a collection of personal incidents told in a true tall Texan style as would be expected of someone who now lives near Rio Hondo, Texas. And if you ever wanted to catch and skin an alligator, in 2012, LeRoy published details in his How to Catch an Alligator...and what to do with it when you catch it!
Kamala Platt, Ph.D., M.F.A. is an author, artist, profesora, and independent scholar in South Texas and at The Meadowlark Center in Kansas. In her poetry her teaching and her life, she engages ecological and cultural borderland traditions and “green rascuache” life ways, to find footholds of environmental and social justice & well-being amidst the crises of a feverish planet. Following a community compilation Kinientos (Wordsworth, 1992) and first collection of poetry, On the Line, (Wings Press, 2010), she is currently encouraging preorders for a current and historical borderland chapbook, Weedslovers: Ten Years in the Shadow of September for Finishing Line Press, publication in Spring, 2014.
Edna Ratliff was born in Columbus, OH across from the Ohio State Football stadium. At the age of six, Edna’s family moved to Pickerington, Ohio. While in the third grade she wrote a play about being kind to one another, made hand puppets out of socks, a stage out of a huge cardboard box, and put on the play for her class The teacher asked her to do the play for other classes too. Ever since then she has been writing stories for children. Also, fiction mysteries fascinate her as she figures out where to leave clues for who did it. Her publishing credits include an article on "Tecumseh" for Ohio Magazine, "Bridging the Gap" for Good Old Days magazine. She and her husband, Ed, moved to Mission, TX in 2012. Since then, she serves as moderator and collector of the short stories submitted for Jack's Writing Challenge.
Joan Soggie travels the full length of the Great Plains each Spring and Fall with her husband, Dennis, from their forever home in Elbow, Saskatchewan, to their adopted home in Harlingen, Texas. Little wonder that her writing draws from the landscapes, histories and personalities of the prairies. Her stories have been published in Saskatchewan History and Folklore, the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society Newsletter, and online at virtualsaskatchewan. Besides reading and writing, Joan enjoys kayaking, hiking, dancing with her partner of 50 years, and just being Grandma. Joan and Dennis have four grown-up children and eleven nearly-grown-up grandchildren.
Caroline Steele returned to the Valley after an absence of 20 years. She considers herself a world traveler and teacher, enjoys reading and writing, is involved in community activities such as Scouting, church, library and is a cat whisperer at the animal shelter. She says her best publishing efforts are "Letters-to-the Editor." Her poem, History Lesson, was published and taped for the blind, and presented here as a Jack's Writing Challenge winner. Although she won a newspaper contest in Honolulu with a holiday story in 2002, she does not see herself as a truly published author - college magazines hardly count when they showcase various talents in the school. She did have a short story published in the Saltwater Papaya in Canal Zone, Panama.
Judy Stevens finds time to be a rock hound, potter, cartoonist, and eclectic collector. Originally from Minnesota by way of Southern California, she came to the Rio Grande Valley in January 1997 with her husband and daughter. Nowadays, she delights in watching the grandkids grow and hanging out with Grandpa. Judy is a multiple-repeat winner of Jack's Writing Challenge. Her stories also appear in Tales Told at Midnight Along The Rio Grande and Collected Tales From The Rio Grande.
Georgia Tuxbury retired from public relations and advertising in Michigan and moved to South Texas where for seven years she was the Rio Grande Valley reporter for Southwest Farm Press. She is currently a freelance writer, who writes plays, short stories, poetry and novels. Alamo Country Club, where she lives, has presented more than a dozen of her plays. For nine years, she has led a class in “Writing Your Life Story,” and leads a weekly critique group that meets at the Pharr Library. She and her husband Bob live in Alamo and have five children and eight grandchildren.
Bidgie Weber was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. She has a deep abiding love for the area and enjoys writing poems and stories about her childhood. Fiction is a relatively new endeavor for her and, like everyone else, waits to write that novel that hovers at the edge of her mind. Her first experience in writing was drafting commercials for KELT-FM radio. She says she hopes to keep writing "...till my fingers are too stiff to hold a pen." Bidgie's short stories appear in all three recent Byliner books.
Verne Wheelwright, PhD. is an internationally recognized professional in the field of Foresight and Futures Studies. He is the author of It's Your Future, Make it A Good One! as well as The Personal Futures Workbook. He has published articles in a number of professional journals and other publications. He has addressed audiences in major cities across the U.S. and in several international cities about how to explore and plan for the future. His web site is www.Personal Futures.Net. Verne's short stories appear in all three recent Byliner publications.
Travis M. Whitehead is a Valley resident employed as a reporter for AIM MEDIA Texas, formerly the Valley Freedom Newspapers group. His stories and articles have appeared in the Valley Morning Star, the McAllen Monitor, and the Brownsville Herald. Travis developed an early interest in the culture of Mexico. "I am drawn to the liberation of uncertainty south of the Rio Grande River," he said. "The unexpected flashes of color and human impulse energize me, and I take inspiration from the unabashed individualism that flourishes there." He studied English and Spanish at Texas State University and traveled extensively through Europe and ended up in Mexico for the purpose of writing a biography about a bullfighter. Instead, he was overwhelmed by the beautiful handmade works of Central Mexico. The result is a book published by Otra Voces, The Artisans of Michoacán: By Their Hands, which he wrote "... to provide an introduction of the artisans to the rest of the world."
Janice Workman claims she is "...a Texan since 1986, Yankee for life. Writing since I could put crayon to paper. Published in Tales Told At Midnight Along the Rio Grande and Collected Tales From The Rio Grande. Enjoy various hobbies and adventures that keep me in writing ideas. Live with my husband and dog pack, not so quietly, in Harlingen, Texas, and await discovery, fame and fortune."
Nellie Venselaar passed away in 2013 after living an exciting
94 years. As a child in Holland, she pledged that she would see the world, which she did...England, Holland, Indonesia, USA, and Australia with visits to 60 more countries. She is a published author whose short stories and poems appeared in two previous Valley Byliners publications, Tales Told at Midnight Along the Rio Grande and Collected Tales From The Rio Grande. One of her first published novels, A Musical Journey, is a fictional account of one family's escape from Nazi-held Holland---which may mirror her own departure from Europe during World War II. In her later years, she divided her time between a home in Canada and Harlingen, Texas. She held no Byliners office but contributed immensely to its success with her willingness and volunteer spirit.
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