Valerie Stambaugh, office manager at Historic Waco Foundation, is rooted in Waco history. She became an HWF volunteer at age 14, and at age 15 she became a docent. When she wasn’t leading tours of the Fort House, she was listening to her father tell stories about Waco. Now she shares her love of local history with her own children, Joshua, 13, and Miles, 6. Stambaugh says their family schedule is strategically simple, allowing more time for spontaneous adventures in Waco.
WACOAN: How did you get involved in Historic Waco Foundation?
Stambaugh: My dad, Bobby Moon, grew up here, and he loved Waco history. From the age of 6 he would take me to the Waco Suspension Bridge on Monday afternoons. I would bring a [McDonald’s] Happy Meal, and he would tell me about Waco history. It was always the same story, but I loved hearing it.
When I was 14 my parents saw an ad in the paper about Historic Waco Foundation’s lectures. We all came as a family and fell in love. I went through the [Lavonia Jenkins] Barnes Decorative Arts Course and became a docent at the age of 15. To my knowledge, I was the youngest person to become a docent.
The Fort House is my favorite. We did tours as a family, and my dad helped take care of the Fort family plot at Oakwood Cemetery. There’s a brick with my father’s name outside of Fort House. A volunteer said I grew up in this house, and I did. My family loved doing the tours. We also loved country dancing. So after the tours we’d put on our western wear and head to Melody Ranch.
WACOAN: Tell me more about becoming a docent. What are the requirements?
Stambaugh: A docent is required to go to the house lectures and the Barnes course discussing decorative art and Waco history. They have to attend our fall lecture on Waco history. After they’ve taken all those steps, they can give tours at our four house [museums]. They choose one house to focus on. We have committees for all our houses.
WACOAN: What house committee were you on?
Stambaugh: Way back in the day, I was on the committee for the Fort House. Unfortunately, that committee has dissolved. But we still have volunteers who give tours, and I’ll give tours on the weekends. I feel like I’m coming back to my roots at Fort House.
WACOAN: There are four house museums. What drew you to the Fort House?
Stambaugh: You can’t come to this house and not fall in love with the Fort family.
Mr. [William Aldridge] Fort came to Waco from Alabama. He had four children. His only daughter, Mary, died of typhoid fever. He died six weeks later from grief. Then the youngest son, Willie, died from typhoid fever. His wife, [Dionitia Elizabeth Wilson,] was left alone with the two boys. She wore black from the day Mary died until her own death at age 80. They’re all buried at Oakwood Cemetery.
My mom was the committee chair for the Fort House. As a family we decided to go see the Fort family plot at Oakwood Cemetery. We saw that it was overgrown and not in good condition. My sister and I found a border that had been sunken in the ground. My parents took it to the Fort House committee and asked if anything could be done. With the help of the owners of Oakwood Cemetery they redid the Fort family plot.
WACOAN: How are the house museums different from one another?
Stambaugh: Each family comes from a different area. They all bring their own story, and they’re all incredible. [J.W.] Mann built the East Terrace House. That’s the only house that wasn’t built in Greek revival style because his wife was from up north.
WACOAN: And Mr. Mann built East Terrace House for his wife?
Stambaugh: Yes. I love the line in our brochure that says, ‘Every princess needs a castle.’ That’s so perfect. The Manns only had two boys.
With the McCulloch family, they had a lot of kids and so did their kids. It’s the same with Earle-Napier-Kinnard — they had a big family.
WACOAN: What led you to your current position?
Stambaugh: Two and a half years ago, about nine months after my dad passed away, I saw an ad for an administrative assistant job at HWF. Thanks to my background with HWF, I got the job. I’d studied child development at McLennan Community College and worked at a preschool before that. So this was a change.
I’ve recently transitioned to office manager. Now I manage rentals, group tours, incoming money and membership.
WACOAN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Stambaugh: Working with the volunteers. We have some fabulous ladies and gentlemen. It’s mostly ladies, of course. They care so much about the houses, and they’re all tied to their own houses. As much as we want them to see Historic Waco Foundation as one entity, it’s neat to see people get tied to one family and house.
WACOAN: How was the organization formed?
Stambaugh: It all started with the Fort House. After Mrs. Fort died, it was turned into a boarding house. The City of Waco was ready to tear down the house because it was in bad shape. Three organizations [Heritage Society, the Society for Historic Preservation and the Duncan Foundation] combined their powers to make Historic Waco Foundation in 1967. [Editor’s note: the Junior League of Waco purchased the Fort House in 1956.]
WACOAN: What is HWF’s role within the community?
Stambaugh: To keep local history alive. Waco isn’t just Central Texas Marketplace or [Richland] Mall. We have a history, and it’s amazing.
WACOAN: How has HWF preserved the houses?
Stambaugh: The roof of the McCulloch House was recently repaired. East Terrace House was recently repaired. All of the siding was repainted at Earle-Napier-Kinnard House. We have a House and Grounds Committee, and each committee has a house and grounds chair. So that person will come to the committee, and they’ll decide which projects to do. The funding is tough. We would love to hit all of the projects at one time, but it gets expensive.
WACOAN: As a nonprofit organization how do you fund house repairs?
Stambaugh: Membership and events. We rely heavily on our events. Our largest event, Attic Treasures, is coming up on the first weekend in May. When I’m out in the community, people always ask when Attic Treasures will be. Everyone loves this event.
WACOAN: What do people say when you tell them you work for Historic Waco?
Stambaugh: ‘What a cool job.’ And it really is.
WACOAN: What does a typical workday look like?
Stambaugh: I come in at 8 a.m. The office doesn’t open until 8:30 a.m., but because I drop my kids off at school, I get there at 8 a.m. I’ll try to take off at 4:45 p.m. instead of 5 p.m., and sometimes that actually happens. Events usually start at 6 p.m. So my schedule varies.
I work 9-to-5 plus. I work all the events. With events I am the check-in person. Because I’m the one taking all the reservations, I am familiar with their names and where they’d like to sit. At the events our volunteers are amazing. I’ve never been to an event where a volunteer didn’t ask if I needed a drink or plate of food.
WACOAN: How do you balance your full-time job, which includes attending those events, with being a mom?
Stambaugh: As a mom I try to teach my kids that our community’s history is very important. I want them to understand that the time I spend at events helps preserve the history of Waco.
I keep life simple. I try not to overschedule my family. I also find shortcuts when possible. I love using frozen diced onions and frozen diced green peppers in recipes. There’s no telling how much time I’ve saved over the years by not chopping fresh onions and peppers.
WACOAN: As a working mom, how do you manage your kids’ activities?
Stambaugh: That isn’t a struggle for us. I always offer my children the opportunity to get involved in activities. They have not expressed an interest in joining any sports teams yet. My youngest has Cub Scouts once a week, so that’s on the schedule. My fiance is his den leader, so he takes care of that.
When my oldest was little, I had him in gymnastics, violin and karate. We were very active. For some families it works to ‘go, go, go.’ For us it works to play it by ear. I understand that my kids have long days too. We drop off Miles, my youngest, at 7:30 a.m. and pick him up at 4:30 p.m. That’s a full day. I don’t want to say, ‘I know you’re exhausted, but we have to go do this.’
WACOAN: Tell me more about your kids. How old are they?
Stambaugh: Joshua is 13 and Miles is 6. They both go to Rapoport Academy.
WACOAN: Do your boys enjoy Rapoport?
Stambaugh: Both kids seem to be doing well there. Joshua was at Waco Baptist Academy for a number of years. We were crazy about that school. Financially, we just couldn’t do it anymore, even with the scholarship. We were limited on options, so we tried for Rapoport.
WACOAN: And with Rapoport’s lottery system, you didn’t know if you’d get in.
Stambaugh: Exactly. We started with Miles, my youngest. We kept Joshua at Waco Baptist Academy for [another] year. Because Miles was at Rapoport, it boosted Joshua’s chances of getting in.
WACOAN: What do your mornings look like?
Stambaugh: It’s simpler now that my kids are older. They can dress themselves and brush their teeth. I don’t have to pack a diaper bag.
I wake up at 6:15 a.m. I make Miles’ lunch, and then I get myself ready. At 7 a.m. I wake the kids up. I try to have everything ready the night before so the mornings are less stressful. Thankfully, Joshua wears a uniform. That makes it simpler. I’m out the door by 7:30 a.m.
WACOAN: So you squeeze in a little bit of alone time in the morning?
Stambaugh: I have about 45 minutes to take care of myself. That’s when I take a shower.
WACOAN: What’s the most difficult part of raising two boys?
Stambaugh: Leaning about boys. My family had all girls.
WACOAN: What’s the fun part of raising two boys?
Stambaugh: Learning about boys. It’s a totally different ballgame. Growing up, I had Barbies. Now my house has turned into Star Wars central. And I love it. I love who my kids are. They’re so different. Joshua is the serious one. He’s insanely smart. He blows my mind with the things he’s said. He’s recently gotten into politics. We’ll be washing the dishes together — he’s drying, and I’m washing — and talk politics.
Miles is so sweet. He can bounce off the walls. He keeps us on our toes. He’s the lovey one. Joshua is too old for that now.
WACOAN: How has being a mom changed you?
Stambaugh: I’ve been a mom for a long time. Before that I taught prekindergarten. I’ve been around children for a long time. But my love for my kids is different. You have something always on your mind. You’re wondering how they’re doing. It shifts your focus of life. The focus isn’t me.
When Joshua was little, I stayed at home with him. I had just finished the child development program. Everything in his room was black, white and red because that helped his brain develop. We were always reading. He always won the reading award at school. With Miles it was different. Now it’s, ‘You look like you’re doing OK.’
WACOAN: How did you decide to stay home with Joshua?
Stambaugh: When I had Joshua, my intention was to keep him at MCC’s amazing Child Development Center. That lasted for about a week. I’d get home and cry because I felt like I didn’t know him. So I stayed home with him until he was 3 years old. Then I got involved with the mother’s day out program [Kids’ Kingdom] at Highland Baptist Church. I worked for them for seven years. It’s a great program because the kids can bond with their moms and be social with other kids a few days a week.
When Miles was 3, I started working full time for financial reasons.
WACOAN: Now, as a working mom, how do you define balance for your family?
Stambaugh: At the end of the day I ask, ‘Do my kids feel loved? Do they know they are loved by God?’ As long as I know those things are true, we have achieved balance.
WACOAN: How do you prioritize?
Stambaugh: Kids come first. That’s the wonderful part of HWF. Everyone there seems to understand you have to take care of your family.
WACOAN: How do you stay organized?
Stambaugh: Sticky notes, lists and more sticky notes. If I don’t write it down, I don’t remember it. My desk is full of sticky notes. I have a desk calendar because I can’t do electronic calendars. I have to write things down. I have a calendar on my coffee table. I have one in my bedroom, so I can’t miss it.
WACOAN: How do you handle it when you can’t cross something off your to-do list?
Stambaugh: That is hard for me. I know Bryan, my fiance, is there next to me. He’ll tell me, ‘OK, we will get to this.’ I know we will get to it.
WACOAN: Tell me more about him.
Stambaugh: He is such a gentleman. Bryan takes of me and the boys so well. He opens my door, and I love when the kids see that. Miles had been watching Bryan open the door for me, so he ran to the truck to open my door. Bryan is teaching Joshua how to shoot. It’s outside of Joshua’s comfort zone, but he wants to know how to do it. They go to the shooting range, and that’s their bonding time.
WACOAN: What does Bryan do?
Stambaugh: He works at the Veterans’ Affairs [Waco Regional Benefit Office]. He’s actually a member of the McCulloch House committee, and he is going through the Barnes course. Bryan reminds me of my dad. He takes care of business, and he’s gotten into Waco history.
WACOAN: What do you two enjoy doing together?
Stambaugh: Now that Joshua is 13, we are OK with letting him babysit Miles for a limited amount of time. We’ve made a list of things we haven’t done in Waco, but we always end up at the same place. We always go to Casa de Castillo, which used to be Italian Village. My family always went to Italian Village.
Bryan and I don’t get a lot of alone time. We try to have fun as a family. When we go out, we always end up window shopping. You’re able to shop without a kid walking behind you saying, ‘I’m tired’ or wandering off.
WACOAN: How do you make time to care for yourself?
Stambaugh: Bryan takes care of me for me. If I’m having a hard day, he says, ‘I’ll make dinner for you, and there will be a hot bath when you get home.’ I need that. If I don’t have someone tell me, ‘Go, chill out,’ I’ll keep going.
I’ll get home and see something that needs cleaned. One time I told Bryan, ‘I need to go clean the bathroom.’ He said, ‘I’ll clean the bathroom. You sit here on the couch.’ We ended up cleaning it together, but that’s one of my favorite things about him. He directs me to take care of myself.
Once every six months I’ll go get a massage at The Spa at Canyon Oaks. That’s only every once in a while, and it has to be on special.
WACOAN: What does your family like to do in Waco?
Stambaugh: We love experiencing Waco. It hurts my heart when I hear someone say, ‘There’s nothing to do in Waco.’ Open your eyes!
Other than Cub Scouts, we don’t have scheduled activities. And I like it that way. I don’t want to keep things too scheduled — I try to keep things flexible. If we have time, we’ll go to Cameron Park or Indian Spring Park. We toss tortillas off the Suspension Bridge. I don’t know whether that’s legal, but there’s no sign saying you can’t toss tortillas. We go to Cameron Park Zoo and the Mayborn Museum. We’ll go to McLane Stadium. We also put a brick there for my dad. He was a diesel mechanic, and he had nothing to do with Baylor. But Baylor is part of Waco.
WACOAN: How do you instill a love for Waco in your children?
Stambaugh: I try to talk to them the way my dad talked to me. I’ll talk to them when I drive them to school. My youngest is crazy about the ALICO building. When we cross the bridge by the Mrs. Baird’s sign, he’ll say, ‘I see the ALICO!’ If we’re by the river, by East Terrace House, he’ll say, ‘There’s the ALICO!’ When we drive by a historical house, he’ll say, ‘There’s one of your works!’
I told Miles about the tornado in downtown Waco [in 1953]. I pointed out the damage at the Dr Pepper Museum, where the tornado hit. We were driving downtown, and he asked if this is where the tornado happened. Then I heard him crying in the backseat. He took it to heart.
I also tell them what Waco was like in the 1980s, when I was growing up. That’s part of history too. Back when I was growing up, you couldn’t go to Cameron Park because it was dangerous. Thankfully, they’ve turned it around, and now we can go to Cameron Park, and it’s safe.
Many of our family outings include some element of Waco history, whether it’s a trip to a museum or just a brief mention of the building of the Suspension Bridge as we’re driving downtown. I try to teach my children that our community’s history is very important.