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Waco Then & Now
by: Abby Rapoport-baker
Many of my grandparents’ friends enjoy reflecting about their sojourns to Waco. They recount trips to the house my grandparents built in 1958 and their introductions to some of the city’s favorite eateries, like El Conquistador or the now long-shuttered Brazos Queen. Many often wondered, as my grandparents became more successful, why they chose to stay in a town seemingly so far off the beaten path from power.
To strangers, Waco can seem like an unknown quantity and a place with undetermined opportunity. Waco has the same issues as other cities with too many families not having access to healthcare and where too many children don’t finish their education. Poverty can seem pervasive and good jobs hard to come by.
Yet so many people from Waco have spent their lives committed to improving their city. It’s these amazing individuals who have created so many initiatives and projects that point to a bright future for the town. To name just a few organizations involved in this effort: there’s Caritas, ensuring that hungry families get the food security they need, and the Doris Miller Y, providing East Waco families with fun options for recreation and wellness. There’s also a sustained emphasis on education, with the early childhood work at Waco’s Avance office and the advanced programs at McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College. So many people are doing so much good, there’s no way to list it all. And now, there’s Prosper Waco, which helps bring all this good work together.
Waco has always been a part of my family, and my grandmother in particular has always had a special pride in her hometown. Her own grandparents arrived in Waco in 1906, 17 years before she was born. Back then, the town was still cotton country, and my great-great-grandfather, Bernhardt Meyer Goodman and his brother Max owned the Goodman Liquor Company. She and my grandfather married here in 1942. Five years later, they gave birth to my father at Hillcrest Hospital. Waco has been home to my family for generations.
My grandmother will happily take trips down memory lane, telling stories about her childhood drives on Austin Avenue or taking my father on the little train at Lions Park, where he loved to go as a boy. But just as cheerfully, she’ll recount the changes that have come to the town. In the same breath that she tells me about her own childhood trips to Cameron Zoo in the late ‘20s, she also gets excited at the idea of taking her great-grandchildren to the new and expanded Cameron Zoo or the Waco Mammoth Site.
Waco is changing, and the rise of Prosper Waco offers the town a chance to change for the better in so many different ways. The project brings together leaders from across different arenas, from those doing civic work to those at nonprofits and those in business, all with the goal of helping residents access education, healthcare and financial security. The challenge is enormous, to be sure. But this is the first time so many people have come around a table with a shared goal and clear ideas about how to invest time and money into getting there. With enough hard work and commitment, along with the necessary resources, let’s hope prosperity can come to all Waco residents.
When my grandparents started their foundation, there was little question that they wanted it a focus on Waco, the town that had done so much for them. That’s why one third of all dollars go to local programs. But nothing could make us happier than the idea so many others have now joined together to help this wonderful community reach its potential.
It is said that “Adversity is the Best Teacher.”
If that is the case, the parents of Bernard Rapoport received a fine education. As the son of Jewish Russian immigrants, Bernard came to know the lessons of strife. His father, David, got caught up in the Russian revolution of 1905 and was exiled to Siberia for distributing propaganda against the czar. He was ultimately condemned to death but escaped in 1910 by walking 600 miles to Belgium.
It was only through the help of common people that he lived, and through relatives that he came to the United States and landed in San Antonio. In those early years in the States, he joined the Socialist Party, a movement that suggests common ownership and democratic control by all. He would soon meet Reva Feldman, the daughter of Hasidic Jews, who would later expose Bernard to the Jewish faith.
Poor and struggling, they began their life together. The elder Rapoport peddled blankets from a pushcart in San Antonio. The family was evicted, and continued to face financial difficulties through the Depression. Yet, throughout his youth, Bernard felt they had much to be grateful for, including books and music.
Another challenge that would leave a lasting mark upon the young Rapoport was an accident that took place when he was 13. As he rushed home from Yom Kippur services, he was hit by a car. The accident forced him to be bedridden for a year and a half and left him with a permanent limp. As a diversion, he read many books while he recuperated, perhaps one of the reasons he is such a proponent of reading programs to this day.
As if poverty and disability were not enough, Bernard would come to learn first-hand about social injustice. Growing up in an era of anti-Semitic and anti-black bigotry provided its own lessons in overcoming prejudice. He learned what it was like to be a second-class citizen, and learned tolerance from his father, who often rode with blacks at the back of the bus in support.
These formative years shaped and formed what would later become the under girding of the Rapoport Foundation: a pursuit of social justice and equality, a desire to help the disadvantaged and underserved, a love of reading and music, and a will to provide children with an education and its resulting potential.
But the Foundation would come later. First, it took decades of hard work and tireless dedication to workers who he helped by selling insurance to them and their families. With a modest investment in 1951, Bernard would grow the American Income Life Insurance Company to a company worth more than $560 million. This rags-to-riches story earned him the 1999 Horatio Alger Award of Distinguished Americans, an honor given to those individuals who become successful despite adversity and who encourage young people to pursue their dreams with determination and perseverance.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was marrying Audre Newman – his beloved wife of 66 years. They are inseparable, and her wisdom and wit brings joy and warmth to everyone they encounter.
From business and political leaders, celebrities, and grassroots workers, Audre moved among them with grace and ease. While not one to relish the limelight, Audre did much to promote organizations she believes in. She was especially ardent about groups that care for poor, abused or struggling women and children.
With an unbridled affection for their family, the legacy of Bernard & Audre Rapoport extends throughout the family and will be felt for generations to come. It is their hope that more people will know the joy that comes from giving. After all, they will tell you, it’s tradition!