The Austin Toastmasters Club was founded in May of 1980 by David Abel and Jim Goff, of the Tejas Toastmasters club. The club originally met at Wylie's Bar and Grill on Sixth Street, and remained a "downtown club" for many years, including a long stint at the famous Driskill Hotel.
The founders set a high standard for success, protocol and commitment, and their longevity with the club paid off, as represented by our smooth meetings, our strong, varied membership today, and the striking number of award ribbons adorning our club's Toastmasters banner.
In 1982, the club awarded its first Communication Achievement Award to local CBS news anchor Neil Spelce, and began a fine tradition that continues today. The social nature of our club was spawned during the early years, when the club was known as "the Sixth Street club." We left downtown to our current location at the LCRA building on Lake Austin in 1998, but the fun, camaraderie and self-development are still going strong over 30 years later.
The Insider History of The AustinToastmasters
We are proud of our longevity and our ability to attract and keep quality members.
The Austin Toastmasters Club was sponsored by the Tejas Toastmasters Club (District 56) as part of the process of receiving credit towards their DTM. Thus, the club began in May of 1980. The original club sponsors were David Abel and Jim Goff.
Our club began meeting at Wylie's Bar and Grill. After a couple of years, we moved to the Toulouse Restaurant where we met for the next several years. We moved up to the famous Driskill Hotel were we developed a reputation as "The 6th Street Club."
Next, Allison Blackmar, a particularly dynamic member of the club during the mid 90's, and a nurse by profession, coined the phrase PMS (Post Meeting Social). The years at the Driskill were noted for, shall we say, very enthusiastic socials! In fact, our club was well know among the district for our social activities as well as our protocol. A concentrated effort was made to make sure our meeting started and ended on time. A tradition we carry on to this day.
Our outgoing style and commitment to a high standard of performance paid off. The club stabilized and enjoyed a committed nucleus of members by 1982. The leadership motivated the club to engage in the club management plan, and we began competing among other clubs. We became one of the top clubs in the nation.
In those days, there was a little more effort needed to become a Toastmaster. For example, the basic manual had 15 speeches to be completed, today it's 10. We began to compete in area and division and district competitions. Our success is visible to all by the sheer number of award ribbons we see every meeting at the front of the room.
Our club first awarded the Communication Achievement Award in 1982. Neal Spelce, a CBS affiliate anchor was the first recipient. The award demonstrates our club's desire to give back to the community.
In 1988, David Abel was elected District Governor. He and Michael Holman served as co-editors of the District 56 Newsletter.
David Able, a.k.a. "The Englishman," was a controversial member. Outspoken, he could be brash at times. Nevertheless, he was a spiritual leader and a key founding member of our club. One night in the late eighties, he got up for a table topic speech, and his topic was "What is one tradition in your family?"
David had been a smoker for many years, and he said that in his family breathing had been a tradition. He then went on to shock the audience, "I have just been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer…I've been given 3 months to live." Stunned, the hushed crowd listened intently. "Do you give in…or do you fight the beast? I'm a fighter!"
The club supported him through the treatment, the weakness, and the loss of hair. He would often say, "I'm doing fine. But, I AM having a problem with my body." In 1990, David passed from this life after a 2-year battle with cancer. He had become well known throughout the world of Toastmasters for his speaking skills and his sponsorship of many other clubs.
His absence created a temporary vacuum in leadership and direction. But not for long. David Gibbs, Rita Gibbs, Tim Scoggins, and Jennifer Jackson stepped in to continue the legacy of our club.
In the early years, our club had a festive reputation. During district conferences, members of other clubs enjoyed visiting our hospitality suite. This typically was a room in the hotel where attendees could go for refreshments and relaxation. When we hosted the hospitality suite, attendees always enjoyed themselves!
From time to time our members out do themselves. In 1983, Jim Brittnacher (the club President) gave a stirring speech. Talk about conclusions! He ended his speech by mooning the audience. We call that a "Toastmaster moment."
Jim Goff, the remaining founding member, passed away in 1999. His memorial service was attended by the members of our club as well as Toastmasters from other clubs throughout the state.
Many more stories and anecdotes could be told. Sometimes irreverent, sometimes somber-always striving for excellence, the Austin Toastmasters club continues to make history. In recent years, club members have "brought home the hardware" as the saying goes - it's a reference to our competitive spirit and to the quality of our club in that our members have consistently won Area, Division and District contest trophies, a legacy we hope makes our founders proud.