The faded beauty of the old Dobie West Theatre on Main Street in the small town of George West, Texas, hadn’t seen the shadows and flickers of a picture show since it was shuttered in the 1960s. But thanks to the efforts of people like our Eagle Ford Community Relations Advisor Glynis Holm Strause, the theatre recently reopened as a performance space to a packed house.
The rousing production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Our Town,” wasn’t an accident. As Holm Strause put it, “We could rewrite the play using local names and places. We wouldn’t have to change the story at all. It’s about people living, dying, having babies, getting married – life in small towns like George West.”
For the company’s Stakeholder Relations team in the Eagle Ford, reviving the theater was a small but satisfying step in the process of understanding community needs and being responsive in a way that supports the ultimate goal of being a trusted company in the Eagle Ford.
“It has been fun to be a part of the Eagle Ford from the very beginning,” said Stakeholder Relations Manager Dana Sigalos. “I’ve been with ConocoPhillips a long time and had always worked in areas that had been producing for many, many years.”
Now she gets the opportunity to start at the beginning. “A stakeholder is anyone who impacts or is impacted by our operations, which is to say, pretty much everybody. We’re about listening and transparently getting the word out. We come to the community as a stranger and become a partner. When we leave, we want to leave something that’s sustainable.”
What started as a team of 2 – Sigalos and Stakeholder Relations Specialist Harmony Jurkash – expanded to include Holm Strause in 2012. When Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff heard that we hired Holm Strause, he said, “I thought ConocoPhillips truly knew what they were doing. She has a reputation for being upfront, plainspoken and leaving no stone unturned. She’s a great communicator and a tireless worker. Holm Strause is one of ConocoPhillips’ best unkept secrets in the Eagle Ford community.”
Holm Strause came from Coastal Bend College in Beeville, where she’d spent a career in academia and claims to have enjoyed a 1-day retirement before joining the stakeholder engagement team. “I figure I’ve taught more than 6,000 students in the Eagle Ford area. My family is from Karnes County, and I’ve worked in Bee County most of my adult life.”
“When it comes to the Eagle Ford, there aren’t 6 degrees of separation with Glynis. There are 2,” said Sigalos, who understands the value of having a team member who is part of the community and understands local issues. “It would have taken someone from outside the area a lot longer to grasp the local context and build the kind of trust with the local community that Glynis brings.”
In South Texas farming and ranching country, you find people with a deep and abiding connection to the land.
Jeanie Knezek is vice president of Yoakum Bank and show lead for the Future Farmers of America Yoakum Project. “What we appreciate most from ConocoPhillips is simply the courtesy that we get. We’re plain people, and we don’t ask for a lot, but we love that land. Come in, be safe with it, be environmentally appreciative of what’s there, and everybody benefits.”
A common characteristic of many area residents is a stubborn allegiance to the land. At the front of the county courthouse is a climate-controlled room with a large plate glass window that houses a stuffed Texas Longhorn named Geronimo. Legend has it that after his last cattle drive north, old George West hung up his spurs and left his lead steer to pasture in the lush prairies around Omaha. A year later Geronimo showed up at his doorstep.
Loyalty, it seems, is highly prized in these parts, a lesson not lost on our stakeholder engagement team. Judge Huff summed it up. “Today things are 180 degrees from the way they were. There is so much information coming from ConocoPhillips and the entire industry. Any question can be answered in no time. I feel truly blessed to be living during this time of transformation in South Texas, because that’s what it really is. I don’t know of another time that has given us the opportunity to manage our resources and the positive changes they’re bringing to our town, our region and the entire state of Texas. It’s amazing.”