2016 Summit Speaker Biographies

Sehila Casper

Field Officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Session: Funding Strategies for Endangered Structures (2:00p-2:30p)

Sehila Mota Casper is a Field officer at the National Trust’s Houston Field Office, where she works to protect America’s National Treasures and advocates for historic preservation nationwide. Sehila is an advocate for the preservation and inclusion of underrepresented communities, with an emphasis on Latina/o heritage. She previously worked in membership and donor development for the Dallas Museum of Art. Sehila also has more than 10 years of hotel management and marketing experience in Texas. Sehila has a Bachelor of Art History from Texas Woman’s University and a Master of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation from Savannah College of Art and Design. She lives in central Houston with her husband and two golden retrievers, Murph and Brinkley.


Lareatha Clay

Chairman, Friends of the Texas Historical Commission
Session: Texas Freedom Colonies: Diasporic Identity and Memory (10:15a-10:45a)

Lareatha Clay is a native of Beaumont and resides in Dallas.  She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from The University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Arts degree in Human Resource Development Leadership from the same institution, and is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  Her professional experience includes more than 12 years in management roles with AT&T, and 6 years as Managing Partner of Omni Business Enterprises, Inc. (an Orlando-based event merchandising firm).  During her 14+ years as an independent Training and H.R. Consultant with PRM Consulting, she has worked with large corporations (e.g., The Dallas Morning News, Lucent Technologies), small businesses, government entities (e.g. Harris County, Houston I.S.D., the State of Texas), and a number of nonprofit organizations.

While residing in Orlando, Florida, Ms. Clay’s background included service as a member of the City of Orlando’s Historic Preservation Board, Trustee of the Orlando Public Library, board member of the Downtown Orlando Partnership and founding member of the Shankleville (Texas) Historical Society, Inc. (www.shankleville.org).  She also chaired the “Mayor’s Challenge Task Force for Minority Business Development,” which led to the founding of the Alliance for Minority Business Development, Inc. in 1993, which continued to support small and minority businesses throughout the Orlando area until 2009.

She continues her involvement with the Shankleville Community and other local and statewide preservation activities.  She serves as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, Inc., a Board member of the Dallas Arboretum, and as the St. Paul U.M.C. stakeholder representative of the Dallas Arts District.  Lareatha is also a past President (two terms) of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra League Innovators, and has served on the Boards of Directors of the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) and the University of Texas Ex Students’ Association, and as a Commissioner and Secretary of the Texas Historical Commission.  Lareatha continues to work with several committees of the Texas Ex-Students’ Association, and is a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), DallasHR, the DFW OD Network, and the Leadership Texas Class of 2001.


Karen DiLossi

Director of Arts in Sacred Places, Partners for Sacred Places
Session: Making Homes for the Arts in Sacred Places (8:45a-9:30a)

Karen DiLossi earned her BA in History and Drama from Washington College and her MA in Theatre from Villanova University.  She has worked professionally in theatre since 2000 both onstage and off.  Some of the companies she has worked for The Wilma Theater, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, 1812 Productions, and Theatre Exile to name a few. She has achieved success as a stage manager, director, and producer.  One of her last times onstage was as Brooke/Vicki in Noises Off.  As a director, she has tackled Tartuffe, Twelfth Night, Jump/Cut, Pounding Nails in the Floor with my Forehead, and many original works as Co- Artistic Director for Madhouse Theater Company. She was the Director of Programs & Services for the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia for 8 years. During her tenure, she produced the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre many times and directed them herself twice. She has taught acting at West Chester University and was the stage management consultant at Villanova Theatre for 8 years.

As the first National Director of Arts in Sacred Places, Ms. DiLossi has created a series of systems for Partners to follow whenever matching a congregation with a performing arts institution. By surveying artists’ needs and congregations’ capacities, she developed a training model and manual of best practices on long-term leases for arts organizations to thrive within the walls of congregations. The goal is to generate income to the congregation and stability to the arts organization while building new relationships benefitting many local communities.  This program has had great success particularly in Philadelphia and Chicago and has garnered the attention of national funders: National Endowment for the Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to name a few.  Impact, particularly on a local level, means tremendous economic, cultural and community potential improvements.


Rebekah Dobrasko

Historic Preservation Specialist, Texas Department of Transportation
Session: Historic Truss Bridges in Texas (9:30a-10:00a)

Rebekah Dobrasko lives in Austin, Texas and is a historic preservation specialist with the Texas Department of Transportation.  She is currently the project manager for the Texas historic truss bridge management plan. She holds a masters degree in Public History from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree from Tulane University in New Orleans.  Prior to her position with TxDOT, Ms. Dobrasko worked as the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office in Columbia, South Carolina for ten years.  During that time, she served as the supervisor for compliance, tax incentives, and survey and as the state tax credit program coordinator.

Ms. Dobrasko’s recent publications include Teaching with Historic Places lesson plans on Rosenwald schools and South Carolina equalization schools, an article on tidal rice fields in South Carolina, and a digital exhibit on equalization schools in Charleston, South Carolina (see http://www.scequalizationschools.org/charleston-exhibit.html). She received the Newcomb College (of Tulane University) Young Alumna Award in 2009 for her work researching and identifying segregated schools in South Carolina (http://scequalizationschools.org).

Rebekah serves as a committee member for the National Council on Public History and for Preservation Austin.  She is an avid volunteer in her community and is also a member of the St. Martin’s Lutheran Church choir.


Deb Fleming

President, Texas Dance Hall Preservation
Session: Saving Historic Rural Places (10:45a-11:45a)

Deb Fleming is a long time music lover and current Business and Tour Manager for 5-time Grammy Nominee and 10-time Blues Music Award winner Marcia Ball and her international tour band based in Austin TX. She migrated into the music business after a 20+ year tenure as a healthcare executive running large risk management companies in Texas, South Carolina and Georgia. In 2005 she bought and managed a 1200 capacity live music venue just east of Austin before being recruited by Ball 7 years ago.

A fifth generation Texan and San Antonio native, Ms. Fleming discovered her long Texas linage on a dance hall visit to Panna Maria and thus began her love and interest in the historic halls. Over the past 9 years she has logged thousands of miles seeking out and photographing many operating halls along with those long deserted and in need of some TLC. In early 2013 she started doing informal dance hall tours with friends to introduce them and others to their beauty, diversity and history. What started as a few run road trips turned into a long-term passion.

Ms. Fleming has served on other boards and is currently the part time executive director of Austin based Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers.


Jennifer Harris

President, Blackshear/O.L. Price Ex-students Association
Session: Preserving the Legacy of the Modern Civil Rights Movement (3:15p-4:15p)

Jennifer Harris, a lifelong resident of Taylor, Texas, is a community activist and founder of the Blackshear/O.L. Price Ex-Student Association. A former Comptroller of Public Accounts, Mrs. Harris used her experience researching and analyzing records to investigate and interpret the history of Taylor’s African-American residents. The Blackshear/O.L. Price Ex-Student Association identified the significance of the Dickey House and has partnered with various schools and organizations, including the City of Taylor to recognize the significance of Dr. James L. Dickey and rehabilitate his former house as a museum to the African-American heritage.


Lisa Harvell

Texas Preservation Trust Fund Grant Program Coordinator, Architecture Division, Texas Historical Commission
Session: Funding Strategies for Endangered Buildings (2:00p-2:30p)

Lisa Harvell has been with the Texas Historical Commission (THC) for over 25 years. Through the years, she’s had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of historic preservation projects. Lisa has been involved with the Texas Preservation Trust Fund (TPTF) since the early 1990s and is the grant program coordinator for the agency. The TPTF is a matching grant program for the acquisition, survey, restoration, preservation or for the planning and educational activities leading to the preservation of historic architectural and archeological properties. Since 1997, the THC has awarded over $5 million to 292 successful projects.


The Hon. Ed Janecka

County Judge, Fayette County
Session: Saving Historic Rural Places (10:45a-11:45a)

Judge Ed Janecka is a fifth generation Fayette County citizen.  He was born and raised on a farm in Dubina, Texas.  He grew up on a farm, the youngest of six children.  He learned to work at an early age, and his father instilled in him a  good work ethic.

He attended St. Edwards Elementary School in Dubina through the seventh grade.  He then went to eighth grade at St. Rose School in Schulenburg.  He went on and graduated from Bishop Forest High School in Schulenburg.  Ed has two Bachelor of Science degrees from Sam Houston State University.

Judge Janecka served his country in Vietnam.  He was stationed in Qui Nhon and was assigned to MACV.

Judge Janecka and his familiy are members of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, one of the famous “painted churches”.  Judge Ed was instrumental in painting and helping organize the restoration of the Dubina church.

Judge Ed was first elected Fayette County Judge in 1990.


Dwayne Jones

President-elect, Preservation Texas
Session: Preserving the Legacy of the Modern Civil Rights Movement (3:15p-4:15p)

Dwayne Jones is a graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio in history and Asian studies.  He holds a master’s in urban and regional planning and historic preservation from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Jones is Executive Director of Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) (2006-present) one of the nation’s largest local preservation non-profits.  GHF owns or manages sixteen historic properties, including several historic vessels, as well as manages museums and community preservation programs.  Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, GHF formed the Center for Coastal Heritage to address preservation issues and techniques unique to historic coastal communities.  From 2000 to 2006, he served as Executive Director of Preservation Dallas, the local non-profit preservation organization for Dallas.  Dwayne earned membership in the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).  Prior to his work in non-profits, he directed the National Register and Certified Local Government federal programs at the Texas Historical Commission where he worked for twelve years and worked in several preservation planning positions at the local level.


Patrick J. Kennedy, Jr., Esq.

Kennedy Sutherland LLP
Session: Funding Strategies for Endangered Buildings (2:00p-2:30p)

Patrick Kennedy is the managing partner of Kennedy Sutherland LLP and over the past 34 years he has represented private and publicly held corporations in general corporate, securities, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory and transactional matters.  His legal practice has included preparation of securities offerings under federal and state securities laws as well as public company periodic reporting. His practice has been particularly concentrated in the representation of banks and bank holding companies and other financial intermediaries.  His firm structures and documents complex financings which encourage private investment in rural and urban low income communities. In addition, Mr. Kennedy and his firm represent Community Development Financial Institutions in their corporate, financial, loan syndication and other financing initiatives, including partnerships with community banks.


Gene Krane

Executive Director, Texas Historical Foundation
Session: Funding Strategies for Endangered Buildings (2:00p-2:30p)

Gene Krane is the Executive Director of the Texas Historical Foundation. She is in charge of operations, board relations and finances for the 62-year-old organization. She is also editor of the THF’s award-winning Texas HERITAGE magazine.


Elizabeth Louden, PhD

Historic Preservation Programs Director, Texas Tech Univeristy
Session: Hands-on Preservation Training: Needs and Opportunities (2:45p-3:15p)

Architectural preservation work with its often unique situations requires a keen understanding of materials, structures, space, design, the environment, and the characterization thereof—all blended with sensitivities to culture and aesthetics. Professor Louden has been involved in all aspects of architecture and historical preservation and she is best noted for integrating all these components through her teaching, research, and service efforts at Texas Tech University—recognized in part through TTU Research and Teaching Awards in 2002 and 2003, respectively and continuing into 2004 with the College of Architecture Barney Rushing Research Excellence award and in 2006 the student nominated Professing Excellence Award. In 2012 Historic Fort Worth also recognized her work with graduate students in Preservation Studio.  Most notably, Professor Louden has brought 3D laser and precision measured drawing techniques into her teaching and scholarly work, to the benefit of students who will require these leading-edge tools in future practice. Her service and research efforts have included preservation projects across the Texas landscape, the nation and world heritage sites such as the Roman Forum.  These preservation efforts provide case material that is brought into the classroom and studios of the College of Architecture, as well as inform future scholarship.

Dr. Louden’s work on historic buildings and integrating them into the classroom has raised awareness about the values of heritage and important construction methods. This integrated approach to learning increases the students’ experiences and gives them an opportunity to fully understand all aspects of architecture and their surrounding environment.  Her comprehensive studios provide students with effective skills they can transition into their professional pursuits.  Over the past two decades, Dr. Louden’s grants and contracts have funded student research assistants on nationally significant projects such as the documentation of the Statue of Liberty while also including students in the study of numerous regional historic ranches.  The more local work provides communities with proposals that help to preserve these sites and offers students service-learning opportunities to work directly with the public and see the immediate responses to their proposals.  Locally, graduate student preservation work on the Lubbock 1931 Federal Post Office building helped draw statewide attention when the building was listed on the 2011 Texas’ Most Endangered Places list.  Most recently, Dr. Louden and the students focused on rehabilitation proposals and historic structures report for Bassett Farms, Kosse, Texas and the Fort Worth Stock Yards. Hands-on learning is at the core of this student learning initiative.


Kim McKnight

Cultural Resource Specialist, City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Session: Texas Freedom Colonies: Diasporic Identity and Memory (10:15a-10:45a)

Kim McKnight is a Project Coordinator and Cultural Resource Specialist at the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.  She is currently the project leader for the Historic Austin Cemeteries Master Plan and recently worked on the Pease Park Master Plan. Additionally, she tracks the inventory of historic resources in the park system, works with community groups on park improvements, and advises on issues related historic properties and cultural landscapes.

Ms. McKnight served as the executive director of the Texas Downtown Association, a statewide nonprofit organization with over 400 members. She also led the Texas Main Street Center of the Texas Historical Commission, which provides direct, on-site assistance to more than 80 Texas Main Street Cities in the areas of design and architecture, economic development, board development and training, strategic planning and facilitation, visual merchandising, and interior space planning.

Ms. McKnight is an active volunteer, serving on the board of Preservation Austin, an organization that supports the preservation of Austin’s historic buildings and districts. Other passions include many years of support of Little Zilker Park and Zilker Elementary School.

Ms. McKnight, a native of Austin, holds a Master of Science in Historic Preservation and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.


Jacob Morris, PhD

Historic Preservation Officer, City of Palestine
Session: Hands-on Preservation Training: Needs and Opportunities (2:45p-3:15p)

Jacob Morris is the Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Palestine and holds a PhD in Architecture from Texas A&M University. His dissertation was titled Immigrants’ Acculturation as Expressed in Architecture: 19th Century Churches and Courthouses in South Central Texas. Previously, Mr. Morris worked as the Historic Records Coordinator City Secretary’s Office for the City of College Station.

Mr. Morris has experience in preservation technology, archeology, documentation and research theory. He has a number of peer-reviewed publications and is the 2010 recipient of the 2010 Charles E. Peterson Prize (honorable mention) for St. Andrews Church documentation project

Melissa Prycer

President and Executive Director, Dallas Heritage Village
Session: The Financial Sustainability of Historical Organizations (1:30p-2:00p)

Melissa Prycer is the President and Executive Director at Dallas Heritage Village. She received a bachelor’s degree in history from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas and a master’s degree in public history from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Prior to joining Dallas Heritage Village in 2004 as the educator, Melissa worked as an intern at several museums in Dallas.

Active professionally, she has served in a variety of leadership roles for the Texas Association of Museums and is active in national museum associations. As a historian, she has published book reviews and articles, primarily on women’s history or children’s literature.


Andrea Roberts

Doctoral Candidate, The University of Texas at Austin
Session: Texas Freedom Colonies: Diasporic Identity and Memory (10:15a-10:45a)

Andrea Roberts is originally from the greater Houston area and is a development and planning professional and doctoral candidate in the Community & Regional Planning and Historic Preservation Programs at The University of Texas at Austin.  She holds a MA in Governmental Administration and Public Finance from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Vassar College. Her research areas of interest include planning history, historic preservation, heritage, equity, cultural regionalism, and community development practices.  Her current research is concerned with making visible and relevant the often-intangible heritage of placemaking and community development within early African American settlements in Deep East Texas through the development of the Texas Freedom Colonies Project. The Project is a research & social justice initiative dedicated to recording settlement origin stories, memories of ex-slaves’ contributions to American planning history and practice, and descendants’ settlement present-day community development & historic preservation concerns and best practices.

As a consultant for the Public Financial Management Group, Ms. Roberts helped struggling cities address budget shortfalls, contentious labor negotiations, and underfunded pensions. Later, she coordinated the comprehensive planning process and citywide performance management as Deputy Budget Director for the City of Philadelphia. Upon returning to Houston in 2008, she helped revise budgeting and reporting requirements for the City Finance Department’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones Division. She also managed the Houston Housing and Community Development Department’s application, planning, and citizen engagement processes for HUD funding including the Community Development Block Grant and Hurricane Recovery funding for housing repair and reconstruction. On the City of Houston’s behalf, she served as a member of the coordinating and citizen participation committees for implementation of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s HUD Sustainable Communities Grant.


Mickie Ross

Executive Director, The Williamson Museum
Session: Preserving the Legacy of the Modern Civil Rights Movement (3:15p-4:15p)

Mickie Ross, Executive Director of The Williamson Museum, began her tenure in July 2010. She was originally hired as the Educational Program Coordinator for the Williamson Museum in 2007, after having served the Museum in a variety of roles from Board member to volunteer. Her director’s role includes raising funds to support the Museum’s many educational programs while increasing visibility and partnerships throughout the county.

Ms. Ross’ previous museum experience includes 2 years as the Curator of Education at the Fort Bend Museum in Richmond, Texas and she spent 21 years as an elementary teacher. She has written and published Texas history teaching guides, served as a consultant for Texas history publications, and has presented workshops at state and national social studies conferences. She earned her BA in Teaching from Sam Houston State University.

Mickie lives in Georgetown with her husband, Dale, a local CPA and the current Mayor of Georgetown.

Gary Smith

Program Officer, Summerlee Foundation
Session: The Financial Sustainability of Historical Organizations (1:30p-2:00p)

Gary N. Smith was President and Executive Director of Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park from 1996-2014, and is now Director of Strategic Projects for the Village, as well as Project Director for the Summerlee Commission on the Sustainability of History Organizations.

He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, earning a B.A. degree in Political Science at the University of Iowa and an M.A. in Museum Administration and American History from the University of Delaware. His professional experience includes positions with the Iowa Division of Historic Preservation, the Historical Society of Delaware, the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, and the McFaddin-Ward House Museum in Beaumont, Texas.

Mr. Smith serves the American Association of Museums as an Accreditation Site Reviewer, and is a past president of the Texas Association of Museums. He is an adjunct professor of museum administration at Baylor University in Waco and has served as a Texas History Advisor for the Board of the Summerlee Foundation.

He is married to Annette, has three grandchildren, and now lives in Waxahachie, Texas.


Suzanne C. Yowell

Director, Texas Region, Partners for Sacred Places
Session: Saving Historic Rural Places (10:45-11:45)

Suzy Yowell joined Partners for Sacred Places almost a decade ago after many years in the real estate investment and development arena. In her role as state director, she has been able to combine her passions for business, real estate and community development to help congregations leverage existing and new resources, solidify their continued relevance, and ensure their own sustainability.

Ms. Yowell works with congregations, delivering a range of Partners programs and support such as- asset mapping, public value calculations, fundraising assistance, partnership facilitation and building assessments. In addition to programming, she manages all regional research and grant support as well as consults on special initiatives.

Ms. Yowell was born in Abilene, raised in Fort Worth and is a TCU Horned Frog.

Ms. Yowell has served on numerous nonprofit boards and is an accomplished fundraiser. She was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Education in Texas and received a Life Time Achievement Award for her work with the Fort Worth School District. She studied Real Estate Business at Tarrant County College/Nonprofit Management and Business Finance at Texas Christian University. She is a member of the Texas Business Women Association and Tarrant County Coalition for Nonprofit Professionals.