Wednesday August 20th 2014

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A Backward Glance

Roy wanted off the road. Pennie had the answer — ask people to come to Austin. The idea of the Academy was born. Roy wanted more than his road speeches to hundreds or thousands — and more than the typical university classes. He wanted a place to offer his ideas to small-business owners and maverick thinkers. A place much like Plato’s Academy of 2,400 years ago, encouraging open discussions, asking questions, seeking answers, learning from and sharing with others. A place where students would be inspired to put new ideas to work in their businesses — and often, in their lives. Roy and Pennie wanted to create a retreat — a sanctuary — a place to escape the rush of deadlines and reflect on one’s direction and purpose. A special place for a retreat would come later; now it was time to begin.

The first class was June 28–30, 2000 — an early version of Magical Worlds. It was held upstairs at the Williams Marketing office on FM 967, just West of Buda. After several classes upstairs, Pennie and Corrine found a new home for the gym equipment in the building next door and moved the classroom. Break time conversations under the big oak trees in the back yard are still remembered.

The search for an Academy campus continued until 2004, when a 21-acre property was acquired 15 miles Southwest of downtown Austin. With glorious views and peaceful ambience, it was a fitting place. On October 2, Roy and Pennie walked the hillside and shared their vision. The groundbreaking event became known as “Wizardstock” because of the rain. Corrine and Sue, Roy’s mom, handed out umbrellas. Under a big tent Roy debuted his dazzling and provocative presentation of “The Pendulum,” since presented many places around the globe.

Chapel Dulcinea, the Academy’s gift to the world, was the first structure completed on the campus – a wedding chapel, open to the public at no cost, for couples to exchange their vows in the memorable Texas Hill Country. The chapel was dedicated on April 23, 2005. Since that day, almost 4,000 couples from 21countries, including Australia, Denmark, Dubai, England, Germany, Japan, Norway, Philippines, Scotland, Slovenia, and the United Arab Emirates, have been the guests of the Academy.

The campus began to take shape when Tuscan Hall opened for its first class in July 2005. The Caretaker’s House followed in December 2006. On the evening of June 29, 2007, the first guests enjoyed the comfort of Engelbrecht House. A grand gala opening of the magnificent Wizard’s Tower will take place next spring on April 23, 2011, and a new Welcome Center will be completed in the fall.

Roy was advised to make the Academy a for-profit organization, to build equity and value for Williams Marketing. Instead, he chose to create a nonprofit educational foundation so it could become sustainable and live beyond his lifetime. The Board of Directors meets quarterly and sets policy. The Chairman, Oz Jaxon, who has attended more classes than anyone, several years ago was named Student Relations Ambassador. Roy tells students, “If you want to talk about the Academy, bug that guy, not me.” Dr. Nick Grant, a board member from the very beginning, has been a student favorite with his Myers-Briggs classes and his entertaining and insightful interpretation of pop culture movies, such as Joe Versus the Volcano and Field of Dreams. It’s been a blessing to have Corrine Taylor’s dedicated, able assistance since the beginning. She has been the keeper of the details, including all the IRS paperwork, and the glue that keeps the board together. The revenue from class fees and donations is quickly plowed into the continuing development of the campus. Each time you visit you can see the fresh dollars at work.

Roy and Pennie attend board meetings but are not official board members. Roy serves as Chancellor, Pennie as President. It’s Pennie who translates policy into substance — working with Marley Porter’s striking architectural design, which perfectly complements the Hill Country setting, and Daniel Denny and his construction crew, turning Marley’s plans into the impressive buildings you view and enjoy. The gorgeous landscaping all around the campus? You guessed it, Pennie again.

Over the last ten years many have contributed time, ideas, and money. Hundreds have been generous, some giving six-digit sums. Instructors take meager sums for teaching classes, far below their usual fees. We know Roy and Pennie have given much, but we seldom think about how much. Roy has never taken compensation for designing and presenting classes, nor does Pennie get paid for her work as President. Roy’s Monday Morning Memo is a Williams Marketing intellectual property, but critical part of the Academy’s outreach as well. All the people you see during classes, serving meals, registering and taking care of students — they are on the Williams Marketing payroll.

For the last ten years Roy and Pennie have committed themselves body and soul to the Academy’s success, but for the Academy to thrive and flourish beyond their leadership, others must build on this solid foundation. A transition is beginning. A Vice Chancellor will be hired in the near future. Others will need to step forward to create new classes, serve as board members, and make other contributions.

Although Roy brings in outside instructors, many of the classes are homegrown, developed and taught by Academy grads. Board member Mark Fox’s popular class, Da Vinci and The 40 Answers, is an example. Michele Miller’s Unzipped, Jeffery and Brian Eisenberg’s Wizards of Web, and board member Jean Backus’s Money & Cool Chicks are more examples. New ideas for classes are welcome — but don’t just tell Roy you have a wonderful idea for a class. He will ask you to draw up a proposal and plan on teaching the class.

Little did those who gathered that rainy day in October know what was to come.

We now have a glimpse. What will the Academy be in another ten years? In one hundred?

Ray Bard


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