One of Texas' most hallowed and exclusive clubs turns 133 years old Sunday, and the other day it hosted some very special guests.
It's nothing new for a congressman to speak at a luncheon in the downtown Fort Worth Club.
But it's definitely new when the audience is 30 inner-city schoolchildren from the Lake Como neighborhood, getting treated in an old-line downtown business club as a donor's gift to their school, the private Rivertree Academy.
"This is a great privilege for them to come to the Fort Worth Club, with all the history here," said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, a Lake Como product and a cousin to Rivertree executive Terrence Butler.
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Butler said the lunch invitation was unexpected.
"We've been teaching how important it is for a family to sit down together at meals — showing pride, pulling out a lady's chair, about napkins, which fork to use," Butler said.
"One of our donors said, 'What if I sponsor a lunch?' "
So on May 14, three Rivertree buses parked on West Seventh Street and the school's second- through fifth-graders walked single file from the elevator to formal dining tables set with china and silver, the same way they are every day for lawyers and business leaders.
Instead of the school meals Rivertree serves three times a day, students dined on tossed salad, a grilled chicken entree and mocha cheesecake.
"Think of BMW," Veasey, 47, told them in a father's calm tone.
"That's how you remember which plate and glass to use. Your bread plate is to the left of your meal. Your water glass is the one on the right. Bread, meal, water — BMW."
The children struggled with the leafy salads and passing the dressing, but dived into the chicken and cheesecake. Rivertree supporters Jonny and Lori Brumley, Matt Angle, Charles Hoera and others were on hand to help.
All the kids held up their hands when Veasey asked them, "How many of you have ever heard of Barack Obama? I've met Barack Obama."
When he said he'd traveled Africa and Qatar, one asked, "Have you ever been to Oklahoma?"
(They're kids. So naturally, they giggled when Veasey said he'd been to Djibouti.)
For Butler, it was another breakthrough moment in a three-year effort to strengthen the Lake Como neighborhood through the donor-funded Christian private school.
The students receive sponsorships toward the $10,000 annual tuition, he said.
The school is currently in a former Masonic lodge and community building at 5439 Bonnell Ave., with hope for a new elementary school next door where Lake Como's business district and movie theater stood long ago. (Rivertree also is converting the former Timberview Golf Club in Forest Hill to a farm and boarding school.)
Rivertree students come from a statistically at-risk setting. Two-thirds of their families live below the poverty line, and one-third have a family member who's served time.
It's a success. The students learn a traditional private school curriculum and are generally reading at or above their grade level, Butler said.
Students go to the Fort Worth Zoo's "zoo school" and "museum school" at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History, and the school also hosts a summer camp.
When they came back to class from the luncheon, Butler said, "They said the people who served them were so nice."
The Fort Worth Club's young guests came away with one other impression.
"The girls were like, 'Oh, my! Those restrooms are so beautiful! Everything was so beautiful."
They'll be back.