Osherows Named 2016 LBJ Humanitarian Award Recipients
By Tonyia Cone
On September 25, Billy and Vicki Osherow will be honored for their dedication to public service, passion for philanthropy and commitment to the Austin community at the LBJ Humanitarian Award Celebration benefiting the philanthropic programs and services of the Jewish Community Center.
Billy and Vicki met early in college when a friend set them up for RoundUp, a weekend-long event at the University of Texas at Austin, and the RoundUp party thrown by Zeta Beta Tau, Billy’s fraternity.
When Vicki, a Corpus Christi native, moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 1980, she was very excited to join a Jewish sorority, Sigma Delta Tau, and date Jewish guys because there were so few other young Jews around where she grew up.
“I liked being Jewish because it was very different than being non-Jewish in my world,” said Vicki, adding that being Jewish was very important in her family and her mother was very involved in Corpus Christi Jewish life.
The couple married in summer 1985 and spent a year in Austin before moving to St. Louis, Missouri, where Billy had lived until he moved to Austin to attend UT.
They made the move because they wanted to raise children near family. Billy had grown up in a large Jewish community in St. Louis -- something Vicki especially wanted for the family -- so it seemed like a good fit.
Until it wasn’t. Vicki could not stand the cold weather, and when their friend Jeff Newberg connected Billy with Trammel Crow, which needed a new partner, they jumped at the opportunity to return to Austin with daughters Alex and Zoe in 1994.
Billy said, “We just loved Austin. We kind of felt a pull to come back to Texas.”
When the family returned to Central Texas, they were struck by differences in the young Austin and multigenerational St. Louis Jewish communities. While the older generation took primary responsibility for making things happen in St. Louis, the Osherows saw their Austin friends chairing major events and assuming other important leadership positions in the community.
Vicki and Billy joined the Jewish Federation Young Leadership group, and they remember going on a weekend retreat when Vicki was pregnant with her son Drew, who is now 20 years old.
“Back in 1994, there weren’t that many things to be involved with,” said Vicki. “It’s just evolved over time, which has been very exciting for us.”
The last day of the retreat, participants were separated into groups and asked what they would create if they could do anything in Austin. While some people wanted things like a kosher deli, Vicki’s group -- which included Dana Baruch, who would go on to found Austin Jewish Academy -- wanted monthly Shabbat dinners with each other. And for the next three years, that is exactly what they did -- rotated to each other’s homes for monthly Shabbat dinners, where they formed strong bonds with one another and watched their children become close friends.
Vicki’s long record of volunteer involvement really kicked off when she wanted to become part of the Doss Elementary community when her oldest child, Alex, was in first grade at the school. So she began recording students’ reading each week.
“I was fortunate enough that Billy’s business allowed me to be a stay at home mom. That was my way of giving back to the community, being able to help, because there were so many parents that had to work and these teachers needed help in the classroom,” explained Vicki.
She later began mentoring two students for several years. One of her proudest moments was when one of the girls graduated from high school in 2015.
“She told me how much I meant in her life and that when she was making decisions I was the voice in her head guiding her,” Vicki said.
Vicki remained involved as a public education volunteer at Murchison Middle School, where she chaired numerous committees, and later at Anderson High School, where she co-chaired Project Graduation in 2014 and created and co-chaired Anderson High School’s HEROs.
The program, an acronym for Helping Educators Reach Objectives, is essentially a copy shop within the school that enables teachers to spend time planning instead of standing behind a copy machine. HEROs won the AISD volunteer committee of the year award its first year.
Over the years, Vicki also continued her involvement in the Jewish community, as a “little worker bee.” When friends like Tracy Solomon, Valerie Newberg, Robyn Sperling, Suzanne Newberg, and other leaders asked for help, she could plug herself into needed volunteer positions, such as using her design background to make centerpieces for Mosaic. Vicki now serves the Jewish Federation’s Women’s Division Co-chair.
The Jewish community also enabled her to follow another passion -- working with older adults. Her grandmother is still alive and in earlier years was able to attend the Senior Adult Passover Seder and Hanukkah Party at the JCC, so Vicki was very involved in those events each year. Vicki also takes mah jongg to an older adult’s home through Jewish Family Service’s Mobile Mah Jongg program.
“I’ve always thought of everything you do as being a mitzvah,” said Vicki, adding that she was inspired by a speaker who said doing a mitzvah, giving of oneself to help other people, has another side.
“The bigger gift is what you get back from it, the fulfillment. The more I do, the more I feel fulfilled as a person,” said Vicki, who also helps fundraise for ovarian cancer research through the Be the Difference Foundation.
Billy, a principal at Endeavor Real Estate, explained that for a few years he “sat on the sidelines and focused on work.” He helped out when he could but did not become significantly involved until 2004, when Austin hosted the Maccabi Games and he served as a baseball coach.
“From that point forward, every year since then became more and more involved, whether it was a continual involvement and escalation of time, whether it was the JCC Maccabi Games or getting more involved in the Jewish Federation or JCC,” said Billy.
Billy again served as a baseball coach for Austin’s delegation in Dallas in 2005, Phoenix in 2006 and Houston in 2007. He was the Austin Delegation head in San Francisco in 2009, Denver in 2010 and Houston in 2012, and co-chair of the Austin JCC Maccabi Games in 2013.
Vicki was involved in the games as a dance coach for two years and in 2013, the housing co-chair.
Billy said, “One of the really fun things for me in working within the JCC Maccabi Games is that I got to work side by side with my brother in law, Steve Korn. We were coaches and delegation heads together. Those were really fun years.”
Billy became more involved in the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin when Margo Smith resurrected the Men’s Division Cabinet and asked him to serve as a member.
“It was probably a leap of faith on her part,” he said. “Extending that invitation was a life changing thing for me in Jewish philanthropy. That gesture she made a bunch of years ago was really important.”
Since then, Billy who is also on the Urban Roots Austin Board of Directors, has served in many other Jewish leadership positions. He now serves on the Shalom Austin Board of Directors and co-chaired the recent Shalom Austin CEO Search Committee.
“It’s been a meaningful road to dig deep in Jewish philanthropy,” Billy said.
The LBJ Humanitarian Award is presented each year by a member of the Johnson family, which has been closely tied with the Jewish community for several generations.
Past recipients of the LBJ Humanitarian Award include Susan and Bobby Epstein (2005), Louise and Hymie Samuelson (2006), Suzanne and Marc Winkelman (2007), Jeff Newberg, Andy Pastor and Kirk Rudy (2008), Carol and Sandy Dochen (2009), Phil Spertus (2010), Morris Gottesman and Bobby Krumholz (2011), Donna and Philip Berber (2012), Debra and Brett Hurt (2014), and Sherrie and Bob Frachtman and Lecia and Jim Sud (2015).