Annette Spikes’ journey began in San Saba, Texas; she moved to San Antonio at the age of ten, because that was the closest place to receive treatment for polio. Three of her family members suffered from the crippling disease, including her brother. She graduated from high school in San Antonio.
While working on a degree in education, Annette met Grady Spikes, who was one year ahead of her at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. Although he never asked her, as Grady’s graduation grew closer, “He started talking in terms as though we were getting married.” Laughing, she shares, “He was afraid if he left me behind for that year, I might find someone else.” Grady landed a coaching job in Coleman, only thirty miles away. Annette finished her education and did her student teaching at the same school where Grady was coaching. They were married and remained in Coleman for two years.
“We applied to three different school districts in Texas, but Grady had a connection here in Conroe.” Chuck York, a friend from Cleburne, happened to be a coach at Conroe High School at the time. Knowing coaches move frequently from school to school, Annette feels very fortunate that Grady was able to stay in the Conroe district during his coaching years. Annette taught English/Language Arts to children from kindergarten through college age. She received the Teacher of the Year Award twice during her thirty plus years of teaching. While teaching eighth grade, she grew concerned with children struggling with literacy, so she embarked on a journey to develop and implement a reading recovery program for the middle school students. However, before she was able to implement the program, her life would change.
In 1999, while Grady and Annette were attending a fundraising event for the Montgomery County Fair, Grady had a massive heart attack and died instantly. “It was life altering for me.” Annette had been happy raising her two sons (Trey and Barkley), teaching children, and embracing her role as her husband’s helpmate, “Standing next to him, sometimes in his shadow.” It was where I wanted to be.” She retired from teaching and struggled through the shock for two years. Having a deep faith, she recognized when God put her on another path. “He restructured my life. That path would guide me toward the arts, something that I appreciated and loved.” She organized the Symphony League, a volunteer organization, which led her to participate on the board of the Texas Association for Symphony Orchestras to represent the Conroe Symphony Orchestra. On behalf of the organization, she attended a meeting in Dallas; this was her first time to travel alone without her husband. She did not know anyone there, where she was going, or what was expected when she got there. Unsure of herself, she asked God, “Where are you leading me?” Continuing on, she felt she had been “picked up from one path and set down on another.” Annette soon realized God had a “new beginning in an existing interest” for her, where she would meet “new people and have new opportunities.”
Since the age of five, “I have played the piano – by ear. If I hear it, I can play it. I love music. God put music in my ears, and it comes out through my fingers.” She plays her piano at home and occasionally at church. “Music is a spiritual thing for me. I enjoy being an advocate for the arts in Conroe.”
Annette has represented the Conroe Symphony on The Commission of Arts and Culture, for which the City of Conroe provides grants. She currently serves as president of the Greater Conroe Arts Alliance (comprised of ten arts organizations). The Alliance, not affiliated with the city, was developed to charter an event that would create additional funding dollars for the organizations in The Alliance. Although still in the planning stages, this event will be a fine arts celebration in which all Alliance member organizations will showcase Texas Artists of all genres.
She is also on the board of the Friends of the Flag Foundation. Already a beautiful park, the organization hopes to make The Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park a Texas themed tourist attraction and outdoor educational experience of Texas history for students. Each year on San Jacinto Day, the thirteen flags are changed; Annette is in charge of inviting local people to be flag raisers—people who have made a contribution to Conroe and Montgomery County by making it a better place to live or are a part of the history of the County.
Annette is also involved on the Spirit of Texas Foundation for the Arts Board. This organization is working closely with the Spirit of Texas Bank and the City of Conroe to develop the area surrounding the Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park where a venue is being planned that will seat an audience of 1,200. This would be in addition to the 480 seats at the Crighton Theater and the 250 seats at the Owen Theater. A larger venue would allow for larger productions and shows, but would not take away from the beauty and the uniqueness of the Crighton and Owen Theaters. All of the arts organizations would have access to it when a larger space is needed for entertainment. “The businesses in Conroe and Montgomery County are to be commended for the financial support they give the arts community. In addition, the City of Conroe offers yearly grants designated for the promotion of the arts.”
“I want people to know how much Conroe has to offer in the arts and what a sense of well-being the various opportunities present to our community.” She would love to see others become involved in the arts on some level; there are many talent and volunteer opportunities. “The arts play an important part in our lives; a person can leave everything behind while enjoying a play or concert.” It is also important to Annette that foundation support and grants continue to grow, that downtown Conroe is promoted, and that people recognize the arts opportunities offered in Montgomery County. It is not necessary to go south to enjoy great talent and entertainment. Conroe is unique in having two theaters, two theater companies, a choral group, art gallery, performing arts, literary council, a heritage museum, a Texas recognized young artist competition, and yes, Conroe has a symphony orchestra.
Annette enjoys doing the things that she did with her husband Grady and boys as they grew up. They liked fishing, hunting, and being in the country. “I was the female minority so, it was do the things they enjoyed, or be left out. I chose to be with them. I went hunting and fishing and to ball games with them and enjoyed every minute of the time together.”
One of her favorite things to do is go to Barkley’s ranch in central Texas. “I go every chance I get; it’s where life started for me, as it is only a few miles from where I was born and where my mother, dad, and brother are buried. It’s my ‘back to the past’ centering, recuperating time. It’s where I have time to fully focus on my thoughts or an idea or a book I have tried to finish for six months.” Occasionally, one or both of her sons invite her to go with them to load deer feeders or do something in preparation for hunting season. She will cancel everything to go with them. She enjoys driving them around to load feeders or practice target shooting or fishing with them. It is especially enjoyable for her when all the family visits the ranch together. Sometimes she will go by herself for “a week or so and come back refreshed; it is convenient, and I go often, as I serve on the board of trustees at Howard Payne University only a short distance away.”
“I know that God has led me on this path. Right now I have the time to give, and I enjoy giving it. It’s good for me, hopefully good for someone else; it’s important to keep the arts organizations prospering. All of us would like to think we have a purpose.” Her efforts within each organization connect to something else she is working on, which helps her to “see the big picture” for what is happening in Conroe. “I feel fortunate to work with people who have a vision, and I enjoy helping make those visions a reality. There are a few projects I want to see developed before age tells me it is time for someone else to take over.”
“CASA was near and dear to my husband’s heart.” In fact, they started and continue to have a raffle in his memory to raise funds that go beyond what foster parents are able to provide. The funds have been used for things like guitar lessons, team uniforms, and even legal fees. “I would someday like to be more involved with that organization.”
Annette also has five grandchildren, and she lives within walking distance of their school. She likes to have lunch with them when she can and also “reads on occasion at their school.” She is working on a book for each of them about the grandfather they did not get to know, and she is writing one for them about her life as well.
As a child, our son Barkley would say, “Dad, I’ll buy us a ranch one day.” It saddens her Grady is not here to enjoy that place, but she knows he sees it from where he is. “Grady is part of the ranch, as Barkley designed a branding iron that includes his dad’s initials.”
“A blessing is happiness only God can give. Believing that, I would say I have been blessed with having had loving parents, a wonderful husband, a family I am proud of, daughters-in-law I love, precious grandchildren, many cherished friends, and opportunities.”