Laney details ornament projects as local business women honored

April 29, 2011

PLAINVIEW – Nelda Laney detailed her labor of love as a volunteer ornament designer as Wayland Baptist University’s Students in Free Enterprise team honored three local women for their own labors of love for their businesses and the Plainview community.

Laney was keynote speaker for the Sixth Annual Women in Business awards banquet held in McClung Center. Honorees for the year included Teressa King, owner of King Carpet Plus and Furniture Expressions; Velma Solorzano, attorney and owner of Solorzano Business Services and the Solorzano Law Firm; and Shayla Whalen, vice president of mortgage lending at American State Bank.

During her keynote, Laney detailed her start in the ornament endeavor while her husband was Speaker of the House of Representatives for the state of Texas. After $5 million had been raised for renovations, she knew the state needed a good fundraiser for capitol preservation efforts and had already visited several corporations, coming up empty-handed.

While dismantling the large capitol Christmas tree in 1996, Laney said she took the time to read some of the unique ornaments brought to the tree and discovered one from the White House Preservation organization. She wondered why the state couldn’t do the same, and the wheels began turning on a series of ornaments.

From 1996-2002, Laney created a series that featured historic portions of the capitol building, from the plated door hinges to the rotunda. That first year, she said she hit the streets to hawk the ornaments, hitting up family and friends back in West Texas.

“I literally sold them out of the trunk of my car,” she laughed.

The result was $2 million raised for the capitol preservation efforts over her tenure with the project, which is now in the hands of the current speaker’s wife. But after leaving Austin, Laney would remain involved in creating fundraisers for others as the self-proclaimed “ornament queen.” Another series was done for Keep Texas Beautiful and Texas Tech among others.

During her program, she displayed mounted boards bearing several dozen of her creations, explaining the history and funny stories behind each, such as the centennial piece for the city of Rotan which another Texas county wanted to replicate because “we’re a lot like Rotan.” Especially dear to her is a series she did for the Greater Texas Community Partners organization, on whose board she serves, using the paper dolls theme to promote the prevention of child abuse. And she shared that one of the only ornaments she asked to do was one for the M.D. Anderson Hospital after her father was a patient there. The unique ornament includes artwork by a child patient – a tradition at Anderson normally in the form of Christmas cards – mounted on a porcelain tile and bordered with gold like many of the other ornaments in Laney’s collection.

Through it all, she joked, she has remained a volunteer with no cut of the profits, no fees for her creative work or legwork with the ornament manufacturer and no desire to change any of that.

“My children are always kidding me that if I had taken a penny for every ornament we sold we could all retire. But I didn’t; I’ve always done this as a volunteer,” she said. “I know I’m a popular designer for many people, because I’m free.”

Dr. Otto B. Schacht, dean of the School of Business, presented the Women in Business Awards to the three honorees, allowing each to make remarks to the audience.

“We’ve been very blessed. Plainview has blessed us so much,” said King after accepting her award. “But it is so important that we all be proactive about Plainview and that we believe and understand what Plainview is and what it needs to be.”

King encouraged others to commit to making the community better through economic development and local shopping, then thanked her staff for their dedication to the businesses she and husband Ricky run.

“I’m honored to return to my alma mater to accept this award,” Solorzano said, adding a word of thanks to her Wayland professors who taught her valuable skills that have helped her in her business ventures.

Whalen also thanked her alma mater and noted thanks to some important mentors.

“Thanks to my parents for the example they set for me in being moral and ethical and setting high standards for how to treat people,” she said. She also credited former branch president Nell Hardage Williams with being a great mentor and role model and said she hopes to do the same for her daughters and other young women.

SIFE is a student group dedicated to education about entrepreneurship, business skills and community service. They are housed in the School of Business but the group is made up of majors from a variety of disciplines.