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Politician, park advocate, dance instructor, caretaker: Meet four of Lake Highlands’ fiercest females

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Kitty Carter knows her reputation. After 41 years owning a dance studio in Lake Highlands and more than a decade coaching Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader hopefuls on CMT’s Making the Team, the tough-as-nails instructor has been called a bully more times than she’s counted: five, six, seven, eight.

Carter isn’t interested in defending herself for bluntly telling dancers all that’s lacking in their effort and performance, but catch her away from the pounding music and shiny mirrors of Kitty Carter’s Dance Factory, and you’ll find a different leader than the one familiar to TV viewers. She pulls out her phone repeatedly to share photos of students, bragging on their intelligence and varied accomplishments. 

“I’ve always been ahead of my time,” she says. “I don’t worry about what people think of me as long as my moral compass is OK in my heart. My mother always said there are two things that follow you in life: your reputation and your shadow, and you can’t change either.”

Carter grew up in Lakewood, where she discovered her love of dancing at age 3. She majored in dance at SMU and cheered for the Dallas Cowboys from 1974-76. The Cowboys lost Super Bowl X to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but cheering at that game in Miami was a big win for her and her friends.

When the squad was invited to appear on TV’s The Love Boat later that year, the women were warned they all needed to lose ten pounds. Carter balked, preferring instead to open her own studio and marry Keith, her then-boyfriend. It’s ironic that the woman known for teaching thousands of women to light up a crowd now has three sons — Keith Edward, Cassidy and Colby. To her delight, they gave her five grandchildren — all girls.

Carter has had doubters over the years — including the first time she dressed her dancers in midriff-baring costumes. During high school she crashed a brand new, baby blue Thunderbird into a school building doing 70 miles an hour. Turns out the vehicle, purchased by her car-dealer dad, hadn’t been checked for brake fluid. It took 199 stitches for plastic surgeons to close her face and months for the wounds to heal. Olivia Crutchfield, then-owner of Gingham Girl Dance Studio, reached out while she was hurting and invited her to assist as an instructor.    

“That’s when I fell in love with teaching,” she says. “I don’t have the body of a dancer. I have short legs and my turnout wasn’t great. But I’m a performer. I understand the big picture.”

Carter says dance technique can be taught and honed with practice, but sometimes those who draw the eye of the audience are simply born with something extra. The life skills she shares in class, though, are universal.

“My students learn to organize their time to fit everything in,” she says. “They learn to take initiative and not be followers. And I believe they should earn what comes to them and not expect things to be given.”

Carter isn’t a fan of the “participation trophy” mentality prevalent in today’s youth activities. Children need to develop discipline instead of expecting adults to pave their way, she says.

“Life is not one big party,” she says. “A lot of people think I’m hard, and I agree that I’m tough, but I don’t say anything I wouldn’t say to my own kids. I wouldn’t ask you to run through fire if I’m not going to run through it first. Hopefully I change somebody’s life along the way.”

Carter has tough talk for girls who join her elite teams then complain about missing social events during evening and weekend rehearsals. Achieving challenging goals requires sacrifices for the good of the team.

“I think it’s a good lesson to learn that you’re not always going to be number one,” she says. “You have to be prepared for life, and life is hard. There are kids out there on anxiety medication because they can’t keep up with the hype society and the internet put them under.”

Carter grew up riding motorbikes and barrel racing horses with her brothers and is as comfortable on a ranch as she is in a studio. Her Dance Factory hasn’t been remodeled in years, but many of her students enjoy working out in the same rooms their moms did a generation before them. Photos of college and NFL cheerleaders and Broadway dancers dot the walls of her office.

“I grew up dancing in L.A. and New York, and those studios were in the worst buildings in the world,” she says, recalling walking up eight floors when elevators weren’t working and stepping over broken bottles on the sidewalk. “New and shiny just isn’t my style.”

Carter’s goal is to teach young women they have power — power to create their own dreams and power to achieve them.

“I like strong women,” she says. “I like people who have an opinion and aren’t afraid to say it. I teach girls that working hard will pay off. You’re not out of the game if you’re in the game. I tell my girls they are talented enough to get in there and mix it up with the best; they just have to keep punching away at it. Above all, I teach them that they are worthy.”

Donna Halstead celebrates every sunrise knowing she’s lucky to be alive. The first and only female to represent District 10 on the Dallas City Council contracted COVID-19 in February 2020 — long before the virus achieved pandemic status and America shuttered schools and businesses. Twelve doctors and a host of nurses and technicians were assigned to her then-mysterious case, but none could determine what was making her sick. She spent five weeks at Baylor Hospital and one week on a ventilator before turning the corner, and she still grapples with long COVID, which leads to fatigue and other symptoms.

“It was the most frightening time of my life,” she says. “I’m incredibly blessed. I feel so at peace to have survived it and to know that somehow, somewhere there’s a reason God left me here.”

Halstead served on the council from 1991-96, becoming an expert on the region’s transportation challenges. She pushed for DART to include Wildcat Station at the Lake Highlands Town Center in its master plan, and played a major role in squelching privatization of the President George Bush Tollway.

She led the Dallas Citizens Council for 15 years, becoming the organization’s longest-serving president, and founded the Coalition of Homeowners Associations to block a 20-story office building at Skillman and Audelia. Being a female was never an issue with voters — she earned 83% of the vote over three opponents in her first race — but she sometimes faced challenges from others around town.

“There were a couple of people who thought, because I was a female, they could hoodwink me from time to time. They found out differently. I did what I thought was right and frustrated the heck out of those folks,” she says.

There’s a shortage of housing in Dallas today, and apartments are filling as quickly as they’re built in Lake Highlands and across town. During her tenure though, the city and the school district battled with landlords who lured tenants with promises of short-term free rent and encouraged families to change neighborhoods and schools frequently.

“I was the first councilmember to have gotten an apartment slum torn down — it used to be a horrible property at the corner of Plano Road and Walnut Hill. The owner made the mistake of leaving it vacant too long, and I used an automatic provision that allows a councilmember to call for rezoning.”

It wasn’t long before the 100-unit eyesore, often the site of criminal activity, was scraped and storage units were built in its place.

Halstead says she isn’t anti-apartment. Now that she and husband Fred have mostly retired to their Cedar Creek lake house, they keep an apartment at the Lake Highlands Town Center for visits with family and friends. 

“The problem with apartments is that many are owned by out-of-state REITS (real estate investment trusts) or other investment groups which don’t pay attention to the details.”

The key to Lake Highlands’ success, she says, is the way neighbors frequently help neighbors — tutoring children, offering rides to school and welcoming refugees.

“We’ve often been described as the Beaver Cleaver Community of Dallas, where children play in the street and neighbors invest time in programs to improve the community. It’s a culture of caring. We are a very close-knit community that cares about our children, cares about quality of life and will do what we need to do to protect both.”

“What I’ve always loved about Lake Highlands is that it’s very unpretentious,” Halstead says. “It’s a community that embraces its differences. That’s a big asset. For a community to be a community, you cannot have an ‘us and them’ mentality. It just doesn’t work.”

She has three granddaughters, and is intentional about teaching them to be trailblazers too. Ellie, daughter of Julie and Scott Peek, will head to The University of Texas next year. Ashley Peek is a budding artist. Allie Kate, daughter of Amy and Freddie Halstead, is at White Rock Elementary.

“I tell them they can accomplish anything they want. The future is wide open for them. And I discuss issues with them. We talk current events like they are budding adults, because they are,” she says.

Joan Walne is passionate about Dallas city parks. The Lake Highlands North Recreation Center spraygrounds, Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden at the Dallas Arboretum and Klyde Warren Park were all created during her nine-year tenure on the Dallas Park Board, but she’s also a fierce advocate for postage stamp-sized plots deep within neighborhoods where families can toss a ball, fly a kite and spread out a picnic basket.

Threads of Walne’s impact weave through all aspects of Dallas life. She convinced Richardson ISD to keep the community together with one freshman center instead of carving the neighborhood up for a third junior high in the 1990s, and lobbied for a new aquatic center at the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center when our pool was scheduled to be shut down. She’s held leadership positions in Lake Highlands Women’s League, Children’s Medical Center, Junior League of Dallas, the Dallas Arboretum, Fair Park, Preservation Dallas and the Dallas Historical Society. She’s currently board chair of Kershaw’s Challenge, which supports women and children in Dallas, Los Angeles, Zambia and the Dominican Republic; on the board of the Trust for Public Land, working to create parks and green spaces in urban areas; and a member of the executive committee at the Dallas Zoo.

Walne learned the art of selfless service from her mom, Patricia Graves, and her mother-in-law, Frances Walne. Graves reared her two girls as a single mom in a one-Dairy-Queen-town near Denver and later became a school counselor in RISD. Her daughter earned a scholarship to attend SMU. 

“She taught me that our circumstances don’t define us and you don’t know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” Walne says. “She always said this life is not a dress rehearsal, and I’ve carried that forward with my own children and grandchildren.”

Frances Walne, a leader in Lake Highlands Women’s League and area PTAs, became an early widow when husband Herb, founder of Herb’s Paint and Body, died of lung cancer at 58. 

“Frances set a wonderful example of loving her family well and placing importance on the value of family. I’m not a big events person— I like celebrations, but I love everyday life. I love knowing what my grandchildren are doing. I don’t want to hover, but I enjoy jumping in any time I’m asked,” she says.

Walne and husband Alan are often referred to as “Lake Highlands’ Power Couple,” and she embraces the idea that the two can accomplish more working together. Alan has credited her wise counsel during pivotal moments on the Dallas City Council, State Fair of Texas board, Parkland Hospital Board of Managers and Salesmanship Club of Dallas board, among other leadership roles.

“I think we’ve tag-teamed well,” she says. “His involvement has never been just his, and when opportunities have come my way, Alan has been my best cheerleader. Sometimes we dovetail and sometimes we have our own role, but we always support each other.” 

Walne says she and her husband share an overriding philosophy to leave the community better than they found it, and the attitude has been adopted by daughter Sarah and son Robert. Sarah and Ryan Hefton are rearing their children near White Rock Elementary, where Sarah recently served as president of the PTA. Robert and Stephani Walne also send their kids to WRE, and Robert just finished his term as president of the Exchange Club.

Walne says encounters with young moms in the neighborhood have left her bowled over by their dedication and capabilities. “I recently had an opportunity to sit in on a committee, and I could hardly speak. They were, one after the other, so talented and so impressive. 

“Today’s moms find amazing opportunities for service alongside their children, which models wonderful behavior, and I see school groups trying not to focus so much on themselves. It doesn’t take them long and they don’t have to look far to find a place where they can make a difference, whether it’s a one-time project or an ongoing effort.”

Young moms know the secret to service, Walne says; the person who benefits most isn’t the person in need at all. 

“We weren’t put on this earth to be takers. We were put here to share our talents and be other-centered. It’s so rewarding to know you made a difference in someone’s life.”

It’s too early to tell if Walne’s spirit of service is rubbing off on her seven grandchildren, but her love of Dallas seems to be. They gleefully accept her invitations to visit the Arboretum and the zoo, even if they’re too young to understand the role she’s played in building them.

“The Arboretum provided a perfect spot to refresh with my mother and Alan’s while they were well and while they battled illness, and now we enjoy taking the littles,” she says. “I appreciate the opportunities they open for families and for learning.”

Trissie Osborn is always the cheerful sort, but catch her on a Thursday and you’ll find the Mississippi native happy as a hound dog with two tails. That’s when she welcomes dementia patients to Journey, the respite program she created and leads at Highland Park United Methodist Church. Participants and their families sing the praises of Osborn and her many volunteers, but she thanks God for the heaping helping of blessings the program returns to her each week. 

Osborn had been directing the church’s pastoral care program for congregants 80 and over when a church member came to her seeking help with her husband, a retired minister. Caring for him since his dementia diagnosis had become a full-time job — and then some. She realized that for her sake, and his, she needed a break.

“We didn’t have the bandwidth to create a new program at the time, but she kept coming back,” recalls Osborn, who began researching programs around North Texas, attending training sessions and talking to knowledgeable folks working at retirement homes and memory care centers. She read literature and watched videos, determined that she’d only start the program if she could do it right. 

No one in her family has suffered from dementia, but Osborn had compassion for its devastating effects. About 20 years before, her mom had suffered a massive stroke at age 70.

“That really rocked my world,” Osborn admits. “She was so outgoing. She ran circles around me. My parents had moved to Dallas just before that, and she was helping us raise our three small boys at the time. She was a wonderful mom, grandmother and mother-in-law, and she was an extension of the care of our family.”

Boots Mohead moved back to Mississippi to receive extensive medical support after her stroke, and Osborn traveled back and forth to care for her mom before her death at age 84. Though her mom’s ailments were different, the lessons she learned have been invaluable.

“Every day is different, and it requires a tremendous amount of patience,” she says. “It can be extremely frustrating to the person who has been active and vivacious but is now barely able to walk, and, at times, finds their thoughts are confused. They may know what to say but not how to get it out. Their soul remains, and they have so much left to give.”

Journey began with nine participants and nine volunteers, and quickly expanded to a full class of 15. They begin each day with breakfast and social time, followed by discussions with a weekly theme. They enjoy music of an era from their younger days and do “sit and fit” exercises in their chairs. A catered hot lunch is followed by more themed lessons and games. Osborn is a Southern party planner with a Pinterester’s heart, so she works hard to balance creating fun experiences while not overwhelming her charges. 

“It’s been a learning experience. Things need to be adjusted because everyone is in a different place along their dementia journey. People need to get out, socialize and be around people. They need to use their skills and feel valued.”

Caregivers use their four hours as they wish— some go to lunch or a movie with a friend. Some attend to their own doctor visits or hair appointments after transporting mom to all of hers. Some go home exhausted and take a nap. Many have begun attending the program’s support group for caregivers- sharing tips, swapping doctors’ notes and trading resources.

“They have formed a community as they drop off and pick up. No matter where you are on the journey, it’s difficult, and they support one another. When they drop off at 10 they may be stressed, but when they pick up at 2 they are different people. It’s amazing what four hours can do. And it’s important to know someone cares.”

Osborn asks her volunteers to commit to once per month, but most come every week. The only preparation involves learning to slow their pace.

“It’s fulfilling and rewarding to engage people and see them so full of joy and gratitude. The caregivers are the heroes at home, and the volunteers are the heroes here at Journey. They are amazing.”

Osborn hopes more churches and synagogues in the area will create programs like Journey, since the need is great and the wait list is growing. Participating in Journey is free— astounding since some programs charge up to $100 a day. Email OsbornT@hpumc.org to donate to the program, add your loved one’s name to the list or become a volunteer. If you can’t commit to four hours, Osborn has another idea.

“Just go sit with your neighbor. Help them with yard work or bake them cookies. Talk to them and give them time to answer. The caregiver needs to know they’re safe with you. There is so much we can do— and you can do your little part.”

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