Dave Lieber grew up in the Big Apple on the upper west side in Manhattan playing street ball in a neighborhood where generations of kids have done the same. For the last nineteen years Dave has lived right here in Northeast Tarrant County where he has built a solid reputation as a columnist, speaker, author, community volunteer, righter of wrongs, husband, and dad, wearing each hat comfortably. Along the way this native New Yorker turned Texan has remained true to himself while dedicating his life’s work to making a difference in the world around him.
Learning the Ropes
After graduating from the hallowed halls of Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, Dave headed off to the City of Brotherly Love to conquer the world of journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer. During his time with this metropolitan Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper the fledgling reporter learned the lessons that built a strong foundation for the style of journalism he uses to this day. “The Inquirer taught me a high sense of ethics, to be fair, and be accurate,” Dave declared. But, after ten years with the paper as a staff reporter Dave was looking for something different. He told us, “I knew all about life in the Big Apple, I knew Philly, but I wanted a slower pace of life.” Then, in 1993, an opportunity to come work for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram brought this die-hard New Yorker to the Lone Star State.
Finding his Niche as a Texan
With his attention captured by the shared philosophy between the Star-Telegram with his paper in Philadelphia Dave began to settle into the Texas lifestyle. “Amon Carter created this beloved newspaper and for all these years they’re still doing what he was doing,” Lieber said. At the Star-Telegram they stressed getting involved in the community and Lieber tried on various volunteer hats looking for the best fit. The novice Texan started to better understand downhome southern roots during a newspaper endorsed volunteer stint with the United Way. “It was during this time I experienced the mentality of the region, it’s about service and helping others,” Lieber admitted, “To be a true Texan you have to move away from the ‘I’ and ‘me’ and get into the ‘You’. But I was still hunting for what I wanted to spend my life working on.”
After four years in Texas Dave still had yet to find his true philanthropic calling. On a cool January morning in 1997, a breakfast meeting with Judge Brad Bradley would result in an organization that would change the lives of thousands of children throughout the region. It was a morning not long after the celebration of the Christmas holidays when the two sat down and discussed Bradley’s concern. With the holiday season over a need for volunteers at many charities was not being met and the brainstorm breakfast led to the creation of Summer Santa.
Lieber recalled Bradley’s motivational call to action, “Let’s do this together. We’ll each bring ten people to the first meeting.” Continuing his recollection, Lieber said, “Judge Bradley brought Mayors, city council people. I brought educators, people from Metroport Meals on Wheels, my boss at the Star Telegram.” The very first year the co-founders assembled a lengthy list of area volunteers who were ready to work. Dave promoted a toy drive in his column, and they set up donation spots at the local banks, collecting and donating toys throughout the area.
In the beginning, Dave admitted they knew nothing about how to get sponsors or raise funds. They put flyers on cars, did a mini-golf and bowling tournament for years. By the second year, granting summer camp scholarships to children in need became an additional focus of Summer Santa. Dave said, “When women got involved from different groups within Southlake like the Southlake Women’s Club, Greater Southlake Woman’s Society, and National Charity League of Southlake they brought in their contacts. These women had executive experience, creativity, they were like windmills, going non-stop.” The joint vision of Lieber and Bradley to create an organization completely staffed by volunteers was off and running.
Today, fifteen years later, Summer Santa is one of the largest children’s charities in North Texas and the organization still runs with an all-volunteer staff - and true to their versatile and low cost structure- no office space. Summer Santa invests as much of their funds as possible sending nearly 3,500 children to the summer camp of their choice at an average cost of $215.00 per child. In addition to camps the organization has delivered over 34,000 toys and books to its reputable list of Sister Charities. The toys go a long way in giving children something to enjoy and something to call their own.
Through a generous partnership with Kohl’s almost 1,500 children get to go shopping for new clothes in preparation for the new school year. With the help of Dr. Peter Sakovich of Colleyville and his staff 519 children have received camp and school physicals free of charge. New programs are constantly being developed like helping children pay registration fees so they can participate in sports and giving bikes to those who have never felt the wind in their hair.
In recognition of his charitable work, Dave Lieber was presented with the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award in 2002 from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, an award given to the U.S. newspaper columnist “whose work best exemplifies the high ideals of the beloved philosopher-humorist who used his public forum for the benefit of his fellow human beings.”
What began as two men sharing a dream and a determination to make a difference continues to grow affecting the lives of children and families year in and year out. Take George, for example; through Summer Santa this 8-year-old boy saw his first live theatre performance with his Mother courtesy of a partnership between Summer Santa and the Artisan Center Theater in Hurst. George left the theater a changed boy who now believes someday maybe he could climb on that stage and entertain an audience.
Finding a Family
Working in parallel to find the right fit for his career and philanthropic endeavors Dave Lieber was also searching for the right woman to share his life with. It was early 1994 and after many prayers for a good, strong Texas woman to come his way, Patti Smith, President of Greater Keller Women’s Club told Dave she knew someone who would be perfect for him. Little did he know she was telling someone else the same story. An arranged meeting at a Keller Women’s Club fashion show led to love at first sight and by Fall of that year Dave was proposing to Karen with a romantic story written in his Star-Telegram column about falling in love with her and her two children, Jonathan (10) and Desiree (12), and making peace with her “psycho dog.” They married in February of 1995 and two years later Austin (Yes, named for the state capital) joined the family as the first native Texan.
In the News
The family eventually adjusted to constantly showing up in Dave’s columns with no topic being off limits. By 2003 The Dog of My Nightmares was published, a compilation of Dave’s columns recounting daily adventures in the life of this self-proclaimed “Yankee Cowboy.” Wife Karen’s dreams of owning a horse were laid out for the world to see. Stories of Jonathan and Desiree throughout high school made the papers and then the books. Austin also appeared in the pages of both venues. But in 2008, when Austin was 11, an event occurred that resulted in more attention than anyone in the family wanted.
It was a summer morning in August and Dave and Austin were sharing some guy time having breakfast at the local McDonald’s. Austin finished first and was anxious to get on with things but his Dad wasn’t ready to leave yet. After a bit of wrangling back and forth tempers were getting short and the end result was Dad telling son he could think about his behavior alone during the 7/10ths of a mile walk home. The aftermath of a split-second decision turned the world of the Liebers upside down and what started out to be an incident that didn’t seem out of the ordinary resulted in the critic himself becoming the target of a firestorm of criticism.
By the time Dave turned the car around and headed back to pick up his son, by-standers had become concerned and officers from the Watauga police department were awaiting his return. Ten minutes in the life of a family immediately went viral. Around the world newspapers, TV news, and Internet blogs picked up the story. Just like so many other family moments before, Dave wrote about the incident in his column and critics weighed in strongly on both sides of the issue. In his 2011 book, Bad Dad he recounts the story with Austin’s permission to share and asks readers to form their own opinion. We have no doubt that raising a family in the spotlight is a difficult task at best and the parent hat fits a bit tightly at times.
From Metro to Watchdog
Dave had been dreaming of having his own column since he was young and in 2005, after a long successful run as a metro columnist, the paper turned to Dave to take on their new, groundbreaking watchdog investigative column, a perfect fit for this tenacious newspaperman. “The watchdog mail began coming in before I even started,” said Dave. Commenting on the column, he continued, “The role is empowering but I don’t want to be just a consumer reporter. I want to show people how to do things for themselves.” And he has done just that. What began as a twice-weekly column where Lieber led the crusade against injustice to the consumer in all of us has morphed into a nationwide movement. It’s always been Dave’s way to use stories to bring about a positive change in the world and in his role as the Watchdog he is helping people help themselves.
His book Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation was the 2009 winner of two national book awards for social change and was named one of the top 10 consumer books of the year. Dave maintains, “A great deal of information is free and takes only a few seconds to look up. Spend the time to find a companies vulnerability and then don’t accept the no.” As Leader of The Watchdog Nation Dave shows people how to be their own watchdog and protect their rights from those that want to take advantage. Armed with knowledge, citizens of the Watchdog Nation are prepared for defending themselves against unfair and unethical companies and stand ready to help others as well. They even have a meeting, take the oath, and receive an official membership card. “I meet people everywhere. It’s fun, empowering and always challenging,” Dave said.
The geographic differences between the city of his birth and his adopted Texas home were not lost on Dave. In a 2002 trip back to his home turf he tried to explain to Austin how the big blue sky of Texas wasn’t the same as the skyscraper-filled skyline of New York. Then Dave realized a large portion of the New York City sky was indeed viewable now after the horrific act of 9-11 and on Dave’s father’s 80th birthday three generations of Lieber men visited Ground Zero. Upon their return to the old neighborhood on 78th Street, Dave introduced his thoroughly Texas little boy to the timeless game of street ball, played by his father before him and now played by his own children. Dave explained the significance of the visit in a column upon his return saying, “Life is not a straight line with no beginning and no ending. Now that I have played street ball with my little Texas boy, a life-affirming act for me, I have all the proof I need that the circle of American life remains unbroken.”
This multiple award-winning writer recently added another to his mantle in the 2012 National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual writing contest. Be it newspaper man, speaker, watchdog, community volunteer, or just plain “Dad” no matter what hat Dave Lieber is called upon to wear he dons it with grace and a sense of responsibility to change the world for the better. This native New Yorker has become a true Yankee Cowboy and honorary Texan.
Photo Credits: Bludoor Studios