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The Traveled and Good Life

Some people are destined to be travelers and for both Dick and Annie Stephens it must have been a birthright as the two of them have traversed the world — mostly side by side — landing in Cordillera Ranch where this chapter of their lives includes good friends, new adventures and the beautiful Texas Hill Country. 

By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen  ::  Photography by Mark Humphries

Born on Christmas Eve 1934 to depression-era parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dick’s father was most grateful to be employed by Sanborn Map Company. “I was often told that my world of traveling began at birth as we had visited 18 states and Canada before I was a year old,” he says. The Stephens family settled in Houston in 1938 and by the early 1940’s, to avoid additional transfers, his father Ted made a career change to insurance, eventually opening his own small company, the T.W. Stephens Insurance Agency.

Life in Houston included a couple of moves, the last of which was to a neighborhood that back in 1947 was “considered country living” and was perhaps Houston’s first subdivision, West Lane Place near Westheimer and Post Oak inside what is now the Loop. Dick had numerous jobs throughout his childhood and teen years that eventually helped pay for high school and college expenses. That drive and work ethic was modeled well by his father who retired at 90. “Mom and Dad were very loving parents and set a powerful example for me throughout my life,” he says.

Dick was one of the 400-plus students accepted to Rice University in 1952 when all students had generous four-year scholarships, and the football stadium routinely swelled with 70,000 cheering fans. He graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate with a B.A. in Economics in 1956 and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Forty years later, Dick was honored to be elected to serve as President of The Rice Alumni Association.

After a quick stint with Tenneco Oil Company, Dick reported to active duty with the Army at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Upon graduation from Belvoir, he was posted to the NATO forces in Orleans, France in April of 1957 where he became a company commander in an Engineer Construction Battalion. But the three-year tour wasn’t just career building. It was also when he met his future wife, Annie, a native of Tigy, a small town near Orleans.

Annie, who was born during one of the coldest winters ever in Europe on the eve of the pending WW II, grew up in the Loire Valley where she boarded at and graduated from the College Classic de Jeune Files de Blois. Her education included study abroad and summers with a family in Lymington, England where she perfected her English. The war was a time of profound hardship, deprivation and sacrifice. When it ended, life began to return to normalcy and Dick and Annie met in 1957. She and her father had the opportunity to take a trip in 1958 to Canada and the U.S. that included Montreal, New York City, New Orleans and Houston where they stayed with Dick’s family for a week. “It must have gone well. My mom asked Annie’s father in French, ‘When do you think they are getting married?’” says Dick. That happened a few months later in Orleans, with both an American and French priest officiating. “We were married in a full-dress, military ceremony with cross swords at her parish cathedral in 1958.”

The couple had what Dick describes as a “storybook” honeymoon, to Paris, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. “What an adventure it was for a young couple, and only 13 years after the end of WW II. The Officer’s Clubs, military facilities and hotels, especially in Germany, were outstanding and we were privileged to be enjoying European hospitality wherever we traveled.” When they returned, they were happy to be gifted with living in Annie’s parents’ picturesque second home in Olivet, not far from Dick’s military base and on the banks of the Loriet River. During their 18 months as husband and wife in France, they welcomed their first daughter Anne Marie.

After an honorable discharge as a First Lieutenant, Dick left Europe with his bride and returned to Tenneco where he was assigned to Lafayette, Louisiana in 1960 as a landman. Their five years with Tenneco included working in the Lafayette office as well as a 14-month stint in Oklahoma City where Annie became a naturalized citizen. Just as children can love both of their parents equally, so Annie feels about France and the U.S. Ever since she took her oath of allegiance and to this very day, she proudly votes in every national, local and state election.

In 1965, Dick received an enticing job offer to join The Louisiana Land and Exploration Company (LL&E), also a NYSE company, and the couple relocated from Lafayette to the New Orleans area. “Little did we know it would be where we spent the majority of our lives,” says Annie. “We have treasured memories from our time in Louisiana, both in Lafayette and New Orleans, too numerous to list.” Among them, the birth of daughters Claire and Jennifer, Claire’s marriage to Dwight Emanuelson, Jr. in 1987 at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral, and the birth of their two grandsons in Dallas, Dwight Emanuelson, III, (Hillis) and James Emanuelson.

Dick had the honor of serving with Dr. Steve Ambrose and Nick Mueller as Directors of the Eisenhower Center, predecessor to the National World War II Museum, and assembling a collection of signed, personalized first edition hardcover copies of all of Ambrose’s books. LL&E employment also offered the opportunity to commission countless hand-carved Louisiana duck decoys, first for Dick’s hunting rig and later as a collector. The collection includes the primitive folk art of nationally noted Native American artists, Laurent Verdin, Sr. and Jr., as well as that of nine-time world champion carvers Tan Brunet and sons Jett and Jude. The artists became close friends of the Stephens, and over the years, over 1,200 of their decoys were given to friends, family and museums. The Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum in the French Quarter, was gifted 430 decoys and wildfowl artifacts in 2012. “There they will be forever on permanent display in their new “nest,” free and open for the public to always enjoy,” says Dick.

While raising their family, Annie found time to volunteer, teaching French in Lafayette and again in New Orleans and Metairie where all three daughters graduated from high school. Annie developed a love of tennis, golf and skiing, which she and Dick enjoyed on trips to Colorado. She also traveled often with Dick on his many domestic and international business trips, especially enjoying Hawaii, Hong Kong and Bali. Hunting and fishing trips were fun for the couple as well as visiting many LL&E properties and activities like attending the Masters Golf Tournament, the U.S. Tennis Open, the Indy 500 and the New Orleans Saint’s football game in London.

Both of them have had so many other memorable events and experiences. One was particularly interesting. While flying from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma, Dick’s flight on Air Thai was hijacked to Calcutta, India. He was released after 12 hours of government negotiations with the hijackers. There was their work-related, around-the-world trip on Lee Iacocca’s private jet with time in London, Paris, Australia and other foreign lands. And then there were the seven or eight trips to Normandy D-Day beaches in France, including the 50th anniversary of D-Day with Steve Ambrose and again on its 70th anniversary with Cordillera Ranch friends, the Ainsworths, Hunkes and Pfeiffers.

Dick always enjoyed his work and further noted, “My 15 years with LL&E were the best of my working career.” He moved quickly through the ranks of land, exploration, production and management and in 1970 he was elected Corporate Vice President. “My involvement in the Jay Oil Field discovery with Exxon in the Florida panhandle had a great deal to do with my progress as it proved to be the largest oil discovery in the lower 48 states since WW II. He was later asked to author a paper entitled, “The Events Leading up to the Discovery of Jay Oil Field.” His responsibilities continued to expand, including international oil and gas exploration, hard minerals and real estate, both industrial, and their resort development on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. He also oversaw the company’s ownership, preservation and maintenance of 600,000 acres of Southern Louisiana marshland. In addition to his work, he continued his education through a sponsorship by LL&E at Columbia University’s Executive Program in Business Administration in upstate New York in 1974.

The Arab oil embargo created a boom for oil and gas exploration in the early 1980’s and along with it came a job offer for Dick to become President of Freeport Oil Company, the fast-growing oil and gas subsidiary of Freeport Mineral Company. Shortly thereafter, following a merger with McMoRan, the corporate headquarters were relocated to New Orleans and Dick soon became the President of the merged oil and gas subsidiary, Freeport – McMoRan Oil and Gas Co. Some of the highlights of those 15 years at Freeport included a major copper and gold discovery in Indonesia and the opportunity for Dick to interact with seasoned directors including Dr. Henry Kissinger, et al. Dick retired in 1996 at age 62.

After Hurricane Katrina hit both New Orleans and Destin in 2005, Annie and Dick elected to temporarily relocate to Dallas where Jennifer and Claire and family lived, with Anne Marie not far away in Austin. “Little did I know at the time that Annie’s wisdom would again prevail and we would make the big decision in 2006 to buy our lot in Cordillera Ranch and begin our relocation process to the Texas Hill Country. Since all three girls had moved to Texas, we decided to follow in their footsteps — and after considerable due diligence, we learned of Cordillera from a realtor. Once found, the decision to buy and build was soon ‘sealed’ when we were referred to Cordillera Ranch residents, Jan and JW Pieper, who shared their enthusiasm for their community,” says Dick.

Annie says their Cordillera Ranch experience has been a wonderful chapter in their lives. “We sold our place in Metairie and were living in Destin and Dallas, and had embarked on a two-year, long distance design and building process. Fortunately for us, our due diligence for a builder and lot selection had paid off with Robert Thornton, Dave Morris and their team, along with Stephanie Latham in Boerne, and with some additional input from our long-time architect Arthur Davis and decorator Joe Morrow in New Orleans — it all was masterfully packaged together into an end product of which we are most proud. We are not alone in finding that the Hills and Northingtons have taken the time and effort to further enhance a naturally beautiful part of the Hill Country in close proximity to the inviting and welcoming town of Boerne. We are delighted to be now, over nine years later, even more impressed than ever with all that they have accomplished on our collective behalf.”

The charm of Cordillera’s location enchants the Stephens. “Our three daughters had always enjoyed their summers at Camp Waldemar near Hunt, Texas and Annie has always felt that the area reminded her of her vacation summers in the south of France,” says Dick. “We are happy communing with nature around our home and neighborhood common areas.”

They enjoy the numerous Club facilities, including the golf course, exercise facility and dining room. “We also both enjoy the Nature Club, Wine Club and the Progressive Dinner Group. Individually, Annie is a regular Shanghai player and I participate in the Men’s Club gatherings and Hwy 46 clean-up brigade.” What’s particularly appealing is choice, says Dick. “You have the option of doing as little or as much as desired when the spirit moves you.” But the best part, they agree, are the friendships, says Dick. “We have wonderful new friends we have made who are all most sharing during good times and when in need.”

Annie and Dick both believe that overall, their lives have been wonderfully blessed. “But we have had medical setbacks that have been totally inexplicable and devastating. Additionally, the loss of Jennifer and then Anne Marie one year later, both to unrelated issues with cancer, has taken a huge toll in our lives which can never be replaced. Our daughter Claire, husband Dwight and grandsons Hillis and James have extended themselves far beyond their normal reach with their care and love to help us work through our collective grief. Our new friends in Cordillera have also been a tremendous help in our attempt to regain our balance in life. We are not alone in losing loved ones and we attempt to be of some solace to others who are experiencing similar setbacks.”