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Passion Coming Into Focus At HPM: John Eymann

John Eymann discusses how his passion came into focus when he transitioned from longtime volunteer to Studio Society donor and valued employee at Houston Public Media.



Houston Public Media is fortunate to have volunteers, donors and staff dedicated to public broadcasting. John Eymann, however, is one of the few individuals who have filled each of those roles.

He may also be the only person who, while volunteering on the phones during a membership drive, has been literally affixed to his seat to keep taking calls.

"Once when I was volunteering, one of the pledge captains heard I was leaving for the day," he recalls. "She told me to wait a minute, then got a pair of handcuffs, and handcuffed me to the chair!"

She was kidding around, of course, and John was released — but still voluntarily stayed for another hour to help out. As a current Houston Public Media Foundation employee, former volunteer and continuous donor, John has always been ready to lend a helping hand to support public broadcasting.

John moved to Houston from Chicago in 1993 to take a new position within his company, Amoco, which was a natural progression both professionally and socially.

"I'd been coming down to support the software for years, so I knew a lot of people here," he says.

Seeking out and supporting public broadcasting was also a priority. John started donating to News 88.7 in 1996, and started volunteering during pledge drives shortly thereafter. During a brief layoff from the chemical industry in 2006, John started volunteering about three days per week.

"By doing that, I got to know more of the people and things going on here," he recalls.

One of those people was the database manager, and given John's work history, the two men struck up a friendship. John was eventually recommended to fill the position when the former manager transitioned to a different role. Despite having worked in a vastly different industry previously, John's database work is still fundamentally the same.

The key difference?

"You have to go through a lot more safety training when you work at a chemical plant," he laughs, "and there's the fear that some whistle is going to go off, and you'll have to run for your life!"

In his role as the "database guy" for Houston Public Media Foundation since 2009, John takes care of loading and organizing member records, compiling reports for his co-workers and training new database users. He also helps out during pledge drives, setting up computers and headsets for volunteers to take calls.

"When I started as a volunteer, we used telephones and had paper forms to fill out," John recalls. "The technology makes it a whole lot easier for everyone."

All Houston Public Media's pledge drives are spaced so none are in the same month, so with four drives for TV 8, two for News 88.7 and two for Classical 91.7, John is always at work making the fundraising process easier for volunteers and donors.

There is one instance in which John's voice can be heard from News 88.7 over the airwaves, instead of as a presence behind the scenes. In 2008, he wrote and read a short essay for "This I Believe," the series that highlights everyday people's core beliefs, founded in the 1950s by Edward R. Murrow. KUHF News 88.7 ran their own "This I Believe" series for a few years, and John's episode can be read or listened to online. His belief is that everyone should have a passion.

"The way I see it, as you go through life, you start out with no passion for anything," he explains, referring to the very early stages of childhood. "You build up a passion for a number of things, then as you grow older, your passions become concentrated in one area."

Fishing and wildlife conservation are on the list of his past activities and interests. He recalls going wade fishing at Texas City Dike and Surfside when he first moved to Texas. During that time, he also volunteered with wildlife rehabilitators to reintroduce injured animals into the wild, such as hawks and owls, which sometimes included bringing frozen mice — "We called them ‘mice-cicles'" — for feeding rations and teaching visiting kids about what owls eat by breaking up sterilized owl pellets. He also studied his family's genealogy — "I've kind of run the gamut on that, and gone back as far as possible." His family has been traced back to the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, and migrated to the Midwestern United States in the mid-1800s.

John considers art, antiquing, and public broadcasting as his core passions and hobbies, so it makes sense that Houston Public Media has always been a big part of his life in Texas. His favorite programs include weekend shows on News 88.7, including "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me," "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Car Talk." Houston Public Media's expansion of the Arts and Culture News Desk, particularly with the addition of arts and culture reporter Amy Bishop, is exactly up John's ally. On TV 8, "Antiques Roadshow" is a natural favorite, as well as "Artist's Den," "Rick Steves' Europe," "Austin City Limits" and many of the mystery and historical dramas offered.

Interestingly, John's love of travel has often included public media-related events. His most recent trip was to Little Rock, Ark., to attend a taping of "Antiques Roadshow" that will air in 2016, the show's 20th anniversary season.

"I'd been trying to get tickets for years," he says, referring to tickets that are chosen by lottery due to the show's popularity. "I just couldn't, so I decided to volunteer instead."

With over 4,000 attendees having over 8,000 items appraised, it's safe to say they appreciated the help. He was also permitted to bring two antiques for appraisal, and decided on a ceramic crow and a "roly poly" type ceramic figurine.

"Let's just say I'm not a millionaire because of them," he says with a smile. "As for the experience, it was a long day, but a very fulfilling day."

John is making plans to retire to another state in the next few years, but for now, he is enjoying the cultural events and institutions Houston has to offer.

"It's always great to run into fellow volunteers around town," he says. "Houston has a great culture of volunteering."

Between visiting exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts, seeing Alley Theater performances (and, recently, touring their props warehouse in the Heights) and occasionally dropping next door to the University of Houston campus for arts-related events, there is a wide range to enjoy.

"I'm not sure where I'll end up in retirement, but it should be in a university town where there are a lot of cultural events going on," he says.

For now, he encourages viewers and listeners to become Houston Public Media Foundation donors and/or volunteers.

"Or come on a station tour, and get to know more of what we do here. Sometimes people listen to the news coming into work, and they don't realize that people give money to support that," he says.

He references "Sesame Street" and other early learning programs on PBS, and how different generations have appreciated the same programming on the same station.

"At any stage of life, if you can give to public broadcasting, you're helping out a little, or a lot," he says.

In addition to his monthly giving, John has included the Houston Public Media Foundation in his estate planning to pass on the benefits of the programming to the next generations of Houstonians. As a long-time viewer and listener, donor, volunteer and now employee, John has seen Houston Public Media from many different perspectives, and can't see his passion for public broadcasting dying down anytime soon — even if he's no longer handcuffed to a chair at a pledge drive.