Over the weekend I had the rewarding opportunity to attend Solar San Antonio’s annual fundraising luncheon celebrating its founder and chairman, Bill Sinkin, on the occasion of his 99th birthday. Friends, family, and city leaders honored Bill’s life, with eccentric bow ties mimicking his style, an auction benefiting the city’s solar future, as well as a bit of roasting. “I still remember the first day that I met Bill Sinkin,” Congressman Charlie Gonzalez began, “My mother was changing my diaper. Actually that is not a joke.” Other roasters of the afternoon included Mayor Julián Castro, who presented Bill with a Council certificate, as well as Emcee Randy Beamer — who had the balls to make phallic jokes about Bill literally getting the Tower of the Americas up just in time for the 1968 World Fair in Hemisfair Park.Congressman
Gonzalez made one of the most valuable statements summing up Bill’s life of service to San Antonio as a businessman, community leader, and solar energy innovator. “A day without Bill Sinkin is a day without sunshine.” Echoing the sentiment, former colleague Charles Williams, from as early as Bill’s Texas State Bank days, recounted Bill’s bright past and work for racial equality -- motivated by Bill's own experience growing up of Russian Jewish heritage in San Antonio during the early to mid-twentieth century.It was Tom Frost who brought the conversation and jokes back to the present and Bill’s current mission. In his iconic Texan accent, Frost fondly remarked about how difficult it was to find a parking spot this afternoon. “I was reminded that they were talking about putting a trolley to come out this way, but I heard that the reason they haven’t started the trolley is they can’t get their approval to send money unless it’s solar powered. Is that correct?” Solar San Antonio is an innovative nonprofit advocating for affordable renewable and alternate energy options for both residential and commercial businesses. The city’s setting on the surface of the sun has always been a curse, but Solar San Antonio is turning the curse into a blessing, not only through community education about solar energy resources and tools, but also by approaching educational institutions to help solve alternate energy problems. Most recently, the Solar San Antonio partnered with Trinity University engineering students, dubbed “Solar Heroes” by Bill’s son and Solar SA Executive Director Lanny Sinkin, for their work with the organization. “It’s a wide spectrum of solar activities we support every day,” explained Lanny, “from 400 megawatts of central generation to rooftop generation for homes and businesses. But our Solar Heroes takes us to a whole new different end of the spectrum.” According to Lanny, solar hot water is “technologically a no-brainer for San Antonio. It’s a perfect place for it.” Unfortunately, it’s too expensive for low-income families. That's why Solar San Antonio asked Trinity engineering students to design a low-cost solar hot water system that can be manufactured inexpensively out of off-the-shelf parts in San Antonio. “We view these folks as our future, the engineers that are going to take this to the next level technologically, and also help us make solar available to everybody,” said Lanny. Trinity University students aren’t the only Solar Heroes of the community. During the luncheon, I conveniently sat next to Texas Public Radio’s President and General Manager, Dan Skinner, whose podcast “TPR Green” covers a wide variety of green issues by meeting with local organizations and authors. Skinner explained how Solar San Antonio is engaging in many more initiatives. “They’re always promoting the use of solar energy here in San Antonio, which I think is great because we have so much sunshine. I think it’s something Solar San Antonio is doing with Build San Antonio Green, Project Verde, and working with the mayor to try to create not only a more sustainable city, but also to bring more jobs to the community. I’m just really impressed with what they do.” Having not been involved with the initiative myself, Bill Sinkin made sure that I, along with his captive audience, joined before leaving the luncheon. Perhaps as a birthday present, he requested that we all stand up and shout a phrase that so vividly describes himself, his mission, as well as the culture of San Antonio, past, present, and future: “Viva El Sol!” — Desiree Prieto Photo courtesy of Leland A. Outz
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