Honoring Our Founders

When you ask two powerful women if they’ll start a bookstore for you, don’t be surprised if they are still an integral part of it four decades later.

The Cathedral Bookstore begins its 39th year this month. On October 12, the Dean of the Cathedral honored two retiring founders, Wendy Bentlif and Cynthia Pyle, with a Celebration Tea in the Mellinger Room. The following is an article that appeared in the October 2021 edition of the Cathedral Bulletin and provides some insight on the dedication of these two remarkable volunteers.

The Cathedral Bookstore thrives because of its volunteers 

Christ Church Cathedral Bookstore Manager Lucy Chambers thinks of the store as the front porch of the Cathedral. 

“It is a part of the Cathedral with a long tradition,” Chambers said. “The Bookstore helps to create a welcome and a feeling of family.” 

A large part of the Bookstore’s success is due to its volunteers, two of whom are being honored with a champagne tea on October 12. Cynthia Pyle and Wendy Bentlif, who both recently retired from their duties, had been there since the Bookstore opened on October 16, 1983. 

Bentlif remembers her reaction when former Dean J. Pittman McGehee talked to them about staffing the store. 

“I turned to [Cynthia] and said, do you think we can do it?” Bentlif said. 

The answer was a resounding yes. 

To understand what a community jewel the Bookstore is now, you must consider what downtown Houston was like in the early 80s. 

“It was vacant,” McGehee said of the area when he ar- rived in 1980. “I was a young ambitious priest, and my charge was to bring it back to life.” 

As he told Chambers for a 2017 blog, he followed Henry Ford’s advice: “The greatest wisdom is in doing the obvious.” For McGehee, the obvious was taking an “old-fashioned church parlor” known as the Red Room and repurposing it as a center of intellectual curiosity. Opening a restaurant in The Cloisters was an additional community-building move. “People started coming,” McGehee said. “It became its own presence.”
Pyle, who also was the store’s first manager, was on board with a Bookstore from the start.

“I had asked to volunteer,” Pyle said. “I’d always been involved in books, schools, and libraries. I told Dean Mc- Gehee and Canon Logan that I thought we could do it. I was sure the volunteers – with me included – would make a great team.” 

After Alberta Jones, the former manager of Episcopal Bookstore in River Oaks, helped get the store going, Pyle managed the Bookstore until Kathy Jackson became manager around 2003.  After Jackson started as assis- tant manager beginning in 1993. Pyle stayed on as a dedicated volunteer leader until the end of 2020. 

“I loved creating something,” Pyle said. 

Over the years, the Bookstore has come to hold a special place in the hearts of staff, volunteers, and patrons. 

“The Bookstore is special because it provides a welcoming space for members of the church, the com- munity and the Diocese,” Kathy Jackson said. “Sharing stories and experiences in such a beautiful setting draws many repeat customers who are often surprised at the variety of books and gift options this small store offers. The volunteers are absolutely the key element to the longevity of this ministry.” 

Author, retired priest and 19-year volunteer Earle Martin said he’d always wanted to work in a bookstore. 

“I was the only man back in 2002,” he said. 

Earle was a widower when met his second wife Kristi there. After Kristi passed away, Earle became acquainted with his current wife Nancy through her patronage of the store. 

“We just knew each other over the counter at first,” he said. 

Earle was pleased to do the signing for his second book, The Boy Who Saved My Life, there. 

“The thing that makes [the bookstore] special is the people,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful place.” 

Long-time volunteer Jan Fitzhugh loves that there is a place to see her friends, check out books and gather on Sunday morning. 

“My favorite memories revolve around children sitting on the floor in their section and discovering reading is fun,” she said. 

Frequent patron the Rev. Ed Stein said it’s important to remember that the Bookstore doesn’t just serve the Cathedral community. 

“[Tourists] come into the Cathedral to find something to look at, and then discover the store and the people who are working there that day and leave having had a personal welcome to the city with maybe a purchase or two – and more importantly leave with a really positive experience of the Episcopal church as a place of friendliness and welcome,” Stein said. 

“It’s so rare to find an independent bookstore nowadays and I think we are a hidden gem in down- town Houston,” adds volunteer Roxanne Dolen. 

Chambers, who took over for Jackson in 2017, said that the volunteers are the ones who carry the store’s history. They also start new traditions, like the 1,000-piece puzzle that Truitt Hallmark, husband of longtime volunteer Pat, oversees. 

“I love being in a community of book lovers,” Chambers said. 

Chambers gives Pyle all the credit for the institutional procedures and sound practices she instituted in the beginning .

“We still use them today,” she said.

Chambers also praised Bentlif ’s convivial nature. “Wendy was always right there with you,” Chambers said. “She made me feel at home.”

Pyle and Bentlif say that the Bookstore will always be special to them.

“We all always got on so well together,” Bentlif said. “The store was such a big part of my life all these 40 years,” added Pyle.

Volunteer Catherine Lippincott sums up nicely the magic of the Bookstore, which goes beyond books. “It’s a feeling that is experienced when you walk in the door,” she said. “It is rooted in the history, time and tide of the shop. The books ground the space, but the fairy dust comes from the happy spirits who enter and who work there—past and present.” 

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If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.
~Margaret Thatcher

pictured above: (left) Cynthia Pyle and (right) Wendy Bentlif at a Bookstore Christmas party in the 1980s

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