In Denton, we are surrounded by famous people. We rub shoulders with them so often that most of us don't even think about it.
The Discover Denton Welcome Center is staffed with people we call Dentoning Experts, because they know Denton intimately. They're naturally good with people and eager to help each visitor discover Denton on their own terms.
While all of our experts share the gift of valuable gab, they are each themselves quite unique. One of them is even famous.
Val Dacus joined the Experts team six months ago as a new empty nester looking for a way to "fill some time and share love."
"This job is way more than folding shirts and handing out brochures," Val said. "My job is about helping people and showing love in the most welcoming, authentic way I can."
Val is a renowned songwriter. But that's jumping to the end of the story.
Val's career started when she was 4 years old, singing with her parents' dance band in her home town of Fort Worth. By the time she was 16, she was singing center stage at Six Flags' Southern Palace and Crazy Horse Saloon.
From Six Flags, Val moved on up the ladder to the Grapevine Opry, where she took a shine to the guitar player in the house band. She and Pat married on the Grapevine Opry stage, and soon afterward started their own band, Valerie Price and Footloose. They played private parties and were the house band at Austin Ranch for 15 years.
While in the midst of their Grapevine Opry days, Val worked at KEGL, the Eagle 97.1, as the assistant to the programming and promotions director while Pat began his career in Denton's insurance industry, eventually opening his own firm, Pat Dacus Financial.
Val and Pat made the move to Denton when the family started growing. "We wanted to raise our kids in Denton," Val said. They shelved their music life, Pat focused on work, and Val got about the business of raising children.
In 1985, Val's story took a turn. "I got saved, and Jesus put a new song in my heart," Val said.
Val dug deep into the church music scene, a far cry from the old life's late-night gigs. She spent the next 21 years in the First Baptist Denton choir and then moved to Denton Bible Church, where she's been a choir and praise team member and regular soloist for the past 10 years.
A girls' trip to a songwriters' conference in St. Louis opened the door to Val's next career step.
Val had only dabbled in songwriting before the St. Louis venture. When she learned the conference included a competition, she wrote a song to enter. It was the first of her original songs anyone had ever heard, and she won third place. Her confidence boosted, she signed up for a conference-sponsored professional critique session with publisher and multi-DOVE Award-winning songwriter Joel Lindsey.
After the conference, Val applied Joel's recommendations to her song and sent it back to him. Nine months later, she finally heard from him, an invitation to a songwriter retreat in Georgia, where collaborative songwriting was the focus. She walked away from Georgia with four new songs and a mentor — Lindsey, who signed Val as a staff writer for Sunset Gallery Music in Nashville just a year later.
"It's a discipline. You don't just wait for inspiration," Val said. "You write every day, honing your craft."
And it's paid off. In the last four years, 25 artists have recorded Val's songs, including "Love Covered My Sin" by Doug Anderson that was nominated for Best Country Single at the 47th annual DOVE Awards. Then last year, Doug Anderson's "Drive" won country album of the year for the title song "Drive," written by our own Val Dacus.
"'Drive' is like my personal life mantra because it says you've got to hold on tight and let God drive, and that's what I'm learning how to do," Val said. "I'm learning how to buckle up in the passenger seat and just see where God takes me."
I've witnessed it myself: someone comes into the DDWC all star-struck at meeting Val in person. She's a big deal, and she's earned it by responding when opportunity knocks. When a door opens, she steps through.
"I'm waiting for my next assignment," Val said. "God has something for me, so I'm working to be present in my life until I know what it is."
In the meantime, Val is one of the best among our Dentoning Experts, sharing the love and the story of Denton one visitor at a time.
KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton's original, independent spirit through the city's sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.