About Mindy Jones

Mindy Jones began as a writer and an advertising consultant for the first issue of The Book The Woodlands in 2015. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (School of Journalism/Mass Communication), she works as a freelance writer and has experience in advertising, marketing and sales. She has lived in The Woodlands since 2008 and enjoys volunteering in her children's schools and within the community. Mindy appreciates the opportunity to be a part of Interfaith of The Woodlands by giving back to the community in her role at The Book The Woodlands.

From The Woodlands to Broadway

Straight from suburban Houston to New York City, Mallory Bechtel began living her dream on the Broadway stage at the youthful age of 18. And she always believed she would be there, because she simply loved the art of musical theater. “For me, because I started out so young – I don’t remember not considering Broadway as an option,” Bechtel shares. 

Raised in The Woodlands, Bechtel experienced a traditional childhood and education, but at a young age she began taking classes at a local theater company, Class Act Productions. She performed in shows in the heart of Houston at Theater Under the Stars in elementary school through their youth program, Humphrey’s School of Musical Theater. “I have always loved singing. All of my idols were on Broadway – that’s what we listened to in the car,” she recalls. As a professional actress and student, young Bechtel spent countless hours training with instructors, attending rehearsals and auditioning while still attending The John Cooper School, and would participate in her school productions when she was able. “They were always willing to work with me, to help me pursue my dreams,” she says.

Chairman of Performing Arts at The John Cooper School and Bechtel’s high school theater teacher, Mary Rotella, believes that Bechtel’s professionalism and humility made a huge impact on her success. Watching her grow as an actress, Rotella says, “Mallory is interesting in that she is pretty low-key and takes things in stride, but she is intense in her approach. She’s a smart actress that pays attention to detail and understands the importance of authenticity when acting.” Continuing to be involved as both a student and performer at school, Rotella recalls it was important for Bechtel’s overall well-being. “With her talent and credits, Mallory could easily have been intimidating to her peers, but she was always supportive and encouraging. She truly lifted her fellow actors up and helped them to reach their fullest potential on stage,” remarked Rotella.

Her first love was singing, and she always seemed to connect to singing as a character in musical theater productions. She recalls that acting and nailing auditions didn’t always come easy to her, however, Bechtel was willing to work hard to improve in those areas. As she continued fine-tuning her skills with the help of Houston area instructors and theater venues, her status as a triple threat with unique talents in singing, dancing and acting sent Bechtel on her way to making her dream a reality. “Houston has such a great theater scene. I feel lucky to have grown up so near it,” Bechtel says.

Bechtel had the vision of making this her career, but she never dreamed she would be quite so young when she entered the Broadway scene via Tony award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen. At 17, she auditioned to be a vacation understudy for the lead role of Zoe and was offered the job. However, the opportunity never arose to perform on stage as the understudy. But in 2018, just after high school graduation, Bechtel was thrilled to accept the full-time role of Zoe at New York City’s Music Box Theater.

The two-show days can be tiring, but she is kept energized by her fellow actors who have so much passion for what they do. She claims it has been exciting working alongside such amazing talent. “It’s always fresh, always new. People are always changing it up. It’s just what I love to do so the best part of it is getting to do it every night,” states Mallory. 

 

Dear Evan Hansen began with quite the buzz when it debuted in 2016 and was a Tony Award winner for Best New Musical in 2017. It has continued with a strong fan base and began conversations of meaningful themes presenting both an entertaining and emotionally complex musical. “It’s about a teenager dealing with anxiety and depression which is very relevant right now. I feel very lucky to be a part of a show that has helped a lot of people,” she says. Following much hype and success, the show began touring in the fall of last year, making the award-winning musical available to far greater audiences. After completing her performance in Dear Evan Hansen ending her contract this summer, Bechtel has chosen to pursue other outstanding opportunities after her success with the musical and her debut on Broadway. 

Raw talent alone didn’t get her to where she is. She only realized her dream of making it to Broadway by devoting countless hours and effort, not to mention the support from her family including her parents and three siblings. “They never doubted me. And they did force me to do things that maybe I didn’t want to. They are very supportive. I’m grateful for that,” Bechtel says. 

Her plans for the future? “For actors, it’s hard to say. I would love to stay in New York, but it depends on what comes along.” No matter what lies ahead, Bechtel has paved her way with plenty of hard work and grit, and it seems she’ll continue in that direction. There is no easy route, she claims, but her passion for music and theater made the ride more enjoyable. Bechtel’s motto for pursuing any dream is revealed in her own path, “Put the time in. Take advantage of every opportunity. Keep putting yourself out there.”  

George’s Coffee Club

It was just a couple of years ago, over coffee, that a unique local organization began. Roger Galatas, Tom Cox, and Jeff Harris—who all worked closely with founder of The Woodlands, George Mitchell—agreed that the history of The Woodlands and the vision of George Mitchell’s master plan for it should be respected and continued. So that day in 2016, enjoying conversation and a cup of joe, George’s Coffee Club was formed with the intention of sustaining the core values of the town through education.

“We shared the view that there was not a source of information [for Mitchell’s vision that] anyone could easily access and rely on. And there needed to be,” says Galatas, President of George’s Coffee Club. The 501(c)(6) nonprofit entity seeks to share factual information about George Mitchell’s significant leadership and contribution in developing The Woodlands.

They would know—each of the founders of the organization, as well as many of their members, personally worked alongside Mitchell, and they understand exactly how he was motivated and what his specific vision was for the new town. With a desire to keep the community informed and to encourage the next generation to uphold the values of The Woodlands, George’s Coffee Club has grown from the three founding members to fifty-five active members. “We recognize as time goes by, we need young people to carry this on,” Galatas says.

An original member of George’s Coffee Club and current Steering Committee member, Karen West also enjoyed the privilege of working for Mitchell, beginning in 1984 in the legal department of his company. “This community has been my primary focus as a professional and as a resident for over 30 years, so it is important to me for us to continue to honor the man who founded this outstanding community and to communicate his vision accurately,” she says. “We thought it was important to keep his legacy alive and to educate newcomers to the area about him and his contributions to this community.”

Galatas met Mitchell early in 1979 and went to work for him later that year as the Senior Vice President of The Woodlands Development Corporation, becoming the President in 1986. “In my judgment, the single most important factor in the success of The Woodlands is its founding developer, George Mitchell. His vision, tenacity, compassion, charitable nature and willingness to take financial risk all combined in this successful community,” Galatas says. He explains that Mitchell wanted to address “regional sprawl” and build a community with quality-based initiatives where residents could live, work, play and learn.

Not only was Mitchell a well-respected oil-and-gas businessman and real estate developer, but he was also a generous man. “His charitable nature was one of the things that made him stand out from other businesses,” says Galatas. He remained active, sometimes fussing at businessmen for chopping down trees, even after he sold The Woodlands in 1997 because it was a project he embraced wholeheartedly. One of the most significant gifts Mitchell imparted was the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, in honor of his wife and her passion for the arts.

Monthly meetings of George’s Coffee Club focus on foundational values from The Woodlands’ origin, including education, health, transportation, and the arts. Speakers discuss Mitchell’s initial involvement, contribution and vision, and they associate the specific amenity with how The Woodlands has evolved through the years as well as how it relates to future plans for the community. Speakers have included Congressman Kevin Brady, Conroe ISD Superintendent Don Stockton, Debra Sukin, Josh Urban, the general manager of the San Jacinto River Authority, CEOs of Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center as well as other leaders in the community. “One speaker we enjoyed this year was Mr. Mitchell’s son, Todd Mitchell, who spoke about how important The Woodlands was to his father and what he envisioned for this community,” West says.

The Woodlands opened in 1974 as a new hometown community and brought a solution for regional growth outside a large metropolitan city. Many who live and work here may not realize that the amenities, beauty, and organization they enjoy today were strategically planned for them in its inception. Nurturing the past and sustaining the community’s values for our future embraces George Mitchell’s distinct outlook: creating a quality suburban town with a unique concentration on human appeal, not just development.

George’s Coffee Club is honoring the man and the origin of this town by teaching the community about our history and aligning its future through education, thereby inspiring continuity in realizing the dreams George Mitchell had for The Woodlands.

For more information, please visit the George’s Coffee Club website at georgescoffeeclub.org

Legacy of Caring

In 1975, Don Gebert and his family arrived in Texas, sight unseen, to help an oil and gas businessman build a new town. This businessman was George Mitchell, founder of The Woodlands, who 45 years ago made a commitment to create a community, not only with master plans for neighborhoods, schools and a city center, but with heart and soul. He wanted to include the spiritual side of life. He had dreams to build a more loving and caring community.

“Mr. Mitchell was visionary enough to see that building a new town physically was not enough. You have to have people who care, people who believe, people who know how to dream, people who want to build a more loving and caring community,” Gebert says. Including religious life was a significant piece within the original design of The Woodlands, and Mitchell needed someone to carry it out.

As a Lutheran minister, Gebert had been working in inner city Philadelphia, collaborating across racial and socioeconomic divides in the 1960s. When Mitchell approached him for The Woodlands position, Gebert was Associate Director for The Philadelphia Foundation, the largest philanthropic body in the area, which was dedicated to helping the needy and improving lives. He was both a pastor and a missionary along with his wife, Barbara. His life was devoted to others, and that wasn’t going to stop when he moved to Texas.

The Woodlands, in its infancy stage, only had around 100 families residing in the small suburban area. Gebert had been carefully recruited to be the connection for religious communities within The Woodlands, to incorporate the spiritual aspect into the community. In preparation for this, Mitchell and his team had created the nonprofit, The Woodlands Religious Community, Inc., in 1973, which Gebert later renamed Interfaith of The Woodlands.

“Interfaith has been one of the key points of The Woodlands in my opinion,” George Mitchell has remarked.

Gebert decided he needed to get know people. He hopped on his moped and visited residents one by one, sometimes following moving vans to find and greet the newcomers. With those conversations, he recorded ages, special needs and religious preferences for everyone who lived in the community. The residents were a key component of getting programs started. “So many people wanted to help. I don’t deserve all of the credit. The pioneers who lived here believed we could do something that had never been done before—they deserve the credit,” Gebert says.

In his 10 years of service to Interfaith, Gebert helped 16 churches start their congregations and attain sites for their worship services. Religious faiths of all kinds became members of Interfaith, and giving back to help others was something they all could do together. Because Mitchell helped fund his new town with Housing of Urban Development (HUD) resources, there were plenty of opportunities for neighbors to help neighbors. Many of the programs he founded with the help of steady volunteers are still in existence today, with a much larger reach due to expansion: The Villager, Interfaith of The Woodlands Directory, Interfaith Child Development Center, the Interfaith Employment Project now operating as Workforce Solutions, assistance for seniors adults and so many more.

Revered Gebert often shares, “Everything that started on the human side in The Woodlands in the early days was started by Interfaith.”

Ann Snyder, Executive Director of Generosity and Schools at The Woodlands United Methodist Church, devoted over 12 years as President and CEO of Interfaith beginning in 2003, but her work with the nonprofit began many years prior as a volunteer, followed by serving as a board member. When she became President, her goal was to ensure that Interfaith stood with a solid foundation. During the first part of her leadership, she had two important goals: to visit every member congregation and to have a conversation with every staff member. “People gave a lifetime to the organization, and it was important they know how valuable they were,” Snyder says.

As The Woodlands grew in the business arena, the nonprofit began connecting with corporate entities and creating a board of directors with expertise, knowledge and heart. It was during this time that Interfaith gained a significant amount of support among corporations and leadership in the town. “I think we helped open the windows for all that was good about this organization. It was not me, it was a team,” Snyder says. When she reflects on Interfaith’s 45th anniversary, she says, “It’s the foundation of The Woodlands. Mr. Mitchell wanted a community that embraced diversity. It’s for everyone.” During Snyder’s tenure, many important programs were initiated, such as childcare at Lonestar College, expansion of the Interfaith Child Development Center, job training and the management of the Interfaith Community Clinic.

Missy Herndon, current President and CEO of Interfaith, began volunteering with the organization before beginning her career at Interfaith in 2013. When she was named President in 2016, she had prior experience with the organization, both as a volunteer and on staff as Director of Programs and Services, which brings important perspective for leadership. Hurricane Harvey became one of Herndon’s first and most significant challenges when Interfaith was tasked with organizing Montgomery County’s massive relief efforts, which provided aid and support for more than 28,000 people. “There was no better example of how the community steps up to help each other,” she says. Led by a rock-solid group of staff from Interfaith, more than 12,000 volunteers stepped forward with confidence and dedication to Interfaith’s colossal goal, demonstrating its strong support system. “The number of people serving last year during Hurricane Harvey was staggering,” says Gordy Bunch, Chairman of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors. “Interfaith is a full-time, engaged community partner.”

Member congregations continue to be heavily involved in the success and longevity of Interfaith, with their volunteer assistance as well as financial support. 63 religious institutions work together as member congregations in the name of service to create unity amid diversity, which was one of the original mottos in the early years. “My dream was to wipe the slate clean. We could have a religious community where everyone who was different, was precious,” Gebert recalls. That value has remained and been strengthened over the years, with a focus on helping others a major tenant of religions of all kinds.

Today, under Herndon’s leadership, Interfaith continues its dedication to impacting lives through compassion and service. Nearly 35,227 individuals were served in 2017 through the nonprofit’s crisis assistance program, and Interfaith helped 1,000 seniors remain in their homes by providing assistance in all areas of life. “Our hometown is better off for having Interfaith. It has been an integral part of our community for over 40 years,” says Bunch.

From helping a few neighbors to helping hundreds of thousands, Interfaith has continually created services that meet the needs of the people in The Woodlands. Everything seemed to begin by helping just one parent, one senior citizen, one struggling family. The programs arose out of real necessities, and its staff and volunteers brought those programs to fruition. As the support from the community grew, Interfaith was able to provide more assistance to more people.

Don Gebert remains in awe of how far it has come since the first day he arrived in Texas. Knowing all the obstacles they faced in the beginning, he still calls it a miracle 45 years later.

Interfaith’s hope for the future is the same as it was 45 years ago. “Our priority will always be serving people. Our goal is to never say no. We are the connection where people of all faiths, from all economic and educational backgrounds, from the spiritual, corporate and civic communities, neighbors and individuals, are able to come together in the name of service,” says Herndon.

Angel Reach

In 2004, foster and adoptive parents as well as close friends, Sandra Carpenter and Deborah Zempel, had a desire to help families in Montgomery County, taking on the role of caring for young, neglected family members. These relatives, known as kinship families, are the lifeline to many foster children. These women gave of themselves, assisting fellow foster parents by providing for the ever-changing needs of the children and those families. With their faith and a garage full of supplies, they began helping kinship families by giving them support where it was needed most—clothing, supplies and food. Angel Reach had begun.

The nonprofit, Christian organization started humbly in a garage, but today, it has grown to assisting over 600 people in need of support each year. Jean Radach, Executive Director of Angel Reach, explains how she began with the organization: “I just felt God’s calling. These kids could have been me. They could have been my son.” As a third generation of adoption—her father being an adopted as a child, an adopted child herself and parent to her adopted son—she was inspired to give her time to Angel Reach. She began by becoming a volunteer driver, filling an enormous need for many clients who don’t have driver’s licenses or transportation. “These kids come from families who have rejected them. They’ve been with multiple families. We’re not just going to put them back on the streets. We’re going to find a program where they can hopefully flourish,” Radach says.

Charles Maurice, Board Chair for Angel Reach and consistent volunteer since 2011, has witnessed firsthand the challenges these young adults have had to overcome, as well as their stories that got them there. “These are good people who have been given a rotten deal. Once you see how hard many of them are working to change their lives, it’s difficult to walk away,” he says. Maurice is continually motivated by the staff and volunteers at this nonprofit and claims their passion was contagious from the beginning.

The Kinship Care Program, the original Angel Reach service, continues today and exists to support the kinship family in their caretaking responsibilities, and it provides food, clothing, furniture and additional resources like counseling and life skills. Assisting approximately 150 families each year who receive minimal support from the state of Texas, this program fills a desperate need.

In Montgomery County, 90–100 children are aging out of the foster program each year. Angel Reach steps in with the Transitional Living Program to bridge the gap with these young adults ages 18–24. Any child in the foster care system is allowed the opportunity to engage with this organization in order to transition to the next step of life. Their needs are met with housing, life skills training, counseling, employment guidance, educational advising, mentoring and character building. As they become emotionally stable and financially independent, they advance to increasing levels of the program.

With a mission to break the generational cycle of neglect and homelessness, Angel Reach serves the youth homeless population ages 16–24 through its Community Youth Outreach Program, which provides meals, clothing, a hot shower, safe housing and a computer for job searches. In partnership with United Way, the goal is to guide them towards productive lives with financial and emotional stability

The Angel’s Nest program began due to the desire to serve single moms in the community. Dedicated to supporting these moms, Angel Reach is able to give them a place of their own to raise their children while providing guidance in finding jobs, childcare and vocational or college training.

Before Roxy Wood began working on staff at Angel Reach, she was a client herself. Her story represents the potential that each young person can achieve when they fully engage with the services provided and put in the hard work necessary. “Not only has Angel Reach assisted me with my pursuit of a better future, but they were my mentors and guiding light in life for these past few years as I have struggled and fought my way back to a brighter future,” Wood says. She is paying it forward by assisting others make a plan for a positive future, helping them take small steps forward each day in the right direction. After graduating from Sam Houston State University, Wood is leading a successful life against all odds. She says, “I wanted nothing more than to gain my degree so that I could turn around and help individuals just like myself. Angel Reach is, in some cases, the last lifeline for at-risk youth being booted out of the foster care system.”

As a longtime volunteer, mentor and fundraising leader for Angel Reach, George Lindahl has been instrumental in its growth and the development of homes for its Transitional Living Program, which includes five homes and five apartments that house 30–35 clients in the Conroe area. “You can’t imagine. Think about growing up with no mom and dad, no grandparents, no siblings, never having a new pair of shoes or a birthday party. It’s hard to comprehend,” he says. Lindahl has personally mentored young men, and each year he has taken several of them on mission trips to Honduras, where they learn more about spiritual growth while helping others. “If you see this program, you will want to help. We’re changing lives, but it’s a tough ministry,” he says.

Angel Reach has grown to 30 staff members and more than 40 volunteers, by filling a dire need in Montgomery County for young people to be able to change their paths as young adults. Angel Reach has become that bridge from troubled youth to productive, stable young adults. “They need someone to believe in them. That’s what they need,” Radach says.

To volunteer or provide donations for Angel Reach, please visit angelreach.org

Generations in The Woodlands

Despite its warm atmosphere as a community of interconnected neighbors, The Woodlands is still a relatively new town; established in 1974, it’s only now that we can describe residents as being multi-generational. Some are surprised at how much The Woodlands has grown in such a short time, but we all know why people want to move here.

In this special article, we will explore the lives of those who moved to The Woodlands in the middle of their careers, those who grew up here and are returning to raise their own families, and those who have just recently made this community their home. These unique individuals and families will describe their favorite parts of The Woodlands, how they have seen it change, how The Woodlands makes it possible for them to serve their neighbors and more.

Ross Flurry

Ross Flurry opened his own mortgage company after the economic crash of 2008. After a few years, he became interested in expanding his career, which meant a possible move in his future. In 2013 his friends invited him to visit their home in The Woodlands, and even though the Houston area was not on his radar, he knew his search was over. “It was a beautiful 75 degree Friday night in Market Street. I was in awe. . . . I looked at my buddy and said ‘Where are we?’ By Sunday of that weekend, I decided I was going to move my business to The Woodlands,” Flurry says.

Flurry took the leap of faith. Over five years later, he is not only the owner of a thriving, local mortgage company, but he also genuinely enjoys living in The Woodlands. As a resident within a luxury apartment building, Flurry is one of many young men and women who have made a home in pedestrian-friendly complexes where it feels more like a city than a suburb.

Favorite Hangout

Flurry: “Hughes Landing. . . . I fell in love with that, because for a mid-30s, single guy new to The Woodlands, it was the place to be. That’s what I do on a Friday night—frequent the restaurants I love, make connections, meet clients. I love that I can walk downstairs and walk back home.”

 

The Weekend

Flurry: “You can find me on Lake Woodlands. On a nice weekend, I am in a kayak for five hours getting some sun. I love to frequent basketball courts and jogging trails. I’ve never had amenities like that. . . . Another thing I love is that we are 45 minutes away from anything you could dream of in Houston. . . . Not every place has that.”

Giving Back

Flurry: “I am currently the VP on the Board of Interfaith Young Professionals which is approaching 130 members. I had always heard of Interfaith, but I didn’t know all that they offered. It wasn’t until Hurricane Harvey that I saw Interfaith—they blew me away with how much they did. I feel like it was a great opportunity to jump in. They all have servant hearts. I wish I had known about it years ago when I got here.”

Changes You’ve Seen Here

Flurry: “The Millennial movement in The Woodlands. The age range 25–44 has grown immensely. The idea used to be . . . you are young and single, what are you doing here in The Woodlands? It’s been a huge increase.”

Favorite Thing About The Woodlands

Flurry: “The opportunities are endless in this town. So many people want to see you succeed. If you continue to be involved, you have the leaders who brought this town up over the years—they are wanting to find the next generation of leaders. My favorite part of living here is how ambitious I have become, because there are so many opportunities.”

 

Parker & Michelle Kink

Parker and Michelle Kink grew up in The Woodlands, but they weren’t always sure they were going to end up here. After attending The University of Texas at Austin, Parker remained there to begin his career in real estate. Michelle attended Texas Tech University and became a teacher in Conroe ISD before also moving to Austin.

They were married in 2016 with no intention of moving back to The Woodlands. “We loved Austin and all it had to offer,” Parker says. But the couple decided the best option would be to move home to The Woodlands, where both families still reside, to follow an opportunity to work for the family business, The Kink Team.

The Kinks welcomed their first daughter, Abigail, into their family this April, and they are privileged to live near their parents and grandparents. “I was blessed to grow up around my grandparents and some extended family, and [I] know how special those relationships are,” Michelle says.

Favorite Hangout

Michelle: We’re foodies. We’re social people. Typically, date night is going to have a drink with friends. One thing we have enjoyed about The Woodlands is that there is so much more live music now.

Parker: We also love Sapporo, the Japanese restaurant. They have the best sushi. They take really good care of us. Corkscrew BBQ in Old Town Spring is another one we like, and there’s a couple great spots with live music.

The Weekend

Michelle: Parker is very athletic, and we both love to be active outside. It’s a good way to take a breather, to refresh.

Parker: I love going to the Sam Houston National Forest. Just to get out in nature. It’s only a 20-minute drive.

Michelle: The nature in [The] Woodlands is so gorgeous and established. Abby loves all the sounds and visual elements such as the birds chirping and trees canopying over the paths.

Giving Back

Parker: One of the reasons [we] got involved with Interfaith Young Professionals is getting plugged in with our age group. It’s a service group, not a networking group.

Michelle: Also, our family is close by. There is always something we need to do for family, whether it’s our grandmother or my sister.

Parker: Right. And for me, it’s my clients as well—[working] in their yard or helping them move something.

Changes You’ve Seen Here

Parker: It feels like less of a small suburb, and more like a bigger town. There’s much more diversity than there was 10 years ago.

Michelle: It’s an exciting time to be in The Woodlands. It’s transitioning to more of a city feel. . . . One thing that has stayed the same [is] the nature aspect—the trails everywhere, beautiful parks. It feels good to be outside.

Favorite Thing About The Woodlands

Michelle: My favorite thing about The Woodlands is that it’s a community tailor-made to raise a family! It has everything such as safety, nature, great schools, convenience, churches. . . . It’s a tight-knit community regardless of how fast the population is growing.

Parker: The best thing about The Woodlands is the people. It’s changed a lot since we were younger, but the original heart of working towards a society where everyone helps each other out really is the culture. It’s not perfect, like anywhere, but . . . you’ll find [people] looking to raise a God-centered, respectable family that’s open to helping where there’s need.

Amy & Randy Jones

When Randy and Amy Jones visited friends in a small suburb called The Woodlands, they were not intending on moving there. “When I grew up, this was just a place that had a golf tournament,” says Randy.

However, after they were married, Amy surprised Randy one day and told him she had put money towards a house in Alden Bridge. They only lived in The Woodlands two years before a job opportunity took them elsewhere, but Randy says, “We needed to find a way to get back to The Woodlands.” Amy has the same sentiment: “We loved it. We loved everything about it. We loved the church, our friends, the community.”

In order to move back to the community that they loved so much, Randy opened his own business in the north Houston area. Now, with four children ranging from 4th grade to college, they are a family thankful to raise kids in The Woodlands. As the Executive Assistant to Dr. Robb at the United Methodist Church since 2009, Amy considers it a joy to serve her church and the community of The Woodlands.

Favorite Hangout

Amy: My favorite thing to do is sit outside. So, if it has outdoor seating, I’ll go there every time. We love the Waterway, Market Street and Hughes Landing.

Randy: Yes, [we love] the fact that there are so many restaurants there. Hughes Landing—you can go and enjoy sitting outside.

The Weekend

Amy: Our weekends are centered around our kids and their activities and sports, lacrosse and football. And we go to church. We also try to get a few hours on the lake when it’s nice out. And then, back to the grocery store to prepare for the week!

Giving Back

Amy: [The] National Charity League and National Charity Round Table allow you to volunteer in many areas with your children. With Harvey, we were able to do a lot of volunteering as a family.

Randy: You can connect with others in your community for common good. That’s a lot of what this community is about. . . . The schools here encourage community service, so the kids are involved too.

Changes You’ve Seen Here

Randy: [It’s hard to believe that] all the development was planned in the beginning. . . . You just don’t have to leave The Woodlands. I look at it as a much more fun place to live now. I can’t think of a single negative.

Amy: The commercial development wasn’t there. Market street wasn’t even there. . . . Even though it’s grown, it’s still maintained the original plan that George Mitchell had. The trees are here, the bald eagle is flying around, the community is thriving, the schools are great, there is a religious place for everyone, there’s nightlife. The original intent of The Woodlands is still here.

Favorite Thing About The Woodlands

Randy and Amy: We love The Woodlands, because it is a loving and caring community. In our greatest highs and darkest lows, the people of The Woodlands are extraordinarily generous. . . . Whether it’s to celebrate a great accomplishment, mourn a family member or friend, band together for a great cause—the people of The Woodlands show up in an astounding way! . . . We go above and beyond to welcome others into our incredible community we call The Woodlands.

Barry & Fran Blanton

Barry and Fran Blanton have seen The Woodlands through much of its growth, having gone to Conroe High School when The Woodlands was simply land and trees. They remember The Last Bottom of the Lake Festival, a celebration of the upcoming filling up of Lake Woodlands, and the time when Greenspoint had the closest shopping mall.

“We lived here when there wasn’t a Woodlands at all,” Fran says. She has given back to the community for 20 years as a teacher in Conroe ISD, a school district that has seen continued expansion over the years. As for Barry, after having commuted to Houston for most of his career, he has now owned a local business in The Woodlands for several years. Barry and Fran feel blessed to have raised children, who are now grown, here in the Woodlands, and they have one granddaughter who lives nearby.

Favorite Hangout

Fran: We love to go to concerts at the Pavilion. We are five minutes away. We are home before most other people are out of traffic.

Barry: And dining out—we do a lot of that. Fran: You feel like Cheers around here. We know people at the restaurants, and even though it’s a pretty big place, it feels friendly.

The Weekend

Barry: We like to get up and run in the morning. We have been active in the running community and very active in a running club.

Fran: Our granddaughter plays soccer at Dynamo Dash, and we spend a lot of weekends either watching her play here or traveling to see her games. The park amenities are also great here, for kids and families.

Giving Back

Barry: We both volunteer a lot. . . . My primary charitable involvement is The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and its Light the Night Walk. My dad died of leukemia, and I’m a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor. We’ve had a family team since it’s been in The Woodlands.

Fran: [What makes The Woodlands great is] not only how many opportunities there are, but how many people are willing to help. . . . I work at a Title 1 school, and if a child or family has a need, I can make a few phone calls and teachers or friends will help.

Barry: We run an aid station for the IRONMAN, and it requires 120 people to staff it. People fight over volunteering for it. It’s not an easy job. We enjoy it.

Changes You’ve Seen Here

Barry: It’s way more diverse now than many years ago. And of course, the dining options are drastically different.

Fran: There are so many languages you will hear around The Woodlands. The growth—for instance, Conroe ISD has grown so much over the years. . . . There was nothing out there. . . . Now, I go back there, and it has exploded.

Barry: Hughes Landing is interesting. It’s brought a mix of residences with dining and shopping, as well as office buildings. The Glade Cultural Center is a neat museum and a nice cultural addition to the community.

Favorite Thing About The Woodlands

Fran: I don’t have to go far for anything. . . . It’s all 10 or 15 minutes away for me. But having Houston close by is fun.

Barry: My favorite thing is the sense of community. . . . I sit on some different boards; Leadership Montgomery County is one of my favorite organizations I have been involved with, and I was in the first one, which began in Conroe.

Nelda Luce Blair

 A loyal and proud 5th generation Texan, Nelda Luce Blair has committed her life as a leader in her community and beyond aspiring to establish a better place to live, work and prosper. Her career, philanthropy and influential roles all seem to be connected as they are inspired by the same strong woman with a fierce devotion to Texas and its citizens. Originally from Conroe and steadfast in
supporting The Woodlands over the years in a multitude of significant leadership positions, she says, “The reason I feel so dedicated to the community is because it’s my home. I have a very unique history in an area that has changed and grown tremendously over my lifetime.”  

 

As a child, she lightheartedly admits she was often in trouble in the classroom invariably attempting to talk or influence her classmates. While Blair values her God-given high energy and appreciates it as an adult, she recounts that it was sometimes a detriment in her youth.  She laughs, “I never met a microphone I didn’t like.” Blair believes her ability to lead others is an inborn quality and insists everyone utilize their individual strengths, “When you are blessed with traits, then your job is to use them for good. That is my life’s belief.”  

 

In 1987, she went out on a limb as a young attorney and opened The Blair Law Firm, P.C. as a solo practice focusing on real estate, business and litigation, and it has been going strong since its inception. “It was a door opened by the Lord. Sometimes you walk through, and sometimes you don’t. This one I walked through,” she remembers. An industry heavily dominated by a male workforce during that time, Blair speaks about the challenges she overcame as a female attorney in the 1980s. Blair recognizes clearly the obstacles and adds that it was not necessarily a negative situation, but a learning experience, which is confirmation that her persistence and faith carried her through that journey.   

 

For more than a decade now, The Blair Law Firm, located in The Woodlands, has devoted a majority of their business towards legal consulting and government liaison services including campaigns, fundraising and educational and nonprofit endeavors. Maris Blair, her stepdaughter, joined the firm as an attorney in 2013 creating a family business, which operates at its best utilizing their individual, unique gifts. “We both enjoy working for and being involved in the community as we have the same vision and love for our community,” says Maris.   

 

In assisting Montgomery County and the businesses which operate here, Maris remarks that helping businesses in one of the fastest growing counties in Texas can be challenging and demanding, yet fulfilling. “It is exciting and rewarding to build a new relationship with another person in the community as I believe relationships are the first building block in developing and overseeing a successful, thriving society,” Maris says. 

 

Blair reflects on the fact that The Blair Law Firm intends to continue its standing within the community for years to come as well as making family a priority, “It’s important to carry on the legacy of the firm, and Maris does that. It draws us closer. Not only do we work together, but we eat Thanksgiving dinner together, too.”  

 

Some of Blair’s most significant work outside the legal realm includes her appointment by Governor Greg Abbott to the Stephen F. Austin State University Board of Regents following her role as a two-term Chair for the University of Houston System Board of Regents. “Higher education is extremely important to me,” Blair comments. As the first in her family to attend college, her passion for education and the impact it has made on her life clearly guides where she devotes her talents.   

 

In addition, Blair finds time to devote to the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, and she was featured in a year-long ad campaign building awareness by promoting adoption, volunteer work and donations. “I was covered in dog hair and drool. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Blair recalls.  

 

As a resident of The Woodlands for over 25 years, Blair and her husband Jim Blair, a retired Founding Capital Partner of a successful Houston law firm, thoroughly appreciate all the community has to offer not only in business, but in lifestyle. “It’s beautiful, very open-armed and welcoming with many new people,” she says, “I never left here, and I don’t intend to.” 

 

When she takes on a cause, Blair engages it wholeheartedly.  She explains that her work, community roles and personal life are all intertwined with an identical mission to embrace individuals and businesses with the purpose of creating a more prosperous, viable community where everyone works together. Maris says, “Nel’s faith and her determination to do what is best for her family, the community and for others is what makes her successful.” 

Congressman Kevin Brady

 

 

 Living a life of serving others is what he does. It’s what he always has done. United States Congressman Kevin Brady says, “The higher office you take, it just means you’re responsible for helping more people.” Humble in his expression of the actual power he holds today as an elected official, Brady takes it to heart that he exists to offer his constituents a voice.   

 

Born and raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Brady recognizes the value of his old-fashioned hometown, a small community where he rode his bicycle to school and could play for hours at the baseball field. His mother was left to care for her five children on her own after his father tragically died in a courtroom shooting when Brady was young. “She taught us to be independent, optimistic, to give back and to have faith. She shaped all of us in a big way,” he recalls. Because there were five children, Brady persevered by working his way through college and found odd jobs such as a meat packer and a construction worker, “I took any job in college where I could get paid.” 

 

Today, as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington, D.C., considered the most powerful committee in Congress, Brady keeps grounded by residing in his district which includes raising his family outside of Washington, D.C. as well as maintaining daily conversations with his constituents. The 8th Congressional District has changed over time, but it currently consists of nine counties ranging from suburban to rural. “I get to represent the whole spectrum. I think it represents most of America.” His numerous town hall meetings and Kolaches with Kevin keep this dialogue going face-to-face, “We won’t agree on every issue, but they ought to be able to talk to me about it.” 

 

Many Houston-area residents may commute from their suburban community to the big city, but Brady lives locally in The Woodlands and travels to Washington, D.C. every week in order for he and his wife, Cathy, to raise their sons in Texas. During the week, he lives with three other lawmakers who have become great friends, “We live a mile from the Capitol and have shared a car between us. It’s not as glamorous a life as people think,” he says. Living in the district and reporting to Washington, D.C. has not always been the preferred choice for U.S. officials as Brady made the arduous, yet rewarding, decision many years ago to maintain his family life in Texas. His son’s Boy Scout troop calculated that he is on his 5th round trip to the moon in airline miles. Brady expresses his admiration for Cathy in handling much of the parenting during the week, “Our boys have been able to grow up here in a great place. It’s an amazing community.” 

 

 

The Woodlands has been Brady’s home since 1985, and he has had a significant influence in the history of this community and its current success. After being a Chamber of Commerce executive in Beaumont and subsequently in The Woodlands, he speaks about how those jobs positively shaped him for his future career in public office. As a Chamber of Commerce leader, Brady was instrumental in bringing a college to our community in 1991, now known as Lone Star College which adds incredible value to the area. Additionally, he was heavily involved in creating key programs and events like the Economic Outlook Conference and the Eco-nomic Development Partnership as well as partnering with Interfaith of The Woodlands to create Interfaith Training and Employee Project (ITEP), now operating under Workforce Solutions with thirteen career offices located throughout the greater Houston area. 

 

Dr. Ann K. Snyder, Executive Director of Generosity & Schools for The Woodlands United Methodist Church, and Brady served together for years locally, “Before he was Congressman Brady, he was Kevin Brady moving mountains to create what The Woodlands is today. His leadership at the Chamber and as a state legislator was a driving force in developing the many programs and amenities The Woodlands continues to enjoy.” Snyder values her time spent serving with him and speaks about true leadership in all of his roles, whether local, state or national, “Kevin Brady is a servant leader. Simply, he puts others first above himself because his heart is for serving his constituents. He is a great leader, because he puts service first.”  

 

As the first Woodlands resident to serve in the state legislature, Brady has personally witnessed the community from early beginnings to flourishing township replete with both resident and corporate appeal and progress. At the state level, he created legislation to form the Town Center Improvement District in 1993 which was a crucial economic driver for the area and responsible for much of the growth today, “This community always plans ahead – we never stop looking over the horizon. This reflects Mr. Mitchell’s vision of a community where industry, environment and people can all prosper together,” Brady says. He cannot say enough about this community and its environment of warmth and friendliness, all while being the home of a diverse group of people thriving together, “We all moved here from somewhere. That’s what makes it unique.” 

 

Brady loves staying active and having a good time, and it’s easy to do so as the Co-Captain of the Congressional Republicans baseball team where they play games against the Congressional Democrats all while collecting funds for charity. He tends to enjoy being a homebody after continuous traveling for his career, so a fulfilling weekend includes a barbecue and hanging out with family and friends in the pool. “That’s about as good as it gets,” he says. 

 

 Article by: Mindy Jones | Photography: Derrick Bryant 

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