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.