Above the Crowd

Thinking of Home: Dickinson, Texas

September 6, 2017:

For those of you who have moved away from the town where you grew up, the few times that you see your hometown in the national news creates an enormous sense of pride. Over the past few weeks, the town I grew up in, Dickinson, Texas, has been front and center in the national news, but for all the wrong reasons. Dickinson, a small town southeast of Houston on Galveston Bay, has been one of the hardest hit communities by Hurricane Harvey.

I became a resident of Dickinson for the same reason many of my childhood friends did. My father, John, was an early NASA employee, and when Johnson Space Center opened in Clear Lake, he and many of his colleagues made Dickinson their home. It seems like half of the fathers on our street worked at NASA. Gene Kranz, the famous NASA Flight Director is a Dickinsonian. I, along with a handful of others in my class, spent my entire K-12 education in the Dickinson public school system and graduated from Dickinson High School in 1984. When people ask me “where did you grow up?” or “where are you from?” there is one easy answer — Dickinson.

That said, our family’s strongest tie to Dickinson is the countless hours my mother, Lucia Gurley, spent in service of the town and community over her 38 years as a resident. She currently lives in Marble Falls, but during her time in Dickinson, my mother’s impact on the local community was quite significant. She was a substitute teacher for over 20 years, she volunteered at the local library, she helped raise grants for the public school system, and was a key contributor to Keep Dickinson Beautiful. In 1992, she was recognized nationally for her leadership in the H.O.S.T.S. program, receiving the Betty Scharff Memorial Award, and in 1994 was recognized by the local Chamber of Commerce as Citizen of the Year. Most significantly, she served as a councilwoman on the city council for 11 years, and upon retiring was recognized for her efforts in the local newspaper.

Although it does not appear that either were as devastating as Harvey, our family lived through two difficult storms while we lived in Dickinson. In the summer of 1979 Tropical Storm Claudette dumped 43 inches of rain on the area in a single day. Our house ended up with 2-3 feet of water inside, and as a result I have a small sense of how painful life will be for many of the residents over the next many months. In 1983, the eye of Hurricane Alicia went directly over Dickinson. My mother spent the entire evening at city hall, while my father and I worked in our backyard to keep trees from falling on our roof. Alicia’s damage was more wind than water.

Harvey’s impact has been even more severe. The city estimates that Dickinson received over 50 inches of rain in just a few days. Preliminary damage assessment indicates more than 7,300 homes experienced some level of damage from Hurricane Harvey. And over half of these homes — well over 3,500 — had either major damage or were destroyed, displacing thousands of residents. Almost all of this damage was the result of flooding as Dickinson Bayou backed up due to the storm surge and heavy rains.

In recognition of the immense need in Dickinson, and in honor of my mother’s significant contribution to this community, my wife, Amy, and I have decided to donate one million dollars to the city’s Harvey Relief Fund. There have been many remarkable fundraising efforts as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and we are both moved by the generosity of Les Alexander, JJ Watt, Michael Dell and countless others. Amy and I wanted to ensure that this small and vibrant community of Dickinson also has the resources it needs to rebuild. If anyone else is interested in helping out, you can find the Dickinson Harvey Relief Fund website here: http://www.ci.dickinson.tx.us/626/Donate-to-Dickinson-Harvey-Relief-Fund

Having lived through two of these storms myself, I can confirm what you have already read in the press. Tragedies like these bring out the very best in a community and neighborhood. During the storms our family encountered, we were awestruck by the sheer volume of neighbors helping neighbors. I have already heard many stories of this amazing spirit of community at work in Dickinson once again in reaction to Harvey. The national news covered many heroic acts of rescue during the storm. I have also heard from those on the ground that neighbors are once again lending a hand as the clean up efforts begin. This same spirit will help this great community rebuild and thrive again.

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