Saturday afternoon, October 7, marked the annual Spirit of HBU Alumni Awards reception. This event, hosted on the campus of Houston Baptist University, is sponsored by the Alumni Association Board and provides an opportunity to acknowledge individuals who have a tradition and history of either positively enhancing the advancement of Houston Baptist University, or the surrounding community that they live. Sugar Land Mayor, Joe Zimmerman was the 2017 recipient of the HBU Distinguished Alumnus Award. He received the award for embodying the principles and ideals that Houston Baptist University stands for, as well as making significant contributions in his own profession and field.
A 1988 graduate of HBU myself, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the man who has served as Mayor of Sugar Land since 2016. After obtaining his MBA from Houston Baptist University in 1989, Joe Zimmerman and his wife, Nancy, moved to Sugar Land in 1990, where he served the city as a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, eventually chairing the Commission for 6 years. Joe Zimmerman was sworn in as the 10th Mayor of Sugar Land on June 11, 2016 after serving as a City Council Member for 4 years.
Mayor Zimmerman shared,
“My whole professional life I just look at a situation and see how I can possibly make it better.”
And as we near the pending end of the 2017 hurricane season, we took some moments to reflect on our experiences surviving Hurricane Harvey and all of the damage that resulted from the most severe downpour of rain in history. While some 247 homes in Sugar Land experienced various degrees of structural flooding, it was the entire surrounding Houston area that saw their daily lives come to a virtual standstill. In the days after the storm shifted, the slow and steady recovery had to begin. Mayor Zimmerman is extremely proud of the way our area responded to those in need. He pointed out, “The 760 employees that comprise our Sugar Land staff all saw the importance and value of swift, clear, and compassionate communication.” He continued, “Citizens needed to know that our water supply was safe, which roads were operable and which were closed, and it was important for all of us that anyone who called in actually got to speak to a real person instead of an automated programmed reply.”
Additionally, as it was clear that many other areas in both Harris and Ft. Bend Counties we’re dealing with catastrophic property losses and thousands of displaced flood victims, Mayor Zimmerman is equally impressed by how quickly people rallied to help people, and how differences and divisions that are so often highlighted in today’s news coverage were completely forgotten and set aside. Local restaurants began making food for flood victims, first responders, and anyone in need. The owners of Constellation Field, Bob & Marcie Zlotnik, contacted the Mayor and offered their facility as a major staging area where people could go to rest, eat, meet, drop off donations, and eventually be directed to long term shelters.
Perhaps some of the most lasting images from those days of Harvey’s unrelenting destruction are the ones of stranded, helpless individuals being rescued from rooftops by helicopters. So many of those rescues were made by dedicated men and women of the 136th Brigade. What many people may not be aware of; however, is that when those helicopters weren’t in the air flying around saving people from floodwater, they were refueling and recuperating in the safe confines of the Sugar Land Regional Airport, off of Hwy 6. Mayor Zimmerman attributes the leadership of the City of Sugar Land’s Director of Aviation, Phillip Savko, for making sure that whatever the pilots and rescuers of the 136th Brigade needed, they received. “Whether it was a good hot meal, a place to recharge, shower, change clothes, we made them feel at home,” he said. Moments after they had made their impact by rescuing our Texans in need, they were off to Florida to do the very same thing. Company Commander Jose L. Reyes of the 36th Combat Brigade, was so moved by the heartfelt support that his team received while making the Sugar Land Regional Airport their base of operations, that he gave us a Certificate of Appreciation to say thank you.
As our time together came to a close, we both felt incredibly blessed to have been spared from the severe damage that affected so many others. Likewise, we are proud to have seen the way Texans responded when the days were their darkest and scariest. Mayor Zimmerman stated it correctly when he told me, “Our people, the people in Texas, we’ve always been a can do people. We don’t wait for someone else to come save us and make things better, we do what it takes as soon as possible.”