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288 Express

Living in Alvin, Manvel and beyond

A long day’s drive Exploring all of Alvin ISD

A publication of

March 2018 Volume 1, Issue 1


288 Express

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Editor’s note

288 Express

Living in Alvin, Manvel and beyond Editor and Publisher David Rupkalvis




Writers and Photographers David Rupkalvis Sarah Babb Joshua Truksa Albert Villegas Stephen Collins

Account executives Darlene Hall Brenda Groves Betty Crawford

Copy Editor Sheri Saenz

Office Manager Donna Hopkins

Graphic Designers Linda Knight Melissa Nolasco

Composition Linda Knight Melissa Nolasco

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“Your Source For News & Advertising” Publisher: David Rupkalvis Graphic Arts: Linda Knight Melissa Nolasco

For Advertising Information Contact: Brenda Groves Darlene Hall 570 Dula St. • Alvin, TX 77511 281-331-4421


Join us as we embark on the 288 Express

any years ago, I was hired as the editor of The Graham Leader in Graham, Texas. During my interview for the job, the paper’s Publisher Roy Robinson told me something I had never heard — the paper’s job was to be a cheerleader for the community. I had never thought about that before, but it made sense, and it still does. Too often in the news industry we get caught up looking for bad news — crime, corrup- David Rupkalvis tion and death. Those things sell newspapers and magazines and get people to watch TV shows. But in doing so, we often forget the good news. We forget about people who change lives through their actions. We forget to tell the stories that encourage, uplift and educate. We forget that our readers want to know what’s going on in their community and want to know how their friends and family are doing. In 288 Express, we hope to do something about that. This magazine, which kicks off with this issue, is designed to tell you good news, to share information that is fun and to give our readers a chance to learn about the communities we call home. This is a work in progress, and we will get better, but getting to this point has been exciting and challenging and fun. Inside you will see the names of new writers who have not been published in any of the Alvin Sun Media publications. You will see stories presented in a different manner as we highlight people, organizations and businesses that symbolize the best of Alvin, Manvel, Pearland and the entire region. Any time you start something new, there are some hiccups, and this has been no exception. One of the hardest things we ran into was coming up with a title. We had several ideas only to find out other magazines were already using them. Stephen Collins, the sports editor of The Alvin Sun and The Alvin Advertiser, thought up 288 Express, and it seemed to fit. It gives a general idea of our region thanks to Highway 288, and it ties in some of our history thanks to the Nolan Ryan Express. Please let me know what you think and give me ideas for stories, improvements and anything else that comes to mind. I thank you for reading this first edition and hope you will continue to read it as we move forward. Send me an email to or give me a call at (281) 331-4421. Again, thank you for reading this first issue and welcome to the 288 Express.

288 Express

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A walking miracle

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Inside Cover Photo/David Rupkalvis Pastor Craig Hayes reads to students at Meridian Elementary.

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Exploring Alvin ISD Food Truck Challenge Unsung Hero Sporting Look Big Band Music

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A Sunday Drive Don’t Miss Back on Her Feet Chamber Awards A Night to Shine


Closer Look

On the road again

Story and photos by David Rupkalvis Students at Shadow Creek High School enjoy one of three lunch periods during an early March day.

Can you visit all Alvin ISD schools in one day?


t sounded like an easy task — visit all the schools within Alvin ISD in one day. I met with Daniel Combs, Alvin ISD assistant superintendent, at 8:30 a.m., and we began our journey. The goal was simple, stop by the Alvin ISD schools for a few minutes, take a look around, see what might be special about that school and move on. We had 30 schools in one of the largest districts in the state — 252 square miles to be exact. While the district’s name says Alvin, it encompasses all of Alvin, Manvel, Iowa Colony, Liverpool,


Probably not!

Amsterdam and some of Pearland. So it wasn’t going to be easy, but I felt pretty confident that as long as we rushed, we could make it happen. The trip started in Alvin, but our first stop was at Meridian Elementary School, which is a newer school located in what will one day be one of the largest developments in the region. The school sits in Iowa Colony and will one day be joined by up to two more elementary schools and the housing de-

velopment builds out. If and when Alvin ISD adds a fourth high school, it will also likely be in the same area, although Combs was quick to point out no plans are currently in place for a new high school. To understand Alvin ISD, one must look back to a time when things were much slower and there were far fewer people. The district formed in 1891, and growth was not a major concern. Until 1964, a student could start and end school at the same location because all grades

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were located on the same land that now houses Alvin High School. At the time, Manvel had its own school district, and Alvin ISD was mostly serving students in and around Alvin. In the 1970s, that all changed when Manvel ISD folded due to financial problems, and Alvin ISD agreed to absorb the district. At the time, it was a natural choice. Manvel only had a few school, and all Manvel students already transferred to Alvin High School after finishing junior high. That move added immense amounts of land, including

parts of Pearland, and began a slow time of growth. But no one could have predicted what is happening now. Meridian Elementary Meridian Elementary was opened in 2016 but already has the feel of an established school. The teachers and students were full of smiles on the Friday morning we visited. Meridian is a perfect example of a new trend in Alvin ISD, multiple story schools. With land increasingly expensive, the district has made a move to build up rather than out. Meridian is a two-story school, with an open concept. The library is directly inside the front doors and is housed in a common area without walls. The cafeteria is also open to those walking by. On the day we stopped by, it was a time for Read Across America, and teachers and

other special guests were busy reading to children. Many were dressed up, adding an element of fun and excitement to the school. Pastor Craig Hayes with Crossing Point Church had a classroom of fourth graders enthralled as he made them laugh with his animated reading. Outside the room, his wife, Shannon Hayes, smiled and said he loved the children. Bel Sanchez Elementary We didn’t actually tour Bel Sanchez Elementary School, but we did drive across Highway 288 and spend some time looking for it. Bel Sanchez Elementary School is currently under construction and will be located within a few miles of Meridian Elementary. Technically in Rosharon, the school will house students who currently attend Meridian.

At Rodeo Palms Junior High, Alvin ISD is already putting an emphasis on possible college educations. Bel Sanchez Elementary will open in 2019 as another two-story, open-concept school. Rodeo Palms Junior High Rodeo Palms Junior High

is one of the newer junior highs in the district, having opened in Manvel in 2012. It houses close to 2,000 students with a heavy emphasis on encouraging students to continue their education, not just at high

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school but beyond. Near the front entrance is a display of teachers and the colleges they attended. It includes many of the popular ones in Texas — Texas A&M, University of Texas, Texas Tech etc. — but also dozens of smaller universities. Along the main hallway are flags from universities throughout Texas and the nation. Rodeo Palms is also a two-story school with an open concept, and the displays on the walls and doors show a collaboration between students and teachers showcasing the theme of the month. When we visited, Black History Month displays were still showcased on many doors. Don Jeter Elementary School Don Jeter Elementary School has the honor of being the first school opened in the far western part of the district. Opened in 2002, Jeter was the beginning of the growth experienced along Highway 288 in Manvel and the Shadow Creek area of Pearland.

At Don Jeter Elementary School, students gather for lunch in the openconcept cafeteria.


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Because of its age, Jeter is different than many of the newer schools in the area. A single-level school, Jeter looks and feels like a more traditional school. But the thing that sticks out at Jeter Elementary is the enthusiasm. Whether it’s teachers, students or administrators, the feeling of joy and anticipation is everywhere. After visiting four schools, it was becoming crystal clear we would never make it to all the schools in the district in one day. The truth is to do so would require spending just minutes at each school, and we spent too much time on the first four. So, we changed things up a little bit. Daniel drove me by Savannah Lakes Elementary, just a few miles from Jeter. Opened in 2008, Savannah Lakes was still early in the growth on the west end of the district. We then

drove by Dr. James Duke Elementary in Manvel. Opened in 2014, Duke Elementary is part of the massive growth near the Shadow Creek area. Shadow Creek High School One of the gems of the Alvin ISD schools, Shadow Creek opened in 2016 and will be full next year. Shadow Creek is in Pearland in one of the fastestgrowing areas of the state. The high school is three stories high and embraces the open concept seen in most of the newer schools. Shadow Creek has classrooms with glass walls, allowing people to see in and out of each classroom from the hallways. Teachers have the ability to use curtains to close off the classrooms for security and testing reasons, but most of the time the rooms are wide open. Principal Kelly Hestand

said she likes the concept because it allows her to keep an eye on things while walking around campus. A big emphasis at Shadow Creek is preparing students for careers. Due to the proximity to the medical facilities, healthcare is a popular opportunity at Shadow Creek. With one medical doctor and three chiropractors as fulltime teachers, students have the ability to take health care classes, which include handson lessons and training. Hestand said the idea is to let students learn enough to know if they want to pursue health care as a career before they move on to college. Near Shadow Creek are several other schools, most inside the Shadow Creek subdivision. Mary Burks Marek Elementary, opened in 2004, Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary, opened in 2007, and Glenn York Elementary,

opened in 2011, are all within a few miles of each other in the rapidly growing area. Nolan Ryan Junior High, which opened in 2008, brings in most of the students from the elementary schools before they move on to Shadow Creek. Pomona Elementary School One of the newest schools in the district, Pomona Elementary opened last year. On the day we visited, a special guest was entertaining the older students in the cafeteria. Steve Wolf with Stunt Ranch was performing tricks while encouraging students to learn about science, technology, engineering and math. While the presentation was fun, Daniel wanted to stop by Pomona to showcase something else Alvin ISD is proud of. At the school, inside two little classrooms with no fan-

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fare the smartest students in the entire district meet every day. The district has started a program that identifies the top students at every grade level. The best of the best are then brought together to learn at a much faster rate. At the elementary level, the students are bused to Pomona no matter where they live. Daniel and I met with a group of 5-, 6- and 7-year-old students who spent several minutes discussing poetry and other things while we listened in. And before we left, we had to sign a poster showing we agree Students at Pomona Elementary School enjoy a presentation by Steve Wolf to follow the class rules. with Stunt Ranch, showing how science, technology, engineering and math help actors do stunts in movies. After leaving Pearland, we drove past the schools in the J.B. Hensler College school could potentially plete with a massive, profesolder part of Manvel, including & Career Academy serve as a life changer for sional kitchen. Sometime Manvel High School, Manvel The newest facility in thousands of students and an in the next year, the school Junior High and E.C. Mason Alvin ISD is the J.B. Hensler economic development tool is planning to open a public Elementary. Next door to E.C. College & Career Academy. for the entire region. restaurant which will give Mason was our last stop of the Sitting on the original site The general idea behind the students a chance to cook, day. of Manvel Junior High, the Hensler Academy is pretty wait tables and clean. They simple — not all students will will basically learn all aspects go to college after graduating of the restaurant industry. from high school, but all of Dozens of other programs them should be prepared to are available at the Hensler enter the workforce. Academy and will give At the Hensler Academy, students the opportunity to up to 1,600 high school graduate with certificates students a year will have the that can lead to good jobs opportunity to learn skills or get a head start on future that will help them get good education in programs such jobs. At the school, we met as nursing and IT. with Sergio Cantu who leads The Hensler Academy was classes on construction the last school we visited on and HVAC. In his program, our journey, but we drove Enriching the meaning of students can learn skills by several other schools in each day... valuable in the construction a roundabout journey back When you or a loved one are industry and can leave school into Alvin. looking for a place where certified in a variety of differOf the 30 schools in the you can truly enjoy all the comforts of home, without the ent skills. district, we physically saw at work or worry, Orchard Park In the HVAC class, stuleast 25 in one day but only at Southfork in Pearland is dents split their time behad time to visit the seven the best choice! tween classroom work and mentioned above. hands-on lessons where they As one of the largest learn to repair, build and districts by size in the state install air conditioners and and easily one of the fastest 3151 Southfork Parkway heating systems. In the congrowing, things are changing Manvel, TX 77578 struction area, the students quickly in Alvin ISD. Just south of Pearland were in the process of buildBut even with the change, Town Center ing tiny homes. the district and the schools in 713.960.4727 Another popular area is the it seem to be up to the chalculinary arts program comlenge.


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Food Truck Fever

Blue House Coffee on the Go Story and photos by Joshua Truksa

Janice Steffen serves customers in her food truck, Blue House Coffee on the Go. Steffen has her truck in different locations every day, serving customers in and around Alvin.

Blue House Coffee on the Go seems to be everywhere


ince 2014, Janice Steffen has been serving hot and cold coffee and tea drinks from her iconic blue van. On any given day, regulars and new customers can be seen lining up to enjoy Steffen’s creations, which include


over 52 flavors of coffee and tea and over 100 specialty frappes. Where is Blue House Coffee on the Go? It’s everywhere; it’s on the go. On Tuesday, it may be in Pearland, on Wednesday, in Angleton, Thursday, maybe Lake

Jackson and Friday, in Alvin. Steffen does have stops that she always tries to make on a regular schedule for people to find her. For example, Friday afternoons is National Oak Park in Alvin. But the schedule is never exactly the same. If a workplace calls

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and people want drinks, Steffen brings the business to them. New stops are added all the time. In 2013, Steffen’s husband was laid off from his job as a software quality engineer at Boeing. Steffen had already been

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Courtney Long picks up her coffee from Blue House Coffee on the Go. One of the many flavors offered is raspberry almond shortbread, below. making her creations at home, and a longtime friend told her that she could make better drinks than Starbucks. Looking for new income, that was when the idea of Blue House Coffee was born, named in honor of the blue house Steffen and her family live in. Steffen creates new drinks frequently and will invent a new drink for anyone who asks. One of her newest creations is the Kentucky Truffle, in honor of her Kentucky-born mother who passed away in February. It has “every type of caramel in it plus bourbon caramel,” Steffen wrote on Blue House Coffee’s Facebook page. Steffen said the idea to make the business mobile came to her when she realized that many of her friends had to leave their workplaces to get drinks. “So I got to thinking, why not create a business-tobusiness type business where you go and you take care of those clients that cannot get out of their offices, or they

put themselves in danger of bringing the drinks back themselves and ruining the inside of their cars,” Steffen said. The business soon expanded to more than just office workers, with many return clients who find Steffen wherever she is or meet her at a regular stop. Steffen is avid about checking into her location on Facebook so customers can always find her. Follow Blue House Coffee on the Go at www.facebook. com/BlueHouseCoffeeOnTheGo.

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Unsung Hero

Rescuing all chickens in need Story and photos by David Rupkalvis

Tiffany Ballou holds one of the 61 chickens she has on her property on the outskirts of Alvin. Ballou started The Chicken Rescue three years ago and takes in chickens that are injured, sick or abandoned.


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Ballou offers a home for sick, unwanted birds


iffany Ballou never wanted to be overrun with chickens. In fact, for most of her life, she never owned a single one. But that’s no longer the case. Ballou’s desire to keep chickens out of the frying pan and safe and happy has led to her property on the outskirts of Alvin being inundated. After receiving 15 roosters that were seized in a cockfighting ring in March, she now has more than 62 birds on her property. Everyone will lead a normal life before they die of natural causes. No one will eat them, and no one will eat even their eggs. “It started with a chicken someone was getting rid of because she was ugly,” Ballou said. “She was a cripple. Then I decided I was going to adopt two battery hens.”

Battery hens receive the name because they live in a battery cage so small they can’t turn and can barely move. They are most often used for hens laying eggs. As a vegan, Ballou does not eat eggs, or chicken, or any meat for that matter. Because of her lifestyle, she has also paid close attention to the welfare of animals raised for meat. Once word got out that Ballou was willing to help chickens, she began to get more and more calls. In a few cases, she received birds that escaped while being transported for slaughter. In others, birds were dumped because they were injured or were roosters that are not allowed in most cities. One thing led to another, and her bird count began

growing quickly. With the increased birds came another big surprise — the expense. “Once I started taking in special needs chickens, the bills started to get high,” Ballou said. The expenses were for repeat veterinarian visits, food, new coops and more. So, Ballou formed a 501c3 nonprofit organization, The Chicken Rescue, to allow others to make donations to help. Over the last three years, she has had several regular supporters donate to help defray the costs. But with each new chicken comes a new need. Because the roosters she received recently were trained to fight, they must be kept separate from all the birds. That required 15 kennels to house them. In time, she hopes to put

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the roosters together safely, but that will take time and a lot of patience. “Slowly, after they realize they don’t have to fight, I’ll be able to put them together,” Ballou said. “Eventually, and we’re not anywhere close, we may be able to put them all together.” With 60-plus chickens and more than half of them egglaying hens, Ballou does have one unique problem for a vegan — lots and lots of eggs. Because she and her husband don’t eat eggs, and she refuses to allow anyone else to eat anything related to her birds, the question is what do you do with that many eggs? The answer is pretty simple. Ballou will collect the eggs every day, and she fries them up with the shells and feeds it back to the chickens. Turns


out it is one of their favorite treats. And while all the eggs are likely fertilized, Ballou has no need or desire for babies, so no hens get to sit on their eggs. She does have one silky hen that is broody that does help out sometimes, though. “I have been able to rescue baby chicks and put them under her, and she will take them,” Ballou said. Ballou spends hours every day with her chickens, and maybe that’s why Ballou’s chickens love her so much. She has seven coops tied together in her backyard, and as she moves from coop to coop, the chickens are eager to say hi. As some birds free range in her yard, a few run after her as she makes her rounds. Inside one coop with four roosters, one is always right next to Ballou, begging for attention. She knows the


stories of all the chickens and can recite their background. Her largest is a female Cornish game hen that weighs over 14 pounds. She also has several bantams that, although full grown, weigh less than 2 pounds. “It’s really neat having chickens,” she said. “I love them. I love getting to know their personalities.” And while saying no is difficult, Ballou said it is probably time to slow down. She is running out of space and resources, and the new roosters will require a lot of time and patience as she teaches them they don’t have to fight. “These boys are going to take up a lot of my time, so I can’t take anymore unless it’s a dire situation,” she said. She does occasionally adopt out a few of her birds, but she is incredibly picky. The key is anyone who wants a chicken should look at it as

a family pet, not a source of food. “I only adopt out to vegan families,” she said. “There are a lot of the girls that have reproductive issues, and they don’t lay a lot of eggs.” While Ballou admits she is likely to keep most of her

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chickens, she is always willing to accept help. In addition to cash, which is always welcome, Ballou said The Chicken Rescue can always use feed, building materials, dog kennels and medicine. For information, visit

Sporting Look

Family that plays together, stays together Story by Stephen Collins


rowing up with a baseball tradition background, Garrett Buechele lived the big league dream as a kid. With Garrett’s dad, Steve Buechele, playing 11 major league seasons (1985-1995) with the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, the eldest of the Buechele children received the unique opportunity to travel with his dad to other MLB towns and ballparks during the latter part of the third baseman’s stellar career. Not until he got older, though, did it hit Garrett Buechele how special those moments really were. “It was something I took for granted and wasn’t aware of how cool it was at the time. I thought it was normal,” said Garrett, who currently serves as Alvin High School’s head golf coach. “When I finally started looking back on it, I saw how truly blessed I was to be around the game and people like that. “My dad’s college roommate (at Stanford University) was (NFL) hall of famer John Elway and I got to hang around club houses, since I was a baby to when I was 6.” One such incident that sticks out the most to Buechele is when his dad took him to the Cubs locker room after games at Wrigley Field, where he would assume the duties of beverage delivery boy. “I took orders, went to the refrigerator and passed out postgame drinks to everyone and then would hang out with them,” Buechele said. “It was really fun. This was with the Sammy Sosas and the (baseball

Courtesy photo

Alvin High School coaches Garrett and Suzy Buechele not only delivered stellar collegiate performances in their respective sports at the University of Oklahoma, the couple also shared a special family connection with Garrett’s father, Steve Buechele, having played 11 major league seasons and brother Shane currently playing quarterback at the University of Texas. The family is pictured as follows: Garrett Buechele, Suzy Buechele, Jordan Buechele, Tanner Buechele, Steve Buechele, Nancy Buechele and Amber Buechele. hall of famer) Ryne Sandbergs.” While Steve Buechele never pushed his oldest son to follow in his footsteps, Garrett took the diamond path nevertheless through high school and college, establishing a banner career at the University of Oklahoma. Playing at the same third base hot corner as dad (the major league record holder at the position for a single season with a .991 fielding percentage), Buechele

earned both offensive and defensive accolades from the Big 12 and was named an All-American by Baseball America and the coaches his junior season. “My dad did a pretty awesome job of not putting pressure on me,” Buechele said. “He wanted all the kids in the family to be happy in whatever they were doing. From a young age, he was never too much hands on. If I had questions for him, he would give the best answer.

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If I didn’t want an answer, he wouldn’t give it to me. “There was a long list of things he gave me great advice on. It was mostly about demeanor and mental toughness in general. Don’t get too high and a lot of the cliché stuff. He really drilled that into me at a young age. It’s paid high dividends for me during my life.” Steve Buechele wanted all his kids to be happy, even if it meant one traveling the opposite route in the historic


and heated Red River rivalry. Such was the case when Shane Buechele chose to take his quarterbacking gridiron talents to the University of Texas at Austin a few years ago. Big brother Garrett wasn’t so sure at first about the decision. “My dad was on board with it, for whatever reason, from the start,” Buechele said. “He called me up one night and asked me what I thought about Texas and I said I don’t think much of them actually. “He asked me if I cared and I said I’m good. I just wouldn’t wear burnt orange for you. Then I’m here at Alvin wearing burnt orange, so it kind of came full circle. I support him fully in everything he does. I let him (Shane) go about his business and I try not to be too hard on him. I was hard enough on him growing up. He’s done a good job of handling himself and I stay out of his way.” According to Garrett’s wife, Suzy Buechele, who also works at Alvin High School as the head volleyball coach and was an all-American at OU like her husband, the Buechele kids don’t stay out of each other’s way when it comes to competition, though. “It’s a competitive, but healthy competitive family,” Suzy said. “Every year we go

to Palm Springs in California, where the boys always go golfing and the girls go hiking or work out playing volleyball. “We also play sports with everybody involved. Last year, it was basketball, pickle ball and volleyball. “We would play one thing and then move on to the next thing or sport.” While Suzy admits she never intended to date a “baseball boy” when she first got to OU, because of the “stigmatism associated with the sport,” she soon discovered that the benefits outweighed the negatives, when the pair started dating her sophomore year. Buechele (who also graduated from Clear Brook High School) initially had no idea about Garrett’s professional family background, either, until she went with him on a visit to his hometown in Arlington. “I said wait a minute, there’s something I felt I needed to know,” she said. “But it’s such a blessing, because I have only one sister and I gained two brothers. Both of Garrett’s sisters also played volleyball at OU. “We’re all close in age. Everybody is athletic and everybody competes. There’s never a moment where we relax. Someone is always doing something 100 percent of the time.”

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Big band music takes center stage Dancers took to the floor for Alvin Community College music students during the 19th annual Evening of Big Band Music on Feb. 10. The Big Swing Jazz Orchestra performed at the event at the Nolan Ryan Center.

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A Sunday Drive

Crocodiles, alligators and turtles galore Story and photos by David Rupkalvis

Matthew Freelon, a tour guide at Crocodile Encounter, feeds a large American alligator while leading a tour earlier this month. The nation’s largest collection of crocodiles is at Crocodile Encounter.


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Up close with nature’s greatest beasts


idden away on a 14-acre parcel less than a half hour from Alvin is the largest collection of crocodiles in the United States. It’s true, and many of them are available to be seen almost any day. Add in 50 alligators, antelopes, lemurs, hogs, and a variety of turtles and tortoises, and you have Crocodile Encounter. Located on the edge of Angleton, Crocodile Encounter puts visitors of all ages up close and personal with some of nature’s largest predators. Whether it’s feeding young American alligators and 200-pound tortoises yourself or watching trained guides feed a variety of crocodiles, Crocodile Encounter is a chance to experience some

Even the youngest guests at Crocodile Encounter will have the opportunity to feed and touch some amazing reptiles.

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of nature’s most amazing creatures up close. During a visit, guests are welcome to join a guided tour or wander through on their own. I recommend the guided tour for a couple of reasons. No. 1, the guides have a lot of information and share it freely. No. 2, the guides know how to get the biggest creatures — adult alligators and crocodiles — to eat. Watching a 12-foot-long reptile that weighs more than 1,000 pounds devour its food is pretty cool, to say the least. Once inside, visitors go on a journey that is highlighted by some of the largest reptiles in the world. The American alligator is the only crocodilian native to Texas and is one of the first animals on the tour. American alligators can reach 14 feet in length, and the largest at Crocodile Encounter is close to 13.

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The guides will feed the larger alligators chicken as you watch, and the younger ones enjoy being fed by the visitors themselves. Several varieties of tortoises and turtles are also on display and can be fed by guests. The African spurred tortoise is likely the favorite because guests can get into the enclosure and touch and feed the reptiles. The crocodiles are a different story. While alligators and crocodiles look very similar, one big difference you learn about is how they interact with people. In the wild, alligators tend to run when they encounter people. Unless an alligator has babies, they will run away. In Texas, one person is killed by alligators every 50 years. Crocodiles, on the other hand, are much more aggressive. In Africa, there are several hundred crocodile attacks each year, and about


a third are fatal. So, when the tour moves to the crocodiles, the only human interaction is with the tour guides. Just to be safe, the guides are always watching to make sure no hands, feet or other body parts are in the enclosures. At Crocodile Encounter, there has never been an injury to a guest, and the staff members have been bitten one time. If you stay on the path and out of the enclosures, there is no way to get bit. In addition to the reptiles it is best known for, Crocodile Encounter has some other surprises on the tour. A family of kangaroos calls the facility home, and several species of antelope, wild hogs and even ring-tailed lemurs are on display. But Crocodile Encounter is known for its crocodiles, especially its Nile crocs. Dozens

of the reptiles can be seen any day while visiting, but behind closed doors are the signs of its real success. Up to 100 baby crocodiles are being raised at the facility. They range in age from hatchlings to 2 or 3 years old before they are put on display. While the mating of the Nile crocodiles is being slowed, Crocodile Encounter is trying to mate its Siamese crocodiles, which are nearly extinct in the wild. Entry into Crocodile Encounter costs $13.50 for adults and $9.50 for children. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays. Guided tours begin at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. daily. Crocodile Encounter is located at 23231 County Road 48 in Angleton.

Some of the amazing creatures at Crocodile Encounter include a Siamese crocodile, above, young American alligators, middle, and a family of hogs.

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Don’t Miss

Lights Out Easter Egg Hunt 8-10 p.m. March 29 Briscoe Park One of the most popular children’s events of the year, the Lights Out Easter Egg Hunt combines the traditional Easter hunt with fun in the dark. To make things more interesting, the city of Alvin’s Parks and Rec Department moved to a night hunt four or five years ago. In the hunt, city workers hide thousands of glow-in-thedark eggs and children are allowed to search for them. Due to immense popularity, there is a strict limit of 1,000 children allowed to hunt and all hunters must register in advance. There is no charge to participate. After the hunt, the Easter Bunny will be available for free pictures. For information, visit events/1774632585892345

No Cook Thursday Food Truck Frenzy April 20 and May 18 National Oak Park The Alvin Parks and Rec Department will bring back another local favorite with Food Truck Frenzy. On the third Thursday in March, April and May as well as September and October, five food trucks will come to National Oak Park and bring a variety of foods. Some of the trucks that have attended in the past include Foreign Policy with its famous doughnut cheeseburger and Cool Runnings with Jamaican food. There will be trucks from Houston and other areas as well as many of the Alvin favorites. New food trucks are invited to each frenzy, and some of the favorites are invited back from time to time.

Tour de Braz Tour de Braz Mass start at 8 a.m. April 22 Start at Alvin Community College, end at Briscoe Park The Tour de Braz will be raced for the 25th time April 22 with up to 1,000 bike riders expected to descend on Alvin for the event. Hosted by the Alvin Convention & Visitor’s Bureau with the Associated Credit Union of Texas as the primary sponsor, the Tour de Braz is a fun bike ride with distances ranging from 10 miles to 100 miles. “It’s a family, fun ride,” said Priya Bhakta with the CVB. “It’s non-competitive, and there are five different rides.” The Tour de Braz BP MS 150 recommended ride and is used by many riders as a training ride for future competitive events. The routes go through Alvin, Danbury and Liverpool. Serious riders can see much of the county on the 100-mile ride while families can ride together in the shorter distances. All proceeds go to the Alvin Volunteer Fire Department. After the race, there will be music, pizza and beer at Briscoe Park. For information, visit

Frontier Day Carnival Frontier Day April 27-28 National Oak Park One of the longest-running events in Alvin, Frontier Day celebrates the history of the city with a fun event. Hosted by the Alvin Rotary Club, Frontier Day is highlighted with the annual Frontier Day Parade around downtown Alvin on Saturday. Another crowd favorite is a shoot-out by the Alvin Rotary Club Gunfighters, as well as an arts, crafts and collectibles festival. A carnival with a variety of rides, as well as food concessions will also be available both days. The Antique, Classic & Collectible Car and Bike Show will run concurrent with other Frontier Day activities in National Oak Park. If you have an interesting car, truck, motorcycle, hot rod or street rod, bring it out. Food and drink booths will be set up in the Car Show area.

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Medical Miracle

Back on her feet Story and photos by David Rupkalvis

After being confined to a wheelchair for more than a year, Heather Deaton loves nothing more than taking her dogs for a walk.


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Heather Deaton continues remarkable recovery


ove, almost dying, a miracle, and living life to the fullest. That is Heather Deaton’s story of the last three years. Heather grew up in Alvin, attended Alvin High School, and received her education primarily through Alvin Community College. During high school, she became friends with Jordan Deaton, but after graduation, the two went their separate ways. Heather stayed in town and studied at ACC while Jordan went away and earned an engineering degree from Texas A&M. But several years ago, they were both in Alvin when fate decided to take a turn. “Once I got older, I got in touch with him on Facebook,” Heather said. “We were really good friends, and it went from there.”

And it went all the way to marriage when the two were married in 2015. It seemed like a fairy tale. In fact, when Jordan lost his engineering job and went to work on the family farm, it didn’t matter. They had each other, and Heather was doing well as a special education teacher with Alvin ISD. But then strange things began happening. “I’ve had problems my whole life,” Heather said. “But we didn’t know what it was. I would lose my walking a day or two, and then it would just go away.” About a month after they were married, Heather’s strange health problems became worse. One day she would be fine, the next unable to walk. She was taking more and more time off from work and was unable to find

Heather Deaton prepares to take her dogs for a walk.

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out what was wrong. On the good days, she went to work, loving her time with the children. On the bad days … well, they were tough. The hardest part was not knowing what was happening. About a month after they were married, the Deatons received an ominous warning from a rheumatologist. “He had to literally walk out of the room and compose himself,” Heather said. “This is a world-renowned rheumatologist. He said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Heather, but this is a lot worse than you thought, and it’s going to be a long road.’” The doctor and her husband urged her to quit her job, which she eventually did. “That was the hardest thing I ever had to do, to choose myself and my health over the kids,” Heather said. “Yeah, I had to talk her into it,” Jordan said. With Heather no longer working and now with no insurance, Jordan dedicated himself to finding a job. His main requirement was a good insurance policy. In early 2016, Jordan landed that job as an engineer designing commercial fire equipment for Johnson Controls. For the first time, the Alvin couple was forced to leave home, but they had no choice. In February 2016, they moved to Nederland, and Jordan went to work. “We had to move, with a doctor saying I was so sick, if we had insurance, he would put me in a hospital and leave me there,” Heather said. “We were just trying to find a way to take care of her better,” Jordan said. With insurance, the Deatons again began to look for answers. But with every doctor’s visit and every specialist, there were just more questions. And the physical problems began to add up. Despite all the tests and all the questions, the only thing Heather and Jordan knew for sure was Heather was getting worse. She went from struggling to walk to spending almost every day in a wheelchair. Then her body began to break down further, and she was unable to control her body temperature, which required her to wear a vest 24 hours a day. And still there were no answers. At his new job, Jordan quickly used all his vacation time shuttling his wife back and forth to Houston to see doctors.

Heather and Jordan Deaton met and fell in love in Alvin before her medical condition forced them to move. “They kept asking me why are you going to the doctor so much,” Jordan said. “I finally told them we don’t know what my wife has, and I might only have a year or two with her.” In 2016, Heather went to more than 100 doctor’s visits. Last year, there were probably even more. But still there were no concrete answers. Three neurologists said she had cysts on her spinal cord, but the real answer was not known until Dr. Flavia Nelson did something unusual. Using the newest in technology, Nelson did a scan that found something unusual. Nelson finally diagnosed Heather with

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Chiari malformation 1. The extremely rare disease occurs when a buildup of brain fluid leaks out of the brain into the central canal of the spinal column. In Heather’s case, the brain fluid was causing two primary problems. It created the cysts that blocked the brain from sending clear signals to her legs, and it made it difficult for her to speak. She was basically wheelchair bound and struggled to communicate at even the most basic level. But at least they had an answer. “I was kind of glad,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to know why. The only plan she could give us was to send us to


Memorial Hermann. We had to go find the neurosurgeons ourselves because it was so rare.” There is no treatment for Chiari malformation 1, and only a handful of doctors in the world had ever tried surgery because the risk is so great. “I had been looking into it based on what they said and her symptoms,” Jordan said. “When she told us she didn’t even know where to send us to, I started searching some more.” During this time, Heather had hit rock bottom. When her husband was at work, she waited at home, unable to care for herself, her husband and even her pets. “I couldn’t go outside,” she said. “I couldn’t even feed myself sometimes. I would just stay upstairs by myself all the time.” But even in the lowest moments, God seemed to be in control. When the Deatons first needed a wheelchair, the insurance would not provide one without a diagnosis, and they were able to find a used one for $20. Sometime later, a family friend gave them an electric wheelchair. “It was a blessing,” Heather said. “We couldn’t afford any of this stuff, but God provided.” With an electric wheelchair, they really needed a van that could be used to move Heather from place to place. But with medical expenses, the Deatons just didn’t have the money to put down on one. Jordan then got an unexpected text from a college friend who told him God told her to give him $6,000. That was the exact amount needed for the van and the wheelchair lift. The Deatons visited four


neurosurgeons, but could not find anyone willing to try the risky surgery. At one point, she was declared permanently disabled, and she received a service dog to help her move from her bed to the wheelchair. There seemed to be no hope. But even in the darkest hour, the Deatons never gave up their faith. They prayed for healing and did their best to keep a good attitude. And then something happened. Last fall, Heather noticed changes in her body. They weren’t significant at first, but she could feel something changing. “I just started feeling different,” she said. “It started when I would take my cooling vest off. He (Jordan) would literally follow me around carrying the vest.” At that point, Heather had not walked in a year. “I tried walking several times, but I couldn’t get my legs to work,” she said. “I wanted to walk.” That all changed one day late last year. She was sitting in the living room and noticed the dogs wanted to go outside. Almost without thinking, she turned to Jordan and told him she was taking the dogs for a walk. “I was sitting in my wheelchair by the couch,” Heather said. “I kinda had known for a few days I could walk again, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it. I guess the dogs pushed me to do it.” With her husband watching in surprise, Heather stood up, got the leashes for the dogs and walked outside. “I didn’t have a word to say,” Jordan said. For a few minutes, she walked with the dogs. It wasn’t long, but it was long enough. When she had another scan taken, doctors were stunned

to see there was nothing wrong. There was no explanation, but Heather was apparently better. After a year of no walking, she was not in perfect health, but she was determined to get there. She went through physical therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann, where she spent five weeks learning how to use her own body again. Before she could leave, she was required to run half a mile around the facility. And on the last day, she did. Heather said doctors have no answer for her sudden improvement, but she has an idea. “I really think it was something God did,” she said. “I don’t have any other explanation. I think God brought me through this.” Jordan, who was always concentrating on medical facts during the ordeal, said he agrees something hap-

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pened that medicine can’t explain. “I think He’s definitely a big part of it,” Jordan said. “If it hadn’t been for divine time and people praying, I don’t know what would have happened.” In early March, the Deatons were planning for another big change in their lives. With Heather mostly healthy, Jordan accepted a job as an engineer for Rolls Royce. Near the end of the month, they moved to Diamondhead, Mississippi, where Jeff began work at a facility that tests jet engines. “I’m very proud of him,” Heather said. Despite all the changes, Jordan and Heather are ready to live normal lives for a while. “We’re really thankful God helped us answer some of these puzzles,” Heather said. “We can only go up from here.”

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Stepping out into ‘A Night to Shine’ Story and photo by Sarah Babb


tepping out of the limo, attendees to the Tim Tebow Foundation’s, “A Night to Shine,” hosted at the New Hope Church 288 campus in Manvel were treated to immediate star treatment with a red carpet guiding them to the entrance door complete with a paparazzi crew. “Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom experience centered on God’s love for people with special needs ages 14 and older,” states the Tim Tebow Foundation’s website. Through the doors, the red carpet continued into the entryway where attendees checked in and were given a crown and a blue rose if they wished. From here, the red carpet continued leading past the thank you bags and dining area into the dance room. “With Nicole ListonTyson’s, event coordinator, help, this is our third year to host the event, the second year to host at this location and across four campuses,” explained Karen Fritson with New Hope Church. Attendees and their guests had choices besides the dance room to enjoy, includ-

As balloons fall, participants at A Night to Shine enjoy the moment.

ing three different picture stations featuring city lights, a ballroom staircase, or Time to Shine-themed backgrounds; a karaoke machine; and various seating areas both inside and outside the dance room. “350 people registered, 290 have checked in, and each person could bring up to four people with them,” Fritson said at about 8:30 p.m. Inside the ballroom, the dance floor was filled with both attendees and friends enjoying songs such as “Stanky Legg” by the GS Boyz, “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silento, “Gangnam style” by PSY, “Cupid Suffle” by Cupid and “Cha Cha Slide” by DJ Casper. The event was made possible “because people are

willing to say yes and celebrate these kids” by coming together for a common goal,” stated Tebow in a YouTube recording on the foundations’ web page. Hanging high above the dance floor were two tubes holding balloons. Around 9 p.m., the DJ counted down and the tubes were opened, releasing the contents over everyone underneath. Reactions to the balloons were mixed between hitting them around in the air or popping them by stepping on them as they floated to the ground. The Tim Tebow Foundation was created in 2010 due to an experience Tebow had at age 15. His parents were missionaries, and they had taken him with them to a remote village in the Philip-

pines. After meeting a boy named Sheriwn, who was born with his feet backwards, Tebow held him, and this showed the rest of the village the good news of Jesus Christ was for everyone. It was during this visit that Tebow realized his passion for helping people. The first Night to Shine was in 2015 with 44 churches participating worldwide. The following year in 2016, 201 churches participated in the event. Currently the event has been hosted in over 540 churches in 50 states and 16 countries. Every year the number grows larger. More information about the event and the other events the Tim Tebow Foundation is involved with is on their website.

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