Opening Speech for Dedication of Kemah School House


October 21, 2007


Thank you all for coming to our school house.


So how did all this happen?  How did the Kemah Historical Society begin?


Actually, it all began quite innocently and impulsively.  In August 2003, I attended a seminar hosted by National Public Radio on oral histories.  To listen to someone’s words was more dramatic than seeing a video, photo, or reading a written history; listening to what they said, I was not distracted by looking at the speaker: I heard what was important to them, their life stories. At that moment I thought that Kemah should collect and save oral histories.  But how does that happen?


A few months later, in October 2003, it came to me that we should form an organization to preserve Kemah’s history.  I needed someone to talk to that could believe in its importance and get the job done, so I called Diane Gillebaard, and we soon met.  Others were and are involved, but in the beginning it was just Diane and me.  I basically did the foot work, while Diane brought her ideas and experiences; hence, the Kemah Historical Society was born.


She also introduced me to the Executive Service Corps of Houston, composed of a group of retired executives that assists non-profit organizations in the formative stages.  After about 6 months, KHS received its non-profit status.  In less than a year a permanent board was formed, consisting of Dianne Gillebaard, Sylvia Streater, Ed Linck, Tommie Kendrick and Pepper Coffey.  Joining later was John Conrad, Barbara Slusher, Roselyn Pierce, Keith Mercado and Kelly Humphries.


Actually, it has always seemed odd that people living in Houston had not heard of Kemah until the Boardwalk was formed.  Kemah is much more than a franchise of restaurants and shops.  Kemah’s history is rich with people and events.  


After meeting with the folks of the Galveston Historical Society, our vision for the KHS was to collect oral histories, preserve artifacts, documents, and photos in a museum, plus save as many buildings as possible.  And then Evelyn Stebbins, seeing the importance of preserving Kemah’s history, made it possible for the city to purchase this building. Thank you Evelyn.



Dianne Gillebaard and I did the easy part; the current KHS board has the tough job of making all this happen and they need your help.  I am thrilled, grateful and proud of their work and I thank each of you. It is not easy setting the foundation of a newly formed organization—so, please serve on the committees and help them get the work done.


I would like to thank the City Council and KEDC for their support when we first approached them with this organization. And, of course, I would like to thank Ed Linck for his unrelenting work with the city which made this building possible. And for Sylvia Streater, who has always lived in Kemah, for her life long interest in Kemah and its history, and for still having her memory to share her stories with us!


This current coastline and skyline of Kemah will change, just as it has in my lifetime. For example, hurricane Carla in 1961, and now the current boardwalk, that began in 1998.  I only wish that I had taken more pictures of the town and its people, so that we could “remember when.” It is our history. Again, please consider helping by joining the committees which continue to preserve Kemah’s history—your history—our history.


The month the permanent board was formed, June 2004, I left for Mexico to attend school, and I am still there.


Thank you so much,


Taffy McDill