One of the many great pieces of advice that my Mom ever gave me was that when I faced adversity, I could either laugh or cry; so I might as well laugh because neither action was going to change the outcome. I have always tried to approach life with a sense of humor; so most of my blogs are either humorous or an effort to promote Riverview. Generally, I try to incorporate both themes in any blog. However, this one is going to be different as I address the epic flooding and devastation in the great state of Texas.
In 1974 lightning struck our communication tower. That electricity then jumped to our gas mains. When I came to work that morning of April 4th,1974, our main lodge, our office building, four sleeping units, Mom’s Lincoln, two golf carts, and a riding lawn mower were all burned completely up. Mom and Dad were staying at our lake house at Lake Seminole, and I called them to come home. As I sat and watched them cry, I struggled to figure out why they were so completely distraught. I learned why when the same thing happened to my life’s work in 1994, but my catastrophe was a flood. In Pop’s typical manner, he told me to find the money because he was going to start rebuilding the next day. Pop was a great visionary and entrepreneur. What he did not have was the ability to discern how highly leverage we were at that time thanks to a couple of his ventures that had drained our financial position. At any rate, I managed to find the money and we did get back in business before the 1974-1975 season began. That loan was also the first one that I paid off although it had a lower interest rate, but very onerous terms.
Now flash forward to 1994, and I had been running and building the company since 1976. A minimal hurricane, Alberto traversed Florida from the Atlantic into the Gulf of Mexico. It came up through Georgia and then stalled about 60 miles north of us, and became what is known as a “cut-off low”. It rained 24 inches in two days. We have had buildings on this site since 1957, and had never been seriously threatened by a flood in all of those years. Consequently, we had no flood insurance. I had always assumed that our river bluff was just too high for any serious flood threat.
My beloved Flint River rose 57 vertical feet, and every one of our cottages and the main lodge took water. Some of the cottages had water to the ceilings, and almost all of them took at least 3-4 feet of water. As I watched this occur, I cried, and understood my parent’s feelings as I watched my life’s work go under the raging waters. There are several big differences between a fire and a flood. In a fire, you have no time to save anything while in the case of our river floods in South Georgia we have at least three days to remove furniture and fixtures. We did save a lot of our stuff. I also had pre-purchased a lot of building materials, and had them stored in the big vegetable coolers at our sweet corn facility. Additionally, I had secured the iron clad agreement from two contractors that they would begin the process of rebuilding as soon as our people could get the buildings torn down and dried out. A fire is much easier to begin rebuilding from than a flood as work can begin right away after a fire. With a flood, there is a lot of debris removal necessary before any serious building work can begin.
We rebuilt seven cottages plus our main lodge between July 12th and October 15th. One cottage was destroyed because its foundation broke. We rebuilt that cottage from scratch the following spring. I will always consider this my finest hour during my tenure as head of Riverview, but I could not have done it without the help of a bunch of dedicated employees who toiled seven days a week in the most horrible conditions as they drug out soggy carpet, knocked out walls, and took all of these buildings down to the foundation, studs, and roof. We then got Mitchell EMC to bring us in temporary three phase electricity and huge commercial fans to dry all of our wood work down to the point that we could begin rebuilding.
As we were beginning this process, FEMA landed in a helicopter on what once was our skeet range. With them was GEMA and the head of our state DNR who was a long time personal friend. When they asked me what they could do to help, I said, “ Go help Albany because if you help me, I will never get back in business”. My DNR head just smiled as the rest of them flew off in a huff. Guess what? We were rebuilt before FEMA ever allowed anyone in Albany to even enter their buildings due to possible mold exposure. We had our buildings on the ground before the mold could get started.
So here is my message to my Texas friends. Stay strong ! Texans are known for their toughness, pride and resiliency. You CAN and WILL survive this catastrophic event! Your first priority is to protect your family and friends. Things can be replaced, but loved ones can’t. Please know that everyone in this great nation is praying for y’all, and we are all impressed with your spirit and grit already. I always reminded myself of the Bible scripture that goes,” The Lord giveth and He taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”. If any of you who have friends living in the hardest impacted areas of Harvey, please share this blog with them. YOU WILL SURVIVE this event, and YOU WILL OVERCOME it. In the meantime, please know that you and your loved ones are very much in our thoughts and prayers!