Brooks Gremmels, 70, died at 9:10 p.m. Jan. 26 at HomePlace Hospice in Tyler from pancreatic cancer complications, according to a statement released by the Gremmels family.
was diagnosed with the disease in April 2013.
The family had not confirmed memorial service arrangements as of Tuesday morning but thanked the community for the outpouring of thoughts and prayers.
"While they understand Brooks never met a stranger, they affectionately request privacy at this time," said Veronica Terres, Marketing director for the Ben Wheeler Development Co.
Jenni Wilson, president of the Ben Wheeler Arts and Historic District Foundation said Gremmels "became very ill about three weeks ago.
will be missed by us all and I'm proud to have been able to work with him and call him my friend," Wilson said.
In an interview last fall, Gremmels
said saving the town of Ben Wheeler was what he
was meant to do.
The former manager of oil and gas companies, motorcycle racer and information technology company owner has been the community's benefactor since 2007.
In August 2013, the philanthropist said he
is the one benefitting from being in Ben Wheeler
had just finished six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"I felt really bad for a while but now I'm feeling really well," Gremmels
said at the time.
"We won't know for a bit if it worked, but I feel a whole lot better than I did a few weeks ago."
The outpouring of concern and support from the community was been gratifying, he
"The cards, letters and notes have meant so much," Gremmels
"I didn't think that many people knew who I was but they are really taking care of me.
If there is any advantage to having this disease, that's the payoff -- the love I feel from this community."
Whether sitting in the Ben Wheeler Development Corp. office or walking around the restored downtown area, everyone Gremmels met offered words of encouragement.
Life-long Ben Wheeler resident Jonell Brown and her
husband Keith said they were happy to see Gremmels
out and about.
Shortly after Gremmels
started purchasing property and cleaning it up, he
hosted a Fourth of July party with free hot dogs and live music.
"About 2,000 people showed up and I was amazed because the reception was phenomenal," he
"All day long people stopped me to say thank you and at that time we hadn't done anything.
We - and I say we because I certainly haven't done it alone, I couldn't have done any of it without my wife Rese's help.
We had bought lots of trashy property and cleaned it up.
People were overjoyed."
said as he
saw people reminiscing and reconnecting.
"For the first time in my life, I knew what I was supposed to do," Gremmels
"I had heard people say that they had a calling and that was exactly the feeling I had.
I wanted to redevelop the sense of community.
This is what I was supposed to do."
From the start, Gremmels
took cues from the community.
bought the old Moore store "without any idea of what to do with it," he
brought more buildings in and "covered them all in brick to say to people 'we're here to stay,' to make a statement, we're not going anyway."
But while the Gremmels were making a commitment, there still wasn't a clear plan, he
"We were growing like topsy," he
said, "no direction, just growing."
One building was brought in and moved three times, Gremmels
"We didn't have a lick of sense or any plan and the more redevelopment we did, the more clear it was what was missing.
We needed parking and an all-purpose building."
bought the old school building from the Elwood community northwest of Edgewood
and tried to save as much of the structure as possible but there was no way to replace the vintage glass.
"They said the only way to do it was to have the panes hand-blown in France, so that's what we did," Gremmels
To a lot of families, this is a gift," Gremmels
said, "and they can come as often as they want.
"It feels like we've really done the right thing by the Elwood School
The old schoolhouse and a wedding chapel rest in 9-acre Harmony Park.
The park includes two bridges built by Wolf Pipe.
"They are really works of art built with the aesthetic value in mind," Gremmels
The name of the park is a nod to the community's past and future.
had a women's club in the 1920s called the Harmony Club
, its purpose was beautification," Gremmels
said, "that had the right flavor for what we wanted to see in town."
Most of the town is now owned by Ben Wheeler Arts
and Historic District, Inc., a charitable endeavor.
The artist and shop owners don't pay rent but in exchange they have to agree to be open certain hours "and cooperate rather than compete."
"There's no dog-eat-dog mentality," Gremmels
"Instead of asking for rent, we ask for a good attitude.
I'm always surprised how well it works."
Ben Wheeler residents have made their own commitment to the next phase of development.
Last fall community members approved the installation of a sanitary sewer system.
"This is huge," Gremmels
"It could cost each resident $30 to $40 per month and the people actually voted to charge themselves money and now we'll be able to get into the 21st century.
Construction started in September on the $4 million reconstructed wetlands project.
The project will be funded by a $2 million grant from the USDA and a 40-year note at 4.5 percent interest.
"This time next year when someone flushes, it will go into the sanitary sewer system.
Then we can go to the next phase of development which is to get some type of lodging," Gremmels
"Yes, the first thing I think you'll see is lodging."
When that happens, Gremmels
said, the community will start to make the transition "from a destination point to becoming a full-fledged town.
liked that analogy.
"This town is about being American," he
"Everything about Ben Wheeler
is really about being American."
saw the town gaining its independence, too.
"I don't have to feed it the way I used to," Gremmels
gets a kiss from his
wife Rese after he
receives the Mason's Community Builders award last fall.
Gremmels was honored for his work in Ben Wheeler.
He died Jan. 26 at age 70 of complications from pancreatic cancer.