Fueled by childhood memories of a once-thriving town and a desire to give back to the community, Brooks Gremmels
bought property - lots of it - in and around small, unincorporated Ben Wheeler along Hwy. 64 and FM 773 in southern Van Zandt County.
plan: to return the town back to its 1935 look and to bring new businesses, and inspire a new community-friendly attitude and sense of pride back into the area through events, festivities and other social projects.
Brooks' basic project through Ben Wheeler Development Company
(BWDC) will take some time before his
full vision comes to fruition.
But when complete, Gremmels will have provided Ben Wheeler with a downtown and surrounding areas with sustainability and profitability for future generations to enjoy easy-living-conveniences life in Ben Wheeler can afford each of its residents - an endeavor that strives to afford the community with restaurants, a winery, downtown shops and artisans' wares, a fully restored downtown park complete with gazebos and stages for entertainment, a farmers market, a classic car museum and motorcycle hall of fame, and much, much more.
"We're working with a clean sheet of paper," Brooks
"When I grew up in Tyler and went back and forth to Dallas, Ben Wheeler
was a nice little town," he
"When I moved back 35 years later, I guess they'd lost their pride.
It's a pleasure to have the opportunity to do something positive to help restore it."
Since last February, Gremmels
team have been working on various projects which have included refurbishing old houses, buildings and store houses, cleaning up park land and putting on family-friendly events to help in that restoration of pride and community.
"I don't know if that's something we can really measure, but it's something you feel if you have it," he
Brooks, is a member of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission.
As such, he
is in constant communication with local residents for input into BWDC's plans.
"I've solicited all of the input I could get, especially from people who have lived here for generations," he
"Many have furnished photos, and it's amazing how much history is in people's heads.
We're putting together a pretty good picture of the way Ben Wheeler looked from the mid 1930s, and our long-term goal is to reconstruct the town similar to what it was in 1935.
We want to try to recapture the feeling, the old-fashioned atmosphere where people walk and sit and visit and play dominos.
historical commission veteran and Ben Wheeler
native, Sybil Creasey, said Brooks
wanted to know more about Ben Wheeler as soon as he
joined the commission.
wife, Rese, a Longview native, it's about giving back to the community.
"We want to raise the bar high enough so that we have something unique that will draw people into town," Brooks
has the means to renovate Ben Wheeler
because of his
For more than 20 years, he
managed oil and gas companies that operated several hundred wells.
He also was president and CEO of WhamTech, which developed virtual data and information integration, sharing, and interoperability technology products.
He started racing with the Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association in 1999 (well past his 50th birthday) and won several road-racing sprint championships.
He served on CMRA's board of directors and was named to its hall of fame.
In connection with his racing career, he founded Shogun Enterprises and Shogun Motorsports.
Brooks retired from Oil and Gas Producers/OGP Operating about five years ago, giving the company to its employees, moving back into this area, and buying ARC Ridge Ranch which is mostly used for youth gatherings and other special and charitable events.
"My retirement is a total failure," he
"I intended to see if I could clean up the town a little, and one thing led to another."
Today, as more people move back into the country, Ben Wheeler
may thrive again.
It will if Brooks Gremmels
, Rese, and their small band of men and women work with other local residents to make it happen.