Fort Bend Focus and absolutely! Brazos Magazines Host the GEMS of Fort Bend Generous, Enthusiastic Men Serving


The 2015 GEMS of Fort Bend: Bob Hebert, Steve Onstad and Don Kerstetter. Photography shot on location by Nesossi Studios at the Vogelsang Antique Emporium.

Fort Bend Focus and absolutely! Brazos Magazines are proud to announce the 2015 GEMS of Fort Bend scheduled for Thursday, October 22nd. GEMS – Generous, Enthusiastic Men Serving – is an annual absolutely! focus media initiative honoring three male role models whose contributions to our community make them shine.

The 2015 GEMS were introduced at a brunch hosted by Joe and Doris Gurecky at their Historic Ebell House, which is the oldest brick home in downtown Rosenberg. The 2015 GEMS were joined by 2013 and 2014 GEMS, JEWELS of Fort Bend and community and event partners. The 2015 GEMS – Bob Hebert, Don Kerstetter and Steve Onstad – will be honored at a premier event featuring dinner, live entertainment and a “chips for charity” casino during the October 22nd event at the Safari Texas Ranch Lodge located in Richmond.

Proceeds from the evening event will be invested back into the Fort Bend community by supporting a non-profit organization whose mission is vital in our community: Fort Bend Family YMCA. The Fort Bend Family YMCA’s mission is to put Judeo-Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. The Y is a cause-driven organization that is for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility because a strong community can only be achieved when we invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors.

This is the third year Fort Bend Focus and absolutely! Brazos Magazines have hosted the GEMS of Fort Bend. Last year’s event was sold out and raised over $15,000 for its beneficiary, Texana Center. Over the past seven years with both the GEMS and JEWELS of Fort Bend events, Fort Bend Focus and absolutely! Brazos Magazines have contributed nearly $150,000 to eight Fort Bend non-profit organizations.

“Continuing our mission of giving back to our community is paramount to our organization,” said Patti Parish-Kaminski, publisher of absolutely! focus media, the publishing company for Fort Bend Focus and absolutely! Brazos Magazines. “Honoring these three amazing men who have contributed to our community in extraordinary ways through GEMS is an honor for us. These men have helped mold our community into an exemplary place to live, work and raise our children. We are humbled by their stellar examples of the true meaning of the word service.”

The GEMS of Fort Bend is open to the public. The GEMS and jeans themed event kicks off with the casino and cocktails at 6:30 pm followed by dinner and live entertainment. Tables and individual tickets are available by contacting absolutely! focus media at  281-690-4242.

200-bobBy Patti Parish-Kaminski

Some people have big jobs, and some people have really big jobs. For this GEM of Fort Bend, overseeing 2,700 employees, a $300 million budget and serving 710,000 residents of one of the fastest growing counties in the nation is a really big job, but it is all in a day’s work. With a life devoted to leadership and service, he began giving of himself, his time and his talents, long before he arrived in Fort Bend, and he’s never looked back.

Born in the Texas Panhandle, Bob Hebert grew up in the land of wheat and cattle. His dad worked for the railroad and made certain that his son had a good education.  “I received a very good Catholic education, and I’m very thankful for that,” said Hebert. “The nuns helped prepare me for success.”

Following his graduation from Pampa High School in 1959, Hebert began his life of service by enlisting in the United States Navy where he trained and served as an Aviation Electronics Technician. As an Aircrewman with the Airborne Early Warning Barrier Squadron, Pacific, he flew over 2,000 hours on patrol over the northern Pacific Ocean. He was on active duty for two years when he transferred to the University of Texas (UT) in Austin for a brief stint in college. That’s when his life changed forever.

He met Pat Pickler on a blind date at a UT football game filling in for a friend of a friend who at the last minute decided to cancel. “Pat’s blind date wanted to go out with a girl he had been chasing, so a friend asked me if I wanted a date to the football game. That sounded like a fine idea to me.”

Bob and Pat Hebert on their wedding day, April 6, 1963.

Bob and Pat Hebert on their wedding day, April 6, 1963.

Two weeks later, the two were engaged, and six months later, the newlyweds moved to Hawaii.  “I knew she was the girl I wanted to marry. I married way above my paygrade,” laughed Hebert. Honoring his commitment to the Navy, Hebert returned to the fleet for 20 months to complete his service. “Pat joined me in Hawaii. It was a great first year of marriage there.”

With a newborn daughter and another on the way, Hebert was discharged from the Navy, and the family returned to Houston. Hebert was enrolled at the University of Houston, but with another baby coming, he dropped out to provide for his growing family. Within a year, they bought a house in Alief.  “We thought that house was the greatest thing in the world,” said Hebert of their 930 square foot home. “We loved it.  I still drive by it every year or so.”

With a toddler, a new baby and a new home, Pat decided that it was time to get involved in their new community. “As Bob likes to tell it, we had gotten our first home in Alief, and he was sitting on the couch. The community was trying to form a homeowners association (HOA), and I told Bob that I’d really like for him to go. He went to the meeting, came back as president of the new HOA and the rest is history,” said Pat.

After becoming HOA president, Hebert helped start the Alief Community Volunteer Fire Department. “We had a 25 year-old fire truck loaned to us, and we parked it at a service station close to our house. There were two of us who drove the truck, and when the bell rang, we headed for the station, got the truck and sat there until Pat advised us by radio where were going,” recalled Hebert. With Pat as dispatcher and Bob driving the truck, team Hebert served the volunteer fire department for seven years. Hebert was working during the day and at night, he was attending South Texas Junior College trying to obtain his Associate’s Degree, a three-year program, so he could attend South Texas College of Law and become an attorney. When he graduated with his degree, the Texas legislature changed the law, and a four-year degree was required for admission to law school, changing Hebert’s plans.

Bob Hebert speaking at a Fort Bend County Leadership Presentation in 2009.

Bob Hebert speaking at a Fort Bend County Leadership Presentation in 2009.

Trained in electronics in the Navy, Hebert worked for Xerox as a new product technician. Perhaps one of the most historic projects he worked on was the Apollo launch. He oversaw the Xerox machine that printed out pre-flight data on manned mission launches. With this technology in place, NASA no longer had to fly the data to Mission Control at 4 am; the data was printed out on-site with the technology similar to a fax machine. “Once I saw the pre-flight data was working and all was clear, I went home, but until the data was released, I sat there in Building 30 at Mission Control.”

In 1972, a unique problem presented itself to Hebert. “I was active in our community, and we had a problem in our water district,” said Hebert. “Neighbors asked me if I would put something together to assist with our water issues, and so as a favor to our neighbors, I did.”

This “favor” was ECO Resources, Inc.  While being a homeowner led to a great deal of success for Hebert in the community, it was also the catalyst to assisting him with starting ECO, as he used the equity in his home to finance his new venture.  He ran the company, which operated and managed more than 125 Municipal Utility Districts, for 13 years, continued his education “as best he could,” and retired at 44.

But retirement did not agree with Hebert.  In 1985, the Heberts had moved to Fort Bend.  “By 45, I had a non-compete as a consultant with ECO, I volunteered with the Small Business Administration to help small businesses during the recession and I graduated with a Master of Business Administration from Pepperdine University.”

When Hebert’s five year non-compete expired, he did what he did best: founded another small service company. “It took off within a year doing very well.” The company that purchased ECO bought Hebert’s new company – now Southwest Water Company – and contracted him to serve as a senior consultant in management.

Working in the water industry, Hebert’s vast business experience led him to do something he had always done: serve.  He served for seven years as Vice Chair of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, Chairman of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships in Virginia, co-founded Global Initiatives and stepped in for the City of Arcola when they needed his help. “I served eight years as Receiver for the City of Arcola when they got into financial difficulty.  I was able to help them get back on their feet.  It was a very positive outcome for the City.”

Fast forward to 2003 when Hebert was elected as Fort Bend Constitutional County Judge, and the positive outcomes, along with his commitment to the community he presides over, are vast. “It is unique that Bob as a judge does so much community service, but that’s nothing new to him,” said friend and business associate Bob Brown, who has known Hebert since 1977. “Bob has always been involved and supportive of our community long before he was judge.  He understands the importance of stewardship both professionally and personally.”

Ray and Patsey McKnight, Ernie and Cindy Layman, Shelley and Bud Hannes and Bob and Pat Hebert.

Ray and Patsey McKnight, Ernie and Cindy Layman, Shelley and Bud Hannes and Bob and Pat Hebert.

While Hebert supports a vast number of community organizations, he does have a few that are close to his heart.  “I support many causes but anything to do with raising the status of women and protecting women and children is important to me – the Women’s Center, Child Advocates. My wife and three daughters raised me and molded me into what I am today.”

Of course, Hebert has never limited his support to those areas. “I understand that there is a broad level of need. We have a duty to give back, and I am pleased to do it. I am convinced that the satisfaction I get out of giving pays dividends that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.”

Another meaningful part of Hebert’s life that cannot be measured in “dollars and cents” is his family. “I’m most proud of having the good sense to marry my lovely wife.  Without her, I would not have achieved much of what I have achieved in life and certainly would not have been as happy.”  The family-oriented Heberts raised three daughters, and their daughters raised five “excellent young men and good Americans.” Two of Hebert’s grandsons have followed in his grandfather’s footsteps of service. Robbie McKnight served four years active duty in the United States Navy, and CWO Nick Hannes is an Army Apache pilot serving in the Middle East. And now, there’s a great-grandson, Kayson McKnight, to add to the Hebert clan.

Hebert’s philosophy is simple: “I tried to leave every organization I worked with better off.  If you can do that, I think that’s a success.” For his devotion to leadership and service, for perhaps having the biggest job of them all in Fort Bend and for his commitment to giving – both in and out of office –absolutely! Brazos and Fort Bend Focus Magazines are proud to honor Bob Hebert as a GEM of Fort Bend.

200-donBy Patti Parish-Kaminski

It is human nature to want to make a difference in whatever you do – to be a positive influence and cause change for the better. For this GEM of Fort Bend, making a difference is more than just a saying; it’s a way of life. You see, when he arrived in Fort Bend, he chose to make a difference – in a big way – by creating a business that not only cares about community but demonstrates it with unbridled support for many organizations and causes.

When you hear the words, “Relax…and enjoy the difference,” Don Kerstetter and Classic Chevrolet immediately come to mind. It’s a brand – and a business – he’s built by embodying the values instilled in him as a young man by his father: hard work, a good education and a generous heart.  “One of the earliest things I remember my dad telling me was that I was going to go to college,” said Kerstetter. That was a tall order for the son of an USAF Master Sergeant who worked three jobs to support his family and educate his children. Eventually, all six Kerstetter kids from Columbus, Mississippi earned college degrees.

After graduating from Ole Miss in 1987, Kerstetter went into sales. “I recognized an industry that was starved for talent because they were always advertising for good people.”  This industry was the automobile industry. “I got into the car business and immediately figured out how demanding it truly was. I applied the same principles of martial arts into selling cars – positive mental attitude, discipline, focus, determination and the grit to bounce back up when you get knocked down.”

Kerstetter was working with Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, Texas selling cars in the summer of 1994 when he received a phone call that changed his life. He had met a young lady in Dallas and began dating her in 1990. By 1993, Jackie had become his wife. “There I was, scrambling to make a sale one day when Jackie called me and said, ‘Guess who’s pregnant? We are!’ After I came back to earth, I immediately got on the phone because I knew with a baby coming, I needed to get a job in management. I received three prospects and an offer and quickly took it. When I left, I made it known that I would return immediately if a management opportunity at Classic became available.”

That opportunity came just 90 days later. “Happily, I was hired as a manager at the best Chevy dealership in the United States owned by the finest dealer group in the country.”  Through hard work and determination, Kerstetter became leader of the finance department, and 10 years after he began his career with Classic, he was informed that he would be considered for partnership when the right time came along.  “That opportunity was still five years down the road, and I had to continue to prove myself over and over. Eventually, I received the best opportunity of all.”

Jackie, Grace, Don and Jacob Kerstetter.

Jackie, Grace, Don and Jacob Kerstetter.

That opportunity was to take over a large dealership in Sugar Land with a questionable reputation. “For a few years, the number one Chevy dealership in the entire United States was located in Sugar Land. They were first in sales and absolute dead last in ethics and customer satisfaction. We were watching the store closely, hearing complaints from both customers and General Motors’ employees. We knew that there were issues, but we truly had no idea just how bad the prior owners had abused the community’s trust. Our Grapevine location passed the Sugar Land store in 2006 and became the highest volume Chevy store in the United States. Three years later, I bought the Sugar Land location when the customer abuse – and the worst recession in 40 years – put them out of business permanently.”

As soon as Kerstetter arrived in February of 2009, he began hearing the horror stories as the community was not shy about sharing their bad experiences. “One of the first days I was here, I went to the bank to cash a check. I told the two bank tellers helping me that I had bought the Chevy dealership in Sugar Land. They literally recoiled turning their backs on me.” Kerstetter asked the ladies, who shared their bad experience, for a chance. “I asked them to give me a chance – I had literally just got here! I promised them that I was committed to making a difference.” Fortunately, the ladies did give him a chance, and both soon became customers.

“I had no idea – it was stunning how unbelievably negative literally everyone’s perception of the dealership was despite new ownership,” recalled Kerstetter. “I worked six days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day to turn that perception around and make Classic Chevrolet a business that Fort Bend would be proud of.”

Kerstetter’s efforts concentrated not only on customer service – in 2015 Classic was named a Chevrolet Dealer of the Year for the fifth consecutive year – but community service.  He visited with community leaders and soon had a plan. “Dee Koch was one of the most influential people I spoke to. She told me that I needed a plan because everyone would ask for money, and I couldn’t afford to give to everyone.” Kerstetter joined the Exchange Club and went through the Chamber’s Leadership Program. “Meeting people and participating in groups helped me develop a better understanding of the obstacles I inherited from the previous owner.” One day early on, Commissioner James Patterson came by the dealership to meet Kerstetter. “Commissioner Patterson was, and still is, instrumental in helping me understand the needs of this community. I have learned so much about people and about Fort Bend from him.”

While Kerstetter was making an effort to change the community’s perception of the dealership, not everyone was easily won over. “I met Bob and Carole Brown in April of 2009, and Bob told me he would never buy a car from this dealership.”  Bob concurred. “I told Don that he had a big job to do and a lot of problems to solve.  There were a lot of people very upset over how they were treated.” Bob told Kerstetter that he could go far by getting involved in the community, and that’s exactly what he did.

“Bob Brown has been a mentor. I knew that I could sure mess things up by not learning from people as revered and loved as Bob and Carole. They are true role models and always lead by example. I knew that it would be a great challenge, but it was obvious that if I could win Bob over – reassure him that I was a businessman to be trusted – then I would be in good shape.”

Kerstetter has what he refers to as “his most treasured possession,” a note from the Browns congratulating him on his first year. “Don’s done everything and more that he said he was going to do,” said Bob. “We are proud to have him in our community.”

But did Kerstetter win Bob over enough to do business with him? “My family has bought eight trucks from Don,” said Bob. “He doesn’t just listen; he does.”

When Kerstetter “does,” he “does” in a big way. He has supported numerous Fort Bend organizations from local churches to law enforcement to youth organizations. “I supported Dulles High School during my first week here,” said Kerstetter, who gave the school $3,000 for new batting cages. “I know I can’t give large amounts to all organizations, but I can give small amounts to many. I just don’t like saying ‘no.’ I made a career out of saying ‘yes’ to people.”

Kerstetter and Classic Chevrolet have served as primary sponsors for the annual Fort Bend Women’s Center event, The Arc of Fort Bend’s annual golf tournament and the Exchange Club of Sugar Land’s annual event. “Exchange taught me a lot about giving back. There isn’t a more generous group of people in the whole county.”

Don Kerstetter with John Robson and Betty Baitland at the Sugar Land Exchange Club Spaghetti Cook-Off.

Don Kerstetter with John Robson and Betty Baitland at the Sugar Land Exchange Club Spaghetti Cook-Off.

While Kerstetter gives to many charitable organizations, those helping women and children have his heart. “Before my mother married my father, she was a victim of an abusive marriage in 1949. At only 18 years old and with an infant son, she possessed an incredible mental and spiritual strength that gave her the courage to walk away. The reason I am here is because she had the courage to do that. This is one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about the Fort Bend Women’s Center.”

With his family’s military service, Kerstetter has a great love and respect for serving and retired members of the U.S. Armed Forces. In September, this culminated with Classic Chevrolet, in partnership with Operation Finally Home and Tilson Homes, awarding a mortgage free, new home to a disabled combat veteran. “All I asked of Operation Finally Home was that they locate the home for a veteran and their family in Fort Bend. It was a privilege for me to be a part of that ceremony.”

Law enforcement is another arena that Kerstetter is passionate about. “The negative atmosphere created by the media over the last year or two regarding law enforcement has resonated strongly with me and has reinforced my commitment to local law enforcement. We have strong community support for them and raised over $50,000 this year for the Sugar Land Police Officer’s Association at our annual Classic Chili Cookoff.”

Kerstetter and Classic have come a long way since that day in 2009 when Kerstetter landed in Sugar Land. He was seeking to revitalize a failed business that had totally alienated the entire community. “I think the hardest thing that I have ever done was changing this community’s viewpoint of what a Chevy dealer should be. The community was embarrassed by the former dealership and rightly so. Today, I am proud that I provide employment for 250 employees and help make their lives better. The fact that my employees – and the community – depend on me motivates me as much as anything.”

Kerstetter’s philosophy for business and community go hand in hand. “If you do a good job and the community supports you, charitable leadership is absolutely essential. It demonstrates faith in your community, as they have demonstrated their faith in you. Giving back is vital for your own mental and spiritual health, as well as for the health of your community.” For his tenacity to turn a negative into a positive, for his willingness to say “yes” as much as possible, and for his commitment to making a difference, absolutely! Brazos and Fort Bend Focus Magazines are proud to honor Don Kerstetter as a GEM of Fort Bend.

 200-steveBy Patti Parish-Kaminski

Bar-b-que is a staple in Texas cuisine, and most Fort Bend residents know that there’s a down home, back to basics restaurant complete with its own dance hall that serves some of the best bar-b-que that the state has to offer. They might even know the proprietor and chef behind this great food and Fort Bend institution, but what they might not know is that this GEM of Fort Bend gives, not to one organization, but to many and has for nearly 40 years.

Steve Onstad moved to then rural Richmond as a young boy with his family. The Richmond of Onstad’s youth was not like the Richmond we know today. “Moving to Richmond was a big culture shock,” recalled Onstad. “There were no sidewalks, no neighbors. We learned to ride horses, raise animals, and it was big time to go to Schultz’s store to get a Coke and an ice cream sandwich.”

The barn-shaped house that Onstad and his four siblings were raised in still stands today on FM 359 next to his restaurant, which is a Fort Bend landmark: The Swinging Door.  Living in the country taught Onstad many lessons, the most important of which was to help your neighbors. “Growing up, we weren’t just part of a family; we were part of a neighborhood. Everybody knew everybody, and one of the first things my dad taught me was that when somebody was sick or needed help, you helped out. It was standard issue to help your neighbors in times of trouble.”

Steve Onstad with his son David Carriere and daughter Michaela Filla.

Steve Onstad with his son David Carriere and daughter Michaela Filla.

Onstad graduated from Lamar High School and left for then Southwest Texas State University. After two years of “social studies,” he decided to change course. “Dad said get a job or join the service, so I went to work.” In 1973, Onstad and his dad, Ward, built a small, wood frame business on FM 359 in anticipation of a 1,000 acre subdivision scheduled to be built by Friendswood Development in the area. The development project fell through, but when Pecan Grove sprang up a few years later, Onstad’s business took off.

The Swinging Door opened Labor Day in 1973. “I started out with 12 chairs inside and a little patio. It was a dinky little place, but it was mine. Dad and I built it, and I ran it.”

It wasn’t long before the business grew, and Onstad added on building an adjacent dance hall. His dad was in the Real Estate business at the time, and he ran the dance hall while Onstad ran the growing restaurant. “During the late 70s and into the 90s, we were kind of far out. To make it worth people’s while to drive out, I decided to make The Swinging Door a complete package where folks could eat, dance and listen to live music.”

Much like another large dance hall during the same era – Gilley’s – The Swinging Door became a popular destination for Houstonians including many famous ones. “The Oilers would come out on Thursday nights, sit in the back and hold court,” said Onstad, who became friends with many of the players during the “Luv Ya Blue” days including Dan Pastorini and Giff Nielsen. “I would close off the back of the restaurant so they could sit back there and drink beer.”

Steve Onstad at the Swinging Door.

Steve Onstad at the Swinging Door.

The Monday Night Football crew – Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford – all came out to The Swinging Door, and Earl Campbelll spent the night celebrating after he became a Houston Oiler at the Richmond institution with buddies. “Giff brought the entire Osmond family out one time, and we’ve had our share of politicians and Saudi princes join us over the years.”

Friend Dan Pastorini brought a special guest out one night when he was on a date, and the restaurant was closed for a private party. Onstad led the party of two to the back, and his customers “like to fell out of their chairs when those two walked in.” Pastorini’s date was Farrah Fawcett. “She was just as pretty in person as in her photos and so nice.  Moments like that were kind of special to me.”

Other special moments during Onstad’s career revolve around his long list of community service. A past president and member of Rotary Club of Richmond for nearly 40 years, Onstad has made his mark with food not only at The Swinging Door, but at charity events for years. One of the Rotary Club’s largest fundraisers each year is selling turkey legs at the Fort Bend County Fair during the 10 day event, and Onstad is the man in charge. “Steve almost unilaterally gets everything together for our booth at the fair – supplies, food, equipment – literally everything,” said fellow Rotarian and long-time friend Elizabeth Duff-Drozd. “Steve’s generosity and willingness to do anything for the community and our charitable organizations is what makes him special.  He’s not afraid of hard work and will roll up his sleeves to help out whenever he can.”

Onstad has been a “Man Who Cooks” benefitting the Lamar Educational Awards Foundation, provided dinner for the Foster and Fort Bend Museum’s events and served up his famous bar-b-que at Reading Between the Wines benefitting the Literacy Council of Fort Bend.  But perhaps the groups that have had the most impact on Onstad have been his involvement with organizations supporting individuals with disabilities. Onstad hosted a bowling banquet for Richmond State Supported Living Center for over 10 years. The residents traveled to a bowling alley then out to The Swinging Door for a good time. “To the Richmond State School residents, the event was special.  Seeing their joy and watching them so carefree, everyone dancing with no age, race or gender barriers, made it special to me.  It was uplifting to watch them and be a small part of their lives.”

Robert and Michaela Filla, David Carriere, Marci Moss, Steve Onstad and Jackson, Reed and Noah Filla.

Robert and Michaela Filla, David Carriere, Marci Moss, Steve Onstad and Jackson, Reed and Noah Filla.

Onstad has also catered the ARC’s Best in the West for nearly 20 years, and when he’s not volunteering or running his restaurant, he’s acting as a mentor for the over 1,500 people – many young – who have worked at The Swinging Door over the years. “Impacting youth in a positive way during their formative years is a special thing,” said Onstad. “I take pride in the fact that I have former employees introducing me to their children telling them that when they get old enough to work, this is the first place they would let them work.” Many of Onstad’s former employees have expressed their appreciation as a positive influence on their lives, and some of his employees are third generation employees.

While Onstad has served as a role model to many, his role model was his dad. “Dad was a worker; he believed in hard work and getting it done. That’s how he had to live, and that’s how he raised five kids. We were well taken care of, but he sacrificed a lot so we could have the things we had.”

The Onstad philosophy of working together has translated into the next generation of family. Onstad’s daughter, Michaela Filla, is in the food business with her dad running The Swinging Door at the Fort Bend Country Club. The third generation – Onstad’s three grandsons – love running around the restaurants. “The boys do run the show,” said Onstad of his grandsons, ages 10, eight and six. “Reed, the 10 year-old, is taking culinary lessons at his school.  He likes being in the kitchen. It would be neat to get a third generation involved down the road.”

Onstad’s philosophy of service is straight forward. “I’ve always been willing to help out when I could for the right cause, and I tried my best to make a positive difference in the community.” For his willingness to help, his passion for mentoring youth and his 40 plus years of giving whenever and however he could, absolutely! Brazos and Fort Bend Focus Magazines are proud to honor Steve Onstad as a GEM of Fort Bend.