Joe M. Gurecky – GEM of Fort Bend

200-joeBy Patti Parish-Kaminski-

Farmer, machinist, entrepreneur, statesman all describe this GEM of Fort Bend who was born and raised in the small, rural community of Fairchild as the son of a share cropper. Fort Bend County native Joe M. Gurecky has never called anywhere else “home,” and home, or Rosenberg, is definitely where this GEM’s heart belongs.

“Doris and I built a ‘starter’ home in Rosenberg in 1958, and we still live in that home today.  Even though in the early part of our marriage I worked in Houston, I never thought of living anywhere else,” said Gurecky, who enjoyed a 27 year career with N. L. Baroid, an oilfield service company located in Houston.  Even though he traveled to Houston daily along Highway 90A, this GEM stayed close to his roots. “My family ties and my ability to farm part-time for myself factored into why we stayed in Rosenberg,” recalled Gurecky. “To teach us entrepreneurship, my dad let each of my brothers and I farm a bit of the family farm. We rented land from my dad, used his equipment and paid for the oil and gas. What we made off of our crop, we kept as a profit.”

The Gurecky family: Blair Koepke, Joe Gurecky, Kylie, Jacob and Kellen Dorman, Doris Gurecky, Blake Koepke, Luke, Tama and John Dorman and Pam and Ken Koepke.

The Gurecky family: Blair Koepke, Joe Gurecky, Kylie, Jacob and Kellen Dorman, Doris Gurecky, Blake Koepke, Luke, Tama and John Dorman and Pam and Ken Koepke.

Another lesson learned from his dad, Joe J. Gurecky, was the love of machining. “Growing up, my dad would buy a new piece of farm equipment and immediately start making alterations to improve the equipment and function. As a kid, we learned if something wasn’t working like we thought it should, we could adjust it to make it better.”

Joe J. Gurecky raised his five children as true American entrepreneurs though he was the first generation born in America. His father, Frank Gurecky, came from Europe as a talented journeyman blacksmith, and today, Gurecky has his grandfather’s blacksmith training certificate, written in German, proudly displayed in his office. Gurecky’s maternal grandfather,  Vojt Stavinoha, was instrumental in the early 1900s in building a Catholic church in Needville and a lifeline for the community:  the Fairchild Dance Hall. “In those times, the hall was more than just a recreational place; it was a civic center. People met there to hear the local and world news as there were few radios and no televisions in their homes.” Stavinoha also formed a co-op with area farmers to build two cotton gins so the farmers could control the ginning of their own cotton at harvest time. “There was a lot of entrepreneurship in my family way before my time,” said Gurecky. “Dad was self-employed his entire life, yet he and Mom raised us five siblings and was able to purchase a 100 acre black land farm..”

Mayor Joe M. Gurecky, Rosenberg Police Chief Robert Gracia and NewQuest Properties Steve Alvis signing agreements for the building of Brazos Town Center.

Mayor Joe M. Gurecky, Rosenberg Police Chief Robert Gracia and NewQuest Properties Steve Alvis signing agreements for the building of Brazos Town Center.

Entrepreneurship wasn’t the only asset that Gurecky gained from his rural roots.  In rural Fort Bend County, he found his lifelong partner and love while going to school with her at Needville Junior High School. “For the first few years, I just aggravated her,” Gurecky said about his early years with Doris.  “She sat in front of me with a beautiful Western coat with tassels, and I would pull her tassels. It was just puppy love until the end of our junior year in high school.”

Both Doris and Joe, born one day apart, graduated from Needville High School in 1956. Doris attended Southwest Business School in Houston, and Joe attended Taylor Vocational Tech School. After about six months, Gurecky had the opportunity to work for N. L. Baroid taking his brother’s position, who had been called into military service.

Gurecky spent 17 of his 27 years at N. L. Baroid in manufacturing management, and his family spirit of entrepreneurship served him well when in the early 1980s, a severe recession in the petroleum industry hit the Houston area. “We had overbuilt,” recalled Gurecky. “All companies in the petroleum industry were laying off people.” At the time, he was the Manufacturing Manager supervising a 200 employee shop. He was instructed to lay off 160 of the employees. “There were only 40 of us left; we called ourselves the ‘Fortunate 40.’”

Regent Gurecky at the 2013 Graduation Ceremony at Texas State Technical College-Marshall.

Regent Gurecky at the 2013 Graduation Ceremony at Texas State Technical College-Marshall.

Even though he was able to retain his job, the layoffs weren’t over. Gurecky was asked to reduce his 40 member team to 12; his new position as Material Distribution Manager  was being moved to North Houston and his role would change. “I told Doris, ‘I’m a nuts and bolts guy; I like manufacturing.’ So, Doris and I decided to start our own business.”

This decision was based on an industry trend that Gurecky had foreseen. “There was a huge philosophical change in manufacturing, a philosophy on which we founded Gurecky Manufacturing. The big companies were beginning to utilize job shops instead of hiring employees as a cost-saving measure They were letting the mom and pop shops build what they needed.”

Though as Gurecky said, “We had nothing to offer but a part-time job,” he hired several of his colleagues and started Gurecky Manufacturing in Rosenberg. “It was tough, but it turned out to be a Godsend,” said Gurecky.  “Did I see it all coming? No, but I knew there was going to be a huge corporate change of philosophy regarding contractors.  Even today, I manufacture parts that I built over 50 years ago.”

Gurecky’s ability to foresee and plan for the future served him well as he entered his life of community service.  In 1995 with Gurecky Manufacturing running well, he ran for Rosenberg City Council, District 4 and was elected twice to serve two-year terms. “I was a political activist before I became a councilman,” said Gurecky.  Back in the early 1990s, Gurecky, along with five colleagues, formed a taxpayer coalition.  “We weren’t watchdogs.  We were just interested in our local government and questioned why some things were happening.”  The five-person coalition grew to over 100 members who attended council, school board and commissioner’s court meetings.

“I always felt that I needed to give back,” shared Gurecky regarding the catalyst for public service.  “I wanted to make a contribution to our community and fulfill my personal desire to give back.”

In 1999, Gurecky ran for Mayor of Rosenberg and was elected as the City’s 28th mayor. After 12 years of mayoral service, he is the longest continuously tenured mayor of the City of Rosenberg, and though his role was at times controversial, overseeing and contributing to the growth of Rosenberg is one of the former mayor’s proudest achievements. “Watching the city change and being a part of the amazing growth of Rosenberg is what I enjoyed most about being mayor.”

One of the City’s greatest achievements during Mayor Gurecky’s tenure was the building of Brazos Town Center. “It was unheard of for the government to partner with the private sector in Rosenberg. Other Fort Bend cities were doing it, but Rosenberg never did. The council and I felt so strongly that Brazos Town Center was a risk worth taking, yet the taxpayers of Rosenberg never had to pay one cent for the development.” Today, the 550 acre Brazos Town Center is the 30th largest entertainment/shopping center in the United States with 112 tenants and boasts $3.5 million in annual sales tax revenue to the City of Rosenberg.

“I’m very proud of the Fort Bend Technical Center that we were able to build as well,” said Gurecky, who served on a ten-member committee to fund the center. “We raised $2.5 million from people and businesses in our community to help build our facility.” The George Foundation funded a challenge grant of $2.5 million, and if the community could meet it, they would donate the grant for a total of $5 million bringing technical education to Rosenberg. “I don’t have a college education,” shared Gurecky. “I strongly support any type of education, and I’m very proud to have been a part of bringing this educational initiative with Wharton County Junior College and the Texas State Technical College to Rosenberg.”

Even though Mayor Gurecky has officially retired after he elected to not run for a seventh term, he remains involved in his community with a focus on education. In 2005, Gurecky was appointed to a six-year term by Governor Rick Perry to the Texas State Technical College Board of Regents and was reappointed for a second six-year term in 2011. He is also a foundation board member for Wharton County Junior College.  Gurecky also served as the Board President of OakBend Medical Center and is currently on the board of the Polly Ryon Foundation, Gulf Coast Medical Foundation, Fort Bend Seniors Meals on Wheels and NewFirst National Bank.  If you attend virtually any community event from L.E.A.F’s Men Who Cook to the Holy Rosary Bazaar to the Fort Bend County Fair, you will see Gurecky Manufacturing as a supporter.

Despite his many professional and community achievements, perhaps Gurecky’s greatest legacy is that of hard work and family. He often shares a Czech phrase reminiscent of both his work ethic and his heritage: “Bez práce – nej sú koláe, which translates to ‘Without work, there are no kolaches.’”

“My parents raised us with a good work ethic, a responsibility to serve and a determination that anything is possible. You can have the American dream if you’re willing to work at it.”

Both of the Gureckys, Joe and Doris, have instilled this virtue of hard work and service in their two children and six grandchildren to continue the Gurecky legacy. For his determination, his foresight for the future and his willingness to serve and share of his time and talents with others, absolutely! Brazos and Fort Bend Focus Magazines are proud to honor Joe M. Gurecky as a GEM of Fort Bend.