By Julie Anderson
Rose Marie Knobles, second from right, poses with her daughters (from left) Denise Stringo, Mary Ann Valentine, and Dianne Scales in front of their childhood home on State Highway 238 before it was demolished in September 2017. Hurricane Harvey damaged the residence beyond repair. Knobles ran her tax service from the home since 1967. Photo by Melony Overton, Port Lavaca Wave
When reporting on natural disasters we often take the numerical approach, and Hurricane Harvey was no different. In January the National Hurricane Center released a 76-page report on the Category 4 storm that slammed the Texas Coastal Bend on Aug. 25, 2017. The statistics are as staggering now as they were one year ago:
- 68 direct deaths from Harvey in Texas alone.
- $125 million in damages by the storm.
- 300,000 structures flooded in the region.
- 500,000 cars flooded in the region.
- 58 inches of rainfall in Nederland.
- 2 new colors added to the National Weather Service rainfall chart because of the epic rainfall.
- 336,000 customers who lost power during the hurricane.
- 30,000 water rescues during and after the storm.
- 57 tornadoes reported during Harvey, most in the Houston region.
- 40,000 evacuees sent for shelter or refuge between Texas and Louisiana.
The heart-wrenching photos coupled with the overwhelming statistics resulted in an outpouring of donations including time and money as Texans reached across county lines to help their friends and family. Time and again, County Judges and County Commissioners from the heavily affected areas have commented on the volunteers and charitable organizations who sustained them, so much so that in some cases, donations were sent on to neighboring counties.
Many offered immediate help, writing a check or two, dropping off cases of water at collection stations, sending gently used clothes to help friends and strangers, and even organizing work crews to travel to the devastated areas.
Now that 12 months have come and gone, perhaps it’s time to ask the question again. What do our Harvey-affected friends still need?
- Were they able to recoup and rebuild enough to outfit their children for this new school year?
- As they look toward the holidays, do they now have enough to prepare a full Thanksgiving feast or fill the space below a Christmas tree?
- Are there households still struggling with food, clothing and shelter?
- Are there spirits that still need lifting?
Rose Marie Knobles
For this particular story, we were looking for the faces behind the numbers. So we went to one of you, a County Commissioner who worked alongside members of your community as Harvey came, and continues to work as your county recovers. We sought out one family, one story, to give the rest of us a glimpse into what Harvey means today.
When we reached out to Calhoun County Commissioner Vern Lyssy, he didn’t hesitate, not even for a second: 85-year-old Rose Marie Knobles:
- an energetic, determined, still-practicing tax preparer and notary public who lost her home and, consequently, her home-based office;
- a widowed mother who watched, along with two of her daughters, as her house was demolished in front of them;
- a spunky, no-nonsense lady who listened to an inspector tell her that her home, mold and all, was livable, only to reply as respectfully as possible, “Well, you live in it!”
- a strong, glass-half-full-minded mother of nine children, grandmother of 13, great-grandmother of seven, who still thanks God it wasn’t worse and continues to marvel at all of the volunteer help her family received 12 months ago as the floodwaters receded.
When she shared her Harvey story, one of the first things Rose Marie mentioned was what happened the weekend before the storm.
“I usually don’t like surprises,” she began, “but I was thankful for this one.”
Rose Marie’s children threw a big surprise party for her 85th birthday at the Bauer Center in Port Lavaca, welcoming approximately 200 guests including extended family, friends, and clients to help celebrate.
“In just a few short days, the party was like a blur,” shared Dianne Scales, number seven of Rose Marie’s nine children, who, along with her younger sister, Debbie Knobles, now lives with her mother.
Less than a month later, Dianne sat in her car weeping as her childhood home was bull-dozed. Her mom and two of her sisters were standing in the front yard as their house came down, but Dianne could not bring herself to watch.
“Most of my family memories of my dad were in that house, which is what saddens me the most,” Dianne explained. “We always had something going on. All of our friends ended up at our house. We had many sleepovers and birthday parties, and the holidays were always fun. Even as adults, all nine of us, our spouses, and kids filled the living room for Christmas, birthdays, etc.”
Rose Marie listed many of those same special occasions as her favorite memories, along with 4-H activities and hosting exchange students as well as seminarians.
While caring for her nine children, Rose Marie ran her own business, Rose Marie Knobles Tax Office Service, from home. Her husband, Halon “Bub” Knobles Jr., built a garage/office using materials from the Palacios Catholic Parish Hall after it was demolished to be rebuilt.
The Knobles moved into 2856 State Hwy 238 in Port Lavaca in 1967, and Halon passed away in 1983. Rose Marie, Dianne, and Debbie would spend their last night in their family home on Aug. 24, 2017.
At first Rose Marie wanted to ride out the storm, but she eventually changed her mind. Dianne and Debbie gathered up belongings including computers from Rose Marie’s office, family portraits, clothing, and personal items. They loaded two cars and pulled away about 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 25, to stay with Rose Marie’s youngest son, Mark, and his wife, Cindy, in Yorktown about 74 miles away.
The following Monday, Rose Marie called the sheriff’s office, and even though they strongly advised against it, she told them she was coming home.
“No road blocks, high waters, or downed power lines would keep her away!” Dianne shared.
“The damage was so much worse than we thought,” Dianne recalled. “Mom went in the house first. I was not far behind. All I heard was, ‘Oh my God!’ and I knew it was bad. We could see daylight through the gaping holes in the roof. It had rained for three days straight, hard and heavy, so everything was drenched. The ceiling had collapsed, and insulation was everywhere. It was quite overwhelming.”
Before they returned from Yorktown, Rose Marie called FEMA and started a claim with her insurance company. After her house was demolished and her homeowner’s insurance claim was finalized, FEMA denied her claim; they also denied her request for two night’s rent right after the hurricane and said no trailers would be available until April. Rather, trailers would be available in the Gonzales/Cuero area, but that was 54 miles away. In late October, Rose Marie did receive $500 from FEMA, “which came in handy for living expenses, and I am thankful for that.”
Rose Marie, Dianne, and Debbie stayed with “generous friends” until November, when her son, Gary, and daughter-in-law, Nancy, purchased and moved a new mobile home onto the back lot of the original homesite.
“That is all Mom wanted – to be home,” Dianne remembered.
“It’s a good roof over our heads, small but comfy,” Rose Marie offered. “As for the business, that’s really been tough, but we managed to work it out. I’m 85 years old, and I guess some day I will retire, but not now.”
Steve Williams with Axis Demolition & Excavating of Victoria begins demolition on the home of Rose Marie Knobles, which was damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Melony Overton, Port Lavaca Wave
Denise Stringo, Rose Marie’s youngest daughter who works in the tax office, moved a Morgan building on the part of the original slab that was not torn down. Denise remodeled the space into an office, and Rose Marie purchased equipment and furniture, all funded by a small business loan, which Rose Marie will have to repay with interest.
“The office is small, but it serves the purpose,” Rose Marie described. “There’s no room for a restroom, but it beats renting downtown. Our clients have been awesome and very patient.”
Other ongoing Harvey-related expenses include storage units Rose Marie has had to rent for items she was able to salvage but cannot fit into the mobile home.
Rose Marie did receive some money from her insurance company, though it may not be enough to completely rebuild her home. She is still considering her options. While some have suggested fundraising, Rose Marie said she will definitely not take that route.
“There are those who lost more than I did,” she observed. “I am blessed.”
When pressed to share her current needs, Rose Marie deflected the question and shared stories of friends who are still trying to find their footing.
Commissioner Vern Lyssy, who attends church with the Knobles family, said despite all of the hardship, Rose Marie, Dianne, Debbie, and Denise have an inspiring spirit and a determined attitude.
Rose Marie credits her faith; the generosity of relatives, neighbors, friends, Knights of Columbus, and church members; and the support of local leaders with helping her move forward.
“Our Commissioners, our County Judge, our EMS, and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office all did a fantastic job, along with dispatchers, the mayor, and the Port Lavaca City Council,” Rose Marie shared. “The Knobles Family thanks all of them.” HH
Editor’s Note: Since we interviewed Rose Marie, she has celebrated her 86th birthday. We wish Rose Marie and her family the very best as they continue to rebuild.