A Magnolia area family received an early and unexpected Christmas present on Thursday they will never forget. When Tri-County Volunteer Firefighter Jerry Robertson, his pregnant wife, Tina, and his toddler son left their home on Labor Day, they were not headed somewhere to celebrate the holiday like many families. They were under mandatory orders to evacuate. The wildfires that devastated East Texas had spread to Remington Forest, the subdivision where the Robertson family lived.
The Robertson’s lost virtually everything on Labor Day, but on Thursday, Gallery Furniture surprised them with a houseful of furniture. The beautiful new items make a nicer place of the mobile home where the Robertson’s now live, a street over from where their house once stood.
Jerry Robertson said he got off work a little early that day, to spend it with his family. Then he was called as a volunteer firefighter to a small fire at a nearby golf course. After it was extinguished, he returned home and was watching television when his mom called and told him to look how smoky things were outside.
He was soon dispatched to the fire that would destroy his home.
Robertson’s mother, Pam Vangerud, was first to realize the gravity of the situation as the fire began to spread.
“I was cleaning house and I looked out the window and I saw weird looking clouds,” Vangerud said. “I told my oldest grandson go tell Uncle Jerry I think there’s fire in the woods so he ran over to Jerry’s and Jerry looked out.”
Around the same time, Robertson was dispatched to the golf course fire. Vangerud, concerned with the increasing amount of smoke, called 911 and says the call taker told her she was just seeing smoke from fires in Grimes County and everything was okay.
“Three hours later, we’re burned down,” Vangerud said.
“It all happened so quick,” Robertson said.
Before he knew it, Robertson was returning home to get his wife and son out of the neighborhood that was already being to burn.
Tina Robertson’s mother, Margaret Stasny, was on the phone with her daughter while they waited for Jerry Robertson to get home.
“She was very upset and scared,” Stasny said.
They stayed on the phone as the family evacuated.
“As they were driving out of the subdivision all I could hear was all of them crying and screaming that their house was burning,” Stasny said.
Tina Robertson remembers the smoke and the fire that consumed the trees in the neighborhood and started to surround them as looking “like Hell.”
They did not have time to take much. Robertson went back into the neighborhood to try and get a second vehicle that was left behind and swathe neighbor’s house on fire and the woods behind his house burning. He knew there was no time to go back inside for anything. It was the last time he would see his home.
He then found himself conflicted, with a family dealing with losing everything but still feeling the call to go and save other people’s property.
“It’s hard,” Robertson said. “I took a day or so off – I was listening to the radios, listening to all the calls going out, listening to my guys out there, what they were going through and it was hard to have to stay with the family and console them with our loss, but then again, my brothers were still out there fighting- so I was torn in between.”
“I got back out there as soon as I could,” he said.
It was that attitude that touched people and made them want to help, which culminated in the events of Thursday.
It was Ms. White, of Sugarland, a stranger to the Robertson family, who would not give up until she had done everything possible to ensure they were on the receiving end of the Gallery Furniture Christmas Giveaway.
For the last five or six years, White has dispensed with traditional gift giving to her closest friends. Instead, she finds a worthwhile cause and makes a contribution and then tells them about it. This year, White’s cause was the Robertson family. It was not a tough decision.
The first weekend in October, White says she read the story of volunteer firefighter Jerry Robertson in a local newspaper.
“His story touched my heart,” White said.
White began trying to track down Robertson. She read where he worked and called there only to learn there were multiple locations and she had the wrong one. She called many more before eventually location Robertson.
White said she was truly impressed when she spoke to Jerry Robertson personally.
“I was so impressed with him as a person because here is this man who is working and trying his best to feed his family and take care of them and he’s working as a volunteer fireman – he’s not getting paid and any time he takes off to be a volunteer fireman, he takes it off from his job,” White said. “He’s an American hero.”
She got his mailing address and sent money, as planned, but White still wanted to do more.
“A friend and I were watching Jim McIngvale’s commercial about the families he gives furniture to each Christmas, and she said why don’t you recommend (The Robertson family),” White said.
She did exactly that, sending Gallery Furniture the newspaper article that touched her heart. But it was not so easy. A Gallery Furniture representative contacted White and said they needed personal recommendations. White explained that she did not know the firefighter personally, but promised to get recommendations from people who did.
White got the first recommendation from Robertson’s boss. Then she began trying to find Robertson’s brother, with her only information being his name and that he was employed by Wal-Mart. The retail giant told her they could not connect her with Robertson’s brother for privacy reasons. Someone suggested she Google him and she hit the jackpot
“Let me tell you, it was all on the internet,” she said, “Except his shirt size and I could’ve guessed that from the picture they had of him!”
White got in touch with family and got more recommendations. It went before committee at Gallery Furniture, and the firefighter and his family were chosen.
Pct. 5 Constable David Hill was on hand Thursday for the presentation from Gallery Furniture, after he led them to the right street. The delivery truck’s GPS had taken them to a street with the same name that was nowhere near the correct location.
Constable Hill said he was glad to see something positive happen in relation to the nightmare the area lived a few short months ago.
“This fire was horrible,” Constable Hill said. “When it caught this subdivision, they probably lost a good 80 percent of the homes.”
Constable Hill read Robertson’s story in a magazine at his office, and he too found it touching.
“There he is out trying to save other people’s homes and winds up losing his own,” Hill said. “It has to be tough to come home and find everything gone.”
“It’s great to see a community come together like this, and the Houston community too,” he said. “Mattress Mac has been a great part of the Houston area for years.”
Tina Robertson said she has seen things like this (Gallery) on t.v. and “feels very blessed to have people like this help (her family) out.”
Ms. White sounded as thrilled as the Robertson’s on Thursday and is a real example of the spirit of giving.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “This is my best Christmas present – it doesn’t get better than this.”
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