By George Slaughter
Katy city officials Thursday renamed and reopened the city-owned Katy Heritage Museum to honor the late former Mayor and City Administrator Johnny Nelson.
The Johnny Nelson Katy Heritage Museum, 6002 George Bush Drive, was renamed for the former mayor and city administrator, who died in January at age 79.
The museum, like many Katy homes and businesses, sustained considerable flooding damage from last year’s hurricane. Rehabilitating the building and its exhibits was made more challenging because the experts needed were often focused on other Katy projects.
During his tenures as mayor (1983-87) and city administrator (1994-2014), Nelson played a key leadership role in Katy’s transformation from a rural town with dirt roads to a blossoming urban area with subdivisions and shopping centers.
Present-day city leaders have cited Nelson’s role in the development of Katy Mills Mall as being a key turning point for the city’s growth.
Others have cited his institutional knowledge from his mayoral and city administrator service as helpful as they began their own public service roles.
Nelson was remembered Thursday for his passion for Katy’s history and his leadership in building the museum, which was opened in 2002. Some attendees said that Nelson would never tell someone “goodbye” when ending a conversation, but “Have a Rice Day.” A sign with that saying was created and place at the museum entrance.
Mayor Chuck Brawner served as master of ceremonies, and former mayors Doyle Callender and Hank Schmidt gave brief remarks.
Callender, who served as mayor from 2001-2007, said Nelson “had a flaming desire” to make the museum happen.
Schmidt, who served as mayor from 1995-2001, said the museum was a wonderful tribute to Nelson’s legacy.
Nelson’s widow, Paulette, also gave brief remarks thanking some of the key people involved in the museum rehabilitation.
City Council Member-at-Large Chris Harris lives near Nelson’s son, Gary. Harris told a story about how his children would be playing outside when Johnny Nelson would drop by Gary Nelson’s house every day. Harris said the kids looked forward to seeing “Mr. Johnny” driving down the street in his pickup with his dog.
“It was our own personal Johnny Nelson parade,” Harris said, adding that the kids would wave at Nelson, and he would return the wave.
Harris said Nelson probably didn’t know the impact such moments would have on the kids, and the kids, in turn, didn’t realize he was a former mayor.
“He was a wonderful man and definitely the heart of Katy,” Harris said.
The museum has exhibits about the history of Katy, which was incorporated in 1945. It also has a new exhibit focusing on the Katy Volunteer Fire Department, which was established in 1947 and in 2016 superseded by a full-time city fire department.
The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Thursday-Sunday. Admission is free.