Gisela Houseman continues legacy of philanthropy with gift to Lamar University

Published 2:25 pm Friday, September 11, 2015

Gisela Houseman, owner and CEO of The Houseman Companies in Orange, has added $50,000 to further strengthen the Tony Houseman Memorial Scholarship in Speech and Hearing at Lamar University. She also donated equal amounts to existing scholarships at Lamar Institute of Technology and Lamar State College-Orange.

“Nationally, the role of women in philanthropy continues to grow as women make strides in business, government and in nonprofit organizations,” said Juan Zabala, vice president for advancement at Lamar University.

“These successful professionals are seeking to improve the lives of others and to benefit their communities,” Zabala said. “As a business leader and consummate professional with a very big heart for people, Gisela Houseman is part of this growing movement in making a lasting difference through generosity.”

“Gisela is an amazing role model and inspiration to women and business leaders throughout Southeast Texas and beyond,” said Kristie Young, associate director of development at Lamar University. “She has worked hard throughout her career, and she has always been very philanthropic and involved in the community. Through Gisela’s generous support of higher education, she has helped numerous students pursue and achieve their educational goals.

“We are grateful for Gisela’s benevolent spirit and the example she set for what women can achieve when they put their mind to something while opening their hearts,” Young said.

A native of Hamburg, Germany, Houseman immigrated to America with her family when she was 6 years old, settling in Oklahoma where her father worked in the dairy business. She became a U.S. citizen in 1956.

For 25 years, she used her background in accounting and finance as an insurance professional. In 1987, she and Tony, her husband of 23 years, moved to Southeast Texas and continued the Houseman tradition of home building that had begun in the 1960s. Their work in property development and as master builders can be found across seven Southeast Texas counties, from Galveston Bay to Sabine Lake and points inland, and in five Louisiana parishes.

“When Tony and I married in Dallas a lot of people said it was a great merger,” she said. “Tony had the vision and knowledge of the land and my background in finance and management made it a really good fit as we developed the business, increased our employees and took on home building. We were together 24-7, but it worked well for us.”

In 2007, she lost her business- and life-partner. “When Tony passed away, a lot of people thought I’d be going back to Dallas but I never even thought about doing that,” she said. “We had employees I wanted to take care of and we had a business that I needed to lead.”

Making the transition to being the sole leader of the business wasn’t easy, but she’d never been one to avoid a challenge.  Well travelled, she has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, joined in the polar plunge in Antarctica, and participated in the pre-race activities of the Iditarod in Alaska. Running the company on her own was a new mountain to climb, but under her leadership it has flourished.

“I no longer had Tony to bounce things off of and that was probably the hardest thing,” she said. There were significant challenges as she took on roles that Tony had filled, or that she’d shared with her late husband.  “That was a big change for me, but I just continued on and tried to continue his vision for some of the properties.”

“In the last eight years, we’ve had some good things happen,” she said. “I’m content with my ability to continue on.”  Houseman plans to retire from residential home building and is starting new ventures. “I have an excellent staff,” She said. “We will continue to do something good for the county and the whole area.”

At the time of Tony’s passing, she decided scholarships would be a good tribute. It was her youngest daughter’s career as a speech therapist that inspired her to create the scholarship at Lamar University. “I wanted to create the scholarship at Lamar State College-Orange to continue his legacy and because we always want to support Orange County,” she said. Gisela was asked to complete Tony’s term with the LIT Foundation board. While serving, she chose to establish a scholarship to support LIT’s role in providing technical training for young people in the region.

“It is my hope to continue to increase the value of these scholarships,” she said.

“Tony and I met doing charity work,” she said. “He was a big man with a big heart.”  Through her role on numerous charity boards and foundations, it is clear that her heart for others is equally large. Her service includes the Salvation Army, CASA, Better Business Bureau, Lamar State College-Orange Foundation and the Lamar Institute of Technology Foundation.

Her leadership has been recognized throughout her lifetime including being honored as South East Texan of the Year, the Athena Award of Orange County, the J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award, the CASA Lone Star Proud for Kids Award and the Bill Leger Family Advocate of the Year Award.

In 1991, Houseman was inducted into the Women’s Conference of Southeast Texas Hall of Fame. She also received the Frances Monk Award for Leadership.