A History of the Richmond State Supported Living Center

(Formerly Richmond State School)

One of the most remarkable aspects during the history of the Richmond State Supported Living Center (RSSLC) has been the outpouring of support from citizens in the surrounding counties. This support has not only come from family members and friends of the people who have resided at RSSLC, but also from caring individuals and corporations who wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of the residents. Without this support, the boys and girls, men and women, who have lived, or continue to live at RSSLC, would not have had the myriad of opportunities that the facility, its staff and volunteers have provided over the past forty years. This legacy of dedication, generosity and compassion was born from the hopes and dreams of Lila Thompson, a mother of a child with mental retardation, and her dear friend, Rhydonia Jones.

As early as 1960, plans were being formulated by Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Jones to establish some sort of small facility for children and adults with mental retardation in the Richmond area. They discovered that a bill was pending in the legislature to establish state institutions in the Gulf Coast area. The placement of the institution depended on the readiness of the community to provide land and support for such a facility. It was reasoned by the Board of State Hospitals and Special Schools (which became the Board of the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and is now the Board of the Department of Aging and Disability Services) that in order to get the kind of involvement from the community they wanted, the citizens should be interested enough from the very beginning to secure the land and work toward fulfilling all the necessary requirements of a state institution.

On September 21, 1960, Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Jones met with Wharton Weems, a trustee for the George Foundation, to investigate the possibility of a donation of land or money for the location of a facility for the mentally retarded in Fort Bend County. They were joined by Kathleen Joerger Lindsey, a local attorney who was there on another errand, but quickly joined forces with Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Jones. Later, Mrs. Lindsey contacted Senator Schwartz and Senator Krueger, who had co-authored the bill regarding the establishment of a facility, and was encouraged to continue to work toward obtaining 200 acres of land.

In March 1961, a letter was written to the Board of Directors of the Rosenberg Chamber of Commerce explaining the project and asking for their help. The chamber president, Raymond Rude, responded immediately and named Andrew Briscoe, Jr. as chairman of the committee. At almost the same time, Cliff Terrell came to Rosenberg as Chamber of Commerce manager and added his enthusiasm and ability to the project.

On April 14, 1961, the George Foundation announced through Mrs. Lindsey that they would give $100,000 for the purchase of land located by the committee as a site for the new state school. The desired acreage was owned by Vaclav Pultar and his wife Anna Pultar, and was located in a bend of the Brazos River north of Richmond. Mr. Pultar had announced his intention to donate all the money from the sale of the land to his church. The Option Agreement was signed by the Pultars, Raymond Rude, Andrew Briscoe and Kathleen Lindsey as trustees. In May, the committee met with county commissioners and the city governments of Richmond and Rosenberg to make plans for any additional roads, water sewage or other requirements that might become necessary if the area was approved the State Site Selection Committee.

Also in May of 1961, a meeting was held to organize a local association for retarded children. The response of the community was overwhelming. Committees were organized and Lila Thompson was elected the first president of the Fort Bend County Council (now Fort Bend Association of Retarded Citizens), which was to become the third largest in the state in a few short years (Mrs. Thompson later served as State President for the Texas Association for Retarded Children 1969 – 70.).

The newly formed association established a day care center, and, working with the Chamber of Commerce committee, tried to anticipate every possible requirement in regard to the Site Selection Committee. The competition was high among a number of other coastal area communities for the new school. Their proximity to the Houston medical facilities was, of course, a strong point in Richmond’s favor, and letters of recommendation from Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor School of Medicine were solicited by the committee endorsing the location of the school in Richmond. Other members personally contacted the individual members of the Site Selection Committee and in June of 1962, the long-awaited visit to the Pultar acreage took place.

In August, the committee was notified that an additional 41 acres of land would be necessary. Again, the needed funds were made available by the George Foundation to purchase from John Pultar an additional 41 acres, adjoining the original 200 acres. For some time, the Chamber of Commerce had meetings in all the towns in the surrounding area and had received good support from the community, service and civic organizations in the way of material support for the new state school. The local newspaper had been generous in publicity and the County was 100% behind the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Bend Council for Retarded Children.

On November 12, 1962, a citizen’s committee was invited to give a full report before the entire Board of Texas State Hospitals and Special Schools. The Richmond site was accepted on January 18, 1963, and in an open hearing in the Fort Bend County Courthouse, the deeds were delivered to Raymond Vowell, representing the Texas Board of State Hospitals and Special Schools.

The building contract was let in September, 1965, and the groundbreaking ceremony was held October 31, 1965. H.A. Lott, Inc. of Houston was awarded the building contract for Phase I of construction to be completed in January, 1967. Funds for Phase I consisted of $3,250,000 in state funds, $1,275,000 in federal funds, and $215,000 from the Moody Foundation.

Dr. Floyd McDowell was hired as the first superintendent for Richmond State School in July of 1966. He came to Texas from Washington, D.C. where he had served as Acting Chief of the Mental Retardation Section of the National Institute of Mental Health. The original staff of RSS started work on or about September 1, 1967. Due to construction delays, the staff officed in the old Fort Bend Federal Savings and Loan Building in Rosenberg and the Fort Bend County Courthouse Annex in Richmond until March 25, 1968.

The first residents were admitted on April 15, 1968. The Volunteer Services Council for the Richmond State School was organized and the first orientation for volunteers was begun in May. Thus was the beginning of the Richmond State School now known as the Richmond State Supported Living Center (RSSLC).

Today, the men and women who reside at RSSLC have family picnics, dances on Friday nights and participate in a variety of worship services. During the week, they go to work or participate in an array of recreational opportunities both on and off campus. They come from different backgrounds and places, but they all have something in common. Each of these adults has intellectual disabilities and they live together in a place that caters specifically to their needs.

The staff at the Richmond State Supported Living Center believes that each person they serve can learn and grow and develop, no matter how severe their disabilities are or the challenges that they face. This belief inspires staff to make every attempt to provide whatever kind of services or support are needed to ensure that the individuals residing at the Richmond State Supported Living Center attain success in their level of independence and in their ability to make choices. RSSLC, a division of DADS <(Department of Aging and Disability Services<) is under the direction of Al Barrera. Contact us to learn more about the services offered at RSSLC or to schedule a tour.