Engelke made a difference in county
By Kyle Mooty
With as much joy as Dennis Engelke has helped bring to so many nonprofit organizations in Caldwell County since becoming its Grants Administrator five years ago, there is some sadness this week as he heads off into retirement.
Fortunately, Engelke has established a system where the office will thrive for years to come thanks to his foresight.
Engelke retired on Nov. 1 with Amber Quinley, who comes from Bastrop County where she was the Assistant Auditor/Grant Coordinator, stepping into his position.
Just since 2022, more than $350,000 has been awarded to non-profit groups in Caldwell County by the Community Services Foundation Board. The board, comprised of seven members appointed by Caldwell County Commissioners, meets on a monthly basis and looks over grant applications that come into Engelke’s office.
“We get a lot of requests for animal care, food banks,” Engelke said. “Related to that are a number of requests from places like churches that provide meals in their community, but maybe they need to rehab their kitchen area. We’ve done everything from helping clean the San Marcos River, environmental grants requests, some arts and culture, support for youth organizations.”
Engelke began working for the county on Oct. 1, 2018. It was a new position at the time, one that Engelke has grown extensively. He stepped into a position where the county had not previously employed a grants department.
Engelke said he has retired now on three separate occasions. Prior to returning to Caldwell County, he had about 36 1/2 years working with rural electric cooperatives. He spent 25-plus years with Texas Electric Cooperative and its statewide office in Austin.
Upon retiring from TEC, Engelke went to work near Denton for a local electric cooperative. He worked there 10 1/2 years, then retired.
“My wife and I actually own a home in Beaumont,” Engelke said. “I grew up on a farm just outside of Luling. My three brothers and I are Luling High School graduates. I’ve got three grandkids that go to Luling Schools now.
“When I retired from Austin we moved to Beaumont, which is where my wife grew up. Her parents lived down there. That was in 2000. We hadn’t been there very long, and my mother-in-law passed away. My wife said she needed to take care of her father. Her father lived to be 92 before passing away in 2021.”
Engelke’s parents had also passed, and he inherited land and cattle.
“I decided I couldn’t take care of my land and cattle living in Beaumont,” Engelke said. “I saw in the newspaper that Caldwell County was looking for a grant writer. I came and interviewed and they hired me on the spot. I had been in the grant arena for about 40 years.”
One of the things Engelke had done while working for the electric coops was teaching a two-day grant writing workshop. When he came to the Caldwell County, teaching grant writing workshops were added to his list of responsibilities. So far, there have been 13 two-day grant writing workshops in Caldwell County.
“I was sitting in the judge’s office, and someone was looking for some money for some animal shelter-type work,” recalled Engelke. “Of course, the answer you get when someone is looking for money for a projects is, ‘Well, we don’t have the money.’ I opened my mouth and said, ‘Why don’t we create our own Caldwell County Community Services Foundation?’ Well, we did.”
The non-profit organization’s purpose is to work with the non-profit organizations in Caldwell County, where there were 271 such organizations registered at the time. There are now more than 300.
“Most non-profits are staffed by one or two people,” Engelke said. “They don’t have the time to go to Austin, Dallas, and Houston and look for grants. I said, ‘Let us go out and find the money.’”
The Caldwell County’s community services foundation is actually not a part of the county government, although Engelke said there is an “arms-length” relationship with each other. Each of the commissioners get to name someone to be on the board from their four respective precincts, the county judge gets to name an at-large position, and the other two spots are filled by the grants administrator and the assistant grants administrator.
When Engelke arrived, Caldwell County had a grants portfolio of about $2 million, most of which were FEMA related.
In fact, Engelke noted Caldwell County has been a part of nine national disasters in the past 12 years from everything to wildfires, ice storms, and floods.
Hurricane Harvey was one of the first matters Engelke addressed when he came to work here. It hit Texas in August 2017, but the FEMA paperwork was hitting his desk more than a year later.
“The most money we had gotten from FEMA for road repairs and such was about $400,000,” Engelke said. “I had been here for 22 days. There was a FEMA portal on my computer I went to every day. It said that if we would adopt this, we would get $1.18 million for 91 roads and bridges damaged from Hurricane Harvey. Of course, the county adopted it.”
The county’s grant portfolio is now about $43 million.
“In my opinion, every grant dollar you get is one less tax dollar you’re gonna use,” Engelke said. “We’ve had several multi-million grants we either have obtained or are in the process of obtaining.
“Right now, the largest grant that we’re working on is a $17.6 million grant to build an evacuation shelter outside of Luling. Also, we recently received a little over a $22 million grant from the highway department on behalf of SH 130 Concessions, which manages Highway 130. We submitted a grant to build what we call an advanced travel plaza.
The truck plaza will be built where Highway 130 and Highway 80 meet, about halfway between Martindale and Fentress.
“Some of the uniqueness will be trying to deal with truck traffic,” Engelke said. “The most congested interstate system in Texas is semi-trucks between Austin and San Antonio. This plan will allow a conversion of truck traffic off Interstate 35 to come down 130.
“What we discovered is when a trucker is ready to end their days’ work and they go to a traditional park, they spend an average of 38 minutes driving around trying to find a parking space, and if they can find one they park on the side of the road somewhere, which they’re not supposed to do.”
The gated truck Plaza will allow truckers to reserve a space in advance on their computers. After they arrive and are confirmed, they will go to their assigned spot, and the gate will close behind them. The safety feature will be especially nice for female truckers who make up about 8 percent of truck drivers nationwide.
The plaza will be a full truck stop where truckers can refuel, enjoy a full restaurant, wash clothes, and sleep.
The three-year project will also have increased broadband ability.
The largest grant the county Community Services Foundation has awarded was a $22,000 grant to the Caldwell County Food Bank. Most of its grants are in the $10,000-$15,000 range.
Engelke will be returning to Beaumont to be with his wife. They plan to eventually move to Tomball and spend more time with their grandchildren.
“I’m not looking for a full-time job, but I have signed a contract to do consulting work with the Caldwell County Community Services Foundation,” Engelke said. “I’ve been blessed to have had this opportunity. We are making a difference.”