Best of 2015: Couple turns debris from tragedy into treasures

By Paige Lambert

Three months after the worst flood in history, Wimberley residents are reclaiming what the waters tried to take away. Now that homes and lives are being restored, others are reclaiming the massive cypress trees that were torn from their roots.

John Hollaway, of Seguin, said the devastation shocked him when he passed over Ranch Road 12 Bridge. Still in shock, a woody pile of debris caught his eye.

“There was a large cypress by the bridge, and I was just thinking of turning it into a mantel piece,” he said. 

Following the idea, he made a small coffee table out of the downed cypress trees at his sister’s land.

The two posted a picture of the piece on the Wimberley flood Facebook page, and in only a few hours it received more than 200 likes and a long thread of comments.

“We started getting messages about customized pieces right after that,” Janice Hollaway said. “I turned to John and said ‘I think we made a business.’”

The siblings plan to make a workshop in Janice’s barn but, until then, John continues to haul wood to his home in Seguin.

Beyond creating a business, John said it gave him a new career path and a way to help Wimberley. 

In just a month and a half he received requests for mantles, small tables and a few crosses. A bank in town even requested a full conference table made from the cypress trees, Janice said.

“People just want something to touch,” Janice said. “Something beautiful out of the destruction.”

In exchange for using property owners’ wood, John said he helps clear other debris or gives them one of his creations.

Janelle Flocke, who lives in the Paradise Valley neighborhood, said the property owners association required her to clean up the debris but she didn’t want to just burn it.

“A lot of people were burning the wood before, but they didn’t know about John,” she said. “This really is a wonderful effort to reclaim what is precious to them.”

Not even weeks after the flood, people were split on what to do with the natural debris. Some began burning and throwing it away, while others said to leave it alone and let nature take its course. 

Coming from generations of arborists, John said he only asks for trees that are completely disconnected from the ground and don’t have much of a chance to live.

“I couldn’t bring myself to cut down a live tree,” he said. “There are already so many big trees that came down and it breaks my heart.”

John also tries to tinker with smaller pieces like trinkets and jewelry boxes, Janice said. The idea is catching on, as more residents are looking for people to reclaim the iconic trees.

Flocke said she looks forward to having many Wimberley cypress pieces in her home that will hold the memories for decades.

“When we are old fogies and we tell our grandchildren about the flood, we will have something to remember it by,” she said. “And how our community overcame it.”

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