Herb Appel, who guided the fledgling Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council from a startup to world-class economic organization, passed away July 10 while on a family cruise. He was 76.
Appel was encouraged by local businessmen in 1986 to take charge of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council to promote the county as an ideal location for home developers, businesses and industries. During the 27 years he served as the president and chief operating officer of the EDC, Fort Bend County grew from a 225,000-population rural and farming community to one of the fastest growing counties in the country with a population exceeding 700,000.
“Herb was a servant leader, he demanded excellence from everyone around him but none more than he expected of himself,” said Jeffrey Wiley, who succeeded Appel as the head of the GFBEDC. “There was something inspirational about him. He made you want to be a better person if not for yourself, to ensure you didn’t let him down. He had a quiet wisdom, perfected by faith, patience and a keen intellect that seemed to know how to balance the scales to bring parties together.
“He was a master of his craft and his craft was making Fort Bend County a world-class community for business and residents alike. He was the North Star for many in the office and all those in his sphere of influence, not just for issues related to work and community but for questions about life, faith, fun and frivolity. He was a man’s man without arrogance or bravado. He embodied everything our organization holds dear, a love for community, quality, growth, opportunity, charity and among all, excellence. He was truly Fort Bend County’s statesman.”
Born Herbert William Appel on July 15, 1942, in Washington, D.C., Appel graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and went to work for a national firm, Sprague Electric. He was transferred to Wichita Falls in 1968 as industrial relations director. After two years, he was hired as executive director of the Wichita Falls Board of Industry, his first taste of economic development.
In 1976, he formed a partnership with Wichita Falls businessmen and was awarded one of the coveted Coors Beer distributorships, with a region covering Fort Bend and Brazoria counties. Appel sold his beer company five years later to the Aspromonte family of Houston. Appel then created Trinity Church Construction Co., building 27 churches in Greater Houston over the next five years.
Appel was active in all Fort Bend communities, serving as president of the Richmond-Rosenberg Chamber of Commerce, director of the Fort Bend Chamber, chairman of the Richmond State School’s Volunteer Services Board, and chairman of Hearts & Hammers, a volunteer organization that assisted people needing repairs and replacements to their homes.
He is survived by his wife, Emelia, and their five children, 16 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 18, at St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land. A private burial will be held at Morton Cemetery in Richmond.