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Posted on May 5, 2017 at 9:39 AM by Katie Stamy
Tom Wilks is known in Webster for his involvement in the City, his fascinating career at NASA, and his impressive knowledge of everything snakes. His reverence for snakes has given him opportunities with police departments, animal control officers, and it was a key element in how he met his wife, Merry.
It all started for Tom after he graduated high school in San Antonio. He began working for the San Antonio Zoo in the reptile department and created a Snake Sense class that he taught to students visiting the zoo.
The class lived on with Tom long after he left the zoo, and it is now a certified class under the State Health Department. He has taught the class to Webster area Animal Control Officers, and police departments have requested him to snake proof K-9s. Clear View High School students and girl and boy scout troops have had the chance to hang out with the snakes as well.
During a trip to teach the Dickinson Garden Club Snake Sense, he met Merry and the rest is history.
Merry lived in New Mexico as a child, where her father was a geologist who would bring snakes in from the desert that would become the family pets. The couple’s mutual interest in snakes, photography, writing, and the outdoors brought them together in 2010.
Merry moved to Houston when she was in third grade and lived there until she moved to Webster. She is a Research Technician in the Molecular Virology and Microbiology Department at Baylor College of Medicine. The department’s role is to investigate emerging infectious diseases like Zika and Norwalk to develop treatment strategies and vaccines and possible antibiotic resistance. She has worked there for 17 years, and when she isn’t at work, she enjoys crafting and making art of any kind.
Although Merry moved to Webster only seven years ago, the City has been home to Tom since 1969. In 1964, he moved to Houston with his first wife Peggy and son Glenn, to begin his career at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in the Crew and Thermal Systems Division.
“We tested and evaluated Apollo astronaut life support systems,” he explained.
“The crews would wear the space suits and PLSS backpacks in vacuum chambers and the centrifuge. The astronauts trained in the same vacuum chambers and centrifuge prior to their missions.”
Five years into his space career, the family decided to move closer to JSC and Webster was their first choice.
His son, Glenn, graduated from Clear Creek in 1980 and attended the University of Texas and then later worked as a software development engineer in Austin. He sadly passed away in 2001 of a brain aneurysm.
Peggy became the Finance Director for the City of Webster in 1975 and retired in 1998. She passed away in 2006 after a long bout with breast cancer. Peggy and Tom were married for 45 years.
Tom began making an impact in the City by 1970 and has since been involved in several different boards and commissions while continuing his career at JSC.
He has served on the Recycling Study Committee, Police Training Advisory Board, Webster Centennial Celebration Committee, and the Webster Historical Committee. He has held a position on the Animal Control Board since its inception in 1993 and was the first president of the Webster Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association. Merry joined Tom on the Animal Control Board in 2015.
Tom also designed the first logo for the City of Webster that was adopted by Mayor and Council in 1980.
For the past thirty years, Tom has answered calls from Webster Animal Contol regarding injured or orphaned birds and animals and calls about snakes. He has responded to over 400 calls in Webster and other Bay Area communities.
In 2005, Tom retired as the Space Environment Activities Training Coordinator, so now in his spare time, he enjoys spending time with Merry hiking at Challenger Park, photographing nature, or attending car shows around Houston.
The City has certainly changed since Tom first moved here, but he says that he and Merry enjoy the wonderful benefits that the City offers.
“I could move and retire somewhere else,” said Tom. “But we love Webster.”