An email originally thought to be spam, a meeting of strangers, a donation of more than $200,000 and a launch into greatness. It was the continuation of a legacy.
Carla and Richard Stinson had a love for space as infinite as the universe, only surpassed by their love for God and their family. Every star, every rocket, every orbit fascinated the pair as they dedicated their lives to exploring the unknown. However, what remained unknown to them is the legacy they would leave when they joined the stars they so dearly loved.
Carla and Richard were inseparable. They began dating when they were freshmen in high school, growing up in Euless, Texas. They attended the University of Texas - Austin together, got married and moved to the Houston area to start their respective careers in the space industry. During that time, they welcomed their daughter Jordan into the world.
“Our family has always been very tight-knit,” Jordan said. “Family is everything to me.”
Wanting the best for their daughter, the Stinsons moved their family to Friendswood when Jordan was four years old so that she could get her education in Friendswood schools.
“School, academics, grades - that was number one to my parents,” Jordan said. “It was the focus, constantly, so it was a good fit.”
Jordan graduated from Friendswood High School in 2004 and went on to pursue a degree in business marketing from Texas A&M University. Following her graduation, Jordan was living in Austin when she received heart-wrenching news: her dad was sick, really sick. He needed a liver transplant.
“The bad thing about a transplant list is that you have to get sick enough to get to the top of the transplant list but once you get sick enough, they hook you up to things and you get better so you move back down the list,” Jordan said. “It’s an awful rollercoaster.”
For 19 days, Jordan and Carla would travel to the Medical Center to sit with Richard.
“The day his liver actually started to fail, I tried to explain to him why we were moving to [the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)] instead of staying in a normal room,” Jordan said. “I stayed positive to try to shield him and so I told him, ‘The liver is really close, it’s right there, we’re right there. Hang on. We are so close, Dad.’”
Richard’s eyes lit up. “We’re on the launch pad.”
Little did they know, that moment would hold more weight than they ever thought. On January 11, 2016, Richard Stinson took his final breath.
Through the grief and difficulty, Jordan was offered the opportunity to relocate to Houston to be closer to her mom. It was now just the two of them and they were adjusting to a new normal. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike their family again.
“A year and a half after [my dad died], my mom got sick,” Jordan said. “It was breast cancer. She’d had it way back in 2008, she beat it, she was good for nine years and then out of nowhere, it came back and it was stage 4. It was bad.”
Because she was her mother’s only family in the area, Jordan became Carla’s primary caretaker. They spent a lot of time driving to get chemotherapy treatments and follow up appointments with doctors. Carla fought hard for a while, but it eventually became clear that she did not have much time left. That is when Carla reached out to the Friendswood ISD Education Foundation (FEF).
“On my very first day working for FEF – June 18, 2019 – I received an email from Carla Stinson with some questions regarding planned giving,” FEF Executive Director Ashley Adair said. “At first glance, I honestly thought it was spam. The topic of planned giving was new to me and the Foundation so we scheduled a meeting with her to learn more about her story and vision for the gift.”
During the meeting at which FISD Superintendent Thad Roher was present, Adair said she immediately felt touched by Carla’s story.
“Her unwavering commitment to her faith and family in the midst of unimaginable health challenges was truly inspiring,” Adair said. “We were all holding back tears the entire time. Carla shared her story with us and as we began brainstorming how she wanted to designate her legacy gift funds, Mr. Roher threw out the idea of a rocketry program. Carla immediately perked up and said, ‘That’s it!’”
Jordan found out about her mother’s donation through a subtle conversation one night. Carla said she planned to donate more than $200,000 to FISD in hopes of sharing her and Richard’s love of space with generations to come.
“I came home one weekend to take care of her because it was a chemo weekend,” Jordan said. “We were driving to an appointment and she told me about making a donation to the school for a rocketry and engineering program; she wanted to give back to Friendswood because Friendswood gave us so much. It was said so nonchalantly. She was so humble about it.”
According to Adair, Carla reflected on why she wanted to give back during a meeting. She said, “The mindset of my longtime employer, United Space Alliance, was that ‘each one helps one.’ That has remained with me through the years. I want to leave this earth just a tad better than how I found it. With the help of the Friendswood ISD Education Foundation, I am able to do just that.”
“She was the most giving, generous person ever,” Jordan said of her mother. “Even when she was barely hanging on to live, all she was ever doing was giving and helping other people.”
In the last week of her life, Carla started hospice care at her house so Jordan helped organize a prayer circle in her front yard. Adair and Roher were two of many to show up and pray. At that time, they presented Jordan with a gift; it was a framed picture of Carla and Jordan with FEF directors from when Carla pledged her donation. It was captioned with ‘The Carla and Jordan Stinson Legacy Gift will be a launch pad for so many students.’ Chills. Jordan said she knew in that moment that her parents’ legacy would live on through the program.
On September 15, 2019, Carla Stinson left the earth, and the high school sweethearts were reunited once more. The Stinsons' passions had always been space and education, and now those passions are being instilled in the hearts of minds of the students in the Friendswood High School rocketry program.
“This rocketry program is the first of its kind in Galveston County,” Adair said. “FISD is partnering with SystemsGo and implementing tier one of the rocketry program this school year. In May of 2022, a group of SystemsGo teams from the Houston area will launch their rockets in Anahuac at Smith Point with the goal of sending a one-pound payload one mile into space. With Friendswood ISD being located just down the road from NASA and their contractors, this program is going to open so many doors for students interested in exploring the aerospace industry.”
Carla and Richard would be over the moon to see what their donation has created, according to their daughter.
“I very strongly believe in Heaven and I know [my parents] can see it and they’re happy and proud,” Jordan said. “I know they would be proud that I am getting involved with [the rocketry program] and staying involved with it and getting excited about it. It gives me a really cool sense of community and purpose, something to be really proud of and tie myself to.”
“When people hear ‘Stinson’ I want them to remember and think of how big and giving my mom’s heart was, and that it does not fade away, that it continues to move forward,” she said. “It’s on me now. I’m going to continue that and continue to remember the kind of person she was.”
Adair said she can see Carla’s spirit living on through Jordan.
“It has been such a blessing working with Jordan to bring her family's legacy to life for Friendswood ISD students and teachers,” Adair said. “I am reminded so much of her mom's contagious and energizing spirit of joy and generosity every time I am with her.”
Because of one beautiful, generous decision, the Stinson family legacy will be one that carries on for many years to come.
If you would like more information about planned giving, please reach out to FEF Executive Director Ashley Adair at firstname.lastname@example.org.