Chad Powell’s academic accomplishments showed off his mind, but his actions showed his heart, his father says.
“He had a very strong drive to help and to serve other people,” Greg Powell said about his middle son, who was a National Merit finalist and valedictorian of Keller High School’s class of 1999.
Though he was classified as a sophomore, Powell had only been on campus a few months when he died in the Texas A&M Aggie Bonfire collapse on Nov. 18, 1999. He was 19.
Practicality led Powell to A&M on a full-ride scholarship. His mother, Jill Powell, said it was his desire to serve that led him to become involved in Bonfire. Greg called him a natural leader.
“He just felt like that was a way for him to fit in down there and start working his way towards becoming a leader down there on campus.” He also had started his campaign for student government.
Powell was an Eagle Scout, but he never had his Court of Honor ceremony, Greg said, because he never gave his parents an open date when he was not busy. All that mattered to him was that he had earned it.
Remembering a Boy Scouts campout he and his son took to earn their Brotherhood membership, Greg said Chad volunteered to be a leader for boys who did not have a leader.
“That’s just kind of his attitude; we were here to serve,” Greg said.
Jill said that drive to serve is reflected in a poem that Josh, the younger of Powell’s two brothers, wrote.
“I believe the line was, ‘It’s not about how much you take; it’s about how much you give,’” Jill said. This also serves as the inscription on Powell’s headstone.
“I think that the lesson that all of us need to remember is that we’re not here forever,” Greg said. “And while you’re here, how you can impact and help others is more important than what you can do for your own personal gain.”
He was loved by many, Jill said, because he treated everyone the same. She referenced a sentence from Chad’s valedictorian speech, delivered in May 1999, that is included in his Bonfire Memorial portal: “To everyone whom I never had the opportunity to meet, I’m sure I would have loved to be able to call you a friend.”
Many stories of their son’s impact came after his death, Jill said, things that Chad didn’t share with them because he thought they were ordinary, everyday things.
An example: Chad was a swimming instructor for three summers at a camp for kids with special needs at Sid Richardson Scout Ranch in Bridgeport. Greg later heard how Chad helped an autistic boy at the camp who was afraid of water.
“He is petrified, literally, of water to the point that he will not take a shower,’ ” Greg recalled the boy’s mother saying. “ ‘He will not drink water. He won’t touch it.’ And she said, ‘Chad literally changed his life because at the end of that week, he had him swimming in the water.’ ”
“He just had a way of reaching out and giving people ... what they needed at the time. He was a pretty special kid,” Greg said.
To honor Powell’s legacy, the ranch erected a chapel — named Chad’s Chapel — following his death. The Keller school district honored his memory by renaming its annual Special Olympics track and field meet, for which Powell volunteered regularly, the KISD Chad Powell Memorial Track and Field Meet.
Volunteering with friends and coworkers at the event each year is something that has become a welcome tradition for Greg and Jill.
“I mean, quite honestly, I tell people I look forward to that day more than Christmas every year,” Greg said. “It’s just a day where you go and you do service and you get more out of it, and it’s just a day to remember what he felt every day.”
Jill calls it a gift from their son.
“He left us that passion and working with those students is very humbling,” she said. “I see how he loved it. Obviously, we think of Chad on that day, but we’re also reminded of the blessings that we have and humbled by the spirit and the determination of the athletes that we work with.”
Greg said that the family prefers to honor Chad on his birthday, at the annual track and field meet and in the memories and stories they share.
“For those people who never met him, a lot of them are probably just going to say, ‘Oh, that’s just the parents really embellishing about their child,’ but it wasn’t,” Greg said. “I mean, he was a very special individual, and I’ve said this before: I’m 64 now, but I have never in my life met anybody like him. I mean, he just had such a combination of wit and intelligence and caring and gratitude.”