Growing up, Charles Emery spent his summers in Lewisville helping his family herd cattle on their farm. His family has been in Denton County for generations — his ancestors settled in the area around 1840 after traveling from Mississippi and Tennessee.
On Tuesday, about a mile away from that land, the Denton County Transit Authority is renaming its Old Town Station in Lewisville after the former chairman of the board. Emery helped establish DCTA in 2001 and retired in May after serving for 18 years.
He said his family has always helped the community, so he wanted to continue that tradition.
“I never rode the train,” Emery said. “But I knew what this county needed. I put a lot of sweat, blood and tears into it.”
Emery fell into the world of public transit by coincidence. While in Austin for legislative business, he ran into two state senators who were friends of his (he didn’t wish to name them). He said they told him Denton County was in need of a public transportation system. They asked him to set up and organize what would become DCTA.
“I said, It’s started,’ and they said, ‘Tag, you’re it,’” Emery said. “So, I kind of dropped my real estate business and got into that. I made 45 speeches in one year in this county. Because to get it done, I had to confirm it with a public vote, then you had to get sales taxes [to fund it] with another public vote.”
He also served on the Regional Transportation Council for 15 years. During his tenure there, he helped expand Interstate 35 and added tollways.
He said his goal for DCTA was to bring public transportation to Denton County. One of his first projects was to create a train system in Denton that connected to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light-rail system in Carrollton and have a bus system with routes throughout Denton County.
“That was tougher than developing 1,000 acres of land,” Emery said. “It was really challenging because it was kind of a new thing for Denton County.”
Emery played several different roles in his life before DCTA was created. He is the son of a petroleum engineer who had to move often to follow the oil, and thus attended 13 different schools before college. He is an Aggie, a proud Texas A&M University graduate who studied engineering and finance. His father encouraged him to pursue engineering, but Emery was drawn to the world of business.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he became a real estate developer. He said that he developed about 1,600 acres in Denton County and worked in downtown Dallas.
“Oddly enough, my wife managed a 35-story building right next to mine at downtown Dallas,” Emery said. “And I never knew her.”
About 15 years after moving to Lewisville, Elaine Emery had friends who happened to be Charles’ cousin and his wife. Through them, she met her future husband.
“We blended our family,” Elaine said. “He had two children and I had two children. We have been married now for 33 years.”
Elaine is also very active in the community. She has been involved with the boards of Christian Community Action and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Denton County. While Charles was working with legislators to start DCTA, Elaine was the chairwoman of the hospital board. They would often attend meetings together.
Whenever Charles could not attend a meeting related to DCTA, Elaine would typically go with another board member and fill her husband in on what he had missed.
“We are a team,” Elaine said. “His comment is always, depending on the audience, he’s either Mr. Charles Emery or Mr. Elaine Emery. And [it’s the] same with me. It’s whichever one is on the board or chairman of the board.”
Even though Charles Emery is no longer part of DCTA, he said he wants it to continue expanding. He said the next goal is to connect the train system to DART’s Belt Line Station in Irving so riders can easily get to DFW International Airport.
Charles and Elaine have kept busy after retirement. They sing in the choir at Denton Bible Church. Charles said he still serves on six different boards and she serves on four, so they are still active in the community.
“I always wanted to do something for this county, not to get my name on a plaque, but just to help this county along,” Charles Emery said. “Every generation of my family has been able to help advance this county. This is my piece. I never thought it’d be transportation because the rest of [my family] were farmers and ranchers and county judges, but I’m kind of doing my own thing.”