If you watch Rhonda Newhouse — longtime Spring ISD Board of Trustees member, former board president, and current Assistant Secretary — at one of the monthly school board meetings, you might not think of her as a ranch hand. While typically wearing business attire, like a Spring green blazer or a neutral-toned pantsuit, Newhouse sports a different set of clothes on most weekends.
That’s when you can find her on Rhonda Ranch, a 900-acre crossbreed cattle ranch in New Waverly, which she has owned with her husband since 2007.
“It’s a wonderful retreat up there,” Newhouse said.
Their work on the ranch — which includes livestock breeding and raising as well as many conservation practices like grass planting, clover establishment, and more — has long been recognized and awarded as forward-thinking and community-minded by various organizations, including a recent recognition from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as one of the top minority-owned ranches in the United States.
VIDEO: Rhonda Ranch: Evolution of a Childhood Dream into Innovation, Inspiration and Opportunity
“As many ranches as there are in Texas alone, and in the country, that’s an honor,” Newhouse said.
The latest recognition comes from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and its Black Heritage Committee. That committee, which celebrates 30 years this year, recognized Trustee Newhouse and her husband for their work at Rhonda Ranch with the Bill Pickett Award, named after the groundbreaking African-American cowboy who introduced the now-signature rodeo event “bulldogging,” or steer wrestling.
Aside from their work with livestock and conservation, the Newhouses were recognized for their community advocacy in providing livestock animals to local 4-H and FFA students as well as funding for scholarships.
“We were quite honored by that committee to be there and receive that award,” Newhouse said. “My husband served on the Black Heritage Committee for about 10 years, so to receive this award from our peers is a wonderful honor.”
Her husband, Fred Newhouse, has long been a member of the committee. The annual gala, which took place this year in late January, serves as the committee’s biggest annual fundraiser. Mr. Newhouse noted that this year (with nearly 3,000 attendees) was the largest gala to date.
“The Black Heritage Committee’s primary focus is to raise money for rodeo scholarships here in Texas,” Mr. Newhouse said. “This committee is different from many of the others, however, in that it raises money for inner city kids to go on and major in whatever they want to major in at a state school in Texas.”
The committee selects 32 students each year to receive a $20,000 scholarship.
“That’s just a part of the more than 800 scholarships the Rodeo is going to give overall, and those are all $20,000 scholarships,” Mr. Newhouse said. “That’s bigger than football!”
Of course, this focus on public education is not new to the Newhouses, particularly Rhonda Newhouse. She has served on the Spring ISD Board of Trustees for many years, of course, and had a long career in public education as both a teacher and educator.
“My passion and love for students drives all of this,” Newhouse said. “It’s all to give back and support students.”
With the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in full swing, it also means that the Spring Tri-Club Livestock Show is coming up soon. As a member of the school board, Newhouse has long taken part in the district’s Superintendent’s Stampede, which aims to collectively raise funds from district staff and be the highest bidder at the show-ending auction.
But the Newhouses have a long personal history with that particular club and livestock show, going back almost a decade.
“We personally donate to the Tri-Club. I’ve donated calves to students. Those students participate not only in the Spring show, but in other shows across the area,” Newhouse said. “I love to see the students be successful in the Tri-Club.”
Aside from all of that, the Newhouses also host local groups – including students from Spring ISD – at the Ranch twice a year. It gives many people the chance to experience a real, working ranch for the first time. And it is an opportunity Rhonda Newhouse does not take for granted.
“It gives us joy to be able to support students and to be able to give back,” she said. “We want the ranch to be a tool that we can use to support the local community up there and our Spring community down here. We are fortunate and blessed, and so grateful, to be able to do that.”