It's difficult not to marvel at nature in Sam Stamport's presence.

"See where we are now? We've got these trees masking the noise from Highway 35," Stamport said, gesturing to the canopy of lofty oak trees that blanket the area of East Brazos Avenue near the Columbia Rosenwald School.

Stamport returned to West Columbia two years ago, after more than four decades working as a computer programmer in the bustling metropolises of Houston and Dallas.

Since then, he has shared that affinity for horticulture with his hometown, beginning with writing a grant to establish the Discovery Garden at the First Capitol Park walking trail and researching the native plants that would flourish in the local climate.

"As long as I can remember, I've been interested in plants, especially their beauty and calming effect," Stamport said. "Some of these things are just innate."

Once the park was

thriving, Stamport wanted to take on a project that would simultaneously beautify and unite the community, while also capitalizing on West Columbia's role in the story of Texas.

That's when he discovered America in Bloom, a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting beautifkation through education and community involvement.

"We have all this history in West Columbia; it's like the best-kept secret. Houston likes to claim that they're the first capital of Texas, but they're not," Stamport said, his previously reserved demeanor shifting as his voice takes on a hint of pride.

"The program seemed to be a thing that would focus not just on plants, but the history, and the framework was such that it brings together the whole community."

Stamport has spearheaded the committee that planted window boxes consisting of periwinkle, sweet potato vine, and celosia in a two-block span between 15th and 16th streets for Columbia Blooms, the local version of America in Bloom.

"We're experimenting with different ones," Stamport said. "Gardening is like that."

Columbia Blooms relies on volunteers to tend to the plants, so nearly every other day, Stamport — who does not own a vehicle — walks the two miles from his home on 17th Street to water the flowers.

"I'm able to do all of this without a vehicle," Stamport said. "I want to set an example for living green."

It was that dedication that led Naomi Smith to nominate Stamport, as well as his talent for bringing people together.

"Sam is the type of person who is always in the shadows. He's a leader, but he wants to work along with his team," Smith said. "He finds what he needs, and finds people who can help him do it."

Stamport is quick to point to the people who have lent their hands to the project. He has befriended many downtown business owners while seeking respite from the heat in their shops.

"The wonderful friends I have here in town, they take care of me," Stamport said. "Every time I water, someone will stop and say hi. I'm blown away that the community has really come together on this.

"I've been away for 40 years, but I've put down some really, really deep roots."

Stamport isn't finished putting down those roots, either. He has already set his sights on the next Columbia Blooms project, which will likely be at the West Columbia Fire Department.

"My dream is for the entire city to be as beautiful as this," he said.

"I'm a product of the '60s, so one of the messages I got was, 'We need to make the world a better place in which to live,' and this is how that manifested. This is my gift to the city."

Erinn Callahan is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0150.

"Sam is the type of person who is always in the shadows. He's a leader, but he wants to work along with his team. He finds what he needs, and finds people who can help him do it."

— Naomi Smith, nominator

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