Granddaughter of Devine’s Bev and Ethel Estes and Paul and Lillian Brieden, and daughter of Thomas N. Estes (DHS ’64) and Mary Lynn Brieden (DHS ’65), Debbie Estes Drew grew up in a military family and lived all over the world. With family roots in Texas very strong, both of Debbie’s parents had always planned to return, and, eventually, they did. But, in the meantime, Debbie’s father’s career as a U.S. Army officer took them to Georgia, Germany, Alabama, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, Kansas, and Seoul, Korea before they would settle once again in Devine.
Debbie fondly recalls every Christmas, other than when they were overseas, when the family traveled back to Devine, and summers spent either traveling to Texas or having family join them for family vacations with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Those memories continue to be made as families still spend summers and Christmases together. In fact, this summer, the 39th Annual Kempf Family (Lillian Kempf Brieden) Reunion was held at the Maricopa Lodge in Canyon Lake.
The family moved back to Devine when Debbie’s father was stationed in San Antonio at Ft. Sam Houston, and she started school there in the middle of her sixth-grade year. She remained in Devine schools through the ninth grade. Then, her father was assigned to Seoul, Korea, for two years. Debbie, subsequently attended Seoul American High School for her tenth grade and into her eleventh grade. “I was not happy about moving so far away and during my high school years,” Debbie states adamantly.
Consequently, Debbie’s parents promised that she would be able to return to graduate with her friends at the end of their tour in Korea. So, she and her siblings and mom moved back to Devine to finish her eleventh grade; and at the end of her junior year, her father was stationed at Ft. Hood. Debbie explains, “Father lived away from our family during my senior year so that I could graduate with my friends and not spend my senior year in a new school.” She was so happy to be able to graduate from Devine in 1985. Debbie adds, “I appreciate the sacrifice my family made during this time. My father would travel to visit when he could, but the distance was far. Of course, I did not understand or appreciate what kind of sacrifice the family made until I was older.”
Following high school, Debbie attended Texas A&M University and graduated in May of 1990 with a Bachelors Degree in Agricultural Economics. Meanwhile, in November of 1988, Debbie married Jeff DellaRocco, and, ironically, became a military wife, as Jeff was in the Air Force. The couple moved to Massachusetts and lived there from December of ’90 to December of ’94 where Debbie worked as a credit manager for Georgia-Pacific Corporation. Her son, Jeffrey DellaRocco, was born Jan. 1, 1992, and Debbie found herself very homesick for Texas and was glad when her husband was assigned to Kelly AFB and moved back to Devine.
Back in Texas, Debbie started an alternative certification program at Region 20 ESC and obtained her teaching certificates. This move would prove to be a life-changing one, as, upon obtaining her first teaching position in fifth-grade, she affirms, “I had truly found my calling and found great fulfillment as a teacher.” She taught fifth grade in Pleasanton Elementary School for two years before her husband was re-assigned to Naples, Italy in the spring of ’97.
While in Italy, Debbie taught fourth grade at NATO base school, Bagnoli Montessori School, and she, her husband, and her son all became fluent in Italian and traveled all over Italy. They even had family come to visit for Christmas, and they all were able to attend Christmas Eve at the Vatican.
Debbie then shares that after a year, she and her husband divorced, and she and her son returned to Texas alone in the summer of ’98. “My family was a great source of support during this time,” she says, as she and her son “started a new life.” And that new life would see Debbie’s return to Pleasanton Elementary where she taught fourth grade and began working on her Masters Degree in Educational Administration. She then became an Assistant Principal at Pleasanton Elementary.
Debbie spent a total of 18 years with Pleasanton ISD, and during that time, she held the following positions: Teacher, Assistant Principal, Elementary Principal, Special Education Director, High School Principal, and Assistant Superintendent of Academic Services. And, from the point of view of a traveling military daughter and wife, Debbie is pleased that her son, Jeffrey DellaRocco, Jr., was able to attend 1-12 grades in Pleasanton. He then graduated from Texas A&M with his Bachelors Degree before earning his Masters from the University of Chicago. In September of 2016, Jeffrey married Katherine Schurchart and lives in San Antonio where he will begin St. Mary’s Law School in the fall.
Another fortuitous change would occur in Debbie’s life, as in 1999, she met her second husband, Jerry Drew, and they married in July, 2000. Jerry was a Pleasanton graduate, and he had also graduated from Texas A&M. Debbie and Jerry moved to Northeast Texas in 2014. They live in Annona – Red River County. She says, “We have a beautiful ranch where we raise cattle,” and she has a step-daughter, Katie Drew, who is finishing a degree as a dental hygienist.
Upon moving to NE Texas, Debbie began working for Region 8 ESC in Mt. Pleasant, TX. Currently, she is Leadership Development and Accountability Coordinator, working with Superintendents, the Central Office, and Campus Administrators. She provides guidance and support on Federal and State requirements, mentors new administrators, and acts as liaison in the implementation of new TEA initiatives.
“Throughout my life,” Debbie says, “family has remained a constant,” and family traditions are important. She adds, “Although our family grows and has become so extended, we still have a Brieden Family Christmas celebration every December and a Kempf Family Reunion every June.” Another important tradition is that of the family being Aggies. They proudly boast 31 Texas A&M graduates. Debbie’s brother, Greg Estes, hangs a banner on his tailgate at parties during football season that has 30 names, including Brieden family and their spouses. Number 31 is Haley Moeller, whose name needs to be added. “On April 21st, we celebrated Aggie Muster where my Uncle Al C. Moeller’s name was called. He was among the first generation to attend,” Debbie proudly shares.
Another big and important part of Debbie’s life includes her friends from Devine. She elaborates, “We had grown apart, as many do when our lives past high school took us away.” While some remained in Devine, many moved away, and they generally saw each other only at the occasional homecomings, reunions, or funerals. “Then, in 2010,” Debbie explains, “we came together for a funeral… and commented on how we needed to get together more often. So, we made plans for a trip to Port A that summer.”
Each year since 2010, the group gets together for a trip and to spend time together reminiscing about their days in Devine – participating in athletics as Fillies and Arabians under Coach Imogene Tschirhart, Coach Kandi Darnell, Coach Jimmy Gates, Coach Terri Caldwell, and, of course, Coach Gayle Sessions. They recall victory dances in the multi-purpose room, upper classmen tricking the freshman into toilet papering Coach Sessions’ yard only to be caught by her and finding an end-of-the-year party in her backyard. “We were never soooo scared, and the upper classmen had a big laugh at our expense – good times.” And the memories include cheerleading, slumber parties, the Korczynski twins playing tricks on teachers – switching places, among other things – prom, senior skip day, and Around the World Party. Debbie reminisces, “I so cherish these memories and enjoy visiting Devine whenever I can. I thank God for the strong family roots which have always brought me back.”