By Donna Kreutz
Grace is crazy-busy this time of year preparing for the annual TWQA Convention and Exposition, which she’s done every year since 2004. This year’s 44th annual convention will be held July 23 through 26. “The venue is phenomenal (the Grand Hyatt, San Antonio) right on the river,” said Grace. The convention will offer both business and technical sessions, which she is proud to say include industry experts such as Greg Reyneke of Red Fox Advisors and Peter Cartwright of Cartwright Consulting. (They are also members of the WC&P Technical Review Committee.)
TWQA is a trade association representing the residential, commercial and industrial water quality improvement industry in the vast state of Texas, which has 27.5 million residents and water issues that range from extended drought to flooding and fracking. “We fight for the right of water treatment professionals to do business in the state of Texas,” Grace said. “We see our role as a catalyst to constantly upgrade the standards of the industry and the qualifications of our members. We do this primarily through our education, certification and ethics programs. We also work closely with a consultant on legislative matters relating to our industry. TWQA provides an essential networking forum for members, suppliers, governmental entities and the public to collectively advance the state of water conditioning in Texas, as well as neighboring states.
“Every day brings something new. Science continues to identify contaminants and their potential health effects at an alarming rate. Consumers want to be assured that the water they use and consume is safe, both short- and long-term. Their concern has skyrocketed in recent years as our knowledge of the subject has deepened. Our goal is to stay relevant and adapt accordingly.” TWQA is one of the largest and oldest water trade associations in the nation, along with Florida and Pacific regional WQAs.
Training water treatment specialists
There are currently 750+ licensed water treatment specialists in the state and that number is growing. “The state is really pushing for people to be properly trained. Municipalities also want to make sure a licensed plumber or licensed water specialist is doing the work so there is no danger of cross-contamination. This keeps us busy.” TWQA owns the rights for licensing training in the state and offers ongoing classes to professionals who want to become certified as Water Treatment Specialists through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “Individuals are trained in water treatment application, installation, service and ongoing maintenance practice, thus assuring that their work will help to protect public health.”
TWQA trains about 300 candidates a year. Classes are held around the state in major metro areas, usually four times a year, including at the convention. The Water Treatment Specialist license requires completing 12 hours of continuing credit within three years. TWQA members receive substantial discounts on course fees. The association currently has about 230 members, mostly dealers, including several who have been members since its founding. “We offer the two basic and advanced water conditioning courses required by the state, plus optional courses for basic and advanced math. Clark Benson wrote the manuals and teaches the calculations and formulas you need to know, especially for advanced water. When you deal with reverse osmosis and deionization, there are a lot of calculations.
“TWQA has been around long enough that consumers in Texas understand the importance of the membership and they search for members through the TWQA website. They also know that if they see that logo on a business card, that person is committed to trying to do everything above board and proper. Each TWQA member agrees to abide by our strict Code of Ethics. The Association works closely with the Texas Attorney General’s office to assure compliance and address any concerns.”
‘Do you want to work for Culligan?’
Grace never planned to join the water treatment business, started by her husband’s grandfather in 1957. She had studied physical therapy before marrying Rick Grace and having their first child. “I worked for attorneys for 10 years, then at a college for four or five years. “But in 1991, my mother-in-law Jo Grace (the industry’s sweetheart) came to me and said, ‘This business can afford to support two families. Do you want to work for Culligan?’ My college position had been nine months, so I was off in summer but it was changing to full-time. Rick and I discussed the option and decided that working at the family business would allow me more time with my kids.”
Dick Grace was one of seven men to establish the association in 1973 and lead it in the early years. “They wanted to do something to validate the water treatment industry,” Grace said. “Over the years, whenever they’d get into a bind, Jo stepped up to take care of the association. It was always a priority.” In 2003, the Board of Directors yet again turned to Jo after the Director resigned. This time she said, “I have someone else you can ask.” That was Daina.
“Rick and I bought the Culligan business from Jo after Dick died. She knew that you could run both that business and TWQA out of the same office because she’d done it before. At the time, my kids were both in private colleges, so any additional funds were greatly appreciated. That’s how it started. When I applied for the TWQA position there was stiff competition but I had a big ace in the hole. I said ‘I can do this and you’ll not only get me, you’ll get Jo.’ That was the icing on the cake.” To this day whenever Daina needs help, especially running up to the annual conference, she turns to family: her mother, sister, niece and of course, Jo. You’ll find them all at the registration counter each July.
2017 WQA Regents Award
The entire Grace family is highly regarded and deeply respected across the water treatment industry, not just in Texas. When TWQA was preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2013, the board wanted to honor Jo for her long-term commitment and decided on a scholarship in her name because she was passionate about education and several of her family members were teachers.
“To show how well respected Jo is, two board members left Austin together to drive to a lake house a couple of hours away and within that time they raised $20,000 with two cell phones, saying, ‘We want to honor Jo’ and hearing ‘We’re in. No problem.’ It was unbelievable,” Daina said. Since then, the Jo Grace TWQA Scholarship fund has grown and the association awards two scholarships every year.
Daina also has been honored for her ongoing dedication to the industry. “One of my proudest moments was when I received the 2017 Regents Award at WQA in March.” This is presented to a group or individual for a significant contribution at the state or local level, working with issues affecting the industry such as ethics, legislation or educational efforts. “I believe strongly in the importance of being active members of both regional and national associations. It is the regional associations who are the first line of defense for any issues that occur in their state or region. They are the eyes and ears for their members and address the issues that directly affect them.”
The Grace family has deep roots in Victoria, Texas, where TWQA is based. This area, known as the Golden Crescent, has a small-city atmosphere, yet is located within a two-hour drive of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi. Daina started working at TWQA part time; however, with the increase in training and membership, it became a full-time job. In 2014, she and her husband sold the Culligan business after nearly six decades. This allowed Daina the time she needed to devote to TWQA.
Meanwhile, the Grace family legacy continues at TWQA. Keeping the “family atmosphere in TWQA” has always been very important to Daina. Family has always been very important to the organization. “We’re planning a lot of fun family things at our convention. We believe if the head of the family has to go to the convention to get their continuing education credits every year that we should entice the family to come along. Our conventions are always family-friendly and include the traditional golf tournament, an off-property event and most important, the Women and Children’s breakfast. This is a great way for the wives and kids to meet one another in a small setting. People meet up year after year. Friendships are made. Growing up, my kids made friends at the TWQA conventions and those friendships continue to this day. Now they are bringing their own children to the conventions and starting another generation of TWQA attendees.”
Grace is very honored to have served as the Executive Director of TWQA for the past 13 years. She truly enjoys her job and working with the members. Promoting the regional associations such as TWQA is a great passion of hers and one that she hopes to continue for several years. If you have never attended one of the TWQA conventions and would like to, please contact Grace at the TWQA office. She would love to share TWQA with everyone!