Celebs back Houston with contributions

Before Beyoncé was a superstar, she came home to Houston after a trip to Japan and sought out her pastor.

"I remember her getting off that plane and telling me that she wanted to be baptized," says Rudy Rasmus. the leader of St. John's Downtown United Methodist Church. "And that next Sunday, after the baptism, she told me that whenever she made it, she was not going to forget her church."

At the time Beyoncé was 16, an age when promises are easily made and easily broken. But over the years Beyoncé, her family, and her former singing partner, Kelly Rowland, (she and Beyoncé were baptized together that Sunday long ago) have contributed as much as $7 million to St. John's Downtown.

Houston's hometown diva, who is performing with Jay-Z Friday at Minute Maid Park, is one of a long list of celebrities who give generously to the city, its people and institutions. Just a few of them include:

Comedian/actor Kevin Hart and retired New York Giant Michael Strahan The two pals got competitive last month and gave a combined $150,000 to the Texas Southern University marching band. On the "Tom Joyner Morning Show," Hart announced he would donate $50,000 to help send the band – known as the "Ocean of Soul" – to Canton, Ohio, in August for TSU alum Strahan's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Strahan announced his buddy Hart's donation on the national morning show he co-hosts, "Live with Kelly and Michael."

"I can't let Kevin do it all alone," he said on the show. "So I'm going to give them $100,000. We'll get the band there and hopefully the kids will have a great time."

Three-time Emmy Award winner Jim Parsons, the star of "The Big Bang Theory," one of the most successful situation comedies on network TV. For the past few years the actor who grew up in Spring and graduated from the University of Houston has given $300,000 to the Catastrophic Theatre, where he performed many times early in his career.

Jason Nodler, Catastrophic's artistic director, says he met Parsons at an audition in 1995, when the company was known as Infernal Bridegroom Productions.

"We knew right away we were going to cast him," Nodler says. "He was really wonderful."

After four years with Infernal Bridegroom, Parsons attended graduate school in San Diego, then moved to New York and eventually landed the part of a lifetime. It came with some cash to spare.

"Back when we were making plays together, pretty much growing up together, we would have dreamed of having an angel like Jim," Nodler said. "We didn't realize he was just on the next bar stool over. Of course we're very grateful. Jim's told me he thinks of his support as a way of remaining a part of our work."

Emmy-winning sportscaster Jim Nantz is a University of Houston grad who used to call Houston home. Nantz's father suffered from Alzheimer's disease for 13 years before his death in 2008, and after watching his slow and painful decline, Nantz decided to put money into Alzheimer's research and treatment. He and his wife, Courtney Nantz, wrote the first big check to fund the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Hospital, which opened in 2011. They still support the center with donations, fund-raising and publicity.

After his dad died, Nantz wrote a book about their relationship. "There was such an outpouring and reaction to the book, I realized there was something more I needed to do," Nantz said this week. "I needed to step up and make a lifetime commitment to try to find a cure for Alzheimer's and, along with it, to try to help awareness, funding and research."

"I just have nothing but good things to say about him," said Dr. Stanley Appel, chairman of neurology and director of the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute, which houses the center. Appel diagnosed and treated Nantz's father. "He wanted to give back in some way and honor his father's legacy."

George Foreman, a two-time heavy weight boxing champion, Olympic gold medalist, preacher and inventor of the Foreman grill. Though the champ doesn't discuss dollar amounts, a pediatric and adolescent inpatient unit at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center bears his name, and he is the founder of the George Foreman Youth and Community Center on Houston's north side.

"My dad was brought up in a time when there weren't a lot of opportunities for the underprivileged," said son George "Big Wheel" Foreman. "But President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and the Job Corps helped him greatly, and he's spent the rest of his life repaying the tax dollars spent on him. He knows America was there for him, and he wants to be there for others."

Former Houston Texan Matt Schaub. The quarterback was traded to the Oakland Raiders but is not forgotten here. During the time he and his wife Laurie lived in Houston, they pledged $1 million to expand the emergency center at Texas Children's Hospital West Campus. They also bought dozens of toys and all kinds of play equipment for the child life playroom at the suburban hospital.

"The children inspire me more than I inspire them," Schaub said recently on his foundation's website, GR8 Hope. "They are in some of the most dire circumstances, and to see them so joyful and hopeful and positive brings tears to your eyes. When you walk out of those hospital rooms, you understand there is so much more to life than football."

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. The player supports causes that help kids and single moms, be they in Houston, where he lives and works, or in Miami, where he was born and attended the University of Miami. He is known for his generosity at Christmas, when he invites a group of children whose families are working with Child Protective Services to participate in a timed shopping spree.

With pleasure, Johnson picks up the tab. He also hosts annual youth football camps, huddles with other Texans players to feed several thousand families at Thanksgiving and most recently wrote a $30,000 check to the Houston Area Women's Center.

Johnson has said he'd like to help those abused women get their GEDs and advice in career development.

The athlete who was raised by his single mom recently asked on a daytime talk show, "What are we without our mothers?"

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Through the Justin J. Watt Foundation, he has spent more than $250,000 to support after-school athletic programs in the Houston area.

"Knowing that I could play hockey or baseball or football after the school bell rang was so important to me when I was a kid," Watt said. "I want every child to have the opportunity to play sports – to be a on a team, to know what it means to be a part of something bigger than themselves. That's what my foundation is all about."

Watt also is know for his regular hospital visits, surprise interactions with kids who have special needs or challenges, and maintaining those friendships via text and phone calls.