Before founding Wonderland, TX, Gordon Hartman was a San Antonian first

When Gordon Hartman first opened Morgan’s Wonderland in 2010, members and friends of the special needs community began turning to the San Antonio amusement park as a place where folks, no matter their abilities, could come together and have fun. In the 13 years since then, Hartman and his wife Maggie, through the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, have also brought Morgan’s Inspiration Island, a splash park; Morgan’s Wonderland Sports, a sports complex; Morgan’s Wonderland Camp, a year-round recreational oasis; as well as the Multi-Assistance Center, which houses organizations that cater toward individuals’ medical, therapeutic, and social needs.

While Hartman and his life’s work has already made major strides toward inclusivity, he says he’s just getting started. What residents may not realize, is that the native San Antonian was always destined for a life of service, a life that he began working toward at a young age.

Hartman, a native San Antonian, tells MySA that he grew up near Oblate and San Pedro Ave. As the youngest of five boys, he has fond memories of playing sports with his brothers and walking across the street to school at Blessed Sacrament. For high school, he attended a local seminary at St. Anthony’s.

“It was a very key time in my life from the standpoint that it really taught me a lot. The seminary life really played a major role for me in my way of looking at things,” Hartman says, adding that the apostolic work he was required to do in the community each week led him to his passion today. “Back then I wanted to work with individuals who had special needs and disabilities.”

Though he took an interest in helping the special needs community at a young age, Hartman also had an entrepreneurial spirit. His first venture came as a dog walker, charging neighbors 50 cents to walk their pets down the street before moving onto his next business. 

“I saved that money which allowed me to buy some lawnmowers, which allowed me to start my landscaping business,” he says of his next project, which he started at 15 years old. “At the age of 19, I built my first home from savings from my landscaping business.”

The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation is behind Morgan’s Wonderland, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, Morgan’s Wonderland Sports, Morgan’s Wonderland Camp, and the Multi-Assistance Center.

The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation is behind Morgan’s Wonderland, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, Morgan’s Wonderland Sports, Morgan’s Wonderland Camp, and the Multi-Assistance Center.

Robin Jerstad

After 22 years in the business, Hartman sold his homebuilding company in order to focus on his second act: a life dedicated to advocating for the special needs community, which he says makes up about 15% of the world’s population. The Hartmans are proud parents of Morgan, 29, who has special needs. Hartman says Morgan has the cognitive level of a 5-year-old and also has physical needs.

“Even though she has to deal with all these issues, she’s one of the lucky ones because she has the doctors and the therapists and the medicines,” Hartman says. “She has all the things that allow her life to be better than many who may have the same issues she has.”

Though the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation was inspired by Morgan, Hartman says his passion for his work comes from a heartbreaking truth.

“Morgan’s an exception to the rule. There’s so many children and adults who don’t have proper care. There is so much need out there, much more than I ever thought when I got involved in this,” he says. “Before Morgan, while I was in business, everything was maybe more about me. Once I had a chance to pull myself away and really look into the issues in the areas of assisting our friends with special needs, I couldn’t get back into business on a full-time basis.”

Hartman has pledged to continue to advocate for the special needs community until he can’t anymore, which is made all the easier given where he’s doing the good work.

“San Antonio has now become, and I say this without any hesitation, probably the most compassionate and most focused city in the world when it comes to assisting our friends with special needs,” Hartman says. “I’m not sure every city would have done and would continue to do what it does on a daily basis to bring about more inclusion than San Antonio.”

Hartman has brought plenty of inclusion facilities and efforts to San Antonio and plans on doing more, teasing a second evolution of the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation. The 59-year-old says the foundation is in the early stages of developing an institute that will focus on advising companies, cities, and other organizations about how to become more inclusive.

“There’s a lot of discussion about inclusion, but there’s not as much action as needed,” Hartman says. “We’re just getting started. We’re just scratching the surface of what the need is, but maybe if we scratch that surface a little bit, we’ll start to adjust some cultural thoughts about the importance of inclusion.”

For Hartman, his work for the special needs community is a blessing, just like Morgan.

“I’m the luckiest, most blessed person to be able to assist in the area of inclusion. What I love to do more than anything is collaborate, and this town, this city, there’s no better city to collaborate with than San Antonio. We need to take the beauty of what happens here and spread the word more.”

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Catch up with Hartman below. 

What do you find in your part of town that you don’t find anywhere else?

[laughs] You find Morgan’s Wonderland, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, Morgan’s Wonderland Sports, the Multi-Assistance Center, and you find Morgan’s Wonderland Camp. These are things that are unique because they are Ultra-Accessible. They are about ensuring those with and without special needs come together, not just in play, but in true interaction.

That’s what I find in my part of town: inclusion on steroids.

Gordon and his wife Maggie have dedicated their life to helping children and adults with special needs like their daughter, Morgan.

Gordon and his wife Maggie have dedicated their life to helping children and adults with special needs like their daughter, Morgan.

Robin Jerstad

Where is your “third place” that you enjoy spending time at when you’re not at home or work?

I like boating and the main reason is that Morgan really likes boating as well. We enjoy going out [on Lake LBJ] and just enjoying the water. She really likes to go fast on the boat. She likes the bumping, she really enjoys that, whereas her mother wants me to always go slow. So I’m always having to coordinate between them as in “Who’s going to win today?” We have a lot of fun.

If you had two hours to show a visitor around, where would you take them?

I’m going to be biased here. I’d take them to what we do here, honestly. What we do here is something that is as interesting, as unique, as intriguing, that’s going to lead to cultural change. We’ve often referred to this area that we have all this as Wonderland, Texas, and that’s where I’d bring them. I think there’s something here to show them.

What’s your ideal day look like in your part of San Antonio?

This is something that happens just about every day now, and this is what I’m most blessed with, is that individuals with special needs and without special needs are enjoying doing things together. Watching people on the rides and having fun, everyone enjoys Morgan’s Wonderland. Then I can walk across the street and see people playing sports together who thought they’d maybe never play together, but they’re all having fun. That ideal day leads me to the next day with an enormous amount of energy to go again.

Are there any businesses or projects you’d like to see introduced to your area?

We’re actually going to be doing a lot more in this area to really make this “the place.” We’ve got more to do. We want to build a facility for individuals with acute special needs. We’re looking at a lot of other opportunities in the area of medical care, housing, fitness, even more than what we’re already doing, and all being inclusionary and doing them in a different way. That’s what we do. We get outside the box and just say, “Well, it’s always been this way.” That doesn’t advance anything.

What’s one word you’d use to describe your part of town?


How has your San Antonio changed?

Being here 59 years, since I was born, obviously it’s grown incredibly. Traffic is different. There’s been an enormous amount of growth. Even as we have grown, we’ve really focused hard on still being that city that still lets someone in when they’re driving. People in San Antonio are nice. I’m not saying they weren’t nice before, but many times when places grow like this, they tend to become too fast and too pushy. That’s not San Antonio. San Antonio hasn’t lost that charm.

What’s your go-to breakfast taco order and from where?

I like potato & egg and bean & cheese. Look, I’m a boring guy. There’s a place that is just south of [Loop] 1604 and Blanco [Road] called Jalisco. I like to check out all the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, I love them. I love going to find just good Mexican food, and I love spicy food. People usually joke that my mom put hot sauce in my milk growing up because I really enjoy spicy, hot food.

Gordon Hartman says he took an interest in working with special needs individuals from an early age.

Gordon Hartman says he took an interest in working with special needs individuals from an early age.

Robin Jerstad

How does San Antonio inspire you?

People here come together for the purpose of helping others. If there’s ever a city in the world that could be doing to really bring a focus to our friends with special needs, it’s San Antonio. I don’t know of another city – and I’ve traveled to a lot of cities – that is like San Antonio. San Antonio still has that collaborative, nice, willing-to-get-along approach to things. Do we agree on everything? No. But do we try to work through things for the benefit of our neighbor? The answer is yes, and that’s a beautiful thing that a lot of cities can’t say.

What’s your favorite street in San Antonio and why?

Thousand Oaks because that’s where all of what we’re doing is happening.

Pretend you have a date this week. Where would you take them?

One of the places we like to go for some good Mexican food is La Margarita. Another place is maybe the Pearl. Maybe go watch a movie or something.

What’s your San Antonio pet peeve?

One thing that bothers me in San Antonio is that sometimes I don’t think we keep our streets as maybe we should try to. There’s a lot of trash a lot of times along our streets. One of the things that’s really contributing to that is all these plastic bags. There’s plastic bags everywhere and I’m picking them up all the time. We use too many damn plastic bags. It litters the community and this is a beautiful city. I just can’t stand plastic bags and how they litter our city. I wish we’d do something to rethink that and control that situation.

If you’re from here, have you ever lived somewhere else? What brought you back? If you’re a transplant, what keeps you here?

We’re the best town to become the expression to the world of what inclusion is because this town is a nice city. It’s why I’ve never moved. Some people would call that boring. I call that blessed because this is an incredibly great, great city.

What do you think the AT&T Center should be renamed as?

Morgan’s Inclusion Center.

Is there an underrated San Antonio artist/place/thing that you’d like to shoutout?

There’s a lot of people in this community who have done so much. If I start naming names, I’m never going to stop.

We always think of giving as just money. We have a special thing that we put on every year – Hearts of Gold ceremony. The underrated in San Antonio and I think throughout everywhere are caregivers. I don’t think they get enough recognition for what they do. They give their lives up for other people in many ways and I think they need to be recognized for doing that. We recognize many times the people who do the big things, but the people who do the big, big things for individuals are caregivers and that’s where we need to put our focus and our thanks.

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