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Houston County News 2

Blaze claims Houston County mother, son

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house fire clipart 300CROCKETT – A housefire that occurred last Tuesday in Crockett resulted in the deaths of a mother and son.

According to Crockett Fire Chief Jason Frizzell, firemen responded to a call of a structure fire at 105 McLean Drive at 5:31 a.m. When they arrived, the residence was “heavily involved in fire,” Frizzell said.

“We rapidly began a search of the interior, as well as an offensive attack, to extinguish the fire,” he added.

They discovered 44-year-old Shelly McDaniel and her son dead inside the residence. 

Crockett Fire Department was assisted on the blaze by the volunteer fire departments of Latexo, Lovelady as well as personnel from the Houston County Fire Marshal’s Office, Crockett Police Department and Houston County EMS.

There is no word on a possible cause for the blaze at present. The fire department has turned over the investigation to the State Fire Marshal’s Office due to the city fire marshal being out on medical leave.

Frizzell, on behalf of the fire department and the city offered condolences to the family. “Our prayers are with those affected by this tragic loss,” he said.

McDaniel, who was employed with Crockett Eye Clinic, was paid tribute to on Facebook by the clinic on its page. “Please keep their family and friends in your thoughts and prayers as they go through this difficult time,” a post read, and added that the staff is deeply saddened by her loss.

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Ground broken on Latexo ISD bond

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Latexo ISD officials and administrators, along with representatives of one of their contractors, the Berry and Clay commercial construction company, broke ground for the school district’s $5 million bond project last Thursday. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)Latexo ISD officials and administrators, along with representatives of one of their contractors, the Berry and Clay commercial construction company, broke ground for the school district’s $5 million bond project last Thursday. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)

By Alton Porter

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LATEXO – Latexo ISD officials and staffers are set for contractors to begin constructing facilities planned for the district’s $5 million bond project.

The Latexo Independent School District Board of Directors, Superintendent Michael Woodard and others held a ground-breaking ceremony on Thursday morning, Aug. 19, to kick off initial aspects of the bond project. 

The project will include construction of a multi-purpose facility, which will be used as a gymnasium and a community events venue; a cafeteria/dining room for elementary school students; and a career and technical education (CTE) classrooms unit for high school students.

“We’re excited to get started—to finally get the fence up and start some building around here on both the elementary and high school (campuses),” Woodard told news reporters following the groundbreaking.

In answer to a question asking when construction will begin, Woodard said, it “probably starts next week (with) putting the fence (that will surround the construction site) up and (contractors will) get after it from there.”

Woodard said it is expected to take “probably a year or a year and a half” to complete the building of facilities in the bond construction project; “that depends on weather and, of course, materials.”

 The timeline includes construction of everything, hopefully, Woodard said, including the multi-purpose facility, the elementary cafeteria and CTE classrooms. “That’s the game plan,” he said.

Woodard added, the construction project is the result of an effort “in the community to bring this and it’s been a long time coming, for sure.”

Board President and Position 5 Trustee Kelly Nicol said “I’d like to just thank the community for having the trust in us to take on this project and we’re going to do a good job for them and have something that everybody can be really proud of.”

Nicol commented on the bond’s passage and called it “an overwhelming turn-out and win for us.”

“We had a two-to-one margin in the victory. It was obvious that the community wanted this,” he added.

The officials did not have documents with them at the groundbreaking showing the price the Berry and Clay commercial construction company submitted to them to oversee and carry out the project, but Nicol said “We started this whole process with the bond being passed.”

He explained that COVID pushed the election, which was initially slated for May 2020 back to November.

“And then, after Covid, everybody knows everything went skyrocketing—the price of steel, the price of fuel, concrete, all the building materials. No one passed a bond in this area (during that period) except us. The other people around the state are all over budget. All the contractors I’ve talked to—they’re like, ‘Man, we don’t know if a lot of these jobs are going to even happen because they’re so high over budget.’,” he said.

“(However,) we’re under budget. All of our projects are (included in the district’s construction project plan). It was just an unbelievable effort by our contractors to get this thing done and under budget. And we’re just proud to be part of it and we’ve got the right people behind us,” Nicol added.

About Vulcraft, one of the projects subcontractors, Nicol said, “Vulcraft has been a great partner for us, and we feel they’ll be a great partner in the future, not only in this building project but inside the walls of our school. They’re a great community partner, and we look forward to working with Vulcraft for many years.”

In concluding his and Nicol’s interview with news reporters, Woodard said, “We’re ready to get started—everybody is.”

Joe Sumner, of Berry and Clay, who attended the groundbreaking, along with the company’s vice president and project manager, Stephen Berry, will serve as the site superintendent for the bond construction project on behalf of the construction company.

He told the Courier his responsibility will be to oversee “overall site construction—to ensure the trades are performing their work, scheduling all the trades…, as well as meeting the different administrators or whatever may be taking place on the job; just overall site.

“That’s basically what my job is—ensure that the (facilities) are being built correctly. It’s a little bit of everything: everything from scheduling; (ensuring) it’s built correctly; meeting with the owners from the school district—stuff like that—quality control. Everything that goes into it is kind of what my job is.”

 

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Kennard ISD closing campus due to COVID 

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Kennard ISD Mascot Logo 250By Chris Edwards

KENNARD – Kennard ISD is the fourth East Texas school district to cancel classes due to COVID outbreaks. 

A letter from KISD superintendent Malinda Lindsey, which went out on the morning of Wednesday, August 25, states that KISD will resume classes on Wednesday, Sept. 1. “Based on attendance rate over the last few days, we feel it is in the best interest of our students and staff to close the district for deep cleaning and disinfection,” Lindsey said in the letter.

KISD is releasing all students early today, at 1 p.m., due, according to Lindsey, to a large number of students who are ill. 

“We are taking this very seriously. The health and safety of our students and staff are of the utmost importance,” Lindsey said. 

The letter noted that in addition to a large number of ill students, there are also staff members who are sick with fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea, and the positive numbers of COVID cases continues to rise. 

In addition to classes, all of the district’s extracurricular events are also cancelled until Sept. 1. 

Last week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) reversed its previous guidance in requiring that school districts must notify teachers, staff and students’ families of any positive COVID cases. Before, TEA did not explicitly require school districts to notify the parents of close contact with the virus.

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Re-opened Houston County museum welcomes public

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Dorothy Harris, president of the Houston County Depot Museum board, recently showed museum visitors—in addition to many other items—a former Crockett Fire Department fire truck that was the main vehicle used to extinguish a fire at the former Crockett Hotel in 1973 and is now on display at the museum.ALTON PORTER | HCCDorothy Harris, president of the Houston County Depot Museum board, recently showed museum visitors—in addition to many other items—a former Crockett Fire Department fire truck that was the main vehicle used to extinguish a fire at the former Crockett Hotel in 1973 and is now on display at the museum.ALTON PORTER | HCC

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – The Houston County Depot Museum is back open and invites the public to come visit the historical items exhibition facility, view its display items and learn about the history of the county.

Dorothy Harris, president of the museum’s board of directors noted, in an interview with the Courier, that it was closed over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and structural damage caused by February’s severe winter storm.

However, the museum reopened for its 2021 season July 9. It is open Friday and Saturday each week, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. “We’ll be open until it turns cold; that could be November or December,” Harris said.

“We’re not open in the winter because we can’t afford to heat it. We have to close. I wish it was where we could (be open in the winter) but we only go on donations. We’re usually open each year from about April through November or until the first really cold spell.”

The former 1909 International-Great Northern Railroad Depot, located at 303 S. First St., in Crockett, is the home of the museum.  “We’re always looking for volunteers to help us,” Harris said. “We currently have four.”

Harris said that this year’s opening was delayed, partially by Winter Storm Uri. “We had damage when the snow hit. It had damaged three rooms, the sheetrock—everything. So, we just got it repaired and put back together. All of that has been redone,” she said.

Museum volunteer Patsy Stokes added “We had water damage up here and all this (in one of the museum’s rooms) got wet. So, we were shut down for a good while. We’re still trying to get back.”

In an email message, Stokes also stated “We had a good bit of damage caused by frozen water pipes. We don’t have many volunteers and it took a lot longer to get ready to open (this year) because of that.”

Concerning what the museum has to offer and what she wants the public to know about it, Harris said “We house Houston County history the way life was back in the beginning. They can get a history lesson because it’s history.”

Harris said the late Eliza Bishop, who was known as the county’s historian as well as for other accomplishments, first acquired the proposed museum many years ago “but it didn’t really open until 2009.” At that time, “I became president and I set all of this up,” Harris said. “Before, it was just in boxes that had gone out and had been stored at everybody’s house for the remodeling because in 2000 they started remodeling it.

“And they finished (remodeling) it in 2005, and it just sat here until 2009. I wanted it to be something that people could come see. When we set up, people started donating things other than junk. We’ve acquired a lot of stuff since we opened up to the public.”

Harris said the museum has had visitors from various parts of the US and some from other parts of the world. “They come from all over and it’s amazing,” she explained. “We’ve had them from all over—(including) Cuba, Puerto Rico, England. It really blows my mind.”

Harris’ message for members of the public is: “I would like for them to come and visit us and see the lifestyle of Houston County and how life was back when it was first started and learn some of the history of the county and the town (of Crockett). We’re the first county (in the state).

“And we have the copy of the petitioners to make it the first county. And then, we have a copy of the decree making it the first county. And it was named after Sam Houston. We’re named after Davy Crockett (in the city of Crockett). He never called himself Davy. That came with the movie.”

In her view, one of the main items on exhibit at the museum is a framed space shuttle item that contains a collection of commemorative pins and a medallion representing all 135 missions of America’s historic Space Shuttle Program, Harris said. The impressive, framed collection of celebratory pins was donated to the museum by former NASA CSC Manager Kenneth L. McDonald, of Crockett, in 2016.

Another item on display that Harris considers as a main one is a former Crockett Fire Department fire truck that was used to help put out a fire at the former Crockett Hotel on the downtown square in 1973.

Elmer Beard, who drove a fire truck and helped put out the hotel fire, and his twin sister, Delmer Woolley, were visiting the museum when the Courier interviewed Harris and Stokes.

“I was in a different truck getting oil changed and they had just got through (when the fire call came in),” Beard said. “And I jump in (the other) truck and ran up there. I was the first one in the Crockett Hotel when we got the call. I tried to make it to the top floor and couldn’t make it.”

Other items that rank high on Harris and Stokes’ lists of items to see are a many years old John Deere tractor, which was loaned to the museum by the late Bill Sharp; a 175-year-old sewing machine; a rocking chair that Sam Houston used to sit in; and the museum’s military room.

An interesting item on display features information about the late Howard Wooten, a Black Tuskegee airman and ace pilot from this area, who fought and was killed in World War II, Harris said.

She said her most favorite items at the museum are a peach witching stick, which was used in the past to locate underground water streams so that wells could be dug, and a display of the late Ben Chamberland’s drug store liquor sales and related records taken during prohibition in Crockett in the late 1920s. 

Drawing attention to a few of the many other items on display, Stokes pointed out old tools people used for farming, gardening, lawncare and other work. “You wonder, ‘How did they get so much done back then?’ Stokes said. “We have all these modern electronic things right now. This is what they had.”

Harris and Stokes showed the Courier “the first phone booth from the first phone company in Crockett and the county. “It didn’t have a pay phone; it just had one with no numbers,” Harris said. “And this was the switch board (a telephone company console unit established by John Loch Cook in 1910).”

Stokes called attention to several items, including old fashion women’s hair dressing equipment; two handmade dresses from many years ago; a replica put together by a group of school students depicting the 1838 Edens-Madden Massacre by Indians in the county; and the museum’s coal mine room which contained ledgers and other items.

Stokes pointed out many names that were inscribed on bricks on the exterior of the former train station building by many visitors who came up to it throughout the years. “That’s one of the things we decided to call attention to,” Stokes said. “All up and down here where there are bricks people, throughout the years, have written their names.”

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Houston County government supporting summer events

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Members of the Houston County Historical Commission, pictured with the Houston County Commissioners, were presented a Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission for their outstanding service during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.  (ALTON PORTER | HCC)Members of the Houston County Historical Commission, pictured with the Houston County Commissioners, were presented a Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission for their outstanding service during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Houston County government officials have shown that they have been and are in support of summer concerts and other performance events in the county by granting funds to entertainment sponsors.

Members of the county’s commissioners court voted to approve requests for funding from the Hotel Occupancy Tax Fund to three entertainment sponsorship organizations at a regular meeting of the court Tuesday, July 27.

The commissioners approved granting $3,000 to Salmon Lake Enterprises LP to assist in covering expenses incurred by putting on the Camp Rock Fest (Pitmasters Edition) held in Salmon Lake Park, in Grapeland, this past weekend.

In addition, the commissioners granted $2,000 to sponsors of the 84th World Champion Fiddlers Festival, which is scheduled to be held in Porth Ag Arena, in Crockett, Friday-Saturday, Sept. 24-25.

The commissioners voted to grant Piney Woods Fine Arts Association (PWFAA) $3,000 to help cover expenses being incurred by sponsoring three concerts to be held in the Crockett Civic Center next month.

The events are a Marshall Tucker Band concert scheduled Friday, Aug. 6, an Exile Band concert to take place Friday, Aug. 20, and a Kevin Costner and the Modern West Band concert slated Friday, Aug. 27.

Concerning the upcoming Costner and band Aug. 20 concert, Ann Walker, the PWFAA’s executive director, said, “We’re very lucky to get him (Costner); I think he’s going to be quite shocked when he pulls into Crockett, Texas.”

Walker added, “People are coming from everywhere. There’s not a hotel room available for that day. We’ve made national news in our part of the world for this—for bringing him. We are sending out emails to everybody from out of town of things to do, places to stay, places to eat…. We’re paying Kevin more money than we’ve ever paid, anybody and it paid off,” she said. She said people are coming from states as far away as Pennsylvania to attend the show.

Historical Commission recognized for service

The commissioners delivered a 2020 Distinguished Service Award to the county’s historical commission from the Texas Historical Commission. The award was presented to the Houston County Historical Commission “in recognition of its active and well-balanced preservation program.”

Wanda Jordan, chairperson of the county’s historical commission, told the county commissioners and other meeting attendees, this marks 15 years in a row that the county historical commission has been presented the award by the state historical commission—even including last year despite the shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We actually think that we contributed 1,520 hours to the county and a lot of it didn’t get recorded last year because a lot of our people continued to work at home,” Jordan said. “We can keep the office open three days a week consistently and sometimes four. It depends on how many volunteers we have.

“So, having said that, we’re always looking for volunteers. So, if anybody has any time, come over (to the office); we’ll put you to work.

“We do like to re-emphasize that our whole purpose in existing is to protect and promote the cultural and historical aspect of Houston County, and we’re deeply appreciative of the county for the office space we have (in the county courthouse annex building), the light bill we don’t have to pay, the internet we don’t have to pay. We understand we have a prime location and we do appreciate that.”

Jordan added “We had enough meetings last year to qualify for what the state requires; they did make some adjustments for their requirements so that we didn’t have to meet in person in order to maintain the viability because they were working with the fact that we couldn’t get workers together. So, we did not have the required number of meetings, but they let it go because they couldn’t do anything else.”

The commissioners voted to pass a motion accepting as information the fact that the county historical commission was awarded for its volunteers’ distinguished service by the state historical commission. 

In other business, the commissioners approved interlocal agreements between the county and the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and Economic Development District for GIS (Government Information System) & NG (Next Generation) 9-1-1 automatic location information maintenance services for fiscal 2022-2023.

A resolution to establish newly purchased county voting equipment as the official election system for early and election day voting was adopted by a motion which carried on a vote taken by the commissioners.

The commissioners voted to accept a donation of 20 box fans, valued at $357, from Houston County Good Samaritan Charity to be distributed to clients of Houston County Aging Services.

In addition, the commissioners accepted negotiated interest rates with the county depository, Citizens National Bank, as authorized under Local Government Code 116.021(b) for the final two years of a four-year contract.

Certified appraisal roll values, presented by county Tax Assessor-Collector Laronica Smith were accepted by the commissioners.

The commissioners voted to approve amending the county’s employee life insurance plan waiting period to coincide with the employee health insurance waiting period of the first month following 60 days.

The county government’s elected precinct leaders voted to approve a lease-purchase for the county with BancorpSouth Equipment Finance for 13 months for a 2022 dump truck for Precinct 2 in an amount not to exceed $135,000. In addition, the commissioners approved the making of necessary budget amendments for the lease-purchase.

In addition, an agreement for a similar lease-purchase with BancorpSouth for five years for a dump truck for Precinct 1 in an amount not to exceed $130,000 was approved along with authorization for the making of necessary budget amendments.

A motion to amend a master contract with Valic for employee deductions for a 457(b) retirement account carried on a voted taken by the commissioners.

The commissioners approved a proposal for the county to submit to Texas Association of Counties for renewal of liability insurance for fiscal year 2021-2022.

And the commissioners voted to designate a 2012 county vehicle as surplus and to authorize advertising to accept bids for the sale of the vehicle.  

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