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Houston County News - Breakout

Chamber banquet a successful event

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Doc’s BBQ dishes up barbecued brisket, chicken, and all the fixins for the Chamber of Commerce awards program. JAN WHITE | HCC Doc’s BBQ dishes up barbecued brisket, chicken, and all the fixins for the Chamber of Commerce awards program. JAN WHITE | HCC

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – On Thursday, Feb. 17, members of the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce attended what was hand’s down one of their most successful awards banquets. Attendees were treated to an entertaining evening of music, food, prizes, games, and most importantly, raised approximately $25,000 for scholarships, operations and member programs.

For this year’s “Crockett Area Roundup,” the Civic Center was transformed into an Old West town, complete with a ‘saloon’ and a ‘jail’ photo op, classic movie clips from John Wayne western movies, and Board members dressed in 1800s western garb. Tables lined the walls, jam-packed with items donated for the raffle and auction, awaiting bids. Local band Barely Legal furnished background music while guests enjoyed a fabulous charcuterie table provided Margaret Broughton’s Cattleman’s Café and a classically delicious meal from Doc’s BBQ and Smoked Meats.

During the event, various Chamber Board members announced awards honoring members who contributed their time and efforts to benefit the community in 2021. The following were recognized for their service: Darryl Bennett, Andrea Hill, and Leanne Henson for their years as Board Members, Gary White for Volunteer of the Year, Cheryl Varner for Ambassador of the Year, and Dr. Christopher Haeckler as Citizen of the Year. Rising Star awards were presented to Keshia’s Café, The Loft, S2 Nutrition, and Scrumptious Fried Pies and Pastries. The Chairman’s Award of Excellence went to Leanne Henson, and Business of the Year was awarded to Crockett Medical Center.

After participating in a fundraising ‘dessert dash’ where members vied to be the first to claim their favorite dessert, an auction was held to raise additional scholarship funds. Ansel Bradshaw was the auctioneer for the evening and, as always, used his skills to encourage the highest possible bids. Then Chamber president Carey Minter announced the names of the lucky raffle winners.

The evening ended with a word from the Executive Director of the Chamber, Liza Clark, who thanked everyone for attending the event and contributing to the scholarship fund. 

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‘Jolley’ good: Man finds higher calling

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Lawyer JolleyLawyer JolleyBy Jan White
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CROCKETT – Lawyer C. Jolley was born in Crockett, Texas. Because his parents divorced when he was five, Lawyer and his siblings were raised by their grandparents, who made their living as sharecroppers and truck farmers. Of the experience, Lawyer relates, “We never really knew we were poor because there was always food on the table, clothes on our back, a roof over our head, and a household full of love.” And like many children raised on a farm, Lawyer was expected to do his share of chores around the house and in the barnyard, which meant shoveling hay to the livestock, slopping the hogs, gathering eggs, and feeding the chickens. Early on, he learned the value of hard work to succeed. Daily prayer, bible study, and church attendance were also a vital part of his growing up. Lawyer’s grandparents were devout believers who impressed him with the importance of a relationship with God and how that would define every other relationship. They also instilled the value of other people, no matter their color, creed, sex, or socioeconomic status. This lesson served him through every aspect of his life. 

Education was important to the Jolley family. Lawyer’s grandmother, being a strict disciplinarian, set, in his words, “remarkably high standards of performance for him and his siblings.” As a result, Lawyer was expected to achieve exceedingly high levels of academic performance. And he did. He became the first in his immediate family to obtain a college degree. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) from Prairie View A&M University and later a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) from Texas A&M University, graduating with honors from both institutions. 

 After graduation, Lawyer went to work for Phillips Petroleum Company and progressed through the company from first-line supervision to several mid-level manager positions.  In 1995, he became the first African American to be promoted to a Plant Manager position. Lawyer continued to rise in the Company ranks, with promotion after promotion, always maintaining a high level of confidence with upper management. In each of his assignments, he was the first African American in Chevron Phillips to hold those positions, opening the door for more African Americans to follow. Some of them he mentored and are now high-level executives themselves. In 2007, Lawyer became General Manager and President of Chevron Phillips Performance Pipe Division with some 650 employees in nine different locations throughout the United States.  He retired as the Worldwide Conduct of Operations Manager for all of Chevron Phillips Chemical Company L.P.

It was never Lawyer’s intent to choose Crockett as his retirement location. But to paraphrase the Scripture, “our plans are not always God’s plans.” The Jolley family still owned property in the area, and Lawyer had returned off and on his whole life to visit family and friends. And he never lost his love for the place where he grew up - the fishing, the hunting, and just nature in general. As luck, or some might say “divine intervention,” would have it, none of the properties he and his wife considered for retirement met their criteria. Crockett, it turns out, was ideally situated between Dallas, Houston, and Austin, where their children and grandchildren reside. So from a destination standpoint, it was perfect.

Then there was that divine intervention thing again.

Lawyer served multiple positions in the church throughout his life - from teacher to convention leader, from Sunday School director to secretary, from treasurer to deacon, from youth director to singing in the choir. He firmly believes that the skills and gifts that God gave him to accomplish his career goals at Chevron Phillips were now intended to further the kingdom of God. Although it wasn’t easy for him to leave the industry he’d been a part of for so long, his trust in God convinced Lawyer to begin a new chapter in his life. In 2020, he was ordained as a minister at First Baptist Church in Pearland and is now enrolled in B.H. Carroll Theological Institute pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. 

As for what the future holds, Lawyer again is trusting in God to reveal the right path. Currently, he leads a small weekly Bible Study group on Tuesday evenings, which he hopes will continue to grow in membership and diversity. But he is also considering establishing a fully multi-cultural church in the area or assisting a church with the aspiration of becoming one. Inclusion is a concept that Lawyer is acquainted with, having experienced exclusion first-hand as the only African American in boardrooms across corporate America. Empathetic to the plight, Lawyer has used his own experience as a motivation to do all he can to make sure no one else endures the same. 

In the meantime, Lawyer enjoys operating his small ranch, visiting with the grandkids,  taking part in civic and community activities, and just spending time in the outdoors getting back to his roots. Regarding his life’s journey so far, Lawyer stated, “You will never find me crediting brilliance or any other human attributes for my success, for it is undeniable that God’s hand has always been on my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful!”

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And the winner is: Lovefest celebrated in Lovelady

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2022 Queen2022 Lovefest Queen is Ms. Magali Castillo

By Jan White
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LOVELADY – It didn’t take long for the parents, students, teachers, and friends packing the Lovelady gym to learn who won the honor of being named 2022 Lovefest Queen. The ceremony, which took place on Thursday, Feb. 10, began with a welcome by Emcees Alexis Bodden and Ace Easton, who moved quickly to the first order of business – introducing last year’s Queen and this year’s Royal Court.

2021 Lovefest Queen Kyra Rogers was escorted to the stage area by crown bearer Hayes Davidson and Flower Girl Ariel Bird. Then the rest of the procession began. Seventh Grade Princess Zoe Burdett, escorted by Bryson Franklin and Eighth Grade Princess D’Janayah Simpson and her escort CJ Wiley followed. Then, making their way to the stage were the candidates for Lovefest Queen: Freshman Libby Ray and her escort James Gatlin, Sophomore Aaliyah Jones and her escort Oscar Sutton, Junior Courtney Spoerle and her escort Seth Enos, and Senior Magali Castillo and her escort Conner Martinez.

Emcee Alexis Bodden explained that the 2022 Queen was chosen from the accumulated scores of a written essay and an impromptu four-minute speech. Ace Easton then took to the mike and announced, “And now the moment we have all been waiting for – the 2022 Lovefest Queen is Ms. Magali Castillo, representing the Senior class.” Following her crowning by former Queen Kyra Rogers, Ms. Castillo, escort Conner Martinez, and the rest of the Royal Court took their places on stage to watch the evening’s entertainment. 

The program began with Pre-K and kindergarten students performing a dance routine to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” followed by a duet of “High Hopes” by Emma Yauger and Christina Ray. Next up, Ledisi Taylor and Crew and their backup singers and dancers performed a routine to Beyonce’s “Halo.” Louis Armstrong’s chart-topper “What a Wonderful World” was the backdrop for the first and second-grade performance. Then the action kicked up a little with a feisty routine by The Git Up Dancers, followed by Billy McMillan’s rendition of George Strait’s “Heartland.” Seth, Remington, and Clara Dagle delivered a foot-stomping, hand-clapping version of “My God Fights For Me.” The third and fourth grade performed to the jazzy hit “L.O.V.E.” and the evening concluded with Quade McLaughlin’s percussion accompaniment to the KISS classic “Rock and Roll All Night.” 

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CEIDC, CISD partner for vocational ed programs

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VoCaTrainBy Jan White

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CROCKETT – During the meeting of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation board of directors, held on Tuesday, Feb. 8, Brian Aiken, Assistant Superintendent for the Crockett Independent School District, shared his vision for working with the CEIDC, Deep East Texas Workforce, and local businesses to help implement vocational and technical education programs. 

A recent addition to the CISD, Aiken laid out his goals and ideas to the Board. Because of his background, Aiken understands and has identified the need for working with at-risk students to provide educational and vocational opportunities. His hope is to give graduating students more options to help them make positive life choices. Aiken said that CISD wants to partner with agencies like Economic Development and Deep East Texas Workforce to provide training and jobs for students. He believes that the school can achieve long-term, sustainable vocational and technical education objectives by working together with these entities. 

Aiken asked that the CEIDC work specifically with the school district to help open doors with their business partners who could provide training or apprenticeships for students. Executive Director James Gentry mentioned that local businesses, such as Lincoln Lumber, Alloy Polymers, Aquapharm PChem, were looking for skilled workers and stated, “ I’d rather see those positions filled with young people coming out of our community.” 

Both Gentry and Aiken expressed a desire to help give the city’s youth a solid direction for their futures and hope that local businesses will share the vision. Aiken also emphasized the importance of parental involvement to make these goals achievable. He said that the school board will cooperate with the CEIDC to develop a survey to reach out to the community and gather data to find out what businesses, parents, and educators would like to see in the way of targeted vocational and technical education. 

In addition to the discussion by Aiken, CEIDC Board members approved several modifications to bylaws presented by attorney Bill Pemberton. These included allowing all Board members the ability to sign checks, disallowing Mr. Gentry to sign any checks payable to himself, and limiting Board member absences, resulting in expulsion after three consecutive missed meetings.   

The CEIDC also welcomed Wade Thomas and Lawyer Jolley as Ex-Officio members of the Board. The Ex-Officio positions allow the appointees to contribute to discussions and proposals set before the Board, but they do not get to vote on such issues. Thomas is a local businessman and former CEIDC Board member. Jolley is a Crockett native and former operations manager for Chevron Phillips.

Other agenda items included discussions on future modifications to the Onshore Outsourcing contract, proposals for work on the Tech Center, and a project management software company presentation. No actions were taken on the items at this time.

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From tires to burgers: Business a testament to hard work, faith

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Chuck Wagon Grill W.L. Tillis (right) with employees. JAN WHITE | HCC

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – “You can’t do a story about the Chuck Wagon Grill without the story of Tillis Tire and Detail.”

That’s what Regina Tillis said when I sat down to talk to her about how the Chuck Wagon Grill got its start. And she is right. The two businesses have a shared history that began when Regina and W.L. Tillis were children. Growing up in the same neighborhood, Regina was best friends with W.L.’s younger sister. And like a typical older brother, W.L. viewed Regina as a little kid. When he found out Regina had a crush on him, his words were,  “You’re too young for me.” But years later, all that changed. As small-town graduates often do, Regina and W.L. left Crockett. But as fate would have it, they returned to the old neighborhood, and the next time W.L. saw Regina, she didn’t seem too young for him anymore. They married and established their lives back in their hometown. Regina and W.L. have been married now for 20 years.

The Tillis’ have always been hardworking people. Along with his job driving 18-wheelers, W.L. purchased a couple of tractors and found jobs mowing pastures for local farmers. After work, he would mow – and when Regina got off work, she’d go out and mow until dark. It wasn’t long before W.L. decided he needed a place to store his tractors rather than park them in his yard. He arranged to lease an old tire shop from a coworker. When W.L. visited the shop, he noticed that the previous occupant had left an old tire machine and some extra tires. He contacted the owner but was told just to keep the equipment. W.L. said that the second day he was there, people came by and asked if he could fix their tires. And that’s how the tire business got started.

Tillis Tire and Detail opened in 2007, but it was two years later before Regina began her hamburger business. That, too, came about in a rather unique way.   

Regina’s training was in the medical field. She had worked in Crockett nursing homes and eventually took a job in the juvenile corrections field with the Youth Commission. Regina’s job was in the infirmary. When the Youth Commission began to shut down operations and phase out jobs, the medical workers were the first to transition out. Not one to just sit at home, Regina offered to help W.L. out at the tire store, working the cash register, or running errands. In their evenings together, W.L. and Regina would talk about their day’s journey. It was during these conversations that Regina mentioned an idea to her husband. She had noticed that after dropping off their vehicles, customers would leave the shop, saying they would be back after they got something to eat.

Regina suggested they come up with a way to throw in together by offering food for the customer, maybe opening up a hamburger place. After all, Regina had been cooking since she was a youngster, learning recipes passed down from her mother and grandmother. W.L. found a bus that someone had gutted and refit with electricity, water, refrigerator, and stove. The couple decided to begin their new enterprise by selling hamburgers. That way, when customers came to visit the shop – they could smell the aroma of something cooking, which would entice them to stay and order something to eat. When asked how she came up with the name Chuck Wagon Grill, W.L. said they first started calling the bus “the wagon” because it had a hitch used for hauling it around. From that, the name Chuck Wagon Grill just seemed to fall into place. Regina decorated the area with western décor, befitting of the name.

Initially, the area between the tire shop and the bus was a wide-open space. A few picnic tables were added so customers would have a place to sit down and enjoy their burgers. But mostly, it was a take-out joint. Later, W.L.and Regina decided to provide an actual seating area so customers could have a place to eat and visit year-round. That was when the original dining room was built. W.L. and some of his friends added the closed-in area that connects the bus to the tire shop. 

In 2013, they added another dining area because their business was booming, and they needed more seating space. At the time, W.L.’s office was quite large. He kept his motorcycle, tires, and displays there, along with seating so that the gentlemen could come by and hang out and just have a place to talk. But one day, W.L. told Regina that it looked like he might need to give up that space to expand the restaurant. So they remodeled. W.L.’s office became the size of a cubicle, but Chuck Wagon Grill now had the capability of seating 40 customers. 

W.L. and Regina are people of faith. In relaying their story, Regina quoted the bible verse that says if we have faith as little as a mustard seed, God will answer your prayers. She prayed that if it was the Lord’s will for her to join W.L. in his business, “make it work, make it work.” 

Obviously, her prayer was answered.

The couple both have a heart for serving. Regina says that the transition from the medical field to the restaurant industry was easy because they both involved helping others. W.L. expressed his gratitude for customers who tell him how much they appreciate his tire service, but it’s even more gratifying when they comment that the Chuck Wagon Grill is a place to just come and sit down and talk together like a family. Active members of the St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, W.L. serves as a deacon and Regina, a deaconess. Their motto is, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” Their greatest desire is to meet the needs of others and give back to the community. 

Both businesses have earned stellar reputations. The Chuck Wagon Grill serves old-fashioned, hand-pressed, made-to-order burgers with all the sides and fixins, a Texas-sized breakfast menu, a buffet that serves two or three different meats, and up to six vegetables all made from Regina’s family recipes. And that’s just the start. Don’t forget about the pies, banana pudding, cakes, and all the other sweet treats Chuck Wagon has to offer. Chuck Wagon has catered for all events, from local to as far away as Houston and Dallas. Tillis Tire and Detail has earned its own outstanding distinction. Tire stores from Centerville and Huntsville, Grapeland and Trinity, tell their customers, “If we don’t have the size tire you are looking for, go see Tillis.”

W.L. and Regina believe in giving back to the community. You can see their catering wagon at local events offering free hot dogs, donating meals to charitable events, always seeking opportunities to pay forward the support they have received from local residents. 

Tillis Tire and Detail and Chuck Wagon Grill are located at 805 South Fourth Street. Stop in and let W.L. take care of your vehicle needs. And while you’re waiting, grab something to eat from the Chuck Wagon Grill. You won’t be disappointed by either business. 

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