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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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Founder’s Day celebrated

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Dr. Ianthia Fisher, Mayor of Crockett, stands beside a historical picture display. JAN WHITE | HCCDr. Ianthia Fisher, Mayor of Crockett, stands beside a historical picture display. JAN WHITE | HCC

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – On Saturday, Feb. 12, members of the community gathered at First Presbyterian Church in Crockett for the 4th Annual Founders Day Celebration of Mary Allen College. Master of Ceremonies for the event was David Beaulieu.

Jacqueline Bonner Calhoun began the program with an inspirational rendition of the song “My Praise.” Pastor Johnie Wood welcomed guests and offered the opening prayer, followed by greetings from the President of Mary Allen College Museum, Dr. Thelma Douglass. 

Speakers for the program included Katlyn Marshall, who read the Emancipation Proclamation, Reverand Jim Tom Ainsworth, who shared a brief history of the college, and Special Guest Speaker, Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher. After additional music selections by Jacqueline Bonner Calhoun, presentations by Elnora Shepherd and Daphne Sessions, and remarks by Hilliard McKnight and David Beaulieu, Pastor Johnie Wood concluded the event with the benediction.

The luncheon meal was provided by the Moosehead Café and The Chuck Wagon Grill.

The vision and mission statements for the Mary Allen College and Museum reflect the original intent of the idea established back in 1886 -   “To be an academic institution and skills training center that serves as a historical landmark for a cross-culture society in Houston County and the world. Mary Allen College Museum exists to continue a collaboration and partnership journey to enhance academics, cultural opportunities, and the historical legacy of Crockett and Houston County which was conceptualized on college hill.”

Participants at the event and community members are encouraged to consider contributing a tax-deductible gift to help further that vision. For more information on ways to donate and levels of support, please contact Earlene Clebourn, Mary Allen Museum Treasurer, at 936-544-9344.

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Commissioners approve hirings, donations

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Houston County Seal 1280x640By Jan White
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CROCKETT – The Houston County Commissioners Court met at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 8 to vote on a wide variety of agenda items. Besides the general ‘housekeeping’ matters such as budget approvals and county department reports, the commissioners approved the following:

•The hiring of Neatis Montgomery, Theresa Hayes, and Brooke Steubing to fill jailer and dispatcher positions, respectively

•Payment for vacation and comp time for a county employee

•Accept donations from Patsy Harrington for improvements to CR 2126 and Charles Cunningham for improvements to Navarro Crossing Road.

•Addition of Private Road 5222 to the ArcGIS 9-1-1 Database and County Maps

•Accepting office furniture from Sam Houston State University Surplus

•Accepting the donation of two bullet-proof vests to the Houston County Sheriff’s Office by Houston County Law Enforcement Association

•Purchase of an airport hangar from Mark Whitfill for $42,500 for the purpose of storage

•Appointment of Ken Lair, former finance manager for Shell Oil, as Commissioner to Emergency Service District No. 2

•Renewal with Angelina County for the housing of inmates in the Houston County Jail

The court adjourned to executive session to consult with the county attorney regarding entering into or rejecting a settlement offer agreement in Civil Action Cause No. 9:18-CV-0182 styled Kyle Ray v. Houston County, Texas. 

After reconvening, the court recommended that no action be taken at this time.

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