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Secures $37.4 million from state legislature

Dr. Thomas A. Johnson, president of Lamar State College Orange, testifies before the Texas Senate’s Finance Committee in February 2021. Courtesy photoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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Hard work and perseverance definitely pay off. Just ask Dr. Thomas A. Johnson, a 1981 graduate of Livingston High School. Having just started his fourth year as president of Lamar State College Orange (LSCO), Johnson learned recently that his efforts and testimony before the Texas Senate’s Finance Committee in February paid off. LSCO will receive $37,435,695 to construct a new academic building on its campus in Orange. The legislation was passed in the last couple hours of the third special session, he said.

Johnson testified before a full Texas Senate finance committee in February of this year, requesting funds to develop an industrial technology academy, make hurricane-related repairs and improvements on campus and also asking for a $40 million tuition revenue bond to build a new state-of-the-art academic building.

Before testifying before the finance committee, Johnson met with Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, Orange’s state representative, to highlight the success that LSCO has achieved over the past two years, as well as where the college is headed in the next biennium.

Once in front of the finance committee, Chancellor Dr. Brian McCall led the Texas State University System delegation, where each president laid out their vision for the next two years. Johnson testified to the resilience of LCSO’s students, faculty and staff, enduring, in little more than a 12-month period, the aftermath of Tropical Storm Imelda, the pandemic, then Hurricanes Laura and Delta in a six-week period, followed by a week-long winter ice storm.

Johnson highlighted LSCO’s financial requests of the legislature, which included $1.5 million to building an industrial technology academy which would create a learning space for dual credit and other students to develop a trade or craft. He also requested funding to repair the academic building that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Laura. Additionally, he asked for $40 million via a tuition revenue bond to build a new state-of-the-art academic building. Finally, he asked for $1.5 million to purchase a natural gas generator to help the campus function during, and to recover more quickly after, future hurricane and tropical events.

“We went up significantly in our enrollment, and not only in just enrollment, we increased our transfer rate to four-year schools by economically disadvantaged kids, like me, by 25%,” Johnson said of the past two years, “and then a 13% increase in our degrees and certificates being awarded.”

Regarding the industrial technology academy, Johnson said, “What we’re asking for is to build an academy right there, so the school districts around us don’t have to worry about doing this. They can come to us to learn a trade or skill while they’re in high school. Dual credit is a wonderful thing for those wanting to go to university, but also, if we can channel it into learning a trade or a skill or a craft, that would be a wonderful thing.

“Other presidents were getting up there talking about how their buildings were built when Dolph Briscoe was governor. I told them mine was built in 1908 during the Roosevelt administration, and that’s Theodore, not Franklin,” Johnson said, remarking that his present academic building was a store house, a feed store and a bowling alley before LSCO got it about 50 years ago.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to Governor Abbott, our own state representative and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, Senator Robert Nichols and the Texas Legislature for providing this much-needed infrastructure funding for our beautiful college on the Sabine,” Johnson said.

“This investment in higher education will help us continue to create a bright orange future for our students as we grow our campus. We thank these elected officials and the Texas State University System, particularly Chancellor Dr. Brian McCall and his staff, for believing in our vision of creating hope and opportunity for students in Orange and beyond,” Johnson said.

The funding represents the largest single capital investment that the Texas Legislature has granted LSCO. The building will house general academic instruction and information technology services.

LSCO boasts a student population from 26 Texas counties and eight different states. The makeup of the student body is 34% full-time students and 64% part-time students, with 46% in academic enrollment and 54% in technical enrollment. The student to faculty ratio is 19 to 1, with 74% of the classes having fewer than 20 students. Seventy-eight percent of the Spring 2021 graduates were first-generation college students.

Johnson is the son of Otis Johnson of Livingston and the late Margie Johnson.

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New House, Senate districts drawn

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Redistricting LogoBy Emily Banks Wooten
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Newly-drawn House and Senate districts have been signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. The redistricting process happens every 10 years after new census data is released. The new districts will be used for the first time in next year’s primary and general elections, barring any court interventions.

Legal battles have already begun, with one early lawsuit raising various claims that the new districts unfairly and illegally discriminate against voters of color. Additional legal challenges are expected.

Previously, Polk County was in House District 19, along with Hardin, Jasper, Newton and Tyler counties. Moving forward, Polk County will no longer be aligned with Hardin, Jasper and Newton counties, but will be in House District 9, along with Tyler, Trinity, Houston, Angelina and San Augustine counties.

Regarding the Texas Senate, Polk County was previously in Senate District 3, along with Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Hardin, Henderson, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler counties and parts of Montgomery and Smith counties.

Polk County will continue to be in Senate District 3, which is losing San Jacinto, Montgomery and Smith counties, and is picking up Liberty and Orange counties and part of Jefferson County. So, the new Senate District 3 will comprise Henderson, Anderson, Cherokee, Nacogdoches, Shelby, San Augustine, Sabine, Jasper, Newton, Houston, Trinity, Polk, Tyler, Angelina, Liberty, Hardin and Orange counties and part of Jefferson County.

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DA not seeking reelection

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William Lee HonWilliam Lee HonFrom Enterprise Staff

Polk County District Attorney William Lee Hon announced Friday that he will not seek reelection.

“After much prayerful consideration and discussion with my family, I am today announcing my intention not to seek a fifth term as your criminal district attorney. At the conclusion of my current term in 2022, I will have been associated with Polk County DA’s Office for 26 years. I will have served four terms, or 16 years, in my elected position—the longest serving district attorney in the history of Polk County,” Hon said.

“As an assistant prosecutor, I was blessed to work for John S. Holleman who was the best mentor a young prosecutor could ever hope to have. As DA, I have been so fortunate to have three fantastic first assistants—Joe Martin, Kari Allen and Beverly Armstrong—who made this job a lot less stressful than it might have otherwise been. Throughout, I have been honored to work with DA staff who are among the most dedicated public servants I have ever known. Prosecutors who have worked in this office have gone on to have very successful careers in other DA’s offices or in private practice. I am glad to have had some small part in their professional development and later success. I want to thank all of them for their dedicated service to this office and the people of Polk County,” Hon said.

“For 26 years and on a daily basis, I have seen people who were living at the absolutely lowest point in their lives—both as victims and offenders. That is hard. It colors your perspective of the world and people around you and in many respects, gives you a cynical outlook on life and humanity. Because of my abiding faith in our Creator, I know there are many wonderful loving, giving and caring people in this world and especially in this community. I am ready to reengage with them in a more normal capacity and with a more optimistic perspective on life,” Hon said.

“I would be remiss if I failed to express my appreciation to a number of people who I have worked closely with over the years and whose efforts have contributed greatly to the success of this office as well as my own. Sheriffs Billy Ray Nelson, Kenneth Hammack and Byron Lyons and exceptional police chiefs like Dennis Clifton and James Riley, each contributed greatly to the interests of law enforcement in this county and the pursuit of justice. It has been an honor to work with each of you. To County Judges John Thompson and Sydney Murphy and all the county commissioners who have supported this office over the years, thank you. To all of the dedicated deputies and police officers I have worked with and who give of themselves so selflessly, I am humbled to have been entrusted to see your cases through in our efforts to obtain justice and create a safer Polk County,” Hon said.

“To State Representatives James White, Dan Ellis and the late John Otto, and U.S. Congressmen Brian Babin and Kevin Brady, thank you for helping us on so many criminal justice issues that were important to our county. To all of the other wonderful DAs, prosecutors and investigators around the state who have become lifelong friends, and to the leadership of the Texas District and County Attorney’s Association, y’all are awesome and the best of the best. To the members of the Republican Party of Polk County and the voters who supported me, please know that I am truly humbled to have been entrusted with this office and allowed to carry the banner of our party as a conservative elected official. I did my best,” Hon said.

“Finally, to my wife Nancy and my family, my children Caroline, Will, Carson and Matthew, thank you for sharing me with the people of this county and those who I have served. On some level, I hope that you understand that your sacrifice of my family time influenced the lives of others in a positive way and perhaps, in some small way, made this community a better place to live,” Hon said.

“It is my intention to serve out the balance of my current term in the same manner and with the same commitment that I have approached every other day of my job as a prosecutor representing the State of Texas and the people of Polk County. I do not know for sure what my future holds in store. In the days, weeks and months to come, I will prayerfully consider what professional and personal options are best for my family and myself. In my judgment, there are very few professional callings and responsibilities greater than to be a ‘public servant.’ In my career, I have had a lot of success. I have also had some failures along the way. I know I have helped many people to the best of my ability. In other circumstances, I know I fell short. Nevertheless, I have always taken my oath and my responsibility as district attorney very seriously and did my best to do what is right and ‘see that justice is done. It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve you,” Hon said.

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Onalaska Mayor Chip Choate has died after a battle with cancer

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Onalaska Mayor Chip ChoateOnalaska Mayor Chip Choate

The Enterprise has learned that Onalaska Mayor Chip Choate has died
after a battle with cancer.

The City of Onalaska received word of Choate’s passing Tuesday
afternoon. The mayor had announced to the council previously that he
was in treatment for cancer of the salivary glands. He had been in the
hospital for around a month.

The city announced the news in a Facebook message around noon on Wednesday.

“It is with great sadness we announce the passing of our Mayor, Chip
Choate. Mayor Choate was officially sworn in as Mayor of Onalaska in
2018 and was elected to a second term in 2020. Councilwoman, Shirley
Gilmore who as Mayor Pro Tem, will assume the duties of Mayor to
complete Mayor Choate’s existing term through 2022. Memorial Service
details will be announced when available.”

Choate was said to have been in treatment for around eight weeks. He
had been placed in rehabilitation, then later transferred to a hospice

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Bringing home the bacon

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Halle IMG 4468 2 main 1000

By Brian Besch

Many children raising livestock in Texas dream of winning an award in Dallas at the state fair. Livingston High School’s Halle Hawkins enjoyed the experience just a few weeks ago — with three different animals. 

Vontae Mack, a Hampshire was reserve champion at the Youth Market Barrow Show that held over 1,000 competitors. Kodak, a crossbred gilt, was reserve champion. The big winner was Halle’s duroc, Missy, that was awarded supreme champion of the Youth Breeding Gilt Show. 

Halle has been showing pigs since she was in the third grade at 8 years of age. She spends an average of 27 hours per week with the pigs, making sure each are washed, exercised and stalls are cleaned. Each pig — she currently has seven — is walked a half-mile every day.

Missy, Kodak and Vontae Mack, were purchased in May, approximately six weeks after they were born and weighing around 20-25 pounds. 

She and her father, Livingston Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins, have traveled thousands of miles to find just the right animals. There are some who purchase pigs for up to $50,000, but Halle and her father instead travel across several states to find the one right for them at a cheaper rate.

“Some of these pigs, we have to work extra hard for them, because we don’t spend the money some people spend,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Some of the ones that she beat in the breed were $20,000.”

Just taking care of a pig can get pricey, as they eat a $40 bag of feed about once a week. Some pigs at shows have more extravagant ways of reaching the fairs than others, arriving in $100,000 trailers.

Halle has been showing pigs since she was in the third grade at 8 years of age.  Courtesy photosHalle has been showing pigs since she was in the third grade at 8 years of age. Courtesy photosHowever, the Hawkins clan paid a relative bargain price at $500 for the supreme champion, while the other two came at costs of $500 and $1,700. Dr. Hawkins said Halle is attempting to raise champions, not buy them. 

There are many features to finding the right pig that include the animal being structurally sound with feet and legs hitting the ground correctly when they walk, good skin and hair with long necks, big legs and a wide, flat back.

“We start taming them down in the pen, getting them used to us,” Halle said of the work once she has the next potential winner. “At 75-100 pounds, I start working with them. There are some that take a little more work than usual.”

Halle competes against hundreds and sometimes thousands of contestants in shows. She is also judged on how well the animal is presented.

She had a good feeling about the three recent champions and their chances.

“I wouldn’t say special, but they were on up there. I had a special bond with Vontae and Missy. Vontae and Kodak come from Dalhart, Texas, and Missy came from Oklahoma City.”

Kodak and Missy were both leased and have been returned to their owners to breed. Vontae was purchased and later sold after winning.

Scholarship money is the big reward for her accolades at the state fair. Though she is not sure how much it will be, hard work over the years has allowed the sophomore to accumulate around $10,000 in school funds already.

It is believed that no one has ever won three such awards that Halle did at the state fair. She is also thought to be the first winner of a Texas livestock major in the district.

The next show in a few weeks will be in Louisville, Kentucky, where Halle and a new group of four-legged friends will compete at the national level.

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