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Tyler County News

Judge Blanchette fights COVID

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Blanchette 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette swearing in Warren ISD board members in November, 2020.

By Chris Edwards

WOODVILLE – Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette found himself among the 13 million Americans who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus this year.

Blanchette received a positive result from a COVID-19 test administered on Friday, Nov. 28. He said he had begun feeling ill the day before Thanksgiving, and by Friday was very sick. He is currently staying confined at home. His wife, Leeza, had also fallen ill with the virus and is recuperating.

An update from the Tyler County Emergency Management Facebook page noted Blanchette’s announcement and that he appreciates the prayers and support from the public in his recovery.

As the pandemic has experienced a nationwide surge in the past month, the likelihood of infection has increased, and anyone is fair game for the virus.

Several other elected officials in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus. According to a recent story from KJAS out of Jasper, the Jasper ISD School Board President Mark Durand and the county’s Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Raymond Hopson were both diagnosed with the virus last week.

Hopson was elected to fill the seat held by Judge Jimmy Miller who died from coronavirus complications during the summer.

In Tyler County, the total number of confirmed cases has surpassed 300, and at press time is at 320. This number represents the total number of positive cases in the county since reporting began in late March with the first confirmed case.

Two recent deaths were also reported as COVID-related. Last week, Ruby Moore, of Warren, died from complications, and the week prior, Ethel McGough’s passing was linked to the virus.

Those two deaths brings the COVID death count to nine in the county.

In other COVID news, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe recently addressed the methodology for reporting the county’s number of cases and added reportage for the number of quick tests administered. Jobe said those cases are not listed by public health as active, but they are tracked, investigated and logged in the system as “probables.”

In addressing questions about the seeming lapse in reporting cases, Jobe said “The public health numbers and my numbers don’t always match,” which he attributed to a timing issue.

Additionally, the numbers from public health sources use the test date as the starting date for active cases, and then county 10 days and remove from active if they do not receive the result, Jobe said. Those cases are posted to the recovered category. “Several counties where we have residents go test are slow to get results to our public health group,” he said.

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Spurger ISD ends in-person instruction for a week

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Morgan WrightCALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Spurger ISD Superintendant Morgan Wright speaks at a monthly board meeting in September 2020.

By Chris Edwards

SPURGER – A spike in COVID-19 numbers resulted in a closure for in-person learning at Spurger ISD this week.

The district’s superintendent Morgan Wright said that administrators and faculty have been actively monitoring the numbers of positive cases, and there has been a steady increase in those numbers among both SISD staff and students as well as in the community.

“After a few days of discussion we believe it is in the best interest of the students, staff and our Spurger community that we exercise a five-day remote option the week of Nov. 30 - Dec. 4.,” Wright stated in a letter he released on Friday, Nov. 27.

Wright said that going solely remote for a week will help control the exposure numbers. “Our desire to be remote for a week is that it will prevent the district from having a major outbreak,” he said.

Spurger began the school year in an entirely remote mode for its first four weeks of the current school year. Wright said the move allowed faculty to focus on how to operate with asynchronous learning, as well as the ability to troubleshoot for both parents and teachers.

Up until last week, Wright said, the district’s numbers have been fairly low. “The potential for increased exposure has become evident in the growing numbers being reported. We want to do our part to protect everyone that is a part of Spurger ISD,” he said.

The district will resume in-person instruction on Monday, Dec. 7. For any parents or guardians who need a Verizon Hotspot or a Wi-Fi device for connection, the district has some available. Andrea Wilson is the point of contact for the district’s technology, and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule a time to pick up a device.

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The Tolar Cabin: the other half of the story

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4EDDIE BOX The Tolar Cabin Kitchen on display at the Heritage Village Museum in Woodville.

By Col Eddie Boxx

The Tolar Cabin “dog trot” kitchen remains one of the more popular venues at the Heritage Village museum. Built in 1866 and originally located with the “main house” of the Tolar Cabin near Hillister, it was moved to the museum in 1965.

The “squared-and-notch” log structure with its “mudcat” chimney represents an affluence not usually found in frontier buildings. However, after viewing, many inquisitive visitors (out of town and local) will ask the understandable follow-up question: “Where is the main cabin?”

Thanks to the preservation efforts of Ray Hensarling and his family – we can tell you the Paul Harvey-like “rest of the story.”

Originally constructed by Robert Jackson Tolar for his bride Mary Versailles “Versie” Durham, the cabin and kitchen were adjacent to each other but not connected (see painting). Understandably, the threat from wood-fueled kitchen fires along with the desire to keep the heat away from the rest of the house (especially in summer) made sense. Today, the main cabin remains in the same location – a few miles west of Hillister and situated on a ridge.

Although ownership has changed over the last two centuries, Al Pritchard ultimately saved the building in 1975. Twenty years later, Ray Hensarling (current owner and steward) and Pat Foster fully restored the cabin in 1995. Nowadays, the building is meticulously maintained and decorated and serves as a unique architectural heritage to a bygone era. Additionally, the cabin (and kitchen) represents a connection to two important Tyler county families – the Tolars and Shivers.

Robert Jackson Tolar was a nephew to Nancy (Tolar) Shivers (1813-1890), a fearless widow who moved her family via wagon to Texas in 1858 and settled 600 acres west of Woodville. According to the 1850 census, the westward move to Texas was a joint family undertaking as the Tolars lived next door to the Shivers in Simpson County, Mississippi. Located today near the Tyler County airport, the Magnolia Hills estate remains in the Shivers family. Nancy ultimately became the great-grandmother to one of the most influential politicians in Texas history – Gov. Allan Shivers. The quintessential log cabin remains identifiable to American, Texas and Tyler County history.

When Woodville’s own Gov. Allan Shivers (the ever-astute politician) was running for office (and his family’s Magnolia Hills cabin had long ago cease to exist) jokingly quipped, “I wasn’t born in a log cabin, so I built one.”

To learn more about the Tolar Cabin or to see for yourself a wonderfully preserved 1866 pioneer kitchen, please visit the Heritage Village Museum or call (409) 283-2272 / (800) 323-0389 or visit our website at: https://www.heritage-village.org.

Col. Eddie Boxx (Ret., USAF) teaches at Baylor University and writes for the Heritage Village Museum – an organization dedicated to the education and preservation of Tyler County history.

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TxDOT hosting US 69 corridor hearing

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US 69 Corridor Overall Location MapUS 69 Corridor Overall Location Map

By Caleb Fortenberry

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has issued a notice for the US 69 corridor project and study. The project, which is dubbed “Gateway to the Big Thicket,” is the subject of a virtual public hearing next week.

The virtual hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 19. A video with information about the project will be attached to the following website https://www.txdot.gov, by 4 p.m. next Thursday. The video will be posted near the bottom of the web page, according to a TxDOT news release.

The corridor covers approximately 345 miles of highway from Port Aurthur to Denison. The part of the project projected to reach Tyler County would stretch to FM 1943 near Warren. Involvement with the public began in 2017 and is still an ongoing part of the process.

The proposal for the project is to:

  • widen portions of the highway to four lanes,

  • add 12-foot travel lanes in both directions,

  • include 4-foot inside shoulders,

  • 10-foot outside shoulder on the southbound lane,

  • a 12-foot shoulder on the northbound lane that serves as hurricane lanes,

  • and extend  10-foot trails for biking and hiking.

According to the notice of the hearing, the additional right-of-way width in the project proposal, which would increase the typical 100-120 feet width to 300 feet, would potentially displace five residences and two other non-residential structures.

The in-person version of the hearing, available by appointment, will be on Tuesday, December 1, 2020 at the TxDOT Beaumont District office, 8350 Eastex Freeway, Beaumont, TX 77708. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Individuals must call to make an appointment at (512) 560-5108 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. To leave a recorded voicemail of concerns, call (409) 402-0151 between Nov. 19 at 5 p.m. and Friday Dec. 18 at 11:59 p.m.

Written comments can also be received at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., through the TxDOT website, or through mail addressed to TxDOT Project Manager, 8350 Eastex Freeway, Beaumont, TX 77708 before 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 18.

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Unofficial Tyler County results favor incumbents

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Voters in Tyler County turned out to polling places on Election Day in smaller numbers than those who chose to vote early. (CHRIS EDWARDS | EASTTEXASNEWS.COM PHOTO)Voters in Tyler County turned out to polling places on Election Day in smaller numbers than those who chose to vote early. (CHRIS EDWARDS | EASTTEXASNEWS.COM PHOTO) 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

TYLER COUNTY – With Election Day on Tuesday, the end came to a contentious presidential campaign, and records were shattered, both locally and nationwide.

At this time, former Vice President Joe Biden (D) led incumbent President Donald Trump in electoral votes, with Biden’s 223 over Trump’s 174, but neither candidate had received the necessary 270 to win.

Trump was favored to win Texas with 52% to 46.8% of the vote based on returns. He won Tyler County with 5,581 votes tallied from early voting totals. The other boxes were not available at press time for the presidential race, but that early figure was a sizable lead in the county over Biden’s 1,094.

In the 2016 race, Trump won Tyler County 6,601 votes. The total number in this, and other contested national races will be available on our Facebook page as soon as they are available.

In countywide races, the contest between incumbent sheriff Bryan Weatherford, who ran as a Republican, and his challenger Michael “Mike” King, who ran as an independent candidate, ended with Weatherford maintaining his office. Weatherford received 6,379 votes to King’s 2,961.

In Tyler County, the early voting turnout broke records, with 5,889 early votes counted as of last Friday, according to county clerk Donece Gregory. That total comprised 40.4% of the county’s 14,557 registered voters. 

That turnout mirrored the nationwide trend, with close to 100 million voters opting to cast their ballots prior to Tuesday. 

In statewide races, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville) easily maintained his seat in the 36th Congressional District. He received 5,695 votes over Democratic challenger Rashad Lewis’s 899 votes, by early voting numbers. 

The closely watched Senate race between incumbent John Cornyn, a Republican, and Democratic opponent MJ Hegar ended with Cornyn’s re-election. Early voting totals for that race in Tyler County had Cornyn at 5,390 votes and Hegar at 1,077.

The final determination for the presidential race comes on Dec. 14 when Electoral College electors are due to cast their ballots.

Other contested races in the county, which had unofficial totals at press time included mayoral and city council races for Woodville and Ivanhoe, as well as school board races in Colmesneil, Spurger and Woodville. 

Ivanhoe Mayor Cathy Bennett defeated challenger Ray McGlaun, with 330 votes to 321. In the Ivanhoe City Council race, John Craven received 376 votes, Will Warren 312 and Karen Fidler 267.

Woodville Mayor Paula Jones won with 392 votes over Michael G. Maness’s 278 and Kenneth A. Engler’s 69.

In the Woodville ISD Board of Trustees, place 2, John David Risinger received 1,732 votes over Kris Fowler’s 1,450.

For the Colmesneil ISD board’s race for three spots, Kelly Eddins had 633 votes; Kenneth Adaway 590; Clay Bendy 526; Kris Lindsey 470 and Robert Lawson 347. 

For the Spurger school board position, Brad Hatton had 351 votes and Juli Golden 186.

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