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Tyler County News

Colmesneil suspends in-person learning

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Remote Learning graphicFILE PHOTO Remote Learning graphic

By Chris Edwards

COLMESNEIL – As of Monday, Colmesneil ISD will forgo all in-person learning until Jan. 5 of 2021.

The announcement was issued on Friday by Superintendent Eldon Franco, who cited potential exposures to COVID-19 since Thanksgiving break. “The cases on campus have been very minimal and have not affected large numbers. Regardless, the process that we must follow, as dictated by state and local governments, creates a great deal of worry and stress for those both directly and indirectly involved,” Franco wrote in a letter addressed to parents and community members on Friday, Dec. 11.

Franco said that the number of cases has surged in the community, and attributed it to outside sources, and that it was expected to occur due to holiday gatherings.

At present, the COVID numbers, countywide, include 49 active residents who have tested positive from the PCR testing and 86 active tests from the rapid, or quick testing.

In going to the remote mode of learning, all CISD students will still be expected to participate in remote learning for the remainder of the semester by using district-provided or personal devices to access instruction.

Students are also expected to check-in with teachers each day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m, and breakfast and lunch will continue to be provided by the CISD cafeteria for pick-up from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

“Our goal is to keep everyone safe and healthy and continue the educational process,” Franco said.

With the announcement that CISD will suspend its in-person learning, Colmesneil eatery The Rustic Grill announced that it will offer its facility and Wi-Fi capabilities to anyone in need. “We would like to help out. If you don’t have Wi-Fi at home to do virtual school please don’t hesitate to come here and do your work,” a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page stated.

The Rustic Grill is typically closed on Mondays but will open its doors for anyone who needs to access the restaurant’s Wi-Fi to do schoolwork.

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Flannery presented with TEA award

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Payton Flannery 111920CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB Woodville High School senior Payton Flannery (left) was presented with the Student Hero citation from the Texas Education Agency. Matt Robinson from TEA (right) presented her with the award. It recognizes students in pre-kindergarten through high school who do outstanding volunteer service. One student from each of the 15 State Board of Education districts is recognized with the award. Flannery started a group at WHS called Eagles for Christ. Flannery is involved in a variety of other clubs and activities, including the WHS Interact chapter and Future Farmers of America.

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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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