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Tyler County News - Breakout

Businessman, community leader Branch dies

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By Chris Edwards
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Herb BranchHerb BranchWOODVILLE – Herbert G. Branch, a longtime businessman and civic leader in Woodville, died last Wednesday at the age of 91.

Branch worked as a forester for International Paper and moved to Woodville in the early 1970s to manage the Tyler County IP office. Branch also worked in real estate and appraisals, and opened his own business after retiring from IP, which he operated for many years.

Although he retired from his business a decade ago, he was still active in avenues of service and in leadership. Branch served several terms on the Woodville City Council, and resigned last fall, to focus on his health.

He was also a long-serving member of the Rotary Club of Woodville and served as its president, and several terms as treasurer. He was honored in 2004 by the Rotary District 5910 on its “Roll of Fame”.

Late last year Branch was honored by the Rotarians as the Woodville club’s first Member Emeritus.

Branch also volunteered with the Dogwood Festival for many years, alongside his late wife Katherine. He served as a Kingsman and volunteered with the historical play for the annual festival.

Prior to moving to Woodville and his career in the timber industry, Branch served in the Army in the Korean War, and was eventually assigned to an elite MP unit. His duties included guarding then-Vice President Richard Nixon, when Nixon visited Korea.

Branch was also a collegiate basketball star before joining the military. He played all four years as an undergraduate at Stephen F. Austin State University (then Stephen F. Austin State College) in Nacogdoches. As a Lumberjack, Branch was a forward for the 1948-49 Lone Star Conference championship team and was a standout all four years that he played for coach Glen Rose.

Woodville City Administrator Mandy Risinger, who worked many years alongside Branch in city government, said that Woodville benefited greatly from Branch’s devotion and his wisdom in leadership.

“Personally, I enjoyed and appreciated his advice, his candor and his wit,” she said. “Herb was a voice of reason in a world of chaos, and he will be greatly missed.”

Risinger also noted Branch was well-known for his fun-loving personality and “wonderful” sense of humor, but when it came to serious matters, he “could definitely be serious.”

“He had a servant’s heart and felt a responsibility to serve his community,” she added.

Risinger also shared memories of Branch as “an excellent dancer,” who was an “absolute joy to watch he and his wife jitterbug” and his standard answer of “I’ll have a Coors Light” when asked if he would like something to drink, no matter the location.

“It was my pleasure to work with Herb and to get to know him on a personal level. I respected him immensely and I am deeply saddened by his passing,” Risinger said.

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Chester hosts UIL competition

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Chester ISD logo template 300By Chuck Davidson

CHESTER – Chester ISD was the UIL A+ Academic Champion for District 28 A at the event held in Chester on Jan. 28.

Teams of students (grades 2 through 8) from Brookeland, Burkeville, Chester, Goodrich, High Island, Spurger and Zavalla) competed all day in more than 50 categories such as Chess, Dictionary Skills, Editorial Writing, Music Memory, Number Sense, Science, Social Studies and Spelling with Chester coming out as overall team champion based upon points earned.

More than 200 students participated, with more than 50 from Chester ISD, of whom 30 won or placed in the top three.

Librarian Betty Ann Whitworth is the school’s UIL coordinator for this event, and this year was the first time she had hosted the event.  With full support from the school staff and teachers, the PTO and the community, she thanks all who assisted in providing good food and hospitality, judging, rooms, and a positive atmosphere. Students were recognized at the school board meeting on Feb. 16 with Superintendent Dr. Paul Drake commending those who participated and placed. This annual event will be held at Spurger in 2024.

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Chester ISD votes for bond

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Chester ISD logo template 300By Chuck Davidson

CHESTER – All Chester ISD school board trustees met on Feb. 16 at their monthly meeting and voted to adopt an order to call an election for $5.315 million in bonds to replace and upgrade several academic buildings.

Specific details for this order will be soon be available and exact date and location of the voting will be determined after consultation with Tyler County. This action follows the Jan. 26 open house and facility tour given by Superintendent Paul Drake.

Factual information will be available at the school following its winter break.

Board president Bryan Martin had called the meeting to order at 6 p.m. and after prayer and pledges, he asked about 15 students who participated in the District 28 A Academic UIL who were present to come forward and be recognized for winning the team championship for the school district. Supt. Paul Drake introduced all who had placed and thanked them for participating. The board later also reviewed and approved the faculty adopted 2023-24 school calendar.

Business manager Austin Odom gave a positive overview of revenues and expenditures, but had to inform all present that a school bus on order was again delayed, and that a safety and security audit will be done soon. The state has awarded all districts funds to cover specific issues related to school safety such as doors and windows and these must be started within a year.

Drake said that enrollment stands at 211 with attendance above 97%.  Basketball teams both qualified for UIL play-offs and updates spring sports schedules were distributed and will be placed

on district website.  The consent agenda was approved without comment and an executive session of about one hour began. The board returned at 7:59 and then approved administrator contracts for five employees followed by adjournment at 8:02.  The next board meeting is set for March 20.

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Texas Independence Day celebration scheduled

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A group of St. Paul’s schoolchildren lead attendees in songs about Texas at last year’s Texas Independence Day celebration at Heritage Village. JIM POWERS | TCB FILE PHOTOA group of St. Paul’s schoolchildren lead attendees in songs about Texas at last year’s Texas Independence Day celebration at Heritage Village. JIM POWERS | TCB FILE PHOTO

By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – Glasses of fresh, cool and locally sourced spring water will be raised in a toast at Heritage Village in honor of Texas Independence Day.

The Village is gearing up for the event, which is its annual celebration of Texas Independence Day. It will take place on Thursday, March 2. The toast of local spring water will take place at 2 p.m., while the event begins at 1.

According to Heritage Village Director Ofeira Gazzaway, the celebration will honor the annual event, and the special guests booked to appear will represent the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.

The tribe’s Second Chief, Mikko Poliika Istaaya, Ms. Millie Thompson Williams, will appear at the event, and will speak about the tribe’s rich history as well as the state’s history.

Tribal Princess Ms. Aionna Moreno will deliver the Lord’s Prayer in American Indian Sign Language.

Also on tap to appear are the children of St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Woodville, who will lead attendees in several songs about Texas.

The event, which has served as a celebration to Texans as well as honorary Texans at Heritage Village, has been a popular happening for many years.

The event is held to coincide with the time and date in 1836 when a group gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos to sign a Declaration of Independence from Mexico, which set forth the creation of the Republic of Texas, an independent country for almost 10 years.

Texas Highways magazine suggested that Texans all commemorate the event by stopping whatever they happen to be doing at 2 p.m. on March 2 to drink a toast to Texas. In 1993, historian Joe Franz, who often contributed to the magazine composed a poem to commemorate the event.

Texas Highways, also suggested, according to Dottie Johnson’s “At the Village” column in the Feb. 23, 1994 edition of the Tyler County Booster, that those celebrating Texas Independence Day might also want to write and use an original toast, and the Heritage Society followed suit with their own toast that was used in the program.

Students in Texas History classes from area schools also got involved in writing original toasts, as well.

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Sleep in Heavenly Peace needs new home

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By Mollie LaSalle
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WOODVILLE – A non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood bedlessness is looking for a new home.

Brian Smith, who serves as the co-president for the Woodville chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, said that he and his team of volunteers are facing a new challenge, as the shop where they are currently building beds has been sold, and they need to find a new space, ideally one with a bare minimum of 2,100 square feet, a smooth floor, electricity and a restroom.

Smith was the guest speaker at the noon meeting of the Rotary Club of Woodville last Wednesday, where he provided an overview of SHP and its mission, as well as its current challenge.

“We are a nationwide, 501c non-profit that does one thing, we build twin beds, singles, and bunks, and donate them to families whose children have no beds. We involve as many community volunteers as we can, then we donate. The number of beds we build is directly related to how many volunteers we have.”

Smith further explained “we’ve built anywhere from 10 beds to 32 beds at our monthly bed builds”.

He got emotional when he recalled the first SHP bed build in the Walmart parking lot. The organization then moved to the old McClure’s furniture building, where it was headquartered for 18 months.

Recently SHP moved south of town, across from Jerry’s saw shop, going from a 3,100 square foot space, with electricity and a restroom, to 2,100 square feet of space with no electricity or restroom. “We make do with what we have, and with two generators and a port-a-potty, plus a hand washing station; we were back in business,” Smith said.

Smith reported that, since the Woodville’s chapter inception, they have built 588 beds, that have been delivered to children in Tyler and Jasper counties. “We have an awesome delivery coordinator in Jasper; we rent a garage where they keep 20-25 beds at a time, when we get an inquiry, and it is approved, the beds get delivered.” He added that each bed costs approximately $250 to build.

Smith and his team of volunteers contact school districts, CPS, law enforcement, all the appropriate agencies to find children in need; “we put brochures in laundromats, apartment buildings, anywhere where we think low-income families might see them”. “If I honestly believe there is a need, and I take care of it, I’ve done my part, “he explained. “We have a website, SHP.org, there is a simple button you click to apply for a bed, answer a few very simple questions.” Smith gave a huge shout-out to Lowe’s, who is the non-profit’s largest national corporate sponsor. “We buy brand new mattresses, and most of our bedding comes from donations.” SHP Holds monthly bed builds the second Saturday of every month, usually from around 7:45 a.m. to noon.

For information on how you can volunteer, or if you know someone in need, go to their Facebook page, Sleep in Heavenly Peace-TX, Woodville, or via email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The website for the Woodville chapter is: www.shpbeds.org/chapter/tx-woodville.

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