By Cheril Vernon

Messenger Copy Editor

GRAPELAND –  Local banker and Grapeland native Brandon Bridges was named Citizen of the Year at the Grapeland Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet held Friday, March 24.

State Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin presented the award to Bridges at the culmination of the event, thanking the Citizen of the Year “for all that you do for Grapeland.”

Bridges serves as banking center president for Prosperity Bank in Grapeland. He is a 1999 graduate of Grapeland High School and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He and his family attend Grapeland Missionary Baptist Church.

“I don’t know who nominated me. There a lot of people here that do good, that deserve this (award) not me. I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I got to be home. I grew up in Grapeland….” Bridges said after accepting the award. “I am very fortunate. I am blessed with a wonderful family, my wife, Jessie, the church we serve, a wonderful bank I can represent, and a wonderful community I can serve as well.”

Grapeland Mayor Balis Dailey presented a special joint award from the City of Grapeland and the Grapeland Chamber of Commerce to community volunteers Tom and Vicki Gates for their civic involvement over the years. Dailey also declared the month of December 2017 as “Tom and Vicki Gates Month” in Grapeland.

Among their charitable activities to help the community, the Gates provide food for several families a month in an ongoing food bank as well as giving away turkeys during the holidays for families in need.

Grapeland Chamber of Commerce Board President Pat McNeive presented outgoing Chamber board members Kathy Holleman and Dailey with awards for their service.

Ashby presented certificates to each award recipient as well.

Guest speaker was Deep East Texas Council of Government (DETCOG) Executive Director Lonnie Hunt, a Houston County native who served as a Houston County judge from 2007 to 2011.

Through his current job, Hunt serves a 12-county region in East Texas. Prior to working with DETCOG, Hunt worked with the Texas Association of Counties, where he had the opportunity to travel to all four corners of the states, visiting the 254 counties in the state of Texas.

While speaking at the Grapeland Chamber banquet, Hunt shared his “Postcards from Texas” presentation, describing his travels across Texas through his jobs.

“I have had the privilege of visiting all 254 counties in Texas and I have the license plate to prove it,” Hunt said, showing a slide of his license plate that reads “All254.” “I am so grateful for the doors that opened up for me that allowed me to see the great state of Texas.”

While showing the audience the various slides of photos from his travels such as county courthouses and unique landmarks along the way, Hunt related the lessons he got out of what he saw.

“I’m sure your mommas and daddies taught you the importance of a good name, a good reputation. We can apply that to our businesses as well….” Hunt said. “We can work to develop and build a good name. If we mess up, we get back up and start over again….”

Hunt related how many of the courthouses across Texas such as the ones he showed pictures of from Goliad and Victoria were more than 150 years old, standing the test of time because they were built to last for generations, not just for the short-term.

“Something worthwhile is worth doing right,” Hunt said. “If you are building a courthouse or you are building anything, build it to last and take care of it.”

Another lesson he shared from his travels included a stop in De Kalb, Texas, where he found the gravesite of the late “Bonanza” star Dan Blocker, who played Eric “Hoss” Cartwright.

“It’s not just a television series, it’s our history. There so much we can learn from the cowboy way of life, the code of the West, riding for the brand,” Hunt said.

He gave an example of even if you don’t agree with something, that if the community decides they want to go another direction, to accept it, to get on board with what the community decides once the decision has been made.

In Quanah, Texas, Hunt attended the dedication of the town’s restored courthouse, where he said the whole community came out in support, showing a picture of an overflow of people on the courthouse square.

“That’s the kind of community spirit and unity that we need. The sky is the limit if we get everybody together in a room excited about something,” Hunt said.

Hunt also used the local historic treasure Mission Tejas in his presentation that he gives across the state.

“This is what lead to what we are today (showing a picture of Mission Tejas),” Hunt said relating the history of the outpost’s failure but how it had stood the test of time. “Sometimes the best success comes after we have tough failures.”

Other lessons he mentioned that he learned from his traveled included “bloom where you are planted,” “adapt to new technology” and “pay attention to details.”

Showing a few “selfies” of reaching the star at the top of the State Capitol to see the view, Hunt said this reminded him of his journey of reaching for the stars.

In the sixth grade, Hunt said he wanted to be president one day.

“You know what? When I became Houston County Judge it felt just as high an honor,” Hunt said, noting that it was that job that lead him to “bloom where he was planted,” leading him to where he is today because of the doors that it opened, encouraging the audience to reach for their own stars.

Also during the Grapeland Chamber banquet, pastor Rebecca Glenn spoke on working for what you believe in, based on Psalm 91.

The banquet was held at First Baptist Church of Grapeland. Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 991 gave the presentation of colors for the banquet. Pastor Rebecca Glenn also spoke. Guest singers included Eric Bell and Steve Ferguson.