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2020: The Year of the Mask

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What a Year it Was Part Two

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS – A year that seemed to drag on for five has finally come to an end. We said goodbye to 2020 and welcomed in 2021 on Jan. 1.  Speaking for most people, all I can say is good riddance 2020.

It started out with such promise but quickly turned ugly.

In the first of this multi-part series, the months of January and February were covered. When March rolled around, things started to get a little strange.

It all seemed normal at first, but there were storm clouds of COVID-19 gathering on the horizon.

Basketball dominated the early part of the month as the Crockett Bulldogs, Grapeland Sandiettes and Grapeland Sandies began a march towards the State Tournament in San Antonio. The Sandiettes reached the Alamodome but fell to the eventual state champion Gruver Lady Hounds in the state semis, 59-49.

The Bulldogs made it to the regional tournament where they fell in the semifinals while the Sandies made it to the finals. As it turned out, it was probably for the best. The boys’ state tournament was cancelled before a champion could be crowned at any level.

March also saw The Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Dan Huggins announce his retirement from the position. Huggins had been Director since September 2018.

As the month began, David Denson, who was wanted for questioning in the disappearance of 79-year-old Faye Lynn Paul, was extradited from Colorado back to Crockett. He arrived in Crockett on Monday, March 2, escorted by members of the Crockett Police Department and was booked into the Houston County Jail on felony charges of violating his probation. He was held without bond. Denson had been released from jail on Feb. 10 after receiving 10 years of probation for burglary of a habitation.

The 2020 election season was in full swing by the start of March and on Tuesday, March 3 voters went to the polls in the primary elections to choose the candidates they would like to represent them on the November ballot at the federal, state and county levels.

Sheriff Darrell Bobbitt announced his resignation as Houston County’s top law enforcement official on March 31.  Because of this, three candidates filed for the Republican nomination. The candidates were Johnny Catoe, Randy Hargrove and Ryan Martin.

When the results were tabulated, the voting showed Hargrove with a total of 1,933 votes, while Martin had 1,609 and Catoe had 435. As a result, Hargrove and Martin were scheduled to face each other in a run-off election for the Republican nomination on Tuesday, May 26.

Commissioner Pat Perry had also announced his retirement from office and three candidates filed the Precinct Three Commissioner’s position in the Republican primary.

The candidates were: Mickey Kendrick; Jimmy McMillan; and Gene Stokes. The results showed Stokes with 451 votes, McMillan with 290 and Kendrick with 244. As a result, Stokes and McMillan were scheduled to face each other in a run-off election for the Republican nomination on Tuesday, May 26. 

 In contested race for the County Clerk’s position, Terri Meadows received 1,429 votes while Gwen Thornton Womack received 1,149 votes.

Monday, March 9 marked the beginning of Spring Break and the end of an era as the demolition of the old Grapeland Elementary School got underway. The school – opened in the mid-1950s – served the community of Grapeland for over 60 years.

And then there were the cancellations. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was cancelled. The UIL Boys’ State Basketball Tournament was cancelled and then Gov. Greg Abbott announced the state of Texas was now under a disaster declaration because of COVID-19.

The seriousness of the pandemic began to finally hit home in mid-March when all Houston County schools decided to extend Spring Break until Monday, March 23. As it turned out, the extension would last through the end of school.

On the educational front, Gov. Abbott issued a waiver for the STAAR test until the TEA could further address the COVID-19 crisis. Shortly after that, Abbott announced schools would be closed until April 3 but then amended the executive order to cover the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Despite the closures, the business side of education continued as John Emerich was officially selected as the new superintendent of Crockett ISD while Katie Doughty was selected to lead Grapeland High School as the new principal.

Moving to law enforcement, the Houston County Commissioners Court appointed Chief Deputy Justin Killough to serve as sheriff until after the Nov. 3 elections had been canvassed. In addition, the City Council of Grapeland met on Tuesday, March17 and selected Kody Stephens as its newest Chief of Police.  

As March moved into April, the closures and cancellations caused by COVID-19 continued. Schools were effectively shut down from in-person learning. Non-essential businesses were shuttered and many people were left unemployed. Fortunately, the federal government stepped in and delivered $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child under 17.

Crockett ISD announced in April that it would be selling the old state school property it had purchased from the city in 2017.

Also in April, after a 20-year run at its previous address, The Messenger Newspaper moved down the street to a new location at 119 N. Main St.

This is the second of a multi-part series. For Part Three, please see the Sunday, Jan. 10 edition of The Messenger or check back online at our website, www.messenger-news.com

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.   

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.   

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