Thank You Orange County
Last updated 7/12/2022 at 5:36pm
For the past six years, I've been working for Roy Dunn and The Record Newspapers and learning and sharing a ton of things I never knew about Orange County despite living next door for 30-odd years.
Along with being informative and oh-so helpful, everyone has been so kind.
That list begins with newspaper publisher Roy Dunn and prominently includes Margaret Toal, who I'm proud to say will be taking my place writing and coordinating news and feature coverage at The Record Newspapers for what I hope will be many more years.
I'm taking my talents over to the county line that separates Chambers and Harris Counties to work at The Baytown Sun.
They have plenty of Chevron-Phillips Chem plants and a 4-million square foot Walmart warehouse over there. (Eat your heart out, Jessica Hill.)
But Margaret Toal has been my go-to authority for Orange history forever. We studied journalism together at North Texas State (since renamed University of North Texas) and worked together for a while at the Beaumont Enterprise.
Margaret's newspaper bona fides are nuts: daily papers in Sherman, Lufkin, Beaumont and the Orange Leader. She's worked before for Roy Dunn and The Record, and she's the Southeast Texas correspondent for the New York Times.
She worked from 2009-21 as news reporter for Orange radio station KOGT-AM and appeared with station owner Gary Stelly and fellow NT grad Dan Perrine on KOGT's popular morning show.
"I've been in Orange County media longer than (Leader sports editor) Van Wade," she said.
Both Margaret and Dan Perrine have been working with The Record since KOGT went off the air at the end of 2021. Dan has taken over weekly high school sports coverage and written many non-sports stories as well.
"I'm surprised that it was 11 and a half years that we did the morning show on KOGT," Margaret said. "I really enjoyed doing that show with Gary and Dan."
An Orange native, Margaret is a news and feature reporting institution in Orange County and says she's excited about the new gig.
"It's nice working for something that has a newspaper you can hold in your hands," she says.
"And believe me, I've seen unimaginable things happen in the media in the last 50 years. We all have computers in our phone now.
"When we started, I carried a bag with a big cassette recorder and a Nikon 35mm camera and a big flash attachment all around. Now I can carry it all in my pocket (as a cell phone)."
And there's no better occasion than adding a certified historian like Margaret to the staff for me to walk down my short-term memory lane like a Joe Kazmar Christmas column.
Roy Dunn created the Opportunity Valley News in 1971 to compete head-to-head against the Leader. He did so well the Leader's corporate owner, Cox Communications, bought him out, exchanging -- I heard -- lotsa moolah for a boodle of loyal readers and advertisers and a promise not to operate a competing Orange County paper for five years.
In 1992, Dunn returned to local media, buying the Penny Record, which has been operating in Bridge City since 1960. In 1995, he opened the County Record in Orange.
"It's amazing that they've kept a local paper going so long with The Record," Toal said.
Mark Dunn, Roy's son, has been a fixture overseeing the advertising and production of his dad's papers for decades. I couldn't have made it lo, these several years, without the weekly guidance of Mark and Janelle Sehon, who combine on the magical, modern stuff that gets the stories we write both printed and uploaded to the internet.
Now, to each governmental entity I have tried to keep up with since 2016, God bless you all for being so welcoming and easy to deal with.
County Judge John Gothia has probably been on the receiving end of more of my questions than anybody, but Bridge City Mayor David Rutledge and Orange Mayor Larry Spears, Jr., are close.
Don Carona, OC Drainage District manager, has been a constant contact bearing good news, as reliable and informative as Dan Hooks and Cornel Thompson, West Orange-Stark football coaches I've known since the school opened in 1977.
Jessica Hill, Orange County's Economic Development Corporation director, and Jay Trahan, who heads up the city of Orange EDC, have done their best to educate me on their alphabet soups and winning ways.
Speaking of winners, a special bunch I had the honor and privilege to report on were World War II veterans from Orange County, several of whom are still going strong at 100.
We haven't had a chance to gather as a group since COVID-19 hit in 2020, but my warmest thank-yous to the special men and women and families of these patriots headed by Pearl Harbor survivor Cedric Stout.
Of course, it's been great to work with all the mayors I've reported on – Jimmy Sims and Spears in Orange, Rutledge in Bridge City, Roy McDonald and Randy Branch in West Orange, Pete Runnels, Dan Mohon, J.W. Permenter and Sarah McClendon in Pinehurst.
They couldn't have done it without great council members and I couldn't have covered their cities without the aid of city managers or city secretaries: Shawn Oubre, Kelvin Knauf, Mike Kunst, Jim Wolf, Trisha Anderson and Jennifer Krummel in Orange; Mike Stelly and Theresa Van Meter in West Orange; Jerry Jones, Brent Walker and Jeanie McDowell in Bridge City; and Robbie Hood, Jerry Hood and Debbie Cormier in Pinehurst.
Ditto for the school districts and their board members.
Special thanks to school district superintendents and their Dave wranglers: Dr. Rickie Harris, Lorraine Shannon, Dawn Martin, Trisha Spears and Thereze Sichko at West Orange-Cove CISD; Dr. Pauline Hargrove, Stacey Brister, Sherry Combs, Linda Ludwig and Diane Brown at Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD; Dr. Mike Kelly, Marzena Fuselier, Jean Magnuson and Cil Dixon at Bridge City ISD; and Dr. Shaun McAlpin, Brian Ousley and Marla Dubose at Orangefield ISD.
At the Port District, kudos are due Keith Wallace, Debbie Britnell and Lorrie Taylor, with Chief Appraiser Scott Overton my chief explainer at the OC Appraisal District.
Of course, Scott compiles and turns the taxable values over to OC Tax Assessor-Collector Karen Fisher to prepare and mail all the notices.
Karen is one of dozens of Orange County elected and non-elected employees who helped me downtown and out at the Expo Center and – if I did my job -- helped the paper's readers understand where their tax dollars go.
Don't let me forget all those who get it done for Orange County's non-profits – from the Red Cross to the Lions Club to the Salvation Army – and those who work for the businesses big and small to promote Orange County, especially Ida Schossow. She has patiently answered my questions from my arrival on scene.
As I wrote on June 1, Orange County has at least $16 billion in projects underway or "in the pipeline."
The biggest ones – a $6 billion ethylene plant proposed by Chevron-Phillips Chemical, a $6 billion ethylene plant by Enterprise Products, and a $1.8 billion Entergy power plant – are awaiting final investment decisions or Public Utility Commission approval.
Vicki Derese, spokesperson for C-P Chem, confirms that her company's go/no-go decision is still expected by the end of 2022.
Shawn Sparrow of Houseman Companies tells me all the dirt work being done between Whataburger and the Social Security office on the I-10 eastbound feeder road is "no story yet."
He explained that the dirt is from digging the drainage detention ponds that are required to accompany the roadway for the Gisela Houseman Medical Center.
What he didn't say was if any of the lots surrounding the Houseman Center footprint had been bought or set aside for future ancillary medical businesses.
An optimist sees a bustling future for Orange County. Good luck, Orange County. Stay in touch.