As 2018 begins and people reflect back on 2017, one thing is certain, the Kilgore community did not lack for events and celebrations in the past year.
Even in the face of adversity, Kilgoreites showed their willingness and readiness to find ways to help their neighbors and their community through city projects, volunteerism and fundraising. And that’s just during the first six months.
Events & Celebrations
The first-half of the year included celebrations and events, including the first to mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Kilgore Jan. 16.
The rain-soaked day started with a unity walk down Martin Luther King Boulevard – from the Rev. Alvin R. Mayfield’s barber shop to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park – and continued with other presentations at First Christian Church, moved inside due to the weather.
Relay for Life kicked off its 15th year and celebrated cancer survivors, remembered cancer victims and supported cancer patients and their caregivers. The group raised $8,400 during its main event April 29, which became part of the overall $40,656.94 raised by the local chapter during its campaign.
Texas Two-Step, benefitting the Kilgore Boys and Girls Club and the since-renamed Kilgore Habitat for Humanity, continued for another year in January, raising $35,000 for the two organizations.
The Jan. 28 event spent another year in the National Guard Armory with a silent auction, live auction and music from the Ally Venable Band.
The events continued with the Kilgore Legacy Foundation’s fourth annual Red and Black Ball March 4, held on the Kilgore College campus. The event recognized two students for their essays on the topic “What Juneteenth Means to Me.” The two students, Devonte Doss and Ciera Ford, were crowned Juneteenth king and queen and awarded $750 scholarships.
Doss and Ford then donned their crowns in the Kilgore Legacy Foundation’s annual Juneteenth Parade June 17. The parade traveled through Kilgore before ending at Kilgore City Park for a celebration filled with food, music, dance and other activities.
Also taking place at City Park during the first half of the year was the 11th annual Lone Star Lug Nuts Early Bird Car Show.
During the March 25 event, the organization raised $9,000 to benefit burn victims through the Percy R. Johnson Burn Foundation and Camp I’m Still Me.
April Fool’s Day was busy for Kilgore with four events taking place on the first Saturday of April.
The day included the KidsGogh (day two of the KilGogh Arts Festival) downtown, the Kilgore FFA Show and Sale, Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Walk Like MADD event and the opening of Avalon Faire.
Friday, March 31 was not a quiet night either with Peggy Bowne being named the 2017 First Lady of Kilgore and the ticketed KilGogh Arts Festival event (before the free KidsGogh event April 1).
The Kilgore Chamber of Commerce transformed its Ladies Night Out into the Black Gold Texas Tea event, held at the Texas Museum of Broadcasting and Communications April 20.
During the event three Women in Business awards were given out to Amanda Nobles (Lifetime Star Achiever), Charlotte Mobbs (Shining Star) and Jessica Holmes (Rising Star).
The Kilgore Lions Club, following their annual chili luncheon in Jan. 20, added their own event to the spring with a new carnival in downtown April 21-22. Both events serve as two of the club’s fundraisers to benefit children attending the Texas Lions Camp and the club’s annual Christmas project.
Returning for the fourth year, Geekend beamed down to Kilgore May 6 with people dressing up as their favorite sci-fi, fantasy and comic book characters and others browsing artwork, books and other wares.
The Back Porch held its second annual Porch Fest May 13, bringing with it music, food and other local businesses.
The Kilgore Chamber of Commerce stayed busy in the spring following up its Black Gold Texas Tea event with the second annual Stars & Scars Mud Run 20 at Rabbit Creek Offroad Park. The muddy event got even muddier as a thunderstorm made for more challenging obstacles.
The Kilgore ISD Education Foundation held its first major gala to raise more than $50,000 to benefit KISD teachers through grants.
Both KISD and Sabine ISD officially became Districts of Innovation during the first half of 2017 with KISD trustees approving the move in April and Sabine following in June.
KISD Superintendent Cara Cooke also used the first part of 2017 to host Community Connection meetings to educate community members and business leaders about what is happening throughout the district. The meetings fed into the district’s continuation of its monthly Idea Exchanges.
Kilgore High School students also designed their own games and took their games to a state-level competition. Other students enrolled in rocketry classes, designing and launching their rockets on campus and at the Kilgore Airport.
Students throughout the area also competed in state-wide events focusing on math, science and FFA.
KHS, Sabine High School and Kilgore College students all celebrated graduations in the spring, including students who earned their GED through the KC program.
At Sabine Elementary School, employees, students and guests celebrated with Christian Cardenas, as he received his new eSight glasses in a special ceremony.
Also during the spring of 2017, Kilgore College trustees voted to cut three programs: surgical technology, drafting design and commercial photography.
The controversial decision led to an agreement between KC and Tyler Junior College to help surgical technology students apply for a spot in the TJC program and continue their studies.
Kilgore College also officially opened its new Ballpark at KC Commons Complex, which stands in the footprint of the former Kilgore Heights Elementary School, in February.
Other Key Events
This past year also saw the acquisition of Good Shepherd Medical Center by Christus in February. GSMC joined Trinity Mother Frances as the second major medical facility to become part of the Christus Health system.
Before the hospital made the transition to Christus, Meaghan and Matthew Simpson, artistic associates with the Texas Shakespeare Festival, kicked off the year – and news coverage – by welcoming their baby boy, Vincent. The couple’s only child, Vincent Simpson was born at 5:54 a.m. Jan. 1, making him the official 2017 New Year’s baby for Longview and Kilgore.
On Jan. 20, Kilgore was represented in Washington, D.C., as President Donald Trump officially took office after being elected in November 2016.
Sam Khoury, a Kilgore College graduate and CEO of 67 Capital LLC, attended his fifth inauguration. The Kilgore College Rangerettes also returned to the nation’s capital for the Texas State Society’s Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball Jan. 19. Also featured during the inaugural ball was then-Kilgore High School Hi-Stepper Captain Ryan Wayne (now a Rangerette) as one of 25 Texas drill team captains representing the Texas Dance Educators Association.
In February and March, the community remembered the 294 lives lost on March 18, 1937, commemorating the 80th anniversary of the New London School Explosion.
While there were no major floods in 2017 like the year before, the area saw its fair share of severe weather, including a tornado near Overton in April that touched down only a few weeks before the devastating outbreak of tornadoes in Canton April 29.
The Canton tornadoes spurred multiple people, organizations and agencies to find ways to help those affected by the tornadoes in Van Zandt County.
The storms that produced the tornadoes in Canton also brought torrential rain to Kilgore. The slick roads were reportedly a factor in a single-vehicle wreck that severely injured KHS junior Jay Cox, who ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
Though not directly related to the weather, two boys were injured during a camping trip when a dead tree fell on them. One suffered a fractured pelvis, while another was flown to Children’s Hospital in Dallas for surgery after he was struck in the face. Both teenagers have since recovered.
Following Cox’s wreck, people established multiple fundraising events, and following his death on June 17, his family and friends founded the LiveLikeJay Memorial Foundation.
The KHS boys soccer team continued another legacy as they carried with them to a 4A State Championship the inspiration of #SamStrong, a tribute to girls soccer player Samantha Watkins who died in December 2016 following a seizure.
Work continued in Watkins’ memory in February also as epilepsy advocates work to spread awareness about the neurological disorder.
Kilgore Middle School also continued its legacy of Pa’Sha Day May 19. Established in 2015 in honor of KMS student Pa’Sha Williams, who was fighting bone cancer at the time, the event continues in her memory and serves to remember other members of the KISD community who have fought cancer, including Lynzee Ford and Shaquille Ross. The third annual event raised $7,000 and helped honor KISD elementary school student Marc Gann, who underwent treatment for Wilms’ tumor.
A rainy spring and early summer played havoc with the city’s planned opening of a new splash pad, which was originally scheduled to open in May, then June, then July, then eventually. (See more on the splash pad in Part 2 of the Year in Review Saturday.)
The relocated and revamped skate park, though, did open in June with more ramps, walls and equipment to use at Kilgore City Park.
The past year also saw the reelection of Mayor Ronnie Spradlin after a civil campaign between he and challenger Victor Boyd, who is a member of the Kilgore City Council.
Kilgore also continued work on the railroad “quiet zone” and the city’s trail system.
City officials and more than 100 people helped celebrate the relighting of the Texan Theater star and neon lights in June after months of work spent rejuvenating the theater’s façade.
Crime, fire & wrecks
The year was not without its criminal activity, including an arrest connected to Kilgore and Liberty City bank robberies and an indictment in the 2016 kidnapping of a Rangerette.
Hector Camargo was arrested April 21 following an armed robbery at First National Bank of Hughes Springs in Liberty City. He was then connected with the December 2016 robbery at Citizens National Bank in Kilgore and was facing a federal indictment connected to a robbery in Longview.
During the early summer of 2017, a Gregg County Grand Jury indicted Nancy Alice Motes, accused of kidnapping a Rangerette in late December 2016. Earlier in 2017, more details of the kidnapping were released, including those related to what happened to the student during the ordeal.
Marcus Whitaker was sentenced to 42 years in prison in January connected to the murder of Franciosa Jackson.
Three arrests were made in March connected to the disappearance of Sheryia Grant. KPD included in a press release about the arrests that there was evidence Grant had been murdered shortly after her disappearance during the fall of 2016.