Poodle skirts and pompadour hairdos were the style of the evening Thursday as the Kilgore Area Chamber of Commerce’s fifth annual Texas Tea honored local businesswomen who are marking their mark in East Texas.

The theme of the event was “Grease,” and attendees wore a variety of styles from the era of the famous musical. The Back Porch provided burgers for the occasion and Mayor Ronnie Spradlin was on hand to make root beer floats, evoking the spirit of a 1950s diner.

Kilgore Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Jill McCartney welcomed guests to the Texan Theater, and Debbie VanDoren gave the invocation.

McCartney introduced Julia Barron of Barron’s in Longview as the keynote speaker for the evening.

“I am so honored to introduce this lady because she’s local. She’s in the Longview-Kilgore area and I know her story is going to touch so many of you,” McCartney said.

“Next year, my husband and I will be 50 years at Barron’s,” Barron said, to loud applause from the audience.

She explained how she attended Texas Christian University to explore a career in Christian service and unexpectedly found herself founding an independent bookstore in Longview before moving into a career that would take her around the country and to international success.

“Every day of our lives is all about people, no matter what you do,” she said, adding women in all types of careers, from business ownership to the medical field, teaching and more, are proficient in connecting with and relating to their customers, patients, students and community members.

She went on to describe how she and her husband planned to open a business and eventually found a bookstore for sale in Longview. Through years of hard work, the store continued to grow in popularity, and Julia was promoted as a board member of the national board of the American Booksellers Association. In her work to promote and support independent booksellers, she traveled the nation and eventually had to rent an apartment in New York City to facilitate her frequent business travel.

“It was a great ride,” she said, though she allowed she sometimes missed the feeling of “being small” when her business was just getting off the ground.

“I wouldn’t trade anything for my life,” she said, and reminded all in attendance that customers rarely remembered specific purchases or interactions over the years but would always remember how the business owner made them feel.

“You’ve heard it again and again, but if you really love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Following her speech, McCartney then presented the awards for the ceremony: the Rising Star award for younger women business owners, the Shining Star award for women who worked professionally in the Kilgore area successfully for a number of years, and the Lifetime Achievement award for women who have spent decades making the Kilgore community a better and more thriving place to live, work and shop.

Verenice Ordorica, owner of Edgar’s Big Taco, received the Rising Star award. Ordorica took over the business from her father and has continued to improve and expand it over the years. She recently purchased a food truck and can often be seen serving customers around town. McCartney said she was nominated for her strong work ethic and generous spirit, as she hires local high school students to work in her downtown restaurant and regularly donates to locals affected by disasters or emergencies.

Kilgore City Clerk Rachel Rowe was given the Shining Star award for her years of service to the city. Starting as a 911 dispatcher in 1999, Rowe worked hard over the years, helping the city maintain and expand its 911 services and, in 2017, stepping up to take the role of City Clerk, where she helps facilitate board meetings, handles communications and keeps the entire City Council running smoothly, according to the nomination McCartney read. Rowe was also recognized for founding PATH, a local support group for parents who have lost a child, after her own son Jay tragically died at the age of 16. She also worked to created the “Live Like Jay” memorial foundation in honor of her son.

Josie Atchley received the Lifetime Achievement award for working in a large number of roles for the city. A lifelong Kilgore resident, Atchley has worked as an animal control officer, helped run the city’s special services department, served as city pool manager, was an original board member for SAFFE Day and led the effort to create the accessible-for-all Friendship Playground, which opened last year.

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