2023 | Year in Review

Gladewater began 2023 celebrating its 150th anniversary. The sesquicentennial celebration lasted all year with various annual events and celebrations tweaked to include the city’s long history which began in the summer of 1873 as the Texas Pacific Railroad began the push westward from Longview.
To meet the water needs of the trains, a stop was planned in the vicinity of the Sabine River and the Point Pleasant Community. The new community, which was named Gladewater, was created from lands purchased from Jarred Dean and Anderson White.
Also in January, Sean Denison, 29, from Louisiana, who had been arrested for alleged public intoxication earlier in the day, was found hanged in his Gladewater Police Department jail cell on evening of Jan. 20. The Texas Rangers were called in to conduct the investigation, which is standard procedure.

The top story as February began involved the investigation of a private, single-engine plane that crashed as it was approaching the Gladewater Municipal.
Officials said that the crash happened near Carter Road and Highway 271, south of the airport in a swampy area and heavy timber. All four people in the plane were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
Officials said the Beechcraft F35 Bonanza aircraft, registered to Danny Downing, came to rest in a pond 0.5 mile short of the runway and the passengers were able to exit the plane and were on the wings of the plane when emergency crews arrived at the location.
Late in February, several hundred GHS alumni turned out on a Saturday for a walk down memory lane at the old senior/junior high school on Melba Street.
While many whose hair that has gone from black to gray strolled the halls at a slightly slower pace with old classmates, no doubt fond memories were as vivid as the day they were born. Alumni from classes going as far back as the 1940s were given a wonderful opportunity to walk the halls one last time.
The school was sold a few months earlier and the new owners – who plan to revitalize the old school, invited former students to enjoy a day at their old stomping grounds.

White Oak news got the month of March off to a good start with the announcement that the White Oak ISD school board welcomed its new Roughneck Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Michael Ludlow, who took over for Coach/AD Kris Iske, who retired at the end of this school year after nine seasons as the head football coach and athletic director for the White Oak Roughnecks.
That same week, the White Oak Fire Department celebrated receiving its new Pierce fire engine last Tuesday. The new engine took about a year and a half to be delivered since it was custom built and will replace the previous main engine which was aging out and parts were getting hard to find.
WOVFD firefighters took part in a long-standing tradition called the “push-in” ceremony, which pays respect to fire departments from a time before there were motorized vehicles and were pulled by horses.
Just a week later, White Oak ISD trustees named Dr. William Paul its lone finalist for superintendent. Paul, who was the Windthorst ISD superintendent, replaced Brian Gray, who retired over the Christmas holidays. Gray became superintendent in 2020, replacing Mike Gilbert.
The month ended on a positive note as Jon Keller and Judy Van Houten were honored at the 92nd Annual Gladewater Chamber of Commerce banquet with the “Man of the Year” and “Woman of the Year” awards. Also honored were Lois Reed with the “Marilyn Godfrey Volunteer Award” and Equipment Share was named “Business of Year.”
“Educator of Year” was Michael Jackson and Matt Smith was named “Youth of the Year.” The coveted “Bradley Award,” which was presented by Chamber President Lois Reed to those who went above and beyond the call of duty for the chamber throughout the year went to Elaine Roddy and Aaron Watson.
Gladewater’s four oldest continuous businesses were also recognized: The Gladewater Mirror – 95 years, J.O. Williams – 87 years, Brookshire’s – 75 years, and Shipp’s Marine – 65 years. The banquet also recognized the city’s 150th anniversary.

Former Bardwellink owner/editor Suzanne Bardwell was elected to the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame in April. Suzanne, along with her husband Jim, owned and operated the Gladewater Mirror, White Oak Independent and Lindale News & Times. She was killed in a car accident on Jan. 7, 2022. Suzanne was an award winning and highly respected journalist after a long, successful career as a teacher.

Upshur County taxpayers got upset in May when tax notices went out and property values skyrocketed. The Upshur County Appraisal District’s major increases in individuals’ taxable property valuations drew a storm of protests from a crowd of dozens in a standing-room-only meeting of the district’s board of directors.

Suzanne Bardwell’s legacy endured in 2023 – look no further than the thriving Japanese Maple freshly planted in downtown Gladewater. The crimson-leafed tree is not only a tangible example of Bardwell’s dedication to beautifying her adopted community but also a tribute to her ‘We can do this’ mantra. It’s one her colleagues from Gladewater’s Beautification Board remembered fondly as they gathered to honor their late chairperson alongside family and friends.
“She was our leader and she was our driving force,” said Todd Clifton, Austin Bank president and leader of the beautification committee. “When Suzanne was determined to do something, she was all in. It wasn’t a little bit. She was gung-ho.”
The dam at Lake Gladewater, the community’s only water source and a ‘critical asset,’ took front and center in June as the dam infrastructure was evaluated.
Local officials focused on protecting, maintaining and enhancing the lake, but aspects of the dam have been allowed to deteriorate across years and decades. Changing administrations, staff turnover, evolving priorities, mixed messaging, incomplete information – there are a variety of causes, but at least a consensus is rising to the surface. Some elements of the dam are now approaching critical condition. Some, perhaps, are already at that point or past it. Considering the whole, there’s a growing sense of urgency driving a fresh dialogue among the community’s leadership.
In general, the dam has voids in the concrete spillway to leaks to slough off the earthen dam to a litany of other needs, large and small, that must be tended – some immediately. Officials said “The focus has been on the fun part of the lake instead of understanding that we also have to protect this critical infrastructure. It needs a good long-term thought and vision process.”

A popular retired veteran East Texas fireman, Jared Scott Maddox, was killed, and four persons injured, in an accidental explosion of fireworks and blaze at his rural Upshur County event center on Independence Day, July 4.
Maddox was pronounced dead at the scene by Upshur County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wyone Manes. Upshur County officials said Maddox and all the injured were preparing at his business, Firehouse 9 Farm and Event Center, for a professional fireworks display that night in Kilgore when the accident occurred.
Also in July, Kimberly Alexander, 61, of White Oak was found shot and killed and her husband was arrested and jailed as the suspected murderer. James Michael Alexander, Sr’s bond was set at $250,000. The 63-year-old man had two shell casings linked to his wife’s murder still in his pants pocket when he was arrested two days after her body was discovered.

Both White Oak and Gladewater city councils wrestled with service issues in August. For White Oak – after keeping water rates as low as possible as long as possible, the future caught up with the City of White Oak. Aging infrastructure is pitted against growing demand, resulting in water rates to climb.
But basic services cost money and citizens were forced to pay more for their water.
And In Gladewater, the issue at hand was trash cans and how to get residents to pull them back off the street after trash pick-up. Some residents weren’t cooperating with the city’s ordinance, so the council set a fine of up to $500 if they run afoul of the relevant municipal code, but city leaders agreed they haven’t been putting any sting behind the regulation.
Also, on the municipal front – Gladewater Mayor Scott Owens proudly announced – as many East Texas mayors did – that the city’s 2024 tax rate would be about 10-cents lower than the current rate – 0.626978 compared to 0.739089. While that would normally be good news, with this year’s property appraisals soaring in Gregg and Upshur counties – local taxpayers paid the same – if not more taxes – than this year.
On the education front – three local high schools began working together with Kilgore College to open the workforce to students as soon as they’re ready.
Based at White Oak ISD and ready to serve students from both Gladewater and Union Grove as well, the developing KC satellite puts dual credit coursework in even easier reach. With Career and Technical Education (CTE) options in the mix as well, it also emphasizes student safety, sparing them a regular commute for their advanced coursework.

Gladewater High School’s Hadassah Balcorta was chosen Miss Gregg County on Sept. 14 – just one of a number of crowning achievements the past month.
Facing a cacophonous crowd of friends, peers and fans while standing beside fellow contestants including Miss White Oak, Addison Clinkscales, Balcorta’s white satin sash of Miss Gladewater was soon complemented by her new regalia, including a sparkling tiara. Balcorta was also voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants, cheered on by a contingent of Gladewater High School students, staffers and parents at the Gregg County Fairgrounds.
In addition to Miss Gladewater and Miss Gregg County, Balcorta – daughter of Sakkinah and Paul Balcorta – was named Gladewater High School’s 2023 Homecoming Balcorta crowned Miss Gregg County Queen earlier in the month.

“You are Gladewater. You showed up. You showed out. You showed your heart.” That’s how Education Foundation Gladewater president Katie Ellis shared the good news to a packed house at Tempest Club for the fourth annual fund-raiser’s night’s activities that netted about $65,000 for the foundation and its efforts to fuel innovation in classrooms throughout the district. The evening’s tally included some $16,000 in table sponsorships, almost $6,000 from sponsors and more than $42,000 in auction proceeds.
In White Oak, city council members gave the green-light to the formation of a summer-collegiate team tied to White Oak’s ballpark. The team name’s to be determined as the organizers of East Texas Sports & Entertainment prepare to reach out to the community for ideas. That name, too, is temporary while they develop a localized ‘Piney Woods’ moniker, but they’re hitting the gas to get things lined up well-ahead of a May 2024 debut.

A Gilmer man was charged with capital murder in connection with the slayings of two sisters in rural Upshur County. Alvin Charles McKnight Jr., 41, fled the area and was later arrested in California and brought back to Upshur County.
He is charged in the deaths of Mandy Ray, 35, and Dermetrica Dashaunda Waters,
37. They were killed at Ray’s residence in the 2800 block of U.S. 271 south near Bluebird Road south of Gilmer, authorities said.
Laquesha Monique McKnight, 38, of Longview, was arrested by Longview police officers and bond was set at $500,000 after being charged with hindering her brother’s apprehension.

Greater Longview United Way held its 12th Book Vending Machine ribbon-cutting ceremony as part of their Read to Succeed program, a first for Gladewater ISD, at Gladewater Primary School. Read to Succeed is an education initiative of Greater Longview United Way dedicated to promoting literacy and a love for reading among children in the community. Through innovative initiatives like Read to Succeed, the organization aims to make books more accessible to children, fostering a lifelong passion for learning.
Gladewater Mirror publisher Jim Bardwell has agreed to pay to keep the vending machine full of books on behalf of his late wife Suzanne, who was a teacher and a passionate reader. Suzanne also was instrumental in saving the Gladewater city library after an ice/snow storm nearly destroyed it. The library was renamed in her honor – Lee-Bardwell Public Library.
Gladewater wrapped up the year with good news – the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved financial assistance in the amount $2,791,380 to the City of Gladewater, consisting of $850,000 in financing and $1,941,380 in principal forgiveness, from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF). The city will use the assistance for the planning, design, and construction of a water system improvement project. In addition to the loan forgiveness, the City could save approximately $274,000 over the life of the loan by using the DWSRF.
With the assistance, the city will replace deteriorating water mains, add looping throughout the distribution system, and construct treatment and electrical upgrades at the water treatment plant.


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