Nothing found after bomb threat at Walmart

The Walmart in Decatur was evacuated Sunday evening after the store received a bomb threat.

Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins said the entire store was searched and nothing was found.  Customers and employees were kept out of the store for about an hour.

The threat was called in around 6:30 p.m.

“The caller stated there was a bomb in the bathroom,” Hoskins said.

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Waddell column: Lady Eagles’ selfless approach has Decatur two wins from a championship

Standing outside Decatur’s softball field before practice last week, assistant coach Marcus Grgurich started to explain part of the Lady Eagles’ team philosophy.

Unlike a majority of high school teams that use GameChanger or MaxPreps to track metrics like batting average, ERA and other individual statistics, Decatur does not use either program. Instead, the Lady Eagles are focused on only one number.


Reece Waddell

“That’s something I instilled whenever I first got here,” said Decatur coach Carly Cloud. “Be selfless. A sacrifice bunt is a good thing. It’s very team-oriented. We don’t talk about self goals. Whatever gets the job done. It doesn’t have to be pretty.”

As Grgurich described, Decatur’s star catcher, J.T. Smith, did not even know her batting average until it was published in a story.

The junior is hitting .553 and leads the team in nearly every offensive category. Saturday in Game 2 of the 4A Region I final, she delivered the winning run on an RBI-groundout to send the Lady Eagles to the state tournament.

“It doesn’t matter if you do something, it’s for the team, not yourself,” Smith said. “It helps us a lot being like that.”

Photo by Reece Waddell.

Decatur’s ace, Reagan Chism, won her 14th consecutive start Saturday in Game 2, giving up just one run on three hits. She is a perfect 6-0 in the playoffs and struck out a combined 17 hitters in the region final.

Chism had no real interest in those stats.

“Everyone’s main goal on this team is to go to state,” Chism said. “We just achieved that today. When you come together and get one goal, you don’t care about your own stats. You just make sure you get those wins.”

In a day and age where so many care about individual numbers, Decatur only cares about what the scoreboard says at the end of the game.

Some may not like that they don’t constantly chart their stats, but the Lady Eagles’ selfless approach has them back in the state tournament for the first time since 2002 — and two wins from a championship.

“I can’t express how proud I am,” Cloud said. “They’ve battled through a lot all season long. They come in day in and day out, do what is asked of them, are loyal to each other and loyal to me. They’re a really special group.”

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Decatur walks off to win Region I title, advances to state for first time since 2002

Redemption had been on the minds of the Decatur Lady Eagles for the better part of a year.

After falling in the region final one win shy of the state tournament last season, Decatur set out on a mission to right a wrong. Saturday at Abilene Christian, the Lady Eagles finally put their demons to rest.

“Last year, we felt such heartbreak and disappointment,” said Decatur catcher J.T. Smith. “This year, all we wanted was redemption.”

With the game tied at 1 in the bottom of the seventh, Smith laced a ground ball to first base. Decatur’s Rylan Chapa broke for home on the play, beating the tag to secure the Lady Eagles’ 2-1 victory over Andrews in Game 2 of the 4A Region I final.

Decatur’s Brison Hesteande slides to beat a tag during Game 1 of the 4A Region I final against Andrews. Photo by Jordan Hofeditz.

“We were trying to figure out if I was going to bunt or hit,” Smith said. “Whenever I first hit it, Rylan wasn’t going. Next thing I knew, Rylan was under the tag and we were going to state. It’s the best feeling ever.”

It is Decatur’s first appearance in Austin in 17 years. The Lady Eagles will play in the 4A semifinal at Red & Charline McCombs Field at either 9 a.m. or noon Thursday.

“It’s special,” said Decatur coach Carly Cloud. “It’s something we’ve been trying to do for a couple years now. We all have the same common goal. It’s not one person leading our team. It’s everyone leading our team.”

Trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the sixth, Tristyn Trull got the rally started with a single up the middle. She came around to score on a sacrifice bunt by Payton Perkins, knotting the game at one.

Reagan Chism then pitched two shutout innings, leaving the door open for a walk-off. Sela Ochoa started the Decatur half of the seventh with a bloop single into left.

Decatur’s Reagan Chism pitches during Game 1 of the 4A Region I final against Andrews. Photo by Jordan Hofeditz.

Cloud then brought on Chapa to pinch run, and she advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Aliyah Smith. An infield single by Lilly Hooks set the stage for Smith, putting runners on the corners with one out.

“Sela got a base hit. It wasn’t a pretty base hit, but we talk about whatever gets the job done,” Cloud said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. They were just going to put the ball in play and get the job done.”

Decatur has won 15 straight and improves to 29-5. The Lady Eagles have outscored opponents 58-6 in the postseason.

“It’s a huge deal,” Chism said. “We all came together as one team. We bonded well, gelled from the get go. It took each and every one of us to get to this point.”

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Opportunity knocks: Decatur EDC hires help to maximize zone

The Decatur Economic Development Corp. last week hired Manassas Capital to develop a comprehensive plan for the local Opportunity Zone, as designated by the federal government.

Opportunity Zones were created as part of the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage private investment in targeted census tracts. It allows people with capital gains to defer capital gains taxes or avoid paying them entirely if they reinvest those gains in a designated Opportunity Zone and in accordance with a long list of guidelines and deadlines.

“It’s probably the greatest real estate tax break that we’ll ever see in this country, at least thus far, but it’s not going to last forever,” said John Lindsey with Manassas.

Decatur’s Opportunity Zone is the only one in Wise County, and one of 628 in Texas. There are 8,800 Opportunity Zones nationwide.

The local zone includes most of the Decatur city limits, but not Eagles Landing Business Park. It stretches north between U.S. 81/287 and North Trinity Street/Farm Road 730 to County Road 2175 and reaches east to the intersection of U.S. 380 and Old Denton Highway.

Lindsey and his partner, Mac Wilkie, gave a presentation at an Opportunity Zone educational seminar in Decatur last month and returned last week to talk to the EDC board about specific steps to make the most of the Opportunity Zone designation.

Wilkie said it takes three principal groups – the public, developers and entrepreneurs, and investors – to generate action in a zone.

“Our consultative approach is trying to figure out the right constituencies, laying out here’s how it works, what do you guys have in mind, engaging local investors and bringing all that full circle,” he said.

Lindsey said they help communities take the first step and for it to be successful, there needs to be consensus on the end goals.

“You need to build a task force of people in this community that want to take your vision and apply it through the lens of this program. Take people from the public sector, private sector, civic sector and charitable sector, put them in the same room and say this is our Opportunity Zone task force,” he said.

Lindsey said developers or investors can do things individually or they can pool their money in a fund, which is then invested in a development project. He noted there is a competition factor because zones across the country are seeking investment dollars.

He said it’s easy to attract local investors due to their interest in the community but to draw outside dollars, a detailed plan with coordinating incentives needs to be in place.

“There are other family offices in Dallas/Fort Worth, and they’re going to be looking for places to place their money … people we’re in active conversations with,” he said. “And a community like Decatur, for someone who doesn’t live here, it’s probably not the first place they want to place their dollars.”

But if the community is aligned, he said, it becomes more attractive to outside investors.

“If we can tell them, ‘we’re working with the EDC. The EDC has brought together their whole community, and they’ve got their incentives aligned from the mayor’s office to the Chamber … everybody’s aligned; everybody’s pulling together.’ Then I think those investors from outside Decatur have a lot easier time being comfortable with investing in your community, rather than it just simply being an Opportunity Zone.”

Wilkie said hopefully what would come out of the task force is a list of viable projects and a certain amount of funding secured for those projects. At that point, he and Lindsey would take that information and approach outside investors to secure the remaining dollars.

They would also be the sounding board and answer the questions of potential investors who independently approach the city about opportunity zone funds.

City Manager Brett Shannon said it’s an outstanding opportunity for the city, and he was pleased with the interest reflected in the turnout at last month’s educational seminar.

“I think we’ve got a little bit of an educational challenge ahead of us,” he said. “Someone can burp and half the town knows what you had for lunch. It’s amazing how wildfire, innuendo and rumor can get going, and I would like for all the people, as many as we can find, to understand what this program is designed to do – what it can do and what it can’t do.

“I’m trying to eliminate the politics in this.”

Lindsey said that’s where he and Wilkie are a great help. They’re an outside resource to interpret and explain the regulations. Mayor Martin Woodruff said to “reap the benefits of the Opportunity Zone we are going to need to get the services of somebody like these guys because obviously, we don’t have all the answers.”

The board unanimously approved hiring the firm. Cost is $30,000 for the initial 12-month agreement, which includes everything from education and task force development in the beginning to project selection, underwriting and fund planning.

EDC Director Thom Lambert said Friday he didn’t know yet how the task force would be selected, but it would be a cross section of people. Choosing task force members will be a collaborative effort between the EDC board and Manassas.

Lambert said if someone is interested in serving on the task force, they should call the EDC office at 940-393-0354.

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Special impact: Teacher’s devotion to special education won’t end with retirement

Special impact: Teacher’s devotion to special education won’t end with retirement

Looking Back

LOOKING BACK – After 25 years in the classroom, Young Elementary special education teacher Kara Stone is retiring from teaching. She plans to continue her work in special education through her business, Easy Sped Tracker. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

It’s the final day of school and Kara Stone’s room is unrecognizable.

Stark white walls surround her. The colorful posters and decorations are gone. The ’70s and ’80s rock music has been shut off.

It’s starting to set in.

After 25 years of teaching special education and 16 years as the special education lead at Young Elementary School in Decatur, she’s leaving the classroom for good.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Stone said. “It’ll hit me. It’ll hit me when school starts back.”

For 25 years, Stone has given long days, and often, long nights to her students. She would always take the work with her, working on plans at home late into the night.

As part of the special education program, Stone would work one-on-one with her students. She said each student mattered, and though each had unique learning disabilities to overcome, her goal was always the same; give them confidence to succeed and the success to feel confident.

“They have to feel successful and that they have a purpose to be able to move on,” Stone said. “They have to see that they can be successful. That’s what we try to do.”

Stone’s classroom was often filled with fun and music. She hosted a Guitar Hero club, where students would rock out on the video game of the same name, learning some of Stone’s favorite family friendly rock songs. While the classroom door and whiteboard bears her name, she said it wasn’t her classroom.

“It was theirs,” she said.

Stone’s passion for her job and putting students first started early.

Following in her mom’s footsteps, she got into teaching at the Lewisville Independent School District. Early in her career she gained a reputation as a fighter. From her belief in students, to saving the “Fighting Farmers” insignia on the town’s water tower after it was threatened to be taken down, that reputation stuck.

“I’m not your typical teacher,” she said. “I’m outside the box. I’m always going to try to find a different way or a better way to do it for the kids.”

After four years at LISD, Stone moved to Wise County were she spent the rest of her career, always teaching special education.

Her passion for psychology first led her to special education. Her love for her students kept her in it.

“[I stayed in special education for] the kids,” Stone said. “Being able to see them be successful, and seeing their faces when they’re successful and they can figure things out and do things they didn’t think they could do. That’s fun. It’s more rewarding than them passing the STAAR test.”

After leaving Lewisville, Stone started at Alvord l, then in 2002, began teaching at Young Elementary School.

At Young, students from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade would come into her class, all at different levels and all needing unique attention to accomplish their goals.

For 16 years, one student, one lesson at a time, she made an impact at the elementary school, said Young Elementary Principal Lana Coffman.

Coffman said she was blown away each time she popped into Stone’s classroom.

“You would go in at any time, and you have four, five, six kids, everybody on a different level, everybody working on what they needed at that time,” Coffman said. “She’s just constantly monitoring. Everybody always knew the expectations, and everybody knew exactly what they were supposed to do.”

Coffman would often seek out Stone to brainstorm ideas to implement at the school. She said it will be different now that she’s retiring.

“She’s one-of-a-kind,” Coffman said. “She’s kind of my pulse, and the heart and soul of Young Elementary. She’s one of the most knowledgeable people that I’ve met. She’s going to be greatly missed. I cried for two days when she told me she was going to pursue her business. It’s a big loss for us. She left some big shoes to fill.”

Switching Gears

SWITCHING GEARS – In 2016, Young Elementary special education teacher Kara Stone started a business, Easy Sped Tracker, which aids data collection and reporting for special education teachers. After 25 years in the classroom, her final day teaching was Thursday. Messenger photo by Mack Thweatt

While Stone will be leaving the classroom, she will still be helping with special education, just in a different capacity through her business.

In 2016, she started her own business Easy Sped Tracker, at one point pitching the program to Shark Tank. Easy Sped Tracker assists special education teachers in tracking students’ progress to simplify reporting.

With her firsthand experience in the field, she developed the program to simplify and streamline the legal burdens of paperwork and tracking, so teachers could focus more on their students.

Since starting Easy Sped Tracking, the program has been implemented in 40 districts across Texas, Stone said.

Her passion of working in special ed remains the same despite the change of scenery. After pulling 20-hour days between the classroom and developing the program, Stone looks forward to devoting her full attention to her business, with goals of reaching more students than ever.

After retiring from 25 years of teaching special ed, her goal of reaching teachers and the students they look after remains the same.

“I’m just trying to make special education better, for everybody,” Stone said. “I want to help every special ed teacher in Texas.”

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Taking Care of Business: Spreading good vibes with feel-good phrases

Positive Reinforcement

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT – Kemp’s Wrecker Service and Chico Auto Parts installed personal affirmations on bathroom stall doors at Decatur Intermediate School near the end of the school year. Pictured are Darla Duty and Tristyn Smith, representing Kemp’s and Chico Auto, and Jim Cain, who was principal at Decatur Intermediate this year. Messenger photo by Kristen Tribe

If students at Decatur Intermediate School need a little pick-me-up next year, they only have to go as far as the bathroom.

Thanks to Kemp’s Wrecker Service in Decatur and Chico Auto Parts, the stall doors are decorated with phrases of self-affirmation.

“Kids go through so much now, and I just thought we’d do something positive,” Darla Duty, a Kemp’s employee said.

Duty said they approached the school district about the project and were asked to start at the intermediate campus.

“They wanted to start here, but we hope to be able to do it in all of them,” she said.

Some of the phrases are: “Throw kindness around like confetti,” “Believe in yourself,” and “You are amazing. Remember that!”

Jim Cain, who was the campus principal this year, said he’d never seen anything like that in a bathroom but “any time we can do anything positive, that’s always a good thing.”

“We try to be the positive because we don’t know what the kids go home to,” he said. “We may be the only positive they see – at school. We’ve got great teachers who are very positive with the kids.”

Tristyn Smith, also with Kemp’s and Chico Auto Parts, said life is different for pre-teens and teens these days.

“We didn’t have Facebook [when I was a teen]. I joined Facebook my freshman year in college … sometimes it’s hard,” she said.

Cain said the boys came out right away after the phrases were installed telling him, “there’s some nice sayings in there.”

Teacher Brooklynn Stapleton said the girls “love anything like that,” and even though they’re not allowed to take their phones in the bathroom, the girls were posing in front of the sayings as if they were taking pictures anyway.

Duty said the affirmations were installed in three girls bathrooms and three boys bathrooms for a total of 14 stall doors.


Public service announcement:

Mexican food is now available in Decatur on Sundays. (For any newbies, the primary Mexican food joint in town is closed on Sundays.)

Villa Grande opened this week in the former Bonos Chophouse and Saloon at 2025 North Highway 287.


Drum roll, please. I have big news!

Chick-fil-A is opening June 6 … in Gainesville. (Womp, womp.)

Days in Wise County without Chick-fil-A: 252.

Kristen Tribe is publisher of the Wise County Messenger. Contact her with business tips at or 940-627-5987.

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Best of the Best

Best of the Best

Jaden Coston

Slidell Freshman
Class A Gold Medalist Girls Singles Tennis
On what the state medal means to her:
“It’s really cool to see all the hard work I put in pay off. The freshman aspect of it is pretty cool because the entire stadium was gossiping like ‘Look at the freshman on the court.’ Considering who has come before me and who has made it to state, it’s pretty cool.”

Lenka Okasova

Decatur Junior
Class 4A Silver Medalist Girls Singles Tennis
On what the state medal means to her:
“It means a lot. Everybody wants to win, so I was a little disappointed at first. But after some time, I realized not everyone can go to state. I started to be proud of myself. All these people have been congratulating me, so it has been pretty good.”

Bailey Meyer and Lexi Swift

Slidell seniors
Class A Bronze Medalists Girls Doubles Tennis
Meyer on what the state medal means to her:
“It was pretty cool because all year our whole thing has been going out with a bang. It was a good way to end it.”
Swift on what the state medal means to her:
“It’s pretty exciting and means a lot. It’s the last thing that we’ll do to represent Slidell. It’s a fun way to go out.”

Jared Johnson

Alvord senior
Class 2A Silver Medalist 100
On what the state medal means to him:
“It means a lot. There’s really nothing like it. It’s an honor to go to state, but it’s awesome to bring something back to represent Alvord. I should have ran all four years. I’m glad I ran this year. I made some good friends on the track team. It was lot of fun. I’ve never experienced anything like [state].”

Jadon Maddux

Bridgeport junior
Class 4A Bronze Medalist 200
On what the state medal means to him:
“It’s hard to explain. Two medals in three years, a lot of kids can’t stay that. I’m blessed. Just to run for Bridgeport, that’s all that matters to me. To represent that community well.”

Triston Read

Decatur junior
Class 4A Bronze Medalist 800
On what the state medal means to him:
“It means a lot. It’s certainly not what I wanted but for now, and just being there as a junior, it’s really honoring. I feel really honored by it. I feel like next year I’ll come back, work harder and hopefully bring back the gold.”

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Aliyah Rose Edwards

Kaitlyn Wiltshire and Matthew Edwards of Decatur announce the birth of a daughter, Aliyah Rose Edwards, May 16, 2019, at Wise Health System in Decatur.

She weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces and was 20 inches long.

Grandparents are Nick and Jennifer Wiltshire of Decatur.

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Shamar O’shea Tennyson

Vanessa and Sanjay Tennyson Sr. of Decatur announce the birth of a son, Shamar O’shea, Feb. 13, 2019, at Wise Health System in Decatur.

He weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces and was 19 inches long.

He has a brother, Sanjay Jr.; and a sister, Layla.

His grandfather is Van Schluter of Rhome.

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Lady Eagles dominate Andrews, one win from state tournament

In Game 1 of the 4A Region II final last year, the Decatur Lady Eagles blasted Emory Rains 9-0 to take a commanding lead in the best-of-three series.

But the Lady Cats rallied and stormed back to take the second and third games, denying Decatur of a state tournament appearance. It has been a long road back, but after Thursday’s 7-0 win over Andrews in the 4A Region I final, the Lady Eagles are once again one victory from a trip to Austin.

Except this time, it’s different.

Decatur starter Reagan Chism high-fives teammate Samantha Cantu during Thursday’s 7-0 win over Andrews in Game 1 of the 4A Region I final. Photo by Jordan Hofeditz.

“We’ve been here,” said Decatur shortstop Tristyn Trull. “We know what it’s like and we know how important it is to each other.”

Trull led the way for the Lady Eagles at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs to seal Decatur’s Game 1 victory at Abilene Christian. The Lady Eagles will have a chance to punch their ticket to the state tournament for the first time since 2002 at 1 p.m. Saturday in Game 2.

“We’re pretty dang excited. We all are,” said Decatur outfielder Jaci Ticknor. “We just have to keep the same high energy and same attitude — do the same thing we’ve been doing all year, which is winning.”

Ticknor got the scoring started for Decatur in the top of the first with an RBI-single into center. Later in the third, Trull belted a two-run opposite-field double into the gap in right.

Andrews’ right fielder came up firing, but Brison Hesteande beat the throw at the plate and Trull advanced to third. Ticknor then plated Trull on a line drive to give Decatur a 4-0 lead.

Decatur’s Jaci Ticknor belts an RBI-single during Thursday’s 7-0 win over Andrews in Game 1 of the 4A Region I final. Photo by Jordan Hofeditz.

The early run support proved to be plenty for the Lady Eagles’ starter, Reagan Chism, who won her 13th straight game in the circle. Chism tossed a complete game shutout and struck out 13.

“It was a big game for her and a big stage,” said Decatur coach Carly Cloud. “She settled in.” 

Chism wiggled her way out of jams in the third and fourth innings and struck out the side in the second.

“She did amazing. She’s very important to our team,” said Trull of Chism. “Early runs help Reagan a lot and help the rest of the team. It doesn’t put as much pressure on the defense. It really helps for the whole team [to set the tone early].”

The Lady Eagles got some insurance in the seventh on RBI-singles by Payton Perkins and Sela Ochoa. Samantha Cantu added an RBI-double off the center field wall.

Decatur improved to 28-5 on the season and has now won 14 straight. The Lady Eagles are in familiar territory, but Cloud said they are not getting ahead of themselves.

“We just do what we do and stay focused on the little things,” Cloud said. “We’re not focusing on the big things. We have to stay disciplined at the plate, make adjustments and just do what we do.”

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Planting successful seeds: Farming dreams keep high school graduate close to home

Planting successful seeds: Farming dreams keep high school graduate close to home

Family business

Family business – After graduating from home school with a 3.8 GPA, Clayton Taylor is following in his dad’s footsteps, staying to work on the family farm. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

His day begins and ends in darkness.

After strapping on well-worn boots, home school senior Clayton Taylor ventures out into a black sky, surrounded by thousands of acres of green and gold.

Beyond the fields of hay, there’s soybeans to plant and clouds that call for rain. It will be another long one.

“When the weather is right, you got to go,” he said.

In three days, Clayton and his dad, Danny Taylor, find six hours of sleep between the 58 hours of dedication to the land.

These are family farm hours, nothing special for the father and son.

Sweat and dirt was spilled, but as the storms rolled over their nearly 4,000 acres last week, Clayton and Danny look out on a job well done and soybeans sprouting through the field.

The work day is often subject to the clouds. The next day presents another challenge, another field and another acre to work. But it’s theirs.

It’s the family farm and Clayton, after graduating high school with a 3.8 GPA, will work alongside his dad, like his family has for generations.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Clayton said.

Family and the farm mean everything to Clayton. After receiving his diploma from North Hills Private School, he has no intentions of leaving the lifestyle behind.

While most seniors will be crossing the stage and venturing out to college and trade schools, Clayton will stay planted at home.

College and office jobs are great for some people, just not for Clayton.

“Farming is my passion,” he said. “It’s my thing. I started baling when I was 8. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

He loves his family, his lord and savior and his work. Luckily for Clayton, all three come together on the farm.

He wasn’t in FFA, but he’s been in the current farmers of America since he was a child. He’s owned his own cattle since he was 12, and at the age of 17, acquired a commercial license to operate an 18-wheeler.

It’s all a credit to his family Clayton said. His mom and sister were his teachers in the classroom and in the fields. His dad and grandpa, Charles Taylor, were his teachers in agriculture and ranching.

“They taught me everything I know,” Clayton said. “I don’t think I could find anybody better to teach me than my dad and my grandad.”

Clayton plans to hold onto the family business, a piece of what has become known as the backbone of the ag industry, despite the rise of corporate farming operations.

According to the USDA, family-owned farms make up 97 percent of the industry, and 58 percent of consumer sales in the United States. But what was once 50 percent of the American workforce in the 1870s, has now shrunk to 2 percent.

“It’s a dying breed,” Danny said.

The Taylors do a little bit of everything on the farm. They grow hay, soy beans and wheat, in addition to running cattle.

From an early age, Danny noticed his son’s talent and interest for mechanics and farm life. Whether it be baling hay, working machinery, or leading a crew of workers, he had the knack.

Seeing him carry on the family farm brings a swell of pride. He said his son is a rarity these days.

“He became a man at 12 years old, thinking like a grown man,” he said. “You don’t see much of that.

“To see that compassion in somebody for agriculture is a different thing. Family farms are becoming a thing of the past. Big corporate farms and big ranches, it’s different than what we do. I can’t express how proud of him I am.”

Clayton has learned many things from his dad and grandpa, including the fact that things will never be easy.

He’s seen commodity prices surge and dip. He’s seen droughts and deluges. It’s feast and famine, and constant work.

“Either it rains too much or it doesn’t rain enough,” Clayton said.

But he wouldn’t chose to work anywhere else than the family farm. To him it’s a blessing.

“When you plant a crop and see it do well, it’s rewarding,” he added. “Some people have certain stuff in them. Farming is in me.”

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Finding homes for horses

Up for adoption

UP FOR ADOPTION – Johanna Wilson, who operates Miss Jo’s Rescue Ranch in Decatur, pats one of the horses up for adoption at her ranch. The organization will hold a horse adoption event Saturday at the Wise County Fairgrounds. Messenger photo by Brian Knox

Walking through a pasture of grazing horses at her home just outside of Decatur, Johanna Wilson can point out each one by name and personality.

Some are shy, while others walk up and nudge you until you pet them.

They all have one thing in common: they are looking for a home.

Wilson operates Miss Jo’s Rescue Ranch, and the organization is holding an adoption event Saturday at the Wise County Fairgrounds.

Horses are like people, Wilson said, in that all are different. Her job is to match up the right person with the right horse.

“There is a home for every horse, there really is,” she said. “Not everybody needs one to ride athletically. Some people just really want a horse to groom, to just have as a pet, basically, and there’s horses that fit that bill. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

She said there’s often a misconception about rescue horses.

“Rescue horses are not all lame. They’re not all crippled. They’re not all sick. They’re not all old. There’s all kinds of horses available for adoption,” she said.

About 30 horses will be at Saturday’s ASPCA Help a Horse Home adoption event at the fairgrounds, located on Farm Road 51 South in Decatur.

It’s designed to give prospective adopters a chance to get to know their new equine friend.

“We’ll set up some barrels in there, some obstacles. If people want to play with them, they have the opportunity to see how they’d do in a playday event,” Wilson said.

At a similar event last month, Wilson said she was surprised at how many people would go right up and start brushing the horses rather than sitting and watching them first. Nine horses were adopted at the April event.

Miss Jo’s Rescue Ranch is one of nearly 200 rescues across the country taking part in the sixth annual Help a Horse Home Challenge, a competition to see how many horses can be adopted between April 26 and June 20. The winning organizations will receive grant funding.

The reason for beginning the challenge on April 26 is because that is the date in 1866 when ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse, resulting in the first arrest for horse mistreatment, according to the organization.

Saturday’s adoption event will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include fun and games and concessions in addition to horse meet and greets and riding.

For information on Miss Jo’s, visit A preview of the horses available for adoption can also be found on the Miss Jo’s Rescue Ranch Facebook page.

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News Briefs for Wednesday, May 22, 2019


SCRAPBOOKING – The MZ Bee for scrapbooking and crafting is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 8 in the fellowship hall at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 615 County Road 1280. Attendees will bring their own projects, lunch and snacks. There is no charge, but donations can be made to Food Pantry Ministry benefiting Backpack and Alvord Meals on Wheels. Call 940-627-5103 or 940-427-5941.


DIAPER RUN – Stagecoach Rehabilitation is having a Diaper Run Saturday. Bring baby diapers to be donated to Wise Choices Pregnancy Resource Center in Decatur. The event starts at 9 a.m. with Kick Stand Chapel in the parking lot. Kick Stands Up at 9:45 a.m. Call Robin, 940-683-8500.


MARY’S GIFT – The Mary’s Gift program funded through Wise Health Foundation provides free 3D mammograms for uninsured and underinsured women and men of Wise County. The next date for appointments is June 26. Visit to learn more or call Wise Health System Imaging Center at 940-626-1329 to apply and schedule your appointment.

WEIGHT LOSS – T.O.P.S. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) meets at 5 p.m. every Tuesday at Grace Baptist Church, 600 S. Trinity, in Decatur. Call 940-389-5759.

DRIVERS EDUCATION – Registration is open for Decatur’s 2019 driver’s education class. The 9 to 11 a.m. classes start May 28 at the McCarroll Middle School Multipurpose building and will run through June 14. The class is $75 and there is a $225 driving fee. Payments can be made in the Decatur High School office. Students must be 15 by June 17. For information, contact Jack Reeves at 940-393-7200 or

42 TOURNAMENT – Weekly 42 tournaments are held 6 to 8 p.m. Thrusdays at the Decatur Senior Center.


BRISKETS FOR SALE – The Greenwood Masonic Lodge will be selling briskets from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Greenwood Pavilion for $65. Call 817-992-4180 or 940-255-2782 to order.


CLEANUP DAY – The New Fairview city cleanup day is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Dumpsters will be available at city hall. Residents will need to show proof of residence before discarding items. Tires, batteries, hazardous materials, wet paint, oil and refrigerants are prohibited.


GRADUATION LIVESTREAM – Graduation for all Northwest schools will be livestreamed on the Northwest ISD YouTube channel. Steele’s graduation will take place at Northwest High School’s Vernon Solomon Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. May 31. On Monday, June 3, the remaining three high school graduations will all take place at the University of North Texas Coliseum. Eaton will graduate students at 10 a.m., followed by Northwest at 2 p.m. and Byron Nelson at 6 p.m.

ONLINE ENROLLMENT – Online enrollment for all students – both returning and new to Northwest ISD – for the 2019-20 school is now open at Northwest ISD will hold a centralized enrollment event noon to 7:30 p.m., July 18, at Northwest High School.

TECHNO CAMP – Registration is open for Northwest ISD’s summer STEM enrichment TechnoCamp. The camps is open to any students kindergarten through eighth-grade. For information, visit


STORY TIME – The Rhome Public Library will host Story Time Hour every Wednesday at 11 a.m. The new story time leader is Deb Duckwall, who is starting a literary-based program. All preschool-age children are welcome to attend. Stories, crafts and snacks are provided. Call 817-636-2767.

RHOME VETERANS – At 6 p.m. Friday, Rhome Veterans will place flags in the Aurora Cemetery. A Memorial Day Ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. May 25 at the Rhome Veterans Memorial Park. The group will pick up flags at 11 a.m. May 28 at the Aurora Cemetery.


MEDICARE EDUCATION – Medicare education seminars will be 2 p.m. June 1 at the First Baptist Church, 401 Main St., in Paradise. Call John Ward, 940-210-0978.

CEMETERY ASSOCIATION MEETING – Pleasant Grove No. 1 Cemetery Association’s annual meeting is 11:30 a.m. June 1. Call 940-627-2807.

SONFLOWER CAMP – Sonflower Camp is from 9 a.m. to noon June 3-5 at Crossroads Church in Decatur. A pool party will be held noon to 1 p.m. June 7 at the Fit-N-Wise pool. Campers and volunteers register at

CHAMBER MEETING – The next Wise County Chamber luncheon is 11:30 a.m. June 3 at the Boyd Community Center. Charlott Boatman Canion will speak on “Putting Your Best Foot Forward.” RSVP at by noon May 30.

GROUP MEALS – The Wise County Committee on Aging is presenting group meals every Tuesday in May for senior citizens. Meals are held in the First United Methodist Church of Decatur Fellowship Hall from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For reservations, call WCCA, 940-627-5329.

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Decatur to meet Andrews in Region I final

One step away

ONE STEP AWAY – Decatur’s Reagan Chism celebrates with teammates after the Lady Eagles’ Game 1 victory over Emory Rains in the 2018 4A Region II final. Decatur will take on Andrews Thursday and Saturday in the 4A Region I final later this week for the right to go to state. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

After falling one win shy of the state tournament last year, the Decatur Lady Eagles will have their chance for redemption this week in the 4A Region I final.

The three-game series will be played at Abilene Christian University. The opening game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday. Game 2 will be at 1 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, the third game would immediately follow.

Standing in Decatur’s way of a trip to Austin are the Andrews Lady Mustangs, champions from District 2-4A. Andrews enters the contest 31-7 and swept Burkburnett in the region semifinal.

The Lady Mustangs are averaging 10.8 runs in the postseason.

The Lady Eagles sport a 27-5 record and are coming off an 18-1 win over Canyon in the region semifinal. Decatur starter Reagan Chism has only given up one run over her last 12 starts and is 4-0 in the playoffs.

At the plate. J.T. Smith leads the Lady Eagles with a .553 average. Decatur went undefeated in District 8-4A play, claiming their second consecutive league title.

The winner of the region final advances to the state tournament May 29-June 1 at Red & Charlene McCombs Field in Austin.

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Decatur in hunt for cup as year winds down

With the school year almost wrapped up, Decatur is still in the hunt for the UIL Lone Star Cup in 4A.

The Eagles are in fourth place with 68 points. Rival Argyle leads 4A with 78 points. Academics, one-act play, theatrical design, track and field, golf, tennis, baseball and softball are the few remaining events to add to the scoring.

The Lone Star Cup is given to one high school in each classification based on their performance in a number of athletic and academic events.

Decatur’s softball team won the District 8-4A title and will play Andrews in the 4A Region I final this Thursday and Saturday. The Lady Eagles are two victories from their first state tournament appearance since 2002.

Decatur’s volleyball and boys cross country teams won state titles, while the girls cross country team was the 4A runner-up. The Eagles’ football and boy’s basketball teams advanced to the 4A semifinal.

The Lady Eagles’ basketball team won their first playoff game in three years, advancing to the regional quarterfinal.

Decatur also had Lenka Okasova take silver in 4A girls singles.

The winning school will receive a trophy and a $1,000 scholarship. The final results will be announced June 14.

In Class A, Slidell is fifth with 30 points. It is 12 points behind first place Nazareth.

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Mary Jo Leake

Mary Jo Leake

Mary Jo Leake, 91, of Decatur, passed away Sunday, May 19, 2019, following a brief illness.

Funeral is 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 22 at First Baptist Church Decatur with burial in Oaklawn Cemetery.

Family will receive friends 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the church.

Dr. David Lowrie and the Rev. Gerre Joiner will officiate.

Pallbearers are April and Allan Kuykendall, Cody Leake, Carlton and Rachael Leake, Casey and Katelyn Leake, Joe Armes and Joe Leake.

Honorary pallbearers include Willie Joe Howard, Mickey Truitt, Ricky Truitt, Charlie Perry, Brock Smith, Joey Luttrell and Chet Niblett.

Mary Jo was born Oct. 15, 1927, to Joe and Mary Anna (Vaughan) Truitt near Greenwood. She was the youngest of seven children.

In 1945, she moved from Greenwood to Decatur where she completed an associate’s degree in business at Decatur Baptist College. She was united in marriage in 1949 to William Gene “Pete” Leake. Mary Jo considered the important things in life to be the relationships she had with God, family and friends. She was a member of First Baptist Church Decatur for 74 years.

Mary Jo worked in the Wise County Clerk’s office for 20 years, retiring in 1992. However, not one to sit idle, she continued part-time work in other county offices and for local attorneys. Mary Jo was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, aunt and friend. She was known for her generous nature and was always willing to help those in need. One of her hobbies was cooking. This avocation continued through her life as she prepared and served favorite dishes at church functions and family gatherings. She and Gene enjoyed numerous cross-country vacations with family as well as friends. A favorite destination of hers was Branson, Mo.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Gene Leake, in 2008.

Those left behind to cherish her memory are her sons, Truitt Leake, Ray Leake and wife, Pam and Gay Leake and wife, Lynne, all of Denton; her treasured grandchildren, April and Allan Kuykendall of Argyle, Cody Leake, Carlton and Rachel Leake of Denton and Casey and Katelyn Leake of Decatur; great-grandchildren Mallory Kate, Truitt James and Gentry Paige Kuykendall; and numerous nieces, nephews and a host of friends.

Hawkins Funeral Home Decatur

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Arson plea: Russell sentenced for Barclay Fire

Arson Fire

ARSON FIRE – A firefighter works to extinguish a large grass fire last summer that burned 450 acres between Decatur and Alvord. The man responsible for setting the fire was sentenced last week. Messenger photo by Richard Greene

A man charged with starting a fire at a salvage yard last summer that burned hundreds of acres north of Decatur was sentenced to prison last week.

Robert Charles Russell

Robert Charles Russell of Alvord pleaded guilty to arson of a building/habitation/vehicle reckless causes damage for starting a fire at the Barclay Salvage Yard Aug. 3. The plea was made in 271st District Court in Decatur, and Russell was sentenced to nine months confinement in the state division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The punishment range for the state jail felony offense was 180 days to two years in state jail.

Russell was originally arrested Oct. 4 on a first degree felony charge of arson causes bodily injury following an investigation by the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. He was indicted on the state jail felony charge by a grand jury in December.

Firefighters from more than 20 fire departments battled the intense blaze, and two firefighters were injured – a Chico firefighter sustained a broken leg and a Greenwood/Slidell firefighter suffered heat exhaustion at the August fire. Both had to be transported to Wise Health System in Decatur.

The fire burned approximately 450 acres near County Road 2391 between Alvord and Decatur, and it caused extensive damage at the salvage yard, where hundreds of vehicles were destroyed.

At the time of the fire, Wise County was under a burn ban that prohibited all outdoor burning.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, sheriff’s office investigator Mike Neagle obtained surveillance video footage of the area near where the fire started. Russell had told Neagle he heard a “pop” and went to investigate and found the fire already burning.

The video footage shows Russell walking into and out of the camera view a few times.

“Russell then can be seen walking back in camera view carrying some type of red container and pouring an unknown liquid into that container,” the affidavit states. “Russell then walks out of camera view where he had previously been. This is the area where Russell had told Neagle he first observed the fire.”

The affidavit goes on to say that smoke can be seen only after Russell walks away from the area with the liquid in the container.

Through more interviews, Neagle determined the liquid in the container was gasoline.

Russell had remained in the Wise County Jail since his arrest until Friday, when he was transferred to a state jail facility.

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Top gun: Decatur resident named 2019 FAA National Flight Instructor of the year

Top gun: Decatur resident named 2019 FAA National Flight Instructor of the year

Reaching the Peak

REACHING THE PEAK – In April, Decatur flight instructor Gary Reeves was named the 2019 FAA National Instructor of the Year. Reeves is a national expert in Single Pilot IFR. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

Inside a hangar lined with single-engine beauties, Gary Reeves, a goateed man wearing glasses and pink from shirt to shoe, deftly takes a pilot through his paces.

Reeves’ time is valuable, and he wastes none of it, as he guides the pilot at the Decatur Municipal Airport through the Avidine Single Pilot Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) system, which will give the pilot the ability to fly through clouds.

Being in the clouds, thousands of feet in the air is where Reeves feels the most comfortable. His mission since 2012 has been to give that feeling and familiarity behind the complicated instruments of flight, one pilot at a time.

A byproduct of his goal has been a rapid ascension through the field of flight instruction.

Recently, Reeves has been confronted with a welcome problem. He doesn’t have any higher to go.

In April, Reeves was named the FAA National Flight Instructor of the Year, the top honor in a field of 101,000 flight instructors in the United States.

He joins a group of around 50 people to ever get the award.

“The only thing I’m sad about now is there is nothing next,” Reeves said. “There’s nothing higher I can get. I don’t know what to do next. I always liked having the next challenge. Now there’s not one.”

Sky Safety

SKY SAFETY – Decatur flight instructor and owner of Gary Reeves has made a career of his hobby, flying, for the past 14 years after selling his ambulance company on a whim. In April, Reeves was named the 2019 FAA National Instructor of the Year for his instruction in Single-Pilot IFR. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

Reeves is an entrepreneur. His boredom and need to be challenged has led him to several ventures. His most recent is, where he delivers faster flight training.

Despite Reeves’ recent accomplishment, he said he has no plans on getting out of flight instruction.

“I will always stay flying,” Reeves said.

Before Reeves got into flight instruction, he owned an ambulance company. On a whim, he left it all behind.

“I sold it by accident one day,” Reeves said. “Have you ever had a day at work where you would walk away for $50? I owned an ambulance company and offered to sell it to my field supervisor six months before. One day he walked in and asked if I still wanted to sell.

“I said, ‘dude I’m having a bad day,'” Reeves recalled. “He handed me a certified check. I said, ‘I’m out of here.'”

Reeves had some money in his pocket and nothing to do; so he got his flight instructor license for fun.

“I did it until I found a real job,” Reeves said. “Fourteen years later, I’m still doing it.”

Reeves calls Decatur home, but he spends most of his week flying across the country. He’s a national flight instructor for a reason. It’s rare among the other recipients of this honor, who generally stick to local instruction.

Since 2016, Reeves has taught clients in 30 different states. In the past two years, he’s taught more than 6,000 people in free FAA classes

Reeves said it’s rewarding knowing he’s making the skies a safer place.

The best feeling, beyond the awards, is knowing that he played a role in saving former students’ lives.

“I’ve gotten letters from students who had in-flight emergencies who were able to handle it without injury or damage to the plane or anything,” he said. “My favorite letter is from a student who had a total engine failure. Because of my training, he said he wasn’t scared and handled it perfectly. A week later he was able to fly it out of a farmer’s field.”

Reeves’ main focus is teaching students how to use GPS technology. Two of the three leading GPS providers, Avidyne and Genesys (S-TEC) have picked Reeves as their national training provider. Becoming certified to use the technology allows for flight through clouds. In turn, proper use of the tech makes flying a little safer – an important goal for Reeves.

“Really what I do is teach people how to use the new technology,” Reeves said. “That’s my goal in life.”

Through his DVD and online video training, Reeves is able to reach more students and potentially save more lives.

That’s always been the point, he said. The recognition of reaching the pinnacle of flight instruction is nice, but Reeves said the greatest benefit is the larger platform to make the sky a safer place.

“I appreciate standing ovations and what not,” Reeves said. “But really it’s about making a bigger difference. The more well- known I am, the more lives I can save, the more pilots I can make better. It’s not just the pilot that I’m trying to save. Their families are in the plane.”

While Reeves has already received the top honor in flight instruction, a reminder of his mission can be seen in the headlines, when he reads about plane crashes.

“In Florida just a couple weeks ago, just bad decisions killed his whole family,” Reeves said. “If I had gotten to him, I could’ve saved them.

“It’s a reminder,” he added. “There’s still work to be done.”

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Tax freeze request: Citizen asks city to give break to seniors

The city of Decatur may soon look at giving seniors a tax break.

At Monday’s meeting, citizen Max Odom asked the city to consider giving a tax exemption or freezing the tax rate for seniors, ages 65 and older.

“Everybody has been impacted by the appraisals going up at a really rapid rate,” Odom said. “We hear we might get some relief from the state legislature, but so far nothing has really happened there.”

He went on to describe that he’s been a resident of Decatur for three years, and his property value has increased from $188,000 to $225,000.

Odom said he spoke with the Wise County Appraisal District and discovered other cities in the area have exemptions or tax rate freezes for senior property owners.

City Manager Brett Shannon said since Odom contacted the city in late April, he and the city’s finance director, Mike Erwin, have been looking at the numbers and how an exemption or freeze might affect the city.

“Obviously, when you give the exemption to somebody, someone else makes up the difference, but I’m also sensitive to the senior citizens, too,” Shannon said. “… At this point we would probably recommend you look at a flat exemption amount, whatever that number is, so future appraisals, you still get that exemption.”

He said he and Erwin would bring options to the city council at its next meeting, adding that if something could be adopted by July or August, it would allow enough time to count toward this year’s taxes.


The council also approved a number of planning and zoning-related items, including giving approval to Larry Henry’s request to change the zoning on a 0.431 acre tract in the 300 block of East Vernon Street from single family residential to two-family zoning in order to build a duplex.

The planning and zoning commission had officially recommended denying the request, even though commissioners had voted 3-1 to recommend approval. With the absences of two commissioners, the vote didn’t have the required four votes needed to recommend approval.

Because of the P&Z’s denial recommendation, and the fact that more than 20 percent of property owners near the Henry’s property were opposed to the zoning change, a supermajority vote of three-fourths of the city council was needed to approve the zoning change request.

When a motion to accept the P&Z’s recommendation to deny the request was called for by Mayor Martin Woodruff, no motion was made. Then a motion to approve the zoning change request was approved by a unanimous vote.

In other P&Z items, the council:

  • approved an encroachment agreement with QuikTrip for directional signs.
  • approved variances on seven directional signs at QT that exceeded the city’s maximum allowable area and height.
  • approved curb and gutter, sidewalk and drainage variance requests for residential property at 141 Decatur Country Club Road.
  • approved a replat application for residential property at 101 W. Park St.
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Decatur ISD looks for principal; Cain takes job at Sanger

Decatur ISD is looking for a new principal at its intermediate campus.

After leading the fifth- and sixth-grade campus this past year, Jim Cain has resigned to take the principal job at Sanger Middle School.

“It was a deal that I couldn’t refuse. I tried to find a way,” Cain said. “I coached there before and know a lot of people there.”

Cain’s resignation was reported to the Decatur ISD School Board Monday. After the meeting, Superintendent Judi Whitis said the district has posted the job and is on the search for the right candidate.

“We’re working with staff to identify a profile and a timeline. The job has been posted as of Friday,” Whitis said. “We are doing everything we can to find the right, most talented and qualified person to fill the vacancy, hopefully a mid-June hire.

“We appreciate Mr. Cain and his service to the district and wish him the best in his new journey.”

Whitis said the district will consider all qualified candidites, internally and from outside the district. In the job posting, the district is looking for someone with three years experience as a classroom teacher and at least three years as an assistant principal with their principal certification.

“We want the best person. We expect it to attract really good people.”

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