The American dream through Buddhist eyes

The American dream through Buddhist eyes

“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act upon them?”
– Gautama Buddha

Eyes pale blue as summer sky peer up at a golden statue rising on a rustic patch of land between the town of Newark and the waters of Eagle Mountain Lake. Hands weathered and worn as the bark on the old pecan trees in the yard grip the scaffolding that surrounds a 20-foot high handmade sculpture of Gautama Buddha.

The statue is the focal point of a Buddhist temple being constructed in Newark. The temple is the latest chapter in the life of a man whose journey harkens back to those seeking political and religious freedom through the American gateway of Ellis Island.

Bounhot Souimaniphanh, 84, was forced to flee his homeland of Laos in the late 1970s.

A landlocked country in southeast Asia, Laos borders Vietnam and Cambodia, China and Thailand. It’s a mountainous country – the mighty Mekong River snakes through its forest and jungles – and it was caught in the middle of the Cold War.

Once a longtime French protectorate, its people gained independence in 1953. But much like its neighbor Vietnam, it was taken over by the Communist Party in 1975 after a bloody civil war.

Before the Communists took over, many in Laos had helped the United States and its allies in the war in Southeast Asia. Bounhot was one of them.

The new Marxist government started rounding up people who’d helped the Americans. They killed hundreds of thousands.

“We had to flee or we would have been one of the families drug out into a field and shot,” said Seng, one of Bounhot’s seven children. “My dad helped the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Anyone who worked with the U.S. was killed.”

The family fled Laos and made it to a refugee camp in Thailand. From 1975 to 1996, the United States resettled some 250,000 Laotian refugees from Thailand. Bounhot, his wife Thongdam, and their seven children were among the first to move from the refugee camp to the United States. They just happened to land in the Metroplex.

“We were probably the third or fourth family,” Seng said. “We were political refugees.”

Blessed by Elders

BLESSED BY ELDERS – Thongdam Souimaniphanh, 72, gives her granddaughter a Buddhist blessing while her husband, 84-year-old Bounhot, watches. The couple and their seven children fled Laos in late 1970s as political refugees and wound up in the Metroplex. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“We were the first generation,” said Sam, another son. “The first generation is always the hardest. We all arrived at a strange, new world. We couldn’t speak the language. All we had was the clothes on our backs.

“But we were fortunate to come here. We took advantage of the opportunity. We went to school day and night to learn the language. We worked hard to better ourselves … Our parents told us we were in the land of opportunity. We can’t be looking for government handouts.”

Take advantage of the opportunity they did, as all seven of the children, five boys and two girls, grew up to become successful. They became doctors, engineers and even high-ranking officers in the military.

But along the way, their father wanted to make sure his children took advantage of another opportunity found in America – the chance to express religious freedom.

THE FIRST TEMPLE

“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” – Buddha

BUILDING HERITAGE – Bounhot Souimaniphanh, 84, climbs to the top of a large Buddha sculpture being built in the middle of a temple currently under construction in Newark. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

While Bounhot Souimaniphanh and his family were among the first refugees to move from Southeast Asia to North Texas, they weren’t the last.

“There were a lot that were relocated here,” Sam said, “but they were scattered all over North Texas.”

So in the early 1980s, Bounhot purchased 10 acres of undeveloped land in Keller to build a Buddhist temple.

They broke ground quickly on what is now a sprawling and beautiful temple grounds in Keller. But some locals weren’t sure what to think of the ornate, Oriental architecture rising from what was then only pasture and dirt roads.

“When we first moved here people didn’t understand our culture,” Sam said. “It was all country back then. We started with nothing but a trailer. But my dad built it as a way to create a community for all the immigrants from Southeast Asia.”

“People from every nation and every culture that have come here have brought something new to America,” Seng said. “This is what we’ve brought here. This is important to us to pass down our heritage and beliefs to our children and grandchildren.”

Bounhot founded a second temple in Saginaw in the 1990s, and last year they broke ground on the third temple, located in Newark.

“We wanted to build it in a peaceful place in the country and near the water,” Seng said.

NEWARK’S TEMPLE

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

PEACE OF MIND – Bounhot Souimaniphanh, 84, a political refugee originally from Laos, is helping construct a Buddhist temple in Newark. He’s already founded temples in Keller and Saginaw. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Pohn Sengsuvanreta, a 51-year-old Buddhist monk, lives a life of extraordinary austerity.

He started training as a monk at an early age in Laos.

Now he lives in a small, simple building at the temple in Newark. His head is shaved, revealing a faded green tattoo of an ancient alphabet, meant to help him gain wisdom. He wears only a faded orange robe and sandals. His days are spent meditating.

The goal of the Buddhist is to eliminate all cravings and therefore eliminate all suffering. The monk is governed by 250 rules that keep him from engaging in the normal day-to-day life most people lead.

“I can’t even touch money,” Pohn said. “If I did, I might as well dress like you do and go find a woman.”

“The monks shave their heads and eyebrows,” Seng said. “They wear orange or yellow. They give up everything on the living earth that us normal people have. They can’t even be touched by a woman. The path they travel is very narrow.”

“Meditation helps me,” Pohn said. “It slows everything down.”

“They sit for hours in meditation and see things that we cannot see,” Seng said.

And the temple is not just for Buddhists.

“It is a place for everybody,” Pohn said. “If someone is suffering or hungry or addicted to drugs they can come here for help. If they just want to come here and meditate and quiet their lives for a little bit that is fine. We believe in love and happiness. We want peace.”

“At the end of the day it’s about becoming as peaceful of a person as you can,” Seng said. “Having health and wealth is what we strive for.”

RECIPROCATING LOVE

“To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent.” – Buddha

Bounhot is not a monk. He wanted a family. But he’s lived his life as close as he can to the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

Buddha was a prince from who lived in India about 400 B.C. At the age of 29 he left the royal life behind to live the life of an ascetic. Eventually, through much meditation he achieved Nirvana – the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states. It is this state that monks such as Pohn hope to come close to.

Bounhot has devoted his life to keeping that part of his culture alive in America for his children and the community.

Another aspect of the Laotian culture is honoring elders and their wisdom.

“All our success comes from our parents,” Sam said. “Our parents have helped us so much. When they get older we want to help them.”

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Seng said. “We keep our kids around them. Once you get old, having grandchildren around keeps you happy and helps you feel young.

“They raised us … why would we put them away in a home? In our culture, it is an honor to care for our elders.”

At the seven acres in Newark, two rows of ancient pecan trees lead up to the large golden sculpture of Buddha. It can be seen from all directions. Several other small buildings have already been erected as housing for monks and for meditation. A pavilion has also been constructed, and there is room to keep building and adding to the ornate, Oriental architecture for years.

And almost every day Bounhot – who seems much too spry to be 84 – can be found working on the land or one of the buildings.

“You never finish,” Bounhot said. “You always keep working. Keep building.”

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Bobby Joe Bullard

Bobby Joe Bullard

Bobby Joe Bullard, 77, of Newark died Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Weslaco.

Funeral is 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 20 at Aurora Baptist Church in with burial in Aurora Cemetery. The Rev. Jimmy Withers will officiate.

Visitation is 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Christian-Hawkins Funeral Home in Boyd.

Pallbearers include Daren Hayden, Loren Hayden, Branden Hayden, Johnny Bullard, John Bullard and Austin White. Honorary pallbearers include Tanner Hayden, Race Hayden and Colten Hayden.

Bobby was born June 29, 1936, to Burley and Virginia (Pike) Bullard in Fort Worth. He married Synda Schupbach July 4, 2007, in Wise County.

Bobby was a member of Aurora Baptist Church and the Mid-Cities Anglers Club. He retired from Bell Helicopter after more than 40 years of service.

He loved to fish, play golf, travel, shoot pool and dance. From the words of his grandson “his dance moves were legendary.”

Bobby will be remembered most for his love for people, laughter and enjoying life to the fullest.

He was preceded in death by his parents; the mother of his children, Vaneta McDonald Bullard, in 1985; and his daughters, Deborah Youngblood and Sandra Bullard.

Bobby is survived by his wife, Synda Bullard, of Newark; son Johnny Bullard and wife, Susie, of Azle; daughters Vickie Long of Avoca, Iowa, and Barbara White and husband, Jack, of Weatherford; stepchildren Debra Patterson and husband, Gary, of New Jersey, Pixie Rippy of Crowley, Derek Newman and wife, Kim, of Lebanon, Mo., Loren Hayden and wife, Rachell, of Garland, Daren Hayden and wife, Becky, of Saginaw and Brandon Hayden and wife, Angie, of Mesquite; nine grandchildren; 10 step-grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and other family members and friends.

Memorials may be made to Aurora Baptist Church in Bobby’s name.

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Newark and Rhome firefighters’ quick response saves home

A quick response by Newark and Rhome firefighters salvaged a home Saturday morning.

The two departments were dispatched to reports of smoke and flames coming though the roof of a mobile home in the 100 block of County Road 4857 around 8 a.m.

Teamwork

TEAMWORK – Rhome Fire Chief Robert Pratt and another firefighter assist the Newark Fire Department at a house fire in the rain Saturday morning. A quick response by both departments salvaged the home. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Units checked on scene within four minutes and reported light smoke coming through the eaves and ridge row on the roof.

The fire, which started in the back wall of a room added to the mobile home, was contained to the wall and attic.

“There’s a brick fireplace attached to the add-on,” said Wise County Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis. “Over time, the foundation has settled, creating a gap between the chimney and the exterior wall … Birds are able to go in there and build a nest. That morning, the family lit a fire to heat the home, and an ember got through the chimney to the nest, and that’s what set off the fire.”

Newark Fire Chief James Edgemon said he didn’t believe there was any fire or smoke damage to items in the room. There may have been some water damage, and structural damage was minimal.

“We had to go in and pull the sheetrock and ceiling where the fire started,” Edgemon said. “But nothing burned in the room. We know where it started, but we’re not sure what started it.”

Red Cross was dispatched to assist the home’s occupants, which included a middle-aged couple and a younger couple and their baby.

On Monday morning, Travis said an electrician had made the appropriate repairs. Power was to be restored later in the day.

“They’ll have to go in and make some repairs, but they should be back in the home and living comfortably by the end of the day (Monday),” Travis said.

“The fire department did a really good job containing the fire to one room,” he added. “Their quick action – along with that of the homeowners, who got in the attic and fought the fire with fire extinguishers until firefighters arrived – will enable the family to spend the holidays at home.”

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Emmory Gail Whisenant

Victoria M. Ahlstrand of Newark announces the birth of a daughter, Emmory Gail Whisenant, on Dec. 13, 2013, at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

She weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces and was 18 1/2 inches long.

She has one brother: Christopher Vega, 6; and two sisters: Gabby, 9, and Adrianna, 7.

Grandparent is Robert A. Ahlstrand of Newark.

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Sam F. Martin

Sam F. Martin

Sam F. Martin, 62, a plumber, died Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, at his home in Newark.

Funeral is 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, at Rhome Assembly of God Church with Jeanne Evans officiating. Burial is at Aurora Cemetery. Visitation is 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Christian-Hawkins Funeral Home in Boyd.

Sam was born March 16, 1951, to Frank C. and Norma (Bryce) Martin in Lubbock. He married Debra Sue Kiser Jan. 23, 1980, in Hurst. Sam was a proud veteran of the United States Army and served during the Vietnam War. He was a loving husband, father and grandfather and will be missed by all.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Kathy Smith.

He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Debbie S. Martin of Newark; sons James F. Martin of Newark and Jeremy W. Martin of Granbury; daughter Sabrina J. Martin of Fort Worth; grandchildren Sammy G. Martin of Fort Worth and T.J.; sister Linda Richard of Round Rock; and other family members and friends.

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Kimberly Dawn Dobson and Jordan Lee Sinclair

Kimberly Dawn Dobson of Fort Worth, daughter of Richard and Jane Dobson of Gainesville, will marry Jordan Lee Sinclair, son of Rick and Debra Sinclair, all of Newark, March 1, 2014, at A&M Gardens in Azle.

Jacob Withers will officiate.

The bride-elect graduated from Callisburg High School in 2007 and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2010. She works for Northwest ISD.

The prospective groom graduated Northwest High School in 2007 and the University of North Texas in 2013. He also works for NISD.

Dobson

Kimberly Dawn Dobson and Jordan Lee Sinclair

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Abigail Kay Baker

Rachel Kay Higdon and Michael Scott Baker of Newark announce the birth of a daughter, Abigail Kay Baker, on Nov. 26, 2013, at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

She weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces and was 17 3/4 inches long.

Grandparents are Melanie K. Adams of Newark, Marvin Scott Baker of Marble Hill, Mo., Carol Ann Holt of Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Denny Hittigdon of Kansas.

Great-grandparents are Martha Kay Allen, Jerry Bill Adams, Marvin Baker and Mary George.

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Law snares fugitive, charges him with murder

A man wanted in connection with an Oklahoma murder from 2001 was arrested in southern Wise County Monday evening.

Garland Paul Allen

Garland Paul Allen, 49, of Hillsboro was arrested around 8 p.m. Monday in a wooded area off County Road 4757 near Van Meter Crossing between Newark and Boyd. A second-degree murder warrant from Jackson County, Okla., had been issued for Allen last Tuesday, Nov. 26. He is accused of killing his ex-wife, Tracy Lynn Allen, sometime around May 1, 2001.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said his office received information that Allen had been staying in his vehicle in the Keeter area. His investigators worked on the case and tracked him down in the wooded area.

“They actually found him in the woods near Van Meter,” Walker said. “He had food and a sleeping bag with him.”

Allen was taken into custody without incident and taken to the Wise County Jail.

Walker said that in addition to his criminal investigations division, patrol deputies and Rhome and Boyd police departments also assisted with the search and arrest.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Allen had not confessed to the murder, Walker said.

Allen’s car was later found at a Chevron gas station across from the Wise County Fairgrounds in Decatur. Walker said the investigation continues, and more arrests could take place if they find evidence someone locally was helping to hide Allen.

Altus, Okla., Police Chief Tim Murphy said Tracy Allen disappeared in 2001, and her ex-husband has always been a suspect.

“We believe he rolled up her body in carpet and disposed of her in an unknown location,” Murphy said. “We still haven’t located her body.”

Murphy said when questioned at the time of his ex-wife’s disappearance, Allen claimed she had run off with another man.

Over the years, three different investigators have looked at the case and tried to come up with the evidence for a murder charge.

“About five years ago, I assigned Bill Perkins to the case, and he came up with the idea to have someone give some fresh eyes to the case,” Murphy said. “We contacted the show ‘Cold Justice,’ and they came in. What they found, I don’t know. But it was enough for our district attorney to file the warrant for an arrest.”

Murphy said the Allens had two children, ages 3 and 5 at the time of Tracy Allen’s disappearance. He said Allen took his kids to his mother in Lone Wolf, Okla., in 2001 and she has raised his children since that time.

According to online records, Tracy filed for divorce on Sept. 1, 2000. Just a week earlier, she had filed a petition for a protective order for herself and her two children against Allen. That same week, records show Allen was arrested for domestic abuse-assault and battery in the presence of minor children, child stealing, first-degree burglary and robbery by force or fear. Records indicate Allen pleaded guilty to the domestic abuse charge while the state dropped the other three charges in exchange for a probated sentence on Jan. 16, 2001.

Allen is being held in the Wise County Jail without bond until he can be extradited back to Oklahoma. Altus is located 160 miles northwest of Decatur.

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Jase Jackson Fowler

John and Angela Fowler of Newark announce the birth of a son, Jase Jackson, on Nov. 15, 2013, at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

He weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces and was 18 1/4 inches long.

He has three sisters: Presley, 10, Reese, 9, and Tylar, 2.

Grandparents are Jack and Barbara Peterson.

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Support retirees: safeguard Social Security and Medicare

Everyone should urge Congress to safeguard Social Security and Medicare during the present negotiations on the 2014 federal budget, and Congress should pass the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2013.

The bills in the Senate (S.117) and in the House (H.R.1102) would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers the prices that may be charged to Medicare Part D prescription drug plan sponsors and Medicare Advantage organizations for covered Part D drugs. Medicare would save up to $156 billion over 10 years while reducing health care costs of seniors.

Congress should also pass The Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act (S.214), which would help put an end to the practice of brand-name drug manufacturers using pay-for-delay agreements to keep more affordable generic equivalents off the market and help make sure consumers have access to the cost-saving generic drugs they need.

Also, our elected representatives need to re-introduce and pass the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act of 2011 or a similar bill that would allow U.S.-licensed pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import Federal Drug Administration-approved medications from countries with tough safety standards.

To learn more about the importance of protecting Social Security and Medicare and reducing the cost of prescription drugs, read the National Retiree Legislative Network’s whitepapers at www.nrln.org/_pvtflyin.html or contact the NRLN at contact@nrln.org or toll free at 866-360-7197.

Sincerely,

Carole Alvey
Newark

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Mariann Elaine Weber

Mariann Elaine Weber

Mariann Elaine Weber, 46, died Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in Newark.

Graveside service is 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, at Boyd Cemetery with the Rev. Gary Sessions officiating. Visitation is 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Christian-Hawkins Funeral Home.

Mariann was born Sept. 22, 1967, to Leon and Opal (Brown) Weber in Marquette, Mich. She was a very special person.

She is survived by her mother, Opal Weber of Newark; sisters Jacqueline Moon of Proctorville, Ohio, Stacey Summers and husband, Jeff, of Decatur and Catherine Hammonds of Fort Worth; uncle Robert Brown of Stockton, Calif.; aunt and uncle Alice and Jesse Bobo of Newark; and numerous nieces, nephews and friends.

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Jamie Marie Warner and Kevin Martin Buster

Jamie Marie Warner, daughter of John and Denise Warner of Denton, will marry Kevin Martin Buster, son of David and Becky Buster of Newark, Oct. 26, 2013, at the Big Orange Pumpkin Farm in Celina.

Warner buster

Jamie Marie Warner and Kevin Martin Buster

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Finn James Wolfe

Allissa and Ethan Wolfe of Newark announce the birth of a son, Finn James, on Sept. 25, 2013, at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

He weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces and was 19 1/2 inches long.

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New mayor, councilman appointed

Newark City Council found someone from outside the council to serve as mayor until the May election.

Former Mayor Matt Newby officially resigned from the position in late September, leaving the position open until last Thursday’s council meeting, when the council unanimously appointed Gary Van Wagner.

Van Wagner chose to wait until Oct. 1 to be sworn into the position. He’s never served in an elected position with the city, but he does regularly deliver an invocation before the start of each meeting.

The council also appointed a new council member. Taylor Burton was unanimously appointed to Place 4 until the May election. The council now has five members.

In other business, the council appointed William Allen as the public works director.

“He has a lot of experience,” said City Administrator Diane Rasor.

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Council approves slight tax increase

Homeowners in Newark can expect a modest increase in their property taxes this year.

Newark city council gave their final approval to the budget and tax rate for fiscal 2014 at their Thursday night meeting.

The tax rate increased a little more than 1 cent, from $0.5617 per $100 valuation to $0.5735 per $100 valuation. Under that rate, the average homeowner will pay an additional $7.31 in annual property tax.

The council also approved a budget that looks to have more than $92,000 in surplus, with general fund revenue projected at $385,965 and expenses projected at $293,965. However, 98 percent of that surplus goes to make up for deficit spending in the water and sewer fund, leaving a total surplus of just $1,871.

Once again, zero percent of the budget is earmarked for parks and recreation.

The council also increased the minimum monthly water rate on users from $24 to $29.

The $19,000 in extra revenue that is projected generate will go toward annual payments on a $500,000 certificate of obligation. Funds from the loan will go toward water and sewer projects and street repairs next year.

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Cause of house fire unknown

The cause of a house fire in Newark that displaced seven people Friday is unknown, according to Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard.

The two-story structure in the 200 block of County Road 4847 caught fire just after noon Friday and is a total loss. Jack and Sue Kennan lived in the home with their five grandchildren, ages 9, 7, 5, 4 and 3.

Firefighters from five departments – Newark, Rhome, Boyd, Haslet and Eagle Mountain – battled the blaze. Beard said after the fire appeared to be under control, some crews were pulled out to take a break. One crew was left inside, and then the fire flared on the second floor.

“With the heat and the condition of the structure, the circumstances deteriorated,” said Beard. “The guys did a good job, but they had to pull everyone out at that point. It wasn’t safe to have anyone inside.”

No firefighters were seriously injured, but Beard said a few were treated by Wise County medics for heat exhaustion.

The American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the family.’

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Woman jumps from pickup

Woman jumps from pickup

A Newark woman was flown to John Peter Smith Hospital in Forth Worth with a serious head injury and road rash Thursday evening after she jumped from a moving vehicle on Farm Road 730 south of Boyd.

Ready to Fly

READY TO FLY – Paramedics wheel Tammy Garcia to an Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter Thursday evening after she leapt from a pickup that was going about 50 mph. The incident occurred on Farm Road 730 just north of Briar. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

Tammy Garcia, 42, was riding in a white, Dodge pickup with her husband, Jose Garcia, 71. Witnesses said the pickup was traveling about 50 miles per hour northbound on FM 730 near W.N. Woody Road when the woman jumped out.

Sheriff David Walker said Friday that the couple is reportedly going through a divorce, and they may have been arguing when the incident occurred. It is under investigation, but there have been no arrests.

Traffic on FM 730 was shut down in both directions for more than 30 minutes while the helicopter ambulance landed in a nearby pasture.

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Fire destroys home

Fire destroys home

A Newark couple lost their two-story home to a fire just after noon Friday. Five departments responded to the blaze in the 200 block of County Road 4847.

Fighting Fire

FIGHTING FIRE – Firefighters knocked the flames back on a two-story home in the 200 block of County Road 4847 in Newark Friday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said the home was occupied by Jack and Sue Kennan and their five grandchildren. The cause of the fire was still under investigation at press time Friday.

The American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the family.

Fire departments that responded included Newark, Rhome, Boyd, Haslet and Eagle Mountain. Wise County medics were also called to the scene.

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Rocio Martinez and Samuel Rios

Rocio Martinez, daughter of Ramiro and Amalia Martinez, all of Decatur, will marry Samuel Rios of Newark, son of Valentin and Josefina Rios of Mexico, Sept. 21, 2013, in Decatur.

The bride-elect is a Decatur High School graduate.

Martinez

Rocio Martinez and Samuel Rios

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‘Backyard Tennis Club’ backhanded by city

A unique feature rises in the backyard of a home on Oak Hills Drive in Newark.

Five years ago, Roger Williams made an investment to the community when he built a first class tennis court in his backyard. Hidden from the street, he calls it the “Backyard Tennis Club.”

Backyard Tennis Brawl

BACKYARD TENNIS BRAWL – For several years Roger Williams has provided affordable tennis lessons to the community at “Backyard Tennis Club” behind his home in Newark. However, his club is under fire as the city has found it to be in violation of several ordinances. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The property is landscaped like a botanical garden. It looks like a high-price country club. Climbing rose bushes grace one entire side of the fence surrounding the court. Blossoms in a variety of colors spill over the top. He spends several hours almost every day providing lessons to children and adults in the community.

“It’s taken me years to get to this,” Williams said. “And I had the blessing of the city when I opened it. It’s been my dream to bring tennis to this area, and it’s always been my passion.

“It’s helped give kids more confidence in themselves and more self-discipline.”

He’s taught or continued to teach a bulk of the players on the boys and girls varsity teams at Northwest High School.

“When we moved to our current home, which is right next door to the Williams’, over two years ago, our children were immediately invited to join Backyard Tennis Club and within weeks had new friends and had learned a new sport,” said Robert Thornell, a neighbor and former principal at Chisholm Trail Middle School. “Many students have enjoyed the benefits of exercise and learning a lifetime activity from Coach Roger.”

But a single complaint from one neighbor might cause the “Backyard Tennis Club” to come to a sudden halt.

On July 26, Williams received a cease and desist letter from the city attorney ordering him to shut down his Backyard Tennis Club.

“The tennis enterprise being operated at your residence violates the Customary Home Occupation Ordinance,” read the letter.

It states Williams is in violation of several ordinances, and if he does not shut down he will be open to prosecution.

“I was blown away,” Williams said. “I’ve been operating for five years, and then all of a sudden they say I’m not following city ordinance.”

“It’s in violation of nine or 10 city ordinances,” said city councilman Bob Wells, who also happens to be Mr. Williams’ neighbor.

He said the lights on the court violate lighting ordinances, the noise from lessons violate noise ordinances and several more from having a home occupation operating outside in a residential area.

“You can’t have an outside business in a residential area,” Wells said. “I don’t know what kind of compromise you can have on that.

“I don’t have a problem with him giving lessons in the community, but he should have set it up in a commercial area.”

It’s all come in the wake of Williams fighting a battle with prostate cancer.

“Throughout all the treatments making we weaker, I’ve still kept coaching the kids,” Williams said. “And now I’ve had to deal with this, too.”

Williams has asked if the city would grandfather him in.

Wells said the city can’t since those ordinances were in place years before the court was built.

The city can charge up to a maximum of $2,000 per day for each ordinance violation.

The city became involved after Well’s wife, Mary Ann Wells, informed the city secretary that Williams was in violation of several ordinances.

Williams said he thinks it’s an abuse of power for the Wells’ to use city resources to shut down his tennis club. Mr. Wells contends it’s not personal, but he’s only following city law.

“It’s not personal to me because I’m not the one that made the complaint,” Mr. Wells said. “I don’t have any dog in this fight other than it’s a nuisance.”

Wells recused himself from the vote when the council recently voted 3-0 to enforce any city ordinances regarding the Backyard Tennis Club. But several residents and other neighbors have risen their voices in support of the club.

“Prohibiting the Backyard Tennis Club would be a terrible blow to our community,” Thornell said. “It offers an affordable, fun activity to many.”

Williams stressed that he’s supported youth in the community in other ways as well. Last year he had a fundraiser at his tennis court for Newark’s Heart for Park program. The event raised $2,500, that went toward replacing dilapidated playground equipment that had been removed from Delora Doughty Royal Park.

The Backyard Tennis Club has also provided affordable lessons as well as free rackets and shoes to local children from low-income families that want to take lessons.

“There’s no other venue like this in the area that is offered to kids or adults,” Williams said.

And if a compromise can’t be made, there soon won’t be one at all.

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