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Friends, family: Woman's wonderful life transcends her terrible death

SCHROEDER – Ellen Tucker’s friends and family will always remember her as a creative and kindhearted woman.

Friends gathered for a memorial to celebrate Tucker’s life Friday night at Schroeder Hall, where she and her husband loved to dance.

Tucker, 62, was shot and killed Sept. 22 when two men burglarized her Goliad-area home.

Her son, Lee Bearden, 38, said the way she died doesn’t define her. Her wonderful personality and caring nature are what he remembers best.

“She never met a stranger,” Bearden said. “She was loved by a lot of people, and she loved a lot of people.”

He said she treated every child as her own and told them all she “loved them to the moon and back.” Tucker had three children of her own. Bearden is the middle child.

The last time they saw each other was the Saturday before her death. They were at a soccer game for Bearden’s son. He said they discussed a family friend before going their separate ways for the last time.

“I told her I loved her and hugged her neck,” Bearden said as he struggled to hold back tears.

Tucker’s mother, Ann Blanchard, 85, of Goliad, said her daughter was perfect in her eyes. She said Tucker and her husband would go to Schroeder Hall every weekend and dance.

She sat at a wooden picnic table outside Schroeder Hall on Friday evening remembering her daughter. A bedazzled cane rested between her legs.

Blanchard bragged about her daughter’s creativity and willingness to help whenever needed.

She held up her cane for the people around her to see and told the story of where the gem-encrusted cane came from.

Tucker stayed up all night with a hot glue gun and a box of gems. Blanchard remembered Tucker giving her the cane and noted the numerous burns she got on her hands just to see her mother happy.

“She spoiled me rotten,” Blanchard smiled.

Sunflowers in Mason jars sat on the tables lined with twine. Friends sat at the wooden tables with cold drinks and talked about Tucker’s life.

Tucker’s younger stepbrother, Louis “Joey” Blanchard, 54, of League City, said his sister was wildly talented.

“She could do anything,” he said.

Blanchard said Tucker was capable of fixing anything. She picked up a camera and was capturing beautiful photos in no time at all.

“She was just so creative,” he said. “It didn’t matter what it was.”

While most of Tucker’s family sat outside on the patio, Pam Briscoe, 62, sat inside with Tucker’s friends. She flipped through old photos on her phone from when she and Tucker were in their 20s.

Briscoe and Tucker met when they were 20 years old, and they soon became roommates. Together, they shared a one-bedroom apartment in Houston, which is where Briscoe traveled from for the gathering.

“If it wasn’t for Ellen, I never would have met my husband,” she said. “My whole life changed because of her.”

The two had a 40-year friendship, which they maintained long-distance. They sent text messages and called each other to stay in touch. Days before Tucker’s death, the two were scheduling a chance to talk.

Tucker told Briscoe, “That would be awesome. I could use sunshine and energy.”

This was the last thing Briscoe heard from Tucker.

“I was devastated,” she said of her friend’s death. “Even though we lived far apart, our hearts were connected.”

Briscoe said she wasn’t the only one who thought so highly of Tucker. She said Tucker changed everyone’s world that she entered.

“She was one of those angels on Earth,” she said. “My life wouldn’t be the same without her.”

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Bootfest provides live music and family fun

With sticky fingers and wide smiles, children at Bootfest took advantage of the free rides and games at the Kids’ Corral.

At Bootfest, which concluded Saturday evening, guests shopped at booths run by local vendors, snacked on festival fare like funnel cakes and turkey legs and jammed to live music. Children also enjoyed free rides on the mechanical bull, climbed to the top of a rock wall and sang their favorite songs at karaoke.

In her brown and hot pink cowboy boots, Careyana Gonzalez, 4, sang “Old Town Road” at the karaoke stand. She said she likes the song because it’s a cowboy song. It’s also why she likes coming to Bootfest, Gonzalez said.

Her father, Cesar Gonzalez, of Alice, said he brings Careyana and her siblings to events like Bootfest to expose his children to live music and the diversity Texas has to offer.

“We try to make it an annual thing with the family,” Gonzalez said. “We really try to get the kids to realize all the diversity there is in Texas, and a lot of that comes at Bootfest.”

Breanna Plunkett, of Victoria, also said she brings her two daughters to Bootfest on a regular basis. Tagging along was her dog, Piper, a 2-year-old white husky whose tail she dyed pink and purple for the occasion. Plunkett said the dog enjoyed the smells of the food at the festival.

Plunkett’s 10-year-old daughter Emma said she enjoys the festival’s treats. She especially likes the root beer.

“At the beginning, it’s a little sticky,” she said about the soda, “but it has a really good flavor to it.”

Bootfest ended Saturday night with a fireworks show.

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Public Safety
Two die in wrecks; woman seriously hurt

Two Victoria men died this week in vehicle wrecks.

William Corey, a 54-year-old Victoria resident, died after his motorcycle crashed Wednesday on U.S. 59.

Corey was traveling southbound on U.S. 59 and exiting on Spur 91 toward Goliad on his 2013 Yamaha XB1 when his motorcycle flipped and rolled several times, said Sgt. Ruben San Miguel, of the Texas Department of Public Safety. His wife, 48-year-old Holly Corey, was a passenger on the motorcycle. She was in serious condition Saturday.

The crash happened at 9:46 p.m. Wednesday, San Miguel said, but the couple weren’t found in the grass until 7:14 a.m. the next morning. William Corey was pronounced dead at 7:39 a.m. Holly Corey, a Victoria resident, was taken to DeTar Hospital for her injuries. She was later transported to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

According to a gofundme page established to help the family pay for funeral and medical costs, Holly Corey had surgery on her spine. She also has facial fractures and a collapsed lung and injured her right carotid artery.

Jonathan Black, a 28-year-old Victoria resident, died after he lost control of his car on U.S. 87 at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Black was driving southbound in his 2007 Toyota Camry when he lost control and hit a tree and a fence on the south side of the road, San Miguel said. He then spun several times and hit a larger tree. Black was pronounced dead at 5:21 p.m. at Citizens Medical Center. No other vehicles were involved in the crash.

San Miguel said the Department of Public Safety is investigating the causes of both crashes.

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Mental health
Gulf Bend's Wellness Community looks for new sources of funding

Gulf Bend’s affordable housing complex for adults with mental health conditions needs new funding sources to stay open, the center’s leaders said.

Advocates for the project, known as Gulf Bend’s Wellness Community, are starting a campaign to urge Crossroads residents to support the community and start a conversation about how to sustain it long-term.

The facility has been losing money since it opened in 2015 and is currently owned, operated and funded by Gulf Bend, the Crossroads’ largest provider of mental health and intellectual or developmental disability services.

Steve Hipes, the chair of Gulf Bend’s board of trustees, said at a board meeting last month that it was time to start a larger community conversation about how to pay for the Wellness Community. The Wellness Community loses about $250,000 a year, according to center estimates.

“Gulf Bend can’t continue to carry this thing at a quarter of a million dollars a year,” Hipes said. “It just can’t happen.”

Jeff Tunnell, the center’s executive director, said that the financial quandary didn’t become apparent until after construction on the project was almost complete in 2015. At the time, Gulf Bend leaders had expected the project to be eligible for state funding. It wasn’t until construction was almost finished that project leaders learned the state would not provide the anticipated funding.

“We were too far down the road,” Tunnell said. “Our funding did not come through.”

Now, more than four years after the Wellness Community opened, advocates are appealing to Crossroads residents to support the project financially. They made their first major pitch to the public at a recent Victoria Economic Development Corporation weekly partnership meeting.

Nancy Garner, the president of the Woolson Real Estate Company, told community leaders at that meeting that the Wellness Community saves taxpayers dollars in the long term. Garner also noted that the community is the only one of its kind in Victoria and likely in the entire state of Texas.

“If my real estate company closes today, there’s another one down the street,” Garner said. “If the Wellness Community closes, there is no other business to take its place ... My job today is to alert you to the problem the Wellness Community faces. It’s a delicate balance, and it simply costs more to provide those services than what the residents can pay.”

The question for the community’s future, Tunnell said, is, “How we can find some fundraising dollars to help cover some of that cost while Gulf Bend continues looking for other ways to fund the programs and other programs or projects that can benefit the Wellness Community?”

The Wellness Community is not facing an imminent risk of closure. Gulf Bend officials have said they will not abandon the community.

Projects like the Wellness Community are part of a “housing-first” service model. Gulf Bend has prioritized units at the Wellness Community for people with co-existing disorders, or who have a mental health diagnosis as well as a chronic health condition. Residents are also required to pay below-market-rate rent to live in the community. The goal of the Wellness Community is to provide transitional housing for people who, for whatever reason, have struggled to live independently. More than 100 people have lived there since it opened.

“We have an opportunity,” Hipes said. “(The Wellness Community) keeps people out of jail, it keeps them off the street ... This is an organized effort to get them services that they desperately need. Jail’s not the place to do it; the street’s not the place to do it.”

Reporter Morgan O’Hanlon contributed to this story.