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Victoria ceremony memorializes sacrifice and tragedy of 9/11

Even after 18 years, the powerful emotions of 9/11 still smolder in the memories of many Victoria residents.

“This was one of those days where we all remember where we were,” said Victoria Mayor Rawley McCoy to a crowd of more than 100.

Wednesday morning, McCoy delivered the keynote speech at a 9/11 memorial service. Like others who spoke that morning, he began by remembering his own experiences on 9/11, recalling how coworkers had summoned him to the breakroom to watch the terrifying events of that morning on a 13-inch television.

“Then suddenly right there on the screen, a second plane was caught on camera, in real, time flying into the second tower,” he said, adding, “Our world had changed at that very moment even though none of us had realized it yet.”

With almost two decades past, that momentous and horrifying moment remains seared in the minds of many, including Victoria residents Melinda Salinas, 39, and Mary Aldrighetti, 65.

They attended the ceremony with children from their family who had learned about the 9/11 attacks in school and from parents.

Salinas, who was working in a long-distance call center that morning, remembered the worried voices of those desperate to reach friends and family.

“Nobody knew what was going on,” she said.

Aldrighetti, who was employed as a nurse, said she remembered the feelings of dread that pervaded that day.

“It was just a horrible feeling when you saw the first one and then the second one,” she said. “You just wanted to go home.”

But not everyone was able to go home.

In his address, Victoria County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Behrends said he was inspired by the bravery displayed by federal agents who suddenly arrived to protect government buildings near his office in Laredo on 9/11.

That unprompted action impressed and inspired Behrends enormously, he said.

“We didn’t call them. We didn’t ask them. They just came,” said Behrends, whose voice wavered with emotion.

McCoy, who appeared equally moved, also recognized the willing sacrifice displayed by first responders and peace officers on 9/11 and in the days since.

Standing before the ranks of police, deputies, firefighters and first responders at the ceremony, the mayor recognized that willing sacrifice and thanked them for it.

“When I look at each and every one of you in uniform this morning, I don’t know how I or the citizens of this community can thank you enough for what you do on a daily basis,” McCoy said. “You are the ones who bring order to our lives and to our society.”

Although he spoke about the undeniable courage required by the first responders who entered the burning World Trade Center towers to assist those “fleeing for their lives,” the mayor also thanked those who continue to serve every day in Victoria County.

“It is a mystery to me how all of you can summon such courage coupled with such compassion to do these things,” he said. “And you do it with the knowledge that it may cost you your very own lives.”

Climbing to remember 9/11

Fire Engineer Joel Gomez looked to the tag around his neck to find the motivation to march up 130 flights of stairs with more than 100 pounds of firefighting equipment.

Wednesday morning, he joined 10 other members of the Victoria Fire Department in a memorializing hike up San Antonio’s Tower of Americas to honor the 343 firefighters and dozens of other first responders killed on 9/11.

They set out at 8:46 a.m. with a moment of silence. That time marked the instant when the first plane struck the World Trade Center.

During that event, Gomez wore a tag remembering Cmdr. Donald Burns, who was killed when the second World Trade Center tower fell unexpectedly on his command center.

“They didn’t stop. They didn’t get a break. A lot of them went up the stairs, knowing that they weren’t coming back down, yet they still went,” said Gomez.

Although Gomez prepared by running on Goliad trails and up and down athletic bleachers, the Victoria fire engineer and first responder of 32 years said the event still posed a formidable challenge.

He added the cramped stairwell was without air conditioning and his suit, which is designed to keep heat out, was soon drenched in sweat.

“It’s a real test of endurance and emotion,” he said, describing the tone among participating first responders as melancholic.

With the recent death of his mother-in-law Ingrid Boehl Fossler, a woman he had forged a close relationship with, Gomez said he had planned to sit out this year.

But family members insisted he participate in part because the woman had believed in his service as a firefighter and participation in the tower climb.

Wednesday morning, he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Her fight is my fight,” in memory of Fossler, who succumbed to brain cancer.

Gomez also wore a small urn carrying the ashes of Lt. Ronnie Migl, a Victoria firefighter who died in June. Migl served as a role model and friend for Gomez, he said.

The symbols carried by Gomez and present at the event are important reminders, he said, for the sacrifices made regularly by first responders and their families.

“This is our way of recognizing those in our department,” he said.

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Former constable announces intent to run for Victoria County tax assessor

Richard Williams, a former constable in Victoria County, has announced his intent to run for Victoria County tax assessor-collector in the 2020 election as a Republican candidate.

Williams, 48, was born and raised in Victoria County. He said he plans to run for the position to bring new ideas, a new vision and leadership experience to the tax office.

He is the second person to announce intentions to seek the GOP nomination for the county job. On Monday, Ashley Hernandez, assistant chief deputy in the tax assessor’s office, announced her intention to run for the Republican party nomination.

Tax Assessor-Collector Rena Scherer announced she plans to retire at the end of her term in December 2020.

“This is all I know, this is my community and I want to find ways to make it better and give back to it,” Williams said. “I think my new ideas and drive for the office would benefit Victoria County and its constituents.”

Williams was first appointed constable in Victoria County Precinct 1 in 2012. In a runoff election, he lost renomination to the office by a narrow margin in 2016 to Jesse Garza. Garza later was tried and found not guilty of sexual assault, but guilty of official oppression, which is defined as a public servant’s abuse of power to sexually harass someone.

Losing the election didn’t halt Williams’ plans to continue serving the county. After he lost, he said, he “did some soul searching” and thinking about his next step, and knew he wanted to continue “service work,” a path he knows well.

Williams is a United States Army veteran and his previous law enforcement experience includes work at the Gonzales, Welder and Port Lavaca police departments. Currently, he works as a deputy fire marshal with the Victoria County Fire Marshal’s Office at the Victoria Regional Airport complex.

“I want to put forth my different experiences and education and give back to community and find a new place to serve in this community,” he said. “Working as tax assessor would be an opportunity to do that.”

Williams has an associate degree in criminal justice and said he has always been good with numbers. He said he knows how to be a leader, a skill he greatly credits to leading soldiers in the military, and knows the value of planning ahead. He said he has the necessary administrative skills for the job and knows how to “take the reigns and do everything you can to make an office better.”

If elected, Williams said he also wants to “bring a new friendliness to the tax office.” People aren’t always happy to be dealing with taxes, he said, so he would work to make it friendly and open to the community.

Williams said he has received “a great deal of positive feedback” from residents about his intent to run for the position.

“I’m thankful for the support I’ve already received about my plans to take on this new challenge,” he said. “I’m confident I’m prepared for it.”

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Victoria Symphony Orchestra to perform 'epic' 46th season

“Virtuosos,” the first of five concerts of the 46th season of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, will feature classical crossover violinist Caroline Campbell performing a hybrid arrangement of themes from Hans Zimmer’s score for “Pirates of the Caribbean” and French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre.”

With the orchestra, she will perform other unique arrangements as well as Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.

Campbell has “classical chops” but has performed with famous mainstream musicians including Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand and Sting, said Darryl One, the music director for the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. The first concert starts with “Short Overture to an Unwritten Opera,” a catchy 1940s piece with Latin flavor written by Don Gillis, a composer of popular television and radio music with a sense of humor, One said.

One has heard from classical musicians who travel from other cities such as Austin, Houston, Corpus Christi and San Antonio to perform in Victoria that the Victoria Symphony Orchestra is artistically one of the best in South Texas.

One believes this is possible because of the “stabilizing force” he has provided in Victoria since 1995, while other area symphony orchestras, such as Corpus Christi’s, have seen as many as four music directors during that time. When leadership changes, the orchestras go through periods without leaders. And when new directors arrive, they come with different viewpoints and the need to become familiar with the musicians and the community, he said.

One also described the breadth of his experience conducting small and large orchestras as an advantage. He has had the “privilege” of conducting orchestras in cities such as Atlanta, Houston and Detroit as an associate earlier in his career. These experiences have helped to formulate standards to which he has become accustomed.

Because of his long-standing tenure in Victoria, One said he knows the group’s strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge enables him to select musical repertoires that are appropriate but challenging enough to raise the bar. He selects pieces that fulfill his and the musicians’ bucket lists. For example, One has wanted to perform the last concert of the season, “An Alpine Symphony,” since he became a conductor.

This season is epic because the orchestra is performing work not possible 10 years ago, he said.

“I came in not thinking that I wanted to do huge masterpieces, whether the orchestra could do them or not, because I wanted my resume to show I had done them,” One said.

Rather, One’s goals when he arrived were to produce the best possible concerts and approach the quality of work being produced by bigger orchestras within the confines of a smaller orchestra over the long term. An increase in talent coming out of “wonderful conservatories” across the country has helped offset the fact that smaller orchestras cannot match the pay of larger ones. He compared the increase in talented musicians to track athletes who consistently break records in races every year because of improved training. As a result, One can choose from a stronger pool of musicians than 10 or 20 years ago.

The October concert, “An Appalachian Symphonic Escapade,” features Amy Dickson on saxophone, and the February concert, “Tangos and Serenades,” features Hanzhi Wang on accordion. Dickson plays the saxophone on the soundtrack for the movie, “Catch Me If You Can.”

“I’ve been wanting to do some unusual instruments for a long time, but you have to get the right pieces and players at the right time,” he said. “A lot of stars aligned.”

In January, “Super Diamond – The Neil Diamond Tribute!” will meet with an approving audience because the star has “a huge following,” One said. He added that finding musicians each year with enough charge to play with an orchestra is challenging.

This season finale, “An Alpine Symphony” by composer Richard Strauss, will feature pianist Sean Chen, a 2013 Cliburn Bronze Medalist. This is the last of five seasons that will feature a Van Cliburn International Piano Competition pianist, which was made financially possible by Tina and James Wayne.

The largest orchestra of the season will musically depict a climber ascending the Alpine mountains at sunrise, encountering waterfalls and mountain lakes along the way, reaching the summit and descending the mountains at sunset.

Strauss is the most romantic of romantic-era composers, and he uses the orchestra extremely well, One said.

Teri Murray, president of the Victoria Symphony Society, said the symphony orchestra has turned its focus to broadening audience reach.

“Darryl has worked hard to keep that in mind as he looks for programming and as we think about new ways to introduce ourselves to people in the community who are not familiar with us yet,” Murray said. “You don’t have to be a purist in the classical sense to come and enjoy concerts.”

Murray said expanding the audience to include a younger patron base is a challenge that symphony orchestras are tackling head-on across the country.

Patrons who love the classics will still get plenty of music by composers such as Mahler, Strauss, Brahms, Rossini and Tchaikovsky this season.

Also this season, beer, wine and champagne will be available for purchase at all events except the Symphonic Spooktacular.

With a crossover classical violinist, virtuoso musicians playing instruments new to the Victoria Symphony Orchestra and the last Cliburn pianist, the orchestra is “pushing it” this year, One said.

9/11 memorial keynote speech

What can be said to describe the events that unfolded on this day now 18 year ago.

I remember being summoned to the breakroom in our office building to huddle around what couldn’t have been more than a 13-inch TV screen to see one of the twin towers on fire.

We were all wondering how a modern airplane could fly into a skyscraper as was being reported.

Some in the room actually remembered having read sometime in their past that a B-25 bomber had flown into the Empire State Building in 1945 during a heavy fog.

But it was clear skies in New York this morning.

Then suddenly right there on the screen, a second plane was caught on camera in real time flying into the second tower.

We all knew somehow what that meant.

And by this time we were all calling family members and other loved ones to share the horror that we were witnessing that morning.

Our world had changed at that very moment even though none of us had realized it yet.

Nothing quite like this had happened to our country since Dec. 7, 1941, when our nation was attacked with similar surprise at Pearl Harbor, and almost 60 years had passed since then.

This was one of those days where we all remember where we were.

The only thing similar in my lifetime was the memory of hearing over the intercom at Crain Junior High that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

This was back in 1963 when I was 13 years old.

Then the news of the Pentagon crash and the downing of the last hijacked plane in a field in Pennsylvania finally ended the carnage of that terrifying day.

I think all of us in that break room had a sick feeling in the pits of our stomach. Waves of sorrow and tears washed back and forth with waves of anger and disbelief.

When I now look back on that day, I realize that the true story that day, the one that we should all remember and take pride in was unfolding right there in front of our eyes in that tiny screen, and yet we could not see it at the time.

We would learn that story in the days, weeks and years to follow.

What we couldn't see in front of our eyes that day were the hundreds of miracles and acts of selfless heroism taking place in those towers and, yes, even on those planes.

Our primary defenders and heroes that day were not members of our armed services as was the case in 1941. They were our first responders, our firefighters, various civilian law enforcement officers, EMS personnel, dispatchers – people just like the first responders here with us this morning.

It was first responders who got us through that terrible day.

When I look at each and every one of you in uniform this morning, I don't know how I or the citizens of this community can thank you enough for what you do on a daily basis.

You are the ones who bring order to our lives and to our society.

You see us at our best and at our worst, but you are always there when needed.

It takes an extraordinarily dedicated person to run to the disaster, to climb the stairs of one of those twin towers when everyone else was fleeing for their lives, to make a call to a domestic disturbance, to provide comfort to those who have caught in the depths of sorrow, to look someone in the eyes and tell them everything will be alright, knowing full well they are on death’s door.

It is a mystery to me how all of you can summon such courage coupled with such compassion to do these things.

And you do it with the knowledge that it may cost you your very own lives.

All I can say is thank God for each and everyone of you and your families that accept the risk of what you do for all of us on a daily basis.

There is one last thought that I would like to leave with you today. It’s that we remember 9/11.

We Americans have always had a knack for finding the silver lining in all the adversity and tragedy we sometimes have to endure as a nation.

As we leave this ceremony today, let’s try to remember the days and weeks shortly after the shock of 9/11 when our country briefly came together as one to truly comfort one another and renew our historic resolve that has always resulted in our nation surviving the times that ordinarily would bring a lesser people to their knees in defeat in despair.

Let us all pray today that the atmosphere prevalent in our country, that we can somehow recapture those brief days 18 years ago and reach out to one another again and be the great nation that we are.

Thank you and God bless each and everyone of you.

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Calhoun Port reaffirms decision to stop emailing agendas

POINT COMFORT – The Calhoun Port Authority Board, which has been under scrutiny since hiring a disgraced congressman as a lobbyist in 2018, voted on Wednesday to stop emailing its agendas to the public.

File photo 

J.C. Melcher Jr. was sworn in on May 8 to represent District 3 on the Calhoun Port Authority Board.

Board Chairman J.C. Melcher Jr. instructed port staff to stop emailing them in August, so Board Members Jasper “Jay” Cuellar and Luis De La Garza asked to discuss and vote on it Wednesday.

“This one caught me off guard,” Cuellar said, “I think the board has been under scrutiny long enough and being crystal clear is a good opportunity.”

Board Member Shields A. “Tony” Holladay Sr. said Cuellar and De La Garza were free to email the agenda to whomever they wished. He said it is posted on the port’s website and at the Calhoun County Courthouse.

“I’m not going to pay Charles (Hausmann, the port director,) and the ladies in the office to send it to a list that long, OK?” Holladay said, gesturing with his hands. “If you’re too lazy to pull it up online, you don’t need to read it anyway.”

De La Garza asked Hausmann how long it took staff to email the agendas. Hausmann said it took about five minutes.

The port isn’t required by law to email the agendas, but open government advocates say that it is best practice and in previous interviews with the Victoria Advocate pointed out that the public may not visit the port’s website or the courthouse frequently enough to be notified of a special meeting. Regular meetings are at 9 a.m. on the second Wednesday of the month.

Holladay, H.C. “Tony” Wehmeyer Jr., and Johnny J. Perez voted in favor of stopping emailing agendas to the public. Cuellar and De La Garza voted against. Melcher has not voted since becoming chairman in May.

He said he would only vote to break a tie.

Afterward, De La Garza said he was “heartbroken” when he read the minutes from the August meeting that showed the board voted to begin negotiating to buy property. They took the vote when De La Garza was in the restroom. This led to a tense exchange between De La Garza and Melcher.

“Mr. Chairman, I would just ask that you look around the room,” De La Garza said.

“Mr. De La Garza, I would suggest to you that if you have to leave the room, that you inform us that you’re leaving the room,” Melcher said.

“And I looked directly at you that day,” De La Garza said.

“But you need to inform me you are intending to leave the room,” Melcher said.

In other business, the board awarded Palacios Marine Industrial a contract to switch the port’s dry bulk dock’s power source from a private company to American Electric Power. Palacios Marine was the lower of two bidders at $345,495.

The board held off on awarding another contract to advertise for more bids.

RLB Contracting Inc. was the only company to submit a bid to dredge the port’s berthing areas. RLB estimated it could get the project done for about $1.6 million in between 30 and 90 days. RLB is owned by Randy L. Boyd, who served as the port’s chairman for many years before being voted out of office in May.

RLB came up again when the board talked with officials from Matagorda Offshore, who notified the board last month they were abandoning a 20-inch natural gas pipeline on the port’s property in Lavaca Bay.

Officials from Matagorda Offshore, which is now known as Genesis Offshore Holding, said they’ve been working with the Army Corps of Engineers to officially abandon the pipeline. They said it was installed 3 feet below the sea floor in 1988 and ends at a fenced in area at Alamo Beach.

They said they do not intend to abandon another natural gas pipeline within 50 feet of this one. That pipeline was struck by RLB in April 2018, causing millions of dollars in damages. They said they’ve put a temporary repair clamp on the pipeline under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The board was concerned it would be saddling future boards with the expense of removing pipeline the company wants to abandon if that company were to go bankrupt, so it asked for more time to consider it.

The pipelines may also be affected by the deepening and widening the Matagorda Ship Channel.

Currently, the plan the Corps put together to deepen and widen the ship channel calls for dredge material to be laid in the area of the pipelines.

The board also adopted a tax rate of 0.0010 of a cent per $100 valuation and approved leasing 1,152 square feet of the port’s warehouse to a company for $518.40 per month. The company plans to store lithium iron batteries there and the lease term is six months.

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Ruby Begonia heads to Worthington for first leg of the Great Gobbler Gallop

Ruby Begonia headed to Worthington, Minn., Tuesday with a friend to calm her nerves ahead of the first leg of the Great Gobbler Gallop.

“She has a travel companion, so she doesn’t get lonely and to keep her in good spirits,” said Kenneth Schley, the captain of Cuero’s racing team.

Ruby Begonia, who was selected in mid-August, will compete against Worthington’s Paycheck at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in downtown Worthington during the city’s King Turkey Day festival. The times for the first leg of the birds’ gallop will be added to their times at Cuero’s Turkeyfest, which is scheduled for Oct. 10-13.

The team with the best combined time will determine this year’s “Turkey Capital of the World.”

Schley, along with his two teammates, James Rath and Clayton Lantz, have been rigorously training Ruby Begonia for the race.

“I think she is going to do just fine,” Schley said. “We bought her a new pair of running shoes, so she should run instead of walk this time. I think we had the wrong pair of shoes when she did the tryouts.”

During the selection process, Ruby Begonia strolled to the finish line but was just fast enough to beat another bird considered for the title. All of Cuero’s Rio Grande wild turkeys selected to run the great race have been raised by Cory Thamm for more than a decade.

Schley said Ruby Begonia looks like a winner, but rain showers have made recent training difficult because she gets “preoccupied watching the rain.” He is hoping for better, cooler weather in Minnesota, he said.

As of Wednesday, thunderstorms and an 80% chance of rain were in the forecast for Worthington on Thursday, but the skies were expected to clear well before the gallop, according to the National Weather Service. Sunny skies with a high of 68 degrees were expected Friday, with clear skies and a low of 53 degrees that night.

Sunny skies were also forecast on Saturday, with a high near 79 degrees. There was a 30% of rain and thunderstorms that night, with a low of 58 degrees.

Worthington’s King Turkey Day festival dates back to 1938, while Cuero’s Turkeyfest is a product of turkey trots that started in 1912.

The sister towns started competing in 1973, a year after Cuero held its last turkey trot amid a fading turkey industry. Both town’s newspaper editors got together and decided they ought to settle which town is the “Turkey Capital of the World” with an annual competition between Paycheck and Ruby Begonia, and thus the race was born.

Rath, who served as last year’s team captain and is a handler this year, said he is confident Ruby Begonia will race “fast and straight.” The Cuero native has been to Worthington five times for King Turkey Day and looks forward to familiar faces.

“It is all about friends and fellowship,” he said.

Worthington has a slew of events planned for Cuero visitors, including a mixer, parties and breakfast with the mayor during the three-day festival. While the race team looks forward to celebrations with the community, they remain focused on their mission.

“We’re coming to get our trophy,” Schley said.