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Strongview

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit East Texas last spring, the community rallied together to support small business owners, healthcare workers, first responders, teachers and fellow neighbors. Leaders in the City of Longview, the Chamber of Commerce and Longview Economic Development Corp. guided businesses and residents through an ever-changing time of shutdowns and social distancing. By summer, racial tensions rose across the country and helped shed a light on issues of unity and diversity. In Longview, the police department reached out to the community and engaged in a conversation about issues on a local level. In the fall, school resumed for thousands of children across the city in both traditional and new formats, and educators worked to help parents adapt to an ever-changing educational landscape. Meanwhile, throughout it all, healthcare heroes on the frontlines stood strong in the fight against the new COVID-19 virus, performing countless tests, caring for thousands of patients and saving many lives.
At Global Graphics, co-owner Jason Withrow and his team – like many others in the city – wrestled with the question of how they could support local businesses during the difficult times. They talked about slogans like “Texas Strong” that have become rally cries in communities, and came up with their own battle cry for Longview — “STRONGVIEW.”

Throughout the City of Longview, 2020 marked a year of growth, evolution, strength and resilience as residents across the town proudly united as one under a movement that became a symbol of the community — “STRONGVIEW.”

“We are blessed to have an inherently great community. Our citizens are wonderful, caring people,” Longview Mayor Andy Mack said. “I grew up here my whole life, and I know that we love each other 99 percent of the time. It’s that other 1 percent of the time that we’re still working on. There will always be disagreements, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still love one another. I think we’ve shown a really great resolve this past year during both the pandemic and the social injustice issues that have been brought to light. Those issues are unfortunate, and it’s unfortunate that they still exist. We are a great community, but we can always do better as a community, and I think we are definitely on the right path for our future.”

Community
Unity.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many small businesses that were deemed “non-essential” were, at least temporarily, forced to close their doors per orders of the Governor of Texas. Some businesses focused on offering to-go or delivery opportunities. Many local clothing boutiques offered online or call-in orders with curbside pickup or delivery. Restaurants, which initially were forced to close to in-person dining, also turned to curbside and delivery options. Despite efforts, many small businesses suffered an economic hardship during the pandemic. So, other businesses and individuals in the community made efforts to support them in unconventional ways. At Global Graphics, co-owner Jason Withrow and his team – like many others in the city – wrestled with the question of how they could support local businesses during the difficult times. They talked about slogans like “Texas Strong” that have become rally cries in communities, and came up with their own battle cry for Longview — “STRONGVIEW.” Global Graphics decided to partner with local companies to create “STRONGVIEW, Texas”

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Ronald Porter

Executive Chef,
Judd's Downtown

Ronald Porter has spent most of his life in Longview kitchens and recently helping to open downtown’s newest restaurant, Judd’s, where he’s using his culinary skills to once again dazzle East Texas taste buds.

A Longview native, Porter graduated from Longview High School and started his career working at the former Carlito’s restaurant. After 10 years at Carlito’s, Porter went to Austria for a bit and then moved to San Francisco where he graduated from the California Culinary Academy. He went on to teach at the academy for 15 years before moving back to Longview.

In Longview, he’s worked at the Cook’s Nook, Willy G’s Bar and Grill, Hilton Garden Inn and Holiday Inn. Most recently, he helped open Judd’s Downtown which offers fine dining but in a relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant prepares everything from scratch and has been a hit since its debut.

“I love seeing people’s faces when they eat good food. I love seeing the enjoyment it brings them,” Porter said, noting that cooking is in his blood.
His grandmother worked for 45 years for Johnny Cace’s and his mother is a chef who sometimes cooked for former Texas Governor Anne Richards
in the governor’s mansion.

Outside of work, Porter served on the board for the city’s Cultural Arts Committee and volunteers his talents to help however he can. He’s assisted with events for Longview World of Wonders, Longview Museum of Fine Arts, area churches and more.

T-shirts with the respective company’s logo on the back of the shirt. Global Graphics created the T-shirts for local businesses at a reduced cost, so that those businesses could then sell them to their patrons to generate revenue, advertise themselves and unite the community all at once, Withrow said.

At the time, Withrow said, he had no idea that “STRONGVIEW” would be so well received by the community and become a theme signifying Longview’s unity.

“With everything that’s been going on, just all the craziness, it was just so nice to see something that was positive,” Withrow said. “We came together as a community, as a city, during this time. We dealt with the shutdowns, having no idea who was going to make it or if we were going to make it. It’s been so encouraging to see how well this took off and to hear the feedback about it. It’s been overwhelming. It was something that was positive when everything else that was coming at small businesses was a negative or an unknown.”

Since the initial idea, Withrow has completed more than 300 orders totaling thousands of T-shirts for small businesses in Longview. Residents picked up on the idea, purchasing shirts from their favorite local businesses and proudly wearing them in the community.

Global Graphics was among dozens of businesses and organizations that have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic to shine a positive light in Longview.

Sharman Dorsey, owner of Sharman’s Sewing Center in Longview and Tyler, stepped up with her team to sew thousands of face masks for the community.

After learning that there was a potential shortage of personal protective equipment, commonly known as “PPE,” Dorsey and her team developed a face mask design approved by local medical professionals and went to work making face coverings.

Meanwhile, Louis Morgan Drug No. 4 gave about 5,000 face masks to first responders during the pandemic, said Shawn Sams, a co-owner of the business. In addition to donating face masks, Louis Morgan No. 4 also partnered with Jucys to provide lunch for local nurses and went to great lengths to find resources for PPE, including face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, to make sure it was available in Longview.

In addition to distributing PPE throughout the community, countless restaurants, churches, businesses and organizations stepped up to provide meals to healthcare workers who worked around the clock to care for East Texans. Many groups brought food straight to hospital doors at CHRISTUS Good Shepherd Medical Center and Longview Regional Medical Center, where healthcare workers treated countless patients. Meanwhile, others chose to underwrite costs so that healthcare workers could enjoy a to-go meal out in the community.

Realtor Julie Woods, who owns Julie Woods and Associates Real Estate Firm, partnered with Coffee Mill to offer coffee to healthcare workers in the spring. On a designated day, any healthcare worker could visit Coffee Mill, show their badge and receive a free coffee that Woods paid for. She estimates about 75 people got coffee that day, and the partnership also generated revenue for the local coffee shop.

Woods also partnered with The Butcher Shop to provide a hamburger meal to anyone in need. At the time, the community had been asked to stay home as much as possible to curb the progression of COVID-19 in the community. Many businesses were offering curbside pickup and in-restaurant dining had been put on hold.

Woods emailed a few select people and asked them to look for people in need of a meal.

“Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response. Since our community has been asked to stay home to stem the spread of COVID-19, many of the most vulnerable among us will pay the steepest price. Many others will become collateral damage through this economic slowdown,” she wrote in the email.

 

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Stephanie Tate

ER Nurse,
Longview Regional Medical Center

A Longview native, Stephanie Tate returned to her hometown in 2015 to serve as a nurse in the Emergency Room of Longview Regional Medical Center.

After graduating from Pine Tree High School, Tate attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock where she obtained her credentials as a Registered Nurse (RN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

“Nursing is such a rewarding career,” Tate said. “Even though in the ER you see people who are experiencing their worst days or having traumatic events, it is so awesome to see them get better and to help them find an outcome to help them. I’ve been a nurse for 14 years and it’s always changing. I see something new and learn something new every day. It’s never a dull moment.”

Outside of work, Tate has served for 10 years with Junior League of Longview including serving as past chair of the league’s School Supply Train and past co-chair of the Poverty Conference. Next year she will serve as co-chair for a new League event. She also has served with Junior Achievement. Additionally, she and her family attend First Baptist Church of Longview where she volunteers in the children’s ministry.

Tate and her husband, Jonathan Tate, have three children: 10-year-old Saydee, who attends Hudson PEP; 6-year-old Sawyer, who attends kindergarten at the Wee Learn Center of First Baptist Church; and 2-year-old Jett.

“While I can’t develop a vaccine or treatment for this virus, I hope a small gesture can contribute to the survival of others.”

Anyone could call The Butcher Shop, speak to a manager and give them Woods’ name and they would receive a complimentary meal of a burger, fries and a cookie.

The effort was intended to help both The Butcher Shop and those in need. Woods said 130 meals were given out that day.

Tobacco Junction owner Tony Cooper lead a similar effort with his business when Tobacco Junction partnered with El Sombrero, It’ll Do Deli and Dudley’s Cajun Café to provide meals to healthcare workers and first responders. Cooper asked the restaurants to run a meal tab for healthcare workers and first responders and Tobacco Junction paid the cost. In total, about $45,000 worth of meals were served, he said.

Businesses weren’t the only ones to step up and show an effort to help support the community with meals. Local school districts adapted to change and continued to serve meals to students amid the pandemic, with some even delivering meals into neighborhoods on buses. 

Meanwhile, in an effort to bring joy and normalcy to the community, the family who owns Jucys Hamburgers, Jucys Taco and T. Blanco’s donated $50,000 to the City of Longview, making it possible for the city’s annual fireworks show to go on as usual. Thousands of Longview residents and individuals in the greater East Texas community enjoyed the fireworks show from their cars, city parks and other places where they could safely social distance with their families.

City Leaders
Step Up.

Individuals and businesses weren’t the only ones to step up during the pandemic. City leaders themselves rose to the forefront to help the entire community navigate ever-changing rules and regulations amid COVID-19.

When the pandemic hit, the Longview Chamber of Commerce immediately launched into action to provide local businesses with resources and information to help them survive the economically hard times and navigate changes.

First and foremost, the Chamber of Commerce provided resources about the Main Street Lending Program and the Paycheck Protection Program to business owners. The Paycheck Protection Program was federally established by the CARES Act. The program, which was implemented by the Small Business Administration with support from the U.S. Department of Treasury, provided small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds could also be used for rent and utilities.

Over the summer, the Longview Chamber of Commerce began participating in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce program called “Path Forward.” The series was designed to help the country restart the economy and help residents return to work.

In March, Longview Economic Development Corp. officials set up a website to provide employers with information about regulations and resources during the pandemic. In early summer, LEDCO representatives took to the streets visiting more than 150 companies to chec on the business community.

Diana Velazquez, vice president of LEDCO, said the team visited everyone from mom and pop shops to international companies simply to check in and see how businesses were faring.

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Angel Cubine

Secondary Teacher of the Year,
Pine Tree ISD

For seven years, Angel Cubine has assisted Pine Tree ISD students with learning about careers in health science.

A Longview native, Cubine has an associate degree in nursing (ADN) from Kilgore College and a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from the University of Texas at Tyler.

She has served for seven years as a health science instructor at Pine Tree High School.

“We have built a phenomenal nursing program allowing students to earn multiple certifications in the medical field before they graduate providing opportunity for employment immediately post-graduation,” she said.

Cubine and her husband, Robert, have one daughter, Kylee.

Sara King

Elementary Teacher of the Year,
Pine Tree ISD

Longview native Sara King comes from a family of educators who have sought to impact the community’s children for decades.

King teaches fourth grade math and science at Pine Tree’s Parkway Elementary School. She also serves as the fourth grade oral reading coach for the school’s UIL academic team. She was chosen in 2020 as the school’s Elementary Teacher of the Year.

“I strive every day to connect with my students on a personal level. It is imperative for me as a teacher to build relationships with my students,” King said. Ultimately, we have fun while learning in Room 201 at Parkway.”

A Pine Tree graduate herself, King and her husband, Jacob, met at Pine Tree ISD in seventh grade while playing in band together. After high school, King attended Kilgore College for two years and graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler in 2017.

“We wanted to see if there was anything we could do for them and how we could support them. We wanted to know if they were having any issues, and how they were reacting and coping with COVID,” Velazquez said.

The LEDCO team also purchased cookies from local bakers to distribute to the businesses. Velazquez said LEDCO received an overwhelmingly positive response from local businesses, learning that few local industrial firms had experienced layoffs and that many were weathering the storm.

Within the City of Longview, city staff also adapted in a variety of ways. The Longview Public Library went virtual with its Summer Reading Program and with storytime sessions. The Environmental Health Department worked with local restaurants to help them adapt to social distancing and capacity guidelines when they were allowed to reopen for in-restaurant dining.

The city also set up a COVID hotline to help field questions from residents and businesses, and pointing people to testing locations. The city also offered COVID-19 testing at the Longview Convention Complex.

Meanwhile, Longview Fire Department personnel served on the frontlines, going into nursing homes to perform COVID-19 testing themselves. Fire Chief J.P. Steelman said Governor Greg Abbott set a goal to test every nursing home resident in Texas, and in turn the state requested that the Longview Fire Department assist with the effort locally.

“I was glad we were prepared and able to respond to that request,” Steelman said. “Some people may not realize it, but every firefighter is also a licensed paramedic, so we already had the expertise on staff to meet the challenge.”

Steelman said the fire department was quick to respond to the pandemic, and the department even made internal adjustments several years ago that played a role in their 2020 response.

Since the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, emergency management staff have trained and participated in drills, Steelman said. Then, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 prompted
EMS and the Special Operations Team to be put on notice for scenarios of rapidly spreading viruses or diseases, he said. About three or four years ago, several members of the

Special Operations Team were trained to function as members of a statewide
Infectious Disease Response Unit that operates under the Texas Department of State Health Service’s Emergency Medical Task Force, Steelman added.

The specialized training for a potential pandemic allowed Longview Fire Department staff to be “the right people, in the right place and the right time to have a positive impact on a vulnerable and threatened population, at a time when the state’s system was overwhelmed,” Steelman said.

“While our target in this endeavor was to contribute our highly skilled and well-trained emergency response personnel as part of a collaborative statewide response team, it put us in a position here locally to be able to immediately jump in and contribute to protecting our own community, specifically our nursing home residents who were immediately identified as an at-risk population,” Steelman said. “From a customer service perspective, there’s nothing that means more than to be able to provide help and assistance here locally, whenever and however we can.”

Steelman hopes the fire department’s efforts helped minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus for the city’s most vulnerable population.

“Expediency with testing the residents and staff at all of these facilities in Gregg County hopefully contributed to minimizing the internal spread of COVID-19, which inevitably could have and likely prevented cases of serious illness and maybe even saved some lives,” he said.

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Anthony Boone

Assistant Police Chief,
Longview Police Department

Anthony Boone joined the Longview Police Department in 2001 and currently serves as an Assistant Police Chief working closely with the Chief of Police.

A Corpus Christi native, Boone graduated from King High School in Corpus Christi in 1995. He went on to attend the East Texas Police Academy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal Justice from the University of Texas at Tyler in 2000 and earned his master’s degree in criminal justice from Tarleton State University in 2019. He also is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, having completed both programs in 2011.

As the assistant police chief, Boone has been a driving force behind police operations including assisting with department-wide meetings to help facilitate input on the new police department and with developing an operations plan to help guide the department through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside of work, Boone is active in his church, First Baptist Church in Liberty City. He and he his wife, Kristi Boone, have two children, Carter, 16, and Holly, 12. 

Unity and
Diversity.

In early summer, racial tension rose across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck. Floyd’s death shed new light on the discrimination faced by African-Americans nationwide, and many across the country began demanding change.

In Longview, protesters took to the streets and sidewalks with signs and chants of “Black Lives Matter.” The peaceful protests encouraged a community-wide discussion about racism and discrimination and sparked a dialogue between the community and the police department. Longview Police Chief Mike Bishop explained that when protests were organized locally, the police department reached out to organizers to begin a conversation and to help ensure the safety of those who participated.

“Addressing concerns and being responsive to questions of police operations locally assisted in addressing community concerns,” Bishop said.

Reaching out during the protests was just one of the police department’s many outreach efforts. The Longview Police Department has a number of local outreach programs to work with the community on a regular basis. For example, the Crime Watch program and National Night Out encourage crime prevention in neighborhoods and the Citizens Police Academy provides information to residents about police operations and services, Bishop said.

The police department also has a teen academy and a youth explorer program that introduces children to law enforcement careers. Additionally, the LPD has school resource officers at local campuses to interact with students throughout the year,
Bishop said. 

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Clent Holmes

Executive Director,
Thrive Longview

Through is work at Thrive Longview, Clent Holmes is dedicated to transforming the lives of teens in the community.

A Terrell native, Holmes moved to Longview in 2007 after graduating college. He and his wife, East Texas native Kay Holmes, married and started their family in 2008. The couple has two biological children, a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old, and is in the process of adopting their 15-year-old niece.

After moving to Longview, Holmes worked in the power industry as an engineer for 10 years, earning a Master of Business Administration from UT-Tyler during that time. He began to volunteer to mentor teens in the community, including working with young men in Longview ISD and Tatum ISD. He first began volunteer with Thrive in 2015, eventually leaving his career in the power industry to focus his time on teen development.

“I enjoy the character development of this job because that’s how I got to where I am today. I always had other individuals in my life – older, more established men who represented how I saw my life playing out professionally, spiritually, as a husband, as a philanthropist,” Holmes said. “Each of them from middle school forward had very prominent roles in my development. The more I became involved in East Texas, the more I saw the need for that in his community, especially for Black and brown children. That has become my passion and my focus.”

In addition to his work at Thrive, Holmes has served on the board for Longview World of Wonders; he currently serves on the steering committee for the city’s Partners in Prevention; and he is a past youth director of the Christian Methodist Episcopal church in the Longview and Marshall region. He and his family attend Church on Purpose in Longview, where he also assists with outreach projects.

In addition to programs, Longview Police officers also take to the streets to interact with the community. Longview City Councilwoman Nona Snoddy said she has observed officers of various races in neighborhoods playing basketball on the street with black youth.

Snoddy said those types of relationships, particularly with black youth, help encourage positive police relationships within the community. Snoddy commended Bishop for his leadership and the example he sets, both in the police department and in the community.

During a time when there was division across the country, many police officers nationwide felt discouraged by what was happening and the negative perception of the entire police force because of a few individuals. In Longview, the community rallied to show support for the Longview Police Department with more than 400 cars attending a drive-by parade, called “Hooray for Heroes,” to honor first responders. Bishop said that as the nation watched the situation unfolding across the country, he felt blessed that Longview has a community so supportive of first responders.

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Heather Gee

Teacher of the Year,
Longview High School

An East Texas native, Heather Gee has found her passion and purpose in serving students at Longview ISD for the past eight years.

After graduating from Gilmer High School, Gee entered into work as a paralegal for many years before eventually stepping up temporarily as an instructor for Longview High School’s Viewettes. Her background in dance made her an ideal temporary fit for the role.

Through her involvement with the Viewettes, Gee grew to love teaching and being involved at the school. Gee went back to college, earning her teaching certification from UT-Tyler. Today, she is in her third year as a U.S. history teacher and has served as the cheer coach for about six years. In 2020, she was named the LHS and Longview ISD Teacher of the Year.

“I absolutely love finding avenues to help my students reach their full potential,” Gee said.

In addition to serving as a teacher and cheer coach, Gee also serves as the school’s Z Club sponsor. Through Z Club and cheer, she takes her students out into the community where they give 250 to 300 hours of community service per year.

Gee and her husband, James Gee, have five children: Sierra Gee, Sydnee Steelman, Sophia Steelman, Trinity Gee and Cole Gee.

“The support shown by our elected officials along with our community has helped to show our officers and first responders that our community cares about first responders, and that they are appreciated for the job they do every day to keep our community safe,” Bishop said. “While there are many challenges ahead for our profession, having the support of our community will help us meet those challenges in the future.”

Not only do challenges lie ahead for law enforcement, they also lie ahead for the community as the City of Longview continues to push forward toward more unity.

Many compared the summer of 2020 to the Red Summer of 1919, a time in which white supremacy terrorism and racial riots took place in dozens of cities across the country. Longview was one of those cities.

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Dr. Sushama Brimmer

Chief Hospitalist,
Christus Good Shepherd Hospitalist Group

Since 2003, Dr. Sushama Brimmer has been dedicated to caring for patients in Longview and the surrounding East Texas community. Brimmer serves as the Chief Hospitalist for the Christus Good Shepherd Hospitalist Group, a position she has held since February 2019. 

Brimmer was born in India and moved to the United States at the age of 6. She grew up in a suburb of New Orleans, La., where she attended undergraduate, medical school and residency.

In 2003, after finishing her combined Internal Medicine/Pediatrics residency, she moved to Longview to join an outpatient Internal Medicine practice. In 2005, she took a position at Christus Good Shepherd Medical System as a Hospitalist caring for and managing patients within the hospital.

She has been married for 26 years and has two adult children. Her hobbies include playing tennis, hiking and traveling with her husband.

This year, a group of individuals formed the 1919 Longview Remembrance Project as a community effort to help the city remember its past and learn from it. Organizers encouraged the community to repent of the past and undertake efforts to further reconcile race relations and restore the community to be more inclusive.

Meanwhile, other individuals organized a group called One Love Longview, whose mission is promoting unity and oneness across Longview. The organization made efforts to help bring healing to the community by sparking hope through kindness, good deeds and positivity.

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Wendy Maynard

Teacher of the Year,
Spring Hill ISD

Wendy Maynard joined Spring Hill ISD five years ago, educating students in math.

In 2020 Maynard – who also serves as the school district’s online learning coordinator – saw her job change dramatically as students adapted to online and virtual learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In that capacity, she helped virtual learners, set up content and helped train fellow teachers.

Maynard, who  said she enjoys all aspects of teaching and seeing children have those “a-ha moments.”

“I love watching them grow from kids and maturing into adults and interacting with them,” she said. “If I can inspire them in any way to achieve their own goals, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Named Spring Hill’s Teacher of the Year in 2020, Maynard also teaches dual credit courses through Kilgore College.

Originally from Lake Charles, La., Maynard met her husband Jody Maynard, while attending Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. The couple resides in Longview with their 3-year-old mini schnauzer Bailey.

One Love Longview organized random acts of kindness throughout the area to help foster a sense of hope and unity throughout the year. For example, the organization passed out food and backpacks to the homeless, served hundreds of meals to those in need, handed out baskets filled with goodies to the community and set up food pantries. Snoddy said she was inspired by the summer of 2020 to see people of all races come together for a common cause and be so supportive of the Longview community. “Locally, I think people are ready to mobilize and be part of a common change,” she said. “Together we can do that.

STRENGTH IN THE VIEW

Chris Wilson

Firefighter of the Year,
Longview Fire Department

Since 2004, Chris Wilson has served Longview as a driver engineer and paramedic with Longview Fire Department.

A native of Monticello, Ark., Wilson began working in EMS in 1998 and transitioned to fire service in 2000. For a little more than 16 years, he’s been committed to serving Longview.

“For me, this is mostly about being a servant to my community. That ties in with my personal growth and my faith, just being able to serve,” Wilson said. “I don’t do this job for me. It’s a way for me to intentionally serve my
community. I live in Longview. This is my city. I’m able to look out for my neighbors and my community.”

Wilson, who was named the fire department’s Firefighter of the Year in 2020, serves on the board for the Longview Firefighters Association. He and his family attend Grace Creek Church, where he helped found and serves on the medical response team as well as the safety team. He also teaches first aid and CPR classes for his church
community. After his son was gifted an AmTryke, Wilson became involved with Longview Ambucs. He also serves with the East Texas Down Syndrome Group.

Wilson and his wife, April Wilson, have three children: daughters Wynter, 25, and Sarah, 15, and son, Joey, 11.