by Christina Cavazos
Growing up in South Longview, Nona Snoddy recalls coming home from school to a community of women who cheered her on and played their own role in her development.
“I remember coming home from school. My mom, of course, was there, but there were always three other ladies there who called me their ‘baby.’ They would always have these little care packages for me every time I came home,” she said. “It was always amazing coming home. They would be as excited to see me as my mom was.”
In South Longview, there was a strong sense of family, community and togetherness that Snoddy said made a strong impact on her.
“Everybody knew everybody and everybody was family,” said Snoddy, who today serves on the Longview City Council. “If you lived on a street, we were all community. Having that type of togetherness was great.”
That togetherness and community can still be felt in South Longview today.
It’s experienced during basketball games at Broughton Recreation Center and Little League games at Womack Field adjacent to Stamper Park.
It’s seen as children and their parents chat while walking to school at Longview ISD’s campuses, which promote neighborhood access to education.
It’s felt in churches across South Longview where praise teams and parishioners come together for worship.
It’s present at long-time locally owned restaurants where people catch up on the latest news over hearty meals and fellowship.
The community, the togetherness, the sense of fellowship can be seen and felt all over South Longview.
On a wintry day at Bel’s Diner on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, two men sitting at different tables talked animatedly about the Longview Lobos and their quest to the state football semifinals. Though complete strangers before entering the restaurant, they quickly bonded during lunch over their love of Lobo football and, of course, the incredible home-cooked food at Bel’s Diner.
An icon in South Longview, 2022 marked the 30th anniversary of Bel’s Diner where owner Harvel Davis lovingly prepares the hearty meals from scratch everyday using recipes from his family.
“When you come to Bel’s Diner, you get good food and fellowship,” Davis said.
Good food and fellowship are what he grew up with and that’s what he tries to impart to his customers.
Davis grew up down the road from where Bel’s Diner is located today. He lived in a community across the street from the former Rollins Elementary School. In the days of school segregation, Rollins Elementary served African-American children in Longview ISD. LaQuinta Inn, which is located at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 20, was built on the site of the old school.
Growing up in a family of 13, Davis spent many days helping his mother in the kitchen.
He lovingly refers to his mother as “a kitchen mechanic.” With a big family, she cooked large meals each day and gave her children simple tasks to help out.
“Ever since I was big enough, she passed down her knowledge to me,” Davis recalled.
It started with simple tasks like asking him to stir a pot of greens and later teaching him the full recipes. Most of the recipes used at Bel’s Diner today are from Davis’s family.“A lot of them are my mom’s recipe. My sweet potato pie comes from a distant cousin,” he said.
While everything on the menu at Bel’s Diner is popular among certain customers, Davis said the beef tips and rice, chicken and dressing, and daily specials, such as oxtail on Tuesdays, are among the most popular. Nearly every dish is served with one of the several types of greens offered at Bel’s and another side.
The food, Davis said, is “good quality, something that will stick to the ribs.” And customers walk into a friendly, family-oriented atmosphere where everyone is welcome.
That welcoming spirit is something many people grew up with in South Longview and that still exists today.
“You travel through South Longview and no one’s ever met a stranger,” said Wray Wade, who grew up in South Longview and now serves on the Longview City Council. “When I’ve lived other places, I would often have people comment, ‘You talk to everyone’ or ‘You just talked to a stranger.’ I equate that with how I was raised here in South Longview, where no one is a stranger.”
Wade grew up near the corner of MLK and Young Street, just down the road from Broughton Recreation Center where he often shot hoops when he was growing up. The rec center continues to be a hub of activity in South Longview. From hosting MLK and Juneteenth activities to offering a library branch and gym, it’s a place where the community feels at home.
Thanks to a voter-approved bond election in 2018, Broughton Recreation Center received a $5 million expansion and renovation in 2022 that allows it to better meet the needs of the community. Other South Longview improvements have included upgrades to the city’s parks, including at Stamper, and upcoming street improvements that will see Mobberly Avenue become more pedestrian and biker friendly.
Similarly, Longview ISD also invested significant improvements into all of its schools as part of a voter-approved $266.9 million 2007 bond election. That work included much needed enhancements among South Longview campuses to bring them up to par with schools in other areas of the city. The district renovated and expanded Bailey Elementary, formerly known as South Ward Elementary, and built a new Ware Elementary School, Hudson PEP, Ned E. Williams Elementary School, and Foster Middle School – all in South Longview. All of the district’s other campuses also were either rebuilt or renovated.
The concept, which the district referred to as a neighborhood schools plan, helped ensure that all children in the district receive an equal education in a school built from the same design with qualified teachers and with the same technology.
In conjunction with the neighborhood schools plan, Longview ISD also revised its attendance zones so that children are more likely to go to a campus near their home. That has helped with accessibility to school, particularly for neighborhoods in South Longview.
“The neighborhood schools are great,” Wade said. “When I was growing up, we had J.L. Everhart and a couple of other schools, but the way the school district has brought the campuses along has been incredible. Foster Middle School is right here now along MLK. Hudson PEP has been redeveloped, but it stayed in South Longview. It’s been really good.”
Wade said he’d like to see more after-school and/or summer programs developed in South Longview to continue children’s education. He hopes the new and improved Broughton Recreation Center can play some role in that. In some ways, it already is with a Longview Public Library branch inside. While the library branch has been located inside Broughton for many years, the renovations have moved it to the front of the building where it is more visible. With full-glass windows, cozy seating and lighting, and Lobo green accents, it’s also more inviting for children and their families alike.
Between library time, a weight room, an e-gaming center and the gym where people frequently played basketball, Broughton is continuing to serve its place as a community hub just as it has for more than 40 years.
Newer to the area but no less of a community gathering place, Hawkins Divine Catering on Mobberly has become a home away from home for many people as they come to dine on homestyle meals and enjoy good conversation.
The restaurant opened in 2009 on Mobberly Avenue when one of Carolyn Hawkins’ sons came up with the idea. The restaurant was originally called Divine Catering but changed its name in more recent years to Hawkins Divine Catering. One of the sons left to start a food truck under the name “Divine Catering” while the family continues to operate the original restaurant on Mobberly Avenueunder the name “Hawkins Divine Catering.”
Originally from New Diana, Carolyn Hawkins has lived in Longview since she was 9. At 72 now, she says her mother, Elnora Peoples, was instrumental in teaching her to cook. Most of the recipes at Hawkins Divine Catering come from her mother.
“The food pretty much speaks for itself,” Hawkins said of the meals served at Hawkins Divine Catering. “We have good customers, and we try to give good customer service.”
The restaurant has had its share of challenges in the last year. Hawkins suffered two strokes in October 2021, and the mainstay restaurant on Mobberly closed while she was in the hospital and in recovery. It reopened on March 28, 2022. Hawkins estimates her health is back to a good 85 to 87 percent now, and therestaurant is going strong.
But the extended closure meant that many of the restaurant’s mainstay customers were uncertain of the future and weren’t immediately aware when it reopened.
“At this time, we’re actually getting a lot of new faces,” Hawkins said. “A lot of our old customers are coming back, too.”
When customers dine, nearly every dish on the restaurant’s menu sells. Everything is made from scratch daily, and Hawkins uses fresh ingredients. While nearly every dish has its fans, Hawkins said the chicken fried steak, chicken fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, and beef tips and rice rank among the top-sellers.
Further down on Mobberly Avenue near LeTourneau University, the original Bodacious Bar-B-Q is continuing to serve up some of the best barbecue in town.
One of the oldest barbecue joints in East Texas, the original Bodacious on Mobberly opened in 1968. Founded by Roland and Nancy Lindsey, the restaurant originally started under the name “Little Roland’s Bodacious Bar-B-Q,” but shortly later Lindsey’s old nickname was dropped, and “Bodacious Bar-B-Q” was born.
Over the years, Bodacious grew in popularity, especially as LeTourneau University grew in size. After the Mobberly location became established, a second location opened on 6th Street in Longview. Today, there are 14 Bodacious locations across East Texas and beyond.
The restaurant has received many accolades, including being named the No. 4 best barbecue in the state by “Texas Monthly” in 2017.
Today, pitmaster Spencer Halling carries on the tradition and legacy at the original location on Mobberly Avenue.
“Generations of people have been coming not just to this building but also to all the locations across East Texas. It’s pretty cool to be part of that tradition,” Halling said.
Halling got his start in barbecue by working at the Gladewater location for about three years before coming to lead the Mobberly location in 2022. In Gladewater, he learned how to properly cook the meats that people have come to know and love.
Brisket smokes anywhere from 18 to 22 hours, meaning it has to be put on the smoker long before it’s served. Pork also takes longer. Other meats, such as ribs and turkey, are put on around 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. each day. Sausage is made in house daily.
“I strive to make everything good,” Halling said. “The brisket is always good. I’m a little partial to the turkey myself.”
Halling’s wife, Madi, is Lindsey’s granddaughter, so he’s also helping maintain a family legacy.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle. It’s pretty unique, and it’s cool to be a part of it,” he said.
Like other mainstay restaurants in South Longview, Bodacious is a sort of community gathering place where a friendly staff makes customers feel at home.
While South Longview has a strong sense of community and has seen its share of development, many acknowledged there is continued room for improvement. As Wade said, he’d like to see more development of after-school and summer school education programming. Snoddy said it’s widely acknowledged that there continues to be blight in South Longview. The city, she said, is actively working to improve that.
“Any time that we’re moving in the area of improving on those things, that’s great to see happen,” she said.
Davis said when he opened Bel’s Diner 30 years ago, he expected to see development along Interstate 20 sprout much quicker than it has. Davis recalled watching the interstate being built as a child and said the east-west corridor was a major advancement at the time.
Leaders across the City of Longview, Gregg County and LEDCO have actively worked to promote development along I-20. The city is working to enhance the intersection of High Street, Mobberly Avenue and Estes Parkway so that the entryway into South Longview from I-20 is more inviting. Officials acknowledged that more progress is needed.
“We have a Comprehensive Plan and a Small Area Plan for Interstate 20. Both have identified that we need some type of anchor, some type of development that draws additional development into the region. That was a clear finding in both of those,” said Richard Yeakley, spokesperson for the City of Longview. “The city continues to look for opportunities to redevelop that particular area. That’s why we’re investing in the entryway, but there’s certainly more that needs to be done there. Where there are opportunities to do that, the city is happy to have those conversations.”
While the interstate development continues to progress gradually, other development has been strong in South Longview – though it’s primarily been industrial. The Longview Business Park, which is located on South Eastman Road, is nearly at capacity.
Other major industrial firms, such as Komatsu, have in recent years made multi-million-dollar investments into improvements and expansions.
Snoddy said she values all progress, and she hopes when people think of South Longview, they choose not to judge a book by its cover.
“You may not be able to see the beauty with the naked eye, but when you talk to those people from South Longview, it’s in the heart. I truly mean that. Having grown up and being born and raised in South Longview, I can’t imagine living or wanting to live anywhere else,” she said.
Wade agreed, noting that while he’s lived in other cities and countries, South Longview continues to have his heart.
“South Longview – it’s the people. The people who made me who I am. The people who I’m proud to represent today,” he said. “What’s so beautiful about South Longview is the people. It’s the community.”
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