More than 10 years or planning, preparation and construction culminated this fall with the opening of the Tanglefoot Trail that stretches 44-miles from Houston to New Albany. The Trail – as it is known locally – immediately became an economic development engine for the community with cyclist from around the state and region biking the trail and local walkers also enjoying it, too.
Voters in Houston, Okolona, Woodland and Houlka went to the polls this spring with changes seen at the Okolona Police Department and on the Okolona Board of Aldermen. Houston, Woodland and Houlka voters basically stayed with the same city leaders.
Other big news included the naming of two new Houston School District trustees and the announcement of an industrial mega site south of Okolona.
Chickasaw County saw three homicides in 2014, but also hosted two Flywheel Festivals, the largest ever Houston Homecoming in July and the first annual Cornbread Festival in Houlka.
The following is a quick look back at the top headlines in the Chickasaw Journal by month for 2014.
• Houston was nominated for the National Register following a lengthy application process spearheaded by Historic Hometown Houston. An initial survey was done for Depot, Hamilton, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Pittsboro, Pontotoc and Washington streets and Pinson Square.The nomination came about as part of the construction of a cell tower in downtown Houston in 2012.
• Rev. Daniel Heeringa was named a Houston School Board Trustee to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of trustee Rayburn Parks who had a conflict of interest. Heeringa is pastor of Houston First Baptist Church and has two daughters in the district.
• Circuit Court Judge Andrew Howorth rules that Chickasaw County owes Ausbern Contruction for work the company did to repair County Road 4, but the exact amount to be paid is not named.
• Houston Habitat for Humanity turns the keys to its latest house on County Road 402 over to Temeca Shepard.
• Houston’s National Guard 288th Sapper Company was formally welcomed home with a ceremony at Houston High School Sunday afternoon.
• The Houston School Board hires Sarah Juckes as its new business manager to replace Ronja Lancaster who retired after 25 years in that position.
• Houston Parks and Recreation puts in bids to host a boys and girls baseball tournament in Houston this summer. The bids are part of a desire by the city to host tournaments as part of economic development for the city.
• Quality Iron bought 12-acres of property in Houston’s industrial park with plans to expand it operation and employ 16 people.
• Okolona Board of Aldermen require anyone under the age of 18 out after curfew to be accompanied by an adult. The move is an effort to stop a rash of juvenile crime in the community.
• A Chickasaw County man is charged with murder and arson after his car is found burning in Hwy. 8 east of Houston and his wife is later found stabbed at their home. Will Porter, 23, is charged with both crimes and placed in the Chickasaw County Jail. It is the community’s first homicide in two years.
• The Houston Solar Car team is honored by the Mississippi Legislature with a plaque and standing ovation after winning the national solar car race for the 11th year in a row.
• Houston native and contemporary Christian Music artist Jack Pumphrey and NewSong headline Winter Jam at the BanCorp Arena in Tupelo. Pumphrey is the drummer for the group.
• Houston aldermen begin enforcing an ordinance to clean up property along the soon-to-open Tanglefoot Trail. Houston is the southern gateway to the 44-mile long trail that stretches to New Albany.
• Houston School Board Trustee Zack Huffman resigns from the board after he takes a job in the Mississippi Delta and can no longer claim residency in Houston.
• A fast moving storm downs trees and powerlines and also sparks a fire on Tindall Circle that totally destroys the home of Joe and Libba Criddle.
• The venue for the lawsuit between Chickasaw County and Ausbern Construction is changed to Lafayette County to allow the court to pull jurors from a community that does not have a stake in the outcome of the case that could result in a million dollar verdict.
• An industrial mega site is announced at the Okolona Chamber of Commerce Banquet by Three River Planning and Development director Randy Kelley. The 959-acre site is located just off Hwy. 45 between Egypt and Okolona and only 13 miles from the Tenn-Tom Waterway.
• The Houston Community Theater presents “The Sound of Music” with Molly May and Rev. Daniel Heeringa playing the leads for a packed house at the Houston Auditorium.
• Regional Economic Developer Josh West is the keynote speaker for the Chickasaw Development Foundation Annual Banquet. Bill Smith is named the Spirit of Chickasaw County recipient, Silly Whispers is named New Business of the Year, Grocer’s Pride earns Business of the Year and saxophone legend Ace Cannon provides entertainment.
• The body of Ray “Shorty” Bevill is found stabbed to death in his home on Aberdeen Road, sparking an investigation by the Houston Police Department, Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab. It is the community’s second homicide in less than two months.
• The Chickasaw County Museum opens during the Houston Flywheel Festival with lots of local history, artifacts and information on display at the building on Woodland Circle in Joe Brigance Park.
• Dexter Green is named the new Superintendent of Okolona School District. Green was formerly the principal at nationally recognized Dundee Elementary School in Tunica.
• Houston Mayor Stacey Parker and Houston Town Marshal Billy Voyle are re-elected in Municipal Primary Elections. The race for mayor and town constable in Okolona is too close to call and prompts a recount.
• Relay for Life raises a record $38,000 to fight cancer through this annual American Cancer Society fundraiser. The event was held at the Chickasaw County Coliseum.
• Chickasaw County Emergency Management Agency hosts a hazardous material exercise in Van Vleet complete with yellow suits and respirators.
• Chickasaw County experiences its third homicide following the apparent stabbing death of John Wofford, 56, in Woodland. Brecker Johnson, 39, is charged with the crime.
• Okolona Assistant Police Chief Romona Robertson is found guilty of driving under the influence, speeding and disorderly conduct in an eight-hour trial in Houston Justice Court. Robertson is found not guilty of a more serious charge of possession of a controlled substance.
• Okolona High School graduates 34 seniors during ceremonies held at the auditorium. Alexis Nabors is named Valedictorian and Ragan Gathings is Salutorian.
• Houston High School confers diplomas on 97 students at graduation ceremonies on Topper Field. Trey Franklin and Sydney Harrell are named co-Valedictorians.
• Thirty-three students graduate from Vardaman High School. Summer Williams is named Valedictorian.
• Chickasaw County High School in Houlka graduates 36 seniors. Deanna Washington is named Valedictorian and Katie Murphree is Salutorian.
• Baird Machine Shop celebrates 100 years of business at its building on Jefferson Street.
• Chickasaw County School Board Trustees approve $279,400 for renovation of Wildcat Gymnasium.
• Mitchell Gregory, 32, of Woodland, is arrested for the April 15 stabbing death of Ray “Shorty” Bevill. Chickasaw County Chief Deputy James Myers said DNA evidence played a key role in the arrest. Gregory is charged with capital murder.
• Thomas Howell is named Houston School District’s newest trustee by the Houston Board of Aldermen. Howell replaces Trustee Zack Huffman who resigned in the spring.
• The Houston School Board hires two Tupelo lawyers, Gary Carnathan and Bill Murphree, to pursue litigation to seek damages and repairs to a leaking School of Science and Technology building roof.
• Houston City Clerk Bobby Sanderson retires and Janie Dendy is named to the post.
• Houston residents gather at a spontaneous viewing of Mississippi State University’s College World Series game against UCLA at Joe Brigance Park on a big screen set up by Puddle Jumpers.
• Houston Homecoming on the Square downtown saw a large crowd turn out for an afternoon of food and entertainment and they all stuck around for the evening’s fireworks display.
• Jerry Seago, 45, is named by the Chickasaw County School Board as the new Houlka High School principal and has 10-years of administrative experience in districts across Northeast Mississippi.
• Municipal officials were officially sworn in for Houston, Okolona, Woodland and Houlka and got about the business of leading their respective communities for the next four years. Most were sworn in July 1, as technically, no city business could be conducted without city officials taking the oath of office.
• Members of St. John Catholic Church drive 15-hours from Minnesota to host Vacation Bible School for Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Houston. It is the 10th year for the churches to partner on VBS.
• The week-long fifth annual Houston Fire Academy finishes up with the traditional field exercises where kids got to man a fire hose, crawl through a smoke house and test their knowledge of fire safety.
• Okolona School Board names Christopher Hill as the new Okolona High School principal and LaShonda Hoskins as the principal of Okolona Elementary School.
• The Chickasaw County grand jury meets and for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, considers evidence in three homicides. Indictments are handed down in the death of Amanda Porter in February, William “Shorty” Bevills in April and John L.Wofford in May.
• Excel in Okolona celebrates 25 years of addressing social concerns in that community with a weekend-long series of events.
• The Houston School District proposes a 2013-14 revenue budget of $14,864,728.50 which is down from actual 2012-13 expenditures of $14,948,616. Trustees had proposed a revenue budget of $15,191,446 last year.
• The Houston Board of Aldermen vote to advertise for bids for electronic water meters that could make reading the city’s 1,800 meters faster and hopefully more accurately. The upgrade has an estimated cost of $350,000.
• The Houston School District budgets $300,000 for attorney fees for potential litigation to force architects Pryor & Morrow and contractor CopperTop Roofing to repair a leaking roof at the Houston School of Science and Technology. The district also budgets $400,000 to repair the roof if litigation fails to get the contractor and architect to fix the roof at the vo-tech center.
• Sumeka Thomas is administered of the oath of office by 14th Chancery District Judge Kenneth Burns and was formally robed as Okolona Municipal Court Judge.
• Houston, Woodland, Rhodes Chapel, Van Vleet, Thorn and Houlka fire departments hold practice water tests with the goal of reducing insurance rates for homeowners.
• Houston School District moves from a “D” to a “C” in state accountability ratings. Significant gains are made at the elementary school level but are countered by dropouts and scores at the high school level.
• The parent of a Vardaman Junior High School softball player is arrested after allegedly striking a coach at a softball game and spends the night in the Calhoun County Jail.
• Okolona High School goes from an “F” to a “C” in state accountability ratings. The school has the lowest drop-out rate in the county.
• Chickasaw County School District test scores held steady, but principals and administrators see a need for improvement at all grade levels on state accountability tests.
• Two teenagers are seriously burned and a third dies following an Saturday morning fire in on County Road 92 in eastern Chickasaw County.
• Okolona Aldermen vote 5-1 to terminate employment of Okolona Assistant Police Chief Romona Robertson, who was found was found guilty of driving under the influence, speeding and disorderly conduct in May.
• Baby Steps celebrates its 10th anniversary in Okolona with a bounce-house, snacks and lots of information for parents and kids on the importance of reading and good parenting skills.
• The Chickasaw Development Foundation forms four committees – Retail, Recreation/Tourism, Marketing and Community Activity – designed to grow business in Houston and move the community forward.
• A lawsuit between Chickasaw County and Ausbern Construction, initially set for court on Oct. 7, in Lafayette County is reset for March 24, 2014.
• Historic Houston Main Street Association and Houston School District team up to host the 9th Annual Pep Rally and Tailgate Party on the Square in downtown Houston.
• Houlka hosts the First Annual Cornbread Festival with a giant crowd showing up to shop from vendors, enjoy entertainment and sample cornbread.
• The Chickasaw Journal’s Lisa Voyles took First Place in Celebrity Sorting, Linda Griffin took second place and James Pettit earned a third place ribbon at the Chickasaw County Ag Days held at the Coliseum over the weekend.
• State Attorney General Jim Hood moves back to Chickasaw County and begins work out of a newly opened office south of Houston.
• The City of New Houlka begins notifying people they could be found in contempt of court if they do no pay court fines and fees owed the city.
• The Fourth Annual Blacked-Eyed Pea Festival is sponsored by the Bank of Mantee.
• The whistle blew, officials spoke and the Tanglefoot Trail was officially opened for Houston, Houlka and points north. The Tanglefoot Trail stretches 44.5-miles from New Albany to Houston and sports a 10-wide asphalt surface with maintained shoulders the length of the project. The trail immediately become a destination for cyclists across the Southeast.
• Houston School Board Trustees vote 4-0 to establish the rules and regulations for public prayer at school under a policy heading of “student religious liberties.” The motion was made by Trustee Marvin Beard seconded by Trustee Daniel Heeringa and supported by Trustees Thomas Howell and Board President Bart Munlin. Trustee Carol Byrne was absent from the meeting.
• The Houston Solar Car program received a check for $10,000 from Mississippi VFW for the team’s work in promoting the state and staying on the cutting edge of technology and solar racing competition.
• A late spring delayed planting for just about all crops across Chickasaw County, but a moderate summer without too much rain or heat allowed fruit to fill out and most fields to sport good yields in soybeans, cotton, corn and sweet potatoes according to reports from the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
• The Houston Board of Aldermen discuss a proposal to require property owners to be responsible for the upkeep of property in front of their home and also to mow ditches on their property.
• A Saturday morning house fire in Vardaman kills three children and stunned this community of about 1,300 in eastern Calhoun County.
• Houston Upper Elementary School is recognized as a Champion of Change by the Mississippi Department of Education for going from a “D” to a “B” in state testing scores.
• The Houston Board of Aldermen seek funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase electronic water meters that would replace the city’s aging mechanical meters and make reading residential water bills more efficient and improve accuracy.
• The City of Houston seeks to renegotiate its contract with the county to handle dispatching for the city police and fire services. Houston pays $100,000 annually and is only municipality in the county that pays for 911 dispatching.
• Franklin Corporation of Houston is ranked No. 17 among the key sources for the U.S. furniture market. Furniture Today estimates sales at Franklin reached $184.3 million, down about 3 percent from a year earlier.
• The Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department, Houston Police Department and the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol remind motorist not to drink and drive this holiday season. The authorities also warn of local checkpoints during Christmas and New Years.