Rusk citizenry came together at the Rusk Civic Center, on Jan. 27, for the 77th annual Rusk Chamber of Commerce end-of-year banquet to honor its municipality, members and award the Chamber’s highest tokens of appreciation – Businessman, Businesswoman and Citizen of the Year.
“There were two such outstanding people in the running to be the 2017 Citizen of the Year,” 2016’s Citizen of the Year Larry Sinclair, who was presenting the award Saturday evening, said with a laugh, “so they’re just going to have to share the honor – this year’s co-Citizens of the Year are Texas State Senator Robert Nichols and Texas State Representative Travis Clardy.”
The pair said they worked together in recent months to help secure the future the Rusk State Hospital (RSH). Earlier this month, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission announced the release of $47.7 million for use in improving the state’s inpatient psychiatric care system, of which the RSH is a part. The 85th Texas Legislature approved a total of $300 million to revamp the state hospital system in the 2018-2019 biennium.
“Travis and I really worked as a team together on this project,” said Sen. Nichols-Jacksonville after Rusk Mayor Angela Raiborn introduced him to the crowd. “We started looking at this in 2011 when there was talk about privatizing the hospital – which absolutely was not the way we wanted to go.
This a significant first step toward transforming the hospitals into state-of-the art campuses.”
The initial funding will allow Texas to plan and design two new 100-bed units at Rusk State Hospital, as well as expand capacity at the Kerrville and San Antonio hospitals; design a new hospital and continuum of care campus in Houston; and start planning for the total replacement of Austin and San Antonio hospitals.
“I want to thank Robert especially on this,” said Rep. Clardy-Nacogdoches. “There is not a better leader in all of Texas with his phenominal commitment to this area. I remember the first Chamber banquet we came to in Rusk, it was Biker Night – we had a blast and came away thinking ‘these are our kind of people.’ And with the State Hospital being the biggest employer in Cherokee County, I’m proud to have been able to help so many.”
Chamber members also handed out Business of the Year, Businessman and Businesswoman of the Years awards Saturday.
Both the 2017 Business of the Year and the 2017 Businessman of the Year awards went to Gray’s Automotive and its owner/operator Jody Gray, of Maydelle, respectively. Gray’s father James established the automotive repair shop in Rusk 33 years ago and passed the business to Jody when he retired. In the last decade, under Jody’s leadership, the auto shop has added a collision repair and custom paint department.
“I am humbled and amazingly blessed to receive both these awards,” Gray said. “Rusk has done a lot for me and my family and I’m proud to know my community thinks I have been returning the favor.”
Gray is married to Amanda Gray and has two children attending school in Rusk. Gray has also served as Maydelle Fire Department’s chief for several years.
Rusk’s 2017 Businesswoman of the Year was Rusk resident Rachel Loden, proprietor of the Daily Grind coffeehouse and cafe in Rusk. The Daily Grind recently remodeled its dining area, revamped its menu and continues to serve coffee and other beverages; specialty baked goods and desserts; and soup and sandwich lunches made daily.
“Wow, thank you so much,” Loden said upon receiving her award. “This is truly an honor and very much appreciated. It means a lot to know I have my hometown’s support!”
Before handing the reins over to incoming 2018 President Deleigh Hailey, outgoing Chamber President James Sanchez awarded the 2017 President’s Award to the city of Rusk and Rusk Police Department.
“We couldn’t do anything we do without the help we get from the city and the police department,” Sanchez said. “From directing traffic for us during a parade to helping us get funding for our annual Christmas lights, we just couldn’t do anything without their help.”
Sanchez also awarded the Chamber’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award to longtime Rusk resident, business owner and volunteer firefighter, Wayne Morgan.
“He’s taught me a lot,” Sanchez said. Morgan declined to comment during Saturday’s event.
Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis emceed the banquet and told the crowd he’s always glad to get invited and took a moment to remember his friend and longtime fellow East Texas judge, the late Judge Bascom Bentley.
“We loved to do these events together,” he said. “People would always ask if we ever wrote out a script or rehearsed or anything. No we never did, we’d just show up and do our thing.”
The pair routinely entertained their communities at local events by cracking jokes, trading insults and generally trying to one-up one another, as only two small-town East Texas country judges can.
The evening’s barbecue meal was provided by Rusk ISD’s own Jason Wilcox, and served by members of the Rusk chapter of the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
“They did an outstanding job for us,” Sanchez said.
Other sponsors for the banquet included Harry’s Building Materials; Ocker’s Dental; Ali B’s flower shop; Brookshire Brothers grocery store, Tru-Value Hardware, J&J Jewelry, the Rusk KOA, Flowers N Things flower shop; Texas National Bank; and others.