Inches of snow dumped on Cherokee County and throughout Texas, providing the backdrop to a historic event that will be talked about for decades to come. From Feb. 11-20, a major winter and ice storm known as Winter Storm Uri shut down a majority of activity throughout the state, as residents became snowbound and were left without power for varying amounts of time. As high as 11 inches of snow fell in the Del Rio Area, while Dallas and East Texas ranged around five inches, with temperatures dropping below zero during that period.
Quadruple murders in New Summerfield.
Later in the year, law enforcement was called to the New Summerfield area on July 20, regarding the discovery of a body in the driveway of a residence on Texas Highway 110. After discovering the initial victim in front of the residence, sheriff’s deputies searching the property discovered three other victims inside a house at the back of the property. Billy Phillips, Dylan Welch and Jesse Pawlowki, all of Jacksonville, were charged in connection with the homicide of Jeff Gerla, John Clinton, Ami Hickey and Amanda Bain. The defendants, who were formally arraigned in 2nd District Court on Dec. 9, each entered pleas of “not guilty” to capital murder charges. They are being held in jail on bonds of $1 million each.
“Silver Eagles” – Rusk baseballers go to state.
The 2021 Rusk Eagle baseball team made school history this summer as they worked their way into the state playoffs, in a June 10 match with Texarkana Pleasant Grove at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on in Austin. The Eagle squad secured the second-place spot in the playoff, but more importantly, gave local residents a chance to focus on America’s Favorite Game, played by their favorite athletes, at a time when it felt their lives were mired in all things pandemic. The Cherokeean Herald staff once again congratulates the Eagles on their impressive season and for giving us something fun, positive and joyful to focus on this summer.
The 2020 Census and redistricting.
Findings of the 2020 Census revealed a slightly lower total population for Cherokee County – reported by federal officials at 48,485 – than the 2010 figures, with a review of the county’s four precincts revealing slight imbalances in Precincts 2 and 3, which called for rectification by Nov. 12, according to a representative with Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, which had drawn up a proposal for redistricting.
According to Census figures, the population in Precinct 2 fell 7.5 percent below average, while Precinct 3 was 9.4 percent above average. The Cherokee County Commissioners’ Court adopted the proposed redistricting plan on Oct. 25, approving a plan to shift populations among three of the four precincts to create more balanced districts, population-wise.
The 2020 U.S. Census data shows a total population of 48,485 for the county, which is comprised of four precincts. Based on the new data, each of the four precincts – all single-member districts – has an average of 12,211 people per precinct. Meanwhile, earlier this month, the court approved an order to reconfigure county election precincts to reflect changes wrought by the recent redistricting.
Changing of the guard.
With the passage of time, change arises, and this year, several leadership positions around the county were filled with new faces.
In Rusk, the local city council saw the election of two new members in May: Mayor Ben Middlebrooks and District 1 Councilwoman Kendal Shoemaker. Middlebrooks, who previously served on the city’s Dist. 1 seat, succeeded Angela Raiborn – who stepped down as mayor after serving more than a dozen years – while Shoemaker won a two-candidate race for the Dist. 1 seat. The pair began their new terms in May.
Other changes included new Rusk Police Chief Jeremy Black sworn into office in April; the hire of new Rusk Chamber manager Leilani Sales over the summer.
Jacksonville saw changes at both the municipal and educational areas. James Hubbard – who held the position of JEDCO president up until recently – was hired as Jacksonville’s new City Manager, with Shane Pace as his successor at JEDCO. And at Jacksonville ISD, Brad Stewart was hired as the district’s super-intendent of schools.
JISD also said goodbye to its athletic director and head coach, Wayne Coleman, who tendered his resignation at the end of the 2021 football season, announced his retirement, effective in June 2022.
Cherokee County has seen a boom in construction this year, as work began on a variety of projects, and are in the process of wrapping up for others. The most notable are a new school and gymnasium at Alto ISD to replace structures destroyed by the April 2019 tornado, a new public safety complex in Jacksonville that will house fire, police and emergency services headquarters, a new office complex and a hospital facility at Rusk State Hospital, Kline Clinic and Chapman’s Pharmacy (which share a building on U.S. Highway 69 North in Rusk) and Tractor Supply Company in Alto. 2021 also brought construction of a new Super 1 market in Jacksonville, a constructed-from-the-ground up replacement for Harry’s Building Materials in Rusk destroyed by a flood in 2019, among other projects.