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Over The Spillway

Holiday Lake Dam

OVER THE SPILLWAY — Thanks to some showers last week, water was flowing over the spillway at the Holiday Lake Estates dam. (Enterprise Photo by Brian Besch) 

NFL to honor Rodney Thomas

BY CHRIS EDWARDS
Contributing editor
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GROVETON– Groveton High School will host a presentation at 2:30 p.m. on Monday in the gymnasium that will honor one of its most celebrated alumni.

A gold football is to be presented to the Groveton Independent School District from the NFL to honor the late gridiron legend Rodney Thomas, who began his phenomenal athletic career as a Groveton Indian. Thomas, who died in 2014, will be honored by his widow Leigh, his son, mother and brother, all who will be on hand at the ceremony on behalf of the NFL.

According to Kathleen Cockrell of GISD, some of Thomas's former coaches will be present to speak about Thomas and his prowess as an athlete, including former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum.

The presentation of the golden football is part of the Super Bowl High School Honor Roll program, which celebrates high schools and communities that have contributed to Super Bowl history. Thomas, who had a hugely successfully collegiate career as an Aggie running back, also played in the NFL for the Houston Oilers in 1995. As a rookie, he was one of only 19 players in the AFC to finish with 1,000 or more combined yards from scrimmage. His rushing total at that time was second only to Oiler legend Earl Campbell. Thomas stayed with the team as it moved to Tennessee to become the Tennessee Titans and appeared in Super Bowl XXXIV as a substitute.

The golden footballs presented feature the honoree's name, the high school's name and location, as well as the Super Bowl(s) the honoree appeared in. It has become an annual tradition that not only celebrates NFL athletes who reach the pinnacle of the league, but also their achievements away from the league by recognizing their high school, as well as their coaches.

All honored schools under the program receive an NFL Character Education Curriculum and are eligible to apply for grants up to $5,000 to help support and grow their high school football programs, according to the program's website.

Veteran of 2 wars turns 93

TWO-WAR VETERAN — Walt Autry (right) and his wife, Loraine, have been married for 73 years. The 93-year-old retired printer is a veteran of both World War II and the Korean Conflict. (ENTERPRISE PHOTO BY BRIAN BESCH)TWO-WAR VETERAN — Walt Autry (right) and his wife, Loraine, have been married for 73 years. The 93-year-old retired printer is a veteran of both World War II and the Korean Conflict. (ENTERPRISE PHOTO BY BRIAN BESCH)

BY BRIAN BESCH
Enterprise staff
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LIVINGSTON -- Walt Autry celebrated his birthday on Friday, as the rest of the world celebrated the New Year.
Of his 93 years, the veteran has been married since the age of 20 to his wife, Loraine. The couple moved to Livingston in 1969 after Walt served in two wars and sold a successful printing company he owned in Houston.
The Navy was a smooth transition for someone who spent much of his youth on the water.

"I served for almost exactly three years and 11 months," Autry said. "I was a diesel engineer during World War II. I repaired damage to ships. I started out as a kid and was more or less what you would call a river rat. I ran up and down the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, and all of those rivers going up as far as Philadelphia up the Ohio River.

"I was madder than hell when I heard Pearl Harbor was bombed. I went and joined the Navy on Dec. 20, 1941. I was a young kid, and that's what they want. My mother had to sign up for me, because I was 18 at the time, and the law in Louisiana and the Navy was (a parent or guardian) had to sign for you if you weren't 21. Prior to that, I was in the Merchant Marines sailing on a banana boat between Houston, New York, Philadelphia and Galveston.

"I was raised in New Orleans, but born in Monette, Arkansas. From there, my father died when I was two-years-old, so I never knew my dad. To keep us fed back in those days, we never had any money, so my mother was moving around and doing work. We finally moved to New York where she was a short order cook and made pretty good money there."

At the age of nine in Memphis, Autry was placed in a sanitarium for tuberculosis for two years. He then moved to New Orleans to work in the shipyards as a rivet buckler until joining the Navy.

"After I got into the war, they sent me to Mobile, Alabama," Autry said. "I was a steam engineer, because I worked on those steamboats up and down the Mississippi River. After that, I was sent from Mobile to Houston and was going to diesel school since I was familiar with the engines. From there, I went back to Mobile and then various other places. I finally ended up in Maryland."

During this time, Loraine had his oldest child, but Autry wouldn't get to see his firstborn until she was 18 months of age. It was one of just two occasions he was apart from his wife in the past seven decades. The other was during the Korean War, when his son was born.

Autry traveled on a ship loaded with supplies down to Key West, through the Panama Canal and over to San Francisco. At that time, the Landing Craft Infantry (a seagoing assault ship) was believed not fit for the ocean.
"They changed their mind, so they had 20 of us grouped together for a trial run to Australia," Autry said. "We wound up in New Guinea. After we helped secure New Guinea, we ended up in the Leyte Gulf (Philippines), where we had a big battle with the Japanese.

"Some way, we were able to outsmart them and that is where they lost around three aircraft carriers. We lost one or two small ones too. I was in action all this time, but I was the chief engineer down in the engine room. I never knew what was happening upstairs on the deck. I could hear it, but my duty was to be down there operating those engines."

After battle in the gulf, Autry said his group traveled into Manila.

"It looked like a big pool of water with a whole bunch of toothpicks sticking out, where masts from ships were sunk in the harbor," he said.

"I was one of the lucky ones," Autry said of his time in battle. "I went in whole in mind and body, and came out whole in mind and body. I believe I am still whole in mind, but I don't think my body is whole anymore!"
After 18 months, Autry was finally able to return home and meet his oldest child.

"I came home and she didn't want anybody to touch her momma, especially a strange man! She would try to push us apart and was very determined that I was not going to put my arm around her momma."

Married at only 18, Loraine said her family wasn't very accepting of her decision at the time.

"My mother was very much against it," she said. "I was too young and she didn't have much use for sailors."
It seems Loraine made the correct decision, though not a popular one at the time. The two will have been united for 73 years in April.

"We had so much going at home during the war," Loraine continued. "There were things that we had to do like the knitting club. When I was young, I learned to knit, so I could make sweaters and beanies.

"My dad was a block warden. We would pretend that we had been wounded and they would put a patch on us to tell what was wrong. People came in and learned to take care of that particular wound."

When Autry returned home from battle, he decided to continue his education, which had halted in the seventh grade. He worked part time at a liquor store while attending high school. On his commute, there was a print shop he became fascinated with. It took about a year to get into the printing business.

But in 1951, the military requested Autry's service once more.

"They called me back and I asked them, 'What in the world are you calling me back for?' They told me, 'You're a diesel engineer.' They called all of the people that were diesel engineers and only five percent of all the other staff," Autry said. "They needed every diesel engineer for landing craft vehicle personnel."

He returned, this time in the Korean War, where Autry was a chief engineer stationed in the Philippines.

Arriving back in Texas, Autry would become an independent printer in Houston with Loraine working by his side. He sold the business in The Heights in 1969 to his father-in-law, who was a printer in Chicago.

The Autrys considered Galveston and the Brenham area before ultimately deciding on Livingston for retirement. Loraine had found an ad in the newspaper with acreage for sale.

"We called the realty company and they said, 'we can take you to it, but we can't tell you how to get there,'" Autry said. "We met them over on Highway 59 and came through what is now FM 1988. There is an area where there used to be a sugar-sand road down to the bridge and if you stopped there, you didn't get out. They brought us over and a lot of it was clay, there wasn't any rock on the roads. But there was 70 acres, so we decided to buy it. We would go out every weekend for 10 years from 1959 to 1969."

Autry said he built 90 percent of the house where the couple currently resides.

"The brickwork we did not do, but we did all the paneling and the painting."

They had friends install plumbing and electricity. Autry said all he had to do was provide beer and barbecue, and make sure he had supplies on hand.

In 1972, the couple built a second house next door for their children.

Through his association with the Lions Club, Autry begin to sell specialty-printing items. He began to get requests and would work on Wednesdays. Business boomed and the veteran found himself working full time selling products as far as Nacogdoches until the late 1990s.

These days, Walt and Loraine can be found three days of the week at the Escapees, where they eat three meals per day, meet with friends, and join in activities. Autry said he is one of the very few who has gone on hospice and has since been taken off.

The decision to relocate to Livingston is one Autry does not regret.

"It has been a very pleasant time up here and we wouldn't move for anything."

Christmas festivities include train village

LIVINGSTON -- Christmas is just around the corner and the Livingston Main Street, City of Livingston and Livingston Specialty Merchants' Guild have planned a month full of activity.

For a $10 donation, donors have the opportunity to remember or honor friends and loved ones at the Main Street Tree of Lights. The tree lighting ceremony occurred Nov. 22 at Anniversary Park. Call (936) 327-1050 for more information.

Those driving through Pedigo Park now until Dec. 31 will encounter "Christmas in the Park." Experience the wonder of Christmas driving through Pedigo Park and enjoy the holiday figures and thousands of Christmas lights on display.

Santa at Miss Effie's Cottage will occur Friday, Dec. 11, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 201 West Mill in Livingston. Bring the children downtown to see Santa and tour the historical home decorated for Christmas. Refreshments will be served and guests may take photos as well.

The Christmas Train Village will be another free photo opportunity where all can see an elaborate miniature train set traveling through different Christmas themed settings. The village is hosted by the Polk County Heritage Society at 406 North Washington from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Dec. 5-8, Dec. 10-11, Dec. 17-19, and Dec. 26. On Dec. 12, the village will be open 1 p.m. – 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 12, will have the most Christmas goings-on, as Livingston's Hometown Christmas produces entertainment and activities from noon until 9 p.m.

The food court will have over 100 arts, crafts, gift and food vendors. There will be a lighted Christmas parade and Santa will visit city hall.

At noon, the Jingle Bell Fun Run & Walk will begin at city hall. The first 150 registered participants receive a t-shirt and bells. Registration is now through Dec. 12, at the Trade Days office near Pedigo Park.

"The Arctic Express" is Julian Franklin's program suitable for all ages. It is trainloads of fun, filled with puppets, magic, storytelling, music and audience participation. This imaginary train ride magically takes kids to learn about winter holidays around the world. Hot chocolate will be served after the program that is scheduled for 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. in the Livingston Municipal Library at 707 North Tyler Avenue.

Bouncy, The World's Tallest Snowman, is a 30-foot tall snowman that possesses the same fun as a moon bounce, while encompassing the thrill and magic of winter.

Toboggan Tunnel is a Roller Sledding Ride that is over 15' tall and 45 feet long. Get ready for the most exhilarating ride you will take this winter. The Toboggan combines speed, adrenaline and mystery into one amazing attraction. Guests will bring their toboggan to the top of the slide and prepare to take flight.

For more information on the Christmas events in Livingston, go to www.visitLivingstonTexas.com or call (936) 327-5242.

The Lights Are On!

Lighting-ceremony

THE LIGHTS ARE ON! — As part of the City of Livingston holiday lighting ceremony last week, Frosty the Snowman, the Gingerbread Man and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turned out to visit with local children. The city's lights, including the large displays throughout Pedigo Park, will remain on each night through Dec. 31. (ENTERPRISE PHOTO BY ALBERT TREVINO)

HOLIDAY DONATION

Empty-Stocking-Barbie

HOLIDAY DONATION -- A collection of vintage Happy Holidays Barbie dolls was donated to the Polk County Enterprise's Empty Stocking Program collection box on Wednesday. Donald Galloway of Livingston donated the special edition dolls in memory of his late wife Kathy Bond Galloway. The collection began with the original 1988 Happy Holidays Barbie purchased by Galloway as a Christmas gift to his wife and continued as a yearly tradition. The 20-box set consists of holiday and other special edition Barbies from the 1990s and early 2000s. The dolls will be distributed to local children as part of the Christmas Empty Stocking Program.