YEAR IN REVIEW: A long strange trip
The dawn of 2021 was just 12 months ago, but perhaps many folks feel like they’ve aged in dog years while navigating the twists and turns of a worldwide pandemic and a major snow storm while trying to live their day to day lives, earn a living and make sure their children are taken care of.
There’s been a lot that’s happened this year. Some good, some bad, and some truly inspiring things made it into the pages of the Lockhart Post-Register over the past 12 months.
Keep reading to remember what happened during an eventful year in Caldwell County.
Caldwell County Sheriff Mike Lane was sworn in, replacing Daniel Law, who had served Caldwell County for 20 years. Lockhart City Council paved the way for the farmer’s market’s return, passing formal guidelines. Good citizen Mike Abbott came to the rescue of Family Dollar manager Rene Borja, finding and returning a $2,200 deposit that had flown off the roof of the employee’s car. Caldwell County commissioners accepted a bid to move the Confederate monument from the Caldwell County Courthouse lawn to the Caldwell County Museum. The city reauthorized its COVID-19 grant program for businesses. A centralized signup for the COVID-19 vaccine was announced.
Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden issued an order allowing bars to reopen on Feb. 1. Winter Storm Uri hit mid-month, bringing with it snowfall but also rolling power outages that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas blamed on frozen wind turbines and other faulty equipment and temporary problems with water distribution. A lost dog that was prematurely adopted out made headlines and started a conversation about updating protocol and procedures at the Lockhart Animal Shelter.
To the delight of some and the abject horror of others, Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask order in Texas. The Lockhart City Council adopted a resolution that aimed to offset the higher cost of power and limit increases to water rates due to consumption during the February winter storm. Amazon chose the greater San Marcos region for its newest delivery station. Caldwell County commissioners voted on measures to aid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, entering into a memorandum of understanding with Curative. The city council passed an ordinance decreasing the time an animal could stay at the shelter before being put up for adoption. Vaccine eligibility expanded, opening up to all adults in Texas. The Kid Fish Tournament closed out the month on a positive note by making its triumphant return after a one-year COVID-imposed hiatus.
COVID-19 vaccine opportunities continued to expand. The Lockhart City Council voted to create the city’s new Parks and Recreation Department and with it, the position of Parks and Recreation Director, as well as a plan to cover winter power costs. Lockhart ISD voted to approve the hiring of additional staff to support enrollment numbers and growth projections. The Chisholm Trail Roundup confirmed it would return in the summer with new events and and an updated format. Indoor robotic farming company Iron Ox broke ground in Lockhart. The Texas Historical Commission ruled the Confederate monument could move from the courthouse to the museum, provided the project began within six months of THC approval and was complete within 60 days of work beginning.
The month began with the Lockhart Lions ending a 30-year baseball playoff drought, the Lady Lions softball team recording a convincing playoff win, and Cinco de Mayo returning to the Caldwell County square, heralding a gradual return to normalcy in the community and giving people something to cheer about. Lockhart City Council voted to lend city support to a summer/fall outdoor concert series called “Courthouse Nights.” Voters cast their ballots in Prairie Lea and Martindale. Prairie Lea voters passed a bond issue to help it expand its facilities and Martindale voters chose Katherine Glaze as the new leader of their city government. The family of a missing Texas State University student who disappeared near Luling offered a $10,000 reward. Governor Greg Abbott issued an order prohibiting mask mandates. A pair of San Marcos residents were arrested in connection with the slaying of two teens in Martindale. Lockhart High School graduates ended the month with the car parade that began during the pandemic and by walking the stage into their lives’ next chapters at graduation.
The Lockhart City Council began the month by passing a gas ordinance that opened the valve for a second gas utility to come to Lockhart, prompting us to write a silly headline enjoyed by most third-graders and some adults. The 130 Environmental Park officially opened, bringing a new solid waste landfill to the region for the first time in about 30 years. County commissioners voted to proceed with an application that could allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in the county on Election Day. The Chisholm Trail Roundup & Rodeo went on as scheduled and was a success. An “armed and dangerous” fugitive spotted in Martindale was arrested in Arkansas.
The month began with a bang, but enough about fireworks. The Hershey Creamery Company announced its plans to expand operations to Lockhart and LISD Superintendent Mark Estrada won regional superintendent of the year honors. The Caldwell Christian Ministries Food Pantry’s community garden reported that, going into the summer harvest, it had already supplied its clients with more than 276 pounds of fresh produce. An entrepreneur announced her plans to convert a bail bonds facility on US 183 into an outdoor bar and music venue. The downtown parklet belonging to Little Trouble was awarded a three-month extension. After a couple of months of good feelings with regard to vaccines and the pandemic, COVID-19 cases once again were on the rise amid flagging vaccine rates and the emergence of a Delta variant that led hospitalization rates to again steadily increase. The Lockhart City Council amended their ordinances to include a new article titled “Use of Public Areas” which effectively made pooping in the street a $500 fine, prompting another silly headline that scored well with all three people surveyed. The month concluded with the CDC urging all people to wear masks amid the emergence of the Delta variant and the governor countering that doing so would continue to be voluntary in Texas.
Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden opened the month with a stern message for anti-vaxxers: “If you are a self-proclaimed expert on vaccines, I wish you well and I hope you don’t catch it. Because if you aren’t taking the vaccine, you have a great chance of getting seriously ill. Those are the statistical facts.” Congressman Lloyd Doggett called out the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to comply with a bill requiring hot air balloon operators to get medical certificates. Lockhart ISD said it would comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order disallowing mask mandates and allow facial coverings to remain optional for students and staff. That was far from being the end of that discussion, though, as they determined they’d reconsider making them mandatory at their regular meeting, the same week they kicked off the school year with a pep rally for the district’s teachers. On a sad note, the community mourned the loss of longtime business owner Johnny Barron, owner and operator of Johnny and Sons Paint and Body Shop, Johnny’s Wrecker Service and Barron’s Custom Plowing, who died at the age of 80. The month ended with the Lockhart ISD board of trustees saying no to mask mandates and yes to property taxes, which went up despite a tax rate decrease due to rising property values.
LISD Superintendent Mark Estrada inched closer to being named superintendent of the year in Texas, being named a finalist for the annual honor the same week the Lockhart Lions opened their 2021 football season with a narrow victory over Victoria West, a 2020 playoff team. August’s rejection of a mask mandate was short lived, with the board voting 5-2 to reinstate them amid a spike in cases at Lockhart ISD campuses. Diez y Seis and National Night Out were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns and a Tilmon woman, Dena Katharine Harris Storch, was arrested and charged with murdering her husband, 82-year-old Lothar Storch. Martindale’s longtime police chief was fired and no one ever really found out why. Work began on a large Barbecue Capital of Texas mural that now graces the side of the State Farm building at the corner of Main and Market streets. Former LISD Board Member Ira Guyton — the first Black LISD school board member — passed away. The month ended with a jam packed news cycle: a group of citizens managed to raise the money necessary to move the Confederate monument to the museum in the nick of time, and, citing disapproval of the board’s decision to allow a mask mandate to continue, the downtown parklet was granted a stay of execution, and Steve Johnson resigned as President of the LISD Board of Trustees.
The Parkview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center celebrated new management and again began welcoming residents after successfully addressing damages incurred during the winter storm. The COVID-19 vaccination rates began showing improvement and, for the first time in awhile, the County’s military run COVID-19 test site reported zero positive tests. It was also a busy month for crime headlines. Caldwell County Sheriff’s deputies arrested four men wanted in connection with an alleged chop shop in Lytton Springs, and a Martindale man was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after allegedly shooting and killing an Austin man who was parked outside his house. Terry Duane Turner posted $150,000 bail hours after turning himself in on a charge that he murdered 31-year-old Adil Dghoughi in the early morning hours of Oct. 11. Masks again became optional at Lockhart ISD amid improving COVID-19 numbers, Michael Wright became the new LISD board president, and music fans enjoyed a few days of folksy Americana tunes at the Old Settler’s Music Festival.
Ah, November. A time when a county commissioner’s thoughts turn to turkey and, if it’s right after the completion of a decennial Census, redistricting. Caldwell Commissioners began that process with a series of hearings in which they tackled the task of revising the borders to deal with uneven growth while making sure to avoid gerrymandering. Meanwhile, the FAA proposed a rule requiring commercial hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates when operating for hire just three years after former President Trump signed that requirement into law. Luling was named the eventual new home of an emergency evacuation center that will double as an event space and community center due to its proximity to a hospital and access to I-10. Rebecca Pulliam was appointed to the Lockhart ISD board to fill the vacancy created when Johnson resigned. The month ended with area officials giving the annual “state of the county” presentation, which the Lockhart Post-Register published. The 4,000-word narrative largely boiled down to one thing that most people already knew: This county is growing. And it’s growing a lot.
This year, which lasted seemingly as long as an HBO series but with fewer cliffhangers and a dearth of creative combinations of naughty words, is finally coming to an end. The Dickens Parade returned with 2020’s reverse format. Storch was formally indicted in her husband’s murder. The community garden’s bumper crop continued into fall. A Kingsbury woman whose partner was killed in a 2020 crash involving an off-duty San Marcos police officer that was no billed by a grand jury said she isn’t finished, vowing to keep going until the case is presented to another grand jury. The Martindale schoolhouse is now an official state historic site. The midterm election cycle has officially begun with the passing of the candidate filing deadline, which promises a few interesting likely hotly contested local and state races for people to keep an eye on. Sadly, the year is ending much like it began: with uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 as cases are again on the rise and a new highly contagious variant accounting for many of these cases.
Who knows? The future is what you make of it. The Lockhart Post-Register hopes you and yours will stay safe and healthy in the New Year and that you make it one to remember. Happy New Year, Caldwell County!