Tag Archives: Beaumont Enterprise

Seen: a live armadillo!

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

MARTIN DIES JR. STATE PARK, Texas — You know the saying about there being “a first time for everything.”

This particular “first time” took many decades to present itself.

My wife and I saw a live armadillo scampering along a park road in this lovely state park deep in the Pineywoods of East Texas.

You see, we moved to Texas in 1984. That was — gulp! — 37 years ago. The armadillos I had ever seen — until we got here — were those that had been, um, reduced to road kill along our many thousands of miles of highways and bi-ways.

I once wrote a column for the Beaumont Enterprise — where I worked for nearly 11 years after arriving in Texas — about my frustration in never seeing a live armadillo. The only such critters I had seen had been of the type I described a few seconds ago.

We moved to Amarillo in 1995 and I was utterly certain we would see them a-plenty along the arid Caprock. Hah! Fat chance! Indeed, I noticed far fewer armadillo carcasses than we had seen along the Gulf Coast.

Over many years we have traveled the length and breadth of this vast state. Live armadillo sighting? Not a chance.

Until we ventured to Martin Dies Jr. SP.

My hope now for the little critter is that he/she stays the heck out of the way of oncoming traffic.

Time of My Life, Part 54: Technology advances

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My 8-year-old granddaughter might not know what to call this device. You know what it is. I surely do.

I started work at my first full-time reporting job in Oregon City, Ore., in the spring of 1977. Our suburban afternoon daily newspaper still operated with these gadgets.

Indeed, my favorite moment of a day publishing our newspaper occurred around noon when every one of our staff of six reporters was pounding away on their manual typewriters. I was named editor of that little — and now defunct — newspaper a couple of years after arriving there. I used to stand aside while watching the staff work feverishly to get the copy turned in on time.

We finally advanced to desk top devices that allowed us to type our copy onto floppy disks. The newsroom got significantly quieter at deadline time.

I moved in 1984 to a much larger newspaper in Beaumont, Texas, which had a significantly more advanced computer system. I stayed there nearly 11 years while the newspaper improved its publishing system along the way.

In 1995, I gravitated to my final stop in daily print journalism, moving to Amarillo, Texas, which had a publishing system named after the corporate owners: the Morris Publishing System. It was crappy. Morris Communications ditched that system to something much more workable.

My daily print career ended in the summer of 2012.

This is my way of chronicling all the changes I endured during nearly four decades in journalism. Typewriters to floppy disks to main frame computers to PCs. Now they’re taking pictures with smart phones in the field; they’re using Twitter, Instagram and assorted other media platforms to transmit the news.

It makes my head spin. Then again, my head spun plenty of times as I made my way through a craft I loved pursuing.

Today, I feel a bit like a dinosaur. I just don’t want to become extinct.

Happy Trails, Part 190: The journey continues

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Earlier today I realized something that I should’ve known when I crossed that threshold.

It is that I have lived most of life in a place I never dreamed when I was much younger I would find myself in retirement. That is Texas.

I am now 71 years of age. We moved to Beaumont, Texas in the spring of 1984 when I was a mere pup of 34. We gravitated from Beaumont to Amarillo nearly 11 years later. Then we pulled up our deeply rooted stakes on the Caprock and ventured to Collin County with our No. 1 goal to be near our granddaughter.

I mention all of this because when my wife and I got married nearly 50 years ago we never imagined, never even discussed the notion of moving to a place so far away from Oregon, where I was born and where my wife essentially grew up and came of age.

Texas beckoned in late 1983 with a phone call from my former boss, who had relocated to Beaumont to become executive editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. He wanted to know if I would be interested in working there as an editorial writer. My first reaction was to laugh.

One thing led to another in the course of the next day or two and I decided that, yes, I would like to explore that opportunity. I flew to Beaumont from Portland and spent a couple of days visiting with my old friend and mentor.

I returned to Oregon. I told my wife that the job looked appealing. My friend called, offered me the job, I accepted his offer and then relocated. Our sons were still quite young, 11 and 10 years old. My family joined me that summer.

My wife and I considered Beaumont to be part of a “three- to five-year plan.” We would live there, I could develop some more experience and then try to peddle my skills to another employer … somewhere else! Maybe back “home” in Oregon.

It didn’t transpire that way. Another opportunity did present itself in Amarillo. I flew from Beaumont to Amarillo in late 1994, spent a day interviewing at the Globe-News, returned home to Beaumont. The publisher offered me the job … etc. You know how this played out.

We are now happily retired. I still get to write. I have my blog. I also work as a freelance reporter for a couple who owns a group of weekly newspapers in Collin County. I write for the Farmersville Times. It is a serious, unabashed blast. I have returned, in a way, to where it all began for me in the 1970s: covering city council, school board and writing the occasional feature.

It has been a marvelous journey. Retirement is everything it’s cracked up to be. The road ahead still beckons and to be honest, I am thrilled that our three- to five-year plan never panned out.

Time of My Life, Part 52: Recalling the ‘Triplex’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I don’t know of many careers that haven’t suffered an embarrassment or two along the way; my career had its share of, um, regrettable moments.

One of them occurred not too many years after I arrived in Southeast Texas to work on the editorial page of the Beaumont Enterprise. The Hearst Corporation purchased the newspaper in late 1984, then brought in a new guy to run the place: George B. Irish arrived as publisher.

He quickly ingratiated himself with the power sources within the community. Then some of them — I think it was in 1985 — concocted a hare-brained public relations campaign that, shall we say, ended up face-planting at every turn.

The newspaper, because of the publisher’s standing with these folks, found itself caught up in the midst of a PR campaign to rename the Golden Triangle region. These chamber of commerce types wanted to call it the Triplex. Yep, the region that had been known for more than a century by one name would be called something else, or so these individuals sought.

They came up with a TV ad campaign that featured a faux Gen. George S. Patton Jr. — the flamboyant World War II commander — to “order” us to use the Triplex name. Actually, the fake “Patton” was more like a bad impersonation of the actor George C. Scott’s portrayal of Patton in the movie of the same name.

The newspaper’s editorial page signed on to that fiasco. We lent our editorial support to this idiotic notion. Why call it idiotic? Well, let’s just say the push back from the community was ferocious. It was fierce. It was, um, angry!

The movers and shakers had come up with this goofy notion that the region suffering at the time from the collapse of the oil and petrochemical industry no longer was as “golden” as its name suggested. It was tarnished by the economic downfall. So, let’s just change the name of the place, they said.

The term Golden Triangle was meant to identify the cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. The broader region ID’d by the name included Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties. Some folks came to calling the region the “Tripot.” Why? Because the map of the three counties drawn together reminded many folks of — get ready for it — a commode.

The seriously angry reaction came from those who believed the idea was being pushed by outsiders who had no understanding of the region or its residents’ affection for the Golden Triangle identity. You know, they had a point.

Indeed, Irish himself admitted to me privately once that he wasn’t too keen on the campaign as it developed. “That’s what happens,” he said to me a low voice, “when you have an idea developed by committee.”

This fiasco unfolded 30-some years ago. It died a fairly quick and quiet death. The idiocy never took root. Over a brief span of time, the chamber of commerce — and we at the Beaumont Enterprise — surrendered to the reality that a bad idea got the reception and met the fate that it richly deserved.

But … I still was having the time of my life.

Recall election on the horizon? Hmm?

I must stipulate right up front that I don’t know Mike Getz from the Man in the Moon. Nor do I know Tyrone Cooper.

The two of them got into a major snit at Beaumont (Texas) City Hall recently, with Getz telling Cooper — the city attorney — that he ain’t “bullet proof.”

Getz, a member of the Beaumont City Council, apparently has been prone to shooting off his mouth. The council is slated to vote on a censure resolution next week. I hope the council shows some guts, if the allegations have truth to them, and slaps this guy across the face with a formal condemnation.

I’ve been away from Beaumont for 25 years. I worked there for nearly 11 years, from April 1984 until January 1995. As editorial page editor for the Beaumont Enterprise, I witnessed my share of City Hall drama during that time. The most dramatic moment occurred when the city lost millions of dollars in unsecured funds when the company that was managing the money folded. The city’s money vaporized. City Manager Karl Nollenberger resigned in disgrace.

A recall election then began to materialize. The mayor and a city council member were subjected to a recall movement. The election fell short. The council member and the mayor survived.

So it strikes me that there just might be another recall election in the city’s future.

Read about Getz’s big mouth here.

You might recall that there was some talk about censuring Donald Trump during the impeachment inquiry that resulted in the Senate trial that acquitted him. A congressional censure wouldn’t have had much impact on the president.

It’s different at the local level, in a city the size of Beaumont (population, 118,000 residents, give or take a few). Everyone knows everyone else there. Getz reportedly has been popping off for some time. A censure would have a stinging impact on a City Council member.

It also might ignite a fire that leads to another recall petition.

Place that drew me there has vanished

The image you see with this blog illustrates what I did for a living for nearly 37 years. I took notebooks such as this with me to jobs in Oregon and then to Texas.

I mention this notebook today because we have returned from visiting the last stop on my professional journey. I came away with a huge trove of good feelings, seeing old friends, celebrating my son’s birthday and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather under a bright Texas Panhandle sun.

However, I also came away with a feeling of sadness. You see, the newspaper that summoned my wife and me there 25 years ago has all but vanished. The Amarillo Globe-News used to be a towering presence in the community. It has been decimated, reduced to a tiny fraction of its former self.

The Globe-News’s building — at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street — is empty. Its signage has been stripped off the exterior wall. There’s an “AVAILABLE” sign on the property.  What’s left of the operation has moved into Suite 103 inside the tallest building in Amarillo, a 31-story bank tower down the street and around the corner.

News racks? Where they sell single copies of the Globe-News? I didn’t see a single one anywhere. I was told that convenient stores still sell the paper. I had a thought about buying the paper, but then I realized I would shell out more than $3 for a journal that would have little news of interest to me. I took a pass.

I guess it’s a sign of the times and the changing media era into which we are still plunging. My previous professional stop, in Beaumont, way down yonder on the Gulf Coast, is undergoing similar retrenchment. It, too, has all but vanished. The newspaper still operates out of its historic structure at 380 Walnut Street, but the corporate owners are looking for a smaller site to house its diminished staff. The Enterprise will vacate that site eventually, although the Hearst Corp., which owns the newspaper, is a proven media company with much greater newspaper chops that Morris Communications, which sold all its properties — including the Globe-News — and then closed its newspaper operation.

That ain’t all, man. My first professional stop, the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier has vanished. It closed completely in the late 1980s. Its parent company — Scripps League Newspaper — sold all its remaining properties and then ceased functioning altogether.

I am saddened by what has happened to print daily journalism. It was driven home to me this weekend on a return to Amarillo. The fellowship of friends was wonderful. The absence of any tangible evidence of the newspaper where I once practiced my craft with great joy and excitement, though, pains my heart.

But … retirement from all of that remains equally joyful and full of adventure.

We’ve lost a first-rate print … and broadcast journalist

Jim Lehrer is gone. I just learned it a few minutes ago and I am saddened by the news.

He was a longtime PBS news anchor, co-hosting the “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” on the public TV network. Before he went to broadcasting the news to us, he was a print guy, a solid newspaper reporter who earned his spurs right here in Texas, where he spent much of his youth.

That brings me to a brief recounting of an encounter I had with Jim Lehrer.

I was working at the Beaumont Enterprise in the early 1990s when I spotted a gentleman standing in front of our newsroom secretary’s desk. I walked across the newsroom, turned the corner and stood at the elevator. I looked back at the secretary and whispered, “Is that Jim Lehrer?” To which the gentleman answered, “Yes. It is.” I was embarrassed to the max.

I came back around the corner, introduced myself and he returned the intro to me. We chatted right there and then headed into the newspaper library. He was looking for newspaper clippings as part of his research for a book he was writing. He attended French High School in Beaumont and spoke of his Golden Triangle connection.

We had a wonderful and fruitful visit for seemingly forever in the library.

Then he left. I felt as if I made a new friend. I don’t know how he felt about me. It would be my hope that he got as much out of our visit as I did. I never continued that relationship.

A year later, he came back to Beaumont to offer the keynote speech to the Press Club of Southeast Texas. We met again in the buffet line at lunch. I said “hello,” and — as God is my witness — he remembered our meeting the previous year.

Was I a bit star struck? More than likely. It is my story and I am sticking to it.

R.I.P., Jim Lehrer.

Happy Trails, Part 176: Rediscovering anonymity

Ahh, anonymity is grand.

It is one of the joys I have discovered on this retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked.

We relocated more than a year ago to Collin County, Texas, after spending 23 years in Amarillo and nearly 11 years before that in Beaumont. I don’t want to oversell or overstate anything, so I will take care when I write these next few words.

The craft I pursued in the Golden Triangle and then in the Texas Panhandle — as opinion page editor for two once-fairly significant newspapers — gave me a bit of an elevated profile. I was able to write editorials for both newspapers as well as publish signed columns with my name and mug shot along with the written essays. Readers would see my face on the pages and then would greet me with, “Oh, you’re the guy in the newspaper!” 

I went through that little ritual for more than three decades in vastly different regions of Texas.

We now live far from either place. I do write for a couple of weekly newspapers these days — the Princeton Herald and the Farmersville Times. It’s a freelance gig that I sought out. The publisher of the papers has been kind enough to put me to work — but on my terms!

I now blend into the scenery. No one recognizes me on sight. I’m unsure whether my name will remain anonymous, given the exposure it will get by appearing on top of news features I hope to write for the Herald and the Times.

One more point I want to make. In Beaumont and in Amarillo, I occasionally found myself discussing politics and public policy in the most unusual locations. I would encounter friends and acquaintances who seemed to presume that since I wrote about politics at work, that I live and breathe it when I am off the clock. They are mistaken.

I once vowed that I would not discuss work in some places, such as at church. More than once I have told folks in the pew next to me that “I came here to talk to God, not to talk about politics with you or anyone else.”

So far, so good here in Princeton. Anonymity is a joy I intend to cherish for as long as humanly possible.

Port Neches refinery fire is especially scary … for me

I heard the news this morning of that big explosion and fire way down yonder in Port Neches, Texas.

ABC News kept saying it was just east of Houston. The local Dallas-Fort Worth ABC affiliate, WFAA, referred to it more precisely: that Port Neches is just 15 miles south of Beaumont.

That kind of reference gets my attention because, as you might know, I lived and worked in Beaumont for nearly 11 years before my wife and I migrated from the Golden Triangle to Amarillo in 1995.

There have been no fatalities associated with the disaster. Some folks were injured. I worry about their health.

On a broader scale, I worry about our many Golden Triangle friends who live near the huge petrochemical and oil refinery complex throughout the Beaumont/Port Arthur region.

Petrochemicals and the refining of crude oil is the economic lifeblood of the region. When we moved to Beaumont in 1984, there was a school of thought that all one had to do to make a comfortable living was just get a high school diploma and then apply for work at one of the many petrochemical plants. They paid well. They were lifetime jobs if that’s what you wanted to do.

My former boss at the Beaumont Enterprise once told me that all those bass boats, expensive pickups and SUVs were paid for my the handsome wages earned at those plants.

There also is the danger associated with working at those facilities. I don’t recall seeing any major refinery fires explode during my time in Beaumont. The Port Neches fire, though, should remind us of the danger inherent in that line of work.

I haven’t even mentioned — until this very moment — the air quality issues associated with living in the proximity of those plants. That’s a story for another time.

I am worrying tonight, on Thanksgiving Eve, about the health of those who work in that environment and those — especially our many friends — who live nearby.

Please be safe.

Time of My Life, Part 38: Taking on a music legend

It’s not every day you get to cross swords with a music legend when you think you’re trying to say the right thing.

Back when I was working for a living, writing editorials and editing an opinion page, I had the rare honor of running into some serious headwinds over an editorial I wrote regarding a legendary music icon. The idea for the editorial came from a colleague. It developed quickly.

In the late 1980s, I was working as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise on the Gulf Coast of Texas. We got word of a plan to name the Interstate 10 bridge over the Neches River, which separates Jefferson County from Orange County after the late George Jones, the country music icon with deep roots in Southeast Texas; he who was born in Deep East Texas just north of the Golden Triangle.

My colleague and friend insisted that was a bad idea. Why? Because Jones had a terrible history of alcohol abuse. Jones was a serious bad boy, given how he overindulged in adult beverages.

My colleague insisted it would be hypocritical to name a motor vehicle bridge after someone who lived a wild life and abused alcohol all along the way.

So, we published the editorial. We insisted that naming the bridge after Jones would send a terribly ironic message, that it would be a tacit endorsement of this admittedly brilliant country musician’s behavior.

I got push back from many of Ol’ Possum’s fans. After all, he had played many dates over many decades in Southeast Texas. He was one of us, they told me. How can we say such a thing about a fellow who gave so much joy to so many music fans?

The word got out over our objection to naming the bridge after George Jones. One day the phone rang. The caller turned out to be Nancy Jones, Ol’ Possum’s fourth wife, to whom he remained married until his death in 2013.

Nancy Jones and I had a cordial conversation, even though she objected to the Enterprise’s position that naming the bridge after Jones would be a bad public relations move. She wanted me to know that her husband had been sober for many years, that he was not the same man who engaged in that frightful behavior of his younger years.

We held our ground. I thanked Mrs. Jones for the phone call and for her courtesy.

As for whether they named the bridge after George Jones, the state and the adjoining counties thought better of it. Hey, it was worth the fight.