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Grin and bear it: Lufkin woman boosts spirits during pandemic by providing 'bear hunt' in her yard for kids to enjoy during daily walks

While nothing good can be said about COVID-19 itself, it has served as a reminder for many to look to their community for the small and happy moments.

Many Lufkin parents have been working from home for their own safety and to keep an eye on young kids, especially after the schools shut down when the virus first began growing in Lufkin. In an attempt to provide some entertainment, many households across town began putting out teddy bears so the kids could “go on a bear hunt” while out on their regular — and much needed — walks.

Kathy Riley didn’t realize how big of a hit her Bear would be when she first started. She was just doing it to be a part of the community and to give the kids something fun to look forward to.

Now, Bear, his family and even his little girlfriend Betsie are providing some comfort and delight as they move through their little lives that are played out on Riley’s front lawn.

“The kids just get the biggest kick out of it,” she said. “I was going to only do it for a little while but the kids love it so much so I’m just going to keep going with these different ideas.”

Bear is three feet tall and can be found doing just about anything, depending on the day. Mama Bear wears an old-fashioned bonnet and Sister Bear can be seen with her hair in ponytails.

JOEL ANDREWS/The Lufkin Daily News 

Bear, his family and even his little girlfriend Betsie are providing some comfort and delight as they move through their little lives that are played out on Kathy Riley’s front lawn.

When everybody was struggling to find toilet paper, Bear went out on his own hunt for some Charmin. It took quite a while and he tried everything, even a crystal ball, to find himself some toilet paper.

One kid on the street lent Bear their car so he could drive to the store. It was a rainy day when he finally found some Charmin, but he sat on a toilet with a little sign saying “Finally.”

Betsie is new to the neighborhood and she and Bear are building a relationship, Riley said. They’ve been spotted holding hands and getting to know each other for a little while. The relationship is still new, but Riley can’t help but think there may be some wedding bells in the future.

“Yesterday he was sitting on a bench with his arm around her,” Riley said on Thursday. “They’ve got to date a while, though.”

Riley said that families will come from throughout the Crown Colony neighborhood to check in on Bear. She has also been posting pictures online so her friends can check in daily, even if they can’t drive past. She plans to do this as long as she can come up with new ideas and keep the kids entertained.

Riley promised a special set up today in celebration of Independence Day. Those interested in seeing what Bear is up to should go on a bear hunt in Crown Colony.

Self-sufficiency in East Texas: The market for backyard animals like chickens has exploded as many strive for self-sufficiency

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in an occasional series about how East Texans have begun to adopt self-sufficient practices in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many people in Angelina County and around the world have become interested in self-sustainment after the coronavirus pandemic put a hold on many aspects of modern life.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agency created a Backyard Basics initiative to reintroduce Texans to practices used for centuries to sustain individuals and families.

“Now that people are spending more time at home and dealing with shortages of foods like eggs and fresh vegetables, they are seeing how some time-tested practices of our forebearers can help them manage these and other challenges,” said Todd Swift, regional program leader for the Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension’s South Region. “People can improve their food security and overall quality of life by using these practices to get more personal control over their lives, especially during more difficult times.”

Local feed stores said they have witnessed quite a rise in the number of people who are buying chickens and supplies for coops.

Kathy Evans with Tractor Supply in Lufkin said the sale of animals has greatly increased.

“We normally sell chickens for like one month out of the year, and we have had them consistently come in weekly for the past few months,” she said.

Robert Massingill with Southland Feed & Supply said they literally can’t get enough chicks to meet the demand. However, he said the large animal feed hasn’t increased at all.

Joe Clark said he has seen a rise in people buying chicks and chickens for egg production at J. Clark’s Feed & Fertilizer. He said the price on chickens and chicks has risen slightly, but it is nothing compared to the increase in price of beef, which he attributes to retailers rather than producers.

The Merrell and Davis families have dipped their toe into both gardening and raising animals.

Kelli Davis said her family was going to get chicks for Easter, but when they saw how COVID-19 was starting to affect the world, they put a rush on it. They got four chicks right at the start of spring break from a local, and then spring break turned into the rest of the year, she said.

They also received two hens from one of her son’s former teachers.

“We wanted to be able to have eggs right now and have the whole experience and be a little bit more self-sufficient,” Kelli said.

The hens are buff orpington chickens. Kelli said they specifically wanted to find this breed because a friend told her that they act like pets, even purring. They also have four pullets that started as day-old chicks and have now grown to be out with the two older hens.

“We have them where they’ll free range in the yard, and they’ll come up to you like they’re little dogs. They’re precious,” Kelli said. “They come and they’ll sit on the porch with us. If you ever see our Facebook page, it’s my children and the chickens.”

Right now, they are only producing two eggs a day, so they serve more as pets right now than as a source of food, she said. However, they hope to have five to six eggs a day around August.

Glenda Merrell said that though the pandemic is serious, it has been cool for the family to come together and do things they never had time for.

Some friends asked if a couple of ducks they were raising could come live on the Merrell’s pond when they grew up, and they agreed. Then the two ducks turned into four ducks, and the Merrell’s picked up a load of chicks from a local feed store.

The chicks are still living in a small kennel in the garage until they are bigger, but the ducks have been in the backyard until they get used to living outside. They also placed two kiddie pools in the backyard to help create a mud run for the ducks.

Glenda’s son, Chase, built a chicken coop out of scratch from repurposed material. Chase said he had never done woodwork before, so he was interested in finally learning how to do it. Part of the coop was made from leftover tin that a nearby school didn’t need after finishing a fence.

“We’ve reused as much as we could reuse. We didn’t want to go buy everything brand new,” Glenda said. “We can’t stand the thought of putting things that don’t have to go in the landfill in the landfill.”

Glenda said they have learned little things along the way to make their projects more successful. They learned that you have to watch the coop and fence area carefully to spot where predators might be trying to catch a late-night snack. They have reinforced certain areas of the coop to prevent access.

They also learned that bread is not the greatest snack for ducks unless it is balled up and sparsely given. Instead, they try to give them treats of grapes, lettuce and other natural things.

“I wasn’t totally prepared, but because of having livestock before, the mess was not unexpected to me. I think for some people, that might be brand new,” Glenda said. “I keep the mud boots by the back door and come out every morning, turn on the hose and make them their mud run.”

At first, there is a pretty high cost to get into raising animals, Glenda said. However, they hope to recoup costs by the eggs from the chicks, and they appreciate the project they’ve had together, she said.

The next project they hope to get into is raising bees.

The process of raising animals can be tough, and a couple of weeks ago, they lost her son’s favorite pullet named Bucky. He was devastated, so Kelli searched her chicken-lover groups on Facebook and found an ad to win eggs or four day-old chicks.

“There was like 250 entries, and it was on the day that Bucky died. I didn’t think anything of it, and I just did everything they said — hit done, like their page. On Sunday, I heard back, and I had won 16 eggs or four chicks, so we went from six chickens to five because Bucky died, and now we have 16 eggs in an incubator, two full-grown chickens and three pullets,” Kelli said.

The chickens have become something like neighborhood pets, as well, she said.

“Everybody who walks at night in the neighborhood comes and visits the chickens, or the chickens rush out to the road to them because they expect everybody to give them a treat,” Kelli said. “People have started bringing stuff here and there like grapes. The chickens are known in the neighborhood now.”

Her two sons have now learned how to clean out a chicken coop and have learned about responsibility. She said the experience has brought the family closer.

“Do your research,” Kelli said. “They are cute, but the chick stage is really messy. It is a lot of work, but it is worth it, and you grow to like the animals. I thought I was just going to be in it for the eggs, and now I’ve got pets.”

Andre Emmons named principal of Diboll High School

Andre Emmons has been named head principal of Diboll High School after 15 years in education.

Emmons has spent time as a classroom teacher, coach, testing coordinator, athletic coordinator and assistant principal at Diboll High School.

“As the principal of Diboll High School, I look forward to the opportunity to serve the students and staff, as well as the community of Diboll,” Emmons said. “As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, ‘Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.’”

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in educational leadership from Stephen F. Austin State University and a Doctorate of Education in educational leadership from SFA.

Emmons describes his road to becoming an educator as an accumulation of things and people with his family and his faith as large parts of the inspiration behind the decision.


Andre Emmons, his wife, Annysue Emmons, and their sons, AJ and Alex.

“As I look back, I recall always having a heart to help others reach their goals,” he said. “I believe it’s an innate passion that God has placed in my heart to serve. As an educator, there is no greater reward than seeing a positive transformation in a kid and knowing you had a direct impact on their life. Being an educator allows your words and deeds to live on well after you leave this world.”

His first taste of leadership came from coaching basketball. He said educational leadership and coaching are very similar — both requiring a great amount of planning, discipline and hard work.

“As a basketball coach I focused on building a team of student athletes who would become champions on and off the court,” Emmons said. “Now, as principal of Diboll High School, I am building a team of teachers, staff and students, as we work together in becoming an A-rated campus.”

He said his goal as head principal is to build upon an already strong curriculum and provide education opportunities to ensure DHS graduates are college- and career-ready.

Part of Emmons’ future as a leader will involve directing his campus, staff and students through the coronavirus pandemic. He said the pandemic has definitely presented the district with many unique challenges, and he believes the foremost of importance to everyone is the safety of students and staff.

“As a district, we hope to have our students back in the school building for instruction this fall; however, in the event that we must provide them with remote learning, we are preparing for that, as well,” he said. “Whatever we have to do, we are willing, because we understand that our kids are our future.”

Emmons is married to Annysue Emmons, a local nurse practitioner, and they have two boys, AJ and Alex, who both attend schools in Diboll. He also serves as the youth pastor at St. Thomas Spirit and Truth Ministries in Diboll.

He said he and his family are very active in the community and have a heart for serving.