STEPHEN HEMELT COLUMN: Wrong card, right town: Week was a winner

Published 12:05 am Saturday, June 22, 2019

Stephen Hemelt

A great week was crystalized Thursday at The Medical Center of Southeast Texas.

The hospital brings together community-minded locals for good times, good food, good work and a surprising amount of singing as the weekly lunchtime home of Rotary Club of Port Arthur.

As a guest this week of Rotarian and The Port Arthur News editor Ken Stickney, I was treated to a welcoming atmosphere and, quite surprisingly, the chance for a fistful of cash.

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Rotarian Debra Poindexter was the first to say hello. The accomplished community fundraiser she is, Debra quickly explained Rotary club’s ongoing raffle event, which can be entered with the purchase of a ticket. Five dollars later gave me five chances to win.

Following an informative presentation from Entergy on advanced meter reading and energy-efficient installation options, it was time to pick a ticket winner.

What do you know? My ticket was selected.

That gets you to the second round of raffle play, where you are allowed to pick a card from the deck in hopes of selecting the winning one, thus earning you half of the 50/50 pot.

If the winning card is not selected, the wrong card is thrown out and the pot continues to grow. Next week’s raffle ticket winner gets better odds at drawing the winning card.

By the time I got to Rotary’s meeting this week, there were approximately a dozen cards left and a healthy winning pot on the line.

Thursday also marked my fourth day as publisher of The Port Arthur News, so winning the pot would certainly have made for an amazing first week on the job.

Unfortunately, I blew it. The correct card was not chosen, meaning every local Rotarian or friend-of-Rotarian better make it to next week’s meeting.

That lunch visit was only part of my fun. I also need to give a special thank you to Tom Neal.

The cheerful Museum of the Gulf Coast director led a wonderful induction ceremony Thursday evening for artist Ragan Gennusa. He also found time within a celebration of more than 100 supporters to answer my questions and provide this newcomer with a 20-minute local history lesson that would impress any tenured college professor.

Gennusa, who starred on the football field and in the arts classroom during his high school career in Port Arthur, was especially gracious in accepting the honor.

Those in attendance quickly knew they were in the presence of a true community giver when Gennusa spent the vast majority of his speech thanking others for their roles in his success.

Gennusa acts the same way when not in front of a crowd. Accomplished photographer Bart Bragg introduced me to Gennusa the day before when both stopped by The Port Arthur News.

Their passion for the arts and mutual appreciation for the many successful people who have come from this area was something special to witness.

I also need to thank Port Arthur Public Information Officer Cheryl Gibbs and Interim City Manager Rebecca Underhill, who welcomed me to Friday’s ceremony honoring the city’s newest police officers.

I walked into City Hall just trying to find my way among the hustle and bustle of election season and walked away feeling a connection with a city and community that is so easy to call home.

My wife, Candace, and children — 11-year-old Dominick and 9-year-old Mallory — have already made fast friends in a short amount of time, even stopping by to enjoy some fun at the Nederland Swimming Pool.

It’s obvious how welcoming this community is to new families.

In fact, that’s what inspires me and our newspaper team.

We, at The Port Arthur News, are committed to covering and reporting the stories that most impact and interest you. That means we need to hear from you.

You are welcome to send me an email, call our office or let’s plan for a chat.

It’s going to be fun watching us grow together.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at or 409-860-9903.