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Heritage Festival connects generations through fun

NEDERLAND — Justice Marthand’s family was thinking of unique present ideas for the 10-year-old, who just celebrated her birthday in January.

Justice, a fourth grade student at Hillcrest Elementary School in Nederland, is a fairly prolific painter with dozens of completed works of varying sizes to her name.

“She has been artistic forever, and I’ve been really impressed with the drawings she comes up with and the paintings she comes up with,” stepmother Brooke Marthand said. “We were kind of thinking of birthday present ideas, and I said, ‘Why don’t we show her that you can follow through with your dreams and make money with art? Let’s get her a booth at the Heritage Festival.’ It’s teaching her good work ethic and having to be mindful about what she is painting, making time to get enough together to be able to pull it off.”

So it is that Justice will be front and center at her own Nederland Heritage Festival booth March 14 and 15.

Justice said she has been painting since a young age, “like 4 or 5” after a teacher convinced her the discipline was not all that different from traditional classes like math and reading.

“So it made me get the urge to do art,” Justice said. “It’s creative, and your imagination can make it all. I usually paint backgrounds that are very pretty; places I imagine like the night sky and the forest.”

Justice does most of her work in the backyard after a couple of rambunctious brush strokes left paint on her home walls and carpet.

Justice said she would like to paint her dog because he is a “giant dog” named Pickles that is 2. There is no early word if that project is going to be completed by the festival.

“I’m going to have a booth and sell all of my paintings to people who really like them,” she said.

Justice is expecting help from her Nani, Paw Paw, brothers Parker and Noam, dad Justice and mom Sara to pull everything off.

Is she looking forward to her first public showing?

“Oh yeah, of course,” she said excitedly. “Why not?”

Community showcase

Justice’s story is one of many from the Nederland Heritage Festival that has connected generations of attendees for the better part of 50 years.

Scheduled this year from March 10-15, the event has seen countless young girls and boys grow up to become adults who turned around and take their own children to the festival.

Shannon Hemby has spent decades in support of the annual event, first as a volunteer of more than 20 years and, since 2016, as the festival executive director.

Shannon Hemby has served as Nederland Heritage Festival executive director since 2016. (Dee Jordan/The News)

“It has just grown so much,” she said. “When we started getting involved, there were maybe 20 to 30 volunteers total, and now we have close to 100 volunteers. That makes it so good. We’re spreading it out and getting more people involved, getting the youth involved. We’ve got a lot of chairmen of events now that are in their mid-20s to early 30s, which is great, so we know for the future of the festival, they are our future. They will continue this tradition.”

As young parents years ago, the draw for Hemby and her husband was the festival’s family atmosphere. They knew they could bring their children and feel safe.

“Of course, we always loved the food, supporting other nonprofit organizations and listening to the music,” she recalls.

Today, she enjoys the teamwork Nederland’s public organizations, businesses and leaders share when it comes time to making the festival run.

“We do things for the police department, fire department, the parks department,” she said. “In exchange, they also help us by giving police support during festival week. The parks department lets us use Tex Ritter Park. The Chamber has a booth here. We all work together because we have one common denominator – the city of Nederland. We want to provide something that is special for Nederland.”

That focus has taken on heightened efforts since Hemby took over as executive director.

“I absolutely love this job,” she said. “My favorite part is when I get to go donate money back to the city, make those donations to the police department, the fire department, the parks department. We love giving back. We also do several scholarships for seniors graduating from Nederland High School so they can continue their education. We want our young people to continue their education, become something and, hopefully, give back to the community when they are adults.”

Special section

Be sure to check out The Port Arthur News on Saturday (March 7) for a 24-page special section devoted completely to the Nederland Heritage Festival.

Among the highlights are day-by-day festival game and entertainment schedules, profiles on this year’s honorees and pageant participant pictures.

The first day of the Nederland Heritage Festival Carnival is March 10, with carnival hours from 4 to 11 p.m.