MONIQUE BATSON — Special people create hometown feel across our community

Published 12:06 am Friday, March 3, 2023

When people ask where I’m from, I always reply with, “here.” Southeast Texas is such a close-knit community, almost every city is my hometown. 

I started elementary school in Beaumont. I graduated from Nederland. I live in Port Neches, where my children have always attended school. And I’ve worked at publications in Jefferson and Hardin counties. 

No matter where I am, I say it’s home. 

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But there’s something different about Port Arthur and Mid County. 

This month makes two years since I joined the staff at The Port Arthur News. People frequently question my reason for coming here, and the answer is always the same — it just felt right. 

But with it came an unexpected benefit. 

In the last two years, I’ve developed incredible relationships in and around the specific cities of Port Arthur, Port Neches, Groves and Nederland. It’s no longer just the areas in which I grew up and worked. Instead it’s an area with amazing people who truly love Southeast Texas and work tirelessly to make it a better place. 

It’s people like Constable Christopher Bates, who goes above and beyond the job of a public servant. Next month he’ll host his annual scholarship breakfast, which has raised funds for local high school students since 2015. In addition, he also hosts an annual toy drive during the holidays that provides economically underserved families in Port Arthur with toys for their children. 

It’s people like Carolyn Thibodeaux, who has truly dedicated herself to her work as the children’s librarian at the Port Arthur Public Library. But in addition, she works with the African American Cultural Society to educate people of all ages about some of the most significant moments in history. 

It’s the Adrienne Lotts, Mandy Claytons, Jon Deckerts and Mike Tobiases who work in our local school districts and ensure the students get the recognition they deserve. 

And then there are the hidden gems who bring a spotlight to Southeast Texas without people even realizing it. 

Recently I met Enjoli Bush, who took first place in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s annual Art and Photography Contest. One would never guess by looking at her stunning painting “Keepher” that she only learned to paint two years ago and has never received any formal training. In just a short period of time, she’s developed the talent to sustain her family from her work. 

Twice now I’ve talked with Lamar State College Port Arthur instructor Maurice Abelman, who has provided opportunities for his fine arts students to display their talents across Southeast Texas — first at Port Arthur Little Theater and this weekend during the second annual Beaumont Mural Festival. 

On Monday I spoke with Port Arthur Independent School District administrator Jael Moody, who is generating rave reviews for her performance in Beaumont Community Player’s “Sister Act.” It’s almost impossible to believe the naturally talented singer and actress grew up too shy to even be in the school choir. 

And it’s people like Mike and Becky Tschirhart, who own the two local Chick-fil-A restaurants and recently went out of their way to make a Nederland man’s 1,000th visit one he will never forget (and also send me out with an incredible diet lemonade that everyone should definitely try). 

There are far too many wonderful people to name that are working on the local city councils, in the police and fire departments, with city staffs, in school districts and with chambers of commerce and economic development corporations to make this corner of Southeast Texas an incredible place to be. 

And while I’ve always known it was, I didn’t truly learn the extent until two years ago. 

I truly want to thank the people of Port Arthur and Mid County for welcoming me so kindly into your council chambers, school campuses, office buildings, and oh-so-often your cell phones. 

You are what makes Southeast Texas home. 

Monique Batson is Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at