Whitney businesses unite in effort to promote community

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

July 28, 2021

The Whitney Business Alliance chooses a different business as its meeting location each month, with the owner providing a tour of their location. The alliance’s last meeting was Thursday, July 22, at Buckshot Rustic Furniture and Gifts. The attendees pictured above are Jason Ince, Gordon Rogers, Terry Boyer, Charles Boyer, Allyson Vought, Tami Gardner, Chamber of Commerce President Adam Bain, Mayor Brad Slaten, Teresa Wyatt, Gina Rogers, Konni Spitzer, Anne Chastaine and Carol Eubank.

To draw more traffic to local business, better the community, and promote town spirit, business owners in Whitney decided to come together by creating a Whitney Business Alliance. The alliance was founded in December 2020, and participation has remained consistent ever since.

The mission statement of the organization states, “The Whitney Business Alliance’s purpose is to enhance the shopping, eating, living, entertaining and community experience to make Whitney a preferred destination for vacations, staycations, and locals to come back time after time. We commit to nurturing growth through mentoring small businesses, working together to overcome challenges that may arise while building and maintaining strong alliance with businesses, government agencies and educational systems.”

A resource for both up-and-coming businesses and Whitney’s trademark establishments, the Whitney Business Alliance is recruiting business owners within the 76692 zip code who would like to join in on this networking opportunity. There is no membership fee, and the alliance would like to represent as many local businesses as possible.

After noticing that business owners’ problems were going unaddressed, Carol Eubank, owner of Whitney Family Eyecare and newly elected president of the Whitney Business Alliance, met with other local business owners and decided that creating a strong, unified, collective voice would get more accomplished. Eubank said as someone who has been running a business for more than 20 years, she is aware of the challenges involved with starting a business, and she hopes the alliance can help newcomers in the area who need guidance.

Eubank said, “Our goals are to be mentors to other business owners who are new, to improve storefronts, streets and neighborhoods and to encourage growth in restaurants and entertainment so that there is more for our local families to do.”

To achieve these goals, the alliance’s first order of business is to create a business directory so that all the businesses can stay in contact with each other. Another item on the to do list includes improving the buildings downtown. The alliance has discussed encouraging every business to have a personalized bench. Personalized benches would create a photo opportunity for tourists, and it would also honor Whitney’s history with The Battle of the Benches.

Eubank said, “We will be working really hard on relationships with our leaders with the city council and the chamber, having a representative at each meeting from both parts so that we can encourage the two groups to work together because they’re the most important bodies. We will hopefully be starting a cleanup and improvement effort, starting with downtown. Downtown is where we want to start so that people want to come and just hang out. We believe if the downtown area looks like it is growing, people will just naturally want to open businesses.”

Eubank said she hopes the alliance will improve the longevity of businesses by providing a place store owners can go to when they want to vent or work through their issues.

“We would witness a business opening up and then a year later closing down, then another business going into that same building, opening up for about a year, and then closing down, just over and over again,” she said.

“Maybe these businesses wouldn’t come in and just close in a year if they had people to go to and talk about the challenges and know where to be guided,” she explained.

Eubank is hopeful that the alliance could encourage people to start businesses that supply a wider variety of food and entertainment for the area so that when tourists visit Lake Whitney, there will be a plethora of options for recreation.

Anne Chastaine, owner of Juniper Cove Winery and newly elected vice president of the Whitney Business Alliance, said, “We want to be a destination, whether or not the lake is closed. We love having the lake, but when the lake is closed, does that hurt our businesses? We need to draw traffic so people can come to Whitney and spend the day.”

Chastaine added that supporting neighboring businesses can help her own business too because as one business has an increase in sales, the store next door also gets noticed. Business owners will use a Facebook page called Whitney Connection to promote their business and others in the community.

“As the tide rises, all the boats float. The more people we can get downtown shopping and looking, the greater potential for each one of the stores to make more sales,” Chastaine said.

Another reason to improve the downtown area is to prevent locals from resorting to traveling to larger cities like Waco when they want to enjoy a night out. Shopping local benefits the Whitney business owners, and the tax dollars that residents pay when they shop local go toward bettering their own community.

The officers for this term, elected Thursday, July 23 are: Crystal Stewart, director of marketing, Allyson Vought, sergeant at arms, Carol Eubank, president, Anne Chastaine, vice president, Terry Boyer, secretary and Tami Gardner, treasurer. Chastaine said, “She’s got so many of the talents that have been part of this since day one, and that’s why I nominate Carol as president.”

Eubank said, “The money that is spent here, the taxes stay here. That’s what fixes our roads. That’s what helps with infrastructure on the internet, trash cleanup, all of those things our tax dollars pay for. When you buy in Waco, the tax dollars go to improve Waco, and when you buy in Bosque County it goes to help Bosque County. People don’t realize that tax you pay when you shop local, that stays here and goes straight into our schools and our infrastructure.”

Eubank said she has noticed lots of rapid growth in the Whitney area and wants to uplift the local businesses so that chains and franchises don’t take over the town.

“We would like to see our local businesses grow so fast and so strong that if chains come in, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a bonus. It’s not killing local businesses,” Eubank said.

The members of the Whitney Business Alliance have a diverse range of knowledge and skills, and they use their different experiences to help each other. Current members who are active leaders in the organization include: Carol Eubank of Whitney Family Eyecare, Anne Chastaine of Juniper Cove Winery, Terry and Charles Boyer of home-based business Thrive, Konni Spitzer of Buckshot Furniture, Denise Callaway of Bosque Real Estate, Crystal Stewart of Farmhouse Store, Jay Caldwell of Lake Whitney Liquidation, Teresa Wyatt of A Daughter’s Dream, Ayushi Agarwala of Whitney Urgent Care, Benji’s and Work@Hill, Gordon and Gina Rogers of a home-based business and Julia Eubanks of Project Sanctuary.

Chastaine said, “We’re trying to help the mayor and the city council bring some spirit and pride back into the town. One of the things that we’ve learned is that everyone had different experiences before they started their businesses. What can we leverage from a past life? I used to do event planning, and I did conference planning for AT&T. I’ve done contract negotiations. What can I leverage to help someone else who is having a problem or an issue?”

Chastaine said she can apply what she’s learned while owning a winery to other businesses as well.

“The biggest thing is creating relationships. In a winery, it’s a very personal experience for the winemaker to make wine, and all the winemakers are different,” Chastaine said. “It’s all those different experiences and how you create something that isn’t a one-time shopper but customer loyalty. There’s a lot of stuff you do in a winery to create loyalty that we’d like to transfer over to the business alliance so that all of our businesses can create loyalty, driving new customers and keeping them.”

Eubank was inspired by a town square she saw in Montana. String lights lit up the night and twinkled over tidy buildings. Locals and tourists alike visited to shop, dine and stroll on the sidewalk. She said this image was her vision for Whitney’s future.

“Their buildings weren’t fancy. They were just well kept, and people were traveling in and supporting them. When people are coming into Whitney, I don’t know where they’re going, but they’re not coming downtown. If our downtown is strong, then the rest of the businesses will just grow like crazy. We’re starting here and then branching out,” Eubank said.

The Whitney Business Alliance meets every third Thursday of the month and is looking forward to growing its reach.

Descendants of town’s bench sitters sought for celebration

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

A celebration based on Whitney’s 1949 claim to fame dubbed “The Battle of the Benches” has been planned for August, and the organizer is looking for descendants of the “bench sitters” of that time to participate.

Whitney was featured in the August 15, 1949, edition of Life Magazine after a special election was called to determine whether the elderly men in town would be able to keep their downtown bench, which had been removed at the request of a group of ladies in Whitney.

The men were victorious in their bid to keep their favorite spot for “whittling, spitting and passing judgment on everything that passed” (as one of the opposing ladies described the situation).

A bench and historical marker can still be found in the same location, at the corner of Brazos Street and Washington Avenue in downtown Whitney.

Anne Chastain, who now operates Juniper Cove Winery out of the building at that location, decided to celebrate the town’s history with a special event on Saturday, August 14.

More details about the event, and historical information about The Battle of the Benches for those who may not know the story, will be featured in upcoming editions of The Lakelander. For now, the focus is on finding descendants of the bench sitters who were featured in the 1949 Life Magazine article.

The descendants will be invited to attend the dedication of the refurbished bench at the site and have their picture taken on the bench.

Those who would like to participate are invited to contact Chastain at info@battleofthe bench.com or 254-266-5351.

Businesses located in the 76692 zip code are also being invited to enter the Battle of the Bench challenge and decorate their own bench to reflect Whitney’s spirit, history and the personality of their business. Deadline to enter the contest is 5 p.m. Wednesday, August 11.

More information will be released in The Lakelander and at http://battleofthebench.com in the coming weeks. See page 5 for historical reporting from The Whitney Messenger on The Battle of the Benches.

City Council holds meeting, mayor requests feedback

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

The Whitney City Council heard monthly reports, received comments from citizens and approved special event permits in a meeting held Monday evening, July 19.

At last month’s meeting, Mayor Brad Slaten encouraged council members to attend events and be visible to represent the city and visit with the citizens they represent. This month, the mayor stressed the importance of citizens communicating with the council. He asked residents and business owners to express their ideas and goals with council members and invite them to events.

“No member of the city council nor the mayor of this great city can reasonably be expected to know the thoughts and priorities of the citizens that we represent without those same citizens communicating with us,” the mayor said.

“Without communication of goals and ideals to the council members it is unreasonable to expect city council members to support those goals,” he said. “While your elected representatives have a certain degree of autonomy in making decisions that they believe are in the best interest of Whitney and its citizens, I firmly believe that each member of this council wants to understand the will of their constituents.”

The mayor said that citizens can contact members individually or leave a message with staff at City Hall. He said that he can also be reached through his email address: brad.slaten@cityofwhitneytx.org.

In departmental reports, Whitney Fire Chief Wayland Price said that Texas A&M fire training is resuming in September after being paused due to the pandemic, and fire classes will once again be offered locally. Price said that the fire department is also heavily involved in Emergency Services District (ESD) 1 fire department training sessions that will begin in September.

City Administrator/Police Chief Chris Bentley reported that the department’s remaining five police officers who have not completed emergency medical services training will begin training with CareFlite in August. By cross training police officers to be emergency care attendants, they can assist ambulance crews when needed.

He added that staffing on the ambulance is doing well, with a new paramedic added to the crew.

Bentley said that with the help of the department’s K-9 unit, officers recently made four narcotics arrests during traffic stops.

Public Works Administrator Billy Pribble said that his department is actively working on issues brought up by citizens, including concerns about storm water drainage. Work is currently underway in the area of North Guadalupe and North San Marcos between Hayes and Roosevelt streets, which Pribble said is one of the major tributaries to the creek. He said that crews are clearing out overgrown areas, noting that work has to begin at the lower end and work its way up to get water flowing.

In public comments, Sharon Weeks Harper requested that the field in front of her house at the corner of North Colorado and West Wilson be mowed. She stated that she has been requesting that the property be addressed since April and has been informed that the city is awaiting a response from the property owner. Harper requested that something be done about the property, which she said affects 17 dwellings and a senior living facility.

Moving on to the regular agenda, the council discussed the drainage issues brought up by Martis Ward at last month’s council meeting. Bentley reported that the city engineer is assessing the issue to determine the best course of action. Action was tabled pending that report.

The council authorized Bentley to accept an application for a variance to the ordinance regarding long-term habitation of a travel trailer from Glen and Jeannie Koons. Bentley said that they plan to live in a travel trailer for a brief period of time, not to exceed 90 days, on property that they own while their home is being built.

A special event permit was approved for Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce ahead of this year’s Pioneer Days festival on Saturday, October 2. The permit will allow the chamber to block off Railroad Avenue for the carnival from Wednesday, September 29, through Sunday, October 3.

Another special event permit was approved for the “Battle of the Bench” event scheduled for Saturday, August 14, in downtown Whitney. Anne Chastain of Juniper Cove Winery is planning the event to rededicate the refurbished bench outside of her business, which was the site of the historic “Battle of the Benches” in Whitney. A small portion of Brazos Street between Washington and Railroad Avenue will be closed for the event. More details about this event will be featured in upcoming editions of The Lakelander.

A zoning request was approved for five acres of land at J Greer Abstract A-320 Tract 27D from agricultural use to business district 2 use. The applicant is planning to construct a motel and small restaurant in the city.

No action was taken on another rezoning request to change zoning for property located at Y Addition Block 2 Lot 12 from single family to mobile home. Bentley said that the issue cannot be taken up by the council on the advice of the city attorney, as it would be a zoning change that would create a “spot zoning” issue.

The council convened in closed session to discuss the sale of property containing the old tennis courts on Cleveland Avenue, but no action was taken when open session resumed.

COVID-19 numbers rising, remain below peak levels

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

While the local area and the state remain in much better condition than they were earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent rise in case numbers and the increasing spread of the highly contagious delta variant indicate that the virus remains a threat.

Numbers received at the county level Friday, July 23, showed that there had been 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hill County over the previous month, and County Judge Justin Lewis said that there seems to be a general upward trend in the numbers that is expected to continue into the fall.

As of the weekend, the statewide positivity rate—the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive—had climbed to 14 percent, which is a rate unseen since winter and above the 10 percent rate that Governor Greg Abbott identified as a red flag earlier in the pandemic. Daily confirmed new case totals and hospitalizations are also increasing but remain well below their winter peaks.

The number of people hospitalized for the coronavirus in the state climbed from 1,591 on July 1 to 4,320 on Sunday, July 25.
The highest number of pandemic hospitalizations in Texas occurred on January 11, when 14,200 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals.

Locally, 35 percent of Hill County residents and 39 percent of Bosque County residents over the age of 12 are now fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates are highest in the over-65 age group, which has proven to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Over 61 percent of Hill County residents and 62 percent of Bosque County residents in that age group have been fully vaccinated.

State health officials say that vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at preventing new coronavirus cases. While there have been occurrences of breakthrough infections—when someone who is completely vaccinated contracts the virus—evidence suggests that these cases are more likely to be mild or carry no symptoms.

Vaccines are available from a number of local medical offices and pharmacies. A statewide website is available to help the public easily find vaccines at getthevaccine.dshs.texas.gov.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state has confirmed 110 Hill County fatalities and 37 Bosque County fatalities.

Court approves agreement with Humane Society

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

The Hill County Commissioners Court met in a special session Tuesday, July 20, to consider several agenda items, including an agreement with the Humane Society.

Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding between the Hill County Sheriff’s Office and the Humane Society of North Texas.

The agreement will establish a team to investigate cases of animal cruelty in Hill County.

The agreement does not involve monetary payment to either party, but the two agencies will work collectively on cases and utilize the resources that they each possess.

According to the information presented in court, the agreement is expected to help ensure that the best case possible is presented to the prosecuting attorney in the event that a case results in criminal charges.

The court also approved moving forward with an environmental study for the warehouse property on Waco Street that the county will be purchasing contingent upon the results of the evaluation.

A replat was approved for High Country Ranch located off of Farm Road 934 to allow the owner to separate one lot into two.

County Judge Justin Lewis reported that the budget process is moving along, and the annual budget hearings with county officials and department heads are likely to be scheduled the second week of August.

Marty Haggard to judge BAC country songwriting contest

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

The deadline to enter the 2021 Texas Troubadour Songwriter Classic at the Bosque Arts Center in Clifton is Tuesday, August 3. Marty Haggard, son of country music legend Merle Haggard, will select the winners of the $3,000 in cash prizes and will headline the live concert event on November 6.

The Songwriter Classic, a contest for country music songwriters and singer/songwriters now in its eighth year, awards a $1,000 Song of the Year prize for mp3 or CD entries submitted in the online portion of the competition. Songwriters need not be the singer on the recording to win the award.

Marty Haggard

In the live portion of the contest held in November, Haggard will select his top choice of the singer/songwriter finalists for the $1,500 grand prize for Texas Troubadour, while the audience will vote on the $500 People’s Choice Award. To be considered for the live event, contestants must submit at least three songs and a video performance by 11:59 p.m. CDT on August 3.

For detailed information, those interested can visit BosqueArtsCenter.org or call 254-675-3724.

Entry fees are $15 per song entered online and $20 per song entered on CD. A one-time $15 fee is required for consideration for the Troubadour live performance competition.

Past judges have included Michael Martin Murphey, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Red Steagall and Suzy Bogguss with Doug Crider.

In addition to the prize money, Troubadour winners and finalists have often been hired as openers for major acts as well as headliners for their own events. Carl Hutchens, 2014 Troubadour winner, returned to open for Larry Gatlin, while 2017 winner Brian Barrett opened for Gene Watson in 2018 and has since returned with his band for two Big Event dances. Zac Clifton, winner in 2019, will return to Clifton in September to open for T. Graham Brown.

Scammers claiming to be Border Patrol

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

Telephone scammers are constantly changing their tactics, and reports of government impostor scams have been increasing locally.

A new type of telephone scam is targeting residents nationwide in an attempt to gain their banking information. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is receiving reports from residents concerned about unsolicited calls from scammers posing as U.S. Border Patrol agents and CBP officers.

Residents report the calls include a pre-recorded message stating, “A box of drugs and money being shipped has your (resident’s) name on it and it has been intercepted.” The resident is instructed to press #1 to speak with a CBP officer or agent. The resident’s banking information is then requested.

There have also been reports of a pre-recorded message stating that the individual’s passport is being held at the border.

These calls are telephone scams/voice phishing attempts. Residents are urged not to provide the caller with any information.

The Department of Homeland Security and CBP do not solicit money over the telephone. Residents who receive such calls should make a note of the number and any other pertinent details about the call, immediately hang up, and report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission online at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/.

Dorothy Gaines Foundation taking apps

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

The Board of Directors of the Dorothy Gaines Foundation recently announced that the foundation is now accepting grant applications for 2021.

The foundation is authorized to make grants to organizations and institutions that are exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or to governmental entities in amounts of up to $10,000 per grant.

The foundation will make grants for specific projects, building and capital improvement campaigns and general purposes. Grants will only be funded which will serve organizations and the people of Hill County or Tarrant County.

The Dorothy Gaines Foundation was established in 2003 by Dorothy Gaines as a private foundation with the primary purpose to promote the quality of life in Hill County and Tarrant County.

More information about the foundation and grant applications can be found on the foundation’s website: http://www.dorothygainesfoundation.org.

Applications for grants to be awarded in 2021 must be received on or before October

Tickets available for LWA’s Hansel And Gretel

Lake Whitney Arts is heading into final rehearsals for Hansel and Gretel by Vera Morris, directed by Whitney Gant. This show features a cast of very talented youngsters and will run for one weekend only, Friday, August 6, through Sunday, August 8. This wonderfully entertaining version of the classic tale is guaranteed to delight young audiences. For tickets or more information, visit http://www.lakewhitneyarts.org.

Smith Foundation announces opening of grant applications

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

July 28, 2021

The Board of Directors of the George G. and Alva Hudson Smith Foundation has announced the opening of the 2021 grant application process. Applications for grants to be awarded this year must be received on or before September 1. Grant awards will be announced in October.

Applicants can access grant information and required supporting documents at the Smith Foundation website (www.smithfoundationhillcounty.org) under the “Application Documents” tab on the website’s homepage.

These include the application guidelines, cover sheet, publicity plan and the publicity permission form. Applicants will need to provide five copies of their application materials to the address shown in the application guidelines and at the bottom of this news article.

The foundation will consider requests for operating budgets, special projects, building and capital campaigns, research and academic scholarships of organizations that are classified as 501(c)(3) non-profit entities in Texas, a political subdivision or governmental entity; or a corporation organized under the Texas Non-Profit Corporation Act.

The foundation does not award grants to individuals or to organizations outside the State of Texas. The foundation is also prohibited from funding religious organizations or participation in ongoing fund-raising events or activities. In considering requests for funding, the board places priority on organizations and programs serving Hill County.

In 2020, the Smith Foundation awarded more than $108,000 in grants to nine organizations across Hill County. Grantees included Aquilla ISD, Boys & Girls Club of Hill County, City of Hubbard, Hill County and Hillsboro ISD.

Other grant recipients in 2020 were Hillsboro Interfaith Ministries, Inc., Mission Hillsboro Medical Clinic, Texas Ramp Project and Woodbury Community Center. Grants ranged in amounts from $30,000 to $3,000.

Over the past 27 years of its funding history, the foundation has committed substantial support to a variety of Hill County area organizations amounting to over $2.3 million dollars. Grants have assisted qualified entities in improving the quality of medical, educational, cultural, economic, social and recreational services to the citizens of Hill County.

The George G. and Alva Hudson Smith Foundation was established in 1992 by the late Ruth Smith Moorman in memory of her parents for the purpose of enriching the lives of citizens in Hill County.

Information about the foundation is available on its website or from: The George G. and Alva Hudson Smith Foundation, P. O. Box 1245, Hillsboro, TX 76645.