May 2024

Texarkana Magazine

MAY • 2024


TEXARKANA MAGAZINE May | 2024 | Volume 5 | Issue 5

44. Thresholds of Renewal 55.

10. BUSINESS I Don’t Take Notes and I Don’t Do Windows 16. POLITICS Decoding the Impact

CLASS OF 2024 Local Graduates


32. ENTERTAINMENT Good Evening TXK 36. LIFE Brighter than the CANDLE


22. CULTURE Always Learning Book Review 26. cover/TXK PHOTO CONTEST Winning Photos 10.

64. MONTHLY MIX Floral Finds 66. TXK ROOTS Daniel Pierce



If I could eat at one restaurant every day it would be… 903.949.1460 OFFICE 911 North Bishop Street Building C • Suite 102 Wake Village, Texas 75501 MAIL 2801 Richmond Road #38 Texarkana, Texas 75503



ALANA MOREL Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant I could live on Mexican food alone.

I order a large and eat leftovers for a few days.

You can never have too much caffeine or breakfast tacos.



KARA HUMPHREY Newk’s Eatery There are lots of healthy options… unless you just want a brownie.

MATT CORNELIUS Texas Roadhouse I did not climb to the top of the food chain to eat carrots.

LEAH ORR Julie’s Deli & Market

It covers all the food groups for any time of day.


BRITT EARNEST Pecan Point Gastropub & Brewery The Butcher Block candied bacon is fab.

BRITTANY ROBLES Taco Trip Tacos are my love language, and their birria is superior.

KRISTIN DAVIS Amigo Juan I can always count on it.


LESLI FLOWERS Chick-fil-A, of course! Want to meet me there?


TERRI GRAVITT Naaman’s Premium BBQ & Prime Steaks I could eat that cheesy

The blackened grilled chicken, broccoli, and THAT mac and cheese.


corn for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


ROBIN HICKERSON Verona Restaurant Food is not just food. It’s a story that is told through flavors. I love a good story, and this is how I feel about Verona.

TIFFANY HORTON Colima’s Mexican Food They have amazing food, and the owners are so nice. Plus, who doesn’t love a good mom-and-pop?

Texarkana Magazine is a multimedia publication showcasing the Texarkana area and is designed and published by Cardinal Publishing, LLC. Articles in Texarkana Magazine should not be considered specific advice, as individual circumstances vary. Ideaology, products and services promoted in the publication are not necessarily endorsed by Texarkana Magazine .




S tarting my career at Texarkana Gazette , typing out obituaries as a temporary newsroom secretary, was a humble beginning. However, to me, it was a big deal; it felt like my first real job after working in restaurants and the retail industry. I loved the hustle of the newsroom. When my stint at the obit desk wrapped up, I moved into classified ad sales. If you ever called about a garage sale ad back in the early 2000s, you were probably talking to me. That job really was the start of my sales career, and I learned a lot. That gig was just the beginning. I soon found myself on the local magazine scene, which I thought was the coolest job ever. I have only ventured away from the magazine industry briefly since I started. I have always loved it so much that I eventually decided to take a leap of faith and start my very own publication, and that’s how Texarkana Magazine came to be. There is something special about meeting people and hearing their stories. It’s like getting a peek into the heart of our community, and selling ads gives me a front-row seat to the inner workings of the businesses in our area, big and small. Now, after nearly twenty years in this industry, my Managing Editor, Alana Morel, and I are off to my very first media conference held in Chicago. We are eager to learn everything we can to make our magazine even better for our readers and advertisers. I am especially looking forward to the dinners lined up with other regional magazines to hear their insights. Just as in the book reviewed in this month’s issue, Always Learning , by Texas High graduate Gary Kusin, we want to keep moving forward. As a special feature of this issue, Terri Sandefur, my longtime friend, and our amazing art director, along with her husband, came up with a fantastic idea—a local photography contest. The response was incredible, and we are so thankful to everyone who shared their artwork. The talent in this city continues to amaze me.

Alana and Cassy at Nitch Media Conference in Chicago.

Alana and Cassy met with representatives from Local Life Magazine and Midway Press.

We can’t wait to see what next year brings. We are also celebrating a milestone for one local family business. Commercial National Bank has been in business for 60 years. That is the staying power we hope Texarkana Magazine can achieve. Enjoy this issue—we put our hearts into it, and we hope it shows.




I Don’t Take Notes & I Don’t Do Windows BY DR. ROBIN HICKERSON

A warrior believes in an end she can’t see and fights for it. A warrior never gives up. A warrior fights for those weaker than herself. It sounds like motherhood to me. —Kristin Hannah, The Four Winds



TEXARKANA MAGAZINE T hose in Miller, Bowie, and Hempstead counties who know Julia Peck Mobley, think of her as a savvy businesswoman, tough-as- nails, with a no-nonsense mindset. After all, Julia was once the single shareholder of Commercial National Bank (CNB), the reigns of which her father, George Peck, passed to her during an era when having a female bank CEO and chairman of the board was unheard of. Julia established herself in a male- dominated profession as she took on her father’s philosophy that aligned the banking profession with sales. Her dad once said, “I have been buying and selling most of my life. Now, I am just buying and selling money.” Once, after being asked by a male colleague to serve as secretary during a bank meeting, Julia quipped, “I don’t take notes, and I don’t do windows.” However, beneath the tough exterior, there is a loving, caring, compassionate mother, grandmother, friend, and community servant. Julia is proud of all three of her children, Helen, Matthew, and Philip. She lights up when she talks about her grandchildren and beams with happiness as she shares experiences and tales of spending time with family. Helen and Matthew have each found their own pathways to success, and Philip took over as CEO of the bank five years ago. Julia and her three children remain the sole shareholders of the bank, and she has embraced the transition with all the poise and grace one would expect. “Just as my dad’s era was gone when I took over, my era has retired. It’s Philip’s era now. He does a fine job of running our family’s business and is a young, dedicated professional. He feels the weight of the responsibility he carries. He works in his grandfather’s office and sits in his grandfather’s chair.” Philip still seeks guidance from his mom and values her opinion. “I seek her advice all the time,” he said. “Julia has seen it all…she is extremely sharp, and she’s got an uncanny ability to read people.” He knows it was his

to improvement, and have a strong sense of responsibility to our community. We have been successful for the last 60 years because we have a great team, work hard, and put our customers first.” They both believe wholeheartedly that the bank is only as strong as its employees, which they refer to as their “bank family,” and Julia’s position as matriarch extends beyond the Mobley family to include the Commercial National Bank family as well. She speaks fondly of the employees, and her pride in their accomplishments parallels her pride in her own family. Most of the bank employees have experienced a long tenure with CNB and appreciate the investment the bank has made in them. Sandra Maroon, Executive Vice President, eloquently expresses her admiration for Julia after working at CNB for 25 years. “She is a wonderful boss, and she cares about her employees. She has always made me feel welcome and appreciated. It has truly been a blessing to work for her and her family.” CNB Senior Vice President Debra Moore had this to say about her, “Julia Mobley is well known as a savvy businesswoman. I have admired her for many years. She is respected for her vast banking expertise. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Julia while playing a game of dominos. I learned she is very fun and competitive. I was so fortunate to begin working at her family bank about 15 years ago. It is amazing how she has made an atmosphere of family at a workplace. Everyone really cares about each other, and that started at the top. Julia always asks about family and really cares! She is a treasured friend and colleague.” Julia, Philip, and their employees certainly seem to talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to taking care of the community and each other. Philip explains, “Texarkana is, and has always been, our home, so we care about our community and are very grateful for its support and trust over 60 years. We do all we can to support

Commercial National Bank archival photos

mom’s core values and influence, along with his educational and professional experiences, that prepared him to lead the bank. “I grew up in the bank, so I really wanted to come home to Texarkana to start a family, work in our community, and support our family’s business,” Philip said. Julia was confident when Philip felt it was time to come home, he could help grow the bank. Both Julia and Philip agree, “We have a relentless commitment

our community, and our employees do too.” He goes on to say, “trust, fairness, and treating people with respect are the keys. We live by our core values, love helping people, and love what we do.” It is clear these values are lived out, not only in the Mobley family but in the CNB family as well. It certainly explains how the bank has stood the test of time and is currently celebrating its sixtieth anniversary. George Peck knew what he was doing when




The Mobley family (L-R) Richard Seymour, Amelia Mobley, Helen Mobley, Madeleine Mobley, Julia Mobley, Matthew Mobley, Mary Elizabeth Mobley, Margaret Mobley, Philip Mobley, and William Mobley

The CNB Way… OUR MISSION Improve, empower, and serve our community’s financial needs. We are friends and family serving our friends and family. OUR VISION Growing lifelong customer relationships by providing excellent customer service, offering exceptional financial solutions, while guiding financial success through every stage in life. OUR CORE VALUES We believe our core values are the reason we can accomplish our vision and mission in our community. Our goal is to earn your trust and respect and never stop improving.

he handed off the business to Julia in 1984. One of Julia’s protégés, Sonja Yates Hubbard, reinforces the values Julia lives every day. “Julia Mobley is one of those special women who has been truly committed to lifting other women up. She did that with me. It is because of her recommendation that I had the unique opportunity to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of St. Louis, as well as the Little Rock branch. She made a name for herself in banking by serving as the Democratic chairwoman for the state of Arkansas in an era when women were known as ‘Mrs. Dude’s Name’ instead of having their own identity. Julia paved the way by creating opportunities we all take for granted. I personally owe her a debt of gratitude, and she has my continued admiration and respect.” Julia is confident, calm, and oh-so wise. She is strong, direct, and very content with her life. She enjoys reading, traveling, playing bridge with her bridge group, and spending time with family and friends. She is pleased with her children and knows her legacy, and the legacy of her father, is in excellent hands. And who knows? Maybe someday she’ll get to see one of her grandkids take over the bank. “I’d love to see that happen one day,” she said. “We’ll see.” During this month of May, as we honor our mothers, we will count Julia among the very best. Thank you to Julia and all the mothers who spend their lives lifting others up and making the world a caring, trusting, challenging, and beautiful place to live and grow.




DECODING THE IMPACT How will school vouchers impact local students?

The runoff election for Texas House District 1 is approaching. The candidates are addressing a variety of important issues. Texarkana Magazine has chosen to focus specifically on how implementing a proposed education voucher system in the state of Texas will impact local students. Candidates Chris Spencer and Gary VanDeaver share their insights on this crucial issue.

Early voting runs from May 20 through 24. The polls close with final voting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Make sure to participate in shaping the future of local schools.

CHRIS SPENCER’S INSIGHT I am a proud product of Texas public schools. Both of our sons are products of Texas public schools. In fact, rural East Texas schools by and large do a fantastic job. The urban schools? Not so much. Urban public schools have become woke indoctrination laboratories that foster confusion among our children and promote class warfare. History books are being changed in order to harmonize with newly evolving cultural shifts. Parents are being ostracized for involving themselves in open forums at school board meetings. Tragically, Texas teachers are forced to spend precious time conducting the STAAR test, time that could be better spent in the classroom. As a state legislator, I would push hard to do away with the STAAR test. I would fully support well-deserved pay raises for teachers. I would support efforts to bring discipline back to the classroom. East Texas parents, in large numbers, believe parents should choose the school best for their child, with their hard-earned tax dollars supporting that decision. Like Governor Abbott, I agree with this. A one-size fits all approach to education doesn’t work. In fact, Austin ISD public schools celebrated pride week during March. Culturally conservative families naturally oppose such celebrations in public school settings. Parents pay taxes and deserve the opportunity to have their tax dollars deployed in educating their children in the school of their choice, whether public, private, charter, or home school. Some say competition is good. This is true in education as well. Fortunately, our East Texas local schools perform at a high level, and parents will most likely continue to educate their kids at the local public school of their choice. Private school options in rural Texas are few, and thus the impact to public schools in those areas will be minimal. But the choice needs to be available to parents.

CHRIS SPENCER Chris Spencer was born in Morris County and spent his early years in both Morris and Cass Counties. He obtained his education from Hughes Springs High School and further pursued his academic endeavors at the University of Texas at Tyler. In recognition of his expertise, Governor Abbott

appointed Chris as the Chairman of the Sulphur River Basin Authority in 2018. This position has allowed him to contribute significantly to the effective management and conservation of the Sulphur River Basin. Outside of his professional pursuits, Chris finds joy in his personal life. He is happily married to his wife, Debbie, and together they cherish the blessings of parenthood. They are proud parents to two sons, Christopher and Eric, who have brought immense happiness and fulfillment to their lives. Additionally, their family has expanded with the loving addition of a daughter-in-law named Kim and their delightful grandson, Camden. Faith plays a central role in Chris and Debbie’s lives, and they actively participate in the vibrant community of the First Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, Texas. Furthermore, Chris dedicates himself to the growth and spiritual enrichment of others as a group leader in his Bible Study Fellowship based in Longview, Texas.




GARY VANDEAVER’S INSIGHT Public school vouchers have recently become a hot topic of debate. Although it may seem like a novel idea to some, Texas first experimented with a voucher system in 1957 as a strategy to sidestep desegregation. This privately funded initiative was a disaster. Presently, the focus is on introducing a universal voucher system across the state. Based on historical precedents, this plan is likely to be just as unsuccessful and cost Texas taxpayers billions of dollars. I’ve shared my objections to this proposed voucher system below. Vouchers do not provide “school choice” or “parental empowerment” The truth is, even with vouchers, private schools make the choices and hold all the power, not the parents. Private schools set their own admission standards. This means that even if a parent wants to send their child to a particular private school, there is no guarantee that the child will be accepted. Private schools may not always Part of the myth being perpetuated in this debate is that illegal immigrants will be given a $10,000 check per child for education when they cross the border. This is patently untrue. No one will receive a check. And I will file legislation opposing any efforts to provide educational savings accounts to non-citizens. Educational savings accounts will provide reimbursement for approved educational expenses, not flat screen TVs or football tickets. No home school parents will receive checks. They will be reimbursed for tuition, books, and fees. The average reimbursement is $1,900 per child. The notion that parents can keep their kids home and get a check from the Texas Comptroller is patently false and totally absurd. I promise that as your state representative, I will vote in the best interests of the citizens of House District 1. I will pray daily, as I do now, for the wisdom of God, and that He be glorified in what I say, what I do, and how I vote. I would be honored to have your support, vote, and prayers in this runoff election.

GARY VANDEAVER Husband, Father, Grandfather, Educator, Cattleman, and Legislator

Raised on a small family cattle operation near Clarksville, Texas, in Red River County, VanDeaver learned the importance of a strong work ethic, developed a love for the land, and solidified his faith in God from an early age. He began his career as a high school vocational agriculture teacher. Inspired by a deep-seated belief in serving others and investing in our rising generation, he eventually completed a Doctorate of Educational Administration. He became a leading voice for providing the best possible education for Northeast Texas school children. Rural Texas values continue to drive VanDeaver in his daily service to our families and communities as state representative. He is dedicated to protecting our traditional values, job growth, and economic prosperity, and to improving our schools to give every Texas son and daughter the opportunity to succeed. A fiscal conservative, VanDeaver knows how to do more with less and stretch a dollar to get a job done more efficiently. As a superintendent, he balanced and oversaw a multimillion-dollar budget and daily operations for his school district. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, he relies on this same conservative approach to fight for a balanced budget and low taxes for Texans. He further believes in the sanctity of life, promoting small businesses, bolstering rural economies, aligning education pathways with workforce needs, lowering taxes, securing our borders, and protecting the most vulnerable of our state. VanDeaver is a member of the NRA and a strong proponent of gun rights. He currently serves on the Texas Future Farmers of America (FFA) Foundation Board and has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas FFA and the Red River County Farm Bureau. He is a former board member of the Bogata Rodeo Association and Red River County Fair Association and was also president of the New Boston Lions Club and director and past president of the New Boston Chamber of Commerce. VanDeaver and his wife, Pam, have been married for 40 years. They have two adult daughters who carry on the family tradition of public service as a schoolteacher and criminal prosecutor. They are also blessed with two wonderful granddaughters and one grandson. They are members of First Baptist Church of New Boston, where Gary serves as a deacon and teaches adult Sunday School.




have the resources or infrastructure to accommodate students with disabilities, and under the proposed bill, they are exempt from the requirements that they provide accommodations. This can lead to situations where students with physical or learning disabilities are denied admission or are unable to access the specialized education they seek from a private school. Vouchers harm rural schools and communities and are bad for Northeast Texas The proposed voucher program will have a negative impact on rural schools and communities in Northeast Texas. These programs redirect billions of dollars from public schools to private ones, predominantly in urban and suburban areas. In rural districts, every dollar is vital for maintaining quality education, hiring teachers, and providing essential services to students. Even a small loss of funding can hinder our teachers’ ability to meet the increasing needs of our students. Vouchers might seem like a solution, but for us, they only compound the challenges we face. As the largest employer in most rural

to the legislature or taxpayers. The lack of fiscal accountability conservatives demand and expect risks squandering our tax dollars

for private gain rather than quality education. Vouchers do not promote competition among schools

Fairness is crucial for true competition to thrive. However, under the proposed voucher plan, there is a stark contrast in the rules governing public and private schools. Public schools are held to strict accountability standards, including STAAR testing, teacher certification, attendance, and curriculum quality. Conversely, private schools receiving state funds via vouchers aren’t subject to these standards. They can maintain their own private accountability measures, academic progress data, and teacher certification criteria shielded from public scrutiny. Furthermore, private schools are free to select their students, while public schools must educate all children, regardless of background or ability. Even if private schools admit students with disabilities, the current voucher proposal exempts them from the same state and federal requirements that public schools must adhere to for educating students with disabilities. Adding to the disparity, the voucher program allocates more funding per student to private

communities and the center of social and cultural activity, the damage to our rural schools will quickly spread to the rural community, resulting in negative economic and social impacts. As the number of public school employees decreases, the Teacher Retirement System would become less financially sound because fewer teachers would pay into it. This would result in no future cost-of- living adjustments for retirees and increased contributions from the state, the school district, and current employees. Vouchers are too expensive and unsustainable

schools than public schools. While each private school student would receive a $10,500 voucher, public schools in our area, on average, receive less than $7,000 per student. This inequity further tilts the scale in favor of private schools, placing public schools at a competitive disadvantage. Vouchers will incentivize more illegal immigration Even education policies can impact

Under the proposed voucher plan, the additional initial cost to taxpayers will be $500 million per year. However, by year five, the cost of the voucher plan will explode to over $11 billion per year based on current cost estimates. In other states that have implemented vouchers, the ongoing costs consistently exceed the annual projected budgeted amount. Even with the booming Texas economy, we cannot afford this cost and its strain on our budget. The budget surplus other legislators and I have worked diligently to retain will quickly evaporate. Unfortunately, there are only two sources for generating additional revenue to pay for vouchers–reduced funding for public schools or increased property taxes. Vouchers do not meet the standard of conservative fiscal policy and accountability Conservatives advocate for responsible use of taxpayer funds and fiscal accountability, rejecting unchecked liberal spending without oversight embodied in the proposed voucher plan. Under the proposed voucher plan, the state will distribute billions of taxpayer dollars to private institutions with little to no accountability

border security and incentivize illegal immigration. The Supreme Court mandates free public education for children of illegal immigrants, necessitating state funding. Texas

follows this constitutional requirement as evidenced by the budget passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Abbott. Under the proposed universal voucher program, every child who enters this country illegally will be eligible to receive the annual $10,500 voucher, which is almost 50% more than a public school receives in funding per student. The current voucher program simply increases the cost of educating each child of every illegal immigrant, and that imposes an increased tax burden on every taxpayer. Vouchers do not provide true school choice. Vouchers harm rural schools and communities. Vouchers represent out-of-control liberal spending and not conservative fiscal accountability. Texas cannot afford the ever-increasing cost of vouchers, and vouchers create an additional incentive that will attract even more illegal immigrants to Texas.





REVIEW BY LESLI FLOWERS T his May marks 25 years since I graduated from Texas High School. It’s around this time of year that I like to offer suggestions for books that will inspire and motivate our budding graduates. When I graduated high school, the book of choice for gifting was Chicken Soup for the Soul . I believe I had multiple iterations of that book; I had one for my teenage soul, my graduate soul, and my ordinary soul. For this graduation season, I want to spotlight my fellow Texas High alum and his memoir/leadership principles book that will sincerely make a fantastic gift to any graduate or person dedicated to pursuing lifelong excellence. If you reflect back on the March issue of Texarkana Magazine , you will recall Gary Kusin, who has a captivating life story to tell. I was offered the chance to read an early release copy of Always Learning , and I can authentically and whole-heartedly recommend this world-class book to each of you. I would not consider myself an expert, but I have read many memoirs (my preferred genre) and business leadership books (thanks to 20 years at Chick-fil-A), and what Kusin has provided, I can assert with confidence, will be a guidepost for many. I abandoned my family and devoured this book in a little over a day. Kusin writes like he speaks, meaning he knows how to tell a story that is interesting to read and one that also keeps you curious for more.




His writing style is a blend of Rob Lowe’s introspective memoirs, Stories I Only Tell My Friends and Love Life , and Patrick Lencioni’s leadership insights from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team . Most chapters end with a solid punchline, and the business principles are practical and come across as straightforward and easy to

prepared. It was something I could control and own the results of, and I was nothing if not energetic during that time in my life.” Each chapter is summed up with practical application bullet points called “Key Lessons.” One quote from Always Learning that stood out to me is one that exhibits how company culture is more than a timely buzzword but a cornerstone to building rock-solid businesses. “I believe a great culture is a result of doing a lot of other things right. It includes everyone being aligned on what the aspirational goal is for a company. It also includes giving team members the tools they need to deliver the results they promise. Too often, there is responsibility without authority. And that leads to bad cultures.” Two questions I often ask when out with friends seemed an

implement. It does not drone on like a textbook. The takeaways I had from this great read… Kusin didn’t shy away from hard truths.

Working in his family’s furniture factory warehouse brought him up close and personal with the racial temperature of that time. He was also senior class president of Texas High School in 1969 when it was integrated. He openly acknowledges his privilege and what experiencing prejudices taught him, and how that has inspired him

to give back to Texarkana students and countless others across the country. “When the integration of Dunbar into Texas High School was announced, I asked some of my warehouse friends to introduce me to the student leaders at Dunbar. During the summer before senior year began, I sat down with Harold Abney, the student council president of Dunbar, and several of the other student leaders to talk about what it would take to make the integration feel as seamless as it could for them and their classmates, especially during that first fall semester… A group of us broke bread at a little pool parlor near the warehouse that doubled as a grocery and food shop.” “By the end of the session, it became clear that while there was

appropriate way to end my chat with Kusin. Who are your dream dinner party guests? Or, in this case… dream book club guests. And, of course… What are you reading? Kusin’s answer to the first, “My grandfather Sidney Wise, who was a huge influence in my life, so I can tell him how important he was in shaping the person I have become; my other grandfather, David Kusin, who immigrated to Texarkana from Kviv, Ukraine in the early 1900s, started the family furniture business, Texas Furniture Company in Texarkana, and died before I was born; and Jack Kaufman, my father-in-law, taken too soon by cancer but also a big influence on me.” And his recently read books… “I just finished a great book on the history of the Zales Jewelry family.

I believe a great culture is a result of doing a lot of other things right. It includes everyone being aligned on what the aspirational goal is for a company. It also includes giving team members the tools they need to deliver the results they promise. Too often, there is responsibility without authority. And that leads to bad cultures. —Gary Kusin, Always Learning

a long list of things that we could all work on, the most visible, early symbolic act of unity we could present would be hosting a soul band for the homecoming weekend dance. The Dunbar leaders felt that would be a good, if only symbolic, gesture, and if we could pull it off, it would help ease early tensions and worries about students from Dunbar losing their identities in what had been the white high school. With the approval of Mr. McGuire, our principal, and based on my promise that it would be hugely helpful, we did invite the soul band, and it was a fine party. Of course, some white parents didn’t allow their kids to attend, and there was pushback from others.” Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Kusin details countless examples of how hard work put him in the right rooms at the right time. Nothing was handed to him, but he has lived to leave nothing to wonder or regret. “If luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparedness, then my biggest lesson during this period was that for me, hard work was how I

Before that book, my favorite recent book is a toss-up between Shoe Dog , the history/memoir of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, and what he went through to start it. A close second in recent books is Like a Rolling Stone , the history of Rolling Stone Magazine by its founder, Jann Wenner. I am currently reading Medici Money, Banking, Metaphysics and Art in Fifteenth Century Florence . While that is a bit of an outlier topic-wise, Karleen and I will be in Florence in late May, and this reading will increase our enjoyment of the time we have there.” Kusin will introduce his book to the Texarkana community on Thursday, May 2, at 4:30 pm at the Sullivan Performing Arts Center on the Texas High Campus. Please make plans to join for the book signing of Always Learning and a question-and-answer portion from the author. You will be able to purchase autographed copies of his new book at the event.




Texarkana Magazine proudly presents the winners of the inaugural Life of TXK photo contest. Each winning photograph provides a distinct glimpse of the community, demonstrating remarkable talent and creativity. The contest featured five categories, with the overall winner and the special smartphone categories receiving cash prizes. Discover and celebrate the beauty and diversity of our local area through these winning entries.

Special Smartphone Category Must contain a visible portion of Courthouse Square in downtown Texarkana.

Winner “Mack and Me on the Courthouse Square” by Amber Adams






Altered Images Photographs manipulated for artistic purposes by applying digital and/ or traditional special effects (i.e., colorizing, toning, collage, photo composites, HDR, etc.) in the Texarkana area. Winner “Ace of Clubs Moon” by Eric Ethridge INSPIRATION I set out with the goal of getting a photo of the post office with the full moonrise. To attempt this with my 800 mm lens, I had to get very far away from the post office (a few blocks away) so I could use the full zoom and make the moon appear as large as possible. Unfortunately, the moon did not line up well with the composition I had in mind… but it did line up perfectly with the Ace of Clubs house. Even though this is the category of “altered image,” the moon appeared almost exactly as it does in the image, but I did have to take two exposures to expose the house and the moon, and I also had to slightly enlarge the moon to cover the glow of the moon on the house exposure.




OVERALL WINNER (ON THE COVER) Night Photography Events, objects, locales, peoples, or activities in the Texarkana area that convey a sense of place after dark.

NAME Eric Ethridge AGE 40 DAY JOB Media Manager, City of Texarkana, Arkansas CAMERA Panasonic GH6

“Lightning Across Two States” by Eric Ethridge

INSPIRATION My wife and I were returning home from a friend’s house during a spectacular lightning storm without any rain or wind. I decided to go downtown (about 20 minutes from our current location) and see if I could capture lightning in the background of the post office. I had photographed this same composition many times before with ominous clouds but never with lightning. The lightning was so frequent that it took less than three minutes of shooting on time-lapse to capture this specific shot. I got several other lightning bolts in other photos of the sequence, but this one was my favorite because it “crawled” across the state line.






Architectural Buildings, cityscapes, and/or landscapes; construction elements, architectural features, and facades in the Texarkana area.

Perspective Events, objects, locales, peoples, or activities in the Texarkana area that convey a sense of place.

Winner “The Monochrome Crossing” by Bryant Allen

Winner “Golden Hour Union” by Katelyn Peek

INSPIRATION One day, I saw this picture while driving. I take mental pictures when I drive. It helps me see the beauty in everything. This picture got me thinking about protection. Some beautiful, kind human designed this because they wanted to protect their fellow humans. That was a cool thought, so it deserved to be preserved in photo form.

INSPIRATION I’m always drawn to the historical charm our train station has and love to imagine the liveliness it once possessed. This sunset took my breath away for a moment, and a quick snap, just for me, after a session turned out to fit the mood of this category perfectly.

NAME Bryant Allen AGE 38 DAY JOB Heat It Up Owner and Bubba’s 33 Kitchen Manager CAMERA Sony A7RV

NAME Katelyn Peek AGE 31

DAY JOB Full-Time Homeschool Mom, Part-Time Photography and Marketing CAMERA My personal camera is a Canon 6D Mark II, but lately, I have developed a love for anything film.




I f you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Kacey Musgraves’ music, I highly recommend you grab your phone immediately, open up the music streaming service of your choice, and hit play on her 2018 Grammy-award-winning album, Golden Hour . It was the soundtrack to my life the entire year after it dropped, and apparently, the mark it made was significant enough for it to be the catalyst for this article I’m writing today, six years after its release. I’ve probably heard Golden Hour’s opening track, “Slow Burn,” over a thousand times by this point. But the words to this song never truly grabbed me up and slapped me across the face like they did a month ago while I was listening to the album again.


“I’m alright with a slow burn / Takin’ my time, let the world turn / I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright / If we burn it down and it takes all night, it’s a slow burn.”

A slow burn? In this economy? The lyrics were confounding for me that morning. Could life really be the way Kacey is experiencing it in this song she wrote? Could my sleep-deprived, overthinking, caffeinated, ADHD, restless self truly ever be alright with a slow burn? The idea sounds so nice in theory. The thought of not rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off, slowing down, and stopping to smell the roses sounds lovely. But the what ifs in my head would not go down without a fight if I proclaimed “slow burn” to be my new mantra for life. I’m torn between two worlds. On one side is my current career in the frenzied, fast-paced world of social media management. On the other, are Saturdays brimming with laughter and aimless wandering with my friends, all yearning for more from life than what’s in front of us, without ever really gunning for any particular goal. Working in social media, everything is about what’s happening right now. What’s trending? What’s new? What just happened 10 minutes ago? What will be the talk of the town today and forgotten about tomorrow? What TikTok trend is going viral right now? My job, as a social media manager, is to hop on it immediately before it loses relevancy. Growing up during the rise of the digital age, I’ve always been conflicted between breathing in the moment that is in front of me or pulling out my phone to capture it first. My mom always jokes that there were “no private moments” in our household throughout my adolescence because I was filming everyone and everything non-stop, and sharing it all on social media immediately after. I’ve always enjoyed using my platforms to make people laugh. I used to fear the innate itch under my skin, believing taking things slower was really a subtle




form of laziness. But deep down inside, I’ve always known life is not designed to be a rat race. These infrastructures we have designed in today’s consumer culture are consistently riddled with unrealistic expectations that prioritize productivity over well-being. We are not robots. We are humans with limited energy, emotions, and a need for real connection.

I’m going to say this because I know someone needs to hear it—IT’S OK TO SLOW DOWN! This does not mean you are lazy. Resting is just an essential practice for sustaining our mental and physical health. Watching my Pop from across my Granny’s living room when I visit looks a lot different than it used to. Aging has taken an enormous toll on his health. Only on very special occasions these days is he the loud, fun prankster he once was during my childhood. Now, more often than ever before, he’s quiet, watching life unfold from his favorite recliner. This, more than anything else, has taught me about patience and the art of simply being present. Life’s worth is not measured by how fast we move or how much we accomplish, but by the meaningful moments we share and the memories we create. While life remains chaotic around you, take the time to pause, breathe, and appreciate the slow burn—the here and now. It’s precious and deserves our full and undivided attention.

LOCAL EVENTS May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 Wednesday Line Dancing Texas Elks Lodge 6:30-8:30 pm May 2 Always Learning by Gary May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 Food Truck Fridays Courthouse Square 11 am-2 pm May 4 Twice as Fine Texarkana Wine Festival Spring Lake Park 11 am-7 pm May 5 Kusin Book Signing Sullivan Performing Arts Center 4:30 pm

May 11 Dragon Boat Race Festival Bringle Lake Park 9 am May 17 Diamonds for Doorways Silvermoon on Broad 6:30 pm May 18 Veterans Information Fair Texas Elks Lodge 9 am-1 pm May 20 Drive Out Hunger Golf Tournament Northridge Country Club 11 am May 27 Memorial Day Service Hillcrest Memorial Park 2 pm

LIVE MUSIC May 4 We the Kingdom Live First Baptist Texarkana 7 pm May 4 Josh Wilson in Concert Beech Street First Baptist Church 6 pm May 5

May 10 Texar presents Mayday by Midnight Hopkins Icehouse 8:30 pm May 16 Joseph Habedank Grace Church 7 pm May 23 The Nine- O-Three Crossties Event Venue 7 pm

May 25 Izzy Ded The Wild Hare 8 pm May 27 Tom’s Elton Tribute Perot Theatre 8-10 pm May 11 The Crue: Motley Crue Tribute Fat Jacks Oyster & Sports Bar 8 pm

Cinco de Mayo TXK Courthouse Square 11 am-6 pm May 10 Downtown Live The Gallery at 1894 6-9 pm

For more events visit

DJ Tronix Crossties Event Venue 8 pm


McKenzi Hale The Brookhill Podcast

Paige Mims Palm Royale on Apple TV+

Bill Morel I Said This, You Heard That by Kathleen Edelman








Austin was first admitted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital when he was three months old.

At 18 months, Austin was all smiles.

At the age of four, Austin participated in a pulmonary function test conducted by the National Institute of Health.

I n all the stories we hear daily about human resilience, few move us more profoundly than those about children battling chronic medical conditions. Austin Taylor, a now 11-year-old Red Lick student who is battling Chronic Atypical Neutrophilic Dermatosis with Lipodystrophy and Elevated Temperature (CANDLE) Syndrome, is an inspirational example of this truth. Taylor has shown remarkable courage and stands stronger every day in the face of this relentless opponent. From the early age of three days old, his mother, Carly Armstrong, recognized signs of distress. What seemed like a simple case of baby acne quickly progressed into large welts and blisters and colic-like symptoms. Despite her initial dismissal by physicians, Carly reflects, highlighting her mother’s intuition, “I knew in my mom’s heart and gut that something was wrong. His first pediatrician just kept telling me to wait. ‘It is baby acne. It will go away.’ and ‘Just wait. It is contact dermatitis, and it will go away.’ Waiting did not sit well with me. My baby was colicky and miserable, and no one could help me answer why.” Her persistence and determination led to a pivotal encounter with Dr. Christina Payne, who recognized the complexity of Taylor’s case. Referrals to one specialist after another ensued, culminating in a crucial meeting with Dr. Jason Dare. Dare’s unwavering dedication marked a turning point in Taylor’s diagnostic journey. Through Dare, Taylor was referred to the National Institute of Health (NIH) eventually leading to a diagnosis of CANDLE Syndrome, but he was presenting differently than other CANDLE kids. At

the time, Taylor was only the tenth person in the world to be diagnosed with CANDLE syndrome. It was a newer disease with few answers, but Taylor’s mom and team were determined to get him the help he needed. Taylor was not developing normally. He was nine months old but at the size and development of a six-month-old. He was refusing to eat solid foods, gagging any time his mom tried to introduce something new. This resulted in a diagnosis of failure to thrive and the placement of a gastrostomy (G)-tube to aid eating. Armstrong blended food for him to receive through the G-tube, hoping to supply him with the nutrition he needed. The NIH concluded, based on the evidence they had and the quick progression of his disease, there was not much hope for improvement. His family was told Taylor would probably never walk, talk, or eat normally. What Armstrong initially believed to be colic was actually severe pain from inflammation that was taking over Taylor’s body, causing chronic fevers and swelling. They learned that the inflammation was collecting in his muscles and joints, making every movement incredibly painful. There were new trials being done on CANDLE kids, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had placed a minimum age requirement for the trial and Taylor had to be at least two in order to qualify. He was only nine months old at the time. “The fear of having to wait 15 months to begin treatment was terrifying,” said Armstrong. “The longer we waited, the more fevers he would have. High fevers run the risk of hearing loss, vision loss, brain damage, or organ damage, not to mention that




As a proud big brother, four-year- old Austin welcomed his sister Addyson into the family in 2017.

In 2024, Austin and his sister Addyson attended the joyful Easter service at First Baptist Church in Wake Village.

In April 2024, Addyson was by Austin’s side during his bone density infusion at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

the extremely high level of inflammation in his body was wreaking havoc on his vital organs as well.” Because of the severity of his condition, the NIH convinced them to grant special permission for him to start the trial early. So, at just 14 months old, Taylor became the youngest person to enter this trial, and he was only the tenth human to be given this medication. The trial was what they call a “compassionate trial.” The NIH had to show the FDA that he potentially had less than six months to live without the treatment, and there were no other known treatments that could prolong his life. Over the next year, despite a very strict protocol of medication and documentation, the doctors were very concerned. Taylor was not responding to the medications as they had hoped and was not expected to see his second birthday. Over Christmas, however, a shift occurred, and Taylor soon defied the doctors’ expectations. Finally, at around two years old, he began eating solid foods like French fries and crackers. At two- and-a-half, he began talking. At almost three, he took his first steps. The doctors were astonished! Though things were looking up, Taylor still was not responding the way the nine kids ahead of him had. He never went into remission or had periods of time without fever, rash, or pain. He never had a break. This led to more research and the discovery that there were a dozen variations of CANDLE, which is now considered an umbrella term. This helped to bring dozens of other kids from around the world to the NIH for research and treatment. They were

all like Taylor, and the doctors needed to know more. While they were trying to find answers to treat his illness, his case became the catalyst for helping dozens of other families. As of September 2021, Austin was only one of five in the world known to have this specific genetic mutation. Although a sense of relief accompanied having a diagnosis, Taylor’s journey was fraught with challenges. In July 2021, he contracted COVID-19 despite heavy precautions. He deteriorated rapidly and had to be flown by helicopter to Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) alone, as Armstrong was not allowed to go with him because of strict COVID restrictions. “I placed my son in the care of the three flight medics that night and prayed they would make it safely to ACH,” she said. “I left the Emergency Room (ER) in preparation to drive to ACH, but when I walked out into the parking lot, there was a group of people from our church (First Baptist Church of Wake Village) who had heard what was happening and had gathered in the parking lot of the ER to pray as we watched the helicopter take flight. Once we watched Austin leave, I made a mad dash to catch up with them at ACH. I spent that two-hour drive praying for God to take care of my baby and prepare me for whatever He had planned for us in the coming days.” Taylor’s condition worsened quickly once he reached ACH, and he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Within 30 minutes of being placed on the vent, he crashed. Armstrong recalled, “That night was terrifying. There was nothing in his chart that could explain why he did not die that night…but God. His lungs were so



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