2020: A year that will live in infamy

Posted 1/7/21

2020 could well be the year most would soon forget. At least newsrooms around the world had no trouble naming the top story of the year.

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2020: A year that will live in infamy


2020 could well be the year most would soon forget. At least newsrooms around the world had no trouble naming the top story of the year.

A year that started with local politics in the headlines as competitive races shaped up for several Wood County offices ended with a new United States president set to take office as Donald Trump failed to earn a second term.

And the coronavirus pandemic, which took the blame – and rightfully so – for making 2020 so memorable yet so forgettable, could also be directly, if not indirectly, at least partially responsible for Trump’s inability to gain a second term despite earning more votes than any other in presidential history save one – his opponent Joe Biden.

County voters marked the first of March on their calendars for a party primary which yielded a new sheriff and judge.

But even those were impacted by the pandemic despite the primary occurring just before the first wave of restrictions hit.

Races that ended in runoffs that were supposed to be held in May got pushed back to July, with an extra week of early voting.

Meanwhile the May school board and city council races got delayed all the way until November’s general election.

Here are some of the top stories each month.


The year started on a sad note with the double fatality of a grandmother and young grandson at the bridge on Hwy. 37 just north of Mineola. Killed in the head-on crash were Ana Ruth Bates, 46, and Zander Bates.

The Mineola School Board formally offered a contract to new superintendent Cody Mize, a graduate of the district.

Some of the criminal cases against former sheriff James Brown were dismissed by a visiting judge, two counts of abuse of official capacity.

Jim Berry was named the interim director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission.

The Broad Street Church of Christ ramp building team in Mineola completed its 100th ramp to benefit wheelchair-bound residents.

A flooding issue for a few homeowners in Heritage Square in Mineola came before the city council, which promised to find some solutions.

A man hunt in the Hawkins area ended with the arrest of a suspected Aryan gang member.


County Judge Lucy Hebron offered a review of county departments based on state standards, which did not sit well with some former and current county officials.

Candidates in the March primary, District Judge Jeff Fletcher and District Attorney-appointee Angela Albers, debated the reasons why some court trials continued to see delays.

Longtime Alba-Golden Superintendent Dwayne Ellis agreed to retire during an emotionally-charged school board meeting.

More charges were dismissed against former sheriff Jim Brown and co-defendant and former chief deputy Miles Tucker by a visiting judge who said he could not find anyone to prosecute the cases.

As filing ended for local school and city elections, Mineola and Alba-Golden ISDs fielded several school board candidates.

Quitman ISD purchased property to relocate the administration building.

County Judge Lucy Hebron let members of the commissioners court know that as the presiding officer the county judge can also make and vote on motions.

In one of the last such events of the year, the Quitman Chamber of Commerce held its annual banquet and named Rodney Kieke and Debbie Robinson as its citizens of the year.

Alba-Golden School Board named Eddie White as interim superintendent.

Wood County voters prepared to head to the polls for the party primaries with several county positions contested.

Mineola and Winnsboro girls battled in the regional basketball semifinals. Winnsboro won, also advancing to state as regional champions.


Brad McCampbell defeated Jeff Fletcher for Wood County district judge while incumbent sheriff Tom Castloo finished second in a four-person field to make the runoff with vote-leader Kelly Cole, the Quitman police chief.

Angela Albers won the unexpired term for district attorney. Commissioner Virgil Holland and Keith Gilbreath advanced to a runoff. John McQueen won the precinct Three constable’s race over incumbent Gary Dixon.

The Quitman Development Corp. ended its management contract with director Denea Hudman.

More changes came to the Wood County Economic Development Commission with a new set of bylaws. County Judge Lucy Hebron said the old ones did not comply with state statutes.

The field for the Mineola school board election shrunk with the withdrawal of two of the candidates.

Mid-March saw the first of the coronavirus-related headlines as Wood County reported it had not yet seen a case of COVID-19.

But some Wood County schools that went on spring break decided to extended those breaks in response to the rapidly-changing environment.

Other government entities also began making changes, canceling and postponing meetings.

Mineola and Quitman chambers postponed events, the annual banquet and the Dogwood Festival, respectively.

Judge Hebron issued the county’s first disaster declaration in response to the virus outbreak on March 20.

Schools extended their closures into April and made the transition to online learning.

More events announced postponements and cancellations, including a two-week delay for the county junior livestock show.


The county reported its first case of the coronavirus on March 31, and schools extended closings until May 4.

Mineola Community Bank and the Mineola EDC teamed with shoppers to assist local businesses who had to close or limit activities due to the virus. The Quitman EDC also came up with a plan to award grants to impacted businesses.

Mineola school board postponed its election until November after Gov. Abbott gave local entities that option. All other cities and schools would follow suit.

By the second week of April the county virus count rose to four cases as stay-at-home orders continued for all but those in essential businesses.

City parks were closed although the county left its lake beaches open.

Churches began moving their Easter services to online programs.

Schools announced they would not reopen for the spring semester as districts tried to figure out ways to hold meaningful graduation ceremonies.

All high school sports were shut down beginning with the bulk of the boys state basketball tournament in March, and all spring sports were halted.

Former QDC Director Denea Hudman initiated legal action against the city and mayor over her dismissal.

The statewide stay-at-home order was allowed to expire at the end of April as Gov. Abbott announced phases of reopening the economy.


A virus testing site was operated in Mineola and 58 residents took advantage. The county case count rose to 11.

The National Guardsmen who helped operate the testing site also assisted with emergency food distribution in Quitman.

Schools continued to adjust their plans, including teaching life skills in Quitman and adjusting grading procedures for at-home learning.

The May party primary runoffs were postponed until July and also got an extra week for early voting.

Roger Johnson became the new director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission.

High schools developed plans to hold live graduation ceremonies with restricted attendance and activities.

The county recorded its first death from COVID-19 May 18 as the state prepared to enter the second phase of business reopening.

Parades and drive-bys increased in popularity, including to help support nursing home residents stranded with no visitors.

The county EDC as well as Alba’s announced plans for financial assistance to businesses.

Quitman’s high school graduation featured prerecorded videos and a drive-by celebration.

Among events canceled was the annual Memorial Day remembrance at the county courthouse memorial.


The county recorded its second and third virus deaths May 29 and June 1.

Mineola schools tested the waters for reopening school in the fall with limited student presence during summer school.

With the pandemic impacting the 2020 census response, County Judge Hebron challenged Wood County cities to a contest for the best response.

Top graduates of Wood County high schools include Ann Marie Pendergrass and Jacob Daily of Alba-Golden, Izzy Tresca and Tristan Kirk of Mineola, Jordyn Blalock and Jace Reid of Quitman and Daniela Santizo and Jenna Haney of Yantis.

A propane tank explosion rocked West Mineola, but there were no serious injuries.

Don Clemons was named Mineola man of the year in a private ceremony delayed from the March chamber banquet.

The national Black Lives Matter movement made its way to Mineola with weekly peaceful marches along N. Pacific St.

District Attorney Angela Albers confirmed her office was looking into allegations of election misconduct during the party primaries.

Quitman announced a scaled-back version of the Old Settlers Reunion.

County property values, set before the pandemic hit, showed significant increases.

Denea Hudman’s attempt to have depositions was denied, so she proceeded to file a lawsuit against Quitman Mayor Randy Dunn.

Amtrak announced it would curtail the daily east-west train service in Mineola to three days a week in the fall due to reduced ridership.

Some of the changes spawned by the Black Lives Matter movement hit close to home for Wood County when Quaker announced it would abandon the Aunt Jemima brand, one of whose name sake hailed from Hawkins.


After first announcing it would continue with Fourth of July fireworks but no other related activities, the city of Mineola canceled its show.

Quitman attorney Mark Breding was injured and his girl friend killed in a stabbing at his home, and a juvenile living there was taken into custody.

Sheriff Tom Castloo declined to sign off on a grant sought by the district attorney’s office for a victims services coordinator.

COVID-19 cases in the county passed the 100 mark.

An agreement was reached to remove the fence that long separated the two cemeteries in south Mineola.

Kelly Cole handily won the runoff for county sheriff, and Virgil Holland was reelected county commissioner.

Cole McClendon was chosen as new superintendent for Alba-Golden ISD.

School districts began outlining plans to resume in-person classes in the fall.

Small Business Administration loans under the Payroll Protection Program totaled more than $40 million for Wood County businesses.

Mineola ISD announces plans to expand high school band facilities.

Popular canine officer Juma was forced into retirement by a health scare. Constable and her handler Kelly Smith announced he was seeking a replacement, and Juma would continue in her public relations role.


The county death toll from COVID-19 reached 10.

Schools prepared to welcome back students as high school athletics and bands readied for practices.

An aging sewer line in Mineola collapsed under Hwy. 80, forcing a road closure and emergency repairs.

Families recalled stories handed down about the last pandemic, the 1918-20 Spanish flu.

Wood County expanded its business relief fund from unclaimed capital credits.

Cities and counties looked at lowering property tax rates primarily as a result of higher property values.

Parents answering school district surveys showed most wanted their students back in the classroom rather than the online option.

Mineola chamber of commerce announced it was canceling the second event of the year, the Iron Horse Festival after previously canceling May fiesta.

Bids for a sewer lift station to service a new housing addition in Mineola off FM 1254 gained approval from the city council.


Quitman high school band members learned $15,000 they raised for a band trip was stolen by a scammer or hacker.

Total cases of COVID-19 in Wood County passed the 400 mark as school districts began reporting staff and student infections.

Wood County joined entities with intentions of lowering property tax rates.

Alba-Golden school board moved ahead with plans to build a new vocational agriculture facility.

Timell Tiquan Jones was arrested for murder in Mineola after Dustin James Thomas of Dallas was found dead.

Mineola announced that upcoming parades could be held for homecoming, Veterans Day and Christmas but must not include any related activities and must disperse at the end of the route on Hwy. 80.

The annual Mineola Hay Show switched to virtual and still raised significant funds for scholarships and other support for the ag program.


Alba-Golden had to halt its athletic program for two weeks due to COVID-19 concerns.

Residents rallied to assist with dogs abandoned at a West Mineola home after the owner was hospitalized.

Early voting began for the general election with heavy turnout.

Trunk-or-treat plans for downtown Mineola were curtailed, with businesses able to pass out candy on an individual basis.

County Judge Hebron submitted information to the state to allow bars in the county to reopen.

Quitman was forced to forfeit a football game due to virus concerns.

The postponed Quitman Dogwood Festival was revised as a one-day event for Halloween.

Sherrill Construction was named to build the new Mineola High School band hall and renovations.

School districts began scaling back options for student remote learning.

Quitman started the search for a new police chief to replace Kelly Cole when he becomes sheriff on Jan. 1.

Though the Historic Select Theater in Mineola was unable to hold its full-blown 100th anniversary celebration, the venue did undergo some needed improvements and repairs.

Quitman schools announced they would close for a week due to virus concerns.

Golden was able to hold its annual Sweet Potato Festival.


Republicans continued to hold sway in Wood County by large margins as all opposed incumbents were easily returned to office. The national election remained in limbo for days after the general election, eventually decided for Democrat Joe Biden.

Mineola ISD was among districts awarded a rapid response COVID-19 test kit to help control the virus.

Total cases of COVID-19 passed the 1,000 mark for the county.

The Quitman School Board approved a $500 incentive for district employees for COVID-19 challenges.

Adjustments in the state’s data base raised the COVID-19 death toll for Wood County from 28 to 50.

Quitman City Council voted to return departmental oversight to the city manager, after it had been under the mayor’s purview.


Wood County Economic Development Director Roger Johnson exited his post after only six months.

The district judge and district attorney recused themselves from the Breding murder case.

Mineola Rotary Club celebrated 80 years.

Quitman announced plans to hold a hometown Christmas event downtown.

Shane Webber was named the new head football coach and athletic director for Quitman after Bryan Oakes took an administrative position.

Alba Police Chief Tim Koonce resigned to take a position in the sheriff’s department under Kelly Cole.

For the second year, Mineola ISD was denied the opportunity to improve on its state rating at the elementary campus thanks to rulings about state testing.

Wood County prepared to mark Christmas with celebrations in Alba, Mineola and Quitman along with numerous helping programs, such as Blue Santa by area law officers.

Mineola Civic Center ended the year in the black despite all the virus challenges, with plans to move forward with needed renovations and upgrades.

The Alba-Golden ag barn that was slated to be replaced burned over the Christmas holidays, killing three show goats.

Lou Wagner steppped down as chair of the Meredith Foundation in Mineola to be replaced by daughter Robin Averett.

Wood County ended the year with additional business restrictions after hospitalization rates in the region topped the 15% threshold for seven straight days.

In sports Mineola’s football district proved to be one of the toughest in the state with all four playoff teams ranked in the top 20. Mineola came out on top of the district with its only loss to Mt. Vernon, and the two met again in the third round with Mt. Vernon winning again and making it to the state semifinals.

Mineola and Alba-Golden girls also advanced in the state volleyball playoffs while the Mineola cross country team got caught by the limited numbers for the state meet and had to stay at home.

Basketball was proceeding at year-end with several game changes and cancellations, including a state ban on tournament play.County and Quitman. Relief programs by the county, Mineola, Alba and Quitman.