Thursday night, in Nacogdoches, Orange Countians took home six out of 27 Texas Conservation Awards at the Area IV Banquet. The Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Area IV encompass 51 counties. Orange County is part of the Lower Sabine Neches Soil and Water Conservation District. 

Resident Conservation Farmer of the Year went to Charles Wilcox of Orange. Mr. Wilcox has grown and sold vegetables tucked away on a little farm off Meeks Drive ”for years.”  Wilcox said it would be next month before most of his crops were in. 

He expressed surprise when contacted by The Record about the award. “We just got back from Nacogdoches at midnight last night.” 

Leon Wallace, an old rodeo cowboy, who works a couple of days a week for Wilcox had tipped the paper off about the recent win.

“He’s a good guy and really deserves the recognition.”

Oleta Roberts was named Conservation Homemaker of the Year.

Roberts was nominated Ruben Stringer for her charity work. “We made hospital gowns for a missionary in Kountze to take to Africa and made dresses to go to Mexico.” She also takes food to the needy and manages the Wednesday Night meals at church. “I also do the flowers for the church,” she said. “My aim is to help people out, do what God wants me to do. Mr. Stringer just saw me doing this things and nominated me.”

Quilts have been made for each of her grandchildren when they get married. Twenty years ago, after her husband died, she supported herself and her children with a beauty shop at the house. As the president of the Extension Club, she received a scholarship to Texas A&M and now works in a little flower shop.

 “I feel their are better people deserving than me,” she said.

Wildlife conservationist of the Year went to Ernie Willey of Orange. Willey did not attend the banquet because his wife, Winnie, was ill. He knew he had been nominated but, “I wasn’t expecting it.”

For over 40 years, Willey has built birdhouses for bluebirds, martins and wrens. “Back in the 60’s, when they used DDT and found it was bad for the birds, bluebirds got it twice as bad and almost disappeared.” Willey explained that bluebirds eat insects, so you couldn’t feed them. DDT was killing off the insects. He also explained they were a cavity nesting bird. “About the only thing you can do is provide for them.” He has given hundreds of bird houses away, making an average of 30-40 a year. “I tell them, it’s not for you, it’s for the birds.”

When Shangri La lost many trees from Hurricane Rita, a lot of them were given to Willey. He took them to a small mill to have them cut into lumber for use in his mission.

“I used to work for the Starks taking care of Shangri La,” before they recently developed it into a tourist attraction. (Editor’s note: Shangri La just celebrated its 50,000 visitor.)

Other winners from Orange County were: Larry Peveto of Vidor High School, runner-up for Conservation Teacher of the Year; Morgan Lemoine of Little Cypress Junior High won 3rd place for the essay contest in the 13 and under category; and Danyelle Hodges of Little Cypress Junior High School took 3rd place in the poster contest.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.