Hopper Lumber is Business of the Year

Kirk Roccaforte hardly considers himself a trend-setter.

 He owns a small repair shop and happened to be mayor of Bridge City when Hurricane Ike hit in 2008. And for his efforts in the recovery process, he has received two awards in less than a week: the Citizen of the Year, given annually by the Bridge City Chamber; and a special award from the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission.

Named 2008 Business of the Year by the chamber was Hopper Lumber Co. and owner Lee Angelle.

Nominations are assessed on community involvement, and the impact of contributions in the past year.

Awards will be presented at the chamber’s 50th annual banquet / meeting set for Feb. 5 at The Palms, 4121 Interstate 10 in Orange. Social begins at 6:30 p.m. with dinner at 7. Chamber members in good standing may call 735-5671 to receive a free ticket; additional tickets are $25. Seating is limited to 200, and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. None will be sold at the door.

Roccaforte called the “Citizen” award an honor which points back to everyone in Bridge City. “When we first … started into it, I thought ‘Oh my God, how are we going to come out of this?’” he said.

“All you could see was water. And then from the first two days to a week, to travel around and see what was going on, I thought, ‘We’re going to make it.’ It got a little surreal after everything got cleaned up and all the debris was out, and a lot of people thought, ‘OK, now what do we do?’ … This is going to be a process that will take some time, but by summer or Christmas we’ll have a big number of people back in their homes; and I think once 50 percent are back, the other 50 percent will follow faster.”

“One reason for Hopper Lumber’s nomination was the Angelles’ re-opening so quickly after the storm, said chamber Executive Vice President Janelle Sehon. “They put their homes and their personal business aside to get back to serve the community,” she said. The store is said to have charged reasonable rates on supplies when it could have “gouged.” In the days following Ike, the business – near the foot of the Cow Bayou overpass– soon sported a Bridge City logo. The original sign was damaged by Hurricane Rita and later taken down.

One nomination form read, “The extra effort to place the sign at the entrance to the city served as much-needed reminder that Bridge City would remain strong.” 

Lee Angelle, 51, and his wife Connie have four children and one grandchild. They bought the business in 1995, having been opened in 1955 by Cliff and Clara Hopper.

“I’m very proud that we were recognized,” Lee said. “Our employees are a big part of that. We’ve been working hard and helping as much as we can. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve been meeting the challenge. We didn’t have flood insurance … and we owe a lot of our success to our vendors and contractors. Hopper Lumber has seven employees.* * *

Originally nominated for the RPC’s Frances K. Monk Leadership Award, Roccaforte didn’t get that one. However, he received special recognition never before given by the commission.

“It was a total surprise to me,” he said. “It was actually pretty overwhelming, and I think it can be attributed to the people of Bridge City and in Orange County. Our recovery efforts in Bridge City are way ahead of other cities, and I would also say that for most cities in the county. They are way ahead of the curve because the people are hard-working and don’t sit around and wait for things.  They get out on their own when things need to be done. And that makes what I do a whole lot easier.”

A 1971 graduate of Bishop Byrne High School in Port Arthur, Roccaforte, 56, attended Lamar Technical School for two years.

The owner of Bridge City Radiator, Kirk and his wife Shirley have two children and three grandchildren.

Roccaforte is in his third year as mayor, having previously served on the city council.

“If people want to talk about the things I’ve done, they need to also see the efforts of all the mayors, other city officials and the judge throughout Orange County. When decisions needed to be made they wanted to be sure we were on-board with them in Bridge City, because they knew how devastated we were.

”Roccaforte estimates that 60 to 70 percent of the homes in Bridge City are “in some form or fashion of rebuild,” and 90 percent of residents have trailers or rental units. In the months ahead, he said he will devote some attention to Economic Development Corp.’s recently-formed committee to study levee proposals.

EDC Director Bobby Fillyaw heads up the group, comprised of officials from various entities within the county.

“We need to [compile] all the information we need to get the ball rolling,” Roccaforte said. “We must do all the things necessary to possibly get a levee system.”

RPC’s Monk Award, which honors the late Port Arthur mayor, went to former Jefferson County Commissioner Waymon Hallmark.

“I think he was a good pick,” Roccaforte said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s done much for the people of Southeast Texas and it was an honor to be nominated with him.”

Hallmark was cited for work on various projects, including Walter Umphrey State Park and efforts to fight coastal erosion on Pleasure Island. Recipient of the Don Kelly Southeast Texan of the Year Award, named for the former RPC director, went to former Jefferson County Commissioner Ed Moore. He was cited for volunteer work with a Meals on Wheels program and at West Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Suzanne Simmons of Sour Lake is the new RPC president. Other new officers include Orange County Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton of Vidor, who will serve as treasurer for 2009. Shaun Davis is the executive director.