Patti Hanks
For The Record

For their many contributions to the community of Orangefield, its people, school district and churches, The Record Newspapers names Paul Cormier, his daughters Carlene and Darlene, son Robert and his wife Devra the 2009 Persons of the Year.

On being told of the recognition, Robert “Bobby” Cormier, said he was honored, although he said, “There’s a lot of folks more deserving.”

Some of his fellow Orangefielders think The Record got it just right.

When Kenneth Smith, owner of K-Dan’s grocery, heard the news, his reaction was enthusiastic. “Oh, wow. You can’t say enough good about them.

“First and foremost, they’re just wonderful, real people,” Smith said. They give back to their community, and helped him get a viable piece of property for his grocery store and “more than fair” in their business dealings with him. 

As the neighborhood grocer, Smith said he interacts daily with most folks in the community and hears stories of the Cormiers’ generosity quite frequently.

“How do you say what they are?” he asked. “They’re wonderful salt-of-the-earth people. We need a whole lot more like them.
“The bottom line is that with all their family’s success, they’ve never lost sight of the real life of common people.”

Smith said “Mr. Paul” and his wife Jewel did a good job raising their kids to be good neighbors. Jewel passed away in the 1990s.

“The road their dad took was rough,” Smith said, explaining that Mr. Paul was a self-made man from tough beginnings who managed to pass on his work ethic to his children.

Daughter Carlene Cormier said the patriarch of the family was only two years old when he moved with his family to Orangefield from the Louisiana oilfield town of Ged. He was in fifth grade when his own father was injured in an oilfield accident, and young Paul had to quit school to assume the role of provider. 

Carlene said, “He’s been working since then; he never slowed up.”

From a child sitting on a crate to drive a company truck to a man realizing his dream to run his own operation, “he did extremely well for someone with a fifth grade education,” Bobby said. “Dad means so much to us. He’s been a real inspiration to us. Some of the things he tried to teach us as we grew up will stick.”

In 1954, Mr. Paul decided to redrill an abandoned oil well deeper than its original depth. He hit pay dirt, as the saying goes. His roots were firmly established with Cormier Well Service in Orangefield.

In 1960, he built and moved his family into a new home on Cow Bayou. Although not the family’s residence at the time of last year’s storm, the old home place got 5-and-a-half feet of water and four inches of mud from Hurricane Ike, Carlene said.

All three Cormier children “started and graduated” school at Orangefield. They and their children are all products of the Orangefield Independent School District’s education system, and almost all of the third generation attend OISD schools as well. If they follow in their progenitors’ footsteps after graduation, they won’t go far from Orangefield.

“The (Orangefield) community means a whole lot to us,” he said. “We were raised here. We’re proud of our town, our school district, our church. You couldn’t find a more pleasant community to live in and work in.”

His sister agreed. “The community is part of us,” Carlene said. “The people … you would love the people, the whole community! The school district is the best in the world.”

Bobby’s wife, Devra, an Orangefield resident for “only 38 years,” moved from Hamshire-Fannett in 1972, out of high school, right next door to the Cormiers. She said her subsequent romance with Bobby was the subject of another story, but they married, raised their own kids in Orangefield and are now happy to see their grandchildren grow up there, too.

Bobby said he never thought of any other place to live. “We’re perfectly happy and content here,” he said. “We have no desires to go any place else. It’s a good place to call home.”

The high regard of the community for the Cormier family is “a mutual feeling,” the second generation all agree. “Look around. The folks you got around you make your community. It takes a lot of folks contributing to make a community a home,” Bobby said.

Devra, his “bride,” as Bobby still calls her, added, “We’re one big family. Everybody cares for everybody.” At the time of this interview, she had just returned home from dinner on the grounds at First Baptist Church of Orangefield, which she compared to an extended family reunion. “We’ve been here so long, we’re all family.

“The people are the roots of the community. If everybody’s not in unity, there’s no community,” she said. “You can trust the people out here.”

Pastor Forrest Wood responded to a question about “Mr. Paul’s” role in Orangefield by saying, “He’s been a lighthouse to this community … instrumental in strengthening this church, all the area churches. He’s made such a wonderful contribution to this church and to the school. 

“He’s a very giving, caring person,” Pastor Wood said, “Very family oriented.”

Of her father’s love for his town and its people, Carlene said, “It’s my father’s whole life. Daddy always tried to help out the churches. He helped everybody he could. He gave Jewel Cormier Park to the Orangefield High School Future Farmers of America. The OHS baseball park is named after him.”

Now that Mr. Paul’s health is failing, he resides at Harbor Hospice in Beaumont, but Carlene said she and her siblings are taking up the standard, “just trying to fill my daddy’s shoes right now.

“Daddy always in his life wanted Orangefield to be a big town. In my father’s eyes, it’s the most wonderful town in the world.”

To the Orangefield community, Carlene said, “We’ll always be there for them as long as we live and always love them as we do now. They’re wonderful people.”

“We’re still carrying out what Daddy would want,” she said, “We enjoy doing it so much. It comes from the heart.”

Carlene said she can’t make a short trip into town. “When I go to K-Dan’s to buy groceries, it takes me a long time, because I know everybody, and I have to talk to them all.”

The list of the Cormiers’ service to their community is noteworthy and generous enough for several newspaper articles, but Bobby and Devra said it goes both ways, the community gives back. For example, she said, during the disasters of Hurricanes Rita and Ike, when no one had electricity for weeks, people needed to get into their homes, needed to rescue treasured possessions, to assess damage, and try to repair what they could. Bobby kept the Orange Oilfield Supply open, distributing free flashlights. New people, customers they had never seen before, heard of the store through word of mouth and came in for hardware and other necessities. Without electricity, he had no credit card scanner, no cash register receipts, so he conducted business on an honor basis, exchanging supplies for a promise and a handwritten paper receipt. “Within two months” after the disaster, Devra said, “everybody but one had paid their bills.” Of the one, she said, “Who knows what their reason is, what they had to go through? They may have forgotten, they may not be in the area any more.” In any case, those new customers have remained and still do business with the Supply. So in this time of economic recession, she said business is booming at Orange Oilfield Supply, thanks to the people of the community.

Mr. Paul’s most recent project, a partnership with his accountant, William Tim Edgar, was developing subdivisions in the Orangefield-Bridge City area, Carlene explained, new neighborhoods for some of the people displaced by Ike. Some subdivisions are already open on Farm Road 1442, while Bobcat Trails, a new subdivision near the school, has a second stage in the works. Plans also include a new development located between First Baptist Church and K-Dan’s. “That’s helping Orangefield grow,” she said.

As far as their role as benefactors of their hometown, Bobby said, “We’re not looking for publicity and the romance or glamor that comes with it.

“Dad’s philosophy is that we’re fortunate enough to be able to do something to benefit the community. (He gave for) no other reason than that he was able and wanted to do something.

“It was the right thing to do,” Bobby said. “That’s a good feeling to have.”