The Distinguished Alumni Award- All graduates of La Porte ISD or George Washington Carver High School shall be nominated in the Distinguished Alumni category and may not be nominated within ten (10) years of graduation. Any individual who (1) graduated from George Washington Carver High School; (2) was employed by La Porte ISD and George Washington Carver High; or (3) was a trustee of the La Porte ISD School Board of Trustees is also eligible as an alumni.
The Distinguished Citizen Award - The recipient must have made a significant, positive impact on La Porte ISD; must be distinguished in his or her business, profession, life work or other worthy endeavor; and must be an individual of such integrity, stature and demonstrated ability that the award will reflect honor on the school district and create a sense of pride among the members of the community.
The nominating period for the 2023 Distinguished Alumni & Citizens class is closed.
- 2022 Distinguished Alumni & Citizen
- 2021 Distinguished Alumni & Citizens
- 2020 Distinguished Alumni & Citizen
- 2019 Distinguished Alumni & Citizen
- 2018 Distinguished Alumni & Citizen
La Porte High School graduates Terri Cook and Debbie Wade, along with longtime track and field coach Joel Fagan have been recognized as 2022 La Porte ISD Distinguished Alumni; Local historian Ann Malone and nonprofit founder Rachel Cotton have been honored as the district’s 2022 Citizens of the Year.
The honorees were inducted during a Sept. 9 luncheon at the La Porte ISD Bulldog Centre.
Honorees are nominated at large and chosen by a committee of community and district volunteers, who submit their selections to the Board of Trustees for approval. Distinguished alumni and citizens have typically excelled professionally and served the communities in which they live. Following are brief biographies of the 2022 honorees:
La Porte resident Rachel Cotton grew up more than 1,500 miles from here in Los Angeles. She married a La Porte native, and the couple decided to put down roots right here. LA’s loss has been a huge gain – a true blessing – for our small city by the bay.
Rachel’s family started a nonprofit organization in 2012 called Agape Centric, which translates to centered around God's unconditional love for mankind. Though it is headquartered in Friendswood, La Porte residents have been recipients of numerous charitable projects over the years. Just recently, Rachel spearheaded Agape Centric’s annual back-to-school fair for La Porte ISD families at which the group passed out free school supplies. They have additionally given away Thanksgiving turkeys and all the trimmings to our local families in need and spread similar cheer for Christmas.
Rachel additionally has a passion for mentoring junior high girls to instill in them the value of their self-worth and potential. Her desire to serve also spawned her membership on the La Porte Economic Development Board. What it all comes down to is that Rachel Cotton and her family chose to live in and bless La Porte, and our city is blessed indeed.
Ann Malone has been an instrumental force in preserving the area's history, including that of La Porte ISD. She has co-authored two pictorial history books of La Porte: Around LaPorte (2011) and Sylvan Beach and the Pavilions (2012).
In 2006, she served as a board member and president (off and on over the years) of the La Porte-Bay Area Heritage Society. She organized several fundraising events, resulting in raising thousands of dollars for the upkeep of the Depot Museum, and restoring the Caboose and original library near the high school. The museum contains countless photos of school buildings no longer in existence, students who attended school decades ago, and teachers who served in the past.
Malone has spent years collecting artifacts and photos of our area and school district’s history. She has also spent countless hours organizing and documenting those items. And she has always been willing to give up her time and anyone wishing to explore the contents of the Depot Museum. Thanks to Mary Ann Uloth Malone, La Porte has a well-preserved history that will be accessible for generations to come.
Terri Gillespie Cook
Since the day she moved to La Porte as a high school freshman, Terri Gillespie Cook has continued making a difference here.
Her classmates knew her as the Chatos president, National Honor Society member and the person who was voted Most Beautiful and Best Personality. Terri’s beloved La Porte community has since known her as La Porte ISD’s award-winning community and media liaison in her position as district communications director, and as someone who gives back to the district and city in every way possible.
Terri has served on the Citizens Advisory Council to La Porte Industry, the La Porte-Bayshore Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and the La Porte Neighborhood Centers Board, to name a few. She has chaired the Sylvan Beach Scholarship Pageant Contestant Breakfast since 2014 and is on the New Teacher Luncheon Committee. Terri has and continues to be involved in community initiatives ... so much so that the Rotary Club honored her with its Service Above Self Award. She was also named as the Chamber’s Volunteer of the Year in 2017. No matter how daunting the task, if it makes La Porte a better place, Terri will take it on. And she will do it with a smile.
Joel Fagan compiled an impressive resume after establishing La Porte High School’s girls cross country program in 1987. What he has done since his retirement is equally extraordinary.
Under his 24 years of leadership, many Lady Bulldogs runners exceeded their own expectations by setting personal and school distance running records while also excelling in the classroom. His teams won 18 district championships, qualified for Regionals 20 times, and qualified to run at state 10 times. Many of Joel’s students attended colleges and universities with cross country scholarships, and they undoubtedly were encouraged along the way with Joel’s positive outlook and regular practice of setting goals.
While coaching at La Porte High School, Joel also served as Track Coordinator for the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation Youth Track & Field Program, and he helped coordinate the La Porte Invitational in 2005. For the successes of his many students, Joel was inducted into the Gulf Coast Scholastic Track & Field Hall of Honor Class of 2019. Though he eventually passed the cross country baton some years ago at La Porte High School, Joel has remained a fixture at the tracks and at cross country events, where he volunteers to help young people achieve their aspirations. Joel Fagan has planted plenty of seeds, and it is no wonder the Lady Bulldogs Cross Country Team continues to be regarded highly across the state.
Debbie Phillips Wade
Debbie Phillips Wade is a 1979 honors graduate of La Porte High School, but her involvement in this district spans more than 50 years—many of them as a volunteer. The list of such efforts is extensive.
Debbie has been a La Porte Education Foundation director since 2009 and is currently the Grants Committee/Dollar Patrol Chair. She also is known for donning various costumes such as Ms. Wadermelon or the Queen of Hearts to be a volunteer reader at our elementary schools several times a year. She will take time from her family to come in the evenings for Literacy Nights. Her love for literacy led Debbie to establish the area's first Little Free Library in her yard to ensure free books for neighborhood kids. Since 2014, Debbie has additionally supplied teachers and staff with a selection of thousands of free books each year at the district’s annual Employee Health Fair.
As an ardent supporter of La Porte ISD, Debbie is often sought out to serve on district committees. Some of those committees include the 100th Anniversary, Long-Range Planning, Facilities Planning, and Performance Objectives. Be it the countless amount of time that she spends helping to make La Porte a better place, or her own resources such as her family’s Make a Difference Scholarships and gift baskets for various district events, Debbie Phillips Wade gives and gives to make the world –and La Porte ISD—a better place.
La Porte Independent School District on October 15 honored four inductees during the Fourth Annual Distinguished Alumni & Distinguished Citizens ceremony and luncheon. Honorees were also recognized at the Homecoming football game.
The district honored La Porte High School graduates Denise Mitrano and Tommy Moser, along with former teacher Lloyd Wells and longtime trustee Charlcya Wheeler as 2021 La Porte ISD Distinguished Alumni; Former Space Shuttle astronaut Robert Crippen and former Beacon School owner and operator Patricia “Patsy” Thomson were honored as the district’s 2021 Citizens of the Year.
Honorees are nominated at large and chosen by a committee of community and district volunteers, who submit their selections to the Board of Trustees for approval. Distinguished alumni and citizens have typically excelled professionally and served the communities in which they live. Following are brief biographies of the 2021 honorees:
An esteemed astronaut during NASA’s glory years, Robert Crippen chose La Porte in which to raise his family — much because of its exceptional school district. In fact, he was the only astronaut at that time who chose to live away from Clear Lake, which remains a popular place for NASA employees. His three daughters graduated from La Porte High School, including one who was valedictorian and another who was salutatorian.
While Crippen’s children were attending La Porte, he was making history on the Space Shuttle. His career included stints as a naval officer and aviator, test pilot, aerospace engineer and astronaut, during which he traveled to space four times: as a pilot in the first Space Shuttle mission in 1981, as commander of STS-7 (Space Shuttle Challenger) in June 1983, STS-41-C in April 1984, and STS-41-G in October 1984. In total, Robert Crippen spent more than 23 days in space.
For his ascendency into and above our skies, Crippen has been honored with a bevy of awards. He has received numerous NASA accolades, including its Outstanding Leadership Medal and three Distinguished Service Medals. In 1996, Crippen became the tenth individual to receive the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement’s National Space Trophy. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1991 and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2001. He received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor the highest award for spaceflight achievement, in 2006.
On November 18, 2015, at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas, Crippen was announced as a 2016 inductee into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
As owner and operator of La Porte’s Beacon School, Patricia Thomson exhibited a constant love for children, including those with special needs. In fact, she specialized in teaching special needs children how to read — for 50 years at her campus near the (old) Bayshore Elementary School. Thomson’s dedication to her students did not wane when they left her school, however.
Patsy, as she was commonly known, was in regular contact with her former students who needed special education services, and she advocated for them regularly. She had a knack for upholding Beacon School alumni, and that could be because many of them left her charge with unexpected skills. Longtime La Porte ISD and Bayshore teacher (and La Porte ISD Distinguished Alumna) Martha Love once commented that Thomson’s students came to her “knowing how to read.”
Thomson also listened to the parents of her students and made business decisions as a result. Upon taking over Beacon in the early 1970s, she expanded the school day to accommodate parents who needed daycare. Furthermore, the school initially served preschool children but was quickly expanded to elementary levels. Among her success stories was a student who eventually was appointed to West Point — the United States Military Academy.
Patsy also maintained and popularized the school’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which took place for more than a half-century. Just like with her students and their parents, Thomson was a constant champion for anything worthy.
In her daily work as the City of La Porte’s municipal court judge, Denise Mitrano meets many people who would rather be elsewhere. But their sentiments tend to change once they meet her.
Mitrano, during her 21-plus years hearing cases from the judicial bench, is widely known as someone who is steadfast in her judicial temperament. She has simultaneously earned a reputation as a judge who exhibits a consistent display of patience, courtesy, understanding, kindness and compassion.
One visitor to her courtroom recently wrote that Judge Mitrano was “...orderly, friendly, and approachable,” and that she was “...nice, kind, and warmhearted.” This defendant was a 10-year U.S. resident whose courtroom experience left him extremely impressed with our judicial system. Just as importantly, Judge Mitrano is true to the young people of La Porte. She brought The Rock program here to help get juvenile offenders on the right track. She additionally works very closely with our schools to stay ahead of the challenges facing our youth.
Mitrano has been honored many times through the years for her efforts by organizations such as MADD and the Texas Dept. Of Transportation. She is also a tireless volunteer at the La Porte Animal Shelter, where she and her family work the holidays so that employees can spend time with their families.
She is a member of La Porte High School’s 1976 graduating class; she also attended La Porte Elementary School and La Porte Jr. High School.
Tommy Moser, a 1978 La Porte High School graduate, is remembered by many La Porte residents for his humor, benevolence, advocacy and his ‘do it right’ work ethic. He used those attributes, and many more, to make La Porte a better place to work and live.
Moser, for 30 years, was the owner and operator of Moser Electric Company. Though he improved his community through his work — often helping people through troubled times — his deep commitment to La Porte paints a broader picture of Moser’s involvement in its growth.
Tommy was avid in his advocacy for Main Street, including his relationships with business owners who would be directly and positively impacted. He worked tirelessly for North Side residents, with the acquisition of the DeWalt Schoolhouse, securing funding for a North Side spray park, and his tireless support for the Bay Area Habitat for Humanity in helping families realize the dream of homeownership.
His volunteerism in La Porte ran the spectrum, and it included the La Porte Rodeo Association, youth programs such as baseball, basketball, football and softball, La Porte Community Civic Club, and the La Porte City Council — where he served from 2004 until his untimely death in 2015.
Lloyd Wells left a two-decade legacy of teaching various subjects in La Porte ISD … and so much more. He was also a pillar in the community as the founder and leader of the La Porte Dixieland Band, and as a volunteer leader of a myriad of projects.
Long before Wells found his way into the hearts of thousands of La Porte residents, he fought for our country’s freedom as a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber. His plane was shot down over Germany, where he was a prisoner of war for almost a year. The experience strengthened his resolve to improve the quality of countless others’ lives.
Wells is remembered by many James H. Baker Elementary School who were not in his class because he strummed his banjo in the cafeteria every Friday with sing-alongs. Throughout La Porte and surrounding communities, he was known as the founder and leader of the La Porte Dixieland Jazz Band, which played at about every available venue, and then some.
But Wells was also a champion for community causes, and he volunteered his time as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars ensuring that flags were placed on the graves of veterans. He additionally served with the La Porte-Bay Area Heritage Society — including as its president — and coached youth sports and led a Boy Scout Troop.
For those and other endeavors, the City of La Porte in 1990 honored him with the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award. Wells was subsequently honored for his service to the community by the Bay Area Heritage Society and the Galveston Bay Cruising Association.
Without a doubt, no one has exhibited “orange and white spirit” longer and with more passion than Charlcya Wheeler, who recently stepped down from her position as a La Porte ISD trustee after more than 17 years on the Board. However, her involvement in and commitment to the district began in the early 1960s, long before she was elected to public office.
Wheeler was involved in La Porte ISD in so many ways—the Football Booster Club, high school musical, the La Porte Education Foundation, Breakfast with the Stars, the Education Celebration, and much more. In gratitude for the countless volunteer hours, she devoted to the district, the La Porte High School yearbook, The Reflector, was dedicated to her in 1981. Most recently, the Board paid tribute to her with the prestigious Bulldog Award.
Wheeler's first volunteer project after moving to La Porte was in 1964 when she helped to plan La Porte’s 75th-anniversary celebration. For many years, she was active in the La Porte-Bayshore Chamber of Commerce, and in recognition of her volunteerism, the Chamber awarded her both the Gus Groos Humanitarian Award and the Volunteer of the Year Award. Wheeler was also active in the Shoreline Art League, Ladies Civic Club, First United Methodist Church, the American Heart Association and many other organizations. The La Porte Rotary Club recently named Wheeler an Honorary Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of the multitude of ways she gives to and positively impacts the La Porte community.
While the list of Wheeler’s activities may be long, even larger is the impact that she has had on so many in La Porte ISD. Almost everyone who knows her has a “Charlcya story” about how her kindness made a difference in their lives. For Wheeler, it is never about being in the spotlight, but about shining the spotlight on others.
Former La Porte High School coaches Carroll Lundin and Forrest Wiegand, along with former trustee Pat Studdert on March 10, 2021 were recognized as 2020 La Porte ISD Distinguished Alumni; Longtime newspaper editor and publisher John Black is the district’s 2020 Citizen of the Year. The annual event had been postponed since October 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Honorees are nominated at-large and chosen by a committee of community and district volunteers, who submit their selections to the Board of Trustees for approval. Distinguished alumni and citizens have typically excelled professionally and served the communities in which they live.
John Black is known to many residents as the longtime editor and publisher of a local newspaper and, more importantly, as someone who used his influence to champion many causes important to La Porte’s vitality.
Black, during his 20-plus years as editor and publisher of the Bayshore Sun, was the epitome of a community-minded journalist. Every edition during his tenure included numerous articles surrounding La Porte ISD – school board meetings, elections, sports, and features.
Not only did Black charge himself with keeping residents informed about city and school happenings, he was also committed to finding positive solutions to problems. He served as a La Porte City Councilman from 2008 to 2011.
For his volunteer service and contributions to various community causes, Black in 2008 received the Gus Groos Humanitarian Award from the La Porte-Bayshore Chamber of Commerce. The Texas State Teachers Association awarded him its School Bell Award in 1989 for continuous outstanding coverage of La Porte ISD.
As evidenced by his life’s work – professional and otherwise – Black possesses a strong love for public education and his community. La Porte is a better place as a result.
Carroll Lundin’s status among Texas high school football coaching greats is legendary. Humble as he is, however, Lundin is quick to credit others for his success.
In 1974, Lundin moved his family to La Porte, where he became head football coach and athletic director. During his 14 years at the helm of the Bulldogs, his teams posted 107 victories and advanced to the state playoffs eight times. He was named as the district’s Coach of the Year four times, and the Greater Houston Football Association and Texas High School Football Coaches Association subsequently inducted him into their halls of honor.
In Lundin’s own words at a Hall of Honor induction ceremony in 2010, his opportunities were only a result of support from La Porte ISD’s Board of Trustees, administration, coaches, players, their families, and fans.
His humility and resolve have earned him much deserved praise over his 45-year career in education. Carroll Lundin has also made an extraordinary impact on the lives of students and families – on and off the field – well beyond the boundaries of La Porte ISD.
When Pat Studdert first ran for La Porte ISD’s Board of Trustees in 1985, he learned that either some people did not remember his last name, or they could not pronounce it. With that, his campaign signs just said “Pat: Enthusiasm for Education.” He won and was re-elected for the next 12 years.
Studdert is the CEO of Buffalo Marine, a company his father founded in 1935, and has been recognized as an industry leader by Ernst & Young, Kauffman Foundation, USA Today, and NASDAQ. His long list of service to people is equally impressive.
Before he came to the family company full time, Studdert coached football at multiple Houston-area high schools, all of which were either being built or resurrected. His dedication to struggling programs resulted in a revival of sorts to thousands of student-athletes and their fans. Then there were his years of service to La Porte ISD as a dedicated school board member.
Studdert served this district until he had to vacate his seat when he moved to Houston. His generous support has continued since then, by providing La Porte ISD’s District Teachers of the Year thousands of dollars annually to spend as they please. Pat Studdert describes himself as authentic and enthusiastic. It could also be said that he empowers everyone who is fortunate enough to know him.
If there are families in the La Porte area that have not been touched by Forrest Wiegand, they are few and far between. If his past is any indication, there are still many people who will be positively influenced by his compassion.
During almost 50 years in La Porte ISD as a teacher, head football coach, and these days as a substitute and testing proctor, Wiegand has mentored thousands of students. He has made it his goal to elevate those around him with an aim to educate students on how to be successful in sports and life, and as husbands, fathers, and citizens through respecting their parents, having a fear of God, and loving their country.
Wiegand’s accomplishments are many beyond the classroom. In 2017 he was inducted into the University of Texas Hall of Honor in recognition of being the starting center on the 1969 National Champion Longhorns. He was head coach at La Porte High School for 15 years succeeding Carroll Lundin. His teams advanced to the state quarterfinals in 1993 and the state playoffs nine times. In 1993, he was a finalist for Houston Area High School Coach of the Year.
Several generations of La Portians regard Forrest Wiegand as a constant. He retired twice from La Porte ISD – first in 2003 and again in 2016. Yet he has remained here throughout because of his strong love for the La Porte community and his constant desire to make it a better place for future generations.
Distinguished Alumni & Citizen Luncheon
La Porte Independent School District on October 18 honored four inductees during the Second Annual Distinguished Alumni & Distinguished Citizens ceremony and luncheon. The district honored Sonja Angelo, Britton Phillips, and the late Martha Love as its 2019 Distinguished Alumni class. Charlie Perry was recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Citizen.
Some people view Charlie Perry as a teacher, counselor, or mentor. Others might see him as soldier, father figure, or as a steadfast volunteer. Everyone who knows Perry, though, also regards him as a leader.
The list of official leadership positions held by Perry is long. In addition to leading in the classroom as a teacher, Perry was president of the La Porte Civic Club for 27 years, and has served as chairman of La Porte’s Juneteenth Parades and celebrations. As a U.S. Army veteran himself, Perry put his expertise to work as the director of veterans affairs with the San Jacinto College District; he also served La Porte ISD for 18 years as a member of its Board of Trustees.
Not only was he the first African-American administrator at San Jacinto College, Perry’s election to La Porte ISD’s Board of Trustees also broke racial barriers.
Perry is a deacon at Zion Hill Praise Center, a member of the La Porte Masonic Lodge, and a board member of Twilight Cemetery. In addition to serving his community in many other volunteer roles, Perry has always found the time to mentor young people. His willingness to provide such loving wisdom has earned him the nickname of Paw-Paw throughout the area.
With all that Charlie Perry has accomplished, it should come as no surprise that he is also a Licensed Professional Counselor. It should also come as no wonder that many people – young and old – consider Perry as a true hero.
When Sonja Angelo joined the La Porte High School faculty in 1967, she had no idea that what she did in the theater would have an impact on generations of students to come. In fact, she promised her principal early on that musicals were not in her plans.
Yet, for more than 50 years, as she poured her heart and soul into the La Porte High School musicals, she did just that—inspired thousands of students to accomplish what they thought was impossible, bringing out the best in each of them as they discovered their talents. Along the way, she made sure that the spotlight was on “her kids.”
Angelo was a sophomore at Texas City High School when she played the lead in the musical Annie Get Your Gun. Though she was successful in her role as Annie, when the curtains lowered, she promptly vowed never to be in the spotlight again.
“At that point, I knew there was something different about me,” she said. “I didn’t like being the center of attention; I liked being behind the scenes. I liked seeing other people accomplish things, and I liked helping them accomplish things.”
“Mrs. A,” as her students know her, officially retired from La Porte ISD in 1996, but she continues to be a driving force behind the La Porte High School theater program. Still, she is always quick to downplay her part – giving all the credit to the students.
If there is a single underlying theme in Britton Phillips’ distinguished 35 years as a La Porte ISD educator, it is humility. Rarely, if ever, does he take credit for being a top-notch teacher, coach and principal. Instead, he readily offers applause for all of those men and women who worked alongside him.
Phillips arrived in La Porte ISD in 1961, the same year Hurricane Carla ravaged the Texas Coast and caused a one-week delay to the start of school. It was only his second year teaching, and he never looked back.
He coached and taught several years at La Porte Junior High School before being named assistant principal there. In 1973, Phillips became principal of Baker Junior High School, where he served for 19 years. He wrapped up his career in 1995, after serving as La Porte Junior High principal for three years.
A committed lifelong learner himself, Phillips graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown. After attending nearby Lee College, he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas and his master’s degree at Sam Houston State University.
La Porte ISD experienced much change during Phillips’ 35 full-time years – and 15 years as a substitute. Two things, though, remained constant: his tireless commitment to excellence for his students and staff, and his nature of refusing accolades, instead directing them to everyone around him.
During her almost 50 years in La Porte ISD, educator Martha Love was the heart of the district. And interestingly, when she and her husband Bill arrived in La Porte for his new job, she was adamant that she wouldn’t live here.
Love joined the La Porte ISD family in 1967 as an elementary school teacher; she retired in 1997 as principal of Bayshore Elementary School. But, just as she had years earlier when she decided to remain in La Porte, Martha changed her retirement plans and became a substitute in the district for another 16 years.
Those who knew Martha – and most people did – have heard the many humorous and heartwarming stories from in and out of her classroom. One story she told involved a classroom field trip during which her students were afraid they would fall off the freeway while en route. Love also fondly recalled the time one of her young students claimed to have been bitten by a leprechaun during a St. Patrick’s Day outing.
She was more than a classroom teacher who wanted to make learning fun though. Much more. Love, in her support of a neighborhood center for children in 2005, said that she would often listen to the police scanner to make sure that her students made it home and were safe.
Martha Love’s name truly said it all…
The event was catered by La Porte High School culinary arts students under the direction of Chef Roy Rost. Adam J. Holland of the LPISD Communications Department served as master of ceremonies, and the colors were presented by LPHS JROTC cadets.
Superintendent Lloyd W. Graham greeted guests, and Dr. Linda Wadleigh, deputy superintendent and chairman of the Distinguished Alumni and Citizen Committee, presented the awards. Retired educator Martha Love also spoke following the presentations.
Honorees were also recognized prior to the Homecoming football game at Bulldog Stadium that evening. Superintendent Lloyd W. Graham presented Washington with a La Porte Bulldogs jersey bearing his number, 84, that he wore at Michigan State and with the Minnesota Vikings as he stepped onto the field at Bulldog Stadium for the first time.
Following are brief biographies of the 2018 honorees:
Jesse T. Garcia
Jesse T. Garcia is remembered by many people for his entrepreneurial prosperity as a restauranteur and real estate holdings investor. He also worked tirelessly to make La Porte a better place to live.
Garcia, who attended La Porte schools and founded Las Hadas Mexican Restaurants, began plying his trade early by working for the Ybarra family at El Toro. He and his brother eventually took a leap of faith and opened a restaurant in Texas City. Not long afterward, Garcia rooted in his hometown, where he debuted the first Las Hadas location.
While building on his business success – opening another restaurant, and acquiring and managing various rental properties – Garcia made it a point to continually reinvest his time and resources in his hometown. His generosity ran the gamut, from sponsoring and coaching many youth sports teams, to volunteering on just about every committee in La Porte. He was a member of the La Porte Optimist Club, La Porte-Bayshore Chamber of Commerce, as well as several other civic groups.
Perhaps Garcia’s greatest attribute was his humble nature, never wanting recognition for any of his countless good deeds. His real desire was to help make La Porte a better place to raise a family and call home. Mission accomplished.
Kerron Clement has said that he keeps running because it is his love. If his athletic accolades are any indication, he also loves winning.
Success on the track began early for Clement, a 2003 La Porte High School graduate. As the story goes, he cleared his first hurdle on the heels of a playground dare at La Porte Jr. High School. Little did he know that a coach had witnessed it, and it was not long before he was making daily treks to La Porte High School to learn from the older student-athletes.
Like anyone who owns great success, Clement had his share of early obstacles, including not even finishing his first race, and almost quitting athletics altogether because he had signed up for distance running – something that took a toll on his body – when he reached high school. But urging from his coach and his mother brought him back to the track, and to many first place finishes.
His awards are many, including two gold medals in the Olympic Games, most recently in 2016. Clement also owns multiple world outdoor championships, as well as three NCAA championships from his days at the University of Florida, where he was also an All-American six times. Before he built a heavy collection of college and professional medals, Clement twice won the state high school championship while wearing La Porte orange.
Though he was the man of the hour around the U.S. after his 2016 gold medal performance in Rio de Janeiro, Clement avoided the spotlight, instead choosing to come home to La Porte and help the district celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Any characterization of Gene Washington must include a description of his long journey of odds-defying triumphs during which hope served as his beacon.
Washington, a star student-athlete at Michigan State University and all-pro receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, was an unlikely success story, who helped break longstanding color barriers during the height of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-led civil rights movement. It all began here in La Porte, Washington’s hometown, and across the bridge in Baytown, where he graduated from the segregated George Washington Carver High School in 1963.
Though Texas universities thought highly of Gene Washington’s athletic prowess, he attended Michigan State, one of the few schools willing to admit African-American students. While there, he was twice named to the All-America first team, and won the NCAA indoor hurdling title, in addition to six Big Ten track championships. The pinnacle of his football career happened in Minnesota, where he played six years – including two All-Pro seasons – with the Vikings.
Gene has enjoyed just as much success beyond the gridiron, having been honored numerous times for his leadership. He holds a degree in education and a master’s in higher education and is retired from 3M, where he was the manager of workforce development for 22 years.
From the time Russell Ybarra was asked to take over a struggling restaurant in Pearland, he has hummed a tune of success, benevolence and humility.
Ybarra, a 1979 La Porte High School graduate, began his career as a restaurateur by washing dishes in his father’s company, El Toro Mexican Restaurants. He caught the entrepreneurial spirit early and started El Matador Foods in 1986, a tortilla factory in Baytown, Texas.
In 1993, Ybarra seized the opportunity to make something out of nothing with a failed restaurant property, and Gringo’s was born. The popular Tex-Mex restaurant has continued its growth in the Houston market to nine locations, including four franchises. Alongside Gringo’s, Ybarra and his team have developed two other popular Tex-Mex concepts, Bullritos and Jimmy Changas.
Ybarra has shared the fruits of his labor in a variety of ways through the years, but his many quiet acts of compassion best describe his true self. He has selflessly run the giving gamut, providing everything from funeral expenses to prosthetic limbs for those in need. Ybarra’s reach has also extended to children, veterans and flood victims – for whom he has paid a yearlong lease while they recovered.
Through all of his success in the restaurant world, Ybarra has not forgotten his La Porte roots. Rather, he continues to invest his resources in the town and its residents … where it all began for him more than 25 years ago.