The Distinguished Alumni Award is open to any individual who graduated from La Porte High School, Viola DeWalt High School or George Washington Carver High School no fewer than 10 years prior to the nomination. The Distinguished Alumni Award also is open to individuals who were employed by LPISD or who served on the LPISD Board of Trustees.
Awards for alumni will be given for achievement in various fields of service which include, but are not limited to, the arts, athletics, business, education, entertainment, law, medicine, the military, music, philanthropy, politics, public service, religion, scholarship, and science.
A Distinguished Citizen Award recipient must be a resident or work within La Porte ISD or have made a significant impact on La Porte ISD. A recipient must be distinguished in his or her business, profession, life work or other worthy endeavors, 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.
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.