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.