LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The smell of jalapeno's was in the air as the second night of the 30th annual Texas State Forest Festival started off with a fun little twist to salute our 'Hometown Heroes.'
On Thursday at the George H. Henderson Expo Center in Lufkin, several brave jalapeno eating volunteers helped Whataburger raise thousands of dollars for eight Angelina County nonprofit organizations through the "Bring the Heat," jalapeno-eating contest.
The most exciting part of the night, spectators said, was watching those volunteers cringe once the hot, juicy jalapeno's hit their mouths.
"We were thinking of fun ways that these nonprofit organizations could raise money and we thought none better than a jalapeno eating contest," said Macy Herrington Dover, the director of marketing for GVCS Inc., Whataburger.
But the real honor of the night was awarding four people in the community with their 'Hometown Hero' award.
"I think there are a lot of hometown heroes. I'm in here with a great group of people. I just think there are a lot of people who are heroes in each community, and we all got to set an example, " said Gary Martel, the superintendent for the Diboll Independent School District.
Martel was chosen as a 'Hometown Hero,' for his outstanding work as a long-time educator. For 28 years, Martel has been changing the lives of kids all over East Texas as a superintendent, teacher and coach.
"It's just an honor to represent my community of Diboll and the people there," Martel said.
Duane Freeman, the assistant fire chief for the Lufkin Fire Department, was also chosen as a 'Hometown Hero.'
"It's very humbling. I volunteer down at Harold's House and I understand they were the ones who nominated me. But, I enjoy working with those kids and spending time with those ladies and think a lot of them, but this was unexpected," Freeman said.
Freeman has been with the LFD for eight years and previously worked as Fire Marshall, and Station Captain.
Phyllis Grandgeorge, the executive director for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council, was also an award recipient.
"I'm so excited to have been nominated and certainly am overwhelmed to receive this honor of a hometown hero," Grandgeorge said.
Grandgeorge has worked with ADAC for 23 years and helped direct the ADAC staff from five to 40.
"To be chosen is real exciting and sheds a light on not only myself but on the great job that our staff does here in this community," Grandgeorge said.
But, one 'Hometown Hero,' recipient was taken aback by her award. Demetress Curl-Harrell, the senior executive director for Hospice in the Pines, acted as the emcee for the event and was completely surprised when she won the 'Hometown Hero,' award. She said she had no idea she had even been nominated.
"I think this is an amazing group of people. The recognition that Whataburger does for our community is phenomenal and their generosity and to recognize these individuals it is truly service above self," Curl-Harrell said.
On top of the awards, the nonprofit groups each were awarded $8,000, on top of various prizes. The participating nonprofit's were the Angelina Alliance for Children, Angelina Beautiful/Clean, Family Crisis Center of East Texas, Hospice in the Pines, Junior Achievement of Angelina County, Lufkin's Volunteer Fire Department, Pregnancy Help Center of Lufkin and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council of East Texas.
The winner of the jalapeno eating contest was the Lufkin Volunteer Fire Department and the man who ate the most jalapeno's of the night, a volunteer for the Family Crisis Center, won free Whataburger for the year. He ate twelve jalapeno's in 60 seconds.