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Texas Rangers first baseman Danny Santana dives forward to field a grounder during Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels in Arlington

Area residents celebrate nation's birthday at Fireworks and Freedom Celebration

The nation’s birthday took center stage Thursday at the Longview Fairgrounds and adjoining Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center with entertainment, carnival rides, a petting zoo, food vendors, exhibits and other activities culminating in a fireworks display at night.

While children took in carnival rides, the petting zoo and a soap-bubble machine, the spirit of freedom that the holiday celebrates was on the minds of adults who attended the Fireworks and Freedom Celebration.

“We are free to gather like this,” Sherry Watson of Longview said. “We are just going to watch the fireworks with friends. We are going to eat a good, plant-based burger from Divine Catering.”

Watson and her daughter, Heather Watson, also of Longview, attended the talent show to watch her granddaughter, Jenayah Eve Watson, vie for a $500 cash prize.

Jenayah, 13, was one of five finalists, with the prize going to Savannah Harrold, a 20-year-old Longview resident who performed “Creep” by Radiohead. The other finalists were rapper Ashton “Focus” Grigsby of Longview, soloists Amanda Spangler of Tyler and Ledbetter, a four-man hard-rock band.

“Music is just kind of a hobby,” Harrold said. The aspiring social worker who attends Kilgore College and has performed with the college’s Chorale said she plans to use the prize money to pay for moving into her own apartment.

The finalists performed songs for an audience exceeding 50 people, and 3-year-old Teagan Brown of Longview entertained the crowd by dancing on a folded chair and later on the stage.

“He just loves music,” his mother, Tiffany Brown, said. “He is in his own world when music comes on.”

More free music was scheduled later in the day with local favorites Dagnabbit to play at 6:30 to be followed by country rocker Uncle Kracker.

Over in a grassy area next to the Exhibit Building, Daniel Granados of Tyler watched his niece, Lopita Torres, and other children get covered with soap bubbles produced by a machine. One brother, two sisters and a brother-in-law accompanied him.

Granados said he took in a ride called The Sizzler, adding he was “a little bit scared.” He said he planned to try his hand at tossing darts at balloons for prizes in the games area.

The Fourth of July, he said, means celebrating freedom that soldiers made possible and spending time with family.

Eric Taylor of Tyler, who entered the Exhibit Building with his wife, Leah, and son, Trenton, said the holiday means freedom and independence. Inside the building was space occupied by veterans groups, political organizations, other groups and vendors selling products such as knives, clothes and jewelry.

“I get to come out here and do — legally — what I want,” Taylor said.

He said he wanted to relax with family and to later take in the fireworks display.

Spring Hill graduate to lead the Blue Brigade band

Spring Hill High School’s new band director believes getting the position was meant to be.

Michael Moody was mourning the loss of his mentor and former Kilgore College band director Glenn Wells this past week. As he was leaving Wells’ funeral Thursday, Moody got a call offering him the job leading the Blue Brigade Band at his alma mater.

“I really believe this job was given to me by a higher calling,” he said.

Moody spent much of his time in high school and college being mentored by band directors, he said. They were often like father figures to him.

After high school, Moody attended Panola College for a year on a band scholarship. He then went to Kilgore College and Stephen F. Austin State University.

“Music has always kind of come easy to me,” he said. “When I got into it, I just said I would give it a try. I gave it a try, and here I am 22 years later.”

His experience has taken him to many East Texas schools. His resume includes Longview, Pine Tree, Henderson, Gladewater and New Diana ISDs, but he says being a Spring Hill High School graduate and returning to lead the band means more to him.

“It’s a really special feeling graduating from here and seeing how when I was in school the community was not so big, the band was not so big,” he said, “but it’s really grown and really has had tons of success.

“I’m just really excited to be here. I’ve hardly been able to sleep. I just want to keep the great tradition they have here with the Blue Brigade.”

Superintendent Wayne Guidry said as an administrator he wants to hire people who work hard and love kids. He said Moody fit that description.

“He’s a very genuine person,” Guidry said. “What I’ve heard from references is the kids really love him, and he is a very hard worker and very diligent.”

Guidry said Randy Kiser, former high school band director, left his position to spend time at home with his children. Percussion and jazz band director Ronnie Godfrey decided to pursue a real estate career.

The success of the band and Moody’s career will blend together well, Guidry said. The students, he said, have been working together on how best to welcome their new director.

Moody said dedication and consistency are what make a band program a good one.

“A band director’s job is not an 8 to 5 job,” he said. “Fridays, you’ll be at the school 7:15 in the morning and not get done until midnight the next day.”

Besides doing well in competition, Moody said he wants to promote the student leadership in the program. He wants to be a good role model and teach students how to do the right thing and to be good citizens.

“I’m a hometown boy; I was born and raised here,” he said. “I’m praying, and I really believe this is going to be the last stop in my teaching career.”

Strongest earthquake in 20 years rattles Southern California

LOS ANGELES — The strongest earthquake in 20 years shook a large swath of Southern California and parts of Nevada on Thursday, rattling nerves on the July 4th holiday and causing some injuries and damage in a town near the epicenter, followed by a swarm of ongoing aftershocks.

The 6.4 magnitude quake struck at 10:33 a.m. in the Mojave Desert, about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles, near the town of Ridgecrest, California.

Multiple injuries and two house fires were reported in the town of 28,000. Emergency crews were also dealing with small vegetation fires, gas leaks and reports of cracked roads, said Kern County Fire Chief David Witt.

He said 15 patients were evacuated from the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital as a precaution and out of concern for aftershocks.

Kern County District Supervisor Mick Gleason told CNN there were some structural issues with the hospital and some patients had to be moved from one ward to another and that others were taken to a neighboring building.

Gleason did not say what the structural issues were.

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said that utility workers were assessing broken gas lines and turning off gas where necessary.

The local senior center was holding a July 4th event when the quake hit and everyone made it out shaken up but without injuries, she said.

“Oh, my goodness, there’s another one (quake) right now,” Breeden said on live television as an aftershock struck.

President Donald Trump said he was fully briefed on the earthquake and that it “all seems to be very much under control!”

A series of aftershocks included a 4.5 magnitude temblor, according to the United States Geological Survey.

“It almost gave me a heart attack,” said Cora Burke, a waitress at Midway Cafe in Ridgecrest, of the big jolt. “It’s just a rolling feeling inside the building, inside the cafe and all of a sudden everything started falling off the shelf, glasses, the refrigerator and everything in the small refrigerator fell over.”

Video posted online of a liquor store in Ridgecrest showed the aisles filled with broken wine and liquor bottles, knocked down boxes and other groceries strewn on the floor. Flames were seen shooting out of one home in the community.

Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the California Institute of Technology’s seismology lab, said the earthquake was the strongest since a 7.1 quake struck in the area on October 16, 1999.

“This has been an extremely quiet, abnormal time,” Jones said. “This type of earthquake is much more normal ... The long term average is probably once every five or 10 years somewhere in Southern California.”

Jones said that the 6.4 quake centered near the town of Ridgecrest was preceded by a magnitude 4.2 temblor about a half hour earlier.

She said vigorous aftershocks were occurring and that she wouldn’t be surprised if a magnitude 5 quake hit but that they were striking in a remote area, sparsely populated area. “This is an isolated enough location that that’s going to greatly reduce the damage,” she said.

People from Las Vegas to the Pacific Coast reported feeling a rolling motion and took to social media to report it.

Local emergency agencies also took to social media to ask people to only call 911 for emergencies.

“We are very much aware of the significant earthquake that just occurred in Southern California. Please DO NOT call 9-1-1 unless there are injuries or other dangerous conditions. Don’t call for questions please,” the LAPD said in a statement published on Twitter.

There were no reports of serious damage or injuries in Los Angeles, the department said.

The quake was detected by California’s new ShakeAlert system and it provided 48 seconds of warning to the seismology lab well before the shaking arrived at Caltech in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena but it did not trigger a public warning through an app recently made available in Los Angeles County.

USGS seismologist Robert Graves said the ShakeAlert system worked properly.

Graves said it calculated an intensity level for the Los Angeles area that was below the threshold for a public alert. The limits are intended to avoid false alarms.

Ashleigh Chandler, a helicopter rescue EMT at Fort Irwin, California, said the quake happened as she was getting ready for a July 4th party.

“I was just in the living room getting everything ready, we start to feel the shaking, so then I look up and then the wine bottles start rattling and I thought, ‘They’re going to fall.’

“My stepson was in the house and my dog, so we just got everyone outside and then it ended. It was like 15, 20 seconds, maybe. It was pretty good shaking, so I’m out of breath.”

“Everyone’s OK.”

Kilgore man completes citizenship journey

If Victor Olowo wakes up tomorrow and wants to teach literature, he has that opportunity. He has that choice – as an American citizen.

It’s a freedom others across the world, including in his native country of Nigeria, can’t embrace as Americans do.

“The freedom to choose what one wants to do is something that’s pretty much practiced here,” he said. “It’s not easily attainable in most other places in the world.”

That is what his new, long-sought American citizenship means — as of last week, after almost 20 years living in the United States of America, Olowo has chosen to be an American, giving up his Nigerian citizenship to do so.

“That’s what it means to me,” said the Kilgore College graduate, registered nurse and personal trainer. Here, “People can choose where they want to work. They can wake up and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and they can do something else. A lot of people don’t understand the impact of that.

“My uncle impressed it on me the first time I came here: You can choose whatever you want to be. You can start to be a doctor, and then you can change your mind. You can start to go into finance, and then you can choose something different. That freedom of choice is so important to me.”

Femi Ibitayo, Olowo’s uncle, still lives in Longview. He invited his nephews to join him there in 2001.

“He wanted us to come because he wanted to give us an opportunity we didn’t have back in Nigeria.”

Raised in a former British colony, English — “proper English,” Olowo jokes — was part of his upbringing, and he acclimated quickly to East Texas.

“One of the first things that took me aback — ‘y’all’ and ‘howdy’ and all that, East Texas slang,” he said. “I’m still learning a lot of East Texas slang. After being here for so long, it’s amazing what you learn every day.”

After his basics at Kilgore College, Olowo completed the school’s nursing program and went to work in Tyler. He said he got additional training as a personal trainer through the Cooper Institute in Dallas and has steadily added to his certifications. By 2013, he was doing personal training full-time and today works with a variety of groups, like the Rangerettes, and individual clients.

At 38, he’s spent half his life in America. He met his wife, Vanessa, here. She’d earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in her native Colombia and was studying business administration at Wiley College when life brought the couple together in 2012. Their daughter Victoria celebrates her fifth birthday next month, and twins Valerie and Valentina are 2.

From 2001 through 2013, Olowo lived in the U.S. on a work permit then with a green card from 2013 to 2018. After the requisite wait period, he applied to become a citizen in Spring 2018. It became official June 25 in Irving.

“There were 111 people from 33 different countries,” he said. It was a diverse mix who had a lot in common — in particular, they’d all taken the myriad of steps to reach the ceremony, including studying 100 questions on American history and government, answering at least six out of 10 correctly on their exams.

“I love reading, so it was a lot easier to remember,” Olowo said. “The interview process was good. It was smooth.”

Parks Fitness Center is where Olowo works, and he says he’s found real fellowship with the facility’s patrons and with his coworkers, working with a range of clients.

“It has the equipment for all of them. It also lends itself to community,” he said, chuckling to think of the early birds who get their workouts in as soon as the doors open at 5 a.m. and of the “quiet crowds” who squeeze in their fitness hours in the afternoons. “The best part: it closes at 9 a.m., so you actually have a shut-off period.

“As a student, I worked out here. Working here, it’s more like a friendly environment. The people that I work with are not just clients, they’re family also. I know about their lives, they know about mine. I know their families, they know mine.”