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Texas Shakespeare Festival founder, director retiring next year

Raymond Caldwell, founder and artistic director of the Texas Shakespeare Festival for more than three decades, will retire next year on what will be his 78th birthday.

“I’ve been thinking about it for some time,” he said Monday morning from his Kilgore College office.

College trustees were to consider accepting Caldwell’s resignation — effective Aug. 31, 2020 — when they met Monday night.

Caldwell started the festival in the Texas sesquicentennial year of 1986. Next summer will mark the festival’s 35th year with him welcoming crowds and introducing performances.

It will also be his last, he said.

“After teaching for 54 years … you wonder what you’re going to do with yourself because, like many people, I’ve defined myself by what I do,” Caldwell said.

Rumors of his pending retirement have circulated in the Kilgore community since he surprised the festival foundation board at a recent quarterly meeting, Caldwell said.

“News spread very fast” he said, “so the reality has set in.”

Caldwell said he had no intention of speaking up at the quarterly meeting, but as foundation board members voiced concerns about rising festival costs compared with yearly fundraising of between $100,000 and $200,000, he interrupted the discussion with his announcement.

The board “sounded pretty concerned about being able to continue doing that year after year, and of course the festival doesn’t get any cheaper,” adding that his retirement “would save the foundation that much more money … Something just told me I should speak up and give them that little bit of hope.”

Caldwell said he hopes the college replaces him with Matthew Simpson, who is the festival’s 10th-year associate artistic director and development director, and his wife Meaghan Simpson, who is associate casting director and associate artistic director in her 11th year.

The couple is paid by the foundation through Kilgore College, a maneuver that allows them to qualify for college employee benefits.

“If the college will agree to use the money they’ve been paying me and direct that to Meaghan and Matthew’s salaries, it will make funding the festival that much easier,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell hasn’t determined his post-retirement plans — “I’m sure that will work itself out in time,” he said — but he is steadfast in preparing for the festival’s 35th season.

“It’s been the joy of my life and literally the most fulfilling, exciting endeavor that I’ve ever been involved with,” Caldwell said, “and I’m very proud.”

LeTourneau University celebrates moon landing with NASA display

Learning about the moon landing — 50 years after the first astronauts made the historical touchdown — is now as easy as a trip to LeTourneau University.

The campus is displaying a borrowed exhibit of material from NASA’s Johnson Space Center until Oct. 13. The exhibit, which opened Monday, includes panels with history about the space program, a training helmet astronauts used, a wheel from the Space Shuttle Discovery, a model of the lunar lander and a copy of the speech then-President Nixon would have used if the moon landing was unsuccessful.

The exhibit, along with speakers set for Sept. 19, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

Hundreds of millions of people tuned in to radios or watched the grainy black-and-white images on TV as Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, in one of humanity’s most glorious technological achievements.

Astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the moon alone in the mother ship while Armstrong proclaimed for the ages, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” was struck by the banding together of Earth’s inhabitants.

The exhibit will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

David Ostendorff, history professor, said NASA loans materials to schools for free and the department simply had to ask.

Ostendorff said in a written statement the university wants to invite everyone in the area involved in the Apollo project to attend the event on Sept. 19, when the exhibit and additional items will be moved to the lobby at the university’s Belcher Center, to be recognized in the auditorium and be part of a photograph.

Two public lectures are scheduled that morning at 10 a.m. and at 11:15 a.m. in the Belcher Center Auditorium.

“Our students who were born now in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s who are coming to college, this wasn’t part of the world by the time they were born,” he said. “We weren’t sending people into space except the International Space Station. We weren’t doing shuttle missions. We weren’t doing the Apollo trips.”

It is important for people to learns about the specific time in history advancements in space technology were happening in the U.S., Ostendorff said.

Flame-retardant clothes, cellphone technology and air planes that do not explode are all technology as a result of space program research, he said.

“There was a time in history, in the 1960s, when our whole nation came around a project and said, ‘Wow we can work together and actually accomplish something big and audacious,’ that sounded crazy when Kennedy launched it in ‘61,” he said. “Big efforts like this from governments and corporations, they get criticized as being a waste of money ... but what we don’t realize is everything that came out of it that has made our lives better as a result.”

Federal officials credit Trump's crackdown after border apprehensions dropped in August

EL PASO — The number of people who were apprehended by or surrendered to federal immigration officials on the U.S.-Mexico border dipped by more than 20 percent last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday. After totalling 82,055 apprehensions in July, the agency reported an August total of about 64,000 apprehensions — a decrease of 22%.

The August total includes about 50,700 apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol agents between the official ports of entry and about 13,300 “inadmissables” who presented themselves at a port of entry but were deemed inadmissible by Customs and Border Protection officers.

It’s the third straight monthly decline and the lowest since January’s total of about 58,300. The August total is also less than half of this year’s peak in May, when more than 144,000 people were apprehended at the border.

Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said the dip is a direct result of President Trump’s immigration policies and not traditional seasonal slowdowns caused by the summer heat. Those policies include the Migrant Protection Protocols, which require migrants to wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings, and forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico before they are allowed to apply.

Moran said during a news conference Monday that seasonal slowdowns usually account for an 8 percent dip.

“If you look from June to July, we saw those numbers drop by 40 percent,” he said. “Last year from July to August, the numbers actually went up 16 percent. This is the season when they start going up. And this year, down 23 percent. It’s what this president and this administration is doing, it has nothing to do with seasonal trends.”

The declines can also be partially attributed to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s deployment of federal troops to that country’s southern border with Guatemala to help slow the flow of migrants from Central America traveling north. That move came after Trump threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican imports.

Although the numbers have dipped in recent months, border agents have already apprehended thousands more migrants this fiscal year than during all of the 2018 fiscal year. The federal government’s fiscal year runs from October to September.

Texas continues to be the busiest crossing point for migrants, and the two largest categories of unauthorized crossers continue to be family units and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the United States.

From October to August, more than 205,000 family units were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector, which covers South Texas — a 277% increase over the same period in 2018. About 33,100 unaccompanied minors have also been apprehended in the sector so far this year, compared with 21,556 during 2018 – a 54% increase.

Agents in the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, apprehended about 129,400 family units from October to August of the current fiscal year, along with 15,800 unaccompanied minors. That’s an increase of about 1,243% and 221%, respectively.

Judge blocks Trump's rule for asylum seekers on southern border

A federal district judge has reissued a nationwide block of a White House rule aimed at denying asylum to immigrants who didn’t first seek refuge apply in another country before reaching the United States.

The rule change was first announced in July as a way to discourage Central American and other immigrants from requesting asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border — it would require immigrants from Guatemala, for example, to seek asylum in Mexico rather than the U.S.. San Francisco-based federal judge Jon Tigar halted the policy soon after it was announced, but a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled the ban could only take effect in Arizona and California, which allowed the policy to be implemented in Texas and New Mexico.

Monday’s ruling means the ban is now also in effect in Texas and New Mexico.

“The court recognized there is grave danger facing asylum-seekers along the entire stretch of the southern border,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said in a statement Monday.

The plaintiffs — East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab and the Central American Resource Center — had urged Tigar to revisit the issue and in a filing last month, the ACLU argued the partial ban makes little sense because the asylum system is so decentralized.

Tigar said in his Monday ruling that a nationwide block was necessary.

“While nationwide injunctions are not the ‘general rule,’ they are appropriate ‘where such breadth [is] necessary to remedy a plaintiff’s harm,’ ” he wrote. “This is such a case.”

The United States has a third-country agreement with Canada, which has agreed to accept asylum seekers before they reach the U.S. border. The Trump administration signed a similar deal with Guatemala in July, but that country’s incoming president, Alejandro Giammattei, said the agreement needed to be ratified by both countries’ congresses before it could take effect, Reuters reported.

Immigration attorneys have argued for months that Mexico isn’t a safe third country due to increasing cartel violence. Migrants, specifically those from Central America and Cuba, have said they are easy prey for Mexican criminals when they’re forced to seek asylum in Mexico or must wait in that country for a chance to enter the U.S.

Other recent Trump policies have made thousands of immigrants wait across the border for weeks or months; many are waiting to request asylum, while others have made a request and are waiting for their cases to be heard by a U.S. immigration judge.

County forms committee to help in downtown Longview parking facility designs

A new advisory committee appointed Monday will take the lead on putting together ideas for a long-sought facility to increase parking for the Gregg County Courthouse in downtown Longview.

The facility, if built, would provide parking for as many as 300 vehicles but could also provide space for other ventures including relocation of the county’s Veterans Services office from its site on East Marshall Avenue, Pct. 1 Commissioner Ronnie McKinney has said.

McKinney will serve as a non-voting member to the advisory committee that commissioners appointed Monday, along with attorney Robin O’Donaghue.

Advisory committee members are Judge Bill Stoudt, Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Vincent Dulweber, Sheriff Maxey Cerliano, Auditor Laurie Woloszyn and Maintenance Director Harry McMahan.

Last month, commissioners asked for qualified engineering firms to bid on designs for a parking facility to be built across Methvin Street from the courthouse.

The county purchased the land from Regions Bank in February 2018 in a $1.249 million deal. County officials already converted part of that space into a parking lot for about 50 cars last year.

The court first authorized purchasing the former Regions Bank parking lot in November 2017 as part of its effort to address a 2015 study that found the county needed almost 600 parking spaces daily for courthouse visitors and staff but has only 351 available spaces.

Regions Bank has until June 2020 to clear the premises of the property and bank on Fredonia Street, but that could happen sooner, Stoudt said. The bank opened its new branch on West Marshall Avenue several days ago, and Dulweber and other legal representatives are drafting documents for the county to possibly take ownership as soon as this month.

“We will revisit and see if everybody is on board with them vacating,” Stoudt said, adding that if that happens, “We can take it over and start demolishing the drive-throughs” that currently occupy part of the property the county acquired.