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Venetian Ballroom Dance Club of Tyler to celebrate 100th dance on Friday

With the cha-cha, tango, samba and more, members of the Venetian Ballroom Dance Club of Tyler will celebrate the club’s 100th dinner dance this week.

Members come to the club’s formal dances not only from the Tyler area, but also from the surrounding areas of Jacksonville, Athens, Longview and Greenville.

The club regularly conducts its dinner dance six times a year at Willow Brook, with one every other month in September, November, January, March, May and July. A different band from the Dallas area, Houston, Greenville or the Tyler area plays each night. The dancing usually extends to about 10:30 p.m. Men dress in optional tuxedo or coat and tie with women attired in after-five or cocktail dresses.

Music starts while club members have dinner provided by Willow Brook and after eating, members engage in many styles of ballroom dancing, including rumbas, waltzes, fox trots, east coast swing, west coast swing, cha-cha, zumba, samba, Latin dances, the tango and others.

Susan Brock, president since the club began, said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be dressed up and come out for a wonderful meal and dance to big-band music and ballroom dance music in a safe, nonsmoking atmosphere. It’s like having a high school prom or something similar to that every other month.”

Each dinner dance has a theme illustrated with table decorations. The theme for September is the 100th dance. Other themes are City of Love, Full Moon Rising, South of the Border, Sizzling Summer, Red and Gold.

Brock said she and a friend had been members of a dance club that had dances at different locations, but they wanted to start the Venetian Ballroom Dance Club that would conduct its dinner dances only at Willow Brook. It has “a fabulous dance floor in a large room and the best dancing area in Tyler with a country club atmosphere,” Brock said.

“I personally thought that Willow Brook provided the best opportunity for a first-class place for people to come if they wanted to go to a formal dance,” Brock said. “We had enough people that wanted to do the same thing (start the new club).”

Brock named it the Venetian Ballroom Dance Club because she thought the word “venetian” sounded exotic.

Richard East, who helped Brock form the club, said, “There’s a lot of interest in ballroom dancing and we decided a dinner dance would work out good for everybody. It’s a lot of fun to do. Everyone really enjoys the friendly crowd and dancing.”

Brock said, “The main purpose of our club is to enjoy the classic elegance of ballroom dancing in a first class, country club type atmosphere. The second purpose is to have a good time.”

Members are couples and singles from many walks of life, from beauticians to pastors, from airline pilots to a former mayor, all of whom have in common a love of ballroom dancing. They have ranged in age from 15 to the 90s. About 85 people belong to the club.

As the years passed, some members dropped out on account of aging, declining health or moved away, so now the club is seeking new members and visitors.

“We are thrilled to have anyone come who wants to come and enjoy ballroom dance music,” Brock said.

East added, “We have openings now for new members. If anyone is interested, we would love to have them.”

Brock said the dinner dances are an opportunity to have a great time out with friends, for fellowship and dancing to good music.

Suzanne Handley and her husband, Richard, have been members for 17 years.

They took up ballroom dancing as a hobby after her husband, who had a phobia about dancing, decided to face his Goliath. They took lessons and now they not only attend dinner dances of the Venetian Ballroom Dance Club, they teach ballroom dance lessons in the Green Acres Baptist Church recreation department.

Suzanne Handley pointed out that ballroom dancing is something couples can do together and that research has proven it is good for dancers physically and socially as well as it stimulates their brain because they are always memorizing new dance patterns.

If anyone is interested in trying ballroom dancing, Brock said, the club can connect them with dance instructors and places that offer group lessons and private lessons.

“One of the best things that I ever chose to do in my life was to learn how to ballroom dance. At the age of 35, I had never danced a step. After two lessons, I was absolutely hooked,” Brock said. “It transforms you. It raises your self esteem. It brings you alive. It makes you thrive instead of just surviving.”

Twitter: @Tylerpaper

Smith County Hay Show raises money for local youth agriculture programs

Over $22,500 was raised for youth agriculture programs and scholarships at the 35th annual Smith County Hay Show and Auction on Monday at the 104th annual East Texas State Fair in Tyler.

In total, the top 25 entries were auctioned off to local businesses and residents to raise funding to support scholarships, the East Texas State Fair Junior Livestock Show and other programs.

The first place hay, produced by Paula Williams, went to Brookshire Grocery Co. for $3,600. Second place hay, produced by Malcolm Williams, went to Heritage Land Bank for $1,400. Third place hay, produced by Eddy Holley, went to East Texas Seed Co. for $1,125. Hay was sold through 25th place.

Lonny Uzzell, hay show chairman for 30 years, said the hay samples are judged by the level of protein and overall quality, including digestibility.

“It’s the natural protein for the cattle people of East Texas,” Uzzell said.

He also emphasized the importance of raising money for youth agriculture and education in East Texas.

John Sykes, East Texas State Fair president and CEO, said the show provides great funding for the local youth.

“The ultimate benefit is youth scholarships and to support the East Texas State Fair Junior Livestock Show. In other words, it all goes to young people,” Sykes said. “Philanthropy is something we should all pay attention to. This is one of the times that people in the Tyler area are giving back to the young people.”

Evelyn Williams of the East Texas Cattle-Ettes scholarship program, acknowledged the Arp and Martin’s Mill FFA students who volunteered for the show and auction. She said the show helps grow the agricultural community.

“We’re trying to keep agriculture alive and well by having this hay show,” she said.

Funding from the annual event goes to East Texas Cattle-Ettes for scholarships, East Texas State Fair for the annual Junior Livestock Show and the Smith County Soil and Water Conservation District, which tests and scores the hay for the show each year.

Skyler Shively, Smith County extension agent for 4-H and youth development, served as auctioneer during the hay show.

Ben Fletcher, East Texas Farm and Ranch Club president, said the hay show encourages youth participation in the agricultural field and helps to get exposure for the club.

TWITTER: @ZWellerman

Tyler City Council to vote on budget and tax rate Wednesday

After more than a month of taking feedback from the public, the Tyler City Council will vote Wednesday to approve a new budget for fiscal year 2020.

The City Council’s proposed budget would increase spending on police, fire, streets and parks, while putting aside money into a rainy day fund.

The proposed property tax rate on 2019 values is 25.99 cents per $100 of property values, up from 24.4452 cents in the previous year.

The City Council will need to vote to approve the budget and the tax rate. There also are corresponding items dedicating money to streets and raising certain fees.

Mayor Martin Heines said in August that he wants to leave the city in a financially stable place with the rainy day fund and increased property tax revenue.

Property tax revenue funds a portion of spending on police, fire, and parks, but the largest single funding source for the general fund continues to be a 1 percent sales tax.

Sales tax can be a volatile revenue source, and the city’s sales tax revenue plummeted a few years ago, leading the city to impose a hiring freeze and spend less than desired on public safety.

Additionally, the Texas Legislature approved a law this year called SB 2 that reduces the amount cities and counties can raise revenue to about 3 percent per year, starting next year.

In another item related to the budget, the City Council will increase fees for drinking water, sewer, trash pickup, recycling, and burials at Rose Hill Cemetery, among other services.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Smith County officials to look at juvenile detention officer pay

Smith County officials will look at whether to pay overtime to juvenile detention officers at an upcoming meeting.

The Smith County Commissioners Court will consider the issues at a regular meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Smith County Courthouse Annex, 200 E. Ferguson St.

One item under consideration would allow juvenile detention officers to be paid overtime for their work instead of having them build up compensatory time when they work more than their scheduled hours.

The Smith County Juvenile Services Department runs a 32-bed facility that houses young people before their case is decided on by a judge, and a 12-bed HOPE Academy, which focuses on rehabilitating young people who have been convicted.

Ross Worley, the director of the Juvenile Services Department, wrote in a letter to the Commissioners Court on Sept. 10 that the time builds up because state regulations require 24/7 staffing at an 8-to-1 juvenile to officer ratio.

“Historically (Smith County Juvenile Services) averages between 3,000 and 4,000 hours of JSO comp time on the books,” Worley wrote. He said the amount on the books was recently 3,600 and had been reduced to less than 75 hours by Sept. 10.

Worley said that’s part of a six-month team effort to reduce the amount of compensatory time that builds up. The Juvenile Board, which oversees the department, has approved $70,000 in overtime for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

“Over the years it has become a challenging task of trying to lower compensatory time on the books while not having officers lose earned vacation time,” he said. “With the removal of accrued compensatory time, it would alleviate the balancing act.”

He added: “I believe this will appropriately compensate employees for the demands on their personal time as well as improve morale within the department.”

If approved by the Commissioners Court, Worley said supervisory and administrative staff would do weekly audits of overtime pay.