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Heart & Soul
Lee's Old Country Store a go-to shop for canned foods, boots and more


MINEOLA — Small business owner Lee W. James didn't grow up in the country, but after a long career in the military and defense industry, he couldn't wait to saddle up and get out of town.

The 16-year U.S. Marine and Lockheed Martin retiree left Grand Prairie more than two decades ago to create a new life in East Texas based in part on a love of the past.

The rodeo enthusiast, who enjoyed competitive roping, dabbled in farming a few years before moving to downtown Mineola.

"I have a master's in history and I wanted to do research on old buildings," he said. "There are so many old buildings here... I just love the history."

James, 74, also enjoys old-school cooking techniques and found a way to combine the interests into a single endeavor,

creating his own niche and accidental slice of entrepreneurial heaven: Lee's Old Country Store, 115 S. Johnson St.

His shop is located in a historic building that's part of the fiber of downtown.

The upstairs serves as his private residence; the downstairs is a palate for a seemingly endless selection of jellies, jams, salsas and vegetables, to name a few.

"It's my hobby," he said. "Everything is made right here, including the labels. My products taste so good because I pour my heart and soul into it."


There is much to say about James and his post-retirement endeavors.

Boredom does not seem to be a problem.

He's written two cookbooks and efforts are underway on a third read, documenting his Native American ancestry.

He's also a boot seller, offering a wide variety of well-heeled options plucked away largely from friends in the rodeo circuit.

Other endeavors include service for the Wood County Crime Stoppers, Mineola Neighborhood Watch Program, Marine Corps League and Volunteer Fire Department Rodeo.

But his real passion seems to center on the southern delicacies he coaxes from a tiny, no-frills kitchen outfitted with castaway equipment.

His beloved culinary hideaway is separated from the rest of the world by a creaky old screen door and a hand-scribbled "keep out" sign that reads: "Whoa, no creature of God is allowed in the kitchen ... except the handsome cook. Thanks."

Collected pressure cookers are the crown jewels of his kingdom.

"I've been making products for more than 30 years," he said with a grin. "My mom didn't teach me these things. I used to cook for my three sisters when they were little girls, plus my mom and dad and brother."

The self-taught cook whips up a whole host of southern delicacies with a twist — unexpected spices, uncommon ingredients, such as a little dab of butter in the jellies.

Some names might raise a few eyebrows, with most salsas featuring "butt scooting" on the labels.

"People look at the names and think they are hot, but they aren't really," he said.

It takes a bit of humor to appreciate the cheeky approach to his direct sale foods, but there seems to be no shortage of willing testers.

A dog-eared notebook posted at the front of his shop features a lengthy list of visitor names and hometowns.

"I've got customers from all over the world," he said. "There's a lady from London who loves the sweet potato bread. She asked for my recipe and I gave it to her."

James shares recipes and anecdotes in his two cookbooks, available for sale in his shop.

He doesn't worry about giving away trade secrets because most people don't cook with pressure cookers anyway.

"People are scared of them," he said with a shrug. "They don't bother me."


James said a great childhood helped set the stage for an enjoyable life. He grew up in a hard-working family with six children.

"Same mother, same father," he said. "Mom was mixed Cherokee, Dad was mixed Choctaw."

When he was born, his parents worked for an Oklahoma farmer who paid them not with money, but with credit for goods from a makeshift store set up on his land.

It was a difficult arrangement for a young couple that wanted more for their children than the confines of the farm could offer.

James was still a tiny baby when his family joined a small caravan of visionaries heading out of Oklahoma to Dallas.

It took a few days to make the journey, he said, because the vehicles kept breaking down.

"Back in those days, people would help each other on the road," he said. "They would swap out cold cornbread or beans and things and help each other."

The young family reached Dallas and settled in to create a better life for themselves.

His mother eventually opened her own beauty shop and his dad worked as a laborer.

"We always had food," he said. "Mom was always a giver ... she was always feeding neighborhood kids and even hobos. They would wash their hands outside and eat on the porch."

He's never forgotten the importance of sharing, routinely canning food for charitable purposes and food pantries.

"I peeled over 200 pounds of potatoes to make this," he said, holding up freshly prepared products labeled for Golden United Methodist Church. "These potatoes, you can put in the pantry and leave them a year. Not long ago, I peeled 546 tomatoes."

James said life in the city was great, but it does not compare to living in East Texas.

"It's always been a dream of mine to have something like this," he said. "I make a little money, but it's mostly my hobby. I'm really loving it."

Ted Cruz runs for re-election as though it's still 2016


AUSTIN — Ted Cruz ran a surprisingly effective presidential campaign in 2016. It sometimes sounds like he still is.

The Texan is seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate by pledging to repeal Barack Obama's signature health care law, abolish the IRS and beat back federal overreach — even though the Trump administration has already diluted the health law, delivered sweeping tax cuts and code revisions and controls Washington along with a Republican-led Congress.

Unmentioned — almost as if he hadn't noticed — is that the political world has been turned upside down around him. Indeed, Cruz, virtually alone among candidates here, barely refers to President Donald Trump and his paradigm-shifting repercussions since the election.

While other Texas political hopefuls want to tap into Trump's strong popularity with the Republican base, Cruz is sticking to his greatest policy hits, calculating that he has the stature to remain above the fray and can stick to the playbook that carried him from GOP primary also-ran to second place finisher in his first run for the White House. It's an

agenda that would transition smoothly to another possible presidential run after 2020.

"Freedom doesn't defend itself," Cruz declared, drawing applause from a crowd of 200-plus inside an automatic mailing firm's headquarters in Austin, one of 12 cities where Cruz recently staged re-election kickoff rallies over three days.

The aloof approach especially suits Cruz, a strident tea party hero who delighted in infuriating both parties' congressional powerbrokers before Trump arrived to unhinge them even more. He bitterly opposed Trump at the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, was booed for refusing to endorse him at the Republican National Convention but eventually fell in line.

While Trump has careened away from some traditional GOP beliefs by supporting free market-busting tariffs, racking up federal debt and shrugging off family values and morality standards, Cruz can claim to have been an unflinching conservative all along.

"Steering clear of Trump allows him to be more about Cruz," said GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, a former national tea party organizer who directed the 2014 re-election campaign of Texas' senior senator, John Cornyn.

Cruz's stance differs from some other high-profile conservatives thought to have future presidential aspirations. Rather than keep his distance, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse has been outspokenly critical of the president and his volatile tweet eruptions, and could tap into Republicans looking for a new direction post-Trump. Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley may emerge as top evangelists for Trump's post-presidency legacy.

Of Cruz, "it's early to say if what he's doing will play into how he's perceived as a national leader," Steinhauser said.

Someone else Cruz often ignores while campaigning is Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who is giving up his El Paso congressional seat to challenge Cruz. A bilingual, former punk rocker, O'Rourke garnered national attention for his energetic rallies and for frequently out-fundraising Cruz, even while shunning donations from outside political groups and special interests.

But O'Rourke failed to capture 40 percent of Democratic votes during Texas' March 6 primary against two little-known opponents while Cruz took 85 percent of GOP ballots, suggesting a Texas-sized name recognition gap with the incumbent.

O'Rourke said Cruz can't ignore the White House's current occupant while promoting his own record: "He's one of the primary enablers and abettors of this Trump administration."

"I don't know what his strategy is other than he's running for president," O'Rourke said.

Cruz has a new campaign slogan, "Tough as Texas," and uses it to highlight the heroism of people who rushed to aid their neighbors after Hurricane Harvey, as well as two citizens who helped bring to a stop a mass shooting in the town of Sutherland Springs. But his campaign stickers only feature Cruz's name and slogan, not mentioning 2018 or the office he's running for. During a stop along the Texas-Mexico border, he was even introduced as "President Cruz."

Tyler Paper wins 14 awards at Texas APME conference

CORPUS CHRISTI — The Tyler Morning Telegraph received 14 awards during the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors annual convention.

This included awards for writing, photography and design. The paper received four awards on Sunday and 10 on Saturday.

Reporter Cory McCoy won first place for Freedom of Information for the work he did filing public information requests and tracking data about sexual assaults on local college campuses.

Through his reporting, he found inconsistencies in how colleges reported sexual assaults and, in the case of one college, sexual assaults were omitted from the annual reporting required by federal law.

After the stories were published, one

of the colleges changed policies for campus dormitories and hired a former FBI field officer to be in charge of campus safety.

"The paper acted and change happened," a contest judge wrote. "That's what newspapers should do."

Jamie Clyde also received an honorable mention in the Freedom of Information category for his work on a story about a Lufkin man who challenged incumbent Congressman Louie Gohmert in the March GOP primary.

The candidate presented himself as a medical doctor but in fact was never licensed to practice medicine and had been disciplined by the Texas Medical Board for offering medical advice over the internet.

Clyde, who completed the work while working as a summer intern at the paper, fact-checked the candidate and used open records requests to confirm details about his background.

In the Newspaper of the Year category, the paper received honorable mention.

"A very strong Sunday product carried it into a top contender," a contest judge wrote. "Good local content throughout the paper in all three entries."

Reporter Jacque Hilburn-Simmons and chief photographer Sarah Miller received honorable mention for Community Service for their work on the series "Fading Away: Alzheimer's impacts a community."

This five-part series highlighted the disease of dementia and the toll it can take on families.

The project was created as part of a community partnership between the Tyler Morning Telegraph and the Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County for the purpose of educating people about the disease and where to go for help.

On Saturday, awards received included a first place for Sports Feature to former sports reporter Chris Parry; a second place for Star Reporter of the Year to Jacque Hilburn-Simmons; and a third place win to the staff for Star Breaking News Report of the Year for coverage of tornadoes that struck the Canton area.

Multimedia Journalist Chelsea Purgahn received honorable mention for Star Photojournalist of the Year and an honorable mention in the sports photography category while chief photographer Sarah Miller won second place in the photojournalism category.

Former senior editor Roy Maynard received third place in business reporting and designer Kathryn Garvin took home second and third place awards in the infographics category and an honorable mention in headline writing.



• Freedom of Information, Cory McCoy

• Sports feature, Chris Parry


• Star Reporter of the Year, Jacque Hilburn-Simmons

• Photojournalism, Sarah Miller

• Infographics, Kathryn Garvin


• Star Breaking News Report of the Year, staff

• Business reporting, Roy Maynard

• Infographics, Kathryn Garvin


• Star Photojournalist of the Year, Chelsea Purgahn

• Sports photography, Chelsea Purgahn

• Headline writing, Kathryn Garvin

• Freedom of Information, Jamie Clyde

• Newspaper of the Year, staff

• Community Service, Jacque Hilburn-Simmons and Sarah Miller