There were stories that warmed your heart, that told the story of fantastic finishes and honored long-time residents who retired or passed away. There were well-read stories of death, crime, destruction and intense life-or-death and death sentence trials.

These were among the most-read stories by 12.3 million visitors to during 2019.

Then there was Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service writer Greg Grant who penned “Crape myrtles do not need pruning.”

In just 11 paragraphs, Grant, the Smith County horticulturist, earned the No. 1 story of the year according to our analytics.

And it wasn’t close. The rose is the national flower, Tyler is the Rose Capital of the World, so there is no shame in our newsroom having a contributing writer take the top spot with a horticulture article.

To give Greg a few more props, he is the author of “Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” “Heirloom Gardening in the South” and “The Rose Rustlers.” His blog is at, he is featured each month in Texas Gardener magazine and has the popular Greg Grant Gardens Facebook page. So yeah, we lost to a legend.

From his top article, Greg wrote, “Here we go again. I see some folks are already hacking on their crape myrtles. The only pruning crape myrtles ever need (if at all) is thinning the trunks as they are developing to the desired permanent number, removing suckers as they sprout at the base and cutting out dead wood and crossing or rubbing branches. That’s it.”

Of course, three of the top 15 stories had to do with the Texas Rose Festival in Tyler.

Something new happened though. Video stories crept into the top 25 and nine were in the top 50. Our readers watched a video of a student assisting a Jacksonville teacher 28,000 times on the newspaper website and another 17,000 times on our Facebook page. There were other videos as well with the same numbers.

Here are some of our top news and sports stories from 2019. We were humbled by the amount of readers who not only visited the site, but paid for online content that allows us to tell the stories you want to read in East Texas.

1) Crape myrtles do not need pruning

2) Tyler-area doctors accused of illegally diverting opioid prescriptions

3) Sheriff’s office confirms missing Chapel Hill girl is found

4) Hawkins coach surprises girlfriend with football proposal

5) Man who was shot to death, left on side of the road

6) Gustavo Zavala-Garcia sentenced to life in prison

7) Miss Bettie, long-time owner sells Village Bakery as she battles cancer

From the story by Danny Mogle:

“Bettie Smith-Desha is reluctantly hanging up her apron. Since 1981, she has owned Village Bakery, one of oldest continuously operating businesses in Tyler. There is no way to know how many thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of gingerbread men and women she has cut out and baked. She won’t even begin to guess how many pies and pastries she has pulled from an oven. She doesn’t really want to talk about pastries. She wants to talk about the people whose lives the bakery has touched through its food.”

8) Visitors to Tyler line up by the hundreds to meet and take photographs with the Texas Rose Festival royalty

9) Sports: The votes are in and the GOAT of East Texas is Earl Campbell

In this story, Phil Hicks writes, “No electoral college was needed and there were no hanging chads as running back Earl Campbell is the winner.” And Earl, a 1974 John Tyler grad, told the Tyler Paper, “I just want the kids in East Texas to know that everything I have accomplished in life — they too can do the same thing. You just have to believe, remain prayerful and be ready to work and sacrifice. I am honored, with all of these best-of lists flying around, it’s fun to be recognized.”

10) Student dead after school bus hit by train in Athens

11) Queen of the Texas Rose Festival Announced at Winter Gala

12) Texas Rose Festival Coronation Crown Waits

13) Documents reveal more details about resignation agreement between Mineola ISD board, superintendent

14) Trial underway for Tyler man accused of shooting an AK-47 assault rifle at Smith County deputy during chase in 2016

15) Local man arrested after pulling gun on employee at Tyler WalMart

16) Stand off at Tyler hotel parking lot

17) Video: Jacksonville student Ta’keriya Montgomery recognizes signs of a stroke, saves beloved teacher, Mrs. Gowin

18) Viral Video: Tyler Junior College’s Ren Reynolds as Forrest Gump during Halloween baseball game

20) Deputy almost bled to death after shooting in Anderson County

21) Apache Belles team debuts new high kick

22) Video and article: NICU babies get handmade costumes for first halloween

23 tie) Video: Finding Woof-Woof, Tyler firefighters find stuffed animal for child after family displaced during fire

23 tie) Planned segment of Toll 49 would complete Tyler’s long-awaited ‘outer loop’

24) Video and story: Tyler Police officer Matt Leigeber saves dying woman; but his story is one worth reading

25) Sports: Incident mars girls basketball game between Harmony and Troup

26) Faith: Tyler teen’s fight with cancer inspires church community

27) Second-to-last graduating class of-Emmett J. Scott High School celebrates 50-year reunion

28) Video and story: Earning her wings: Lauren Sutherland, a Christus Flight for Life pilot named best pilot in the nation

29) Five Tyler brothers attain Eagle Scout rank, following in the footsteps of father, grandfather

From the story by Betty Waters, “Although few attain the highest rank of Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts of America, the Harris family residing on Chisholm Trail in Tyler has a spate of Eagle Scouts — five brothers, their father and grandfather. The two youngest Harris brothers — Peyton, 18, and Carson, 16 — are the latest members of the Harris clan to achieve Eagle Scout rank. Three older brothers — Cliff, Brad and Justin — already had earned the Eagle Scout rank and graduated from Gorman. The father of the five brothers is James Harris, a Tyler orthopedic surgeon, who earned his Eagle Scout in Temple. The boys’ grandfather, Joseph J. Lafranca, was also an Eagle Scout.”

30) Video and Story: Hawkins FFA all-female Queen Bees team comes up with an idea, a solution and featured on The Today Show.

31) Jacksonville ISD shows off completed renovation of historic tomato bowl

32) Illegal gambling rooms raided in Van Zandt County

33) Denise Sanders, owner of Topp’s Pizza brings experience, passion for customer service to new business

34) Mosley sentenced to death for capital murder of tyler gas station employee

35) Four decades on the job at Tyler Lee: Nanette and Calvin Toler met as student, graduated in 1975, married and have worked at Tyler ISD since

36) First Legionnaires’ disease death in Tyler; Family of community leader Ruben Gutierrez say it was from East Texas State Fair

37 tie) Just Pies opens in Tyler

37 tie) Dog-eye view video: Go Pro on dogs shows SPCA of East Texas Dogtober Fest in downtown Tyler

38) Tyler Lee head football coach Kurt Traylor accepts new job

39) UT Tyler’s Brittany Matthews signs professional soccer contract with Iceland team (Story by Phil Hicks originally ran in late 2017).

40) Tyler Fire Department honors award winners in ceremony attended by members of family whose home burned

41) A look back at the Jerry McFadden crime spree

42) Frontier Airlines announces new route to Denver from the Tyler airport

43) Dr Duane Andrews honored for contributions to St. Paul Children’s Foundation

44) $95 million approved for expansion at UT Tyler, UT Health Science Center

45) Inaugural class of Robert E. Lee High School seniors gather for photo ahead of building’s demolition

46) Loved ones share memories of UT Tyler graduate, friend Bruno Cunha, who passed away recently

47) Area softball coaches hosting clinic to benefit Bullard softball coach Megan Dobrinski in her fight with cancer

48) SHOES FOR MAHOMIES: Patrick Mahomes’ brother, Jackson, presents shoes to Whitehouse ISD on behalf of the 15 and the Mahomies Foundation

49) Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, talks about impeachment of President Trump

50) Video and story: Local football legend Gunnar Dorsey to undergo brain surgery.


John is a two-time national columnist of the year. He has earned top AP awards for news, videos and sports writing and won the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award. He has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX News and CNN.

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