The days of gun-slinging roughriders who deliver swift justice might be over, but that cowboy code of honor, integrity and courage is still very present in the men of Southeast Texas. Men who challenge the obstacles of life head on with determination — from business ventures to the fight against a life-threatening disease — are the men who achieve the impossible and inspire courage.
These are men of true grit.
On Tuesday, April 12, The Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program will bring its highly anticipated “True Grit” themed Champagne & Ribs fundraiser to the Cowboy-Harley Davidson dealership. With Mid-Life Crisis on the stage, a John Wayne impersonator (and his yodeling wife), an all-you-can-eat dinner spread of fantastic proportions, flowing champagne and yes, the ribs, this year’s event is looking to be the biggest bash yet.
In addition to raising spirits, funds and awareness for the “Gift of Life” Prostate Cancer Program, Champagne & Ribs will honor two local legends for their unwavering ability to accomplish goals, inspire courage and give back to the community: Walter Umphrey and Joe Penland.
“They’re humble men of valor who embody the best of the old west,” Norma Sampson, GOL special projects coordinator, said of this year’s honorees. “While each of our honorees is unique, both of them share the entrepreneurial spirit of determination and perseverance. These men are true Southeast Texas heroes who have built successful businesses while providing unfaltering support to civic and community causes.”
Umphrey, known by most as “the heart and soul” of the Provost Umphrey Law Firm, worked in the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecuting attorney, ultimately becoming chief felony prosecutor. Board certified in the legal areas dealing with personal injury trial law, labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Umphrey has numerous legal affiliations and was named one of the top lawyers of the 20th century by Texas Lawyer’s “Legal Legends: A Century of Texas Law and Lawyering.”
“My wife and I have been extremely fortunate in our law business and various business investments, and this community has been very good to us,” said Umphrey. “It’s only right to put funds back into the community to make it a better place to live.”
In addition to being a tremendous supporter of Lamar University, the Humane Society of Southeast Texas and various other local and national charities, Umphrey has gladly lent his motorcycle dealership to GOL for the annual Champagne & Ribs bash since the event began in 2005.
“You really gotta take your hat off to both of these men, Mr. Umphrey and Mr. Penland,” said event co-chair Jim Broussard. “They just continue to give their support and their dollars to this community, and they don’t have to do that. They do it because they want to.”
Owner of the largest industrial mat producer in the world, Penland has shared the outstanding success of his business, Quality Mat Company Inc., by becoming a pillar of support for local organizations including the 100 Club of Southeast Texas, Girls’ Haven, The Jefferson County Grandparents Association and the Desire Street Ministries. In 2007, he and his wife Linda, a breast cancer survivor, established the Linda and Joe Penland Free Mammogram Fund in 2007.
“To me, it’s rewarding to see and meet the people that have been helped by Gift of Life; that’s what it’s all about,” said Penland. “It’s the biggest thrill to me to meet a lady or a gentleman who has received a free mammogram or a prostate screening, and their lives were saved — I don’t think anything could be any more rewarding than helping someone that you don’t even know. There is no other organization that I’m aware of that works so hard to do something before you get the call that there’s a problem.”
John Cassimere, 46, is of the 6,000 men of true grit brave enough to reach out to “Gift of Life” for a free prostate screening—reluctantly facing his deepest fear. In 2008, he was diagnosed with cancer and immediately underwent a radical prostatectomy.
Six weeks later, he was right back to work.
Cassimere is one of more than 50 men in Southeast Texas whose lives have been prolonged because of the accessibility of cancer treatment Gift of Life provides to those medically underserved in the area.
“This can be a sensitive subject for guys, but this event kind of breaks the ice and leads to conversation about the issue,” said Broussard. “The focus is not necessarily on prostate cancer — the focus is on the screening and what early detection can do for you.”
Tickets to Champagne & Ribs are priced at $75 with sponsorship opportunities available. All proceeds generated from the fundraiser benefit the “Gift of Life” Prostate Cancer Program and educational initiatives.
“We truly are grassroots from the sense that the funds that come to this program come straight from the community and go directly back into the community,” said Sampson. “We have no national affiliation, so everything we do is here in your backyard.”
For more information about the program or to purchase tickets to Champagne & Ribs, call the Gift of Life office at (409) 833-3663 or visit giftoflifebmt.org .