67th Neches River Festival

Caroline Wied, Mitch Smith, and Joy Crenshaw

For 67 years, spring has been welcomed by Beaumont’s Good Neighbor event — the Neches River Festival. The NRF has remained one of the most illustrious events in Beaumont since its inception and continues to be a mainstay, celebrating youth, tradition and the Neches River, a priceless resource for Southeast Texas.

Envisioned in the spring of 1947, plans for the first NRF were well underway by 1948, and on May 12, 1949, a charter was obtained from the state of Texas for a non-profit organization named the Neches River Festival Inc.

The first NRF was held May 28-29, 1949, at the City Docks in Beaumont with 18 races, visiting yachts, and hundreds of spectators lining the docks.

The beautiful, cypress lined Neches River, on whose banks our community rests, supplies us with life-sustaining natural resources, economic vitality and boundless recreational opportunity. Similarly, our children are a precious resource. The festival honors high school seniors as they embark on their lives ahead and reflect on the benefits of living in this community. Through the festival, we thank them, engage them to be ambassadors of our community, and also encourage them to return as leaders of tomorrow.

Celebrating the Youth

Participants in the NRF may apply for one of two scholarships awarded each year through the Otho Plummer Neches River Festival Scholarship at Lamar University. The princesses, and escorts, are eligible.

This year the NRF awarded the scholarships to Hayden Neil Gonzales and Sean McNally, who both attend West Brook High School.

Other festival court members include First Lady-in-Waiting Samantha Marie Penning, the daughter of Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Christopher Penning. Also named Miss Congeniality by her peers, Samantha attends Kelly High School.

Second Lady-in-Waiting is McKayla Johanna Herink, a senior at Kelly High School. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Charles Herink.

Third Lady-in-Waiting is Abigail Ellen Hall. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Scott Hall is a senior at West Brook High School.

The 67th Grand Duchess is Victoria Lee Hare, a senior at Hardin-Jefferson High School. Victoria is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sherman Dale Hare of Lumberton.

Jeremy James Weighmann is Best Escort. Jeremy, a senior at Kelly High School, is the son of Ms. Carla Maricle Weighmann and Mr. James Weighmann.

Princesses come from within Beaumont while duchesses elect to participate in the festival from all around the country. Frequently, Duchesses are friends of Princesses, relatives of Knights or their friends, or relatives of past Queens. From the Duchesses, a Grand Duchess is selected.

Escorts are young men from area high schools. Their character and involvement in the community help them stand out as representatives of the community. From the Escorts, a “Best Escort” is selected by his peers, the young men and women in the festival. This year, it’s Jeremy Weighmann.

The King & Queen

King Neches Mitch Smith was born and raised in Abilene but adopted Beaumont in 1994 when he joined Wells, Peyton, Greenberg and Hunt, L.L.P. In 2001, he joined Germer PLLC and became a principal with the firm in January 2002.

“It’s a tremendous honor and a lot of fun being around everyone,” Smith said of the festival. “It was great to get out and celebrate our community. My law partner, Guy Goodson, was King in 2007, and he sat me down and gave me a history of the festival along with all the traditions involved. So I really took that to heart and tried to honor those traditions while everyone was having a fun time.”

Smith is a past board member and past president of the Art Museum of Southeast Texas; former member of the School Board of St. Anne Catholic School, and former chair of Leadership Beaumont. Smith currently sits on the boards of the Anayat House and the Jefferson County Bar Association; is an Advisory Board member of the Art Museum; and member of the Friends of the Arts at Lamar University.

“I’ve known him for some time now,” said Nancy Fertitta, executive director of the NRF. “He is an outstanding man and attorney. Although raised in West Texas, he is a very big supporter of the community. He and his wife, Michele, have been a driving force in the community. His enthusiasm for Beaumont has shown through the enjoyment in the festival.”

Queen Neches LXVII Caroline Wied is a senior at Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School and is the daughter of Dr. Keith and Kara Wied. Caroline was a member of the award-winning Kelly Dance Force and was the treasurer of the Pink Club, which conducts many fundraisers to benefit the Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program

“Caroline is an outstanding young lady,” said Fertitta. “She is what she appears to be. She’s also a talented dancer and well liked and respected by all of her peers. Caroline is beautiful in every way, and everyone is happy that she was Queen this year.”

“It was amazing and definitely a wonderful night,” said Wied. “It was completely surprised and shocked. It really was a dream come true. The coronation was fabulous, and the ball was so much fun. I love the Neches River and I’m so excited to be a part of this for the rest of my life and be able to represent it.”

Wied added that after graduating high school, she will attend TCU and major in psychology.

Citizen of the Year

 Born in Florence, South Carolina, Joy Kirgan Hopkins Crenshaw moved to East Texas at the age of 1 and was later raised in Silsbee with a love of the beautiful lands, plants, birds, trees and animals. Active in journalism, she became the editor of the Silsbee High School newspaper and was named the school’s Homecoming Queen before graduating in 1965, when she also represented Silsbee as a Duchess in the Neches River Festival. It was then that Joy would meet her future husband, Will Crenshaw.

Joy went on to attend Lamar University and was active in student government and journalism, among other things. After marrying Will in 1969, Joy and her husband went on to have four children, and would be blessed with 11 grandchildren.

She is an active committee member of Young Life in Southeast Texas. Young Life is active in various high schools in the area and strives to make a difference in kids’ lives.

“I am very, very honored by this,” said Crenshaw. “I have always loved Beaumont. When I was a Duchess in the Neches River Fest, I met June and John Crenshaw and through them I met Will, who I married. I just think so much of the community and love it so much.”

Joy attends First United Methodist Church; is a Junior League of Beaumont sustainer; an advocate for those with learning disabilities; founder of the Brooks Road Community Garden; member of the Magnolia Garden Club; and is a grateful American.

“I have known Joy for many, many years and she is just a delight,” added Fertitta. “She is a beacon of light, faith and hope. Her family always comes first with her, but she just loves everyone. Everyone who knows her just wishes her the best.”

The NRF will continue for generations to come, as long as the people of Southeast Texas ensure that timeless traditions, the youth and the area’s invaluable resource — the Neches River — each hold a special place in their hearts.