Neches River Festival LXVIII

Queen Neches LXVIII Olivia Katherine Lombardo
King Neches Joseph Vincent Tortorice Jr. with his wife Shelley

For 68 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 resource for Southeast Texas.

Envisioned in the spring of 1947, plans for the first NRF were 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. and the inaugural NRF was held May 28-29, 1949, at the City Docks in Beaumont with 18 races, visiting yachts and 100s of spectators lining the docks.

The first Royal Court was composed of 11 duchesses and six princesses. Following the coronation, a street dance was held surrounding City Hall.

The first parade was held in 1950 and included 28 commercial floats as well as a colorful array of bands.

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 the community. Through the festival, they are thanked and engaged to be ambassadors of our community, and also encouraged 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. Plummer played an integral part at both Lamar and the NRF for many years.

This year the NRF awarded the scholarships to Shelby Elizabeth Harris of Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School and Jeremy Clinton Michalk Jr. of Legacy Christian Academy.

Other festival court members including First Lady-in-Waiting Ashley Brooke Brandimarte, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Merritt Brandimarte. She is a senior at West Brook.

Second Lady-in-Waiting is Caroline Carson Bean, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Foss Bean III. She is a senior at Kelly High School.

Third Lady-in-Waiting is Mollie Ann Nelson, the daughter of Ms. Barbara Mazoch Nelson and Mr. John Henry Nelson. She is a senior at Kelly High School.

The 68th Grand Duchess is Laura Alicia Sharp, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ray Sharp of Houston.

Miss Congeniality is Remi Kate Kimball, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thad Anthony Kimball. She is a senior at West Brook.

Selected by his peers, the young men and women in the festival, is Best Escort, who is Jordan Wade Crutchfield, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Scott Cohron Crutchfield. He is a senior at West Brook.

The King & Queen

King Neches Joseph Vincent Tortorice Jr. is the founder of Jason’s Deli, which first opened in Beaumont in 1976. He has been married for 45 years to his wife, Shelley, and has nine grandchildren.

Queen Neches LXVIII is Olivia Katherine Lombardo of Beaumont. She is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Randolph Lombardo. She is a senior at Kelly High School.

Citizen of the Year

Walter Umphrey is the NRF Citizen of the Year. Umphrey began his legal career as a prosecuting attorney in Jefferson County after graduating from Baylor Law School and ultimately became the Chief Felony Prosecutor for the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office. In 1969, Umphrey and David Provost joined and opened Provost Umphrey Law Firm.

He and his wife, Sheila, have been married for 56 years. They have two children and several grandchildren.