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Denton’s I.O.O.F. served an important purpose

The I.O.O.F. Cemetery on the corner of Carroll Boulevard and Eagle Drive may have an odd name, but no one thought that 100 years ago when it sat on the edge of town. Denton’s most respected residents belonged to the International Order of Odd Fellows. Famous American I.O.O.F. members included Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant.

While Freemasons are the largest fraternal organization, I.O.O.F. is one of the oldest. The group that started in England in 1748 came to America in 1817. Denton’s I.O.O.F. Lodge No. 82 started in 1859, three years after Denton became a town.

Joseph A. Smoot donated the first plot of land for the I.O.O.F. cemetery in Denton. Additional land soon had to be purchased as the cemetery outgrew its boundaries.

I.O.O.F promoted service and elevation of the human character. Their motto, “Friendship, Love and Truth,” is etched on gravestones with three chain links encircling F, L and T. The group strived to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphaned.

Courtesy photo/

Annetta Ramsay 

I.O.O.F promoted service and elevation of the human character. Their motto, “Friendship, Love and Truth,” is etched on gravestones with three chain links encircling F, L and T. Shown is one of the gravestones at the I.O.O.F. Cemetery on the corner of Carroll Boulevard and Eagle Drive in Denton.

Fraternities are brotherhoods promoting the association of members for social, professional or honorary purposes. Men who proved themselves worthy could join; fraternities took the worthiness qualification seriously. Rebekahs, named for the biblical Rebekah, began soon after I.O.O.F. as its companion group. I.O.O.F. didn’t open membership to women until 2001.

Although Lodge 82 was for white men, Denton’s Quakertown, more properly known as Quaker, had an I.O.O.F. lodge above Bert Crawford’s grocery store. Their companion group was the Household of Ruth. They moved to Solomon Hill after the city’s racially motivated removal of Quaker.

Lodge 82 met on the Square at 118 W. Oak St. The building displays I.O.O.F.’s chain links. According to Tom Reedy and Nita Thurman, the group rented space to five other fraternal organizations. I.O.O.F. still meets at 1410 Eden St. on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

Courtesy photo/Annetta Ramsay 

Denton’s youngest fraternal organization is Woodmen of the World, a group that provided tombstones shaped like logs to members. Shown is one such tombstone at Denton’s I.O.O.F. Cemetery.

Denton’s youngest fraternal organization is Woodmen of the World, a group that provided tombstones shaped like logs to members. Woodmen clearing forests was a metaphor for clearing consciences. Tombstones were customized to fit the individual, sometimes on a stack of logs symbolizing each child of the deceased.

It’s tempting to dismiss fraternal organizations’ secrecy and exclusivity, but membership came with a critical perk. Fraternal organizations blossomed in the South after the Civil War because Reconstruction brought financially hard times, when only wealthy people could purchase life insurance. Deceased fraternal members were guaranteed their families would be cared for without the stigma of accepting charity in the event of their untimely death.

Courtesy photo/Denton County Museums 

A photo from around 1910 shows members of Quakertown’s Household of Ruth, a companion group to their International Order of Odd Fellows. It’s the site of present-day Quakertown Park, but you can see Quakertown houses that were removed in the background.

Denton’s I.O.O.F. and the Rebekahs raised money and held decoration days to care for the cemetery until they handed the deed over to the city in 1933. Now it’s cared for by Denton Parks and Recreation.

Denton’s I.O.O.F. Cemetery symbolism tells its story. The groups’ lasting contribution to Denton commemorates fraternal organizations’ role during Civil War reconstruction.

Sowing faith, reaping fruit: Sanger school, local ministry grow a program to beat hunger

SANGER — A local ministry and Sanger schools risked saying yes to an idea.

Within a year, that “yes” turned into a grocery store inside Linda Tutt High School and Community Strong Farms, a community garden that will stock the store’s refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables (and, eventually, food pantries around the county).

“I say yes to everything,” said Paul Juarez, the executive director of First Refuge Ministries, a Denton-based nonprofit that offers food, medical and dental care and counseling services to low-income people and families. “Someone asks if they can donate, I say yes. If someone wants a newspaper article, I say yes. That’s how I do things in a nonprofit: Say yes to everything.”

Planting a seed

Juarez got the idea to put a grocery store inside of a public school a few years ago, and experimented with a model in Denton. He said the model suffered from a lack of continuity, was taken over by a nonprofit, and evolved into a traditional food pantry.

He didn’t forget about the idea, though, and when First Refuge was applying for a grant through Texas Health Resources, the idea came up.

“One of the things Texas Health wanted was [something] innovative,” Juarez said. “That was a key thing, and [Sanger Mayor] Thomas Muir said, ‘Well, Paul built a grocery store inside a school. We could do that here in Sanger.’”

So First Refuge included a potential school grocery store in the grant, and received the first of two THRIVE grants from the faith-based nonprofit hospital system’s community impact grant program. First Refuge and its partner organizations — Sanger ISD, the city of Sanger, First Baptist Church of Sanger and New Life Church — eventually received two grants totally more than $590,000.

The first grant gave the partners until Dec. 31 last year to build a grocery store at Sanger ISD’s Linda Tutt High, which includes high school students, special education students and the district’s alternative education program for students who have violated the district’s code of conduct.

Additional grant through Denton County’s administration of CARES Act money allowed First Refuge, which had drastically increased its food distribution during the pandemic, to request money to update the nonprofit’s refrigeration. Juarez decided to apply for the funds, and when the nonprofit received the grant, it put two commercial refrigerators and one freezer in the school grocery store.

“At first we were going to put shelving in and do dry goods,” Juarez said. “But with the refrigeration, we can bring produce into the school.”

Ann Hughes, a former longtime principal at Linda Tutt, volunteers as a sort of coordinator for the grocery store partnership.

“It was a small part of a larger grant,” Hughes said. “It was like $10,000 of a $300,000 grant. It was almost like, how do we spend the last little bit of that larger grant? This is how.”

Anthony Love, the principal at Linda Tutt, was in his first year at the school when First Refuge and the Sanger mayor started considering an in-school grocery store. When he was presented with the idea, he said he was interested.

“Dr. Hughes said, ‘What do you think about putting a grocery store in your school?’ It probably took three seconds to say yes,” Love said. “We have a lot of students who do receive free and reduced lunch here, and we also have several students who get the Friday backpack program. Some of the students refuse to take the backpacks.”

Love said he thinks the stigma of needing the backpack stocked with food keeps those students from taking them. But Love was also coming into the district as the city’s Super Saver IGA grocery store was facing closure to make way for the expansion of Interstate 35, leaving Sanger without a grocery store for the next several years.

Love said an in-school grocery store offers students and their families a different way to get food into their homes, Love said.

Tackling food insecurity without shame

When COVID restrictions ease, students will “shop” in the grocery store with points they earn through the THRIVE resiliency program. The program assesses how much each student has been affected by adverse childhood experiences, and then teaches them how to cope with trauma.

A resiliency program at Sanger ISD, also called THRIVE, teaches students how to process trauma and work through it.

“Adverse childhood experiences can be a lot of different things,” said Danelle Parker, Texas Health Resources’s director of community health improvement for Denton, Wise and Collin counties.

Parker said for some students, adverse experiences are abuse or neglect, and for others, it’s the death of a parent, a divorce in the family or living in a single-parent home, where poverty can cause everything from homelessness to hunger.

“The studies have shown that 1 in 4 kids are going to experience adverse childhood events, and some of those kids will experience more than one,” she said. “Food insecurity is a piece of it.”

In the THRIVE program, students earn points for acts of kindness and adopting healthful habits.

“The grocery store was able to give these kids a place to act out the lessons they learn,” Parker said. “The grocery store is a way to find that you aren’t alone. Some kids in the resiliency program have said that they never knew they weren’t alone.”

To get food to students and families while COVID restrictions are still in place, Love and Juarez said the store is open after school hours once a week, and parents come to the school for a food distribution outside on the campus. A handful of students are volunteering, he said. They stock the shelves and track inventory.

“We’ve also got some students who love to track expiration dates on the food, too,” Juarez said.

When restrictions lift, Love said the grocery store will be open during school hours and students will be able to shop with their points and take food home with them. Juarez said some students have asked to take food for hungry neighbors, and he falls back on his habit of saying yes.

Growing health for a town

The second grant has already started a community garden modeled on Shiloh Field, one of the biggest and most productive community gardens in the country.

New Life Church in Sanger donated about 14 acres to the garden, and Matt Basham, a member of First Baptist Church of Denton, has started preparing the soil for spring planting.

Basham and his wife were at a First Refuge gala when Juarez mentioned his dream for a community garden in a presentation.

“For me, everything is about fluidity and magnetism,” Basham said. “I got into this the way a lot of people get involved with First Refuge. I’m a Christian. I go where the Holy Spirit leads.”

The Holy Spirit led Basham to approach Juarez and offer to talk about the community garden idea, as he’s a certified horticulturalist and landscaper with construction experience. Now Basham is developing Community Strong Farms and preparing to work with the community and Sanger ISD.

“When I saw the presentation, I immediately knew this was something I wanted to do,” he said. “Anyone can put seeds in the ground. Water and pest management — well, that’s something else. I can bring those things to this.”

Basham said he’s preparing long rows and drip tape irrigation on the farm. He’s also spearheading the construction of a covered learning area that will accommodate Sanger ISD students who will eventually be able to earn class credit on the farm, as well as volunteers from the community who want to plant, weed and harvest peppers, squash and melons.

“I can see us letting people take some of what they grow home with them,” he said. “I think that’s part of the plan. But really, the Bible says that you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, and he can feed himself for life. That’s what this is.”

Basham is also leading a project to drill a 600-foot well to have a water source on site.

Love said the school’s staff will partner with the garden through the district’s agriculture program, and that the staff is already looking at a curriculum the district can use to join the hands-on portion to the classroom.

“It’s unique to have a faith-based organization working with a school. But we have a district-level champion working with us in Tony here,” Juarez said, pointing to Love.

The grocery store portion of the project got international attention, with mentions on The Drew Barrymore Show and The New York Times. Hughes said there has been a lot of buy-in locally, which is where it likely matters the most.

“A lot of the staff volunteer,” she said. “If Tony and I can’t be here on a Thursday night [for the grocery store food distribution night], the staff steps in. We know that Paul and First Refuge are exploding in what they’re doing. They’re not going anywhere.”

Kyle Rittenhouse acquitted on all counts in Kenosha shootings

The Wisconsin jury weighing Kyle Rittenhouse’s fate acquitted Rittenhouse on all counts Friday after deliberating for nearly three and a half days.

Rittenhouse, 18, from nearby Antioch, Ill., was charged with reckless homicide in the slaying of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and intentional homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26, on Aug. 25, 2020. The shootings occurred during protests days earlier over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man who was shot by a white Kenosha police officer.

The 12-person panel in Kenosha, Wis., also cleared Rittenhouse of attempted intentional homicide in the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz, a paramedic from suburban Milwaukee, who was at the protests working as a medic. Rittenhouse was also acquitted on two counts of recklessly endangering safety and use of a dangerous weapon.

As the verdict was read, Rittenhouse began sobbing and collapsed at the defense table as families of the victims were seen crying in court. Rittenhouse, who testified at the trial, claimed self-defense.

Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, shot and killed Rosenbaum, 36, and Huber, 26, and injured Grosskreutz, who was 26 at the time. Rittenhouse testified that he fired in self-defense and pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Judge Bruce Schroeder had finalized his instructions to jurors Monday, which included the possibility that they could find him guilty of lesser charges if they do not reach a unanimous verdict on several of the original counts but are not convinced by his self-defense claim.

The trial has revived nationwide scrutiny on Kenosha, where black residents say the same issues that fueled last year’s unrest still persist.

Outside the courthouse, the family of Jacob Blake had gathered in support of the family members of the three men Rittenhouse shot when the verdict was announced.

“I don’t know how they came to the final conclusion that he’s innocent, but this is why African Americans say the whole damn system is guilty,” Justin Blake, the man’s uncle, said. “This must end. We are here to support Anthony and Jojo and Gaige, and that’s what we’re doing to continue to do.”

In the moments after the verdict, Blake described Rittenhouse as the second white person to escape charges for a shooting in Kenosha, a reference to officer Rusten Sheskey who faced no charges for shooting Blakes’s nephew — the incident that sparked the very protests and unrest that drew Rittenhouse to town.

Blake likened Kenosha to a Jim Crow-era sundown town.

“It’s an insult,” he said.

As Blake and others spoke, Rittenhouse supporters tried to drown him out. “He deserves his freedom!” a man shouted. The man was among the regular protesters throughout the past few days of deliberation, and said the only people who were guilty were the other Americans who didn’t follow Rittenhouse’s lead and take up arms in the street.

As news of the verdict emerged, Rittenhouse supporters standing nearby erupted in jubilation. “Not guilty!” they cried, sparking a brief wave of cheers and honks from passing vehicles.

Denton man who beat child to death in 2018 given life in prison

A jury sentenced a Denton man Thursday to life in prison for beating his infant son to death in 2018.

Emilio Morales, 27, was charged with injury to a child in 2018 in connection to his son’s death. The Denton Police Department didn’t charge Morales with murder at the time because both charges are first-degree felonies, but a grand jury made the decision to charge him with murder when they were presented with the case.

Morales pleaded guilty to murder Monday and instead of a plea bargain, a jury decided his punishment Thursday.

Morales was rebooked into the Denton County Jail on Thursday. A call to his attorney wasn’t immediately returned Friday morning.

On June 24, 2018, Denton police and paramedics went to a home in the 2900 block of Desert Drive to a report of an unconscious person around 7:09 a.m.

They found Morales’ child, nearly two months old, dead and found he had several bruises and abrasions. A medical examiner confirmed to police that his injuries were consistent with assault and police interviewed Morales at the Police Department the following day.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the infant’s death a homicide and confirmed the cause of death as blunt force injuries to the head.

Morales admitted to officers during the interview to striking his child. He was then arrested on one count of injury to a child, and had been detained at the Denton County Jail until Nov. 8, 2021, when he posted bail of $500,000.

Verdict magnifies divisions in an already-polarized country

Ever since the early morning hours that day in August 2020, when video footage of a teenager opening fire on the streets of Kenosha first started to circulate, Kyle Rittenhouse has been a human canvas onto which the nation’s political divisions were mapped.

To many on the right — including gun rights groups, Trump loyalists and white supremacists — he was a folk hero, a vigilante for justice who had stood up to a rampaging mob.

Americans on the left, including racial justice activists, gun control advocates and police reformers, saw something quite different: a trigger-happy youth who had recklessly uses his AR-15 to escalate an already-chaotic situation into the realm of deadly violence.

Those irreconcilable depictions played out vividly as news of Rittenhouse’s acquittal Friday on all counts in a Wisconsin courtroom ricocheted from coast to coast. Although the question before the jury had been relatively narrow — was Rittenhouse acting in self-defense, or not? — the jury’s decision was imbued with far greater resonance on both sides.

Rittenhouse’s defenders saw justice at work. His critics recorded one more count against a fundamentally unfair legal system.

Within seconds of the verdict, far-right forums were ablaze with celebratory messages and memes depicting Rittenhouse as a hero. In the Proud Boys public channel on Telegram, supporters mocked how upset “the left” would be once authorities release the gun used in the shootings, as is customary after an acquittal.

“NOT GUILTY!!!!!!!” tweeted Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who had suggested earlier in the week he would offer Rittenhouse a congressional internship if he was acquitted.

“May Kyle and his family now live in peace,” added Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who urged her followers to donate to Rittenhouse’s legal defense. “Those who help, protect, and defend are the good guys.”

Among racial justice advocates, there was a diametrically different response: a fear that people like Rittenhouse will be emboldened, making life more dangerous for protesters and activists.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network called the decision “an obvious signal that encourages and notifies ‘vigilantes’ that they can continue to use violence to assert their power, and more importantly that they are above the criminal justice system when they do.”

The pro-gun control group March for Our Lives said Rittenhouse “embodies the very danger posed by a toxic mix of a white supremacist culture that values property over human life, and wide proliferation of high-powered guns with fewer limits than a driver’s license.”

Amid the competing narratives, there also were appeals for calm and for the jury’s decision to be respected.

“I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild,” tweeted Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican.

“The jury system works, and we have to abide by it,” President Joe Biden said from the White House.

Vice President Kamala Harris said the verdict “speaks for itself.”

“As many of you know I’ve spent a majority of my career working to make the criminal justice system more equitable and clearly there is a lot more work to do,” she said.

The Rittenhouse case was an offshoot of the racial justice protests and wider reckoning on white supremacy that followed the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in 2020. Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the shore of Lake Michigan, was drawn into the turmoil after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, paralyzing him from the waist down.

The dramatic way in which Rittenhouse has come to symbolize the nation’s polarization comes despite the fact that many of the facts in the case failed to neatly align with America’s divisions.

All three of the men Rittenhouse shot — two fatally — were white. The first, Joseph Rosenbaum, had not attended previous protests, and his fiancee has said she does not know why he was there.

And while some of those who came to Kenosha armed with semiautomatic rifles amid widespread rioting were members of militias or far-right groups, Rittenhouse himself was not.

When he pulled the trigger of his AR-15 on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse was a nobody in the world of right-wing militants.

Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, had no known ties to organized extremist movements beyond a general affinity for guns and for pro-police campaigns that rose in opposition to Black Lives Matter, according to researchers of political violence.

Instantly, however, the killings turned him into a right-wing cause celebre — and his acquittal Friday on all charges ensures that his political utility will endure beyond the trial.

In Rittenhouse, analysts say, a variety of right-wing factions have found the perfect avatar for their racial and political grievances.

His record was clean and the facts of that night messy, creating a case that could galvanize a broad cross-section of the right, including former president Donald Trump, MAGA loyalists, conservatives in Congress, white nationalists and self-styled militia groups. Members of the Proud Boys, photographed with Rittenhouse after his release on bail, also have latched onto the cause.

“The rhetoric is stated slightly differently, but the end result is the same: This is a young man who did the right thing,” said Art Jipson, a University of Dayton professor who has studied white supremacist movements for decades. “That, to me, is the fascinating and disturbing thing — the arguments start from different origin points but they create an almost iconic, or at least a powerful, symbol.”

It was perhaps inevitable that Rittenhouse’s case became a political litmus test and his image a commodity. Segments of the right raced to outdo one another in their devotion, fundraising $2 million for his bail. A family-run campaign, the Kyle Rittenhouse Defense Fund, sells branded merchandise to raise money for his legal fees. Supporters print Rittenhouse’s face on T-shirts and spray-paint it on murals, sometimes calling him, “Saint Kyle.”

For much of the MAGA world, Rittenhouse embodies the self-proclaimed Republican ideal of law and order, a patriot standing up to an out-of-control left. The anti-government militia movement broadly supports that militancy, and also views the case as a flash point for Second Amendment issues. White supremacist groups, meanwhile, used the trial as a chance to push their overt hate into the mainstream, “a friendlier face for the race war,” as Jipson, the professor, put it.

As conservatives coalesced around the idea of Rittenhouse as a blameless defender of law and order, many on the left just as quickly cast him as the embodiment of the far-right threat. Despite a lack of evidence, hundreds of social media posts immediately pinned Rittenhouse with extremist labels: white supremacist, self-styled militia member, a “boogaloo boy” seeking violent revolution, or part of the misogynistic “incel” movement.

“On the left he’s become a symbol of white supremacy that isn’t being held accountable in the United States today,” said Becca Lewis, a researcher of far-right movements and a doctoral candidate at Stanford University. “You see him getting conflated with a lot of the police officers who’ve shot unarmed Black men and with Trump himself and all these other things. On both sides, he’s become a symbol much bigger than himself.”

Soon after the shootings, then-candidate Joe Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Rittenhouse was allegedly part of a militia group in Illinois. In the next sentence, Biden segued to criticism of Trump and hate groups: “Have you ever heard this president say one negative thing about white supremacists?”

Since the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, there have been around 886 “vigilante incidents” in which right-wing activists intimidated or assaulted racial justice protesters, according to a tally by Alexander Reid Ross, a Portland State University professor who tracks right-wing movements.

Although those numbers have declined this year, “the Rittenhouse trial shows that these currents remain powerful in the U.S. and could erupt with even greater force than before,” Ross said.

That was the fear expressed Friday by racial justice activists and First Amendment defenders, who faulted not only Rittenhouse, but also the Kenosha police. The police, said Brandon Buskey, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, had praised and encouraged armed outsiders such as Rittenhouse, who traveled to the city from Antioch, Ill.

“In Kenosha, we saw the police shoot a Black man in the back — in front of his children. When the community rose up to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, police enabled white supremacist militia members, which helped to spur rank vigilantism,” Buskey said in a statement. “The result of this failure was bloodshed, the loss of lives, and enduring trauma.”

Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney who represents Blake, said Rittenhouse had “not only escaped accountability, but laughed in its face.”

“From the outset, this case has pulled back the curtain on the profound cracks in our justice system — from the deep bias routinely and unabashedly displayed by the judge, to the apathy of officers who witnessed Rittenhouse’s crimes and did nothing,” Crump said in a statement. “If we were talking about a Black man, the conversation and outcome would be starkly different.”

In the moments after the verdict, Justin Blake — Jacob Blake’s uncle — said Rittenhouse is the second White person to escape charges for a shooting in Kenosha, a reference to officer Rusten Sheskey, who faced no charges for the Blake shooting — the incident that sparked the very protests and unrest that drew Rittenhouse to town.

“It’s an insult,” he said.

As Blake and others spoke, Rittenhouse supporters tried to drown him out.

“He deserves his freedom!” a man shouted.

Issac Bailey, a communications professor at Davidson College in North Carolina who has written about race and the Kenosha trial, said Rittenhouse’s hero status was already cemented in right-wing circles before Friday’s verdict. That’s dangerous, Bailey said, given the backdrop of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the FBI naming the violent right as a top domestic threat.

“I believe he was a clueless kid someone should have guided away from that situation instead of toward,” Bailey said. “But the message many people on the right have already taken from this is that it is good, righteous even, for young white men like him to pick up arms to protect their communities. That’s not a good message. It can only lead us to darker places.”