Orange County Special Angels Rodeo

The Orange County Special Angels Rodeo began as a dream and has become an event that makes dreams come true for special needs individuals of all ages. Founder Lue Harris will never forget the night she woke up from a dream, a dream of doing something to impact the lives of a group near and dear to her heart — those with special needs.

Convinced that this dream was nothing less than a divine call to action, Lue woke up her husband Dan and told him that they needed to champion something really big for those with special needs. And so began a journey to bridge the gap between Lue’s dream and reality — something that would take a heap of work on the part of a whole lot of folks.
special-angels-rodeoWith the help her daughter Jo, daughter-in-law Debbie, and other family and friends, Lue’s dream of blessing those with special needs started to take shape. Her dream resonated in the hearts of people throughout the community. Folks liked the idea of offering those with special needs a rodeo experience unlike any other — an opportunity to become a cowboy or cowgirl for a day and participate in rodeo events using equipment especially adapted to meet their needs.
Special Angels HatsThis year, for the third time, the Orange County Special Needs Rodeo welcomed volunteers and individuals with special needs from around the state. In the days preceding the event, an army of volunteers transformed the T2 Arena and Event Center in Orange into a handicap-accessible rodeo wonderland — complete with specially adapted mechanical bulls, a petting zoo, horses, and so much more.
special-angel-gwenI first learned about this rodeo a year ago when I interviewed Jo and her mother Lue at their Farmers Mercantile Store in Orange. I knew then that I wanted to volunteer at the rodeo and waited a year to do so. And I am so glad I did. I was absolutely blown away by what I saw. The transformation of the facility was beyond anything I could have imagined.
Special Angel CodyWhat touched my heart the most was seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter of those young and old arriving in wheelchairs, leaning on walkers, and holding the hands of volunteers. Every participant was matched to a special buddy who helped them get around the arena to enjoy the day. Even wheelchair-bound individuals had an opportunity to ride a horse around the arena on specially designed saddles with safety straps. Totally amazing!
Founder Leu HarrisTo say my heart was warmed would be an understatement. I can’t stop thinking about what a magnificent day this was for me as a volunteer. My wife Cheryl accompanied our new friend Gwen on her rodeo experience. Gwen is bound to a wheelchair but today, her spirit and her smile were set free. Cheryl cried when she had to say goodbye to Gwen.
Special Angels Bull RidingFolks like Lue and Dan and Jo and Debbie and their team represent the best of what it means to be a Texan. They don’t try to hide the fact that they lean heavily on God for help and want to glorify Him by serving others. Their selfless service along with that of their many sponsors, underwriters, and volunteers make it possible for a special group of Texans to make wonderful memories in a rodeo arena. Knowing folks like the Harris family and attending events like this make me proud to be a Texan.

Farmers Mercantile

Farmers Mercantile is a Texas time capsule — an old general store where almost 90 years of memories compete with merchandise for shelf space. You can feel the past the second you walk through the front door and step onto the old wooden slats that cover the original dirt floor. Once inside you realize that you are standing in a place like few others in the Lone Star State.
Farmers Mercantile WindowJo Harris along with her mother Lou and brother Bubba are the latest generation to run the old store located in Orange. This historic old town is situated on the West bank of the Sabine River, the waterway that separates Texas and Louisiana. The mercantile occupies a building that was originally a Buick dealership. Jo’s great grandfather bought the place in 1927 and opened his general store in April of the following year.
Farmers Mercantile FrontFive generations of the Harris family have kept the old store running. The store has weathered the Great Depression and other economic lows through the years. However, Jo explained to me that the only reason they weathered the damage of Hurricane Ike in September 2008 was because of the kindness of the community.
Farmers Mercantile HatsThe two-plus feet of flood waters dumped by Hurricane Ike rushed into the store and destroyed half a million dollars worth of merchandise. After the flood waters receded, Jo walked in to find the floors covered in inches of mud. Without any insurance to cover the cost of the damage, Jo wondered if the end of Farmers Mercantile had finally come.
Farmers Mercantile StoveAnd then, something remarkable happened. The people of the community and surrounding farms rallied to the aid of the Harris family. They told Jo and her family that they would help them clean up the mess and get things back in order because Farmers Mercantile was too important to the community. And that’s exactly what they did. Seven days later, Jo and her family opened their doors once again for business.
Farmers Mercantile ScaleToday, every shelf in the place is chock-full of the most interesting things — the kind of this-and-that kind of stuff that farming folks need. You’ll find garden supplies, seeds of every variety, corn shuckers, sausage stuffers, hand churns, straw hats, cast iron cookware, rope, saddles, wash tubs, bed bug poison, kerosene lamps, coolers, livestock feed, and much more. The store is, in fact, the oldest seller of Lone Star Feeds in Texas.
Farmers Mercantile ClockThe walls are adorned with almost ninety years worth of bric-a-brac — advertising signs, garden and farming implements, leftover automobile fan belts from the days when the Buick dealership occupied the place, assorted framed items, and other stuff. The most treasured is an old clock advertising Calumet Baking Powder. Jo’s grandfather won it in a contest after selling a full barrel of the brand’s baking powder. The clock remains exactly where her grandfather hung it on the wall.
Farmers Mercantile SeedThere is one more thing that makes Farmers Mercantile a special place to the folks of the area — and that is the customer service. I enjoyed listening to Jo answer questions about seed and fertilizer and rat poison. Jo and her family know their stuff. They can advise you about what to plant and when to plant it and even tell you how to deal with bed bugs. In the hour-plus that I spent with Jo I was impressed by her knowledge and even more by her concern for every person who walked through the door.
Farmers Mercantile PhoneThe world outside the Farmers Mercantile will continue to change. There is no doubt about it. However, in this day of constant motion and change, I find it comforting that there are still places like the Farmers Mercantile where what happens inside remains the same. Everyone who walks through the doors can expect to find the same unchanging and time-treasured values that have made this a special place.
IMG_7674Plan to visit Farmers Mercantile and to take your kids along. Jo and her family will be happy to show you around and to answer any questions about what you see on their shelves. It might surprise your kids to see a business that has survived for so long without any modern conveniences — no air conditioning in the summer and only a central stove to heat the place in the winter. It won’t take you long to discover why this place is valued by the folks around Orange and why it continues to endure.