Heroic hotel clerk named Newsmaker of the Year

Satchel Smith, a young hotel worker who was hailed as a hero after working 32 hours straight at Homewood Suites in Beaumont during Tropical Storm Imelda, was named the Newsmaker of the Year for 2019 by the Press Club of Southeast Texas.

Smith was revealed as the winner at the Press Club’s virtual awards banquet on Saturday night, held because the coronavirus pandemic canceled the club’s traditional banquet and awards ceremony in June. Despite that setback, the Press Club was still able to raise $10,000 from virtual sponsors for its scholarship fund at Lamar University.

Smith was chose by a vote of the members of the Press Club, who selected him over four other finalists. They were:

 Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick, nominated for his leadership following Tropical Depression Imelda and the TPC plant explosion in Port Neches.

 Belinda George, principal of Homer Drive Elementary School in Beaumont, who received national attention for her program of reading bedtime stories to her students via iPhone video.

 State Rep. Dade Phelan, for his active role in the 2019 legislative session, growing statewide reputation and his leadership on many other local issues.

 Geary Senigaur, organizer of Dads on Deck, a group of volunteers who patrolled the exterior of Parkdale Mall to promote safety and reach out to wayward youths.

Smith gained national media attention for his unplanned marathon stint, when rain and floodwaters from Imelda quickly made the hotel something of an island along Interstate 10.

Smith’s relief clerk never arrived because of the flooding, and Smith couldn’t bear to leave his stranded hotel guests. So he stayed up and manned the front desk alone, serving meals when he could with the help of other guests and handling other duties throughout the hotel.

Smith even remained calm while the weather interfered with the hotel’s computer systems, setting off fire alarms in the building several times. He also invited guests from nearby hotels to eat there because they had no meals. During the height of the storm, he and some guests lined up to bring water to truckers stranded along I-10.

A Facebook post about Smith’s heroics was shared over 12,000 times within a few days, and other national media outlets picked up the story from there.

“He has manned the phones, answered each of our questions, ensured that we have had a hot cup of coffee or tea, and helped serve us a hot breakfast,” said Facebook poster Angela Chandler, a guest at the hotel. “He has handled this situation with grace, kindness and a beautiful smile on his face.”

The Newsmaker of the Year award has been given every year since 1991. Press Club members have also twice chosen a Newsmaker of the Decade — former Jasper County Sheriff Billy Rowles for the years 1991 to 1999 and former Lamar University President James Simmons for the years 2000 to 2009. The Press Club is made up of journalists, academics and public relations professionals from throughout the region.

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