Gov. Greg Abbott was among dignitaries dressed to the nines for Saturday’s Sesquicentennial Ball — an event said to be the largest in the 35-year history of Longview’s Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.
“Thank you for that very warm welcome,” Abbott said to a large ovation before opening his three-minute remarks. “Thank you, but do not be fooled because I know exactly what you were thinking. You were hoping for Matthew McConaughey, but I wanted to be here in person to say happy birthday to the greatest city in America, Longview, Texas.”
Between 1,200 and 1,300 guests attended the event, hosted by the Junior League of Longview, that took two years to plan and coordinate, said co-chair Melanie Northcutt Crocker.
A VIP lounge opened to Maude Cobb’s main hall that featured open bars at all four corners and more than 140 tables. Photos of Longview’s past adorned the walls.
Two bands on opposite stages faced a large space that provided a stage of its own for theater students from Pine Tree and Longview high schools to perform scenes from the city’s past. That space became a dance floor later in the night.
And then there was the cake — a nearly 6-foot-tall confection filled with raspberry and fudge and topped with buttercream icing.
Debbie Fontaine, owner of Edible Arts, which prepared the cake, called the Sesquicentennial Ball “over the top” and the best event she’s seen at Maude Cobb.
Each table had a commemorative book of Longview’s history that attendees could take home, and the VIP room was reserved for people who put the city on the map, Northcutt Crocker said.
“It’s amazing, and I’m sure we’ll be in tears at the end of it — happy tears, joyful tears,” Northcutt Crocker said as guests were arriving.
“We were just laughing because when (city of Lognview Community Services Coordinator) Laura Hill approached the Junior League about hosting the ball, my co-chair, Lori Danielson, and I thought that we would be in period costumes churning butter,” Northcutt Crocker said, “and instead it turned into the largest event that Maude Cobb has ever had. Yes, it’s been something.”
In determining the VIP guests, “Our definition was someone who put Longview on the map, and so we have quite an array of different people there from all walks of life,” Northcutt Crocker continued. “That’s just really, really cool to see them in Longview and proud to return home and do this with us, so that’s a huge element.”
Tickets cost a minimum $100, and proceeds went back into the Junior League to fund its community projects including the annual School Supply Train, she said.
Guests had plenty of compliments about the citywide birthday party.
“The Junior League did an awesome job,” said Joe Bob Joyce, whose firm Joyce Crane was among the event’s sponsors. “Everything is wonderful and beautiful, great turnout and it’s a first class event — A-plus.”
Fashion caught the eyes of guests Bernita and the Rev. Thomas Stinson.
“It’s neat,” she said. “It’s nice and neat, and I like all of the dressing up. It’s really glamorous and glittery.”
Numerous elected officials were on hand, including U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, state Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, and state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, as well as members of the Longview City Council, as Mayor Andy Mack opened the official ceremonies.
“This is a wonderful celebration of our 150th birthday,” District 1 Councilman Ed Moore said, “and I’m just so glad to be a part of it.”
Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz bookended a video montage of well-known Longview natives wishing the city a happy birthday.
The montage included mixed martial artist and former Legacy Fighting Alliance Featherweight Champion Kevin Aguilar; actor David Sullivan; cartoonist Donnie Pitchford; award-winning poet Nathan Brown; professional football players Bobby Taylor and Malcolm Kelly; country music stars Neal McCoy as well as Little Texas guitarists Duane Propes and Porter Howell; fashion designer Brandon Maxwell; world barrel racing champion Martha Josey; Great Texas Balloon Race founder Bill Bussey; and singer Russell Terrell, who held up his centennial bowtie from Longview’s last citywide birthday party in 1970.
It was Abbott, however, who provided perhaps the headline address of the night when he talked about his time growing up in the city.
“I would not be living in the Governor’s Mansion now had I not lived and grown up in Longview, Texas 50 years ago,” he said.
“I believe Longview, Texas is the best city in America for a kid to grow up in. It’s where I got to learn to play little league football (and) little league baseball, where I learned how to win and lose and overcome challenges,” the governor said. “It’s where I was a member of Boy Scouts Troop 201 and learned all of the lessons that went along with that. It is where I went to church at Longview Christian Church, and I was one of those shepherds in that live Nativity scene with those live sheep and donkeys in that freezing rain out there, but it’s also a place where, on special occasions, we would celebrate with a dinner at Johnny Cace’s.”
The Sesquicentennial Ball is one of dozens of events and activities planned in the city over the next three months commemorating the late O.H. Methvin’s founding of Longview in May 1870.
The Junior League is also presenting the Sesquicentennial Passport Program, in which children are invited to celebrate the city’s birthday with at least 15 events beginning with a kickoff party at 5 p.m. March 6 at Longview World of Wonders children’s museum.
Saturday night, however, it was a party for the adults to dress up and get down.
“The Junior League really puts on a great party,” Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said before rejoining Mack to welcome VIP guests. “They never have not put on a great party.”