2017 CITIZENS OF THE YEAR - Barbara and Richard DeWitt
Success in business and in life has been the trademark of Barbara and Richard DeWitt. The incredible contributions that they have made to Nacogdoches County have earned them the 2017 Citizens of the Year Award.
Married for 32 years, Richard and Barbara initially became involved in the restaurant industry as owners of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises.
After selling their Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, they created their first Clear Springs Restaurant in New Braunfels, Texas in 1984. Their second Clear Springs restaurant location was in their hometown, Nacogdoches, Texas followed by a third location in Midland, Texas and a fourth restaurant in Tyler, Texas. Ten years ago they branched out with a new theme restaurant in Nacogdoches, Auntie Pasta’s.
Richard and Barbara became interested in the Fredonia Hotel project several years ago. They both shared the vision of the hotel, once again, becoming the center piece of the revitalized downtown Nacogdoches. The hotel had been closed and was in major disrepair. Richard and Barbara became committed to restoring this historic facility to a grand status. Richard provided the construction and architectural direction and Barbara provided the design and interior vision. They took this project on understanding that the Fredonia Hotel is unique and holds a special place in the hearts of generations of East Texans. When asked about the high expectations when this project was considered Richard responded that his expectations were even higher! The Fredonia Hotel has recently been described as a historic boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas.
Both the DeWitts credit much of their success to their ability to work together and the fact that both bring very different strengths to the business. When asked what his major objective was in revitalizing the Fredonia Hotel, Richard said, without hesitation “to help the community”. Barbara is committed to ensuring that the design is appropriate to the structure and the period of the hotel. It is obvious to all of us that visit their facilities that they were both successful in achieving the objectives! “We paid great attention to the details to capture both the essence of our past as well as displaying the latest up-to-date modern amenities.” Barbara gives major credit to Amy Still for her contributions to the interior design.
Richard and Barbara said that the addition of John R. McLaren, CHA, General Manager of the Fredonia Hotel, has been vital to the success of this development. “John brings essential experience in the hospitality industry that is critical to the hotel’s development and success,” Richard said.
McLaren said that he is proud to be a part of this outstanding project. “The DeWitts saw the need for the return of this iconic venue, and there is no others I know who would commit two years of their life to focus on every detail to make sure it was done right” McLaren said. “Very early on during our discussions about the Fredonia it became clear that this was not a business decision, this was a labor of love and about giving back to the community. During renovations, every decision was made based on what would be the best thing to do rather than the cost to do it. I’ve known Barbara and Richard since before they decided to make this huge commitment to the community and I am proud to call them my friends and am honored that they have entrusted me to be caretaker of this historic beauty. I’m so grateful the DeWitt family has insured The Fredonia Hotel will be here for generations to come.”
In addition, the architect for the hotel, Army Curtis, was successful in developing a plan that returned this historic facility to grand status while maintaining the classic design that makes the Fredonia Hotel unique and special.
The hotel project was a prime example of a successful public-private partnership that will result in jobs and new tax revenue for Nacogdoches County. The assistance of many public officials on the local, county and state level helped move this development forward. The DeWitts credit the excellent work of Representative Travis Clardy and Senator Robert Nichols for their role in assisting with the legislative process.
According to long-time friend Dr. Tony Thompson, “Richie and Barbara are the perfect people to purchase and restore the hotel. Richie loves Nacogdoches and has the resources and commitment to get the job completed. His primary objective is to do everything first rate!” Dr. Thompson says he now refers to Richard DeWitt as Mr. Hotel.
“Needless to say, this newly renovated facility would not be possible without the help and support of the citizens of Nacogdoches, the assistance of the City Staff and elected officials at all levels of government and countless others that stepped forward to provide us support in many forms along the way,” Richard said.
Richard said that he and Barbara visited several restored hotel facilities in Texas to get a sense of what would be required to restore and renovate the Fredonia Hotel. In addition, they also invested time visiting other hotel facilities to learn about the importance of excellent service and employee development. The moment you enter this hotel, you are greeted by a stunning lobby; friendly staff and miles of smiles!
The DeWitts are very active outside of the hospitality industry. They are proud to support many groups and organizations by providing sponsorships, gift cards and other contributions to organizations in the Nacogdoches area.
“We are very proud to support the athletic programs at Stephen F. Austin State University. We regularly attend the football and basketball games and root for the Lumberjacks!” Richard said.
Barbara and Richard have four children, Bryce Bedford, Jessica Hannah, Taylor Kuharick and Richard (Bud) DeWitt, III.
For their continued commitment and investment in Nacogdoches County and for the many groups and organizations that they support, the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce is pleased to recognize Barbara and Richard DeWitt with the 2017 Citizens of the Year Award sponsored by Tipton Ford Lincoln, Inc.
The Citizens of the Year Award will be presented at the 96th Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet at the Fredonia Hotel and Convention Center on Tuesday, September 26, 2017. For ticket information please contact the Chamber office at 936 560-5533.
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