By Bruce R. Partain
Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce
The Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce has named Dr. Roger Van Horn as the 2013 Citizen of the Year. He will be honored at the Chamber’s annual meeting and banquet .
A local dentist and volunteer, Van Horn is known in Nacogdoches for his friendly smile, quick sense of humor and dedication to helping others. As mayor, his collaborative style is popular with both city employees and community volunteers.
But he was not always the servant-leader.
He recalls shuffling into the officer’s quarters at summer ROTC camp in 1965, ready to be chewed out by the commanding officer, Captain Nolan.
Van Horn, it seems, was no candidate for a medal.
He was, by his own admission, among the laziest, surliest participants at boot camp. He was in the bottom one percent.
Nolan stunned Van Horn by agreeing that not everything and everyone in the Army
“But surely you have more respect for yourself than to accept being ranked so low among all the cadets in camp” the officer quietly said.
“Before I could speak, Captain Nolan said ‘dismissed’ and I left,” Van Horn recalled.
That challenge of self-respect stuck with the young man. He would eventually finish his military commitment as a major.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma to oil service contractor Ivan Hoover Van Horn and homemaker Marguerite, Roger and his sister Virginia enjoyed a relatively safe and secure Midwestern upbringing.
As a child, Roger enjoyed scouts and baseball. At Nathan Hale High School, the student council and theater were a natural fit to his personality. He served as president of a senior class that was the first to graduate at the new school. He and his friends wrote the school song, designed the school ring and created a new yearbook – the Patriot.
Summers were spent helping his family build a cabin on Lake Fort Gibson. His dad required rock clearing each visit before any swimming. As he grew up, Roger helped his dad’s company, working as an oilfield roustabout.
He studied biology and philosophy at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Then it was off to the University ofMissouri in Kansas City for four years at the school of dentistry. He was commissioned as a Captain in US Army and was sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
It was there he met and wed Betsey. The pair went to Germany, where Matthew was born. Jacob would follow a few years later.
As he was wrapping up his Army commitment, Van Horn started searching for a place to begin his dental practice, targeting towns of 10 to 50 thousand with a college. During one leave, he and his family toured Missouri,Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
He borrowed his dad’s car for a family trip to Houston to see his sister. Just inside Nacogdoches, the car broke down. While the car was being fixed, Diana Walker heard about the young family’s plight and invited them to a School party. “She took care of us all weekend,” Van Horn laughed.
“And after all that careful planning, this random experience convinced us this type of behavior was a good reason to live here,” he said. “So I came back alone in 1975 and bought land for my office.
“Betsey and I laughed about it. I was a kid from Oklahoma with a red Italian sports car and a New Jersey wife - and still this town welcomed us,” Van Horn said. “Danny Powell built my office to my specs while I was gone. I got back from Germany and it was ready to go. Bankers like A.L. Mangham helped me, with generous credit, to purchase a house and office with virtually no money. I had no idea why – but it seemed to be normal forNacogdoches.”
Using social skills learned in high school and advice from his new mentors, Van Horn joined groups and met people one-on-one to build his business.
“I went to groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings,” he said. “I would go to stores to try on clothes just to meet people. No one with a tooth ache needed to see me – I was too new. I spent lots of time out, joined the Jaycees and eventually became president. At that time, the president of the Jaycees was also on the Chamber board. So that’s how I became involved with the Chamber. I got on those committees. I’m a social person, so I was drawn to that, and it helped build my dental practice.”
Van Horn served as Chamber President in 1985-86.
“After that, I started doing less visible things,” he said. “I taught English to Spanish speakers at First BaptistChurch. Then I was on Planning and Zoning for six years.”
That led to being on the City Council and being elected chairman, which then changed to mayor as the at-large position evolved.
Despite his growing profile in Nacogdoches, Van Horn says his real calling in life did not come until he was nearly 40. “I didn’t have Christian faith until then,” he said. “Christ is a part of anything I do now. I say to friends that I operated by the Gospel according to Roger for 30 years. I lost family because of that. Friends who told me about Christ changed my life. My life from age 38 on has been totally different. It is a part of who I am, but with submission and humility.”
“If I deserve any accolades, it is because Christ has worked through me.”
A renewed commitment to his family takes place with annual visits to North Carolina beaches, where his sons and their children help Roger reconnect with the days when he and his parents and sister spent outdoors on the water.
His service focus is evident in mission trips to Equador to serve the indigenous Quechua Indians. In an interview with Kasi Dickerson, Van Horn said, “The trip was real personal for me. Nothing about the trip was in my comfort zone.”
Since that trip, he has helped build houses in Jamaica and returned for another dental mission trip to Ecuador.
The office of mayor is also both a challenge and a satisfaction for Van Horn.
He told Dickerson, “I like being mayor because it is different than being in dentistry. In my office, I see closure. I see a problem and I fix it. But I can’t do that with the city. It can take a long time to fix a problem because you have to think of 30,000 people, not just one,” he said.
“It’s a real contrast to what I do everyday in my office.”
From a serendipitous beginning in Nacogdoches, to a life that is now characterized by intention, Dr. Roger Van Horn is an example of how maturity and commitment can lead to a purposeful life.
About the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce 92nd Annual Meeting & Membership Banquet
The chamber’s annual meeting is at the Hotel Fredonia. The event begins at
with a social hour. Dinner is served at 936-560-5533 for tickets/tables. Call the Chamber,
Gary Justice Business Excellence Awards recipients for 2013 are:
Jack Backers College Bookstore, Small Business of the Year sponsored by Suddenlink Communications;
M & S Pharmacy, Medium Business of the Year sponsored by Regions Bank.; and
Drewery Construction, Large Business of the Year sponsored by R&K Distributors, Inc.
Mayor Roger Van Horn is the recipient of the Citizen of the Year award sponsored by Tipton Ford, Inc.
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