Athens Hornet Hall of Fame

Three inducted into Athens Hornet Hall of Fame at gala event
Posted on 10/29/2018
Three inducted into Athens Hornet Hall of Fame at gala event

Hornet Hall of Fame adds to its ranks

Community turns out to honor Buford, Wesp, Justice


By Toni Garrard Clay

AISD Communications Coordinator


It was a celebration of achievement Thursday evening, as three Athens High School graduates were inducted into the Hornet Hall of Fame. Some 100 people gathered at the annual gala to honor the contributions of Eugene Buford, Kaci Koviak Wesp and the late William Wayne Justice.


“We started the Hornet Hall of Fame three years ago to honor the remarkable men and women who have walked our halls,” said AISD Deputy Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims. “It’s important not only to look forward to where we want to be, but to acknowledge what has already been achieved.”


Buford graduated from Athens High School in 1967 and spent most of his career — spanning from coach and teacher to principal and superintendent — at Athens ISD. Wesp graduated AHS in 2005. She is the primetime anchor for KETK News (using her maiden name of Koviak) and is the Volunteer of the Year for the East Texas Region of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Justice graduated Athens High School in 1937. After starting his law career in Athens, he was appointed first as a federal prosecutor and then to the federal district court in Tyler, where he became nationally recognized for his landmark reform decisions.


Eugene Buford was one of nine children raised in the Bethel community north of Athens. He attended Athens High School where he distinguished himself as a favorite among his classmates, graduating in 1967. In 1974, he went to work at Athens Junior High as a coach and history teacher. In 1986, he became assistant principal at South Athens Elementary and later principal.


He retired in 2008 after having served for a time in other districts, including as superintendent in LaPoynor. In 2011, he came out of retirement to serve another three years as principal at South Athens. He is currently a member of the Athens ISD Board of Trustees and has served since 1986 as “The Voice of the Hornets” at varsity football games. He and his wife, Lois, together have four children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


“I love Athens,” Buford said. “I loved working in education. ... I owe my success to my wife and my family.”


Kaci Koviak Wesp was a student at Athens ISD from second grade on. She joked that she rarely slept in high school due to her involvement in the theatre program, volleyball, cheerleading, Key Club, student council, debate and the National Honor Society. Her debate and one-act play interests took her to state competition five times.


After earning a degree in journalism at Southern Methodist University in 2009, Wesp went to New York City where she eventually secured a position as a weekly political commentator on Fox News’ Strategy Room with Monica Crowley. With that experience under her belt, she returned to East Texas upon being hired as the morning anchor for KETK NBC News in Tyler. For the past several years, she has served as the station’s evening anchor.


Wesp and her husband, Michael, have two children: 20-month-old Atalee and Ryleigh, who was a mere 16 days old the night of the Hall of Fame gala.


This past March, Wesp was named volunteer of the year for the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s East Texas region in response to the integral role she has played in raising money, emceeing fundraisers and chairing events to help grant the wishes of East Texas children with life-threatening illnesses.


“You have to find a passion in journalism to avoid burning out,” she said. “I like giving voice to the voiceless.”


William Wayne Justice knew from an early age he would be practicing law. His father, Will Justice, had a thriving law firm in Athens, and when Wayne was only seven years old, his father changed the nameplate above his office door to read: “W.D. Justice and Son.”


After graduating Athens High School in 1937, he attended the University of Texas at Austin, earned his law degree there and entered the Army — and World War II — in 1942 as a private. He was discharged in 1946, and one day after returning home went to work in his father’s firm.


In addition to his own practice, Justice served as Athens’ city attorney. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. Seven years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. It was then, in 1968, he and his wife, Sue, moved to Tyler.


During his 41-year judicial career, Justice was described by some as “dragging the state into the modern world.” Many others, incensed by what they interpreted as overly liberal judicial activism, were far less flattering.


In 1971, 17 years after race-based segregation had been outlawed, Justice told school districts in East Texas they must obey the law and integrate. In 1978, he struck down a Texas law that let public school districts charge tuition for the children of illegal immigrants — a ruling that was upheld by the Supreme Court four years later. In 1973, he made a far-reaching decision to require Texas to improve the condition of its juvenile detention system. In 1980, after a trial that lasted nearly a year, Justice ordered major changes in the state’s prison system. He also forced the state to integrate public housing and offer bilingual education in its schools.


“I’ll say this as a general proposition,” Justice told his biographer. “I don’t believe in being inhumane.”


In 1998, Justice took senior judicial status, moved to Austin with his wife, and served the Western District of Texas until shortly before his death in 2009.


“I think he would have decided things the same way if his last name was Smith,” said his daughter, Ellen Justice, “but Justice is a great name to live up to. And he did.”


The gala event was sponsored by Athens OB/GYN Dr. Fran McCain. Plaques were donated by Athens Screen Printing.


The inaugural members the 2016 Hornet Hall of Fame were Vivian Castleberry, AHS class of 1940 and member of the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame; Drew Douglas, AHS class of 1977 and founder of the Athens Thrift Store, which donates all its profits to Henderson County charities; and, posthumously, R.C. Fisher, who between 1914 and his death in 1932 held positions of school teacher, principal and athletic trainer in Athens public schools.


The 2017 inductees were John Glover, an employee of the school district from 1968 to 2004, during which time his positions included, band director, assistant high school principal and assistant superintendent; Steve Grant, who graduated from AHS in 1975 and, in addition to his successful real estate business in Athens, has made a lasting impact with his civic and charitable involvements; and Katie Leatherwood, a 2005 graduate of AHS. She lives in Riga, Latvia, where she serves people affected by disabilities with her skills in prosthetics and orthotics.

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