Batson reflects on memories, love this Father’s Day

Published 10:03 am Monday, June 18, 2018

By Kritsa Chandler

The Orange Leader


A step inside 96-year-old James Batson’s Orangefield home leads to tangible proof of a life well-lived, surrounded by hard work, memories and most of all, love.

From his bedside, Batson, whose memories of his life are now fading due to dementia, softly spoke as he recalled the moments that shaped his life into one of unending accolades and accomplishments.

“One thing I’ve learned, if nothing else, is that we are all working to keep this whole world going,” Batson said. “We are all apart of it, and the Lord has paved the way for me.”

A tour of his home led to stories of his time in Port Arthur Independent School District, where eventually his passion for woodwork and building led him to another passion – passing his knowledge, skills and general helpful attitude onto his beloved students.

In a woodworking shop adjacent to his house, his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education hung proudly over tools and machinery he once used to create the very furniture in his own home – bookshelves, cabinets, and even an enclosed patio Batson built for his late wife in his 80s.

Batson’s large, sturdy hands that once were used to create masterpieces in his shop now leafed through papers dated 1979-1981 entailing his involvement with maintenance plans for Port Arthur schools that still sit in the top right drawer of his dresser, something he is still proud of.

Batson’s story originates during his time in the Navy, where he said his desire to help anyone with anything created a leader out of him.

Years later, Batson would go on to help found and sit on the board of directors for the Port Arthur Teacher’s Credit Union. A plaque still hangs on his wall, noting the region’s appreciation of his “faithful and dedicated service to the employees” of the school district with his involvement in the credit union, dated 1980.

Batson is known for the white crosses displayed around Southeast Texas yards to this day, known as the Easter Cross Project that he created during his time with the St. Paul United Methodist Church.

Batson’s nurse and caregiver, Machiel Bailey, calls him family, as do so many of his neighbors and former students who still visit the man today.

She described the days he feels well enough to sit in his shop, reminiscing about his days as a builder and shop teacher with his students in Port Arthur while talking to his cat, Mr. Kitty, who eventually learned to talk back to Batson.

“He enjoyed so much being a shop teacher,” Bailey said. “He loved to be a teacher, and he loved sharing his passion with his students. He is still so proud to have been a part of founding the credit union that helped so many teachers in the area that he cared about.”

And as for his shop: “He can’t do the things he used to do now, but to this day, he always wants to fix something, and he’s always talking about building something,” Bailey said, laughing.

Batson, or better known as one of the fathers of Southeast Texas, said that in his life he always tried to take the right way, letting himself be led by the Lord. While his memories of his accomplishments and how he has helped others may be fading from his mind, his spirit and desire to continue helping and serving others is something that likely will not disappear.

The man celebrated his 96th birthday on May 20, a timeless celebration where Batson claimed to actually be 69-years-old and gave him the chance to see people he knows and loves.

“He just lights up when people come to see him,” Bailey said. “He wanted to get up out of his wheelchair to see everyone at his birthday.”

As Father’s Day approaches, Bailey said they will keep the celebration simple.

As she cares for him in a house surrounded by plaques signifying his dedication to the region and the furniture throughout each room that he carefully crafted, so well-used over time, she said his friends and family hope that Southeast Texas will remember the things Batson did for this region this Father’s Day.