Sep. 26-While it seems more correct to say that Pequita Casteel is celebrating 35 years with the Palestine Herald-Press, the opposite would be the more correct sentiment. The Herald-Press is celebrating 35 years with her.
The year was 1987. The Iran - Contra affair was in the headlines, 'Throw Mama From the Train,' 'Fatal Attraction' and 'Full Metal Jacket' dominated at the box office and the airwaves included offerings such as 'Hysteria' by Def Leppard, 'Appetite for Destruction' by Guns N Roses and 'Bad' by Michael Jackson.
September 21, 1987, to be exact, also marked Casteel's first day on the job at the Herald-Press. Since then, visitors and staff have been greeted by a beautiful warm smile almost every day.
Seeing things change is normal for anyone marking over three decades in the same place, but some things never change.
"I just love people," Casteel said. "I love meeting them and helping them and talking to them. And over 35 years I have met a bunch of people, some even from different countries."
Helping people seems to be a central theme for Casteel. In 1999 she started the Stocking Stuffers Toy Drive. Since then, Casteel has helped make it a success every holiday season. During the first year, the toy drive helped 100 children. It has since grown to serve approximately 400 children annually, with 2021 hitting an all-time mark of 500.
"It was originally supposed to be a one-time thing," Casteel said. "But 23 years later it's still going. All the success is owed to the citizens of Palestine, Anderson County and Toys for Tots. They make a huge difference."
Every year Casteel selflessly takes a week of her own vacation time to finalize gift selections and distribute gifts in an effort to ensure each child has a wonderful Christmas.
Casteel's giving nature is not limited to Christmas. In 2005 she received the Public Service Award for collecting food, school supplies and goods for needy children and families. In 2018, Palestine's Multi-Cultural Education Center named Casteel as its first selection for Women's History Month, citing her dedication and unwavering commitment to the community.
Casteel has also served in many church positions, including administrative assistant, workshop facilitator, Sunday school teacher, director of Vacation Bible School, chairman of the Program Committee, President of the Mission Department, Secretary to the District Missionary, and President of the Evangelist Missionary Circle. In 1998, she received her missionary license. She also was certified in the Be Successful in Youth Ministry. In 1999, Casteel earned a diploma of practical theology from the International Seminary of Plymouth, Florida. She is a sought-after speaker in many area churches.
Herald-Press Publisher Jake Mienk stressed what a positive impact Casteel has, not only on the office, but her community as a whole.
"I don't know what we would do without Pequita," Mienk said. "When you think about all she does, not just here, but for the community, like for the thousands of local children whose lives have been touched by her efforts, we are just so fortunate that she is a part of our family."
When asked about the prospect of retirement, Casteel was her usual thoughtful self.
"I think about it sometimes," Casteel said. "I just think when the time comes the Lord will let me know."
Perhaps he will. Or perhaps he might need another 35 years of providing a ray of sunshine for the people in East Texas.