Sharing a lovely story from 2016: Vidor Police Sgt. Rodney Johnson said he's watched fellow Officer Jeff Courts play his bagpipes at first responders' funerals for two decades. But lately, Johnson said, he noticed Courts' bagpipes and regalia were starting to look worn.
Last month, Johnson created a GoFundMe page to raise the $5,000 needed to buy Courts a new set of bagpipes and new regalia. In less than a month, people donated more than $5,100, a response Johnson called "overwhelming." "He's not going out charging those who have a lost loved one. He uses his own time and his own money to get where he needs to go," said Johnson.
Courts, a Lumberton native, said he has been an officer with the Vidor Police Department for two years, working for the Vidor ISD Police Department for five years before.
He said he has been playing his bagpipes around Southeast Texas for more than 27 years.
Courts said he was "floored and amazed" by the response to the fundraiser.
"I don't feel deserving, but they raised $5,000," he said.
Courts said he plays various weddings and other special events, but he most often plays at law enforcement officers' or firefighters' funerals.
"It's something that needs to be done," said Courts. "I consider it a duty." He said played at San Antonio Police Det. Benjamin Marconi's funeral on Nov. 28 with 25 other "pipers."
Marconi was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Nov. 20 in San Antonio.
Courts said he ordered new pipes from MacLellan Bagpipes , a Scottish bagpipe maker in North Carolina, and full regalia - including a kilt, feather bonnet and doublet - from J. Higgins, Ltd., a company based in Kansas.
The regalia, which is made from hand-woven Scottish wool and partially knitted by hand, will arrive in several months, he said.
His bagpipes, which are made mostly by hand, will take about a year, he said.
Courts said his old equipment is worn out, and he's had to send his kilt back to J. Higgins several times to repair holes.
"I had to put duct tape around my waist at one time," said Courts.
The new kilt costs $500, he said. The bagpipes are more than $3,000.
Courts is part of the Lone Star Bagpipe band, a group he said stumbled into nearly three decades ago when looking for a way to learn the instrument.
Courts said someone recommended he check out a small group of four men who practiced at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Beaumont.
"No one around here played bagpipes, so we were learning from a book and a tape," said Courts.
He said one member helped him find his first set of bagpipes, a used set from Comics Kingdom in Beaumont that he purchased for $200.
The group formed the band, which consists today of nine members - five bagpipe players and nine drummers. They still practice at St. Stephen's Church nearly every Monday night, he said.
Courts said he'd always had an interest the bagpipes and its ability to elicit emotion from people, whether it be happy or sad.
"The bagpipes have a unique sound. They affect people on almost an earthy, primal level," said Courts.
Natalie Krebs Dec. 27, 2016Updated: Dec. 27, 2016 3:39 p.m.