A Sad East Texas Tale
It's a Sad Tale
Cruel twist for struggling woman
By John Nova Lomax
(Be warned. In ten years here at the Houston Press, we've seldom come across a story sadder than this one.)
Lynde Chunn had a tough row to hoe for many of her 28 years. The Houston-born Caney Creek High School graduate was mentally challenged but had long lived alone in the Nacogdoches area, where she had gone along with her sister when sis enrolled at Stephen F. Austin.
She suffered from scoliosis and had a lazy eye. She lived in government housing. Until she got a low-paid job at a dime store, she lived off $694 a month in government assistance. She was picked on at school by both other students and even some teachers. Boyfriends walked all over her and worse.
"Her age level was probably about 15 as far as IQ and that type of thing," says Kathy McGough, a friend who met her fairly recently. "But she was a wonderful girl with a strong, independent flair and she was very kind and considerate. She just had an outward appearance that was not good. Her teeth were in terrible, terrible shape. She had no means to take care of herself. She had no idea how to fix her hair, no makeup, her clothes were not good."
That was why Chunn entered the Piney Woods Makeover contest in 2010. She wasn't picked then, but she re-entered the 2011 contest.
Chunn's application could wring tears out of a slab of cold Italian marble. When the application asked for any big events on her horizon, in a childlike hand, Chunn scrawled that she wanted to "Continue to be a great employee at the Dollar Tree." Asked for one word to describe herself, she wrote "A wonderful person."
"I wish so much for you to make me over from head to toe," she wrote in the essay section, "as this would help me with my confidence in myself and so people I meet will want to get to know me as I try to make better friends and a better employee. This makeover could help so I can see a better future for myself with all my relationships."
Letters of support flowed in to the contest from Chunn's fellow parishioners at Holly Springs Baptist church.
"She has been a blessing to me and has taught me what it means to accept things we have no control about and to be grateful for what we are and share what we have," wrote Betty Couchin, a good friend who also noted that Chunn had spent part of the Christmas season ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside the Nacogdoches Walmart.
And it all worked. Chunn was chosen as the recipient of the 2011 Piney Woods Makeover.
She would be getting cosmetic surgery on her teeth — years and years ago, she had gotten braces, and Medicaid had stopped paying for them, so Chunn had simply left them on her teeth with no maintenance.
She was going to have LASIK surgery courtesy of McGough's employer, the Lehmann Eye Center in Nacogdoches.
The people at Merle Norman were going to have her in for a shopping spree and give her some pointers on snappy dressing, too. She'd already started working out at Curves, a gym for women. She was consulting with a plastic surgeon about a brow lift and a Botox treatment or two, and an orthopedic surgeon was going to donate his services toward repairing some of the ravages of her scoliosis.
"I would laugh with her; I'd say, 'We're gonna make you into a movie star,' and she would just laugh," remembers McGough. "She was so excited. She was so thrilled."
McGough also went shopping for furniture with Chunn. McGough says she had none in her apartment whatsoever. She took up a collection and away they went. "We actually raised enough money to buy her an entire bedroom set and an entire living room set, down to the decor, rugs and lamps and decorations on the walls," McGough says.
The big day was coming up fast. And then one Tuesday morning in February, Betty Couchin, Chunn's church friend and supporter, came in with another woman to the Lehmann Eye Center.
"I invited them into my office and we all sat down," McGough says. "And then she just took my hand and told me that [Chunn] had been killed instantly when she stepped out in front of a car the night before."
Police later said that Chunn had gone to Walmart across busy North Street from where she lived, and then recrossed North Street to go rent a movie at Hastings. That was when she was killed. (No charges were filed against the driver.)
"It was almost unbelievable to just hear that and think, 'Oh my.' You just can't believe it," says McGough. "So I called everyone on the makeover team because I didn't want any of them to find out about it on the news."
"She was so happy and so excited thinking her life was going to change," McGough said around the time of Chunn's death.
Chunn was buried in Conroe this past Valentine's Day.
"We were just so thrilled about seeing her happy," McGough says. "It's hard to even believe right now that she's gone, that it's over."
DOING IT DAILY
Theres tons of stuff each day on the Houston Press blogs; youre only getting a taste of it here in the print edition. Head to blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs (or /rocks or /eating or /artattack).
In honor of The Kennedys mini-series, we listed the five horniest presidents America has produced. (Number 1 wasn't much of a surprise.) For Tax Day, we listed five pieces of absolute crap produced by artists suddenly facing back-tax bills. We had video of a school cop pepper-spraying a squirrel to the horrified shrieks of middle-school girls, and we noted a study that found women who get more semen in them are less likely to be depressed.
We got silly, naming our top five giggle-worthy cocktail names, and grumpy, listing the five worst parking lots in town. We pitted Cadbury eggs against Peeps to see which Easter candy reigned supreme. We enjoyed pork chops at Esther's, a massive Indian buffet lunch at Udipi, and fried rice at Pho Dung, but not the pizza at the new Tasting Room at CityCentre. And we capped it all off with a can of champagne.
Our Sean Pendergast, five-time winner of the Jim Rome Smack-Off, analyzed this year's contest. The Astros' season got ugly quickly, the Texas Bowl now has an ungainly corporate name, and we found video showing just how ungodly hot it must have been to watch major-league baseball in Houston before the Dome.
Houston Grand Opera got a $4 million donation, so we took the opportunity to ask other artists what they'd do with a million dollars. In honor of Shannen Doherty, we looked at TV's Ten Biggest Bitches. And we tortured Peeps — flushed them, burned them and threw them off a building. Of course, like cockroaches, they survived.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.