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Justice center renovations to provide much needed additional space


By Daniel Chesser

Opelika Observer

The new additions to the Lee County Justice Center are starting to take form on Gateway Drive in Opelika.

Recently local politicians, the circuit clerk, the DA and an architect took a tour of the construction site that is projected to be an $8.7 million dollar job.

“The bid for the actual construction was $7.6 million,” said County Administrator Roger Rendleman. “By the time you consider engineering, architecture, (and etc.) it is basically another million, so when it is all said and done we are talking about an $8.6 million project.”

Recent rain had slowed the pace of the job so the additions should be completed by some time in November with employees transitioning to the new offices in January, but those are not hard dates, according to Rendleman.

Additional court fees were utilized to fund this 48,000 square-foot project after the issue was voted in favor of by the citizens of Lee County in 2008.

The new building will connect to the existing side of the justice center and house Mary Roberson along with the circuit clerk’s office, District Attorney Robbie Treese and his offices complete with a new grand jury room, some much needed storage space for records plus an additional court room that is twice the size of any current courtrooms in the Lee County Justice Center.

“(Space) is not going to be a problem (because) I will now have space for prosecutors, investigators and support staff,” Treese said. “This space will help future generations, district attorneys and judges to be able to grow as the county grows and adapt to our ever-changing caseload and environment; so it’s really smart space.

“We (currently) have files from the 1970s (and further back) scattered in four different buildings all over the city and hopefully I can get these files scanned in and consolidated all in one space (with the help of interns of course).”

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Paving way to education: OCS Board of Education approves new base and asphalt at OHS

By Donna Williamson

Opelika Observer

In a called meeting on Monday afternoon, the Opelika City Board of Education approved an additional $288,000 to remove existing asphalt in the back parking lots and outer-loop road.

According to Dr. Mark Neighbors, superintendent, money was already in the budget to resurface these areas, which were in need of repair before the construction began. However, after two years of construction, the heavy equipment “just wore it out,” he said.

Neighbors explained that if only resurfaced, the areas would need repairing again in four or five years. “We have a chance to do it all now than redo it later,” he said. All asphalt will be removed back to the grade, with the exception of the small parking lot at the science building. “A new base will be added and we will repave,” he added.

The additional $288,000 will come from the school board, and the project will take approximately ten days to complete.

To help protect the new asphalt, the city will provide an industrial trash compactor with safety features. A heavy duty pad will be constructed for the compactor, along with a heavy duty base for the garbage trucks. According to Neighbors, the cost of the pad and base will be approximately $8,000. The compactor will have a lock and “It won’t be a citizen garbage drop any more,” he said.

With the exception of the back parking lots and the outer-loop road, plus a few small jobs left to complete, construction is finished. Neighbors thanked David Allen, Trey Crittenden and Jason Farr, who managed all contracts and supervised all of the work for Robins and Morton, along with Tammy Allen, office manager.

A Community Open House has been tentatively set for Aug. 10 from 2-4 p.m. at OHS.

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County 4-H rifle club goes for gold

Special to the

Opelika Observer

Gold, silver and other precious medals were recently the reward for the Lee County 4-H Rifle Club.

The Alabama State Olympic Games were held June 20-22, with events taking place at 27 venues throughout Alabama, with over 5,000 athletes from all over the state competing in Summer Olympic style games, such as track and field, swimming, diving, gymnastics, archery and shooting sports, just to name a few.

The county 4H Rifle Club’s precision shooting sports team, known as “Team X-Caliber,” proudly represented the citizens of Opelika-Auburn, with 19 local youth ages 10-19 competing in several rifle events. Thanks partly to NRA Foundation’s support in sponsoring equipment as well as other local business donations, the club was able to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate.

With participation in Rimfire Sporter Individual Competitions, Rimfire Sporter Team Competitions and .22 Rifle Silhouette and Air Rifle Competitions, the X-Caliber team members walked away this weekend with smiles on their faces and a total of 22 gold medals, 15 silver medals and eight bronze medals. Winning an impressive 45 out of a possible 56 medals, every member of the X-Caliber team brought home at least one medal each.

June marked one year that these 4-H’ers have been practicing.

Starting off last year with gun safety, rules and regulations then moving on to BB and Air Rifle gun training, this club has now evolved into .22 Rifle training and competitions, with more to come.

With seven dedicated instructors and these talented children, there is just no telling how far this group might go in the future.

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July 15 run-off vote decides Republican candidates

By Greg Markley

Opelika Observer

If everyone who voted in the Republican runoff election in Lee County on Tuesday took a seat at Auburn University’s Plainsman Park, there would still be some 2,300 seats unoccupied. Spurts of hard rain, the fact that Democrats had no runoffs, and the absence of a high-profile race such as for governor led to a 1.99 percent turnout.

Still, Auburn attorney Tom Eden III was elected as a member of the state GOP executive committee, cementing his appointment for that role last year. He defeated Steve Benson of Auburn, president of Opelika Land and Timber, by 810-678. Eden thanked “everybody who got me over the top” and said he will work to oust Alabama GOP chairman Bill Armistead whom he called “a decisive influence at the state level who is not a vehicle of change in the party.”

Secretary of State candidate Reese McKinney and PSC, Place 2 incumbent Terry Dunn won in Lee County but lost statewide. McKinney bested John Merrill 885-612 in Lee, but statewide Merrill won with 53 percent to 47 percent. Dunn garnered 882 votes in Lee to Chip Beeker’s 651. Statewide, Dunn lost by 59 percent to 41 percent. “This election was a referendum on liberal environmentalists who are trying to invade our state and a win for Alabama consumers,” Beeker told the AP. In the campaign he often attacked President Barack Obama and the Environment Protection Agency.

In the GOP runoff for state auditor veteran candidate Jim Zeigler, a Mobile attorney, trounced Dale Peterson by more than 70 percent in Lee County returns. Peterson became an Internet sensation in 2002 with his “We’re Better Than That!” ad with his horse and shotgun bemoaning public corruption. He lost in the state as a whole by 65 percent to 35 percent. He faces two misdemeanor theft charges from 2012 and 2013.

By more than 2-1 margins both statewide and in Lee County, voters approved a constitutional amendment that would end an assessment refund that goes to cotton producers who do not participate in a program for the cotton check-off. The amendment as passed allows the Alabama Cotton Commission to query farmers to see if they would oppose the refund provision for cotton producers.

Its opponents were not comfortable with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, or any agency, being tasked with collecting and dispersing the fee. But the amendment won by 1,110-465 in Lee.

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Wife of past sheriff remembered for integral police role

By Donna Williamson

Opelika Observer

Kathleen Chapman grew up with law enforcement. Her father was in law enforcement in Lineville. Her husband Herman, who served as a military policeman during World War II, began his law enforcement career with the Alabama Highway Patrol then was promoted to investigator with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI), and they moved to Opelika.

Little did Kathleen know that law enforcement was also in her future.

After their three children were in school, Kathleen decided to look for a job. “Herman told me they needed someone to work at the sheriff’s office and asked me if I was interested,” she said. “Sheriff Paul Ragsdale hired me, and I worked there for 33 years.

“I was one of very few women working there when I started. I did a little of everything: book work, communications and helping to escort female prisoners,” she said. “I was not hired as a deputy, but I always wore the uniform.”

However, when Kathleen did become a deputy, the job didn’t change. “I still did anything and everything,” she said.

During her years of service, a law was passed that required officers to attend police academy. However, since Kathleen had been with the department for so long, Pearson grandfathered her or, as she said, “grandmothered” her, so that she did not have to attend the academy. Pearson not only “grandmothered” Kathleen, he also promoted her to lieutenant.

In 1980 her husband was appointed by then Gov. Fob James to fill the unexpired term of  Pearson, who died in office. Herman remained sheriff until he retired in 1999.

Kathleen remembers some of the deputies telling her, “We can’t come to you and cuss the sheriff now because you go home with him.”

Kathleen admitted that it was strange working with Herman in the beginning. “He told me ‘I’ll do my job and you do yours.’ He was the boss, but I had seniority,” she said with a smile.

Kathleen retired as Lieutenant over Administration, which meant she managed the office and the deputies. The deputies were family. She talked to them about different situations and told them to “Be the nicest, sweetest people they could be, and when they had to be mean, be the meanest they could be.”

“We’ve had some good guys through the sheriff’s office,” Kathleen said. One of those “good guys” whom she remembers fondly is Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones. “I think the world of Jay,” she said. “He is doing a great job.”

Jones, who became Herman’s successor as sheriff, definitely remembers Kathleen. “I met Mrs. Kat (that’s the name all of us at the sheriff’s office addressed her by) when I began working as a student intern during my senior year at Auburn. I remember thinking that she was so nice, but I quickly learned that she would let you know if your conduct or attitude needed adjustment, and it was usually appropriate on her part to do so.”

He also credits her influence to his success in law enforcement. “I truly believe I would not have been successful in my career without Mrs. Kat’s influence,” Jones said. “She can honestly claim that she ‘raised’ a bunch of deputy sheriffs through the years. We looked at her that way and tried not to disappoint her because we knew she would let us know if we did.

“I had been with the sheriff’s office just a few months when my mom passed away. I was a patrol deputy and a young man, but she kept an eye on me. I looked to her as I did my mom. Mrs. Kat has always been very kind to me, and I will never forget that.”

According to Jones, women like Kathleen were pioneers for women in law enforcement. “When she started, it was uncommon to see female sworn officers,” he said.

Retired Lee County District Attorney Nick Abbett has always respected Kathleen and her career as a professional law enforcement officer. “Kathleen became employed with LCSO about the time I began my law enforcement career with the Opelika Police Department in 1966. I became a detective in 1968,” Abbett explained. “At that time all defendants charged with felony crimes were delivered to the sheriff at the county jail. Paul Ragsdale was sheriff, and Mrs. Chapman helped with booking prisoners.”

Over the years they became good friends.

“Kathleen was rock solid at LCSO,” Abbett said. “If you wanted to make sure that something got done and did not ‘fall through the cracks,’ she was the one to contact. She became a sworn Deputy Sheriff and I believe one of the first, if not the first, female to serve in that capacity.”

When Abbett ran for District Attorney in 1998, he sought campaign advice from Herman and Kathleen. “My wife and I spent several hours with Herman and Kathleen learning how to campaign for public office,” he said. “In fact, Kathleen suggested my campaign slogan ‘experience counts’ (because it does).”

Kathleen and Herman were married for 62 years. Kathleen said after he died in May 2013, she “began a new phase of my life, and, as in all phases, the most important things are faith in God, family and friends.”

She does not consider herself special in any way and says, “There are so many people who did so many things.”

However, there are those who disagree, including Abbett.

“I believe that God puts special people in your life to guide and help you along the way. Kathleen Chapman has and always will be one of those people for me,” he said.

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Local elections: behind the scenes

By Greg Markley

Opelika Observer

The late U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg once said that “Partisan politics must stop at the water’s edge.” He meant that in international matters, partisanship must be set aside.

In that vein, partisan politics quickly stops at the edge of the entrance door to the Board of Registrars office, at the Lee County Courthouse.

“When people visit this office and want to talk partisan politics, we have to tell them they can’t campaign here,” said Lee Vanoy of Opelika. She is one of three registrars appointed by Alabama constitutional officers who work with Lee County officials on voting and election issues.

Vanoy was appointed by John McMillan Jr., Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries; Becky Bailey was chosen by State Auditor Samantha “Sam” Shaw; and Leigh Reed was designated by Gov. Robert Bentley. Appointments are for 4-year terms.

The registrars’ office is on the first floor of the courthouse and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The toll free number is 1-800-239-4469, extension 5; the local number is (334) 737-3635.

“It’s especially hectic on the day of, the day before, and the day after an election,” reflected Bailey, who lives in Opelika. “One reason I do like this position is that I always stay busy doing something.” She added that sometimes last-minute registration applications come in steadily.

Reed, of Auburn, grew up in a politics-friendly household, with her mother serving as registrar for Macon County. Of her registrar role she said: “It’s not a seasonal job, but we do get a certain number of days to work, and then we work for free. It is funny sometimes when we get phone calls from people who call us thinking that we can ‘register’ their boats; those are the strange things that happen.”

Vanoy, also of Opelika, had a keen interest in politics since about age 10. Before becoming a registrar, she was active in local politics, serving as president of the Lee County Republican Club and working to expand the GOP in Alabama. Her son, Van Vanoy, is also in public service, serving as director of finance at the Lee-Russell Council of Governments.

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City considers bonus: Retired Opelika employees could receive extra money

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Tuesday’s council meeting was pretty typical but for two concerns voiced during citizen’s communications.

Willie Andrew Love came before the council to ask members to approve a one-time bonus in October for retired city employees.

The pension bonus would be in line with a bill impacting a bonus for state employees, approved in February of this year. “The bill would allow cities and counties that participate in the state employee pension program to give the bonus to their employees, but the local governments would have to bear the cost,” explains an article by the Associated Press.

“This is everybody’s desire,” said Love, who said he was speaking on behalf of all retired city employees. “We are praying and hoping this is the desire of the council.”

President Pro Tempore Patsy Jones, presiding over the meeting in President Eddie Smith’s absence, said she and the mayor have already been in discussion on the potential bonus.

“We will look at that and how we can do it, if we can in the budget process,” Jones said.

Another citizen with questions and concerns was Oscar Penn, who brought up past instance of racism and illegal activities by a former detective and urged the council to stand strong against past and future bigotry.

“We have people who have worked very hard to bring this city up to par, and we have a lot of things going on that are great in this city,” Penn said. “Someone’s got to be held accountable for (racist acts).”

Four public hearings were held in the matter of weed assessments - 209 25th St., 1108 Chandler Ave., 706 Geneva St., and 12 E. Johnson Ave. No one spoke during the hearings, and each abatement was approved by the council.

The council also:

-approved a road closure for Aug. 2 for a children’s triathlon.

-awarded a bid for a rescue vehicle.

- voted in favor of the purchase of one 2014 Ford F150 for the public works department.

- approved the renewal of an agreement for professional grant writing — “a well spent $23,000 for what we’re getting,” said Councilman David Canon.

- approved an agreement with ALDOT for lighting at exits 60, 62 and 66 on Interstate 85.

- reappointed Marvin Bolinger and Jervis Hairston to the Celebrate Alabama Improvement District Board.

- approved the construction of a balcony for a business on South Eighth Street.

- voted to amend the text of the zoning ordinance.

- voted for rezoning at 1127 Preston Street.

- approved the 2014 Community Development Block Grant and reprogramming of CDBG funds.

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School board honors retirees

By Donna Williamson

Opelika Observer

The Opelika City Board of Education honored its 19 retirees at a ceremony held on Tuesday afternoon at Jeter Primary School. Dr. Mark Neighbors, superintendent, thanked the retirees for their service to children and to the community.

At the school board meeting, which followed the retiree ceremony, Neighbors recognized students for their achievements during the past school year. (Editor’s note: Next week “The Observer” will publish the full list of students recognized at Tuesday’s meeting.) Certificates or plaques were given to winners of the Superintendent’s Art Show, Congressional District Art Competition, Boys’ and Girls’ Indoor and Outdoor Track, All-State Band, State Trumbauer Theatre Competition, and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) writing competition in the state and Southeast Division.

The art winners may have their works matted and framed by the school board and put on display for the next school year at the Opelika City Schools’ central office.

Neighbors recognized Opelika High School student Anna Lazenby for receiving the 2014 Congressional District Art Competition’s “Best of Show” award. Lazenby’s art will be on display in the Cannon Tunnel in Washington, D.C. for the next school year.

Dr. Charles Hannah, advisor of Opelika High School’s literary magazine Perspectives, along with magazine editor Grace Kriel, presented copies of the award-winning magazine to Neighbors and board members.

The board approved an agreement with Kelly Services to handle all substitute staffing issues. Neighbors explained that because of the Affordable Health Care Act, anyone who works over 30 hours a week is eligible for benefits. Kelly Services will handle all aspects of substitute staffing, which includes keeping track of the number of hours worked. Bob Meadows, board member, noted that other systems which use this service have been very pleased with the results.

According to Neighbors, employees may request a substitute online until 6 a.m. on the day they will be absent.  After 6 a.m. employees must call the service directly. Principals may go online to see which employees will be absent and which substitutes have been assigned. All substitutes must go through a training process with Kelly Services in order to be added to the substitute list.

In other business, the board

- Approved the implementation of strategic plan goals and belief statements by Opelika City Schools.

- Approved for the Opelika High School softball team to attend the Higher Ground Softball Camp in Cartersville, Ga., in July.

- Approved the reappointment of O. D. Alsobrook, III as board chairman and Joe N. Pinkard as vice chairman.

- Approved employment, transfers, retirements, and resignations for Opelika City Schools.

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The results are in: Area legislators win big June 3; despite strong Lee County showing, Price loses representative race

By Greg Markley

Opelika Observer

Most Lee County legislators were easily renominated on Tuesday.

The smallest margin was for first-term State Sen. Tom Whatley (District 27). He defeated Andy Carter by 53 percent to 47 percent. Born on a dairy farm near Opelika, Whatley drew wide support from farming and business groups, but this was undercut by ads noting his strong support for President Barack Obama in 2008. Whatley faces Democrat Hayley Moss on Nov. 4.

For the “open” seat in District 38, and despite a 63 percent to 37 percent win in Lee County, Randy Price was defeated by Isaac Whorton, who received major backing in his native Chambers County. Thus, Whorton will succeed retiring state Rep. DuWayne Bridges; he faces no Democratic opposition. Price has served Republicans as county chairman and is an Opelika businessman. His wife Oline is Lee County revenue commissioner.

“I have known the Rev. (George) Bandy for 24 years, and we were the first African American city councilmen in Opelika,” reflected Lee County Commissioner John Andrew Harris. “So I am not surprised by his success tonight.” In District 83, Bandy won by more than 4-1 over Ronnie Reed of Russell County. Bandy is a minister in Opelika and has been a state legislator since 1994. In November, he faces GOP challenger Gary Head.

Media outlets statewide and, in some cases, nationwide, were especially interested in the Republican contest for state representative in District 79. Rep. Mike Hubbard, whose district is mostly in Auburn but includes parts of northern Opelika, won 60 percent to 40 percent over Fred “Sandy” Toomer. But that contest was close for much of the evening, and results in several precincts were delayed from being recorded.

Both the Whatley/Carter and the Hubbard/Toomer battles featured heavy spending on advertising by the candidates and statewide groups such as the Alabama Education Association (AVote). The AEA targeted Hubbard because as House Speaker he led fights for legislation such as charter schools the teachers’ group long opposed. His status as the first GOP Speaker in Alabama since 1873 gave this primary a larger profile than most.

“When I was younger I ran in marathon races,” noted Toomer. “When I finished a marathon I would say: ‘That was the dumbest thing to do, I will never do that again!’ That’s how I feel now about being a candidate. In my first try, I got 40 percent against the well-funded and probably the most powerful politician in Alabama. I had a great team supporting me: family, friends and staff.”

Hubbard faces Democratic standard-bearer Shirley Scott-Harris in the general election Nov. 4. Harris has a Ph.D in educational psychology and is a professor at Auburn University.

Hubbard was elected to the State Republican Executive Committee, beating Opelika realtor John Rice by 6,222 to 4,336 votes.

A July 30 runoff is in the offing for Stephen Benson (42 percent), president of Opelika Land and Timber, and Thomas Eden III (40 percent), an Auburn attorney, for the second State Republican Executive Committee seat from Lee County.

The 2014 primaries were supervised by informational technology specialist Tim Parson and Probate Judge Bill English. They reported that the tabulation and dissemination of voting results went well. There were 13,365 ballots cast, and turnout was a bit under the 20 percent of eligible voters that political observers predicted. Ballots cast for Republicans came to approximately 83 percent, with the Democrats casting the other 17 percent.

For the full statewide results, visit – the Alabama Secretary of State’s office.

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County approves bonus for retirees

By Fred Woods


Thanks to action by the Lee County Commission this week, qualifying Lee County government retirees and their beneficiaries will receive a one-time lump sum bonus of at least $300 in October of this year. The bonus, the result of Act 2014-429 of the Alabama Legislature, provides that retired members and beneficiaries of retired members who retired before Oct. 1, 2013, and are entitled to receive a monthly benefit from the Employees Retirement System on Sept. 30, 2014, are eligible.

Those eligible retirees will receive a payment of $2 per month for each year of service or $300, whichever is greater. Qualifying beneficiaries will receive a payment of $300. The bonus payment will be separate from the monthly retirement payment.

The payment is not automatic. Lee County government has to pay for the cost of the bonuses; therefore, the commission had to approve the county’s participation. The Board of Control of the Employees’ Retirement System is required to determine the cost of the payments and to notify each agency of the increase in employer contribution rate required to pay that sum. The board’s estimate of the cost to Lee County is $51,935, which will require an addition of 0.39 percent to the county’s employer contribution rate for the period Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016.

County Administrator Roger Rendleman said the county has 73 living retirees but was uncertain as to the number of eligible beneficiaries.

Pursuant to Highway Department traffic studies, the commission also approved a 35 miles per hour speed limit for both paved and unpaved portions of a 2.3 mile stretch of Lee Road 70, in the  northwestern part of the county. Unless posted differently, the speed limit is 45 miles per hour on paved county roads and 35 miles per hour on unpaved county roads. The commission also approved 25 miles per hour speed limits for Lee Roads 706 and 922 in the Gates subdivision (south of Spring Villa) and Lee Roads 2128 through 2133 in the River Bend Heights subdivision in northeast Lee County near Lake Harding.

Both of these subdivisions are in Commissioner Robert Ham’s District  4, who observed that Shelby County had reduced speed limits in all their county subdivisions and suggested that the Lee Commission consider similar action as a safety measure.

Environmental Services Director Chris Bozeman announced that the Lee Recycling Consortium (Lee County, Auburn, Auburn University and Opelika) had received a $113,000 recycling grant award from the state. Lee County’s share, $38,680, will be used to purchase two 10-Bin trailers (to be placed at Loachapoka and the Union Station RV Campground on Alabama Highway 14 between Auburn and Loachapoka) and four fixed recycling containers.

In other action the commission:

- heard EMA Director Kathy Carson report that the county’s share of Debris Monitoring and Removal costs from the Salem/Crawford tornados was $37,000. The state paid the same and the federal government paid the major portion, almost $370,000.

- appointed Randy Causey and reappointed Jay Jones to the Lee County E911 Board.

- approved revisions to the County Employee Policy & Procedures Manual.

- approved building inspection agreements for Loachapoka and Smiths Station.

- heard Ham announce receipt of a $10,000 check from the Alabama Commission on Senior Services to be used for senior services in state Sen. Tom Whatley’s Senate District 27.

- approved a cooperative agreement with ALDOT for digital information, aerial photography and mapping.

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Planning commission gives approval for microbrewery

By Laurel Jackson Callaway

Opelika Observer

Say cheers! The Opelika Planning Commission approved the conditional use of a warehouse in downtown Opelika for a microbrewery at Tuesday’s meeting.

Red Clay Brewing will occupy 12,000 square feet on 1st Avenue in what is known as the Lebanon Art District. Of that, 10,000 square feet will be used for manufacturing and storage, while 1,400 square feet will be designated for seating and tasting.

According to Planning Director Jerry Kelley, construction of the facility is partially ongoing at this time.

During the May 22 work meeting, some concern was expressed over parking and the ability to accommodate patrons coming to the brewery. Kelley addressed that issue on Tuesday.

“We have made the recommendation for further street scape improvements along 1st Avenue between 7th and 8th streets. We also recommend using two areas on 8th Street and 1st Avenue to create 22 extra parking spaces,” Kelley said.

The city’s engineering department has applied for a TAP (Transportation Alternative Program) grant, which would street scape this particular block north of the railroad similarly to what has been done in other parts of downtown. By improving the sidewalks and landscaping, the city hopes to encourage pedestrian travel from other areas of downtown to this developing block.

The commission also gave preliminary and final plat approval for two lots located at the Preston Street Industrial Park. The property, which was most recently used for concrete manufacturing, will be home to TerraVia, a grading contracting business.

In addition to plat approval, the commission also approved TerraVia’s request to rezone 14,500 square feet from R-2 residential zone to a M-1 manufacturing zone. The motion will be presented to the city council for rezoning approval.

In regards to the rezoning recommendation, Kelley said, “This is a less intrusive type of use than the former concrete plant and more environmentally sensitive.”

Commission member Lucinda Cannon did raise a concern. “Is there going to be any type of noise that may be detrimental to the surrounding residents?” she asked.

“I would say the only noises at this facility would be back up sensor alarms on heavier equipment. Other than that, there will be no work transpiring on the property,” said Blake Rice, a representative for the company. “Equipment will be moved in and out to be serviced and maintained, but by and large, it is a very quiet business.”

The commission also:

- approved preliminary and final plats from subdivisions on 4 lots on 28th Street, two lots on Highway 29 two lots on Highway 29 and Lee Road 270 and four lots on Lee Road 146.

- approved conditional use for Trinity Presbyterian Church for the construction of a 15,900 square foot facility.

- continued discussion concerning the 100 foot minimum lot width on the Gateway Corridor.

- approved the recommendation to the city council for the State legislation on joint city and county approval of subdivisions.

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Blacksmith exhibits craft at Opelika flea market

By Robert Noles

Opelika Observer

Restore Treasures Flea Market on Pepperell Parkway has an added attraction on the second Saturday of every month – blacksmith Charlie Conklin from Valley.

Conklin said he first became interested in blacksmithing after going to an art skills area when he lived in New York, where he saw a demonstration at the Antique Engine & Implements Society. After several years of training, he moved to Valley, where he has lived about six years. It took him a couple of years to get his forge and equipment set up because of cost and some equipment was not readily available, but he now is doing blacksmithing demonstrations and making homestead items, knives and leather goods.

Last Saturday Conklin was making a “D” ring as part of an order. The “D” ring was for a strap on a leather breastplate of a costume someone wanted. He took a straight piece of metal, heated to red hot and hammered it on the anvil. After heating and forming with the hammer several times he had a perfect “D.”

Once a ring has taken shape, it can be dropped into beeswax and given a coating of wax to keep it from rusting in the future.

Conklin uses three types of coals in his forge. Starting with coke coal, along with the help of apprentice Amber Tailsky turning the blower, it only takes about five minutes for Conklin to get the small workable hot coals ready to start his work.

During his demonstration, Conklin explained what he was doing and the process in forming the metal into an item.

One perhaps confusing fact for many is the difference between a blacksmith and a farrier. A blacksmith makes or repairs things made of iron, such as household items, metal doors and furniture, as well as items in farming and manufacturing. A blacksmith does not, as some may assume, shoe horses. That’s the farrier’s job.

Conklin will be back next month with another demonstration, but those who want to learn more about Conklin and blacksmithing can visit him on Facebook at Azreal’s Armory.

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County votes for senior center

By Fred Woods


The Lee County Commission, in this week’s regular meeting, voted to move forward with a grant application to obtain federal funds, up to $250,000, to build a new senior center at Beulah in eastern Lee County. The grant would be an 80-20 match, and Lee County’s portion could be made up, in large part, by in-kind and donated contributions. Grant application will be made in cooperation with the Lee-Russell Council of Governments and would go through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

Beulah’s current senior center is located in the basement of an old wooden structure owned by the county and used for many years for home economics classes by Beulah High School.

State Sen. Gerald Dial and Rep. DuWayne Bridges, both of whom have supported efforts to get a new senior center for Beulah for several years, were present at the meeting to present Commissioner Robert Ham (who represents the Beulah area) with a $10,000 check from the Alabama Commission on Senior Services to be used for start-up expenses in connection with the center. The two legislators also reported that Neal Morrison, director of the commission had already committed to furnishing the facility.

The Bridge Church at Cusseta recently donated 2.2 acres of land for a building site, overcoming one major obstacle to the center. The value of the land will count as a portion of the county’s required grant match.

Kathy Carson, county Emergency Management Authority Director, provided an update on the Salem/Crawford tornado recovery. Although FEMA has not provided assistance amounts, Carson reported that 140 individuals of a total of 225 affected had received assistance. Carson said, “I hope that we have reached everyone who needs assistance and is eligible for it.”

In other action the commission:

- appointed Lamar Sims to the Beulah Utilities Board (second reading).

- heard Ham nominate Leon McCloskey (first reading) for an additional vacancy on the Beulah Utility Board. There were six applications for this vacancy, an indication of Beulah area citizens’ interest in the Board’s activities.

- heard Christine Washington’s concerns about poor road conditions on her unpaved portion of Lee Road 246 in the Smiths Station area. That portion of LR 246, once scheduled for paving, was apparently left unpaved when the commission ended new road paving in 2010. But, as Washington pointed out, people who live on dirt roads pay taxes, too. The county highway department will attempt to improve conditions on the road.

- approved obtaining a POW/MIA flag to be flown in front of the courthouse.

- approved an Interlocal Contract with the Houston-Galveston (Texas) Area Council to allow the Highway Department to purchase a track excavator. More and more local governments are forming alliances to gain cost advantages in acquiring equipment and services.

- approved bids for a License Plate Reader  for the Sheriff’s Office.

- approved bids for LED bulbs, parking lot lights and wall pack light fixtures.

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EAMC makes list of 100 great community hospitals

Special to the

Opelika Observer

Becker’s Hospital Review has named its 2014 edition of “100 Great Community Hospitals,” a list based on community hospitals’ accolades, quality and service to their communities, and East Alabama Medical Center made the list.

In fact, EAMC was the only hospital in Alabama to be recognized.

“(EAMC) was named a Healthstrong Top Hospital in 2014 by iVantage Health Analytics as well as a Top Performer in Premier healthcare alliance’s QUEST: High Performing Hospitals collaborative for the second year in a row,” comments the publication in its recognition of EAMC. “In fiscal year 2013, EAMC had 294 volunteers, 2,700 employees and saw 13,595 inpatient visits.”

According to the report, the hospitals chosen for the list have fewer than 550 beds and minimal teaching programs. The report also states that, “Some are located in suburban areas, but many are found in rural areas and serve as the only hospitals in their communities. Whether independent or part of a larger health system, the (listed) hospitals have continually worked to provide the quality of care and the experience patients deserve and expect.”

“This is a nice accolade for our hospital from a very respected publication,” said Terry Andrus, CEO and president. “When awards and recognitions like this are announced, people will often congratulate me. However, it’s our employees, physicians and volunteers who make EAMC what it is. Across the board, our folks strive for the best and are always raising the bar on behalf of our patients. Of course, living in a great community like we do makes it a lot easier to be a great community hospital.”

The 100 Great Community Hospitals list is compiled through a lengthy research and review process.

The editorial team starts a master list of facilities or individuals based on national rankings or original research. The 100 Great Community Hospitals list is compiled without a nomination process and highlights institutions that are consistently lauded by other industry ranking companies.

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Who, where, when how: Learn a few 'need-to-knows' prior to June 3 election

By Greg Markley

Opelika Observer

With the 2014 Alabama primaries four days away, voters deciding whether their solitary vote might matter can draw lessons from the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. There, Democrat Al Franken unseated Republican Norm Coleman by just 225 votes, out of nearly 3 million cast.

In general elections with a presidential battle, turnout can be 40-50 percent higher than in a primary. Alabama’s 2012 primary, held jointly with a presidential primary, only attracted 24.42 percent of eligible voters. On June 1, 2010, both parties’ voters had a chance to elect their nominee for governor. Turnout was a paltry 32.2 percent.

Lee County Probate Judge Bill English predicts a Lee County turn out just under 20 percent.

The Republican state senate candidates and the Democratic state representative in Opelika featured last week likely recognize the importance of turnout. So do the office seekers in the three GOP contests featured below.

As soon as Randy Price discovered that a campaign mailer for his District 38 state representative campaign had a technical error, he had it corrected. It had called a group supporting his Republican candidacy a “Commission” instead of an “Association.” He explained: “I have always believed if an error is made and it can be corrected, correct it immediately.”

“For District 38, I believe voters need to send a businessman to Montgomery with more than 30 years experience,” Price said. “My campaign slogan is ‘Leadership Grows from Experience.’”

Price has run several successful businesses in Opelika, is a fifth generation family farmer and has been active in Republican politics for years. His wife, Oline Price, is the Lee County Revenue Commissioner and is unopposed for re-election.

Price’s opponent in the Republican field is Isaac Whorton, an attorney from Chambers County. Whorton has served as chairman of the Valley Planning Commission and has a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and a law degree from Faulkner University. Although he grew up in Valley, he mentions frequent childhood visits to Opelika.

District 38 includes parts of Lee and Chambers counties.

In House District 80, Rep. Lesley Vance has drawn two opponents in the Republican primary – Mervin Dudley and Alex Balkcum. Vance, then a Democrat, defeated the GOP’s Dudley in the 2010 general election. Balkcum is running under a theme of being “a conservative businessman who will fight to serve District 80, not the Montgomery special interests.” District 80 includes parts of Lee and Russell counties.

Although House District 79 centers on Auburn, it still has a sizeable number of constituents in north Opelika. Rep. Mike Hubbard is now the first Republican House Speaker in Alabama since 1873. But this year he faces a vigorous campaign from Fred “Sandy” Toomer, a former missionary in South America who now operates Toomer’s Coffee Roasters Company.

In the presidential preference and party primaries in March 2012, 85 percent of the ballots were for Republicans. This year, in the presence of so many GOP contests, the percentages might be similar. One simple vote could even be a factor in who wins.

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Opelika quarry to cease operations

By Rebekah Martin

Assistant Editor

MidSouth Aggregates, the Birmingham-based company that operates the limestone quarry at Spring Villa, near Opelika, plans to close it down by the end of 2014.

This information, openly rumored locally for the past several weeks, was verified by Heather Askew, the director of communications for Old Castle Materials, MidSouth’s holding company. “The company is in the process of executing a closure plan to ultimately end mining in the quarry and expects that all mining operations will cease before the year’s end,” she said.

After spending millions of dollars repairing a number of sinkholes thought to be the result of the quarrying operation, the company had considered relocation before ultimately deciding to shut down. Lee Road 148, Spring Villa Road, was just reopened last week following the latest closure for sinkhole repairs.

Askew also said “employees and customers were informed of this decision in late April. The company will remain on the property until it fulfills its obligations on site.”

The quarry is said to have been in operation since the 1850’s, although under several different ownerships over the period.

The “Opelika Observer” will provide additional information as details can be verified.

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Observer introduces new staff member

Staff Reports

The “Opelika Observer” is pleased to welcome an addition to its staff. Rebekah Martin, from Montgomery is joining the “Observer” as the new Assistant Editor.

Martin is a 2011 graduate of Faulkner University in Montgomery where she studied English and journalism. It was during her time pursuing a degree in journalism and working as an editor for the University publication that she developed a love for the field. She completed an internship in the office of Public Affairs of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, where she gained valuable first-hand experience with a working newsroom.

“I’m ecstatic about this opportunity to jump back into my field-of-study and learn more about the city of Opelika,” Martin said. “Its citizens strike me as good, hard-working, fun-loving people who care about their community. I could not be more thrilled to be a part of it.”

Observer editor Fred Woods said Martin demonstrated her ability by stepping up during her first week on the job, covering the Opelika City Council meeting as well as playing a major role in getting the July 4 holiday paper to the printer on schedule.

Rebekah began working full time with the “Observer” June 30. She will take on a number of responsibilities with the paper, from community coverage, to newspaper design, to advertising.

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Raising rates: Water Board announces new fees effective Aug. 1

By Fred Woods


Opelika Utilities is increasing its rates for water. Utilities bills after Aug. 1, 2014, will include a rate increase of $1.10 per 1,000 gallons of usage.

The typical residential customer, who averages using 4,000 gallons a month, will see a monthly increase of $4.40.

That’s about a dollar a day for water that most agree tastes good, is high quality and is delivered to residents’ homes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – for a cost increase that might equal a half tank of gasoline for a car. Put another way, if someone had to buy his monthly water requirements as bottled water, it would cost something like $4,500 each month – meaning, increase or not, Opelika water is still a bargain over costly alternatives.

Bargain or not, most people don’t like cost increases. Some might be thinking, “Didn’t we just have a water rate increase three years ago?” While true, the Opelika Water Board reminds everyone that this increase, as well as the one before that, went to pay the costs of the new Saugahatchee Water Treatment Plant.

This latest increase can be attributed to continued increases in operational costs, such as the federally mandated requirement to use no-lead brass and bronze fittings and other components; materials such as chemicals and fuel; employee health care; tighter regulatory requirements; and the like. This is the first such rate increase in 10 years, since 2004.

Operating expenses, according to Opelika Utilities General Manager Dan Hilyer, PE, have increased 84 percent over this period and have primarily been absorbed out of current earnings. Hilyer said they have reached the point where this is no longer feasible.

None of this current increase will apply to new facilities. In fact, because of the foresight of Hilyer and the Opelika Water Board, no additional investment expense for water treatment, except for necessary maintenance and required upgrades, is foreseen for the next 30 years. And that’s a good thing because now we must address that part of the water system that gets clean, abundant water to the consumer – the distribution system.

Hilyer said, “Very few cities Opelika’s size have had the foresight and courage to build for the future, knowing current rates would have to increase to pay for it. Our water boards have provided this foresight and courage.”

Water supply problems plague much of the U.S. and have become a major limiting factor in industrial development, not only for the water-short Southwest but also for much of the eastern half of the country. Most cities consider themselves lucky to have one dependable water source and water treatment facility. Opelika has two: Halawakee Creek/Lake Harding with a guaranteed right to purchase 42 million gallons a day(mgd) and the city-owned Saugahatchee Lake with a dependable 8 mgd. This water is treated at two water treatment plants – Betts WTP on Halawakee Creek (capacity 16 mgd) and the Saugahatchee WTP at the Warner Williams Water Resource Park (capacity 8 million mgd). Opelika’s average daily demand is seven mgd (fall to spring), jumping to an average of 10 mgd during the summer.

Opelika’s water system does three things: secures water, treats it to make it safe and distributes it to consumers. For a number of years efforts have focused on the first two. Now Opelika must turn its attention to the distribution function, and part of the funds from this rate increase will begin this work.

Sixty percent of Opelika Utilities’ water distribution system is over 50 years old. One of the best places to see first-hand the effect of water pipes this old is on North 10th Street in the several blocks before it changes into Oakbowery Road. There have been so many breaks along this stretch in recent years that Hilyer describes it as “clamps holding hands.”

This is Opelika Utilities’ infrastructure problem. It’s all underground, so people don’t see it – until the old cast iron pipes break and the streets must be torn up for repairs. There’s about 190 miles of it, and it will cost an estimated $75 million (in today’s dollars) over the next 30-50 years to replace – requiring additional rate increases in the future.

A primary reason behind the need for future rate increases is that the nature of Opelika’s industry has changed. The city’s economy used to be based on a number of high water-using industries – textiles, rubber, Ampex, Diversified Products, etc. All these are now gone, and their replacements – Mando, Pharmavite, Gambro, etc.– are not big-water users. The possibility of changing the rate structure, itself, will be the subject of future coverage by the “Observer.”

On the positive side, Hilyer said the water board will do its best to divide this work into small-enough projects ($40,000-60,000 or so) that local firms can compete for so as to keep the spending in the local economy in so far as possible.

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Local cable: a review of OPS' history, services

By Edna Ward

Opelika Observer

The earliest mention of electric services for the City of Opelika was March 29, 1890. The “Opelika Semi-Weekly Democrat” stated, “A lot has been purchased for the electric light plant in the vicinity of Trammells’ Wagon Factory.”  Following the descriptions of machinery for the plant, the article tells “…he will be ready to turn on the lights in four weeks.”   Since April or May of 1890, Opelika has been providing electricity to its residents.

From that humble beginning, Opelika now has one of the most advanced fiber optic systems in the world.  Opelika Power Services  can now provide citizens within the city limits of Opelika telephone, Internet and television in addition to electricity. Electricity is not available from OPS to every location in the city because some customers are served by Alabama Power and Tallapoosa River Electric.

Recent rumors circulating have caused confusion about some aspects of Opelika Power Services capabilities – like that Charter provides OPS’ signals.  Mayor Gary Fuller, Don Boyd, field supervisor at OPS, and June Owens, manager of marketing and communications at OPS, all confirm that this is not the case.

Owens explained, “There are programming agreements with all networks we carry on our system. Ten satellite dishes receive OPS’ signals. Our head-end facility houses all receivers that in turn send the signal back to our customers. OPS’ fiber optic Internet, television (both analog and IPTV) and telephone services are our own. Additionally, multiple transport providers deliver OPS’ Internet bandwidth.

“In simpler terms, those agreements provide only the links, which enable Opelika customers to access the World Wide Web for Internet service outside of our network.”

What is IPTV?  Owens explained, “It’s the system through which Opelika’s television services are delivered.”

Another prevalent rumor is that OPS will take out all the old wires in customer’s homes and put in new ones. Don Boyd explained it this way: “We will use existing cable when possible,” Boyd said. “We only change the connectors at the end of the cable. We test the wires to be sure they work. When they don’t, the new wires we use are RG6 instead of the RG59, which was used in the 1960s and 1970s.”  The difference in the two, Boyd explained, is that RG6 has a thicker copper wire inside. RG59 cables were designed before high definition signals were available.

“Other cables will still work just fine in most cases. There is a box mounted on the outside of each house to convert a light signal back to one most existing wires can receive,” Boyd said

Many have asked, how long does installation take? Boyd explained, “On average probably about two hours or less depending on what they have to do.”

Boyd added, “OPS’ signal is transported from OPS to each customer’s home through fiber. Video signals are shared. Internet service is not split the way other providers do. There are no electronics between the head-end and the home, i.e., no fuses or splitters are on the line. In OPS’s basic tier of 75 channels, the monthly rate is $49.95; no box is required. Customers use their own TV remote. Tiers that include high definition will require a set-top box that comes with a remote. The monthly rate varies depending on the tier selection.”

Boyd stood behind the quality of OPS’ services unequivocally. “We offer services far superior to any other in our area with fair and competitive rates,” Boyd said. “OPS offer a free standard installation, no contracts, and, if later the customer disconnects, no penalty applies. We invite everyone within the city limits of Opelika to apply for services. We think they will be 100 percent satisfied with what they will receive.”

Some might be wondering – will OPS encrypt their basic tier of channels? June Owens replied, “Absolutely not. A large investment was made to provide that service. We won’t take it away. Many customers do not like the boxes.”

Owens pointed out, “In 2010 city leaders wanted to do something new – establish a very advanced fiber optic system enabling the offering of television, Internet and telephone services. The official launch date was Oct. 16, 2013. I truly believe in 10 years from now, people will look back and say, ‘Wow, this was the best thing that happened to Opelika. What an awesome asset for this wonderful town.’”   

Owens added, “The citizens of Opelika own OPS. We live here.  Customers can call us on a local telephone number and reach us. They can come in and speak with us face to face. OPS’ corporate headquarters are right here in Opelika.

“The money paid for services stays in Opelika,” Owens continued. “Was this investment costly to Opelika? Yes. But what better way to spend money than to invest in the future of our community? Why would anyone send money to a place that does nothing to help build Opelika?”

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Highest honor: State hospital association awards Gold Medal of Excellence to EAMC CEO

Special to the Opelika Observer

Terry Andrus, president of East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, was recently presented the Gold Medal of Excellence by the Alabama Hospital Association at its annual meeting. The award is the highest honor given to a health care executive in recognition of outstanding leadership and contributions to hospitals, both locally and statewide.

“Terry is more than deserving of this award,” said J. Michael Horsley, FACHE, president of the Alabama Hospital Association.  “He is an exemplary hospital CEO and a dedicated association leader. He has always been willing to serve in any capacity, including being on our board, chairing various committees and recently serving as chairman of the board for two consecutive terms.”

The resolution presented to Andrus at the meeting noted the tremendous respect of his peers for his vision and his collaborative spirit, as well as his practical and inclusive leadership style. It also highlighted his significant accomplishments at EAMC, including the hospital’s numerous recognitions by Fortune Magazine as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” and its many awards for success in quality and patient safety.

Andrus has served on the State Committee of Public Health and on the boards of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama and Premier, Inc.  He is a past recipient of the American College of Healthcare Executives’ Regent’s Award, SunHealth’s Service to Alliance Award and the 2009 AlaHA Grassroots Champion Award.

Andrus earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans and his master’s in health administration from Georgia State University.

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Second annual agricultural fair draws crowd

By Caleb Colquitt

Opelika Observer

The Lee County Farmers Federation hosted its second annual Lee County Agriculture Fair on June 21.

Lee County’s chapter won an award for last year’s fair from the National Farm Bureau, and this year the event had an even bigger turnout of exhibitors. Approximately 100 exhibitors came out in droves to the Lee County Fairgrounds to showcase their businesses, from restaurants selling barceque and shaved ice to tractor dealerships showing off their latest farm equipment.

“It’s going to be getting the public more involved with agriculture, or at least giving them an understanding of what is in their community,” said Katie Brown, Chairman of Lee County Young Farmer’s Committee.  “You’ll be able to see that a lot of the vendors are local farmers. It lets them educate the public on what they do and why it’s important to this area.”

Brown expained that many of the booths were local farmers selling produce, particularly summer crops like corn and tomatoes.

Local livestock producers also came to give the attendees a chance to interact with their animals. Randal Farms hosted a sheep sheering demonstration, while other producers held a petting zoo, which included cattle, goats, chickens, ponies, llamas and a camel.

“I like the camel because it spits a lot,” said Ison McAnally, a second grader at Beauregard Elementary, when asked about his favorite attraction.

“It’s definitely a family event, and that’s something that’s very important to the Farmer’s Federation,” said Brown. “Kids are able to touch those animals ... that gives them a real connection to agriculture.”

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Rocky Brook Rocket Restoration: Full Steam Ahead



Photo by Robert Noles

The Rocky Brook Rocket has delighted children and adults alike for decades and will continue to do so after a coming restoration returns it to tip-top condition.




By Laurel Calloway

Opelika Observer

There are several landmarks that are as synonymous to Opelika’s history as baseball parks and the Statue of Liberty are to America. Places that parents take their children because it is where their parents took them. However, possibly none is more iconic than the Rocky Brook Rocket at  the Opelika Municipal Park.

This local treasure has been providing family fun to many Opelika residents for decades.  And thanks to its upcoming restoration, the tradition will continue for future generations.

Built by the Miniature Train Company and installed in 1955, the Rocket served as an attraction for families in the city’s first dedicated park. Land was cleared and tracks were laid, thanks to the efforts of city departments and volunteers. From the moment it made its first run on July 1, the Rocky Brook Rocket brought public recreation together in Opelika.

But like any piece of machinery that has a lot of use under its belt, the Rocket began to show its age. The first makeover to the train occurred in 1993 under a project conducted by the Opelika Kiwanis Club. The Rocket remained operational for a time until the parts became difficult to acquire.

In 2007 the train was up and running again as a new engine was installed and other mechanical issues were repaired. Although the train is operational at this time, according to Municipal Area Supervisor Matthew Battles, it is only a matter of time before the Rocket begins experiencing major mechanical problems.

Current issues include damage to the body of the train and engine and brake system inefficiency.

A major challenge to the inevitable project was finding someone who was capable of such a major restoration.  Battles had in mind the perfect individual: Rick Dale of the hit television show American Restorations.

In January Battles emailed photos and information on the Rocket to LeftField Pictures, the producers of the show.

“Within 20 minutes, I received a call back from a lady who worked for LeftField. She said that it was exactly the type of project that Rick and the show would want to highlight,” Battles said.

The current plan is to send the train to Las Vegas by December to begin the full restoration.  The process, which will take 4-6 months, will be recorded and aired on The History Channel.

The cost of the project is estimated around $100,000, for most of which the Department of Parks and Recreation is relying on donations from members in the community.Several individuals and corporations have already pledged their financial support; however, more donations are needed.

Battles pointed out that that is a small amount of money for both the restoration and the recognition Opelika will receive by being featured on national television.

“This is a small amount of money to pay when you consider the publicity Opelika will receive by being on The History Channel,” he said.

In addition to a complete restoration to the Rocket, the project also includes a train depot and shed upgrade and new loading and unloading platforms.

There are several ways in which members of the community can get involved and donate.  Fundraising includes the selling of engraved brick pavers in three different sizes, which will be part of a walking path near the train depot. People can also become “Wall of Fame” contributors.  Order forms for both are located at the Opelika SportsPlex and the Denson Street Recreation Center. Online ordering is also available at

Trey Gafford has also designed Rocky Brook Rocket t-shirts, which are for sale at Victory Designs in downtown.

Locals can expect the restored Rocket to be revealed at renovation presentation in June 2015.

“Like an old car, Rick Dale will get the Rocket back to brand new,” said Battles.

Keep checking the “Opelika Observer” for updates on the train’s trip to full restoration.

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A 'delicious and refreshing' taste of history


Photo by Robert Noles

Dozier SmithT gazes at the Coca-Cola mural he recently uncovered at Smith T Building Supply. The sign was painted in the early 1900s before later being covered by plaster. The Smith Ts are still in the process of removing the remainder of the plaster and said they hope to reveal a mural that spans the entire height of the wall.



By Alison James

Associate Editor

When Dozier Smith T discovered a painted letter “a” and “5¢” upon removing a piece of wood paneling from a wall at Smith T Building Supply, he knew he had something special.

“We knew something was there. We started to just chisel away,” Smith T said. “I thought it was some sort of drink, but I didn’t know if it was RC Cola, Pepsi (or what) ...  But then Cecil, who works here, said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Coca-Cola – that’s the colors.’”

A half day of chiseling revealed a piece of Coca-Cola history – a large painted mural encouraging viewers to “Drink Coca-Cola” that had been painted onto the wall of the building adjacent to the hardware store at some point before the hardware store was built.

A shelving system laden with lightbulbs, outlet covers, cords and other lighting-related hardware blocks the SmithT’s access to the lower half of the wall, but SmithT said he has plans to move it so he can finish the job and reveal the rest of the mural – speculations abound about what could be next to that 5¢.

“There might not be anything underneath there, but I have to believe there is,” Smith T said. “(Ricky Dorris’) family has painted Coke signs for years, and he thinks maybe it would say ‘in bottles.’”

There’s another reason to finish pulling away the plaster, too – the completed picture just might be enough to draw a visit from officials with Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Ga., with whom Smith T has been in contact – particularly a man in the archives department.

“Looking at the shape and drawing, he says it’s 1930s or earlier,” said Smith T, but added, “It’s got to be a lot earlier than 1930s, in my opinion, just knowing the history of this building.”

The structure was built in 1910 according to tax records; it could have been built a few years before or after. Frederick’s Furniture occupied the building in the early 1900s before it became Canon Motor Company in 1916 or 1917. Smith T’s grandfather likely began to lease the building initially and purchased it in 1933 from the Renfro brothers.

Smith T said they used the adjacent building “for the longest time as a cement warehouse where we would have moldings and concrete.” When they acquired the building on the corner, they combined the two into a lumber warehouse.

These facts, Smith T said, have him convinced the painting is at least 110 years old – potentially making it one of the oldest original painted wall murals in the region.

“There’s no telling how many older buildings plastered over and have things like this on them,” Smith T said.

Smith T said anyone is welcome to come by and see the mural for themselves.

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Digital T.V. service hits Charter customers

Edna Ward

Opelika Observer

For the past several months, Charter Cable subscribers have received notices by mail and by public service announcements on cable that, effective June 24, 2014, a cable box for each of a home’s TV sets would be required to receive their signals.   Why?  Charter converted to 100% digital and encrypted their signals.

According to Jeff Newman with the Federal Communications Commission, television signals require a certain amount of bandwidth, (or space for a simpler word). Analog, the older signal, requires much more space than digital.  Therefore, it is more profitable for cable providers to offer total digital service since they can offer more signals.  Cable companies can also activate and deactivate the signal from their offices to their subscribers. A cable employee and truck are no longer needed to establish or disconnect service.

There is also pressure on cable providers to offer Internet and telephone services. This increases theft losses, reportedly causing staggering losses of revenue to cable companies.  Petitions from cable companies to the Federal Communications Commission were approved and allowed cable companies to encrypt their signals – including those channels within their basic tiers. Once the signals are encrypted, subscribers will no longer receive clear signals on their digital televisions – unless they use a cable converter box or card.

Capt. Shane Healey, Opelika Police Department’s Public Information Director, says theft of television cable is very low in Opelika.  He could only recall a couple of cases of this type theft.  However, it is possible other cases do exist and settlements made without reporting to authorities. Or, Opelika may be an exception and thefts could be greater in other areas.

This analog - digital -encryption situation has been on-going for years.  1n 1996, another FCC ruling made available certain devices for public use – including cable cards and or converter boxes.  The cards were never really promoted.

According to Charter’s recent “FINAL NOTICE,” Charter will provide the required converter boxes with one box free for one year.  In the tiny print at the bottom of the page, “Standard rates apply after promotional period ends.”  Is the encryption of the signals and requiring converter boxes for all TV sets just a disguised rate increase?  Some subscribers say, “Yes.” Charter denies this.

Patti Michel, Charter’s Director of Communications, located in Asheville, N.C., explains, “Box rental has nothing to do with rates.  Charter has invested two billion dollars nationwide to upgrade their services including doubling Internet speeds at no additional costs.  The benefit of the digital box is that it enables them to provide the best possible TV experience for its customers, an improved viewing experience --- a clearer picture, more channels and access to Video on Demand.”

2014 is not the first year that Charter claimed boxes would be required to receive their signals.  The same happened a few years ago.  After making the trip to Mall Boulevard in Auburn and picking up the “free” box and two more that supposedly were easy to install, here’s what happened back then at the Ward house.  The “easy-to-install” boxes were not easily installed.  Charter sent a technician to install them.  After he left, the televisions didn’t work at all.  The sets were already manufactured to receive digital signals which were received nicely without the boxes.  The boxes were returned to Charter and billing was adjusted.

Now June 24, 2014, arrived.  The Chicken Little “sky is falling” of the past finally happened; there is no clear television signal without a converter box or cable card from Charter now.  There remained an audio on Channel 12, WSFA but the video was encrypted.  The audio went silent the next day.  Most other channels now are blank with only a pattern of colorful, vertical stripes on a few.

What can customers do?  There are choices.  Option one:  Go to Charter, get the boxes, hook them up, but one year from now expect a charge of $6.99 monthly for the one one-year free box.  Option two:  Buy a converter box, connect it if you can and get the digital signals. After the initial purchase of a converter box, there will be no additional monthly fees. The FCC says the cable company has to provide a cable card for the box and the card’s rental should be much less than for the box. Wal-mart sells these type boxes for less than $50; however, a representative explained as of June 24th they are temporarily sold out at the Opelika Super Store.  Option three: Subscribe to another cable provider’s service. Option four:  Buy a digital antenna.  Depending on the location of your home, you might be able to receive ABC, CBS, CW, NBC and Alabama Public Television.  Option five: Disconnect the cable and simply learn to live without television.

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Commission says 'go' on Beulah senior center

By Fred Woods


The Lee County Commission voted to proceed with construction of a 3.024 square foot Senior Center in the Beulah community. Beulah seniors had been using a basement room in a 100-year old building near the Beulah High School. Every time it rains the room floods.

This action was taken at last Monday’s regular commission because of the approaching July 10 deadline for submission of application for a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) award for nearly half of the construction cost. Total project cost is estimated at $518,406 so the county’s portion will be $268,406.

These funds will come from a one-year reduction in the allocation from General Fund to Highway in the County budget. To put this in perspective, the total yearly allocation is usually around $4 million and the transferred amount would resurface less than two miles of road.

In all likelihood the total cost will be substantially less as several firms and construction material providers have already expressed a willingness to reduce fees and provide materials at considerable discounts. District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham, who has led efforts leading to these actions, has said the supporters of the project are looking to do “just as many things as we can to reduce costs.”

In addition, state Sen. Gerald Dial has committed to seeking $25,000 to $50,000 from other state funding for the center. The county will also be credited for in-kind services for site preparation and other services.

Bridge Church of Cusseta has donated a very attractive two-acre building site for the center on Lee Road 270.

County EMA Director Kathy Carson reported that clean-up after the April 29 tornado in southern Lee County has been completed and rebuilding is well underway. Ms. Carson praised county employee efforts to get started soon after the tornado, resulting in recouping county expenditures through maximum cost-share funds from the state and FEMA.

County Engineer Justin Hardee announced that Lee Road 148 (Spring Villa Road), closed for several weeks due to still another sink hole, was opened Tuesday, July 1, for traffic, although the final surface has not been put down. A couple of weeks worth of time and traffic will allow the road surface to settle before resurfacing is completed.

In other actions the commission:

ϖ declined to join with the City of Auburn to petition for “Quiet Zones” at two railroad crossings on Alabama Highway 14. This means trains could not sound their horns when approaching these crossings. Commissioners felt it was not in the interests of public safety to comply with the Auburn request.

ϖ approved several requests for the Highway Department.

ϖ asked Mr. Hardee to do a traffic study to see if lower speed limits would be appropriate for a section of Lee Road 70.

ϖ reappointed Sheriff Jay Jones and appointed Randy Causey to the Lee County Emergency Communications (E911) Board.

ϖ approved new space at the Smiths Station Government Center for the revenue commissioner and committed to reimbursing the City of Smiths Station for renovation costs over a period of three years.

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Celebrating bygone days

Robert Noles

Opelika Observer

As we get older, memories from the past become more important to most of us. This last week, 78 alumni from J. W.  Darden High School with their spouses and friends, returned to Opelika to renew friendships and talk about memories of J. W. Darden High School. On the back of tee shirts it said: “And To Thee Dear Darden High School – We will Always Loyal Be”. Friendships were renewed and memories of the years spent at Darden High School were talked about.

In Opelika, the all black public school East Street High was closed in 1951 and the Class of 1952 was born at the new J.W. Darden High School on South 4th Street. Darden High was used through 1971. All Opelika high school students then moved to the newly completed Opelika High School on LaFayette Parkway.

These Alumni hold J.W. Darden dear to their hearts. The Alumni Association Reunion started in 1998 and has continued every two years since. This year members traveled from as far away as Germany. Others came from at least 13 states.

These J.W. Darden alumni have contributed much to our city, state and country over the years. Some of the alumni present this year were Councilman Larry Gray (‘69), USAF (Ret.) Colonel Aaron B. Floyd (‘56), Dr. Floyd Russan (‘54), and local retired school teacher Armetta Cooper Johnson (‘54).

One alumna who has touched many lives over the years is Armetta Cooper Johnson. Ms. Johnson retired from teaching after 32 years in Opelika and Lee County. She taught at Carver and Pepperell schools first and was at Smiths Station for 14 of her 32 years.

This year’s reunion began last Wednesday and went through Sunday, June 29. This year’s events included a banquet at Grand National, a memorial service at Peterson & Williams Funeral Home for Alumni who have passed away, a golf tournament at Auburn Links, a luncheon at the FOP lodge, church services at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, and a farewell gathering at the historic J.W. Darden House on Auburn Street.

This year’s events were planned by Alumni President George Allen. The incoming president, Elaine Summers Burton, encourages other J.W. Darden Alumni to become active members of the Alumni Association. Those interested in additional information about the J.W. Darden Alumni Association should contact Elaine Summers Burton (class of ‘70) email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , cell phone 334-663-1768 or home phone 334-745-3909.

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Embodying the Spirit of Opelika

Shirley Flora’s impact on community spans more than two decades



By Donna Williamson

Opelika Observer

Many would agree that one of the best days for the city of Opelika occurred in 1991 when Shirley Flora and her husband Bud chose to retire and move here. Shirley’s energetic personality, unyielding work ethic, and love for people embody the true spirit of Opelika.

Shirley and Bud moved to Opelika to be closer to their daughter Cindy Mirarchi, her husband Ralph, and their two children Matthew and Laura. Their son Michael and his wife Carla have three children: Caitlin, Alyssa and Bryson, who is deceased. Although Shirley and Bud were invited to live in Mt. Airy, Maryland, with Michael and Carla, they thought Opelika was a better fit for them.

After three months of retirement, Shirley’s “honey-do list” became too big for Bud and he started working at the Auburn University book store, where according to Flora, “He loved his position at the store and the people who worked for him and one of his greatest joys was seeing the Auburn University football players come in. Some football players would walk into the store and pick him up and he would come home and say, ‘Guess who picked me up today?’” Flora loves to reminisce about her beloved husband, who died after a long battle with cancer. “I still use the plural ‘we.’  I just can’t say ‘I,’” she explained.

Flora is probably best known for her many years of service as the first Executive Director of Keep Opelika Beautiful (KOB).  However, most people may not realize that she was also the founder of KOB and that she worked for months as a volunteer, without pay, to organize KOB as an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.

She saw a need and took action. The Chamber of Commerce was concerned about environmental issues and had a Beautification Committee within the Chamber, but that wasn’t enough. “The Keep America Beautiful requirements are very strict. It took a year to get the paper work done; plus to become an affiliate, we needed structure. The Chamber backed us financially to attend a Keep America Beautiful day-long affiliate training session.” She praised the Chamber, saying, “To this day, the Chamber continues to provide KOB with space.”

The first city-wide cleanup was in 1997. “The tremendous turnout of volunteers for the cleanup is what got our organization going,” Flora said.  “Dr. Bob Patton was KOB’s first president, as well as the head of KOB’s first cleanup.” With a smile she added, “He calls me the trash lady.”

In order to receive its charter, KOB had to have a paid director. This was the KOB board’s biggest challenge. However, initial money was found and the charter was granted in 1998. Later, the money ran out; however, Flora continued working. “We almost closed. I worked for a few months without pay,” she said.

In an attempt to save KOB, Dr. Bill Lazenby, a KOB board member and a member of the city council, and Mrs. Lee Sadler, KOB president at that time, presented the city council with a long list of things that KOB had done for the city. Sadler also shared that KOB had received two Keep America Beautiful awards. “A motion was made and passed that the council fund the executive director’s salary and the council continues to do so today,” Flora said.

Because of her husband’s failing health, Flora retired from KOB in early 2009. However, her legacy with KOB will never be forgotten. KOB established the Shirley Flora Award in 2012 and, of course, Flora was the first recipient. The award is given in recognition of her dedication to promoting a clean and beautiful environment and establishing the mission of KOB. Flora is happy that her friend Bob Patton was the 2013 recipient of the Shirley Flora Award and that he still serves as head of the city-wide cleanup.

Flora’s service extends beyond KOB.  She recently resigned her position as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals after serving 14 years. In 2009 the Alabama Planning Association awarded Flora under the category “Friend of Planning.”  Jerry Kelley, Opelika City Planning Director, nominated Flora and wrote the proposal for this award. “Jerry, not only nominated me, he drove me to Orange Beach to the award’s banquet,” Flora said.

In May, the Board of Zoning Appeals held a special ceremony to recognize Flora for her years of service. Kelley, as planning director, worked closely with Flora and has the highest regard for her.  “Mrs. Flora’s love and devotion to Opelika is contagious.  One does not say NO to Shirley when there is a task to do!! And do you know what? She never takes any credit for herself, but always to others who participate in the cause or activity she is pursuing,” Kelley said.

The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International named Flora a “Paul Harris Fellow,” the Rotary’s highest award. Flora said, “This award has community significance and promotes people working together and it is humbling to be named a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow.”

When asked what she loves most about Opelika, Flora answered without hesitation, “the people.”  It is this endearing quality that makes “the people” love her in return.

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Alabama Farm-City recognizes Joe Yeager

Dr. Joe Yeager has been named as the 2013 Volunteer of the Year by the Farm-City Committee of Alabama. His family joined him

at a luncheon Tuesday in Auburnhosted by members of the Lee County Farm-City Committee. From left seated are Joe and his son Jeb Yeager. From left standing are son

Tom Yeager, son-in-law Louis Kennedy and daughter Paula Kennedy.

(Photo Special to the Opelika Observer)



By Fred Woods


Dr. Joseph H. Yeager, retired associate agriculture dean and agricultural economics department head at Auburn University, was recently recognized as Farm-City Volunteer of the Year for the state of Alabama. Surrounded by his three children (Tom and Jeb Yeager and Paula Kennedy), fellow Lee County Farm-City Committee members and other well-wishers, Yeager, age 93, received the award, presented by Paul Pinyan, Executive Director of the Alabama Farmers Federation at a luncheon at Monarch Estates. Yeager was also presented a legislative proclamation recognizing his honor from state Sen. Tom Whatley.

Except for two brief periods, once for Army service in World War II and again for graduate studies at Purdue University, Yeager was associated with Auburn University from the time he came to Auburn as a student in 1939 until he retired in 1991, an amazing 52 years. He has been associated with agriculture all his life, growing up on a small farm in Cullman County and still serving on the Lee County Farm-City Committee today.

When he came to Alabama Polytechnic Institute/Auburn University in 1939, the road from Alexander City to Auburn had not yet been paved and The Bottle had only recently burned. When he began teaching in 1951, the Yeager family lived outside Auburn on rural Highway 29 South – today, the continuous restaurants, hotels, stores and strip malls that are South College Street.

He is also the longest serving member of the Lee County Farm-City Committee, joining in the 1960s, where he is a constant inspiration to the younger (read: all the other) committee members, with his energy and enthusiasm.

Farm-City Week is a national program, with state and county committees, designed to develop a better understanding between farmers and consumers of the importance of agriculture. It is a year-long undertaking culminating in a nation-wide farm-city week each November, the week before Thanksgiving.

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Keep on truckin'

Downtown Opelika played hosts to trucks and vehicles of all shapes and sizes Saturday with the return of Opelika Main Street’s Touch a Truck. Children lined up to hop inside the Life Saver

helicopter, like Maggie Pridgen, above, who looks on as Madie Lynn gives a helmeted Will Bladen a few important instructions.

(Photo by Robert Noles)

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Lee-Russell Council of Governments honors eight additional people older than 100


By Robert Noles

Opelika Observer

The Lee-Russell Council of Governments Area Agency On Aging unveiled the pictures of eight additional Lee-Russell County residents that were over 100 years old. This year the Centenarian Unveiling Tea honored persons not recognized in last year’s inaugural event, at which eigh centenarians were also recognized.

Executive Director Suzanne Burnette and Jackie Pinkard, AAA Director, made several remarks before the unveiling and thanked several people but noted a special thanks to Charlie Jernigan of Jernigan Photography for his time and donating the portraits and to Lee Vanoy for gathering the information for the portraits and for arranging on the wall.

Two of the eight new honorees passed away earlier this year; their passing was marked with yellow roses in two chairs. Two of the remaining honorees were present – Malvin Owens, 101 years old, and James C. Richardson, 110 years old. Three of last year’s original group have also passed away.

Richardson, at 110 years, could possibly be the oldest man in the United States since the oldest man in the USA at 111 passed away recently. Richardson is currently living at Parkwood Health Care in Phenix City. Asking him to what he would contribute his long life, he responded without hesitation, “Do not forget the Lord and treat everyone right, and the Lord will take care of you.” He also said he has not been sick in his life.

He joins two other 110-year-ols, Julia Crocker and Eula Mae Prophitt, both recognized last year.

This year’s honorees are:

James Richardson (110)

Hattie C. Skinner, (103)

Eleanor L. Harris (101)

Malvin Owens (101)

Rosie L. Barnes (101)

Velma L Bowie (101)

Grace Scott (101)

George P. May (100)

The portraits of these centenarians join those of the initial eight recognized last year on the walls of the Lee-Russell Council of Governments building at 2207 Gateway Drive in Opelika, just outside the office of the Area Agency on Aging.

Anyone who knows of centenarians in addition to the 16 currently recognized is asked to provide their names and contact information to Jackie Pinkard, AAA Director.

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Farmers Federation to hold agricultural fair

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Tomorrow promises an educational and fun experience for those who attend the Lee County Agricultural Fair – according to event planners.

“The whole idea is to do something free for the community,” explained Charles Whatley, chairman of the fair committee and vice president of the Lee County Farmers Federation, the sponsoring organization.

In its second year, the agricultural fair last year drew about 4,000 attendees. It will be held tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lee County Fairgrounds.

“We’ve got all the local farmers we could get,” Whatley said. “Of course, we’ve got all the different farm animals, plus we’ve got llamas – I think we even have some turtles.”

Other animals will be present at the event as part of the petting zoo, just one of the special features of the agricultural fair. A tractor race, live entertainment, a farmer’s market, inflatables, car and tractor show and sheep shearing demo will help round out the event.

Whatley said one of the main premises is to “showcase Lee County agriculture” with an emphasis on education.

“So many of the kids don’t worry about corn – they just get it out of the grocery store, and milk comes from the grocery store,” Whatley said. “We have an uphill battle trying to get kids to put two and two together that there is a correlation between the animals and plants and the farmers that get them to us.”

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News brief: Senior care service offers free home safety checks

Special to the

Opelika Observer

In recognition of National Safety Month, the Home Instead Senior Care office serving the  Auburn and Opelika area is offering free home safety checks for seniors.

Conducted by local senior care experts, the safety checks will be offered through June.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20 million seniors ages 65 and older visit the emergency room each year with almost a third of the visits related to injuries, many of which are sustained in the home. However, almost half of all home accidents by seniors can be avoided, according to a recent survey of emergency room doctors conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care® network.

“The home should be the safest and most comfortable place for aging seniors,” said Bridget Sager of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving Auburn and Opelika. “It is critical for families and seniors to invest the time in identifying the necessary home safety modifications.”

Senior home safety experts recommend that adult children of seniors take at least one day each year to perform a thorough safety check of their parents’ home.

“An annual safety check can help seniors avoid dangers that could threaten their independence,” said Sager. “When we go into homes, we see a lot of red flags that are easily overlooked by those who are familiar with the home. Most of the time, these are relatively easy and affordable fixes.”

To request a free home safety check or the home safety checklist, call Home Instead Senior Care at 321-1050. For other resources, including an online safety assessment, visit

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D.A.R.E. camp shows children different side of police officers

By Auburn Terry

Junior Reporter

Dozens of children from ages 5-11 gathered under the supervision of volunteers and policemen for the annual three-day D.A.R.E. Day Camp.

Once a year, generally the week after school ends, the officers from Opelika’s police department and volunteers from the city and high school take several children out to the park at Spring Villa for a day camp for three days. With the aid of donations from the city and organizations such as the Elk’s Lodge, the camp goes on without a hitch every year. Rain or shine, the officers set aside the time to get to know the children, have fun and teach them important life lessons, all through a simple game of kickball.

Officer Jeff Fuller, who is going on his 13th year of attending and helping run the camp, said he sees the camp as a sort of haven for the kids to build fundamental relationships with each other and with the officers.

“The camp shows that police officers can be positive people too. We have familes, kids and wives, and the campers enjoy seeing that side of us,” Fuller said.

Not only the officers get involved, however. Detectives and chiefs, as well as the rookies of the police department, help make the week a success by stopping by for lunch and participating in relay races with the campers. Also, volunteers from Opelika, parents and friends of the police department, as well as Opelika High School students hand over their summer vacations for a few days for a learning experience like no other.

Destiny Rogers, an upcoming senior at OHS, jokingly admitted that she has probably learned more than she has taught.

“The whole experience teaches patience and how to work with young kids, and I’ve learned leadership skills,” Rogers said.

Some of the shared favorites of the week included kickball games, tug-of-war, a helicopter instruction, a meet-and-greet with the SWAT Team and a fire hose demonstration from the fire department.

But all fun aside, Officer Patrick Rickabaugh, in his third year of attending the camp, said that one of the best parts of camp is seeing the children come as strangers and leave as friends.

“This camp teaches (the kids) to stand up for each other. They have a good time, and they just make friends,” Rickabaugh said.

From Tuesday to Thursday, the group of more than 100 divided into four teams and competed in games and relays against each other while learning not only about themselves and each other but also the positive ways the D.A.R.E. program benefits the average person by looking to the high school volunteers.

All in all, the week was unforgettable to those involved, and many said they can’t wait to do it again in the years to come.

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S.A.W. opens doors for EAMC employees


Photo by Robert Noles

Pictured are (back row, left to right) Emory Williams, Pamela Spinks, Latasha Finley, Melissa Huguley, Jennifer Hays and (front row, left to right) Linda Hamer, Roslyn Darby, Elizabeth Riggins, Sanya Wilson and Aretha McCullough, 2014 S.A.W. graduates.



By Robert Noles

Opelika Observer

Life does not always turn out the way people would like for it to turn out. The staff at EAMC knows this and offers their employees a chance to change things for themselves by providing them the School at Work program (S.A.W.), because “SAW Opens Doors.”

In its ninth year, the program has shown great success for the students – 92 students have graduated, and each has a success story.

This year’s graduating class was not an exception, with 10 students graduating from the course. The course starts in September of each year and runs for eight months. Meeting every week for two hours of classroom instruction plus homework assignments. Before one can enroll in the course, one must qualify by asking the department head, passing a test and having the desire to learn.

The course covers basic skills, reading, math, interviewing, how to dress for work, writing a resume portfolio and even taking the job skills Workkey test.

This year’s graduating class had Workkey test scores of one gold, six silver and one bronze.

Their hard work pays off even more at East Alabama Medical Center because EAMC also provides scholarships for college. Many of the students have gone on to Southern Union State Community College for the technical classes and nursing classes, and others obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

As part of their graduation excises, they each had to make a public speech. Many spoke of how thankful they were to be in the program and the opportunities they will now have at work. Others spoke of the hard times that they have had getting to this point in their lives and how this will help them make a living for their families.

The Catalyst Award Winner was Linda Hamer for her hard work and leadership during the year.

Class 2014 graduates are:

- Roslyn Darby

- Latasha Finley

- Linda Hamer

- Jennifer Hays

- Melissa Huguley

- Aretha McCullough

- Elizabeth Riggins

- Pamela Spinks

- Emory Williams

- Sanya Wilson

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Family fun in the sun: Lion Tamers to hold 23rd annual community event at Covington Rec Center

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Swimming. Moon Walk. Free food. Fellowship.

All these and more will make up the Family Fun Day June 7 at Covington Recreation Center, hosted by the Lion Tamers Social and Civic Club of Opelika.

“We have big crowds, said Wilbert Payne, event coordinator and club assistant secretary. “The bigger the better. A lot of families come and bring their kids, and a lot of elderly people come.”

With “a little something for everybody” Payne said the event has always been well-supported by the community – throughout its 23 years.

“We came up with the Family Fun Day in the early ‘90s,” said Payne, explaining that the community event replaced the Lion Tamers’ previous major activity, a dance. “It was something we wanted to do to give back to the community and the kids.”

Family Fun Day begins at 10 a.m. and lasts until 2 p.m., with a picnic at 11 a.m. All activities are free and open to anyone who would like to attend.

The Opelika Lion Tamers organization was started in 1946. Payne joined the Lion Tamers in the mid-‘70s.

“I used to be around members who were part of the Lion Tamers,” Payne said. “I said, ‘Hmm, I’d like to join with them one day. They seem to set a high standard for the people in the community.”

And Payne has been involved with Family Fun Day since its inception.

“I enjoy doing it,” Payne said. “I’m going to do it as long as God wills. I pray strongly about this every year – all the members do.”

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Lee County Special Olympics gears up for summer events


Photo by Daniel Chesser

The members of the Lee County Special Olympics basketball team are getting ready for the 2014 Special Olympic games June 14-21 in New Jersey.

In addition to basketball, Lee County will field athletes in swimming, bowling and track and field.



By Daniel Chesser

Opelika Observer

Athletes with the Lee County Special Olympics are taking their talents to New Jersey next week to participate in the 2014 Special Olympic USA Games.

On June 14 (through June 21) Lee County is sending 16 athletes to compete in basketball, track, swimming and bowling.

“We have had athletes go to the national level previously in track and field, partners golf and gymnastics,” said Dana Stewart, special programs coordinator for Lee County Special Olympics. “This the first year that we have had this many athletes going.”

The state of Alabama has the second largest delegation of athletes competing this year at nationals, according to Stewart.

Several fundraising events made this trip possible for the athletes, including the Love Your Heart Run/Crank Your Heart Ride and the Polar Plunge at the Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatic Center, in addition to private donations. Taziki’s, a new restaurant in the area, presented a $1,247.50 check to the Lee County Special Olympics this past March.

“I am proud of the fact of what we have accomplished as a county and the athletes we get,” Stewart said.

Funds are always a need for the local special Olympians, but money was most recently raised on May 31 at McAlister’s sweet tea and lemonade fundraiser, as well as on May 2 with the annual “Cops on Tops” at Kroger in Auburn with the Auburn Police Division.

The athletes will depart Lee County on the morning of June 14 via an I-85 Groome Transportation shuttle that will take them to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport to fly to New Jersey.

Opening ceremonies will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., June 15.

The Lee County group is already looking forward to the many activities that surround the games on their trip.

“One night we are taking a dinner-boat cruise to Manhattan and Ellis Island,” Stewart said. “And on another night we are going to a Trenton Thunder baseball game.

“This is all scheduled between practices and preliminaries up until the final events.”

The Lee County Special Olympics program has a wide variety of participants when it comes to their athletics, with an age-range from 8 to 68, according to Stewart.

For more information about the Lee County Special Olympics program contact Alison Hall or Dana Stewart at 501-2930, or join the e-newsletter list by submitting an e-mail address to Hall, or become a member of the group’s Facebook group page by visiting Facebook and searching for the Special Olympics Alabama Lee County fan page.

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Market fresh: Farmer's Market opens for season

Photo by Alison James

Stacy Domingo pays for some fresh-picked goodies at a tent at the Opelika Downtown Farmers

Market Tuesday, which was opening day for the season. City officials, chamber members, Lions Club

members and Opelika MainStreet, among others, gathered for the official ribbon cutting for the market,

and then the selling began. The market will be open Tuesdays adjacent to the courthouse square from 3-6 p.m.

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All aboard for restoration! City hears proposal to fully restore treasured train

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Years have passed since the Rocky Brook Rocket first chugged into Opelika, and the passing of time has left its mark on the beloved train. But thanks to an initiative from Opelika’s Matthew Battles, the train might soon undergo a little TLC – actually, a full restoration for the whole nation to see.

Battles presented his plan for the Rocky Brook Rocket at the city council work session Tuesday: the train, which has “provided countless memories for thousands of riders for more than half a century,” Battles said, is a candidate to appear on the History Channel’s “American Restoration.”

The not-inexpensive project, which includes renovations to the depot in addition to the train restoration, will top out at about $100,000, by Battles’ estimates, but he maintained that “the benefits to the city will outweigh the costs that will be incurred,” and said he intends to solicit support from civic clubs and local businesses as well as the city.

“The good news is, we are working on budget right now,” said President Eddie Smith, who, along with all council members and Mayor Gary Fuller and city administrator Joey Motley, expressed his enthusiastic support for the project. “I strongly encourage the administration to find budgetary money, as opposed to discretionary money (to help fund the restoration).”

Another not-inexpensive project received approval for a tax abatement at Tuesday’s council meeting – Daewon will soon embark on an expansion involving $6.5 million in capital and adding six new employees to the company’s current 215 workers.

“It’s a benefit they receive that’s allowed by the state,” explained Opelika Economic Development Director Lori Huguley. “We’re glad to be able to do that for them. We only abate the non-educational portion of the tax. So what’s good for our city is, the educational portion of the tax will increase, so we’re always glad to do that. Then after ten years, the abatement expires, and then we’ll collect full tax.”

Fee abatement in a more general sense was addressed in another resolution, establishing more specific guidelines for building permit fees and plan review fee abatements for companies like Daewon, doing expansions.

“If we have somebody ... doing a $10 million expansion and adding x-number of people, they ought to get the same abatements and breaks as a brand new company would,” said Smith. “So this establishes what credentials have to be met to qualify for a company that is expanding and wants tax abatements.”

The resolution dictates full abatement for project meeting the stipulations of creating at least 150 new full-time jobs and providing wages at an average of $12 or more per hour and partial abatement for companies creating at least 10 new full-time jobs and investing at least $10 million, among other stipulations.

Smith said the new guidelines were not prompted by and had no connection to the Daewon expansion; the resolution was one that has been a work-in-progress for some time.

“We didn’t expect (the Daewon abatement request) as quickly as it happened,” Smith said. “It worked out well for them ... if we had passed this before that, (they would have had to comply with the new resolution).”

The council also:

- recognized author Nimrod Frazer and received autographed copies of his book “Send the Alabamians”

- heard proclamations for the Opelika Civitan Club and Immigration Heritage Month.

- approved a bid for new light poles.

- recognized the following city employees for “above and beyond” service: Jan Gunter, Ben White and Diane Heard.

- suspended the rules and approved two ordinances regarding Opelika Power Services rates.

- had first reading on an ordinance regarding parking regulations in Opelika

- approved expense reports and requests

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Museum to host book signing: Nonfiction piece highlights Opelikans in World War I

By Ann Cipperly

Opelika Observer

Soldiers from Opelika and other Alabamians who bravely served in a decisive role in World War I are being remembered in a special exhibit at the Museum of East Alabama, 121 S. 9th St., and in Nimrod Frazer’s book “Send the Alabamians, WWI Fighters in the Rainbow Division.”

Frazer will present a program on his book at the Rotary Club meeting Tuesday, June 3, and then attend a book signing wine and cheese reception at the museum from 5-6:30 p.m.

Frazer’s book tells the story of the Battle at Croix Rouge Farm, where 162 officers and men from the Alabama regiment of the Rainbow Division, the 167th, died, and more than a thousand Alabamians were wounded.

Major Dallas Smith of Opelika commanded the 3rd Battalion in the battle, which included hand-to-hand fighting. Among the lost were 1st Lt. John Powell, commander of Opelika’s I Company, and four other officers in the Alabama regiment.

Col. Douglas MacArthur wrote, “The 167th Alabama assisted by the left of the 168th Iowa had stormed and captured the Croix Rouge Farm in a manner which for its gallantry I do not believe has been surpassed in military history.”

The museum is requesting photos from local families who had relatives serve in WWI. Glenn Buxton, director of the museum, will scan in photos to post with the exhibit.

A WWI uniform worn by Dr. Byron Bruce is included in the exhibit. Bruce removed the appendix from Lt. Dwight Eisenhower during the war. Also featured is a copy of the “Opelika Daily News” from Oct. 5 1918, with a letter written by Opelikan Sgt. Peter McGraw to his father in Opelika telling about the Battle at Croix Rouge Farm. The letter had run in August of that year and “created such wide comment and praise” that the paper ran it again.

Frazer’s book is receiving a great deal of attention from the media and others. “The media group at Auburn University has inquired as an interest in a documentary for TV,” said Frazer. “A number of people from these parts have visited the monument in France or are planning to go.”

Frazer said he is especially proud of this endorsement from General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Retired): “‘Send the Alabamians, WWI Fighters in the Rainbow Division’ is an exceedingly well-researched, highly detailed account of Alabama’s 167th Infantry Regiment from its mobilization in 1916 for service on the Mexican border through its deployment to France for the final year of (WWI).

“A Korean War combat veteran, Rod Frazer captures particularly impressively the hard, bloody fighting in which the 167th’s soldiers engaged in 1918.

“As Frazer’s account unfolds, the reader is reminded vividly why the men of the 167th were hailed by Alabama newspapers at the time as ‘The Immortals.’ Indeed, after reading this superb history, it is clear that the 167th truly exemplified Alabama’s motto, ‘We dare defend our rights.’

“It is equally clear that Rod Frazer has done them a great service by capturing their impressive history for us.”

The museum received 600 copies of the book to sell with the proceeds going to the museum. The late Yetta Samford, the Opelika Rotary Club and the Opelika Kiwanis Club purchased them.

Books are available for purchase for $35, which includes a one-year museum membership. Current members can purchase the book for $25.

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A solemn remembrance


By Jody Fuller

Opelika Observer

The City of Opelika conducted its annual Memorial Day service Monday morning outside of City Hall.

“This was the best Memorial Day service we’ve ever had,” said many in attendance.

After opening remarks by Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, Chaplain Ken Allen of the American Legion led the invocation. His Men, a gospel quartet from Trinity United Methodist Church, then followed with a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

The guest speaker, Opelika native Lt. Gen. (ret.) Ron Burgess, was introduced by local Vietnam war hero and Medal of Honor recipient-select, Command Sgt. Maj. (ret) Bennie Adkins.

Burgess touched on many topics during his speech but started by recognizing the veterans in attendance. He then touched on the staggering number of veterans who have been either killed or wounded in action during our nation’s history.

“Today I was to spend some time reflecting on the stories of those service members who died for our nation’s cause, some in combat and some after a life, long lived in uniform. Their stories are the stories of this nation, and they deserve to be heard, remembered, and honored on Memorial Day and beyond,” Burgess said.

“America has never enslaved any with whom we have fought. There is no American empire. On the contrary,” he said. “Billions on the planet today and billons yet unborn live free because Americans fought and died. Once peace was achieved, we rebuilt what was there and we departed. That is the essence of what we are about as a nation.”

He noted the importance of stopping to talk to veterans wearing baseball caps displaying the names of wars from years past, to thank them for their service and to hear their stories.

“Today is the day to tell the stories of battlefields of decades past so that the soldiers of yesterday and today are never forgotten by the children of tomorrow,” he said.

The retired three-star general closed his remarks with one of his favorite verses from the Bible. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” - Isaiah 6:8

“This is what the men and women do every day for this nation in answering that call. I think it captures very well the essence of military service,” he said.

After more music and a special presentation to the library and museum, the traditional laying of the wreath took place followed by the playing of taps.

Many in attendance wore red artificial poppies, a Memorial Day tradition. Due to the blood red color of the blossoms, the poppy came to be recognized as a symbol of fallen soldiers. The symbol was popularized by the famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” which was read by Chaplain Allen just prior to the benediction.

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Jeter, Carver communities speak out: Open forum seeks citizen input for future Master Plan

Delia Parhan writes her thoughts on the Jeter community on one of the posters at a community planning meeting last Thursday.


By Alison James

Associate Editor

“If there’s anything that’s going to help our community, I want to be a part of it.”

That was the sentiment of Delia Parhan and likely many others from the Jeter and Carver communities who attended a community workshop last Thursday at the Covington Recreation Center.

The open meeting and forum, hosted by Market+Main – a city-planning firm out of Atlanta – in conjunction with the city of Opelika, invited community members to share their thoughts about Jeter and Carver – the good and the bad.

“It’s easy to look around and see that Opelika is a great city,” said Opelika Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jimmy Wright, by way of opening. “Last August Envision Opelika began a process of looking at things in the city  ... One of the suggestions that was most prevalent was to do some work on our neighborhoods.”

Aaron Fortner with M+M, introduced the evening activities to those in attendance, more than 100.

“When we start out our planning process, we don’t know as much about the community as you do,” Fortner said, holding the attention of the crowd. Attendees nodded and took notes as he explained the evening’s goals. “You’re the local experts, so we want to hear from you. We came to hear what you have to say.”

Lines of tables flanked the gymnasium at Covington, and citizens were encouraged to visit each table, along with the maps on the walls, to offer their input on different aspects of their communities. Tables featured large printouts with questions and room for responses – prompts like “The thing I love most about the Carver community is” and “The one thing I want to say about Jeter recreation is.”

Citizens milled around the gym for the next hour, offering their feedback and talking with M+M representatives.

“I live and own properties in these areas, so I want to make sure my input is heard,” said Raven Harvis. “I think these communities have a lot of raw potential that can be tapped into if there is a little TLC put into each of them.”

Harvis, who moved to the area from Mobile nine years ago, said she thinks this city planning initiative will benefit the communities “as long as they continue to have momentum behind it.

“As long as people who have the power to make these changes continue to back this, I think it will be very successful,” Harvis said.

With comments ranging from suggestions for art programs, historical tours and transit systems to complaints against derelict homes and unsafe playgrounds, Fortner said he thought there was “lots of good conversation.” But neither he, nor city council members, were surprised by the issues broached by the community.

“These are things I expected to hear,” said Councilwoman Patsy Jones, who said she remembers being involved in community improvement in these same areas in 1995. “Now we’re excited again about still moving the city forward and making these two neighborhoods better.”

Fortner said a steering committee of ten community members will meet about every three weeks to refine problems and solutions to be presented in another open meeting in August.

“After that, we’ll be able to finalize it into a plan,” Fortner said.

That plan could be implemented over the course of one to five years, prioritizing more immediate needs.

Councilman Larry Gray said he was pleased with the turnout.

“We’re going in a good direction, and I want to see this thing come through,” Gray said. “We have a lot of people behind us, and I almost think we can’t fail. Hopefully we can get some new ideas to solve our old problems.”

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Casting your vote

By Greg Markley

Opelika Observer

When Alabama was part of the Solid South, it was usually a given that winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to election to the office sought. Most of the competition for candidates was within the Democratic primary, not the general election with Republicans. Today, the situation is largely the reverse: The Republican primary attracts many candidates and the Democrats much fewer.

For the June 3 party primaries in Lee County, a handful of GOP officials have drawn no intra-party opposition. Among these are Sheriff Jay Jones, Revenue Commissioner Oline Price, Coroner Bill Harris, and School Board member Milford Burkhalter (District 1). Also not having challengers in the primary are county commissioners Johnny Lawrence of District 2 and Robert Ham in District 4.

On the Democratic side, longtime incumbent State Rep. George “Tootie” Bandy of District 83 has drawn an opponent – in fact, a familiar face. He is Ronnie Reed, county commissioner for District 4 in Russell County. In 2010, Bandy prevailed by a 1,971-1,446 vote. Reed did very well in his home county, but Bandy won Lee County by more than a 3-1 margin (1,170-321). Unlike Bandy, most Republicans have new campaigners in the primary.

“Sadly, we see elected officials illegally using their campaign contributions for things like costly football trips or buying expensive gifts for themselves and others,” said Andy Carter, who is seeking to oust fellow Republican State Sen. Tom Whatley in District 27. A retired Air Force pilot, Carter continued: “It is time for our elected officials to truly represent the people with integrity, honesty and transparency.”

Whatley, now seeking a second term in the Senate, was born and raised on a family dairy farm in Lee County. He graduated from Beauregard High School in 1988 and Auburn University with a bachelor in public administration. He obtained a law degree from Jones School of Law at Faulkner University. Whatley is a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard. District 27 includes parts of Lee, Russell, and Tallapoosa counties.

The other GOP primary contest for the state senate features Sen. Gerald Dial (R.-Lineville) versus Tim Sprayberry, chairman of the Cleburne County Republican Party. Dial served two terms in the House and is in his seventh Senate term. This is his first term in Montgomery as a Republican; Dial switched parties in 2009. He is a retired brigadier general in the Alabama National Guard.

“My goal is to serve one more time,” Dial told the Associated Press in 2013. “As majority whip, I’m in a position to have some real influence.”

Sprayberry is a self-employed private investigator in Heflin. He was unsuccessful in 2010 in a House race, but feels Dial has been in politics too long and is vulnerable this year. Senate District 13 includes parts of Cleburne, Clay, Chambers, Cherokee, Lee and Randolph counties.

According to his campaign website, Sprayberry already has senatorial experience, of a sort. “At Southern Union, I was elected Senator, representing Cleburne and Clay Counties in the Student Government Association,” his biography explained. He went on to obtain a degree in Criminal Justice at Auburn University and parlayed that into a career in law enforcement.

Next week, the “Observer” will feature three state representative seats that have Republican contests set for June 3. Also, the “Observer” shares information from election officials about registration policies and deadlines and gets predictions for turnout size.

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City invests more money for demolitions

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Numerous demolitions will mean a pretty penny out of the city’s pockets, but city council President Eddie Smith said it will be well worth the investment.

The council Tuesday approved a resolution that will move $42,000 to the demolition account, which is intended to carry the city through the end of the fiscal year.

“Because of the larger number of houses we have approved for demolition, we had to move some more funds into that account,” Smith said. “It’s unusual to have to do that ... I think the goal of the administration and the council was to abolish some of the blight in our city.”

Smith said the city originally budgeted about $35,000 for demolitions, which has been exhausted. During the meeting the council approved a bid for $27,500 for another nine residential demolitions in the city.

“The choice is to leave the houses out there that are eyesores or to move forward,” Smith said. “When they do sell or the taxes come up, the city will be able to recoup most of this money. It may take a little while, but we’ll get it back. This administration’s goal is to clean up those eyesores.”

The money will be transferred from the “Unassigned Fund” of the General Fund.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first for new Ward 3 Councilman Dozier SmithT, who was sworn at the beginning of the work session preceding the meeting.

“It was a learning experience, but I’m looking forward to it from here on out,” said SmithT, who took his new position without a formal election because a lack of competitors. “The council’s orientation really helped.”

SmithT was also unanimously appointed to the AU Airport Advisory Board, a role former Ward 3 councilman Joey Motley filled.

The council also:

- heard proclamations for Shirley Flora, the American Legion Auxiliary for “Poppy Day,” the Lion Tamers Family Fun Day and the Kilgore Scholarship winners.

- approved a temporary street closure for Memorial Day activities.

- awarded bids for a recycling trailer, a street sweeper, a trash compactor, an SUV for the police department and uniforms for the fire department.

- disposed of surplus city property.

- voted for an ordinance to amend zoning ordinance for the former Craftmaster building.

- voted for an ordinance to amend the city code, Section 19-552.

- re-appointed Walter Dorsey Sr. to the Alabama Municipal Electrical Election Committee.

- renewed contract for June Owens, Opelika Power Service manager of marketing/communications.

- approved a special appropriation of $3,000 to Main Street for Opelika Film Night.

- apporved an annual appropriation contract with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

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Frank Waldrop: local war hero

By Jody Fuller

Opelika Observer

Frank Waldrop’s roots run deep in Opelika. He was born on South Eighth Street in 1921 to Thomas and Fannie May (Trotter) Waldrop. He also had a sister, Mable.

Thomas, a WWI veteran, was co-owner of Crossley and Waldrop Furniture. He was also a mortician.

He has pleasant memories of growing up in Opelika. Those memories include meeting his buddies for a game of baseball down by the Confederate monument behind First Baptist Church. “The road was paved there,” he says, “but was a dirt road just beyond there.”

Another of his favorite “gathering places” was the city pool behind Clift High School, adjacent to Moore Stadium.

Young Frank went to first grade at Palmer Hall, which was located where Opelika City Hall is now. The school became too crowded, so he attended second grade at Miss Nettie E. Webb’s house on South Railroad Avenue. Her classroom was filled with switches, and, according to Frank, she wasn’t afraid to use them.

He went to Southside School for the next four years. Southside would eventually become Miriam S. Brown Elementary School. Today, it’s known as the Cultural Center of Opelika.

From the 7th to 11th grade, he attended Clift High, where he played football under Coach Lindy Hatfield, a former running back at Auburn.

“FDR had Moore Stadium built by the Public Works Administration the year I got there. Before that, they played the games at the fairgrounds,” he recalls.

When not playing football, Frank worked with his father, who’d left the furniture and undertaking business in favor of the grocery business. Waldrop’s Grocery was located in downtown Opelika on Seventh Street.

When Frank was 15, his father went back to the furniture business but also started a mattress business. This was during the Depression, so people did whatever they could do to provide for their families. Wherever his father went, young Frank was right there along his side.

“In those days, we only went to school through the 11th grade. It wasn’t until the year after I graduated that they implemented the 12th grade,” said Waldrop, who graduated in 1937.

At 16, while still in high school, Waldrop joined the Alabama National Guard. He was a combat medic assigned to 167th Infantry Regiment of the 31st Division. His service included training soldiers in Jacksonville, Fla., and Alexandria, La.

In 1941 he left the Fort Dallas Smith Armory for Camp Blanding, Fla., for a yearlong assignment. He was there training soldiers when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The first units he helped train were sent to Europe and North Africa.

“We were not allowed to call them draftees,” he said. “We were instructed to refer to them as selectees.”

Over the next couple of years, his unit trained soldiers at different locations around the country to replicate the vast terrain differences that soldiers would experience in Europe, Northern Africa and the Pacific. They included Camp Bowie, Texas, and the mountains of West Virginia.

They were also assigned to Camp Pickett, Va., for amphibious training in Chesapeake Bay. This training would serve him invaluably.

Frank Waldrop’s unit was initially slated for Italy, but that changed. Instead, they were sent to General Douglas MacArthur. “They didn’t need us in Italy, so they sent us to MacArthur. We went to the South Pacific,” he said.

Their point of embarkation was the aforementioned Chesapeake Bay. Their mode of transportation was a Dutch freighter that was converted to a troop carrier. Because of the constant threat of attacks from German submarines, the carrier was escorted along the east coast all the way to the Panama Canal.

Once they cleared the Panama Canal, they were all alone in the South Pacific for four weeks before landing on the world’s second largest island, New Guinea. Frank and his unit had a month to get climatized before seeing any combat duty.

The natives in New Guinea’s coast weren’t civilized, and there was no infrastructure. A battalion of Navy Seabees attached to his unit built roads and airstrips once the area was secure. Within a matter of days, the airstrips were fully functional.

In spite of heavy combat, his unit eventually made it all the way up the New Guinea coast and built bases along the way. Although he was a medic, he was a target the entire way. The Japanese had no respect for the red cross on his shoulder. He mended and repaired broken bodies throughout the war, which was a foreshadowing of things to come.

After a stop in the Dutch East Indies, his battalion, First battalion, fought on the island of Morotai. Second Battalion remained in reserve for some much needed rest while First Battalion did all the fighting.

They were on Morotai preparing to invade the Philippines when the atomic bomb fell on Japan. “That was the best thing to ever happen to us. MacArthur was getting organized and ready to go back into the Philippines. Had that happened, there’s no telling how many more would have died.

“The Japanese soldiers we were fighting on Morotai had other ideas about surrendering. They took off into the jungle. For all I know, they may still be there,” he said with a chuckle.

First Battalion was given a break while Second Battalion was tasked to take a weather station three days away. Technician Third Grade Frank Waldrop was reassigned to Second Battalion. “I missed out on the rest,” he said. “It was the easiest assault job I ever got into. The amphibious assault vehicles drove all the way onto the beach. I didn’t even have to get my boots wet – ordinarily, we were all the way up to our neck in water. And there were just a handful of Japanese.”

By this time, he had enough points to be eligible for discharge as soon as the war ended.

“I left out of the Philippines on a real big, nice ship. It wasn’t a regular troop carrier. It was more like a hotel,” he fondly recalled. “It took us to San Francisco where we stayed for two weeks.”

After a week-long train ride, he arrived at Camp Shelby, Miss., where he spent a week in the hospital. Upon his release, he boarded a bus back to Opelika.

“I caught up on five years of fun in about two,” he said with a smile.

Upon his return, he had a couple of local jobs in the auto industry before landing a job in the body shop at Tatum Chevrolet, where he’d spend the next 40 years. “For the first 10 years, I was on the line repairing wrecked cars but spent the last 30 in management,” he said.

“He was the best body man in Lee County,” said one friend.

In 1948, he married the former Johnny Lou Knight and has been happily married for 65 years. They were blessed with two children, Thomas and Belva, and are proud of Chandler, their only grandchild, who is simply described as “the best.”

Since retiring at the age of 71, Frank has kept busy with work in and around the house and, along with his bride, has been an active member at First United Methodist Church.

When asked what the secret to their longevity was, Johnny Lou said, “Well, we never did fuss much. We just always got along. He didn’t drink and didn’t cuss much. Sometimes he might say “doggone!” but that’s about it.”

At 93 years old, he’s not as active as he once was. He spends a lot of time resting, but if anyone deserves the rest, it’s Frank Waldrop. After all, he’s still owed that doggone rest from the war.

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Living life at seven miles per hour

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

Rodger Howell, 63, was exposed to Agent Orange nearly 40 years ago and was later told by his doctors that he only had five weeks to live.

That was almost a year ago.

Since then Howell has opted to riding the open roads over sitting around waiting to die.

“I got Agent Orange serving in Vietnam,” Howell said. “37 years later my organs are deterioating.”

Following his diagnosis of only having a month to live Howell gave away all of his possession except what he travels with today.

Now Howell has traveled more than 2,500 miles since last summer (nine months) with his two horses Sonny (half Arabian and half Percheron) and Dancer (full-blooded Percheron) and his dog Banjo complete with a 14-foot black buggy where he sleeps at night (the buggy has survived two torandoes, according to Howell).

Howell said there is no particular goal in his travels other than he is tired of sitting on the front porch.

“I’m not going to give up, I am going to keep going,” Howell said. “In the left side (of my heart) I had a double by-pass and the top and back (of my heart) have a stint with two more blockages they said they can’t do nothing for right now.”

Howell made his stop in Opelika to get a health and Coggins test done on his horses by Dr. Buddy Bruce at Animal Health Center on Second Avenue in Opelika on his way south to Tampa, Fla.

“When I get to Columbus, Ga., I am going to head out on to Tallahassee then to Tampa to see my girls,” Howell said. “I’ve stayed at five different Cowboy Churches  (including the Cowboy Church of Lee County on Highway 280), I’ve stayed with the Amish (they gave Howell the buggy where he and Banjo sleep at night), the Mennonites, strangers and Muslims.”

Howell draws attention everywhere he goes.

“Some city folks have never even seen a horse,” Howell said. “(I love horses because) they don’t lie, cheat or steal.”

The travel schedule for Howell starts every day at 9 a.m., and he and his horses are on the move for four days at a time, then they rest for three days.

Howell lives off his Social Security and disability from the Army through direct deposit and has almost 200 pounds of feed and 30 gallons of water on him at any given time.

“I usually stop around 2 p.m. to find a campsite, and I stop at stores and restaurants to get what we need,” Howell said. “I stick to secondary roads, and I can get on any road except state highways, but I try to stay away from big towns to avoid harming my horses.

“I don’t care about traffic ... they can wait on me.”

Howell contributes his life’s longevity to his efforts of keeping his mind stress free and his diet as healthy as possible.

After reaching his family members in Tampa he plans to head back north to see Niagra Falls.

For more information or to follow Howell’s travels, find him on Facebook.

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County sets tax increase referendum

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

The citizens of unincorporated Lee County will get a chance to vote on a one cent sales tax increase on Sept. 9, 2014, to fund parks in the area and as well as beef up security measures at schools.

The Lee County Commission set the special referendum at this week’s meeting after Jerry Southwell (president of Lee County Parks and Recreation) requested the election.

“The Lee County Recreation Board has not received funds for four years now, and previously we were funded by the commission,” Southwell said. “And the commission is gracious enough to deal with us and help us ask for a bill to put it to the people and let them decide about the possibility of passing a one cent sales tax, and we also have the issue that has come into this discussion about security in our schools.”

The bill went through the Legislature in March 2013 to allow the county commission to call for a referendum on this tax that would only be in place outside city limits of Opelika, Auburn and Phenix City.

If citizens vote in favor of the tax, that one cent increase will be split 50/50 between the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and Lee County Parks and Recreation.

District 5 Commissioner John Andrew Harris expressed his concern about holding a special election because of additional cost incurred to the commission and suggested it be on the ballot in November for the general elections.

“When we ask for more taxes, we need justification,” Harris said. “So what we should do as a community is, we should come together and set recreation as a priority.”

This proposed one cent sales tax has been voted down twice before in 2008 and 2010 in unincorporated Lee County, even though recreation ranks No. 2 on the list of priorities to the citizens, according to surveys done in the past.

Harris suggested that grant money should be sought out instead of raising taxes or spending money on a special election, but Southwell informed the commission that unincorporated areas are not eligible for grant funding, and commission chair Probate Judge Bill English informed the room that money has already been earmarked for this referendum.

“The commission set aside thousands of dollars to pay the cost of a special election to help its chances, and you voted for it (addressing Harris) and now you are against it,” English said. “I don’t understand the difference.”

Before the economic downturn (approximately four years ago) the commission would fund Lee County Parks and Recreation up to $200,000 per year.

County Administrator Roger Rendleman made it clear that if the one cent sales tax was voted in favor of, it would be specifically designated to the rural community of Lee County for parks and additional deputies.

“I have been putting these budgets together for 13 years, and this county does not have the money, and grants are not going to get it because recreation grants are only $50,000, and that is it for each and every one, plus you have to finish that grant before you move onto the next one,” Rendleman said. “The bottom line is, for a county our size, we have the second lowest revenue per capita in the entire state, and we do a very good job with that, but I can’t stretch (the budget) anymore.”

In other news at the meeting, Sheriff Jay Jones recognized Investigator Rick Zayas and Correction Officer Eddie Frazier as the employees of the quarter in the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.

County Engineer Justin Hardee gave an update on recent road closures on several counties road, including a portion of Lee Road 179 that was affected by the April 29 tornado where a large hole developed at a crossdrain.

“We are very pleased the Highway Department was able to open this road (after repairs this past Monday),” Hardee said.

Portions of Lee Road 148 approximately .half a mile east of its junction with Alabama Highway 169 has been closed for the past five years while sinkholes were repaired.

Another large sinkhole (9 feet deep and 14 feet in diameter) on this road was discovered after a call about a dip in the road was received on May 1.

A temporary repair was made while detour signs were put in place before the closure was made on the road, and permanent repairs are now underway (and should be completed in six weeks to two months), according to Hardee.

John Hoar with the Southwest Volunteer Fire Department in Auburn reported an ISO rating of 4/9, which is down from 8/9 (indicating that every residence in that area is at most five miles from a fire station and within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant).

“There should be significant lowering of insurance rates for homeowners in this area (30-40 percent decrease in insurance cost) with the new rating,” Hoar said. “But the residents have to call their insurance company because those companies are probably not going to lower the rates on their own.”

The areas that can take advantage of the change are Loachapoka, Wire Road and parts of Sandhill Road, according to Hoar.

“We are already making plans to get the 9 rating lowered by strategically placing new fire hydrants in the area,” Hoar said.

These improvements were made possible through a special election to increase fire fees for these citizens, passing with 87 percent of the votes approving the decision.

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City answers court ruling

Special to the

Opelika Observer

A grand jury has decided criminal charges will not be brought against Officer Phillip Hancock, the OPD officer who shot and wounded Airman Michael Davidson.

In a press release sent Monday, OPD Chief John McEachern shared the city’s response to the ruling.

“Phillip Hancock will not face criminal charges in connection with the shooting of Michael Davidson,” McEachern said. “We believe his decision to use deadly force was reasonable and legally justified under the facts and circumstances of this case.

“The Grand Jury has spoken, and we respect the decision. We appreciate that not everyone may agree with the decision of the grand jury. We encourage anyone who wishes to express their feelings to do so respectfully.

“Under state law, police officers can use deadly force against an unarmed suspect if the officer believes the suspect could cause serious bodily harm to the officer or another person. There is no requirement that one has to be armed for an officer to use deadly force. If an officer has a reasonable belief that his life, or someone else’s life is in danger, that decision cannot be questioned later by Monday morning quarterbacking.

“The Opelika Police Department is severely restricted in releasing facts before the investigation is concluded. It is our desire to have the public know the full and true facts of the case at the earliest opportunity, but we are required by law, ethics and the need to insure the integrity of the investigation to only do so at the appropriate time.

“With the grand jury’s work concluded, we will work with the ABI to release all investigative reports, audio and video tapes as soon as is practicable.

“As these materials are made available to the Opelika Police Department, we will make arrangements to release the same to the public and the media.”

McEachern also explained some of the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the following investigation, outlining how the OPD followed protocol.

“Immediately after the shooting occurred, it was reported to the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI) and the Lee County District Attorney. The criminal investigation was conducted by the ABI, which has the best resources for this type of investigation. The ABI investigated the case by thoroughly processing the crime scene and collecting evidence, interviewing all witnesses, testing the firearm used by Officer Hancock and reviewing all relevant audio and video tapes.

“Throughout the investigation the ABI received full cooperation from all Opelika police officers. After the investigation was completed, the case file was referred to the Lee County District Attorney. Thereafter, the case was presented to the Lee County Grand Jury.

“The Grand Jury plays an important role in the criminal process. A Grand Jury can issue an indictment charging the officer criminally, or return a ‘no true bill.’ To indict, at least 12 grand jurors must find probable cause that the officer committed the charged crime.

“As there is generally no dispute that Officer Hancock intended to shoot at Mr. Davidson, the determination of whether the conduct was criminal is primarily a question of legal justification. A police officer is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person when he believes it is reasonably necessary to defend himself or a third party from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. Therefore, the question presented in most officer-involved shooting cases is whether, at the instant the officer fired the shot that wounded the person, the officer believed ... that he or another person was in imminent danger of deadly physical force.

“The great majority of officer-involved shootings throughout the country ultimately result from what is commonly called the “split-second decision” to shoot. The split-second decision is generally made to stop a real or perceived threat of aggressive behavior of the citizen.  It is the split-second timeframe which typically defines the focus of the criminal review.

“Officers must have the discretion to use deadly force when appropriate. This awesome responsibility sets law enforcement apart from every other profession. The results of a split-second decision can affect entire police departments, families and communities for many years. Officers who put on a gun and badge every day risk their lives to protect the community, and their service is vital to keeping the public safe.”

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Getting in the spirits: Distilling Company plans summer opening downtown

By Donna Williamson

Opelika Observer

The John Emerald Distilling Company, located at 706 North Railroad Avenue in Opelika, is scheduled to open this summer. The distillery is a family business, owned and operated by Jimmy Sharp and his father John.

The company is named after Jimmy’s grandfather. In fact, all of the products are named after different family members. “We are honoring the spirits of our ancestors in our spirits,” Jimmy said.

The distillery will make two rums, whiskey and gin, and a peach liqueur.

“The single malt disappeared after prohibition and is still a young category. Our feature product is a single malt whiskey, which we call John’s Alabama Single Malt.  It is similar to Scotch in that it’s a single malt that’s all barley, but it’s going to be smoked with pecan and peach wood instead of peat,” Jimmy said. “Alabama does not have a defined whiskey, so we are putting our two cents worth in and trying to tie down that slot.”

The Sharps try to use all local or Alabama-grown products. This includes Chilton County peaches for their peach liqueur and Alabama cane syrup for their rum. According to Jimmy, locally-sourced botanicals provide a balanced flavor with juniper berries, Alabama cucumbers and pecans to deliver a gin with “Southern Heart.”

To master the art of making whiskey, Jimmy and John have traveled to distilleries all across the United States and Scotland. “We’ve honed our distilling techniques, and we’ve worked out the specific recipes,” Jimmy said. “Now we are ready to start making whiskey.”

Jimmy has discovered that most people don’t understand the difference between aging and maturing in terms of whiskey making. “Age is a number; maturation is a flavor,” he explained. “Whiskey in small barrels matures faster. We have a barrel room, which simulates the season changes. We can increase or decrease the temperature and control humidity. This is an innovative technique that allows our whiskey to mature at a faster rate.”

John added – “The whiskey lost through evaporation is known as the ‘angel’s share.’ Our smaller barrels allow for less evaporation, which will only be 3-4 percent a year.”

The Sharps are proud that theirs is a “hands-on” business. “We do everything, even down to bottling. There’s no automated anything really; from start to finish it’s a hands-on process,” Jimmy said.

The distillery will have a taste room where cocktails may be purchased. The Sharps plan to provide tours of the facility and offer classes on the distilling process.  “I think the distillery is going to bring in a lot of tourism. Every small distillery I’ve visited told us they are bombarded by tourists,” Jimmy said.

The Sharps originally wanted to open their distillery in Montgomery. However, according to John, “We couldn’t find the right place and kept hitting dead ends.”

Then they met developer Richard Patton in Opelika. “We liked what he was doing; we liked the location, and the building was perfect,” Jimmy said. “Also, the mayor and city council members were very receptive and business-friendly.”

Jimmy and his family have moved to Opelika, and John plans to join him in the near future.

John Emerald products will be distributed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in statewide ABC stores. Local bars and restaurants will also offer John Emerald products.

For more information on the John Emerald Distilling Company go to

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Childcare Resource Center plans expansion: $350K grant means increased services for community

By Alison James

Associate Editor

A $350,000 grant will mean the realization of a years-long passion for the Child Care Resource Center.

In partnership with Employers’ Child Care Alliance, CCRC announced it has been awarded a $350,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to establish a Family Resource Center in Opelika. “The funding, starting immediately and ending in March 2016, will serve to reconnect families with their community through seamless services, education and awareness,” reads a press release from the center.

“This has been one of our strategic goals for some time – to blend all the services available in the community among community partners together to form a Family Resource Center,” said Tammy Morgan, CCRC executive director. “We’re just ecstatic to be able to bring this to this community.”

Morgan said CCRC received notice of the grant April 1 and is already working in earnest  to gather information and make plans for the Family Resource Center, which will, in many ways, be an expansion of what the CCRC currently does.

Centrally-located and free to the community, the FRC will provide all kinds of resources and services community members might need.

“It’s not to take clientele away from other community partners – it’s basically to increase their clientele,” Morgan said. “A lot of times, when people come into town, they might only have means of coming to one location. Transportation is an issue for people sometimes. So if they could come to one centralized location, and that location be able to provide case management, direct them or even make the phone calls for them, that cuts down on a lot of their stress and anxiety.”

Services like those available through the DHR, the food bank, literacy initiatives and childcare will be among those to which a case manager will link families in need.

“There hasn’t been a centralized information center for this area,” said CCRC program manager Kim McManus. “So, if you’re a parent moving into this area, you might go to DHR, and DHR has their certain services, but they don’t know all of the other things that family needs.”

According to information provided by the CCRC, 21.4 percent of people in Lee County live below the poverty level.

“We have people come in every day with needs,” McManus said. “It might be that they got a ride to one location ... and they get here and we have to turn them away because we don’t have the services, and we don’t know who to tell them to go get the services from. We might direct them to DHR, or we might direct them to the food bank and they get over there and are told, ‘No, you have to go to the Community Market to get what you need.’ It’s just a lot of runaround and frustration that our families feel.”

“A lot of time families don’t know how to push forward – they just give up and go back home and do without those services,” Morgan added. “You want people to be able to utilize what this great community of Lee County has to offer.”

Morgan said they hope to expand into a vacant space adjacent to the current CCRC.

“There’s a lot we anticipate bringing to the community,” Morgan said, mentioning enrichment activities and a computer lab. “It will be a building block process. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Association with the Employers’ Child Care Alliance, “a unique public-private partnership,” Morgan said, is how the CCRC drew attention for this grant, and discussions with the Alliance and other community groups will build the FRC into what it needs to be.

“It’s an accomplishment for this agency but really for employers who have been there and continued their pledged support every year to make this happen,” Morgan said. “It’s a seed that was planted many years ago but has bloomed through the years and is hopefully going to bloom even bigger and better.”

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Citizen shot by police officer files suit

Staff Reports

Opelika Observer

A controversy that began in March reached a new level this week with a lawsuit filed against the City of Opelika.

March 6 was the day OPD Officer Phillip Hancock responded to reports of an erratic driver on Interstate 85. In the events that followed, shots were fired at the driver, Airman Michael Darrett Davidson.

Davidson has now filed suit against the city. The city issued a statement Tuesday.

“Regarding the lawsuit filed by Michael Davidson, the City and the Opelika Police Department are saddened that Mr. Davidson was injured,” reads the release, signed by Police Chief John McEachern. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him, and we wish him a full and speedy recovery from his injuries.

“At the time of the incident, Officer Phillip Hancock was discharging his duty as a police officer and in response to a citizen’s call for public assistance,” the release continues. “We believe that Officer Hancock and the City responded in a reasonable and lawful manner.

“We take seriously the allegations in the lawsuit. We believe the proper place to disclose the facts of this case is in the courtroom, and we look forward to that opportunity. Once due process is allowed to unfold, we are certain that there will be a better understanding of this situation.

“As an organization, the Opelika Police Department is committed to holding itself to the highest of standards to provide the citizens of Opelika an environment where they can live, work and play free from crime and the fear of crime. We are committed to enhancing the safety and security of our citizens by providing effective and efficient law enforcement.

“The Opelika Police Department is committed to professionalism in all aspects of its operation. We recognize that the manner in which the Department conducts business must be consistent with professionally accepted practices and ideals, including, and most importantly, the use of deadly force.”

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City delays voting on beer/wine license

By Alison James

Associate Editor

The council did not take up as an agenda item a highly-discussed beer and wine license for the new Tiger 13 Opelika movie theater at its meeting Tuesday.

“After we had the work session, there were some new developments,” said council President Eddie Smith. “Carmike called and said they might want to offer some other ideas of ways to help the community feel better about the passage of it ... We never had it on the agenda, so it wasn’t pulled. It was just never approved to be put on the agenda ... to give the people the opportunity to listen to the new considerations and make the decision as to whether or not that swayed their vote.

Smith said the vote will be on the agenda for the May 20 meeting.

(Editor’s note: The “Opelika Observer” appreciates all who contributed to our discussion on the alcohol license. Your comments and concerns have been shared with the council.)

The Opelika City Council approved a couple of street closures at its meeting. One requested closure was for an upcoming community event - Touch-A-Truck, which invites children of all ages who are vehicle enthusiasts to come out and enjoy a morning among cars and trucks of all sorts.

“We’ll just have tons of vehicles – everything – from race cars to trucks to fire trucks to bulldozers,” said Opelika Main Street Director Pam Powers-Smith.

The event will be held June 14 from 9 a.m. to noon and will be free to the public. Powers-Smith said children are mesmerized by the vehicles that Touch-a-Truck brings to the public.

“They always see police cars or fire trucks but they’re really far away, so this is just a fun opportunity for them to get a VIP treatment and actually get to see the inside,” Powers-Smith said. “I think it’s also interesting for them to see the bucket trucks and the bulldozers.”

Touch-A-Truck will be held downtown on Railroad Avenue. Powers-Smith said they encourage people to stay downtown after the event to eat lunch and shop.

The council also approved a street closure for a block party June 8 on 7th Avenue.

The council also:

- heard proclamations from the mayor for Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month; Small Business Week; and these students: Adam Cason, Colten Dunson, Whitt Krehling and Jacob Walker, who all qualified as  Duke TIP Scholars, and India Dow, Will McDonough and Marcus Marshall, who earned AMEA scholarships.

- ordered demolitions at 100A, 100B, 102 and 104 Jeter Avenue.

- approved expense reports.

- approved a change order related to repairs for a pumper truck.

- approved a special use permit for Verizon.

- voted to allow the mayor to sign a grant application for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant.

- reappointed Patricia Jones and Herbert Slaughter to the Opelika Utilities Board and renewed employee contracts for Lori B. Huguley, Economic Development Director, and Craig Uptagrafft, Manager of Fiber Services.

- approved a resolution declaring Dozier SmithT the concilmember for Ward 3, for a term ending Nov. 3, 2016.

- suspended the rules to approve a project development agreement between the city and PC Opelika, LLC, for the development of buildings at 2600 Pepperell Parkway.

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Soundtrack to summer: Summer Swing, NoonTunes return for outdoor entertainment options

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

Summertime has started swinging again as Opelika Parks and Recreation kicked off this year’s Summer Swing Concert Series with the Lee-Scott Academy Jazz Ensemble this past Tuesday at Opelika Municipal Park.

This year’s 14-week concert series will take place every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Municipal Park, offering a variety of musical entertainment including gospel, jazz, R&B, oldies, country, folk and Big Band Swing. All concerts are free to the public.

“Come out early,” said Laura Leigh Chesser, public relations and special programs coordinator for Opelika Parks and Recreation. “Bring the whole family, a blanket or lawn chair and relax on the bank of Rocky Brook Creek for an evening of fun, fellowship and relaxation.”

This year folks can look forward to a familiar line-up of local artists, including the Opelika High School Bands, Martha’s Trouble, Adam Hood, Crossroads, Muse, Fred Jones and the James Brown Trio and of course, Route 66. Conner Lorre, Neil Diamond tribute artists, and Bill J. Brooks, Elvis tribute artist, will also be traveling to Opelika to grace the Summer Swing Band Stand again this year.

“This is an event for the whole family,” Chesser said. “The music is catered to all ages, and it is the perfect way to spend a relaxing evening.”

The Opelika Band Boosters will be selling their famous Summer Swing hotdogs and hamburgers beginning at 6:15 p.m. each Tuesday night, and Charter Bank of Opelika will be handing out complimentary lemonade to all in attendance. The Rocky Brook Rocket will be on the tracks all summer long, giving free train rides prior to the concerts, beginning at 6:15 p.m. each Tuesday night.

Noon Tunes is also back this month, offering free lunchtime concerts every Wednesday in May. These concerts will be held at Opelika’s Courthouse Square from noon to 1 p.m., May 7-28.

Patrons are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch or pick up one from a local vendor to enjoy during the concert.

“This year the Irish Bred Pub and Sweet Malissa’s will be on the square to provide lunches to all those in attendance,” Chesser said. “We are so thankful for them and Opelika Mainstreet for helping to make our event such a success.”

This year Noon Tunes will feature Larcus “Silky Tone” Fuller, Strawberry Whine, Muse and Martha’s Trouble.

For more concert information visit, call the department at 705-5560 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Running unopposed: Dozier SmithT to fill Ward 3 council seat

By Alison James

Associate Editor

A special election was planned for the city council Ward 3 seat vacated by Joey Motley, but that won’t be necessary with only one person qualifying for the race.

“Politics has been something I grew up around,” said Dozier SmithT, owner of Winston SmithT Building Supply and longtime Opelika resident. “Whenever elections were coming around, we were always attuned to it at our house.”

SmithT was approved as “duly elected” by a resolution from the city council Tuesday. SmithT said the decision to run for city council was not one he made rashly.

“I talked to a couple people,” SmithT said. “I took some time to really think about it and pray about it. I knew some other people were considering it. One person in particular deferred if I wanted to do it, and I just decided it was the right time.”

Councilmembers were enthusiastic about SmithT joining them in leading and serving the city.

“This is going to keep our council together like it has been for quite some time,” said councilman David Canon. “He and his family are very dedicated Opelika people.”

Generations of SmithTs have lived in Opelika, and the family is well-known by many.

“I’ve grown up here; I love this city,” SmithT said. “I love everything about it. We’ve got so many great things going for us, and I think we can continue those, and we can get better. I’m excited about being a part of that.”

SmithT attended Opelika City Schools growing up and earned his accounting degree from Auburn University. He and his wife Sara moved back to the area in 1996 after she finished her residency following medical school.

The SmithTs – Dozier, Sara and their six children – are active at Trinity Presbyterian Church. Dozier has also participated in a number of community groups, including Opelika Dixie Youth baseball, the EAMC Foundation board, Opelika Main Street and the Rotary Club. He said joining city council was just a natural desire, out of his love for and involvement in the community.

“There comes a point when you think, I need to serve. Or at least put my name in the hat to serve,” he said. “It’s something new for me. Generally, I’d like to see the city grow and see us be a financially stable community.”

SmithT said his strengths on the council will be “wise discernment and a dedication to study up on the issues.

Former Ward 3 councilman Motley said SmithT is a “man of character” who will do a great job.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to run against him,” Motley quipped. “I don’t think you could find anybody better.”

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Grand finale: OHS Theatre Society wraps up show season with ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

By Auburn Terry

Junior Reporter

Sunday marked an emotional day for the Opelika High Theatre Society as it bade farewell to a beautiful show and more than ten senior actors, actresses and technical students.

Typically, for seniors involved, this closing show marks the paradoxical end and beginning of chapters in their lives as they venture off to college or wherever else life may lead them. For the rest of the students in the show, the final performance symbolizes the end of an era, the start of a new season only weeks away and the memories that will stay with them for a lifetime.

“Thoroughly Modern Millie” closed out the second four-show season OHTS has offered in order to put as many students as possible onstage. This 32-member cast and tech crew of over ten students constructed a show taking place in 1922 New York City, where a Millie Dillmount travels from a primarily bumpkin lifestyle in Kansas to become a modern woman. To accomplish this goal, she seeks a job to marry her boss, only to fall in love with someone who is virtually broke.

She gains friends and love and even sends the villainous Mrs. Meers – a retired actress avenging her dismissal from the chorus by kidnapping and shipping young, orphaned starlets overseas – to prison.

For senior Mary Grace Sasser, who starred as the title role of Millie Dillmount, the beauty was in the characters.

“My favorite part of any show is always seeing how you completely change into the character the first time you put the costume on. That’s when I feel like everything comes together and you can fully dive into your role,” she said.

For others, such as technical student and senior Kyra Chamblee, the thrill of show time is a result of watching the show come together from the sidelines.

“Watching it come a long way just gives you a good feeling inside,” Chamblee said.

But for the man in charge, Director Revel Gholston, his favorite part was creating the dances himself.

“I’ve never had to do as much choreography on my own. I do enjoy dancing quite a bit, and I always have some part in the choreography as the director, but I definitely had to dust off the dancing shoes for this party,” Gholston said.

For the audience, the show came as quite a surprise. With so many twists, turns and intertwining plot lines, the show was a lot to take in in one sitting.

“I think the audience came not knowing what to expect. Many don’t know the story or the music, but I did guarantee at least one laugh, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed,” said Gholston.

But while all the fun happened onstage, only minutes before the overture began members of the show were wiping eyes, passing hugs, saying goodbye and fixing makeup backstage. An endless line of tissues was passed around the circle of hand-holding students as each spoke about the joy of the show and the memories each would keep forever.

The final night was especially valuable to senior Demond Moore, who played Millie’s boss Trevor Graydon.

“It was heartbreaking for it to be my last show at OHS,” Moore said, but said he is thrilled that this show in particular was his last show.

While it was an emotional day indeed, audience members, orchestra members, techs and actors alike could not help but smile as they gave the show their all one final time, and the author is immensely glad she was able to close out the show with a bow next to them.

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Local musician plays for love of music

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Music is a passion for local Clifton Hopson. He’s been playing for 55 years, but his first introduction to piano almost began with catastrophe.

“I was about 7 years old. I came from a family of 12, and I was the youngest. These people had given a piano to the family,” Hopson said. “So we went on an old flatbed ’53 Chevrolet pick-up truck, and the kids laid on the piano and held it ... and they backed the truck up to the porch. We all let go and got off the truck on the porch. The piano fell off on the ground and all the wood fell off.

“My dad took a hammer and nails and nailed it back together. And I started playing.”

Hopson and his sister were soon playing in church – at Covey Rock Baptist Church in North Carolina, where Hopson is from – debuting their musical talents with “Take a Moment and Live.”

Hopson said he learned to play by ear, reading shape notes. He now plays every day he can – bluegrass, gospel and pop.

“I love songs – I’ll play pretty much anything,” Hopson said.

His instruments of choice are a double stacked MIDI keyboard and a 12-pedal Behringer.

“Music speaks to me,” Hopson said. “No matter where you go in this world, people speak with different dialects ... But music is something that speaks to everybody. It is a language that can make you happy, soothe the soul, make you cry, lift you up – it can just do so many things.”

Hopson moved to Alabama 14 years ago and has branded his musical offerings, “I Sing Because.”

He is available to play for all kinds of events and does not charge. For more information call 334-559-0382 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Beer and a movie? Council discusses alcohol license for Carmike Tiger 13

Photos by Daniel Chesser: The Tiger 13 theater is now open off Capps Landing near Tiger Town.


By Alison James

Associate Editor

A called work session brought discussion of the requested beer and wine license for the new Carmike Tiger 13 to the table Tuesday.

Gary Krannacker, general manager for the theater, spent some time before the council, answering questions and concerns from both the city council and the public.

“I will be the manager in charge of the integrity of that theater, and you have my personal assurance there will not be alcohol being abused at the theater,” Krannacker said. “It will be served for the enjoyment of our adult guests.”

The request for the license is accompanied by an “alcohol control plan,” which includes the following conditions, among others, for the regulation of the sale of alcohol at the theater:

“All patrons wishing to purchase alcohol will present valid identification for inspection demonstrating they are above the age of 21 at the alcohol sales register.”

“All patrons demonstrating they are 21 years of age or older will be fitted with a wristband marked with the Carmike logo at the designated point of sale. The wristband must be worn at all times the patron wishes to be allowed to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. Wristbands are non-replaceable and will be made of a material that cannot be removed or refastened without damage.”

“A container of alcohol will have no more than 16 ounces of beer or 8 ounces of wine.”

“Any patron found to have given alcohol to a minor will be required to leave the premises immediately.”

“Containers used to serve alcohol will be translucent plastic vessels and clearly distinguishable from those use to serve non-alcoholic beverages.”

Opposition to the granting of the license has been expressed through numerous platforms, with community members speaking out through email, social media and calls to their council representatives to share their concerns.

“As a representative, I’m representing the people here in Opelika,” said Councilwoman Patsy Jones. “It’s concerning for me ... In all fairness, I think all of us should have had the opportunity to sit down at the table and see everything that was being proposed and place it out there in the public the way it needed to be placed there because now we are almost at an adversarial point.”

Jones said she had received a number of calls from concerned citizens.

“I took that very seriously because I understand their concern. I understand what alcohol does. It changes the personality of people,” Jones said.

Krannacker, who reassured the council that he would be “physically appalled if a child had been able to get an alcoholic beverage at a theater I was in charge of,” explained that beer and wine is simply one more amenity Carmike wants to offer patrons, among items like pizza, chicken fingers, cotton candy and, of course, popcorn.

“It’s not about the money,” Krannacker said. “Beer and wine is one amenity at our concession stand ... We are just trying to make sure we are able to satisfy all our patrons’ needs, from the children that may want cotton candy to the college professor that may want to enjoy a glass of wine while he sees an art film.”

Despite such not being required, the council permitted community members to speak and share their concerns at the meeting.

“I really don’t see the point of it. Why do you have to have alcohol to go to a movie with your kids?” asked Evelyn Mickle of Opelika. “I read all the DUI’s that are picked up, and I’m afraid even with a two or three glass limit – buzzed is still drunk. As an old nurse, I’ve seen enough of what happens when somebody’s drunk.”

A dozen or more community members attended the meeting, including Kim Key of Auburn, who brought her movie-loving son along.

“I just don’t want some guy sitting next to him drinking beer,” Key said. “I just think it’s a disappointing situation.”

Krannacker explained the theater’s policy on monitoring for drunkenness, using a sophisticated scanner to check IDs and keeping the sale of alcohol separate from the sale of other concession items, but at the end of the meeting, councilmembers were still left with reservations.

“It is my understanding that as we stand today, the council will not be in favor of it,” said council President Eddie Smith. “We’ll continue to study the issue and try to educate ourselves ... If in fact the vote is negative, it’s certainly not an indictment toward the Carmike theater. We want you there – we’re invested in it. We are very torn in this issue, in that we all have a significant number of people who have expressed their opinions, pro and con. I want you to know: you’re welcome in Opelika.”

The council will vote on the license, as well as an amendment to the Code of Ordinances that would permit the sale of alcohol in movie theaters, at its meeting May 6. If the council denies the alcohol license, the city and Carmike may discuss it further, or Carmike may appeal to the state.

“The state has total control of the regulation of alcoholic beverages,” said attorney Guy Gunter. “The Alcohol Beverage Control board can issue a beer or wine license without the consent of the city.”

Krannacker said Carmike is willing to work with the city to make sure the whole process goes smoothly.

“We will do everything necessary to assure the citizens of Opelika that we are committed to the safety of everyone who comes through our theater,” Krannacker said.

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Commission approves new voting machines

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

With primary elections occurring next month and the general elections this November, there is some discontent for one county commissioner with the new voting machines in Lee County.

At this week’s county commission meeting, District 5 Commissioner John Andrew Harris expressed opposition to the upgraded voting machines that were replaced state-wide this spring through Election Systems and Software (ES&S).

Harris stated he had issues with the company and the integrity of voting, citing accusations of a history of bribery of other county commissions to implement this particular company’s voting machines.

These machines are approved and certified by the Alabama Electronic Voting Commission (AEVC) and leased to Lee County. The only difference in the new models (Model 100) and the previous ones, other than the external appearance, is that the voter is required to “bubble-in” votes instead of completing an arrow, which is how it has been done until this year, according to Bill English, probate judge and chairman of the Lee County Commission.

The new machines are not touch-screen but do have a small display for messages and will not cause the voter any difference in waiting time, English stated in a description of the new machines.

English did not understand Harris’ issue with the integrity of the company (ES&S) considering this has been the company that supplies Alabama’s counties with their voting machines since 1994. Harris expressed acknowledgement to the fact that there are other companies out there that make voting machines.

“Any company can submit a machine and these machines (Model 100) are in use in every county in Alabama right now,” English said. “The machines we (Lee County) have used the past 20 years are no longer available from the company and no longer in use in any county in the state.”

District 2 Commissioner Johnny Lawrence made a motion to recognize that these machines are the approved voting machine for Lee County and also the authority of the AEVC to make the decision on which voting machines Lee County uses.

District 1 Commissioner Sheila Eckman seconded the motion before the debate was ended by a vote 3-1 with Harris stating “Nay” on both motions to recognize the approved machines and the authority of AEVC.

District 3 Commissioner Gary Long was not present for the meeting.

In other news at the meeting, Martha Leonard spoke again during “public comment from citizens” on the subject of her son who is a inmate and has been transported from Lee County Justice Center to Tallapoosa County Jail and back.

Her accusations include Lee County’s neglect for her son’s nutrition and medical needs.

Sheriff Jay Jones was present for the meeting and declined to comment when given the chance to respond by the commission.

English informed Leonard that the sheriff does not have to answer questions in a commission meeting, but that meeting is a place for people to address the commission and have their say.

Other actions included the Commission announcing the reopening of Lee Road 56 and 146.

English asked if it was safe to say that Lee Road 146 would be completely finished by Thanksgiving or Christmas? To which Lee County engineer Justin Hardee responded: “Lord willing.”

The commission also approved the placement of tar and gravel for dust control on Lee Road 352 for a cost of $8,000, making the road one-way with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour.

The clock atop the Lee County Courthouse will receive a full restoration at a cost of $35,950. The mechanism in the tower is no longer repairable, and the commission had the same company that maintains the clock tower at Samford Hall come out and evaluate what should be done. The funds will come from the Capital Improvement Fund.

The next Lee County Commission meeting will be May 12.

Photo by Daniel Chesser: Probate Judge Bill English turns on the new Model 100 voting machines implemented in Lee County for this year's elections.

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Exodus Ranch meets Duck Dynasty

By Donna Williamson

Opelika Observer

An all-expense paid trip to Monroe, La., television cameras, limousine rides, lunch at Willie’s restaurant with Miss Kay and front row seats at a Luke Bryan concert – just a dream? For Joe and Shelley Tufts and the seven children who reside with them at the Exodus Ranch, the dream became a reality and a weekend they will never forget.

Joe and Shelley are the founders of the Exodus Ranch, a nonprofit charity focused on providing a home for local children in need.

The wheels were put in motion when Shelley received a text from her cousin who lives in Monroe, La. “My cousin texted me and wanted to buy each of the kids a rubber duck to enter into a contest. The contest was sponsored by Duck Dynasty with proceeds going to the local food bank. When you buy the duck, your name is put on the bottom of it. They dumped 10,000 ducks off a bridge into the river. Willie Robertson of the Duck Dynasty reality show got in a jon boat and scooped two ducks out of the river,” Shelley explained.

Shelley was surprised to learn that Kathlene’s duck had been one of the two ducks scooped up by Willie and that Kathlene had won second prize, tickets to a Luke Bryan Concert. A gentleman who lived in Monroe had won first prize, which was a tour of the Duck Commander Warehouse.

“When Duck Dynasty and the food bank found out about our children’s ministry and read The Exodus Ranch website, they changed the prize to include much more,” Shelley said “They wanted to fly us there on a private plane, but it was too small for all of us, so they sent gas cards instead. Our hotel rooms, along with limo service and meals were provided. The gentleman who had won first prize also invited us to tour the warehouse with him and his wife.

“There was a combined effort by a lot of people to make this weekend happen.”

Because all of the plans had not been finalized, Joe and Shelley kept the trip a secret from the children, only telling The Exodus Ranch Board members. The family left after school March 7 and arrived at their hotel in Monroe around midnight. To the children’s surprise, television cameramen were waiting for them in the lobby the following morning.

“We were interviewed. I don’t remember all the questions, but the words Kathlene spoke about what The Exodus Ranch meant to her will never leave my heart,” Shelley said. “We were happy to let the cameras follow us because it is our heart’s dream that God be glorified in all that we say and do.”

They went to Willie Robertson’s restaurant for lunch. “Upon entering, we were ushered into a private room.” Shelley said. “I was getting the kids situated when I heard a knock at a side door. The manager opened the door and Miss Kay came in saying, ‘You guys locked me out of my own restaurant.’ She was so funny.”

Miss Kay asked Shelley to sit beside her and they visited for over two hours.

“She was just like she is on the show,” Shelley said. “When I asked her what her favorite thing on the menu was, she said, ‘My meatloaf and pies, of course.’ Miss Kay prayed for our food as we held hands at the table. Her prayer had great strength and power. She is an amazing woman.”

The Duck Commander Warehouse was next on the agenda.

“The kids were so excited because, unlike me, they watch Duck Dynasty all the time,” Shelley said. “They sat in Willie’s chair and put their feet on his desk. They went into the room where Jase and the guys make duck calls. They played basketball in the warehouse and saw the loading dock where Willie and Jase had the cook-off.”

That evening the limo took them to Shreveport to the Luke Bryan concert. “The girls were very excited. We met Luke Bryan, and we had great seats,” Shelley said.

On Sunday morning the family attended the Robertsons’ church. “It was a wonderful experience. Jase and Missy sat right in front of us. Si was behind us, and Mr. Phil was behind Si. They are church of Christ members, so there were no instruments, not that we ever noticed,” Shelley said.

“The praise and worship service was beautiful. Afterward, Jase came over to talk. He was so humble and sincere,” Shelly said. “We felt like the Robertsons were church members that we had known our entire lives.”

Winston, one of the children, was dressed in a coat and tie. Shelley said that when Winston met Si, Si asked him, “Are you the guest preacher?”

According to Shelley, the Robertson men dressed for church just like they dress for television – in camouflage.  “However, Winston noticed that Si was dressed up. He had on a flannel shirt and blue jeans,” Shelley explained.

After returning home, Shelley received a text from their new Monroe friends. “They thanked us for coming and said our visit blessed them more than they could ever believe.”  She added, “They asked when The Exodus Ranch ribbon cutting will take place because they plan to attend.”

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‘Funny Money’ takes stage

Photo by

Robert Noles

Annie Crenshaw rehearses a scene from “Funny Money,” a comedy that will open May 9 at the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center in Auburn.


By Alison James

Associate Editor

For British humor close to home, the Auburn Area Community Theatre will soon present “Funny Money,” a play by Ray Cooney.

“It’s a comfortable style for me – I’ve decided I really enjoy the big, stupid farce,” said Director Andrea Holliday. “Sometimes it’s fun to just have a big silly play going on.”

According to the synopsis, “Henry A. Perkins, a mild-mannered C.P.A, accidentally picks up the wrong briefcase – one full of money! He rushes home to book one-way tickets to Barcelona and tells his confused wife to leave everything behind ...

“But Henry and his wife can’t keep a secret! Soon everyone wants a share – from the dinner guests to the taxi driver, and they will say anything to confound the police, each other and ‘Mr. Big,’ who is on his way to get his briefcase back.

“Henry’s inept attempts to extricate himself from this impossible situation lead to increasingly hysterical situations.”

The play will hit the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center in Auburn May 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. and May 11 and 18 at 2 p.m.

“It’s a great Friday night date night,” said stage manager Karen Black. “It’s a good British farce. It’s been a joy to do.

“Everybody’s putting in 100 percent to their characters.”

Holliday said the show features more mature humor – “sexual innuendo but no sex, and there’s not a cuss word in it.”

The eight-member cast of actors and actresses from the Auburn-Opelika area will present the show with tickets prices set at $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors and $6 for groups of six or more.

Tickets may be purchased prior at Jan Dempsey – box office opens 30 minutes prior to showtime, and cash or check will be accepted.

The AACT is also looking for volunteers to help with set building this weekend. For more information call 334-559-0807.

To find out more information about the AACT’s past and future productions, visit

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Students get creative with recycled materials

Photo by Alison James

Patience Daniel shows off her project she made out of items she found around her home – a robot.


By Alison James

Associate Editor

Students at Morris Avenue Intermediate combined schoolwork, creativity and the environment for a recent project.

Third graders were assigned a task to create something new from things they might normally throw away; write an explanation of what they created and how they created it; and present their items to their classes – a project that combined science, social studies, writing, art and presentation skills.

“It lets them learn about recycling in a fun way,” said teacher Betsy Carlisle. “They were all so excited about their projects. These kids are so creative.”

Students used everything from drink cans and cardboard to shoe boxes and plastic bottles, as well as milk jugs, string, plastic bags and other odds and ends to create fun and functional recycled items. Wind chimes, flower pots, toys and organizational tools were among the projects displayed by the students in the third grade hall.

Alex Gorriz made a bird feeder out of an empty peanut butter jar.

“I found it on the Internet, and I thought I could do really good on it,” Gorriz said. “I’m just going to find a tree somewhere in my neighborhood and hang it.”

Caden Boyse made a small camp stove out of a couple drink cans. Patience Daniel made a tin robot. Cade Morgan created a recycling bin out of wood and used drink cans.

Teacher Janice Green said the project was a good opportunity for the students to “just take pride in doing something together with their family members.”

“Sometimes we’re so focused on testing that they can’t get out of the box and be creative,” Green said. “I think was exciting for them to just explore and be creative. I think it was a good opportunity to just express themselves.”

And students also learned about recycling and conserving – like Susannah Couey, who made a wind chime out of drink cans and poptabs.

“My dad sometimes grills outside,” Couey said. “We jump on the trampoline. Sometimes my dad plays some music on his phone, so I thought this would be good to maybe save some electricity and have this to listen to instead.”

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Garden Tour returns for fifth year


By Alison James

Associate Editor

It happens every other year, and the time is approaching for the next Garden Tour, hosted by Lee County Master Gardeners.

It will take more than 100 volunteers to oversee it the tour and bring everything to fruition, but tour coordinators Sarah Fair and Jolly Roberts said all the work is worth it.

Tickets, which are $20 prior to the event and $25 the day of, are available at Ace Hardware, Blooming Colors, The Flower Store and Auburn and Opelika chambers of commerce. Although the tour is unguided, “We do have key plants that people might notice marked with their scientific name and common name,” Roberts said.

Featured Gardens are located on a 34-mile route through the Opelika-Auburn area. Garden owners will be on hand to answer questions, and a tour booklet will also provide information.

“We’re going to have the garden stories available,” Fair said. “Each one will be summarized in the tour booklet, but at the gardens, if they’re interested in knowing more, they can read more. Each one will be different and personal.”

The tour is set for May 17-18, and every ticket purchase is good for both days. For the first time, tickets will be available to purchase for Mother’s Day gifts.

The tour, Roberts said, will feature a variety of different kind of gardens – from modern or Asian-influenced, from relaxed to formal.

“We want to have a variety of gardens – we don’t want them to all be alike,” Roberts said. “We want to have people be inspired for their yard.”

Funds raised from the tour support the gardens at Kiesel Park in Auburn and Pioneer Park in Loachapoka, as well as the wildflower trail in Opelika Municipal Park. Money raised also supports field trips and workshops hosted by the Master Gardeners.

This year’s tour also marks the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Extension System. With that in mind, the tour will also feature a special celebration at the Ag Heritage Park at Auburn University that will feature demonstrations and informational sessions by Lee County Extension coordinators. That stop, along with a special stop at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art in Auburn, do not require ticket purchases and, Fair said, are great for families. JCSM will also have boxed lunches for sale – $8 pre-order or $10 day of.

Tour-goers are encouraged to wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

For more information visit or visit a ticket location.

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Decades of service: Achievement Center honors retiring employee

By Alison James

Associate Editor

One Achievement Center – Easter Seals employee has dedicated 38 years to the work there – years of service that culminated in her retirement at the end of April.

Rhonda Spivey came to the Achievement Center in 1976 after graduating from Auburn University with a degree in business.

“I couldn’t find a job anywhere; unemployment rates were really high at that time, and I didn’t have any experience – just a college degree,” Spivey said. “The work center was just really getting started at that point ... and (administrator Lamar Odom) hired me as the bookkeeper for the work center.”

After five years the current work center manager moved away.

“So Mr. Odom asked me if I wanted the job,” Spivey said. “At first I didn’t think I could do it, really. It was such a big job, and I had never managed anything. But he said, ‘I’m here to help you.’ Together we made it work.”

Spivey worked in that position for the rest of her career, with responsibilities that ranged from hiring to product delivery to “whatever needed doing.” She said she was “never bored” – and it was a job she loved.

“I believe everybody deserves a chance,” Spivey said. “I found out you don’t ever know what a person can do until you give them a chance. Mr. Odom gave me a chance when nobody else would, and I felt like I should repay that.”

Achievement Center Director Furrell Bailey said Spivey stands out as a compassionate person.

“She goes way beyond what her job description is,” Bailey said. “She’s just an all-around good lady. She’s probably one reason these walls are still standing. That’s a long time and a lot of experience walking out the door.”

Star Wray, director of vocational and industrial programs, who will take over portions of Spivey’s job, has been working with Spivey for the past eight years.

“It’s going to be odd walking out in the work center and not seeing here there,” Wray said. “All the work center employees like her – all the staff likes her.”

As for Spivey, she said the Achievement Center has been a “blessing in my life,” and a place she never imagined she would have stayed as long as she did.

“I really just wanted to get some experience,” Spivey said. “I did not know what I wanted to do. But as time went on, I realized this is what I was put here to do. I believe God has a reason for everybody being here. This was my reason.”

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Best laid plans: Opelika Planning Commission examines, debates solutions for Craftmaster, Guthrie’s buildings

Photo by Alison James

The logistics of the future of the Craftmaster building continue to be an ongoing discussion for the planning commission; most recently, an examination of traffic flow and parking needs dominated the discussion.


By Alison James

Associate Editor

Going with the flow was the main objective at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting – the flow of traffic that is.

The Craftmaster building redevelopment by Alexander Lee and CIRG Metals is a multistep process the commission and planning staff have taken on. In addition to approving a potential variance on property line, the commission addressed potential problems with traffic load and parking for the new recycling and warehousing business.

Commission members expressed concern, at April 15’s work session, at the inclusion of six tractor trailer parking spaces on the plan for CIRG.

“I would like to see the truck parking at the back as much as possible,” said Chairman Keith Pridgen, expressing disapproval at the idea that trucks or trailers might be parked visibly along a stretch of Geneva Street.

Planning Director Jerry Kelley clarified that those parking spaces would be used in an ancillary way made necessary by the processing of materials being done by CIRG.

“But that’s something different than we heard two months ago,” Kelley agreed.

Brandon Bolt of Bolt Engineering spoke out to allay the commission’s fears.

“(Lee) indicated to me that his typical trailer parking load would need to be two to three space, but he didn’t want to be limited ... because during peak business times, he might need to have more out there,” Bolt said.

Although one citizen spoke up in concern for the road condition with the possibility of a high traffic load of trucks traveling in and out, Lee said he still anticipates an average of one to three trucks in and out per day.

With the reassurance that truck parking would be limited to six spaces only, and those located behind a historic home on premise that will be used for office space, thecommission voted its approval for conditional use.

“This is in our Gateway corridor area – this is a light traffic area, and we’re trying to make an exception,” Pridgen said. “We’re trying to make it fit without invading the low impact commercial that’s in the area.”

Another traffic dilemma the commission faced was related to the new Guthrie’s being built at Saugahatchee Square, formerly Midway Plaza, on Pepperell Parkway.

Through a combination of odd circumstances, approval was erroneously given to Guthrie’s restaurant owners to cut an entry to their restaurant from Pepperell Parkway; such was never approved by the planning commission.

Prodgen said the concern is the safety of people in traffic “having 100 feet on each side of an access (before the next access).”

“The requirement on an arterial road between turnouts is 400 feet,” Pridgen said. “Prior to the access being put in, there was only 235 feet. Now there’s 100 feet on each side.”

Pridgen and the commission agreed it was not the best solution was to require the access point to be closed completely, but reaching the compromise point might be difficult.

“(Owner) Mike Fimiani feels pretty strongly that he was granted the full access and he deserves to keep it,” said Sean Foote, SR&F architect. “But I think if the alternative was not to have any curb-cut at all, he would very much agree to the right in, right out.”

The “right in, right out” remedy – people could only make right hand turns both into and out of Guthrie’s – would ensure safer ingress and egress of traffic between Pepperell Parkway and Guthrie’s.

“Right now that access is a full access – they can turn left or right,” Pridgen said. “The resolution that I feel may be acceptable ... is a right in, right out. Wen they’re coming down the road, you can turn right, but you can’t turn back across traffic.”

Foote produced a rough draft for the implementation of a concrete “porkchop” traffic island in the access point to direct the right in, right out traffic.

The commission voted in favor of the right in, right out compromise.

The commission also

- approved preliminary and final plats from subdivisions on three lots of Frederick Road; two lots on Enterprise Drive in Tiger Town; and two lots at 4400 Stonewall Road;

- approved conditional use for the Broadway Group in the construction of a Dollar General at 1800 Columbus Parkway

- approved a resolution to the city council to remove the city warehouse on Geneva Street

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OHS grad introduces rural trash pickup


By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

One of Opelika’s native sons is utilizing his entrepreneurial spirit to take out the trash in Lee County.


Willie Philpot Jr., 23 and a 2009 Opelika High graduate, has always been into recycling and recognized a need for garbage disposal in the rural parts of Lee County.

“I want to provide Beauregard and pretty much the entire rural Lee County area with a great garbage and recycling pickup service,” Philpot said. “This service (1-800-Disposal) had not been offered before, so I did my research, obtained my permits and was approved by the county commission (in late December 2013).”

Lee County residents who do not live within the city-limits of Opelika and Auburn do not have the opportunity to take advantage of weekly garbage pickup offered by the municipalities and must dispose of trash and recyclable goods at landfills and depots scattered throughout the county.

Philpot is offering local residents a weekly garbage pickup and recycling service for a monthly fee of $16 through his business, 1-800-Disposal, and there is nothing he will not haul off except hazardous materials. Bulky items like couches, stoves and refrigerators are charged separately and picked up on different days than Monday.

“The only thing I do not do is provide the bags for the garbage,” Philpot said. “We pick up every Monday, and the client must have their trash out to the road before 6 a.m., and it must be in bags (no loose trash).”

Philpot said he would like to expand his services to run Monday through Saturday, but he works alone at the moment with the help of his Chevy Z71 pickup and a 7’ x 16’ enclosed trailer (both approved by the Alabama Department of Public Health).

“I want rural Lee County to depend on 1-800-Disposal just like city residents depend on city garbage pickup services,” Philpot said. “I want to have multiple garbage trucks and provide jobs to people in this area.”

So far he has impressed county officials in the early stages of his venture.

“(Philpot) jumped through the virtual hoops and did the right thing to start his business,” said Chris Bozeman, Lee County Environmental Services Director. “If he wants to do anything in the county, he calls to make sure it is OK first, he follows the rules and seems to be a good guy with strong mind out there trying to make a living.”

With the tagline “Let today’s disposal be tomorrow’s comfort,” Philpot is willing to accommodate anyone with his service, especially senior citizens, the disabled, churches, daycares and apartment complexes, but he also wants to improve the environment for the future while he is at it.

“I want to keep our environment clean, and I think ‘going green’ is the way of the future,” Philpot said. “We want people to know we are here, and there is no need for them to have to let trash build up or have to take it to the dump themselves anymore because we can do that for them.”

If interested in this service visit to fill out and submit a registration form or call 1-800-344-5880 (toll free) or 334-363-7190 Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information or questions email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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City sets special election date

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Tuesday’s city council meeting was the last for City Administrator John Seymour, whose term – ending at the end of April – was not renewed because of Seymour’s desire to retire.

“It’s been top-of-the-line to be here in Opelika,” said Seymour, who received a standing ovation from those assembled.

Seymour’s position won’t be left empty. Former councilman Joey Motley, who turned in his letter of resignation from the council Monday morning, was unanimously approved to step in the role and began work Wednesday.

The turnover makes necessary a special election, approved by the council to be held July 8, to fill Motley’s vacated council seat. Qualifying for the position will begin April 22.

The election will only concern citizens living in Ward 3.

The council tabled the demolition of four buildings on Jeter Avenue – SIRCO properties in similar deteriorating condition to the eight demolitions the city ordered in March.

“I’m trying to save our properties,” said Rosalyn Rosenblum, who once again appeared before the council on behalf of the properties. Rosenblum said a structural engineer/architect had recently been hired to assess the properties. “He’s putting together a prospectus for us. I’m requesting you table this until he has an opportunity to come in and speak with y’all ... so we can have a plan to go forward. He can’t find anything structurally wrong with those buildings. They’re solid.”

The council voted to table the demolitions pending plans and a rehabilitation timeline from the engineer at the council’s first meeting in May.

“Our main objective is not to tear buildings down,” said city attorney Guy Gunter. “We would prefer to have them rehabilitated.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting was the approval of a tax abatement for Pharmavite, which recently announced plans for $21.6 million of building additions and purchase of manufacturing equipment.

“We are so pleased that Pharmavite is expanding their Opelika operations,” said Mayor Gary Fuller, who sang the praises of the vitamins at the meeting. “This additional investment along with the opportunity for more jobs is good news for the citizens of Opelika.”

All expansion should be complete by the end of July 2015 and will mean about 50 new jobs for the area.

The council also approved several measures related to the city’s fiber network. Members approved a contract with Vubiquity, Inc., to provide Video on Demand and Pay Per View Content in the amount of $50,000 for the remainder of the budget year; an amendment to the sublicense agreement with Chattanooga Fiber company, resulting in a 50 percent discount toward the purchase price of caller ID and RDVR applications; and an amendment to the agreement with the electric power board of Chattanooga to extend the term three years and add a new Section 10 titled “consulting services.”

The council also:

reappointed O.D. Alsobrook to the Opelika City School Board.

appointed Chris Nunn to a supernumerary position on the Board of Zoning Adjustments.

approved an ordinance amending the text of the zoning ordinance defining liquor and package store.

replenished the 2014 sick pay account.

amended resolution No. 214-11 to increase the mayor’s authority to approve change orders to the ALCATEL-Lucent Contract for the Triple Play System.

waived subdivision plat fees for a proposed senior center in Beulah.

approved expense reports.

approved the proposal for a new Solid Waste Management Plan.

held the recognition of a number of service awards and proclamations for Relay for Life and the National Day of Prayer.

approved a master plan proposal from Market + Main for the preservation and revitalization of in-town neighborhoods in proximity to the historic downtown area.


Photo by Alison James

Valeri White, Randy Causey (co-chairs of Relay For Life of Lee County) and Councilwoman Patsy Jones accept a proclamation

by the mayor recognizing Relay for Life and announcing next week as “Paint the Town Purple.”

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Personal impact: Boys, Girls Club board member shares personal club experience

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Understanding the impact of community organizations can be difficult when you’ve never benefited from them yourself.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County board member Elaine Bak didn’t have that problem which she stepped into her role. As an alumna of a Florida BGC, Bak knows firsthand what the club means to the children who become members.

“They kept me super active,” Bak remembered. “We had a teacher who worked with us on gymnastics. She taught me how to do a back hand spring. I’ll never forget. It was a big deal to me.”

Bak joined the BGC in fifth grade. From then on, she had activities to participate in and people who cared about her.

“I still remember their names,” Bak said. “I mean, I was super young, but – a lot of the counselors there became like family.”

Bak said counselor and coordinators at the Boys and Girls Clubs saw to it that she was looked after, challenged and guided – like one night when she snuck out of her house for a date.

“I was dating this one boy – I was in ninth grade – and I was not allowed to go out of the house, so I snuck out of the house to meet him, and for this ‘date,’ I met him at the Boys and Girls Club to watch a basketball game,” Bak said. “If I was going to go get in trouble, I was in a controlled environment at least. And then, of course, I got in trouble – one of the counselors got mad at me because she knew I wasn’t supposed to be out.”

Bak stayed on with the club even after she aged out of the program, serving as a counselor at the summer camp she had once attended as a club member, the summer she turned 20.

“It was a very rewarding job,” Bak said. One memory, in particular, stands out to her from that summer – of an incident related to her handing out stickers for good behavior at camp.

“A a couple of weeks into it, a little boy had misbehaved, so I ended up putting him away from the group, and he came to me crying and said, ‘Am I not going to get my sticker today? Because my mom asks for that every day when I get home,’” Bak said. “It’s just a sticker, but it means so much more.”

Bak recently shared her personal connection to the BGC on Facebook, shortly into her first year serving on the board of directors. When BGC of Greater Lee County President Wanda Lewis saw the post, she knew it needed to be shared with others.

“It’s always a delight to have a board member or volunteer or anyone who has a story to tell and come back and be a part of a local organization,” Lewis said. “I feel blessed that we have Elaine.”

Lewis said she hopes this will be a catalyst to motivate others in the community to share their stories.

“We love to know who those folks are and would like to connect with them in some way. We want more of those stories. We’d like to publish those stories, if people are willing to do that.”

Lewis said people could contact her to share their personal accounts of time with the BGC.

“I think people who have been impacted by their involvement in the Boys and Girls Clubs really are our strongest advocates and many times our strongest supporters,” Lewis said. “They know what it means.”

What it meant to Bak was a childhood and adulthood she knows she wouldn’t have had without the support of the BGC.

“If you’re not around adults to control and guide you, and you’re making those decisions on your own with peer pressure only, it’s really hard to make good choices,” Bak said. “I was not very good with peer pressure, and I always wanted to fit in. If I hadn’t had that to keep me occupied, I probably would have made some really bad choices ... If Boys and Girls Club wasn’t here, imagine all those children who would have nowhere else to go.”

Bak said she also hopes to dispel negative stigmas associated with the BGC.

“I don’t think anyone understands, really, what happens there,” Bak said. “You can just see the way the club interacts here with the kids. There is that bond ... I strongly believe it is because of my personal experience with the club that I got involved. And it makes me sad – when you talk about things you’re passionate about like this with other people, and they have no idea how important it is. I wish more people could get to know how it’s really impacted the community.”

To get involved, share your story or find out more about the local BGC, call 745-2582

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One out of 200,000: Research center holds fundraiser for Opelika infant with rare disorder

By Alison James

Associate Editor

Porter Heatherly’s parents, Sara and Michael, know their time with him is limited. But with the heartfelt help of researchers at Scott-Ritchey Research Center at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, getting him the care he needs is just a little bit easier.

“The involvement with the vet school is very comforting to us, more than anything,” said Sara Heatherly. “We have someone who knows about Porter’s disease and what he’ll go through.”

At 4 months old, Porter was diagnosed with GM1 gangliosidosis, a rare disorder that affects one out of every 100,000 or 200,000 newborns, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Trisha Beadlescomb was just another master’s student studying the disease in cats until she met Porter’s parents through her mentor.

“We all found out we were from the same hometown,” Beadlescomb said. “We realized we were from Cullman.”

With that common ground, Beadlescomb said she felt drawn to do more for the Heatherly family of Opelika.

“I’ve been in research for five years – since I’ve been at Auburn – and I’ve never met a child with the disease,” Beadlescomb said. “It made me want to do something to help out.”

Through the Scott-Ritchey Research Center, Beadlescomb is heading up the third fundraiser for Porter – a raffle for a seven-day stay at a beach house in Gulf Shores. Tickets are $10 for one or $15 for two and can be purchased through April 28.

“East Alabama has set up a fund for him; it actually goes to any child who has GM1, but since he’s the only one in Alabama, it all goes to him right now,” Beadlescomb explained. The fund, available through the EAMC Foundation, can be accessed by the Heatherlys for any medical costs Porter needs.

Porter is the only child in Alabama who has the rare disorder, and Heatherly said that makes dealing with his condition even more unpredictable.

“We don’t know exactly what to expect,” Heatherly said. “He might require other types of machines that we don’t have yet but probably will need in the future based on what we know about the disorder ... It just alleviates a lot of stress on us (to have more funds available.)”

Currently there is no treatment for the rare condition. Unless you’re a feline – which is what gives Beadlescomb hope.

“A untreated cat only lives about eight months, but we have a treated cat that’s been living over four years,” Beadlescomb said. “I know how well the cats are doing, and there’s only one more step that needs to be done before it’s in human trials, and that’s working with non-human primates, like monkeys ... And if the cats are doing so well, then I have no doubt humans are going to do that well.”

Although Porter likely won’t see the day that treatments are made available to humans, taking it one day at a time are the things that keep the Heatherlys going.

“We’ve been dealing with it for a while,” Heatherly said. “It’s more of a reality. It’s day to day stuff. If you stop and think about all the stuff ... it can get overwhelming.

The support from Beadlescomb and the research center is also invaluable.

“It’s just a blessing to us – it really is,” Heatherly said. “It’s hard to put into words what it means.”

So far 317 tickets have been sold – far outstripping the original goal of 150. With a new goal of 500, Beadlescomb said the winner will be contacted by phone and email and have 24 hours to claims the prize. The trip may be booked between September 2014 and March 2015, excluding any dates already booked and Nov. 22-9 and Dec. 20 through Jan. 3.

For more information or to purchase a ticket, call or email Beadlescomb at 256-339-1032 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Special to the Opelika Observer

Porter and his friends at the Scott-Ritchey Research Center celebrated his 19-month birthday Tuesday with cupcakes and balloons.

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County tackles multiple road problems

By Fred Woods


At Monday’s county commission meeting, Commissioner John Harris continued to state his opposition to the changes in two county polling places, which occurred at the first regular March meeting of the commission in accordance with Alabama law. Harris alternated between threatening to sue the county commission to reverse the changes and stating he does not want to sue the county. No action was taken.

The Lee County Highway Department has closed a portion of Lee Road 56 about 0.2 miles east of its junction with Lee Road 57 to replace a deteriorated drain. LR 57 joins Alabama Highway 14 just east of Loachapoka.

Longtime Lee County Chief Appraiser Bobby Armstrong announced his retirement, as of April 30. He will be succeeded by Richard (Richie) LaGrand, an Opelika native who joined the appraisal staff just after graduating from Opelika High School in 1996. LaGrand was selected after an extensive job search.

Several citizens also addressed the commission about various concerns.

Margaret Young Brown, resident of Lee Road 392 in the extreme southern part of the county near B.W. Capps store, addressed a problem she said was created when the county highway department put a red clay mixture on her dirt road several years ago. Brown said the red clay mixture has made travel on her road difficult and dangerous, particularly when it is wet. County Engineer Justin Hardee said he had inspected the road and found no immediate danger to the driving public – a substantial difference of opinion. Hardee expressed his willingness to relook at the issue.

Martha Leonard reported that her son Kelly was temporarily transferred back to Lee County (from the Tallapoosa County Jail) because his lawyer had resigned. Leonard said she was very disturbed that Kelly’s prescriptions for high blood pressure and anxiety, which had accompanied him, had been withheld during the period he was in the Lee County facility.

Mike Ward, owner of Bar W Farm and RV Park on Lee Road 395 off U.S. Highway 29 southwest of Auburn, complained that poor road conditions had made it impossible for RVs to access his park without risking substantial damage to the vehicles. He said his complaints to the commission had not been addressed for more than a year.

Hardee had already checked out the road earlier in the day and agreed with Ward that tree limbs and other vegetation overgrowing the roadway was a major problem. He promised Ward men with pole saws and chain saws immediately and to schedule the county’s specialized tree trimming machinery a quickly as possible.

In other action the commission

- heard a request for financial support to the Silver Haired Legislature presented by local businesswoman Selena Daniel, accompanied by J.O. Conway. Both are delegates to the SHL. The request will be considered at budget-time.

- approved a temporary position in the Probate Office due to an unusually high number of employees with medical issues.

- awarded the Justice Center reroofing project to low-bidder Superior Roofing Systems, Inc., of Griffin, GA. Their bid was $479,823.

- approved a contract for a structural design to replace the bridge over Osanippa Creek on Lee Road 375 in the northeast corner of the county.

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Harris patriarch exemplifies history of serving others

By Fred Woods


Dr. William M. Harris – “Uncle Bill” to Bob, Bert, J.T., and Jim Harris – was born on the family cotton farm, just outside Opelika, in 1918, younger brother to John T. Harris. The farm has been in the Harris family since before the Civil War. “Uncle Bill” still has many relatives living in the Opelika area, including Bob and Bert – whose mother, Eleanor, was also in the area until she died last week on her 102nd birthday.

The Harris family is noted for maintaining its roots to the home place, holding reunions, birthday celebrations, weddings and many other family events there, and “Uncle Bill” was no exception, returning to the Opelika-area home of the Harrises several times a year until his death in 2008.

William grew up, as all the Opelika Harrises did, working on the family farm and learning the value of hard work. During his teenage years, however, he committed to the study and practice of chiropractic after seeing a Dr. Ezell of Birmingham cure his father of a serious ailment after medical doctors had given up.

Harris graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, and practiced for many years in Albany, Ga., before moving to Atlanta in later years. He was widely acclaimed, both in the United States and abroad, as a philanthropist, doctor, educator, lecturer and elder statesman to the chiropractic profession.

B.J. Palmer, the acknowledged developer of chiropractic and president of Palmer College of Chiropractic, under whom Harris studied, authored 36 books, only two of which were dedicated to chiropractors.Harris was one of the two.

Palmer personally inducted Harris as a Fellow of the International Chiropractic Association during its annual convention in 1958. Harris was the very first southerner to be so honored. Other professional honors included a number of honorary doctorates and “fellow” awards from most of the leading chiropractic colleges, Chiropractor of the Year (by the Parker Resource Foundation) and Humanitarian of the Year (Georgia Chiropractic Association). Harris was also a member of the Board of Directors of Life University in Atlanta, Ga.

He was also active in Lions International, the well-known civic club, serving in various offices in his local Albany club, as chairman of the Board of Governors for Georgia Lions International and, later, as an International Lions Counsellor. He was honored with the Melvin Jones Humanitarian Award, named for the founder of Lions International.

Due in part to his own struggle with the business side of chiropractic practice, Harris was determined to do something to improve the business management skills of younger chiropractors. To this end he established, in 1978, the nonprofit Foundation for the Advancement of Chiropractic Education (FACE), initially to fund the creation and perpetuating of chairs of  practice business management in chiropractic colleges.

More recently, the foundation has funded chiropractic research projects and construction of academic buildings and research centers. FACE has contributed more than $15,000,000 to these various projects (and several charities since making these eligible for grants in 2007). In addition Harris, through the foundation, was instrumental in contributing $300,000 to the Centennial Foundation in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of chiropractic in 1995.

The foundation changed its name in 2007 to the William M. Harris Family Foundation, making changes so that various charities could be included in the grant program. The Harris Family Foundation now serves more than ten charitable organizations, as well as chiropractic institutions.

Not a bad legacy for a man who spent his boyhood years chopping, hoeing and picking cotton on an Opelika-area cotton farm.

One of the most recent charitable grants was a $5,000 award to Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County to support a homework help and tutoring program for youth.

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Lamplighter: Local minister leaves lasting impression on community

By Patsy Boyd Parker

Opelika Observer

Dr. A. L. Wilson, the pastor of the Thompson Chapel A.M.E. ZION Church for just under 50 years, has been a lamplighter of the past and present. Many would say he has had a positive impact on this community for more than fifty years. 

In 1954 before coming to Opelika as the pastor of Thompson Chapel, Wilson was ordained as an elder in the AME Zion Church by the late Bishop William A. Steward. Wilson served as pastor of Harris Chapel AME Zion Church of Elmore County, Solomon Chapel AME Zion Church in Tuskegee and Oak Street AME Zion Church of Montgomery. He made building improvements at each of those churches.

Wilson graduated from Booker Washington High School in Montgomery. After high school, he immediately enlisted in the US Navy where he got the chance to see the world before being honorably discharged.  After his tour of duty, Wilson enrolled at Alabama State College  in Montgomery. Later, he continued his studies at the Free Pentecostal School of Religion in Chicago, Ill., and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

After serving his country and completing his academic studies, Wilson returned home and married his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Mae Brown. From this union came six children. A.L. and Nancy Mae realized the important gift God had given them and immediately became lamplighters for their children and the communities in which they served. As James Stalke stated,  “the important part of the training of the Twelve was one which was perhaps at the time little noticed though it was producing splendid results, more the silent and constant influence of His character in them.  It was this which made them the men they became.” Observing these six children, it is evident the Wilsons lived this principle.

The Wilsons’ children are Vandy Wilson, a retired Air Force veteran who is the father of three college graduates; Dr. Linda Wilson, a Ph.D. in nursing who is professor of nursing at Middle Tennessee State University; Carolyn Wilson Dandridge, an Air Force veteran who worked at UAB in administration for 22 years and is now with The General Board of Discipleship, an agency of the United Methodist Church; Barbara Wilson Frazier, a Tennessee State University graduate and a veteran of the Emergency Communication Department of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department, where she has served as lead supervisor for the past 26 years; and Michael Wilson, a graduate of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., who has taught in the Newnan, Ga., School System since 1987. He was honored by selection as “Teacher of the Year” at Winston Dowdell Alternative School in 2010.

The Wilsons’ sixth child, Authurine Wilson Sims, died a few years ago after a successful, but too short, career as a teacher of special education.

In 1964, the Wilsons moved to Opelika where A.L. became the minister of the Thompson Chapel AME Zion Church. Under his administration, the church has seen many building improvements and renovations, including the Education Building equipped with handicap accessories as well as renovations to the church’s parsonage.  Over the last 38 years, Wilson has served as Presiding Elder of the Opelika District of the Alabama Conference.

The Wilsons have served the sick in the hospital, nursing homes, and in the community for years. A.L. was founder and organizer of the Lee County Voter’s League.  In 1964, he organized the local chapter of the NAACP in Opelika. He also organized the local chapter of the Alabama  Democratic Conference.  He has served as the treasurer and past president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance for Lee County.

He has also served on many city boards, including the Opelika Planning Commission, Citizens Advisory Board, State of Alabama Advisory  during the Civil Rights Era, and the Board of Directors of the Food Banks of Lee, Russell and Macon counties. He has served on the Board  of Trustees of Clinton Junior College for many years.

The Rev. A.L. Wilson has the respect and admiration of his peers as evidenced by his holding the position of president of the Presiding Elders’ Council of the AME Zion Church for more than 18 years.  He presently serves on the Board of Trustees of Lomax Hannon Junior College.

Wilson has received many awards and recognitions over the years. Among these awards are Who’s Who Among Black Americans (l975-76); Who’s Who in the South and Southwest (1976-77, 1977-78) and The Harriet Tubman Award from the Ministers and Lay Association of the AME Zion Church in 1996.

In May 1975 Wilson was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Divinity by Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.

Nancy Mae is also very active in the community. She is a retired teacher from the Lee County School System.

A.L. is the bow from which his children as living arrows have been sent out to find and help those in need and suffering. The Wilsons nurtured their children and are building the Kingdom of God in today’s leaders and advocates for mankind.

As the famed Scottish humorist and entertainer Harry Lauder said, you can tell where the Lamplighter was by the trail he left behind him. Wilson is a Lamplighter, and what a trail he has left behind him.

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Tumble to the top

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

Do your children need a place to sharpen their athletic skill set, prepare for cheering tryouts or just simply burn off some energy after a long day at school?

The Opelika Trampoline and Tumbling (OTT) program located on Denson Drive offers just that and more.

In fact, it is the only city-run program in Opelika that competes on a national and even world level (for the U.S. team in Russia, South Africa and Australia).

Valeri White, director of senior programs for Opelika Parks and Recreation, started the program 25 years ago in Opelika after being a gymnast and tumbler throughout her adolescence.

“I had always been in gymnastics and tumbling/trampoline,” White said. “I first presented the idea to Auburn Parks and Recreation (in 1988) because Auburn University already had a gymnastics program for kids, but there wasn’t anything through parks and recreation that was also affordable for a lot of kids.”

White ran the program for five years in Auburn before moving the program to Opelika Parks and Recreation in 1993.

“We needed a place where the trampolines, tumbling mats and equipment could stay in place and not have to be put together then taken down everyday before and after practices,” White said. “Plus kids need an outlet, and I wanted it to be affordable.”

OTT started at the Armory Arts Center on Denson Drive, developing a stellar reputation over the years in the area, and is now housed in the Denson Drive Recreation Center.

“We focus on proper progression, safety and each kids form because we want it to look better than anybody else so people do know where the kids come from,” White said. “Even though we try to make it fit everyone’s budget, we have had a world champion in Australia and eight kids who have competed for the U.S. team, one of whom (Beth Mowery) is currently one of our coaches and was a two-time national champion in Russia.”

The program grew and gained notoriety from White’s first year on.

“My first class had six kids in it. Now we are coaching more than 600 kids in a year’s time,” White said. “The whole purpose is for kids to gain confidence and be in the best shape they can be in while learning as many skills as possible.”

The OTT program is also sanctioned by USA Gymnastics and affords the program the opportunity for the coaches to have education, certification in safety and become registered instructors with USA Gymnastics.

There are a variety of options when it comes to skill levels at OTT, and the program runs from 3:30–7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

For beginners and young participants there is level one (ages 5 and up) that focuses on the basics of trampoline and tumbling as well as a “tumble tots” (age 4) and “parent and me” (ages 2-3) courses for children learning hand-eye coordination.

Once they are confident in their skills and receive a coach’s recommendation, they are promoted to level two and three (ages 5 and up) where they have the opportunity to join “team,” which is a select group of athletes who compete around the state and nation.

OTT also offers cheer-prep tumbling for athletes looking to make cheer squads at their schools.

The sessions are broken up into winter, spring, summer and fall quarters, and the cost for these services ranges from $45-$60 for one day a week for an eight-week period. The level one, two and three courses can be taken up to four days per week for $95 to $130 per session/quarter.

For more information visit or find OTT on Facebook.


Special to the Opelika Observer

Pictured at a recent event are (top, left to right) Coaches Marco Gamble, Georgia White, Beth Mowery and (bottom right to left) Neely Stewart, MacKenzie Wadsworth, Josie Wiggins, Chelsea Rose Stroud, Barakat Crumbly and Valeri White.

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Just a call away

Master Gardeners man helpline


By Alison James

Associate Editor

Is it time to prune my hydrangeas? What’s wrong with my squash? Why are my tomatoes not producing?

Master Gardener volunteers are standing by to answer these and other questions – about pruning, fertilizer, insects and more.

“During our busy time in the year in the spring, we set up that call system so anyone could see the flyer and call,” explained Alabama Cooperative Extension coordinator. “We would like to get more publicity out there so we can have more calls coming in.”

Gene Galloway, administrator for the free service, said calls come in from all over the 14-county region. Lee County mans the line Tuesday; other counties man it their respective days.

“One day we could get lots of calls from Chambers County, maybe, if there’s something going on – some kind of fungus that’s bothering folks up there that hasn’t gotten to the other areas yet,” Galloway said. “Or Japanese beetles – the farther north you go, the more Japanese beetles you encounter, so Cleburne County might call about Japanese beetles.”

The Master Gardeners on the other end of the line might do research and call the questioners back. They might refer the call to Kelly. They might ask for a sample or recommend a soil test.

“Most of the time we’re just there to be a friendly voice on the other end of the line and say we care,” Kelly said.

The number to call is 1-877-252-GROW, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Calls made after hours will be returned the next day.


Photo by Alison James Lee County Master Gardener Jeanette Herndon puzzles through a fig problem with a caller to the helpline, which is staffed by volunteers Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Opelika icon dies on 102nd birthday

By Ann Cipperly

Opelika Observer

Eleanor Harris was a woman ahead of her time and accomplished more in her lifetime than many women combined.  She made a tremendous difference in two communities and always lived life to the fullest. Although she faced challenges, including becoming nearly completely blind, none of them prevented her from living the motto her mother taught her as a child, “Day by day in every way better and better.”

She passed away April 4, a few minutes into her 102nd birthday.

As an accomplished violinist at age 18, she had no fear of leaving a small Nebraska town by train to go to New York City to explore her love of music at Julliard. After returning to Nebraska to teach, she decided to return to New York for a master’s degree at Columbia.

Meeting John T. Harris would be aided by serendipity. A chance meeting with a stranded passenger led her to choose an apartment in a building next to a restaurant that specialized in southern food. The restaurant was a magnet for transplanted southerners, including John T. from Opelika.

Eleanor and John T. had an amazing life filled with adventures and successes.

While Eleanor was raising six sons, she had also been working in preservation and the arts. In McCook, Neb., she started a historical society, the High Plains Museum and a community orchestra, in which she played the violin. Eleanor had been involved in state art councils and Mid States Arts Alliance covering eight Midwest states.

The Harrises had the vision and determination to build a museum in Opelika, although too many others could not see it happening. Although they were near 80 years of age, neither John T. nor Eleanor would be derailed from their goal of starting a museum.

After a few years of planning, the Harrises founded the Museum of East Alabama on 9th Street in downtown Opelika to preserve local history and artifacts.

Though nearly blind, Eleanor was not deterred from enjoying life and still making the best of every day. After her beloved John T. passed away, she would manage to walk along the wall at Azalea Place to go to the lobby to hear a music program. Eleanor herself could still play the piano beautifully.

Life had not always been easy, but she found comfort and joy in being with her family. John T and her boys were the love of her life, and then came grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

When she became ill, Eleanor’s presence was missed on the museum board, as the board proceeded with the projects she had desired the museum to accomplish.  She would have been thrilled at the number of people at the museum for the recent Taste of East Alabama event two days before she passed away.

A picture of Eleanor and John T.  hangs on a wall in the museum, as a reminder to keep the dream going and make the best “Day by day in every way better and better.”

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Hitting the dusty trail

By Daniel Chesser

Staff Writer

Check the tires’ air pressure and lube up the chains because the weather is warming up and Chewacla State Park will soon open new mountain biking trails.

The Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers, or CAMP, is a local mountain biking organization that recently secured a $100,000 loan in repaid Urban Development Action Grants from the City of Auburn to build additional trails in the park.

“It was originally a state grant through the Recreational Trail Program (RTP grant), and we received that grant in 2012,” said Philip Darden, president of CAMP. “The city’s involvement in the project is simply an interim financing of this grant because we have to spend the money before being reimbursed by the state.

“Those funds are now helping us to make additions to Chewacla State Park including five to six miles of professionally designed and built trails.”

CAMP contracted a professional trail designer and builder, Preston York, who was involved in the design of the Cold Water Mountain Trail in Anniston to design these new trails in Chewacla.

“The design process is happening right now, and then we have to bid out the construction process, which will start in about a month,” Darden said. “Best case scenario, the new trails will be completed before the fall, and the worst case is that it will be done before the end of 2014.”

The design process is set to be complete in the next week or two, according to Darden.

“When these trails are completed, Chewacla will feature right at 25 miles of mountain biking accessible trails,” Darden said. “These new trails are going to be built in an area of the park that we have not yet built trails on and has the most elevation, so there will be a lot more gravity-oriented trails rather than the current cross-country trails.”

The trails will all be designed and built with the intermediate rider in mind, with some offshoots for the more experienced rider, complete with jumps and various features that should challenge even the most advanced mountain biker.

“These trails are going to be fun for a wide range of riders,” Darden said. “We would like to expand on the events we have currently, such as mountain bike races and trail runs, and start to do endurance-style races or some downhill races.”

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. CAMP has a kid’s ride called Base Camp that is geared toward getting kids involved in cycling and outdoor activity with an age range of 2–12 years old.

“It is really beginner friendly, and we have a fleet of bicycles in case a kid does not have a bike – he or she can still learn to ride,” Darden said. “It is a weekly event that we do for free, and all you have to do is pay your way into the park, which is $3 for adults (on the weekend and $2 during the week) and for ages 6–11 it is $1 (ages 5 and under are free).”

Chewacla is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

When the trails are complete, CAMP plans on having a grand opening ceremony and a big celebration of all the work and volunteering that went into making this possible, according to Darden.

“When this project is complete we (CAMP) will have accomplished every goal we set out to accomplish at Chewacla,” Darden said.

For more information visit or


Xterra Tiger – April 12

9 a.m. Off-Road Triathlon

Trek Demo Day – April 16

1–6 p.m.
Our Friends and James Bros. Bikes and Trek will be bringing out the Trek demo fleet to Chewacla State Park. Come test out the road or Mountain Bike of your Dreams! Demos are free, but normal park entrance fees apply.

Alabama GOAL Fest – May 24-26

Specific Opelika events are –

May 24: 9 a.m. CrossFit competition at CrossFit Opelika; 11 a.m. Criterium and outdoor expo at the Courthouse Square


Special to the Opelika Observer, Philip Darden

The Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers, or CAMP, has been instrumental in getting more mountain biking trails built at Chewacla State Park, where novices and more advanced bikers alike can get out and enjoy the thrill of the ride.

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Paper jewelry for a paycheck

Four Corners Ministries helps Ugandan women sell handmade beads


By Alison James

Associate Editor

Paper can be used for many things – teaching, cleaning and entertaining, for starters. But Four Corners Ministries is using paper to change lives in Gulu, Uganda – in the form of handcrafted paper beaded jewelry.

At Abaana’s Hope, the village Four Corners is helping to institute in Gulu, the men have been put to work building the village’s school, orphanage, women’s refuge, corn mill and more. But up until a couple of years ago, their wives along with women from the refuge had no way to be involved. That changed when Four Corners realized they could employ the women in creation of paper jewelry.

“We’re trying to restore life to these people and empower them,” explained Martha Ellen Johnson, head of donor development and event planning with Four Corners. “Two days are bead-making days, and one day is a jewelry making day. The women are in community with each other, and they have a strong support of women around them.”

The Gulu women cut the colored paper into long, thin strips with paper cutters. Then the bead making begins.

“They put it on bike spokes, and they spin it,” Johnson said. “Then they put a shellack on it and let it sit in the sun.”

The women make several thousand beads a day from all colors of paper, creating necklaces, jewelry and earrings that are modern and fashionable. The jewelry is then transported to Four Corners and sold throughout the area.

“Our main source of revenue for the income is jewelry parties, like Thirty-One and Pampered Chef,” Johnson said. “It’s also in Resurrect Antiques, Southern Crossings and Sprout Children’s Boutique in Auburn.”

They also take the jewelry to local festivals and event like CityFest in Auburn.

“They make the jewelry, and then they get a paycheck – all of the proceeds go back to them,” Johnson said. “That’s our goal – to employ these women. We want them to be proud of something. We want them to take pride in their job and their handiwork.”

The bulk of their stock is in the $35-40 range – mostly bundled into jewelry sets, like a necklace and bracelet combo. Some are more ornate and more expensive. Simple bracelets or earrings cost $5-15.

“They are all so unique ... If you see something you like, you’d better get it, because it might not be here next time,” Johnson said.

Four Corners has recently rebranded the jewelry line and will soon officially launch it as Life Beads. Johnson said a new website is in development, and they hope someday to soon to be able to host “flash sales” online – offering a limited number of items, potentially at a discount, online for a limited period of time in a pop-up shop.

“I want it to grow – not for me, to say, ‘Look at what I have done,’ – but I want these women to say, ‘I have a business,’ and be really proud of something,’” said Johnson, whose goal is to plan at least two parties a month and progress into more local shops and festivals or craft shows.

As jewelry sales flourish, Four Corners is continuing the mission to build Abaana’s Hope and change the economic and social atmosphere in Gulu.

Jewelry can be purchased at Four Corners, 715 Ave. A, Opelika, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. To plan a jewelry party or learn more, visit or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Photo by

Alison James

Martha Ellen Johnson displays the jewelry available through Four Corners Ministries, handcrafted with paper by women at Abaana’s Hope in Gulu, Uganda – a village Four Corners is building. All proceeds from jewelry sales go to the women to help them support their families.

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City, state continue work on Frederick Road

By Cliff McCollum

News Editor

The Alabama Department of Transportation started placing asphalt pavement on the new lanes constructed on Frederick Road this week, making another benchmark in the long-awaited road update.

Opelika City Engineer Scott Parker said travel on Frederick Road would not be blocked or detoured during the paving process, which ALDOT officials estimate will take one week, weather permitting.

Motorists on the road should expect possible delays as asphalt trucks and pavers enter and exit the affected area.

Roads crossing the areas being paved include Cunningham Drive, Old Opelika Road and Bradford Drive.

Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller recently said he and many other local citizens were anxiously awaiting the completion of the Frederick Road project.

“We’re expecting everything to be finished by the end of this calendar year or by early 2015, if everything goes as we expect it to,” Fuller said. “This has been a long process, and we are all ready to have it come to an end.”

Fuller said a number of reasons have added time to the project, namely the relocation of a number of utility features along Frederick Road.

“We’ve had to move power lines, fiber lines, sewer lines and water mains,” Fuller said. “There have been a number of things we’ve had to do with our utilities before we could even start to address the road itself, and it has taken some time.”

Fuller said the Frederick Road project remains a “work in progress,” but he and other city officials feel confidant that ALDOT and the contractors can finish the job in a timely fashion.

“As long as the weather cooperates, we feel good about Frederick Road possibly being finished this year,” Fuller said. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally seeing the end of this long-awaited project.”

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Bridge over rocky waters - local teenager earns Eagle Scout pin with construction project

By Auburn Terry

Junior Reporter

Opelika’s Wood Duck Heritage Preserve recently received its newest addition to the land: a bridge built by Opelika’s own Will McDonough.

McDonough, a senior at Opelika High School, said he is very proud of what he has done for the Preserve and hopes the bridge, finished Feb. 8, will get plenty of use over the years. McDonough said he considers the construction of the bridge, an Eagle Scout project, a major accomplishment, and he is very glad he built it.

“I wanted to do something with conservation in mind, and the Wood Duck Preserve was the ideal spot,” McDonough said.

McDonough said he wanted to give back to the Preserve and bring in the community to the land through the construction of the bridge.

Roger Johnson, an advocate and caretaker of the Wood Duck Preserve, said he is beyond thrilled to have McDonough’s addition as well. He said that, with the bridge, patrons are able to cross the Rockybrook Creek and get a view of nature from a different perspective than land.

The mission of the Preserve is to promote Opelika’s natural land and showcase nature and life in a peaceful environment. With the addition of McDonough’s bridge, the seven-year work in progress is advancing into the creation of even more plans.

“We want to encourage the community to take part in the land,” Johnson said.

“It’s a beautiful place with a lot of potential to become even bigger and better,” McDonough said.

McDonough said he is extremely humbled to have his hard work pay off in such a special way that will benefit the city of Opelika.

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More than just a laugh - Jody Fuller uses comedy to spread awareness

By Alison James

Associate Editor

“Early on they were just jokes/stories about stuttering, just to get a laugh. That’s all it was for – just to get a laugh. There was no other reason for doing it.”

Jody Fuller – Opelika native, Army veteran, National Guard member and nationally-acclaimed “stuttering comic” – has greatly expanded his comedy routine, as well his purpose, since his first time doing comedy for a crowd at an open mic night in Birmingham in 2002.

“I always knew – I felt I had the ability to do it,” Fuller said. “You don’t know until you actually get up there and try it. But it was always a dream to try the comedy thing.”

But Fuller was poised for a second stint serving in the military – shortly after that open mic night, he began Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning.

His first period of service in the Army was 1992-1996, two years after he graduated high school.

“Any success I’ve had in life can all be traced back to joining the Army the first time,” Fuller said. “No doubt about that. Those first four years, – I served admirably, I worked at a hospital in Germany and got to do some neat things ... but it was just missing something. I needed the direction. I just need to grow up.”

Although he left active duty in 1996 to go to college, he decided to return to the Army, answering the call to serve he felt following the event of Sept. 11, 2001

“When I went back into the Army after college, I did it for all the right reasons – just because I wanted to serve,” Fuller said.

After Officer Candidate School he deployed to Iraq from ’03-’04 – all the while sticking to his dream of doing comedy.

“I did it wherever I was,” Fuller said. “I had some early success there, so that’s when I decided to leave active duty and pursue it full time. But I had so many years of active duty in the Army that it would have been stupid to throw all that away, plus I enjoyed serving, so I continued to serve in the National Guard.”

In 2006 right before he left active duty, Fuller hit a high point in his comedy career, achieving Top Five in an online competition that sent him on an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas to perform in the HBO Comedy Special.

“It was really cool – I enjoyed that,” Fuller said.

But pursuing comedy full time while also serving in the Guard was no easy task.

“Any time I built any momentum, the National Guard pulled me back to deploy,” said Fuller, who was sent to Iraq from ’07-’08 and ’10-’11 with the Guard.

But it’s been full speed ahead for Fuller lately, building a career that can be traced all the way back to his elementary school days in Opelika, where he can remember being “a respectful class clown.”

“I didn’t really disrupt class or cause problems ... but people knew me for being the funny guy,” Fuller said. “In my Yearbook, people (would write), ‘Someday we’re going to see you on HBO,’ – that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one day.”

In the past few years he has participated in the LOL comedy tour and in armed forces entertainment in the Middle East as a civilian, along with numerous other appearances. But as his career progressed, he found his stuttering  could be comedy and so much more.

“I decided, ‘I can do more than just make people laugh. I can make them laugh but at the same time have a purpose with it, too – have a message, spreading awareness about stuttering,’” Fuller said. “If you tell stories in a humorous manner, people are more likely to remember it.”

Fuller said he now considers his routines to be not so much comedy as “speeches with a heavy dose of humor.” He takes every opportunity to share about the struggles people who stutter face and has also had the opportunity to share his story in several different editions of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

He recently had the opportunity to open for Jeff Foxworthy in a benefit for the Hudson Family Foundation, something Fuller said was “always a dream.”

“When it was over, everyone was back in the party room having a good time, and I just went and sat in the bleachers in the Auburn Arena,” “Everybody is filing out, and I’m just sitting there, just taking it all in ... looking around thinking, ‘I can’t believe this.’ People thought I was crazy when I left active duty Army, making really good money, to pursue this crazy dream.”

As amazing as it was to open for Foxworthy, Fuller said there is one upcoming appearance about which he is even more excited – giving the keynote address at the National Stuttering Association Annual Convention in July in Washington, D.C.

“I know I can make an impact,” Fuller said. “I’m excited about that. I’m as excited, if not more excited, to do this keynote as I’ve been about anything I’ve ever done.”

Comedy isn’t the only way Fuller has tried to impact people. He has also used his notoriety to organize a number of project for veterans – recruiting people to send birthday cards to local vets and holding drive for things like blankets and shoes for vets at Bill Nichols State Veteran’s Home in Alexander City.

“Oftentimes people want to help, but they don’t know how to,” Fuller said. “And a lot of times, when you give to these big organizations, very few of the donations actually trickle down to the veterans themselves.”

He uses Facebook, among other methods, to get his friends and fans involved.

“We kind of forget about those old guys who served 70 years ago, who are responsible for our very way of life today,” Fuller said. “I just like to show my appreciation for the veterans, and others do too. It’s important that any time you see one of those guys at the store wearing a Korean hat or a World War II cap, go up and talk to them. They’ll love it. Just say, ‘Thank you. We appreciate you.’ And if they’re a Vietnam veteran, say ‘Thank you and welcome home.’ They never got that welcome.”

And as if comedy, military service and recognizing veterans isn’t enough, Fuller also stays busy with a growing side-career writing.

“When I started writing for the ‘Observer,’ that’s when I learned, ‘Hey, I really enjoy this,” said Fuller, whose weekly column appears in the “Observer.” “Writing is the one thing you can really do at your own pace. It’s really peaceful – it’s therapeutic.”

Fuller has also flexed his writing skills in the “Chicken Soup” books, in addition to writing for East Alabama Living.

“I’m actually getting ready to start on my book about my life and my journey,” Fuller said. “We grew up poor. My father was a diabetic, he was blind, and he died when I was 8. My parents were divorced when I was 2. The stuttering, the military – my whole motto in life is ‘Adapt and Overcome.’ I’ve had some interesting and unique experiences in life, and the book will be humorous ... and hopefully change a life or two along the way.”


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Commission considers controversial rezoning

By Alison James

Associate Editor

“We are trying too hard to build it back up to where it needs to be. I certainly don’t want liquor stores, tobacco shops and whatever ... I certainly don’t want that right next door to me.”

Drawing this concern from Beatrice Allen and similar concerns from her neighbors was a rezoning request on Tuesday’s Planning Commission agenda.

Ray Herring’s request to rezone four lots on Clanton Street and 1015 Lake Street – from a C2 commercial zone to a less-restrictive C3 commercial zone – brought several community members to the public hearing Tuesday.

Herring had recently been informed that his practice of outdoor storage of cars on his property was illegal in a C2 zone.

“I’d like to park some cars – use the vacant land to park cars,” Herring said. “Temporary storage – like a week or two weeks.”

In discussing the rezoning at the Feb. 18 work session, commission members expressed hesitance to approve the measure, in large part because of what a C3 zone could allow in the future, beyond simple outdoor storage of vehicles. It was this possibility that stirred Bishop Kenneth Carter of Christ Temple Holiness Church on Clanton Street, one of the several area residents who attended to oppose the rezoning.

“You start out parking cars, but then the next year it could be clubbing or something,” Carter said. “I’m not against the business, but I can’t support this.”

Allen, in addition to her concerns about liquor and tobacco stores, expressed concerns that cars would begin to overflow into a vacant lot in that area that belongs to her.

“They’re not going to park behind it. They’re not going to park on the side of it. We don’t need that kind of business in our neighborhood,” Allen said.

Others spoke about the dangers the rezoning would pose to the children – by sending down the wrong path because of night clubs and liquor stores, and by endangering them with increased traffic.

At the Feb. 18 work session, in light of the commission hesitancy on the rezoning, another option was suggested. Commissioners considered the possibility of changing the definition of a C2 zone to allow conditional use outdoor storage of vehicles – meaning the practice would be allowable, dependent upon commission approval. Planning Director Jerry Kelly informed the commission that he had scheduled the meeting, as directed, for Feb. 28 at 9 a.m. and began drafting the language for a new C2 zone with input from attorney Guy Gunter but said, “in our recommendation to you, if it gets to that point, (planning staff) will not support what you have directed us to write, but that’s at the pleasure of the planning commission.”

Councilwoman Patsy Jones also came to speak for constituents in her ward who desired to oppose the rezoning but were unable to attend the meeting. She opposed both the rezoning as well as the called meeting and possibility of changing the definition of the C2 zone.

“It goes in the back door of what we’re rejecting right now,” said Jones of the called meeting. “You are slapping us as citizens in the face.”

Jones spoke of the efforts the citizens have made to improve the quality of their neighborhood and urged the commission not to recommend anything that would damage the character of the neighborhood.

“That is exactly what is going to happen when you consider a C3 zone,” Jones said. “I ask the planning commission to follow the law that is there for us because that is the only thing we have to protect us, as citizens living there. (Additionally), conditional approval is based on each one of you making an opinion, and your opinion may be different from the citizens who live there, who have to be subjected to that.”

Gene Tucker, speaking on behalf of 400 Clanton St., pointed out that the request is not to bring anything new or change anything in the neighborhood – only to continue what they have been doing.

“There won’t be people ripping up and down the road in cars,” Tucker said. “We’re wanting to use this property as we’ve always used it. We just want to continue doing what we’ve always done – again, not knowing that we were doing it illegally.”

Tucker suggested that the opposition to what they are doing arose when another person stored a much larger number of cars in the area and moved them in and out during the night, disturbing the neighborhood.

Following the public hearing, Herring withdrew his request to rezone the five lots. The called, open meeting will be held Friday as scheduled to consider the possibility of adding a conditional use section for outdoor vehicle storage to a C2 zone.

The commission also:

- ratified the subdivision of Northeast Opelika Industrial Park for Hanwha expansion

- approved conditional use pending ALDOT approval and with staff recommendations for a new Taco Bell on Columbus Parkway

- voted to amend the zoning map for 1460-2200 block of Gateway Drive, 2400-2600 block of First Avenue, 204 N. 26th St., 1900-1950 block of Cunningham Drive, 2006-2213 block of Airport Road and 3000 Hi Pack Drive.

- recommended text amendments to the definition of Package Liquor Store and Convenience Store and to amend Section 7.3 Use Categories matrix tables concerning Package Liquor Store

- discussed an upcoming planning commission webinar

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Honoring renowned doctors in Opelika's black community - Three physicians, one dentist impact health, wellness for citizens

By Fred Woods


Dr. John Wesley Darden

John Wesley Darden, born Sept. 27, 1876, in Wilson, N.C., was the eldest child of Charles Henry and Dianah Scarborough Darden. In their book, “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine,” Norma Jean and Carol Darden have this to say about their uncle, Dr. John W. Darden. “From the age of ten, when he was unable to find medical assistance for his unconscious sister, Annie, John had one driving goal, and that was to become a doctor.

“At the age of thirteen, he was sent by Papa Darden to high school in Salisbury, N.C. Lean years followed as he worked his way through Livingstone College, medical school and an internship in Long Island, N.Y.

“His was a long, hard struggle, but when he made it the pattern was established that the younger ones would follow.  Summer jobs, mainly on the railroad and ships, took John all over the country.  But he always found his way back to Wilson (N.C.) to share what he had seen and learned of the world and to encourage his brothers and sisters in their pursuits. By the time he was ready to put out his shingle in 1903, Wilson already had black medical care, so John went deeper south, settling in Opelika, Ala., where, as the only black doctor in a 30-mile radius, he was greeted with an 18-hour workday.”

After a time, Darden opened a drugstore on Avenue A.  His brother, J.B., had just earned his degree in pharmacy from Howard University, so he was recruited as a partner. The two brothers dispensed prescriptions and cosmetics, ice cream and a lot of good cheer, and the store became a meeting place for the community. Local residents say that their Sunday was not complete without a stroll to the drugstore for a chat and a scoop of Darden’s homemade ice cream.

Among Darden’s medical contemporaries was Dr. Homer Bruce. Bruce held the black doctor’s skills in high esteem, and, unusual for their time, the doctors frequently called each other in for consultation.

Darden died Jan. 10, 1949. He and his wife, Jean, who died in 1976, are buried in Rosemere Cemetery.

Frank Evelyn Steele

Dr. Frank E. Steele, a native of the island nation of Trinidad, was another of Opelika’s prominent black doctors. Steele received his early education in New York, took his undergraduate degree at Alfred University and completed medical school at Howard University in Washington, DC.

In 1947 Steele opened his office on 9th Street in downtown Opelika. He also practiced at the John A. Andrews Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee. At the time of his death he was serving as coordinator of Outpatient and Long Term Care Services at the VA Hospital.

Steele, his wife, Corrine, and daughter (now Florence Steele Kidd of Nashville, Tenn.), lived on Auburn Street across the street from the Dardens. Steele died in 1977 and was buried in New York City after funeral services in both Opelika and Tuskegee.

Eugene A. Lindsey

Opelika’s other prominent early black physician was Dr. Eugene A. Lindsey. He was born in 1882 in LaGrange, Ga., and died in May of 1955. He was also the owner of Lindsey’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain on Ninth Street. It was one of the few places where black citizens could sit while waiting for prescriptions to be filled or just sit and socialize. The drugstore was still in full operation in the late1950s, apparently operated by someone other than Lindsey.

The Lindseys built a beautiful brick colonial home on the east end of Avenue A, just east of 3rd Street. The house was later used as a funeral home for a time and is now abandoned, but one can still see vestiges of its former beauty and grandeur.

W.F. Clark

Dr. W.F. Clark, a native of Selma, was born in 1882. Clark was the first, and for many years the only, black dentist to practice in Opelika. He completed college and dental school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., finishing dental school at the head of his class.

The friendly, small-in-stature dentist practiced his profession in a building in downtown Opelika for more than 50 years. He was apparently highly respected in the dental profession based on his numerous writings in refereed journals and his membership on numerous prestigious professional committees.

Clark was married to the former Fannie Logan, the sister of Jean (Mrs. J.H.) Darden, the subject of an “Observer” story last week. The beloved gentle dentist died in 1966.


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Turning the page - Gnu's Room bookstore starts new chapter

By Cliff McCollum

News Editor

For several months, a treasure trove for fans of the printed word has set up shop in downtown Opelika, but few have been able to find it.

Tina Tatum, owner and operator of the nonprofit Gnu’s Room bookstore, said the popular used bookstore and hangout she built and developed in Auburn has had some difficulties rebuilding clientele since the move to its new 8th Street location, in the rear of Heritage Gift Shop.

“We have people who just think we are closed down completely – they don’t know we are relocated,” Tatum said. “We’ve tried to reach out to people via Facebook and our email list, but that only goes so far.”

A friend of Tatum’s mentioned to Heritage owner Barbara Patton that the Gnu’s Room was looking for a new home, and Patton thought she could help.

“She graciously offered us some free space in order to start the business,” Tatum said, adding that she used the money raised for the Gnu’s Room relocation to put in lighting fixtures to the store’s new space.

The new location offers less space than her former Auburn location, so Tatum had to cull part of her collection in the move to downtown Opelika.

“Essentially, we’ve kept the same genres, but have slightly less inventory,” Tatum said, “and we can still work to find any book any of our customers may want or need.”

The bookstore is just one aspect of the Gnu’s Room’s place in the community, as the nonprofit has ventured into the publishing realm as well.

“The bookstore provides revenue for the press, and the press provides revenue to hopefully publish future books,” Tatum said.

Tatum once worked for a small press in Montgomery and felt a small publishing house focused on local writers was a good fit for the area.

“Our mission is to try to preserve and promote the lifestyle, history and culture of the South,” Tatum said, “so we pick books that we feel do that.”

Tatum said the press plans to publish three books each fall - a fiction piece, a nonfiction piece and a book of poetry. The press has published works by poet Peter Huggins and columnist Mary Adams Belk, as well as a collection of offerings from local writers called “Chinaberries and Crows.”

“I wanted to do an anthology first because I knew without advertising money this would be the best way to get the word out about the press,” Tatum said. “People wanted to read essays and poems written by folks that were their family members, friends and neighbors.”

Tatum said she hopes the press and store will one day generate enough revenue to start a mobile music, arts and literacy education program that will address underserved parts of the area.

She also said she hopes to continue to bring in old and new customers to the store by hosting several special events, including the popular First Friday open mic nights.

“We had a lot of success with our First Friday nights in Auburn with a lot of different people coming and sharing their work, so we hope to build on that and integrate it in with the First Friday things that are already here in downtown Opelika,” Tatum said.

The Gnu’s Room also hosts a classic literature discussion group the second Thursday of each month, where professors from Auburn and readers can engage in spirited discussions and ask questions about a set topic.The next meeting will be held March 6, when Auburn professor and poet Peter Huggins will lead a discussion on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Tatum said the Gnu’s Room also has several book signings on the horizon and aims to reach out to more local authors to hold events in the space.

“I understand the convenience of the Amazon order or downloading an e-book,” Tatum said “but you can’t get an e-book signed when you meet the author. You miss the human interaction of talking about the book with someone.”

Tatum said the business hours for the Gnu’s Room are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., but she would be open to extending hours if there was a demand for it.

“At the end of the day, we just want that book to go home with someone, and we’ll do what is needed to make that happen, to keep spreading that love of reading and books.”

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Finding a fix for spay/neuter problem

Special to the Opelika Observer

Every community, every county, every state has homeless dogs and cats. Most of these, an estimated 6-8 million animals each year, enter animal shelters. A significant number of these homeless animals come from an ever-growing and potentially dangerous feral dog and cat population.

It’s not the animals’ fault: it’s a human problem, a failure of dog and cat owners to take responsibility for their pets. Ultimately these owners have to accept responsibility for the problems they are creating for society and come up with solutions, a part of which must include effective, affordable spay/neuter programs, the only permanent, totally effective method of birth control for dogs and cats. Taking your unwanted kittens and puppies to the country and putting them out near rural homes simply won’t cut it.

In some areas the myth still prevails that spaying/neutering is harmful to dogs and cats, making them less healthy and altering their fundamental personalities in undesirable ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One recent news article cited a study revealing that pets who live in states with the highest rates of spaying/neutering also live the longest. According to the article, neutered male dogs live 18 percent longer than un-neutered ones and spayed females live 23 percent longer than unspayed ones. Further the article reveals that, in the lowest-ranking state for pet longevity (Mississippi) 44 percent of dogs are neither neutered nor spayed.

So if it is good for the animal and it’s an important ingredient in dealing with the growing stray dog and cat problem, then everybody should be in favor of low-cost spay/neuter clinics to make spaying/neutering within the price range of even the poorest of pet owners, right?


Low-cost spay/neuter clinics are typically organized as Internal Revenue Service Code Section 501 (c)(3) (nonprofit) organizations. Their non-veterinarian owners then hire veterinarians to perform the actual spaying and neutering. Most perform low-cost spay and neuter surgeries to anyone with unaltered pets, not just those who can’t afford a regular veterinarian.

The Alabama Veterinary Practice Act (AVPA) provides that only a licensed Alabama veterinarian may be the owner of a veterinary practice, and licensed veterinarians are expressly prohibited from practicing veterinary medicine as an employee.

Legislation, backed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), four of the five low-cost clinics presently operating in the state and a PAC called Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL), has been introduced in the last three legislative sessions to allow the nonprofit clinics to operate in the state, but not a single bill has included a means test that would limit clients to the low-income segment of the population.

What is wrong with veterinarians taking orders from non-veterinarians? The non-veterinarian ownership would remove the owners from the regulatory authority of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME), and these owners are the supervisors who would set performance standards and methodology requirements for the vets.

This regulatory authority is probably more important for spaying than neutering surgery. Neutering is fairly straightforward, but spaying is a relatively serious surgical procedure, basically the same as an ovarian hysterectomy for a woman. The ASBVME exists to protect the public, not protect veterinarians. It, or something very similar, needs to be in place to protect the pet-owning public and its animals.

In last year’s legislature SB 25 passed the Senate but not the house. SB 25 (1) included any veterinarian employed by a 501 (3)(c) entity as exempt from the employment and ownership restrictions of AVPA, (2) specified the procedure for application to ABSVME for a premises permit and (3) increased from two to five years the time which the heir of veterinarian may operate or practice.

SB 25 did not however contain any means test which would restrict the eligibility of those people who could avail themselves of the low-cost spay/neuter services. The bill’s author had agreed to and intended to amend SB25 prior to passage to include the means testing clause but, due to procedural problems it was not in the bill as passed.

HB 141, containing essentially the same provisions as last session’s HB188, has been introduced in the current legislative session in spite of a plea by ASBVME and the state’s two largest veterinary associations that the legislature not consider such legislation as the Board is now actively prosecuting a case directly involving a 501(3)(c) spay/neuter clinic which has had formal charges brought against it for violations of and noncompliance with state and federal laws. The ASBVME believes that HB 141 was introduced as an effort to circumvent prosecution of its case. HB141 passed the house (58-37) Tuesday and now goes to the Senate.


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