Broadcast Student of the Year has multimedia aspirations NEXT STEP READY FOR THE
By LEAH INGRAM EAGLE
Zach Touger is leaving his mark on the Mountain Brook Schools.
From his elementary years at Cherokee Bend through junior high and high school, the senior said he will be extremely well prepared for
the future when he heads to college.
Always pushing himself academically, Touger has taken mostly AP classes during high school, including five as a senior. He was picked for the top 5% of the seniors in his class (along with about 18 other students) based on his 4.52 GPA.
He said his Spanish classes have allowed
him to reach the highest level in high school and receive the seal of biliteracy, and he is considered fluent by state standards.
See TOUGER | page A18
Art in the Village features 50-plus local artists
By GRACE THORNTON
Nicki Cochran definitely isn’t the only person in Alabama with an affinity for art that features elephants. But her reasoning might be slightly different than most.
Yes, she had family members with ties to the University of Alabama.
“I was introduced to the world of college football by my aunt, who was an Alabama cheerleader in college,”
But there was a second reason — a bigger one.
“My parents were missionaries in South Africa when I was growing up,” said Cochran, who paints under the name Art by Nicola Jeanette. “For me, the elephant represents this dual identity of being South African but also American.”
See ART | page A16
facebook.com/villageliving Sponsors A4 City A6 Business A10 Community B4 Schoolhouse B6 Events B8 Sports B9 Opinion B14 Calendar B15 INSIDE MBHS Principal Philip Holley retires after 28 years in education. See page B6 See page A15 Building a Brand ‘The Right Time’ Crestline resident’s love of dogs drives family dog-treat business, Gaines Family Farmstead. GUINSERVICE.COM Serving the Birmingham area since 1958. 205-595-4846 AL#12175 May 2023 | Volume 14 | Issue 2 MOUNTAIN BROOK’S COMMUNITY NEWS SOURCE VILLAGELIVINGONLINE.COM | STARNESMEDIA.COM BROUGHT TO YOU BY SERVING MOUNTAIN BROOK, THE 280 CORRIDOR, HOMEWOOD, HOOVER, TRUSSVILLE AND VESTAVIA HILLS
People browse the various booths during the Art in the Village event outside of Mountain Brook City Hall in Crestline Village in April 2022.
Photo by Erin Nelson.
Zach Touger, a senior at Mountain Brook High School, works on graphics in the control room for Spartan 2 News, the school’s morning news show on April 4. Photo by Erin Nelson.
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A2 • May 2023 Village Living
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Publisher’s Note By Dan Starnes
Each time I sit down to write a publisher’s note, I experience the same three feelings, in order.
The first is the resistance to do the work. It’s the thing that Stephen Pressfield describes in “The War of Art.” The resistance is what keeps us from turning pro in any creative endeavor. I’d highly recommend this book for anyone who creates anything.
You just have to fight through that initial resistance and do the work. For me, the resistance is present before everything worthwhile: creating, running, relationships, cooking — you name it, the list goes on.
I try to remind myself to mow it down and move forward. The more I do that, the easier the thing becomes.
The second feeling is nostalgia. This paper is a really meaningful part of my life. It is the first creation that is also a business I started. There have been and will continue to be others, but Village Living came first and holds that special place in my life.
Third comes pride, which is pretty closely related to nostalgia. I’m proud of the work Leah and our team continue to do to produce this publication and to reflect the community.
This month’s issue brings more than a little nostalgia and pride because it is absolutely full of the elements that we were founded on. Elements that have made, and will continue to make, this publication successful and engaging.
The May issue of Village Living informs you of what has been happening with the City Council. It tells what events you can plan to attend this
month, such as Art in the Villages on May 6. It recognizes the accomplishments of residents, such as Gordon Sargent playing in The Masters. It updates you on retirements from the school system.
It also offers multiple stories of local businesses such as Town and Country Clothes, which is celebrating 80 years in business. What an incredible accomplishment! Kudos to Laurel Bassett and all of the team at Town and Country.
So here’s my guide to enjoying this issue of Village Living: begin with the cover story on Zach Touger and read it all.
Do as people so often say they do when they compliment us on the paper: read it “cover to cover.”
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Regions Tradition - Eventive Sports (B8)
Community Editors: Sports Editor: Design Editor: Photo Editor: Page Designer: Production Assistant:
Contributing Writers: Graphic Designer:
Client Success Specialist: Business Development Exec: Business Development Rep:
In the April issue of Village Living, Anna Scofield’s name was spelled incorrectly. She previously coached the sev-
Leah Ingram Eagle
Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
enth grade dance team at Mountain Brook Junior High, not the Spartanettes. We regret the error.
Renew Dermatology (A3)
Ritch’s Pharmacy (B8)
Robertson Banking Company (B1)
Southern Home Structural Repair Specialists (B9)
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TrustMark Bank (B16)
Vapor Ministries/Thrift Store (B13)
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Wind Creek Hospitality (A7)
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Please submit all articles, information and photos to: email@example.com P.O. Box 530341 Birmingham, AL 35253
Window World of Central Alabama (B10)
Pick up the latest issue of Village Living at the following locations:
► Brookhill Condominiums
► Church Street Coffee & Books
► Mountain Brook City Hall
► Continental Bakery
► O’Neal Public Library
► Levite Jewish Community Center
► Mountain Brook Creamery
► Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce
► Otey’s Tavern
► RealtySouth - Crestline
► Taco Mama - Crestline
► Treadwell Barbershop
► Whole Foods Market
Want to join this list or get Village Living mailed to your home? Contact Dan Starnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A4 • May 2023 Village Living
Please Support Our Community Partners
Mountain Brook’s Mackenzie Ligon, left, and Breese Tierney, right, walk with Mountain Brook boys soccer coach Joe Webb after he was honored with the Golden Apple award during halftime in a match against Gadsden City at Mountain Brook High School on April 6. Photo by Erin Nelson.
Village Living is published monthly. Reproduction or use of editorial or graphic content without prior permission is prohibited. Village Living is designed to inform the Mountain Brook community of area school, family and community events. Information in Village Living is gathered from sources considered reliable but the accuracy cannot be guaranteed. All articles/photos submitted become the property of Village Living. We reserve the right to edit articles/photos as deemed necessary and are under no obligation to publish or return photos submitted. Inaccuracies or errors
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VillageLivingOnline.com May 2023 • A5 MOUNTAIN BROOK – CRESTLINE 205 Country Club Park | 205.871.0777 Allison Fowlkes, Clinic Director MOUNTAIN BROOK – LIBERTY PARK 3800 River Run Drive, Suite 102 | 205.970.2350 Derek Van Gerwen, Clinic Director
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Traffic strips a ‘nuisance’ to homeowners
By SOLOMON CRENSHAW JR.
Mountain Brook residents who live near the intersection of Overton Road and North Woodbridge Road have asked the Mountain Brook City Council for relief from a “nuisance” originally installed to address a traffic concern.
The city installed traffic strips in 2021 as a way to warn drivers as they round a blind curve on their way to North Woodbridge.
Ryan Ramage told the council that noise from rumble strips on Overton Road “makes sitting outside very challenging, if not miserable.”
“It's really excessive,” he said. “One of our neighbors, ... they need noise machines in their house, in every room in the house. This is an all-night ordeal when people are going over them. It's hard to enjoy the property.”
Ramage has his house on the market. He said prospective buyers have liked the house, “until they walk outside.”
“It's pretty excessive,” he said. “It goes from sunup to sundown.”
Mem Stewart Webb Jr., who lives next door to Ramage on Overton Road, described the noise from the strips as “obnoxious.”
“Da-dink, da-dink, da-dink, da-dink. They just keep rolling and rolling and rolling,” he said. “Specifically in the back yard and on the backside of the property, it's a true nuisance.”
Councilman Gerald Garner said he has heard the noise and said an alternative should be found. He added that he is unsure whether the rumble strips have curbed accidents there.
“We want to do things in the public interest,” he said. “We want to do things to improve public safety. Does it mean that it always works? Sometimes there are unintended consequences. This might be one of them, but I
would definitely say revisit it. Let's look at it. Let's listen to it because if it's being more of a nuisance in my opinion than it is actually being a benefit, then we need to rethink that.”
Police Chief Jaye Loggins said a three-way stop sign had been proposed at the intersection of Overton and North Woodbridge. He said that idea would yield accidents.
“It's not going to be the first car struck at the stop sign,” he said. “It's gonna be the second or third car that gets hit because of the curve.”
City officials will study the matter to determine if a better warning — perhaps flashing lights — can be found.
Other items of note from the March 27 meeting included:
► Loggins said he approved a request for a stop sign to be installed on Lewis Circle at Weatherton Drive. City Manager Sam Gaston
said area residents will be notified of the possible traffic control.
► The appointment of Dustin Dew to the city’s board of landscape design. Dew is also a board member of the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce.
► Approval of a resolution authorizing an intergovernmental agreement with Jefferson County for contingency funding for the electronic collection event at the Birmingham Zoo. The most recent event was held on January 23.
► Council members spoke briefly about whether the city should continue offering access to council meetings via Zoom. Gaston said a survey of other cities was going to be done, but he learned that Alabaster had already conducted a survey.
► Approval of a supplemental proposal for additional services with Sain and
Associates for the roundabout project.
► Authorization of an additional consulting services agreement with Schoel Engineering on the redesign of drainage improvements at Pine Crest Road and Canterbury United Methodist Church.
► Approval to execute a contract agreement with Stone and Sons Electrical for the demolition and installation of LED lighting inside the Parks and Recreation building
► Approval to award a bid to Ladd’s Golf and Turf LLC for turf mowing equipment.
► Authorization of the expense allowance and budget amendment for the city clerk.
► Amendment of the city’s storm water management program plan.
► Reaffirmation of voting districts, permanently removing Cherokee Bend Elementary School as a polling district.
Residents concerned over flooding at The Cut
By SOLOMON CRENSHAW JR.
Mountain Brook residents expressed frustration over flooding in the vicinity of The Cut during the April 10 Mountain Brook City Council meeting.
“I have to worry about every time it rains,” Montevallo Road resident Brad Cleage told the council. “Is it going to flood my backyard, and even my house? It's gotten four inches up the back of my house the last two years. I've been very lucky that it didn't get in my house, but it very easily could. That's my concern.”
Cleage was one of several residents who expressed their concerns about flooding related to The Cut, a small section of street that was never opened between Mountain Avenue and Richmar Drive.
“A lot of people use that as a cut-through,” City Manager Sam Gaston said. “There's an open drainage ditch that runs through there and there's a walking path, kind of a big path that people can cut through those two streets.”
Cleage said The Cut is what many people consider his side yard, and he cuts the grass there. He and others in attendance at the pre-council meeting heard Mark Simpson of Schoel Engineering talk about the company’s analysis of the situation.
Simpson said a 48-inch pipe that runs underground can be overwhelmed by the volume and speed of a heavy rain. He said replacing that pipe with a larger pipe would be a costly maneuver that could push the problem downstream or have little impact.
Either way, the job would be expensive.
“We can't allow that 48-inch pipe to stay and continue to just hold that water because it eventually overflows Richmar,” Cleage said. “And it's gonna continue. With the development that has gone on, it's gonna continue.”
Three or four residents spoke during the session but others wanted to ask questions and state their case. Council members agreed
to call a special meeting expressly to hear concerns about flooding in that area.
Gaston said the meeting would likely be during the first week of May.
The council also talked about a review of the city’s codes and ordinances regarding storm water management. Gaston said complaints after some major flooding episode prompted the city to hire Schoel Engineering to study the matter.
“They kind of came up with their own plan for identifying certain drainage basins,” the city manager said. “We’re sending that out to about 12 to 15 builders, architects and engineers for comments.”
The council later approved having Schoel amend the FEMA flood map for Mountain
Brook Village. Changes from the Lane Parke development prompted interest in revising the map.
“FEMA only updates these maps every 8 or 10 years,” Gaston said. “We wanted to go ahead and file something now that might give some relief to some of these property owners that are having to buy flood insurance at the present time.”
Also during the meeting:
► Mayor Stewart Welch read proclamations concerning Fair Housing Month and Autism Awareness Month.
► Jeffrey Brewer was appointed to a full term on the Board of Education after serving an unexpired term.
► The council authorized the sale or
disposal of certain surplus property.
► A resolution was approved authorizing an inter-jurisdictional automatic bid agreement with the City of Vestavia Hills.
► The council approved the city’s participation in the 2023 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday, July 21-23.
► A stop sign was approved to be installed on Lewis Circle at Weatherton Drive.
► Residents were told the city is considering discontinuing its use of Zoom for city council and other board meetings at the end of April. Council President Virginia Smith said virtual attendance of meetings has declined the past several months. Residents were invited to relay comments on the matter to the city manager.
A6 • May 2023 Village Living
The noise created by rumble strips installed along Overton Road has become a concern among nearby residents.
Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Brad Cleage voiced his concerns to members of the Mountain Brook City Council during the April 10 meeting.
Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
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Responding to needs of first responders
By LEAH INGRAM EAGLE
In an effort to support first responders and serve as a financial buffer during unexpected and sudden circumstances they may face, the city of Mountain Brook recently formed the Mountain Brook First Responder Foundation.
Focusing on police, fire and EMTs, the foundation will provide grants as a financial safety net in times of need.
While this type of foundation for first responders isn’t a new concept, Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch said it isn’t all that common.
“We’re not trailblazing here,” Welch said. “Homewood has one, along with Vestavia and Hoover. Of the 35 municipalities in Jefferson County, there's probably less than half a dozen.”
Welch said he thinks the foundation is a great way for the community to show support for first responders and to thank them in a way that is very meaningful.
The concept was initially discussed before the pandemic hit by Welch and attorney David Faulkner. The two met with those who run the first responder foundation in Homewood, who provided guidance and documents so they didn’t have to start from scratch.
During Covid, attention was diverted to other matters, but the project was rekindled recently by the fire and police chiefs, and now the foundation and its board have been formed. Board members are Christopher Mouron, Emily Jensen, Tanya Cooper, Steven Hydinger (president) and David Faulkner. Council member Graham Smith will head up the organizing committee.
Mountain Brook Police Chief Jaye Loggins said the foundation will be able to assist first responders and their families in the event of injury, illness, death or personal disasters, such as fire or weather-related damage to their homes.
“There have been several instances where this type of assistance has been needed in the past,” Loggins said. “Our department has had officers injured at home and off of work where workman's compensation doesn't take effect. We have
also had officers suffer damage to their homes due to flooding and fire. The foundation could have been used to assist these officers financially with immediate needed funds while waiting for insurance coverage to take effect.”
Welch stated that the foundation is still very much in its infancy and the board will be seeking ways to get donations. He said a number of people have already expressed interest in contributing.
“People always say they want to do something for the first responders,” Welch said. “The foundation will be an easy way to make small or large donations and show appreciation.”
The foundation has applied to become a
501(c)3 charitable organization so that donations will be tax deductible.
Welch said the board will decide the scope, amount and kind of grants that will be accepted, and the maximum grant will probably be in the $3,000 to $5,000 range.
Loggins added that the Mountain Brook First Responders Foundation will benefit those that put their lives and their families' quality of life on the line every day.
“We are blessed to have city government and community leaders come together and see this through,” Loggins said. “There have been many discussions and intentions of getting a
Members of the Mountain Brook First Responder Board: left to right, Christopher Mouron, Emily Jensen, Tanya Cooper, Steven Hydinger, David Faulkner. Councilwoman Graham Smith not
intentional and unselfish determination of many people, the foundation has been established. We are fortunate to have some of the best business and financial minds serving on the board, which gives the foundation the best possibility of being successful.”
He said that similar foundations have had success and shown to be a valuable resource in neighboring cities, and he looks forward to seeing the foundation be fully implemented and seeing the impact it has on first responders and their families.
“I hope that it is never needed for those purposes, but it is gratifying to know that the foun
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Photo courtesy of Mayor Stewart Welch.
By Stewart Welch III
The State of Alabama has a tremendous history in sports … think college football! Yet we go way beyond football and find athletes excelling in multiple sports including basketball, track and field, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and many other sports.
If you love sports, either as a spectator or participant, then mark your calendar for June 9-11.
Birmingham and Jefferson County will host the 40th annual Alabama State Games. I can guarantee that you will find multiple events that will be a thrill to watch out of the over 25 different sports.
Stewart Welch III
Sports you might expect include baseball, flag football, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, track and field, swimming, diving, wrestling and volleyball. Then there are sports you rarely, if ever, get to watch: archery, baton twirling, disc golf, chess, equestrian, judo, taekwondo, ninja challenge, table tennis, ultimate frisbee and shooting sports.
This state-wide event supports youth of all ages and skill levels and creates an opportunity for young people to experience the thrill of competition with Olympic-style ceremonies.
The opening ceremony is June 9 at Bartow Arena, and all athletes who attend the opening ceremony are entered into
a chance for one of ten $1,000 scholarships and all receive a free T-shirt.
Alabama State Games
Media Relations Manager
Griffin Pritchard expects to have thousands of participants, due in part to the games being open to all ages and all abilities.
Mary Lou Retton said, “A trophy carries dust, but memories last forever.”
Sports have the unique ability to cross socioeconomic barriers to form lasting relationships and ultimately create a greater sense of community. For our region, the Alabama State Games will be a boost to our local economy as we serve as this year’s hosts.
If you are looking for something fun to do with your children or grandchildren, pick several sports and help make this 40th anniversary event the biggest ever.
For full information, visit ALAGames. com. I hope to see you at an event!
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NEWS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Bin There Dump That, a residential dumpster rental franchise company with locations in the U.S. and Canada, has been recognized by Forbes HOME as a Best Dumpster Rental Company for 2023. Local entrepreneur Chad Ezell is the owner of the Bin There Dump That Birmingham East location. Forbes Home Improvement editorial team commended Bin There Dump That for the “most thorough services included in a residential dumpster rental package, including driveway protection and sweep up after every job.”
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System, which includes UAB Plastic Surgery of Mountain Brook, has filled two senior positions in its leadership team. Brenda Carlisle was named CEO of UAB Hospital, and Susan Jennings has been named the chief financial officer for the Health System. Both had been serving in their respective roles in an interim capacity. Before assuming the position as interim CEO in November 2022, Carlisle had been vice president of clinical operations for UAB Hospital since 2017. Prior to joining UAB, Carlisle was chief operating officer, vice president of patient care services and vice president of operations at Brookwood Medical Center. She has more than 30 years of experi ence in nursing management and health care operations in medical facilities throughout Alabama and Florida. Jen nings has more than 35 years of experience within the
Business news to share? If you have news to share with the community about a brick-and-mortar business in Mountain Brook, let us know at villagelivingonline.com/about-us
healthcare industry serving in a variety of roles focused on organizational financial health and strategic financial decision-making. Her responsibilities include financial reporting and budgeting for the Health System and UAB Hospital,
Key Circle Commons, a cocktail lounge in English Village, is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month.
Eleven Eleven, a women's athleisure boutique offering a curated selection of high-fashion, functional women's clothing, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month.
A10 • May 2023 Village Living
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Little Buckhead Blue location opens in Lane Parke
By GRACE THORNTON
Abby Ballinger said over the years, moms have grown to love the styles of the Beaufort Bonnet Co.
She knows because she’s one of those moms. She also knows because those moms come through the doors of her children’s clothing store, Little Buckhead Blue, six days a week.
“It’s a great place to find the perfect casualwear clothing for spring breaks and summer vacations,” Ballinger said of Little Buckhead Blue, which carries the Beaufort Bonnet line exclusively. “I dress my kids in Beaufort Bonnet all the time. It’s a great brand for boys and girls.”
And now Mountain Brook is home to the newest Little Buckhead Blue location. The Lane Parke shop held its grand opening in February.
“Beaufort Bonnet is a classic, Southern, traditional brand,” Ballinger said. “It really has swept away the children’s market.”
From baby clothes to boys’ polos and shorts to girls’ pima cotton dresses, the clothes are crowd pleasers, she said. “It’s a great brand for all seasons, whether that be Easter or Christmas, and a great brand for pictures. You can complement the whole family.”
She said with her three children — even with her oldest one, who’s 8 — “it’s fun to have them all coordinating.”
Ballinger said Beaufort Bonnet clothing is also perfect for the fast-approaching beach season.
“One of my favorite things about Beaufort Bonnet is their swimwear line,” she said. “It has a great texture to it, it’s a great quality and everyone loves the quality that goes with the price tag.”
Ballinger’s first dip into the children’s clothing industry came six years ago when she started a children’s boutique in the Atlanta area called King & Bear, named for her two sons,
Kingston and Barron. “I carried Beaufort Bonnet in that store, but what I ended up doing was taking Beaufort Bonnet out of that store and opening its own store, Little Buckhead Blue, two years ago,” she said.
The inspiration for the name came from two places — one, the store was in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, and two, Buckhead Blue was the name of Beaufort Bonnet’s light blue color.
“They have cute names for all their colors,”
And now Lane Parke is home to the second store by the same name.
Ballinger said she chose that location “because it’s the perfect location for our clientele and will bring people from all over like our Atlanta store does.”
She said she loves going to Lane Parke.
“It’s such a walkable shopping center with good food, fun places for dessert, doughnuts, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Crumbl Cookies — all the
things a child would want,” Ballinger said. “And for mom, there’s a Starbucks.” Ballinger said she thinks the new store will be a hit, just like its neighbors.
“Birmingham has been a great market for Beaufort Bonnet,” Ballinger said. “It’s such a sought-after location to travel to, we think it’s a good spot for people to stop by on their way to the zoo and other places.”
For more information, visit @littlebuckhead bluemb on Instagram.
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VillageLivingOnline.com May 2023 • A11
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Customers shop at Little Buckhead Blue, a children’s clothing store, in Lane Parke.
Photo by Erin Nelson.
Town & Country celebrates 80 years of business
By LOYD MCINTOSH
A beloved neighborhood business is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.
Town & Country, one of the original enterprises in Mountain Brook Village, is still going strong after eight decades in business. Under the ownership of Laurel Bassett since 2009 — only the fourth owner in the business’s history — Town & Country’s legacy is in good hands.
Bassett began working at Town & Country as part of Mountain Brook High School’s co-op program in 1997 and has been with the business in one way or another ever since. With more than 25 years of experience working and running one of the city’s oldest businesses, Bassett is keenly aware of how important Town & Country is to its customers and the community as a whole.
“I definitely feel a sense of responsibility to the business because it’s been around so long, and a sense of responsibility to the customers to keep providing them a place where they feel comfortable coming,” Bassett said. “It’s important to us. Everyone who works here has an emotional attachment to the business and the customers.”
Details on Town & Country’s beginnings are somewhat fuzzy, but what is known is that Margaret Byrum opened the shop in a house in 1943, moving into the current location on Church Street within the next two to three years.
Jane Gray and Jane Lamar bought the business sometime around 1970, holding onto it for the next 20 years before selling it to Leigh Cooper and Susan Pierce in 1990.
Upon Pierce’s passing in 2007, Cooper asked Bassett to become her business partner until retiring in 2009.
“She didn’t want to see it go under with such a strong legacy,” Bassett said. “There are a lot of businesses that have been taken over by younger generations that want to change things too much and that don’t understand that people of all ages need a place to shop, too.”
Along with her husband and co-owner, Bassett
has gotten to know many customers who were around in the early days and has heard many apocryphal tales about the shop’s early years. For instance, Bassett has heard a story straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie from the husband of a woman who shopped at the store for decades.
“He said he would ride his horse and hitch it out back and come in and play poker with
the first owner’s husband,” Bassett said. “They would hang out in the back and drink whiskey and smoke cigars while she would take clothes out and show them to the ladies in the front.”
The hitching post and poker games may be long gone, but one thing that has remained is a high level of customer service. Town & Country not only survived but thrived during the rise and
fall of department stores and is bouncing back after the forced shutdowns during the COVID19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen a renewed appreciation for what we do, especially after COVID,” Bassett said. “We had people who were very loyal and came in and supported us even when they weren’t really going anywhere.”
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Laurel Bassett, owner of Town & Country Clothes in Crestline Village, adds a scarf to a blouse on a rack. Photo by Erin Nelson.
“We have real relationships with our customers that I don’t think you find everywhere else. It makes it feel a lot less like work because we all look forward to coming here,” she said. “It’s our social time, too.”
Town & Country’s reputation reaches far and wide, from the generations of families that have shopped at the store for special occasions to the suppliers and designers consulting with Bassett on new styles and the business leaders and organizations that have taken notice. The business was recently nominated for the 2023 Alabama Retail Association Retailer Of The Year Award.
Town & Country’s reputation and legacy are based on one primary concept: a level of service from a bygone era.
“They’ve become like family to me,” said Denine Mackie, a Tampa resident and representative for Sympli, a women’s clothing line featured at Town & Country. “I think Town & Country provides a level of customer service that is kind of unprecedented. The stores that do that more old-school business in the boutique industry are long gone.”
“Town & Country has been a staple in
Mountain Brook for 80 years, making it one of the longest-standing businesses in our community,” said Emily Jensen, executive director of the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce.
“This longevity is due to their reputation for outstanding service and selection, which the Bassett family continues today. Eight decades is certainly worth celebrating.”
Town & Country is located at 74 Church Street in Mountain Brook Village.
VillageLivingOnline.com May 2023 • A13
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A photograph from the mid-1940s looking toward Euclid Avenue in Crestline Village, near where Town & Country first opened in 1943. Photo courtesy of Laurel Bassett.
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HUM Concierge ‘creates time’ for busy clients
By LEAH INGRAM EAGLE
If you ever find yourself wishing you had an extra set of hands to help with the day-to-day tasks of life, a new business recently launched to do just that.
After spending 20 years working as a personal advisor and corporate business consultant to global C-suite executives, Edgewood resident Sarah Robinson learned that the most important thing is having the freedom to focus on who and what matters most.
“I've witnessed firsthand the deep desire of busy professionals and community leaders to be fully present with their families while remaining highly dedicated to their work,” Robinson said. “I feel like all of the business experience and life experience of things I’ve gotten to do have fed into being able to see how this business can really succeed as a service to other people.”
She recently launched HUM Executive Concierge and Lifestyle Management Agency to make that freedom available to more people. Her goal is to handle details and allow her clients to bring balance and ease to their work, home and life.
“People are struggling and are so overwhelmed trying to manage way too many things,” she said. “Their quality of life and well-being is suffering from what they do in the world.”
Robinson grew up in Evergreen and moved to the Mountain Brook area when she was 15. She is a graduate of Altamont and member of Mountain Brook Baptist Church and lived in a handful of cities before coming back to the area to raise her children.
After discussing the concierge concept with a friend, Robinson researched similar businesses in other cities and came to realize there wasn’t anything like it in the Birmingham area.
“Few people are doing parts of it, but this whole all encompassing one-stop place to get all the kinds of support you need, I could not find,” she said. “Being an entrepreneur at heart, when I see a great business married with great business opportunity with something I think is super fun. … I understand what it takes to make all those pieces come together.”
The more Robinson talked to people about the concept, she saw their excitement and her own growing.
“I love giving people that freedom and bringing back that balance to work and home and just life in general, and helping people bring back the enjoyment of their day-to-day life,” she said.
After Robinson began to look at the concept in January, HUM Concierge was up and running in March. Robinson said their services are for anyone, from a busy executive with kids who finds it hard to work, manage the house and run errands, to an active community volunteer on a board or a busy mom trying to do all the things.
Robinson has a “bench” of people with different skill sets that she pulls from to help in specific situations, from a tech guru who can set up new computers and create a smart home, to another who is skilled in helping seniors with their needs. However, she still does a lot of the jobs herself in order to build the right systems and processes for her client base.
She offers a free consultation call with her clients to discuss their priorities and what they want their life to look like and what they can hand off to achieve those goals. She describes it as “a life coach with services.”
“We are creators of time for our clients,” she said.
Options include purchasing hourly packages of 5, 10 or 15, which can be used over a 90-day period. Membership packages are also available and bring a higher level of service and priority for last-minute things.
Robinson said her vision is for her company to be really high-touch — the opposite of a nameless, faceless app. She wants to build relationships with her clients and understand their preferences.
HUM Concierge is currently serving clients in Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Homewood and Vestavia Hills. When the demand comes in, Robinson said she will begin to expand to other areas.
“I’m just excited to see the difference we can make for people,” she said. “I want to see people being able to breathe and relax a little and be able to focus a little better, because they’ve handed off all the things that are taking up space in the back of their brain so they are able to really be present for who and what matters most.”
For more information on packages and services, visit humconcierge.com.
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Sarah Robinson, founder of HUM Executive Concierge Agency, provides clients with executive concierge and lifestyle management in Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Homewood and Vestavia Hills. Photo by Erin Nelson.
Building a brand: Gaines Family Farmstead
By LEAH INGRAM EAGLE
Dewar Gaines has always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
He remembers selling lemonade when he was six years old, then moved on to a grass cutting business in ninth grade, which he continued through high school.
“There's been a lifetime dream of owning a business and building a brand,” Gaines said. “The journey has been that I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. It’s ingrained in my blood, it's just the way I function.”
Gaines, a Crestline Park resident who attended Mountain Brook schools from first through ninth grades, spent several years owning and working for marketing firms. He realized the potential of the pet industry and saw a competitive advantage.
“We’ve always been a dog family, and it felt like it was a great way to enter the market for something I cared about,” he said.
Gaines convinced his brother, Paden, to join him on the venture, and in late 2017 Gaines Family Farmstead made its debut as a dogtreat company.
After their original manufacturer went out of business, Gaines and his family began handling their own manufacturing out of a 1,200-squarefoot garage in Hueytown. They would go to a farmers market every morning and buy around 270 pounds of raw sweet potatoes. The potatoes were then hand-sliced and dehydrated to make 45 pounds of finished treats daily.
“After our manufacturing partner closed, we raised money, bought equipment to manufacture and
packaged it on our own,” he said. “We cooked 20 hours a day, seven days a week for a year and a half. It was a true family thing.”
There were some tough times during the pandemic, Gaines said. “The business functioned out of dining rooms, basements, barns,” he said. “We shut down the office in 2020 because of COVID and ran everything out of my farm in Trussville. When I sold the farm, we started working out of my basement. Because we decided to be an American-made company, we had a product when most of our competition did not [during the pandemic].”
Those days of 270 pounds of sweet potatoes have now increased to over 350,000.
Why sweet potatoes? “Some people say it's a superfood for dogs,” Gaines said.
The products include sweet potato dog treats and chews that are 100% American-made products with all natural, healthy ingredients. Options include bones, fries, filets, treats, chews and chips. The treats are grainfree, soy-free and salt-free and contain no preservatives, sweeteners or artificial flavors. They are suitable for all breeds and sizes.
“We created single-ingredient treats six years ago, and that's now the biggest driving portion of the pet market,” Gaines said.
Gaines has come a long way from knocking on doors of retailers and participating in six farmers markets each week. The business had already eclipsed its 2022 numbers by April 2023.
Within the last year, Gaines Family Farmstead has been featured on Amazon’s Holiday Gift Guide, launched at Costco and chewy.com and still sold at around 1,500 mom-and-pop shops around the country.
“Amazon put us on their gift list,” he said. “They put me through an interview process and the next thing I know, I’m in Seattle at a photoshoot. The video Amazon created went viral on TikTok and was viewed 22 million times in 72 hours. Then we sold out nationwide on Nov. 12, 2022, and have just recently caught up on inventory.”
Big things are still ahead for Gaines Family Farmstead. They are in the process of launching a new product line entirely designed for
Walmart that Gaines said will be their biggest partnership yet. The business is also moving into a new warehouse this month.
After getting married in July 2020, Gaines and his wife have a 21-month-old son and finally took a long overdue honeymoon in April.
As for the future, Gaines said, “Give me a few more years. I plan on making our brand a household name.”
For more information, visit gaines familyfarmstead.com.
VillageLivingOnline.com May 2023 • A15
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A bag of Gaines Family Farmstead’s Sweet Potato Chews for Dogs.
We’ve always been a dog family, and it felt like it was a great way to enter the market
something I cared about.
Dewar Gaines, owner of Gaines Family Farmstead, with his wife, Kelli, and their son, Ralph Dewar Gaines V (Quint). Photos courtesy of Dewar Gaines.
CONTINUED from page A1
Some of those elephant artworks will be on display May 6 at Art in the Village, an annual event put on by the Mountain Brook Art Association.
The event, in its 42nd year, will be held at Mountain Brook City Hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include both indoor and outdoor exhibits.
Cochran, who is serving as show chair for the first time this year, said Art in the Village will feature more than 50 artists who all live within a 25-mile radius of Mountain Brook.
“One thing that’s pretty unique about our show is that it is all members of Mountain Brook Art Association, a community that meets throughout the year,” she said.
That makes the show a great experience for those who attend, Cochran said — if they want, they can move past simply selecting an art piece to actually working with the artist to create a special custom piece for their home or even a matching set.
“It’s much easier to coordinate since the artists live right here locally,” she said.
The show has been popular ever since its first year, when students of area artist Ron Lewis decided to make their art available to the community.
“They were out at the school one Saturday and had their paintings out, some of them propped up against trees,” Cochran said. “It worked out pretty well for them, and they enjoyed doing it and said, ‘Let’s create a group around it.’ That’s how they founded the Mountain Brook Art Association, and it’s just grown since then.”
In the 1980s, artist Janet Sanders moved to the area and was “very key in really helping to make it into a more organized production,” Cochran said. “She’s been pretty much the main show chair since then.”
That is, until she handed it to Cochran this year to start the process of passing the torch to a younger generation of artists. But when Cochran talks about the event, she’s quick to list off the names of others involved in the group effort.
“We want to build on the success of the past and continue to grow and make sure the
information gets passed on so the show can continue to do well,” Cochran said. “We want it to continue to be the blessing it is to all the artists in the group.”
This year’s show will feature 20% more artists than last year, she said. “That provides a lot of variety for people to see.”
Visitors will see everything from abstract art to hyperrealism.
Cochran herself uses a pallet knife to create her elephant paintings as well as others, including another of her favorite subjects — deer.
“For me, painting deer has to do with biblical symbolism,” she said, noting that she loves creating works that portray the peace she has in Christ. “When I paint doves, deer and lambs, I am striving to convey the symbols I see in the Bible and how they relate to my life.”
Every artist at Art in the Village offers something different, she said.
Lewis, who will also be at the event, paints
scenes in traditional style in watercolor, acrylic and some oils. Sanders paints local scenes and buildings, as well as animals and scenes from her travels, in oil and acrylic in representational impressionist styles.
Both Lewis and Sanders have won awards for their work.
Christi Bunn, the association’s president-elect, has a wide portfolio of architectural commissions and has recently branched out into pastels.
“She’s amazing at it,” Cochran said.
Carol Carmichael — who paints scenes like farm animals, still life and children playing on the beach — uses a lot of white and paints in oil representational impressionist style.
Cathy Phares, the current association president, paints “beautiful oil and acrylic scenic impressionist paintings that are soothing and peaceful,” Cochran said.
And that’s just six of the 50-plus.
“If I were to describe all their work and how amazing it is, I could go on and on,” she said.
She hopes to do that on Instagram in the days leading up to the event. Individual artists will be featured using the hashtag #ArtInTheVillage2023.
All artists and volunteers for the event have also been invited to enter a floral competition and create a work portraying a floral arrangement done by Mary Ashley Twitty, owner of Fox and Brindle, a local boutique and floral design shop.
“It’s a fascinating thing, because you get to see this whole variety of different floral paintings,” Cochran said. “We will also have a recreation of that arrangement at Art in the Village.”
Art in the Village is a free event with free parking and is pet- and family-friendly. All exhibits are handicap accessible. For more information, visit mountainbrookartassociation. com/2023/03/08/art-in-the-village-2023.
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Nicola Cochran stands among her paintings during the 2022 Art in the Village event. Photo courtesy of Brock Cochran.
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“In seventh grade, I randomly signed up for it,” Touger said. “Learning a second language came relatively easy for me. I guess I’m pretty lucky in that way. At the start of junior high, I found confidence in learning that I easily wanted to focus and hone my skills in it. Sophomore year, I skipped Spanish 4 and ended up going to AP Spanish language as one of two juniors who took it.”
Touger said he would like to minor in Spanish in college to gain an advantage in journalism, whether to translate or interview people who speak the language. He has served as president of the Spanish Club and is also president of the National Honor Society.
Besides his Spanish class, his broadcasting class has been instrumental in his decision on a career after college.
Touger said his senior year has challenged him to think broader than just high school, picturing himself doing broadcasting somewhere else, and he said the experience has made him very grateful for his school.
“I realize how well prepared Mountain Brook has made me,” he said. “My teachers have been nothing but supportive, and I’ve had such amazing opportunities and to have them along with my friends and family. It’s been really helpful as we’re getting down to the end.”
‘THE BEST PROGRAM IN THE STATE’
After taking media arts in ninth grade, Touger did not take broadcasting his sophomore year but was placed back on the broadcast staff period in junior year due to a schedule change. It was then he realized he wanted to pursue this as a career.
He credits second-year broadcast teacher Brooke Dennis for her teaching and fostering a new culture around the class.
“She came from Thompson High School and she took our program from almost nothing and made it into the best program in the state,” Touger said. “I don’t think we’d have a program without her.”
The class produces a live newscast every day ranging from two minutes to 15 minutes on Tuesday and Fridays. In the program, Touger has been able to produce shows along with directing and anchoring. The class of nine won 29 individual awards at a competition this year.
Dennis described Touger as a “tremendously talented student with a passion for broadcasting/multimedia journalism” and said she had the same passion as he did when she was in high school. She said Touger has created multimedia content, written stories and helped enhance the digital brand of Mountain Brook High School and Mountain Brook Schools throughout the year.
“It’s unique to work together because we see eye-to-eye when it comes to our interests in broadcasting,” Dennis said. “I have been able to help Zach, but what he may not realize is that he’s been able to help me. Since day one of my job here at Mountain Brook (almost two years ago), it has been my goal to increase the product of what and how we communicate as a school district to our stakeholders. He has been an essential part of that goal being successful this year, and wherever he chooses to attend
college and whichever career path he chooses, I know he will be successful not only because of his work ethic but because of who he is and the way he treats people.”
Another way Touger has gained experience during his senior year is through his role as an intern with Mountain Brook Schools.
He finishes with his classes at 1:30 p.m. daily and begins his internship portion of the day, either helping Dennis in the broadcasting department or assisting William Galloway at the school system’s headquarters in a variety of duties, including making graphics for the jumbotron for sporting events, writing press releases for the school system websites, creat-
“Mrs. Dennis and William Galloway at the board created a role for me to be a liaison for the communications department, and over half of my creative portfolio has come from work I’ve done during my internship,” Touger said.
This past February, Galloway attended the Alabama Scholastic Press Association Competition, where the school’s broadcast program won best in state and Touger was named the Alabama Broadcast Assocation’s Broadcast Journalist of the Year for high schools from his creative portfolio.
THE NEXT STEP
Touger’s twin sister will be attending Chapman University in Orange, California, where she will play Division III lacrosse.
He will be attending college about three hours away at the University of California Santa Barbara this fall and majoring in Communications.
“Their journalism school is phenomenal, I toured it in April of last year,” he said. “Their studio is amazing and their alumni numbers are great. They also have a lot of the same live production equipment I’ve used in high school.”
Touger did apply to eight other schools and was also accepted into San Diego State University, University of California Santa Barbara, Georgetown and NYU.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live in a big city, and New York, D.C., and L.A. all have been super appealing for me,” Touger said. “I feel I’d like to work in a national market and work in a big city with larger media markets. Luckily, my parents are supportive of that choice.”
He said he would also consider law school if he doesn’t pursue journalism.
Touger said while it’s bittersweet, he would be lying if he said he wasn’t ready to graduate.
“It’s been a long time coming and I’m ready for a change,” he said. “I’m always thinking about the next step ahead. I’m ready to leave Mountain Brook and move on to somewhere different and am really excited to see what’s in store.”
Village Living A18 • May 2023
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Above: Zach Touger, a senior at Mountain Brook High School, sits at the anchor desk for Spartan 2 News, the school’s morning news show on April 4. Photo by Erin Nelson.
Left: Touger was named the Alabama Broadcast Assocation’s Broadcast Journalist of the Year. Photo courtesy of the ABA website.
VillageLivingOnline.com May 2023 A19
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Mountain Brook named Alabama’s 1st Bee City USA affiliate
By GRACE THORNTON
Dana Hazen said in the past, when she’s gone to pick out plants for her garden, she’s bought whatever caught her eye, or she’s thought, “Does it go in the sun or the shade?”
But now she thinks about it differently, thanks to a Google trail she went down a few years ago on a topic she wouldn’t have expected — pollination.
“I had an interest in pollination personally, and I became a member of the Xerces Society,” said Hazen, director of planning, building and sustainability for the City of Mountain Brook. And her research has affected much more than just her yard — it led to the City of Mountain Brook being designated Alabama’s first Bee City USA affiliate.
Hazen said connecting with Bee City USA — an initiative of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation — can make a bigger difference than Mountain Brook residents might think.
The U.S. is home to more than 3,600 bee species that through pollination are responsible for about a third of the food and drink people consume. And they’re in danger; research shows that up to 40% of pollinator species globally are at risk of extinction.
“Bee City USA is trying to get individual homeowners to realize that their yards and balconies and potted plants can have a huge impact on the ecosystem,” Hazen said.
The Bee City USA initiative provides a framework for communities to work together to conserve native pollinators by increasing the supply of native plants, providing nest sites and reducing the use of pesticides.
It’s a grassroots effort — it doesn’t flesh itself out in city ordinances, Hazen said. “It’s about
educating people so that they might choose to do what they can, like limiting the amount of lawn they have and installing some native plants.”
The City of Mountain Brook itself is working to incorporate native plants in parks, road islands and other green spaces.
“We’re trying to think about how we are going to set an example for the community in this global effort and set an example for other municipalities as well,” Hazen said.
The city is also working to raise awareness of bee species among city leaders and residents.
Hazen said they recently had an incident where this kind of awareness paid off. The city got a call that yellow jackets were swarming at Canterbury Park, and when Shanda Williams, director of parks and recreation, went to deal with the issue, she realized they might not be yellow jackets after all.
“The beauty of having your phone — she was able to do research and figure out that they were miner bees,” Hazen said. “They’re not aggressive and they don’t sting, and they would only be there from four to six weeks.”
So city officials roped off the bees’ mounds which look like ant hills — and put up signs to let everyone know not to disturb them.
“We want to encourage people to preserve bees however they can in their own yards, too,” Hazen said.
That includes watching out for mounds, planting native plants, waiting until later in the spring to mow and not immediately raking up all leaves in the fall.
“The leaves are important for the overwintering of the bees,” Hazen said. “We’re all about keeping things tidy, and we don’t realize we’re raking all of the next season’s pollinators out to the curb.”
She said they’re excited about continuing to
educate the city’s residents as well as implementing new projects like a see-through bee hotel and pollinator garden on City Hall grounds.
“We’re fledging in our Bee City USA effort, but we’re excited about it,” Hazen said. With this new designation, Mountain Brook joins 177 other Bee City USA affiliates across
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How does ICS work?
the nation and in Puerto Rico.
A sign displays information about the pollination period for miner bees at Canterbury Park. Mountain Brook was recently named a Bee City, the first in the state of Alabama.
Alabama also has two Bee Campus USA affiliates, Auburn University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. There are nearly 160 campuses partnering with the effort nationwide.
For more information, visit beecityusa.org or xerces.org.
We, like other institutions that offer ICS, are members of the IntraFi network. When we place your deposit through ICS, that deposit is divided into amounts under the standard FDIC insurance maximum of $250,000. The amounts are then placed into deposit accounts at multiple FDIC-insured banks. As a result, you can access FDIC coverage from many institutions while working directly just with us and receiving one statement from our bank.
And, as always, know that your confidential information is protected. Contact us.
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With IntraFi Cash ServiceSM, ICS, you can enjoy the safety and simplicity that comes with access to multi-million-dollar FDIC insurance through a single bank relationship.
 When deposited funds are exchanged on a dollar-for-dollar basis with other institutions that use ICS, our bank can use the full amount of a deposit placed through ICS for local lending, satisfying some depositors’ local investment goals or mandates. Alternatively, with a depositor’s consent, our bank may choose to receive fee income instead of deposits from other participating institutions. Under these circumstances, deposited funds would not be available for local lending. Deposit placement through CDARS or ICS is subject to the terms, conditions, and disclosures in applicable agreements. Although deposits are placed in increments that do not exceed the FDIC standard maximum deposit insurance amount (“SMDIA”) at any one destination bank, a depositor’s balances at the institution that places deposits may exceed the SMDIA (e.g., before settlement for deposits or after settlement for withdrawals) or be uninsured (if the placing institution is not an insured bank). The depoitor must make any necessary arrangements to protect such balances consistent with applicable law and must determine whether placement through CDARS or ICS satisfies any restrictions on its deposits. A list identifying IntraFi network banks appears at https://www.intrafi.com/network-banks. The depositor may exclude banks from eligibility to receive its funds. IntraFi and ICS are registered service marks, and the IntraFi hexagon and IntraFi logo are service marks, of IntraFi Network LLC. DDA-MMDA 0423 robertsonbanking.com 1 (866) 289-1033
Photo by Erin Nelson.
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Zoo News: Couple donates $1 million for Cougar Crossing
Larry and Phyllis Wojciechowski recently awarded a $1,000,000 donation to the Birmingham Zoo’s Cougar Crossing Capital Campaign. With an overall goal of $4 million, this donation will ensure that the project will move forward on schedule this fall.
“Larry and Phyllis have been amazing supporters of the good work we do since their first visit in 2017,” said Chris Pfefferkorn, Birmingham Zoo president and CEO. “Initially, they were moved by the extreme commitment of our zookeepers to provide the absolute best care for our animals, then they initiated an endowment for our conservation efforts. Today, they are invested in seeing the footprint of your zoo continue to grow.”
“We are thrilled to be able to invest in our zoo and its amazing staff,” said the Wojciechowskis. “The addition of Cougar Crossing will further expand education and conservation opportunities for children and adults. Bob the bobcat, and the new cougar to come, will have amazing habitats that allow all of us to learn how to live with these beautiful native animals in our great state.”
This donation, combined with grants from the Hugh Kaul Foundation, the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, the Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust and the zoo’s junior board, have raised over $3 million towards the total goal.
The public phase of the campaign will kick off in April, with a groundbreaking ceremony later in the fall.
BARBARA INGALLS SHOOK FOUNDATION PRIMATE TREK OPENS
The Shook Foundation has been a longtime supporter of the Birmingham Zoo,
including funding for the Barbara Ingalls Shook Foundation North American Black Bear habitat and more.
The new addition to the Primates/South America building provides the zoo’s resident De Brazza’s monkeys access to a new outdoor habitat that stands free of the main building. In addition to more space for the animals, this new habitat has increased access for animal care professionals to interact with them, providing feeding and training opportunities that guests will be able to see for the first time.
According to Danielle Williams, the zoological manager of South America/Primates, “The open-air habitat allows the De Brazza’s monkeys to have a whole new view of the zoo and its visitors as they move around
the viewing path. They will also get a visual perspective of the other animals adjacent to them that they have never had, which will be very visually enriching every day.”
The habitat has been designed for flexibility and with future expansion in mind, with overhead tunnels that can connect to the other indoor habitats. This would allow for other species to use this space or even add additional outdoor habitats in the future.
“We could not be more thankful for the generous donation by the Shook Foundation and their continued support of your zoo,” said Hollie Colahan, the zoo’s deputy director. “Work on this project began before the pandemic, so we are thrilled to have a new habitat to share with our guests and see our primates enjoying this new outdoor space.”
2 EASTERN BLACK RHINOS WELCOMED
The zoo recently added two Eastern black rhinoceros to its family. This announcement also included the official public opening of the renovated Daniel Foundation Alabama Rhino Habitat on March 25.
The zoo joins fellow Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited zoos and aquariums around the world in participation with the Black Rhino Species Survival Plan (SSP).
A 5-year-old male Eastern black rhino, Moyo, came from the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri.
“Moyo means ‘heart’ in Swahili, and he has certainly stolen ours,” said Annie Kaspar, the zoo manager of Trails of Africa. “He really enjoys his training sessions and interacting with his keepers. He also loves wallowing in the mud in his habitat and eating all kinds of vegetation, especially browsing on larger branches full of leaves.”
Kesi, a 6-year-old female, came from the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Kaspar said that “Kesi loves splashing in the water, eating willow branches and spending time being brushed by her keepers.”
The Black Rhino SSP manages the captive black rhino population in AZA facilities and matches animals based on their genetic lineage. The SSP matched Moyo and Kesi and recommended that they move to Birmingham to breed and contribute to the population. With only about 5,500 individuals left in the wild, black rhinos are considered critically endangered.
“We have been working with the Black Rhino SSP to bring Moyo and Kesi here and hope for eventual breeding success,” Colahan said. “We are excited for everyone to visit both Moyo and Kesi here in their new zoo home.”
– Compiled by Leah Ingram Eagle
B4 • May 2023 Village Living Community Have a community announcement? Email Leah Ingram Eagle at email@example.com to be considered for inclusion in an upcoming issue.
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Left: One of the two new black rhinos at the Birmingham Zoo. Right: The De Brazza’s monkeys at the Birmingham Zoo have a renovated and expanded habitat Photos courtesy of the Birmingham Zoo.
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MBHS principal retires after 28 years in education
By LEAH INGRAM EAGLE
Philip Holley credits his wife for steering him into education.
He was majoring in business at Auburn University, but after taking a required biology class, his then-girlfriend (now wife, Jennifer) told him he loved talking about it so much, and she asked why he hadn’t thought about becoming a biology teacher.
Holley decided to change his major, adding two more years to his time in college, and graduated with a degree in biology. He not only taught biology for 11 years but has spent the rest of his career in education as an administrator.
In March, the Mountain Brook High School principal announced his pending retirement, with a last day of June 30, five years and one day since he began.
A 28-YEAR JOURNEY
Having lived in Mountain Brook since the age of one, Holley himself is a product of Mountain Brook Schools.
He began his teaching journey with four-year stints teaching biology and coaching sports, including softball, boys and girls basketball and baseball, at both Erwin and Shades Valley.
When someone told him about a ninth grade biology opening at MBHS, he jumped at the chance to return home. Holley said he loved the position he held for 11 years.
When the idea of moving to administration came up, Holley said he remembers initially thinking no, because he loved teaching so much.
“I think I had gotten a letter from a former student telling me my class made him interested
in science,” Holley said. “I thought, ‘If I can influence 100 kids a year [teaching biology], if I can become an administrator, I could influence thousands of kids a year.’ So I decided to go back and get my administration degree.”
Holley then moved to Riverchase Elementary, but he realized after being in the secondary education world for 19 years, elementary wasn’t where he wanted to be.
He moved to Vestavia Hills High School for a year as an assistant principal and loved it, but when the Mountain Brook job opportunity became available, it was something he could not turn down. He took the role of assistant principal and after two years became principal in 2018.
He has spent 18 of his 28 years in education in the Mountain Brook school system, the last
five of them as principal.
SETTING THE BAR HIGH
During his time tenure at MBHS, the school has been continuously rated as the top public high school in the state of Alabama and among the top 1% of public high schools in the country.
"The first thing people notice about Philip Holley is his kindness and his love for
B6 • May 2023 Village Living
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Leah Ingram Eagle
Philip Holley, the principal at Mountain Brook High School, is seen in the hall as students change classes April 3. Holley is retiring at the end of the school year after 28 years in education.
Photos by Erin Nelson.
Mountain Brook and its school system," MBS Superintendent Dr. Dicky Barlow said. "Philip’s story consists of a student, a teacher and then the principal at MBHS. His insight and understanding of all things Mountain Brook helped us grow as a community. I will always be grateful to Philip for his commitment and concern for the students, staff and the community of Mountain Brook."
Holley said his first year as principal and this school year are the only ones that have felt normal, due to the pandemic in 2020 and a long construction project at the school being completed in March.
DECIDING IT WAS THE RIGHT TIME
“Toward the end of last summer, I began thinking about it [retirement] and talking with my family, and it became clear this is the right time,” Holley said. “I’ve been in some cool places and have gotten to work with some incredible people in my career. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
After his retirement, Holley said he is ready for whatever the next chapter in his life holds. He is still deciding whether he will want to do something outside of education or continue in
education but not in an administrative role.
He said whoever takes over his position at MBHS will enter an amazing place with amazing people, a supportive community and students that are wonderful to work with.
An avid hiker, Holley said hiking the Appalachian Trail is on his bucket list. While he doesn’t have any plans to become an astronaut, he has fond memories of making it in the top 100 finalists in NASA’s educator astronaut program in 2003.
His oldest daughter, Ryann (22), is in divinity school at Samford University and is getting married in August. His son, Harrison (19), is a freshman at Auburn. Holley said he will always have the special moment of handing them their graduation diplomas. His youngest, Meg (10), is in fourth grade at Brookwood Forest Elementary.
“Overall in one word, I’ll miss the people,” Holley said. “I hope I’ve left [the school] better than I found it.”
On April 5, the Mountain Brook Schools Board of Education approved the hiring of Carrie Busby to be the next principal at Mountain Brook High School. Look for a feature on her in the next issue of Village Living.
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Principal Philip Holley, center, talks with students (now graduates) Jacob Arzin and Julianne Abenoja in March 2022.
The Birmingham Zoo ‘Tails in the Trails event will feature two signature cocktails inspired by some of the zoo’s residents. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Zoo.
‘Tails in the Trails set for May 5
By SARAH GILLILAND
The Birmingham Zoo’s annual ‘Tails in the Trails fundraiser will be held on Friday, May 5, from 6 to 10 p.m.
The event, now in its 13th year, will benefit the new Cougar Crossing habitat at the zoo.
“Visitors can expect a wild night of new animal experiences, [including] our new Eastern black rhinos, primates and flamingos,” said Jennifer Ogilvie, the zoo’s marketing and public relations manager. “There will also be a live DJ and ambassador animals.”
Recently opened on March 25, the Eastern black rhino exhibit and the Shook Foundation Primate Trek will be accessible during ‘Tails in the Trails, as well as other animal photo opportunities.
“We’ll also have a 360-degree photo booth, 15 local foodie favorites from area restaurants and two signature cocktails,” Ogilvie said.
The official cocktails for ‘Tails in the Trails 2023 are the Cougar Cocktail rum punch and Moyo Margarita. The margarita is named after one of the new Eastern black rhinos. All guests must be 21 and over for this event, and no admittance or refunds can be made without ID.
Leigh Collins, the zoo’s vice president of
‘Tails in the Trails
• WHERE: Birmingham Zoo
• WHEN: May 5, 6-10 p.m.
• COST: $35 per person, $65 per couple; day-of tickets an additional $5 each
• WEB: birminghamzoo.com/event/ tails2023
development, said, “A fun time at the zoo isn’t just for kids! No one throws a party like the Birmingham Zoo — and this event, with its unique offerings, will surprise and delight everyone who attends.”
Tickets include one free drink per person, and additional drink tickets can be purchased during the event or in advance. Until May 4, standard tickets are $35 per person or $65 per couple plus tax. An unlimited drink wristband and event entry tickets are $55 per person or $105 per couple plus tax. Day-of ticket prices rise by $5 per person or $10 per couple.
For more information, visit birmingham zoo.com/event/tails2023.
A group of members of the Friends of the Gardens at the 2022 event. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
Rosé in the Roses returns to Botanical Gardens
By SARAH GILLILAND
Last year, the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Junior Board wanted to host an event to kick off summer at the Gardens and raise money for the Summer Native Plant Internship.
The event was so successful, they are bringing it back again this year.
Molly Hendry, who serves as the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ staff liaison to the Junior Board, said they will open up more tickets to this year’s event.
“We also moved the time up to 5:30 p.m. so that you can come right after work, then have time to go out to dinner afterward. We are also hosting this event in May instead of June so that the roses are at their peak bloom time,” Hendry said.
Rosé in the Roses will be held in the Dunn Formal Rose Gardens at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 11. Attendees can enjoy time in the garden among the roses in full bloom.
Sponsor Finch Fine Wines will have several types of rosé to sample. In addition to the roses and rosé, light hors d'oeuvres
Rosé in the Roses
• WHERE: Birmingham Botanical Gardens — Dunn Formal Rose Gardens
• WHEN: May 11, 5:30-7 p.m.
• COST: $30 for Friends of the Gardens members, $35 for non-members
• WEB: bbgardens.org/rose
will be served.
Jim Pickle, president of the Junior Board, said, “We can't wait to invite attendees to enjoy glasses of rosé from across the globe while socializing with peers and basking in the beauty of the Gardens’ roses, which will be in full bloom! In addition to enjoying a spring evening in the Gardens, you will be supporting our summer Native Plant Internship.”
Tickets for the event are $30 for Friends of the Gardens members and $35 for non-members. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit bbgardens.org/rose.
B8 • May 2023 Village Living
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Eaves retires as Mountain Brook athletics director
By KYLE PARMLEY
Benny Eaves was recently cleaning out his office and came across a newspaper article from when he was hired as the Mountain Brook Schools athletics director in 2014.
In the story, he stated some of the ideas he had upon taking on the role. Now, Eaves has the benefit of hindsight. Some of those ideas came to fruition over the years. Others, he wishes he had done a better job accomplishing.
“It’s been the greatest professional opportunity of my career, and also the most challenging,” Eaves said.
Eaves has worked at Mountain Brook since 2007 and is retiring following an eight-year tenure as athletics director. During that time, he has overseen an athletics department that won 35 state championships across 11 sports.
Before taking the AD role, Eaves worked as a coach for over 20 years. That transition was far from the easiest thing he’s done.
“It’s a completely different skill set,” Eaves said of being an AD. “While you manage everything, you’re in charge of nothing. Your coaches run their programs and you’re there to assist.”
Eaves got his undergraduate degree from the University of North Alabama after graduating from Bradshaw High School. Upon completing graduate school at Auburn University, he got his first coaching job at Marion Military Institute and remained there for seven years, serving as head football, baseball and basketball coach during that time.
He then spent seven years at Hoover High School, coaching in a variety of roles, before moving on to Mountain Brook.
Eaves said a consistent focal point across all of the roles, in all the different places, is the people.
“Everything starts with relationships,” he
said. “It’s relationships between administration and coaches, coaches and players, players and coaches and community.”
Relationships are what make Mountain Brook great, in his mind. Eaves said a couple of his proudest moments as athletics director were seeing Tyler Davis and Mattie Gardner win state championships in basketball and volleyball, respectively, in their first seasons as head coach. Both were assistant coaches within the programs at Mountain Brook before being elevated to the top leadership positions.
Football, baseball, golf, tennis and track and
field were among the highly-successful sports throughout Eaves’s time leading the department.
He also mentioned the pride in seeing some programs rise from struggling ones into contenders, such as the softball team making it back to the regional tournament last year for the first time in eight years.
Eaves is now one of many people that served as a full-time athletics director at the high school level. The position was typically part of a coach’s duties for many years, but with the increasing demands on coaches, teams and programs, many of the larger schools in Alabama
Benny Eaves, Mountain Brook High School’s athletics director, during a football game between the Spartans and Minor on Sept. 1. Eaves retired from Mountain Brook High School on March 24.
have hired full-time ADs.
“It used to be your job to make sure the lights are on, the officials got paid and the grass is nice,” Eaves said. “Now, it’s a business.”
Athletics has been a key facet of Eaves’s life for as long as he can remember. His “retirement” did not last long, as he began a job outside of education in April. But he’s looking forward to having nights and weekends available as well.
“For 30 years, my wife has had to take a backseat to me coaching or covering events, and I’m looking forward to coming home every night. It’s time for that,” he said.
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Photo courtesy of Mountain Brook Schools.
Sargent turns heads in Masters debut
By KYLE PARMLEY
Gordon Sargent certainly made an impression in his first appearance at the Masters.
Sargent, a 19-year-old Mountain Brook native, accepted a special invitation to play in one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments in early April. Although he missed the cut, shooting 9-over par over two days, he had some established professionals in awe of his ability.
“He was so far by us it’s crazy,” said Max Homa, who played a practice round with Sargent before the tournament, via GOLF.com. “Doesn’t look like he’s going at it that hard. I’ve heard so many good things about his game. It was probably even more impressive to see him in person.”
Homa was referencing the length on Sargent’s drives. Sargent also played practice rounds with the likes of Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy, two of the longest hitters in the professional ranks, prior to the tournament and consistently outdrove them.
Davis, Clark named all-state for Spartans
Sargent played that Thursday and Friday in a group with former Masters champion Zach Johnson and Jason Day. He carded a birdie on his first hole of the tournament, before things got away from him on three of the next four holes. He rebounded with birdies on 7 and 8 and wrapped up the round with a birdie on 18 to shoot 77 (+5) in the opening round.
The first 11 holes of his Friday round were also a struggle, although he finished strong by shooting 1-under through his final seven holes for a 76 (+4).
“It didn’t really sink in on the first tee that I was playing in the Masters, until they announce your name and stuff,” he said.
The 2022 NCAA Division I individual champion will return to Vanderbilt University to continue his sophomore campaign now, but his first Masters is one he won’t soon forget.
“It was pretty special,” Sargent said. “I’d hit a bad shot, and you just kind of think about how you’re in the Masters playing at Augusta National, and you can’t be mad. This opportunity and experience has been amazing.”
By KYLE PARMLEY
Awards have been rolling in for the Mountain Brook High School boys basketball team following the 2022-23 season.
Spartans point guard Ty Davis was named one of three finalists for Class 6A Player of the Year, along with Buckhorn’s Caleb Holt and Pinson Valley’s Caleb White. That also put Davis on the first team of the 6A all-state team, as compiled by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
Davis led Mountain Brook by scoring 18.2 points per game and dishing out 6 assists per contest. He also pulled down 4.6 rebounds per game. He excelled during his junior season, following up his second-team all-state showing last season.
Julius Clark was a strong player all season for the Spartans as well, earning a spot on the all-state second team. Clark posted 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in his final high school season. Clark was named
the MVP of the Northeast Regional tournament and recently committed to Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana.
After falling to eventual state champion Huffman in the regional final a season ago, the Spartans returned to the state final for the first time since winning it all in 2021. There, they ran into Buckhorn and fell 65-56. Holt stole the show with 32 points in the game.
“The journey was crazy,” Clark said following the game. “We had many ups and downs throughout the year, and this team fought through a lot of adversity and to be in this game is a blessing.”
The Spartans finished the season with a 26-8 record. They won the Spartan Turkey Jam tournament over Thanksgiving, won 15 of their last 17 games and claimed the Area 10 and Northeast Regional titles.
Kyle Layton, Andrew Kohler, John Colvin, Jackson Beatty and Clark were the team's seniors.
B10 • May 2023 Village Living
Amateur Gordon Sargent, a Mountain Brook native, plays a stroke from a bunker on the No. 2 hole during the second round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7. Photo courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club.
Mountain Brook’s Ty Davis (3) shoots a layup guarded by Huffman’s Christian Trannon (40) during the boys Class 6A Northeast Regional final at Pete Mathews Coliseum at Jacksonville State University on Feb. 21. Photo by Erin Nelson.
Mountain Brook student competes for Team USA
Reilly Oberding is like most Mountain Brook students. The 17-year-old loves spending time with his friends outside of class, loves a good meal from Chick-Fil-A, and being a downto-earth teenager.
However, unlike his peers, Reilly doesn’t attend school from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. five days a week. Since 9th grade, he has been a virtual student taking classes online and coming into the Mountain Brook Schools’ Alternative Learning Center (ALC) for a few hours a week to complete in-person coursework and assignments.
Oberding is one of five members of the USA National Junior Road Cycling Team. This month, he’s traveling overseas to compete for a month in Europe as a cyclist representing our nation. He will compete on the biggest stages for amateurs and have the opportunity to witness the best of the best professionals in events like the Paris-Roubaix.
“My goal is to be out there one day,” Oberding said. “I have been on a bike since I was two and racing since I was three years old. My end goal is to be a professional cyclist.”
And he’s well on his way.
Reilly has loved cycling all his life. He raced BMX (bicycle motocross) from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade before picking up mountain biking at the end of his elementary school years. Adding to his mountain biking experience, Reilly hopped on a road bike in early middle school and fell in love. He started with local races, then moved to regional competition before leading the pack nationally as a road cyclist. In 2021, Oberding was asked to join the EF Education-ONTO team as one of its nine members. This development team is a feeder program for EF Pro Cycling, an international cycling team.
As far as academics go, Reilly will continue his classes online while he is abroad. Susan Logan works at the ALC with Oberding and says his passion for cycling is evident and he always prioritizes his responsibilities in order to achieve his dream. She said when Reilly was invited to the qualifying races for the chance to be on the U.S. team, he began doubling up on each week's work and even spent many weekend hours working with Logan to get ahead on coursework.
“His commitment to excellence in school makes me understand how he is so successful in cycling,” Logan said. “The flexibility through our school district’s virtual learning program allows him to do what he loves on a bike and accomplish what he needs to accomplish in his studies. He has been talking about this opportunity for months to travel internationally because it’s something he has
In 2022, Reilly traveled the world, competing in Ireland for a week and Belgium for two weeks, and even spent time in South Korea during the fall. In all countries, he competed as a road cyclist. He still mountain bikes frequently but seems to have found his calling competitively as a road cyclist. And as most athletes do, Reilly has overcome some adversity.
“In December 2021, I had a skateboarding accident with enough damage to keep me off my bike until late April,” Oberding said. “I learned a lot about myself at that time and it only made me more hungry to have success, which I was able to do in Ireland and Belgium.”
He said his mom took away his skateboard after the injury, and aside from that, he has full support from his parents and family as he pursues his professional dream.
Reilly said the best part of cycling is the community. As a sixth grader, he went on trail rides with fellow bikers much older than him, and now, with so much experience, he has the opportunity to reach out and help guide those with less experience.
“The cycling community is like no other, and I learned that in sixth grade,” Oberding said. “They took me in and now my fellow riders along with my teammates in EF are like family to me.”
Before he leaves, Reilly said he will have to have one final Chick-Fil-A sandwich stateside.
– Submitted by Mountain Brook Schools.
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Reilly Oberding is one of five members of the USA National Junior Road Cycling Team. Photo courtesy of Mountain Brook Schools.
HIGHLIGHTS PHOTOS BY ERIN NELSON
B12 • May 2023 Village Living
Mountain Brook’s Finn Calloway (10) dribbles the ball guarded by Vestavia Hills’ Samuel Johnson (3) in a game at Thompson Reynolds Stadium on April 11.
Above: Mountain Brook’s Gabe Young (3) pitches in an area game against Homewood at Mountain Brook High School on April 12. Below: Mountain Brook’s Graham Cooper (17) and Vance Phillips (8) celebrate after Phillips scored on an assist from Cooper in a game against Vestavia Hills at Thompson Reynolds Stadium on April 11.
Above: Mountain Brook’s Ainsley Kelley (11) congratulates Gabrielle Lamontagne (6) on a goal in a match against Gadsden City at Mountain Brook High School on April 6. Below: Mountain Brook’s Hunter Keller (24) makes contact in an area game against Homewood at Mountain Brook High School on April 12.
Above: Mountain Brook’s Anna Mayor (20) dribbles the ball downfield in a match against Gadsden City at Mountain Brook High School on April 6.
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By Kari Kampakis
In a world that's hurting, you need stubborn hope
The day before my 29th birthday began with utter bliss — and ended with gut-wrenching pain.
Just three days before, I’d learned that I was pregnant, and Harry and I were ecstatic.
We laughed and dreamed as we drove to the beach to spend a weekend with his friends. Already we felt like proud parents. We couldn’t stop talking about baby names, the nursery, and starting our own family.
Then, as we stopped to see a friend, our excitement came to a halt as I felt the startling signs of a miscarriage.
I called my doctor, and he said if it was a miscarriage, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Instead of driving home, he advised us to go to the beach, take it easy, enjoy the weekend as best we could, and see him on Monday.
Harry and I held out hope, but when the cramping continued for hours, we knew it wasn’t good. Around midnight the pain kicked in, and as Harry ran to the store to buy me ibuprofen, I curled up in bed and cried like a baby over this treasure we lost on my 29th birthday. It was one of the most disappointing and jolting days of my life.
It had taken us a year to conceive, so we kept an appointment that I’d scheduled before we got pregnant to see a doctor who could run some tests. He uncovered a cause for concern, and he grimly predicted that getting pregnant again might be difficult.
My lifelong dream was to be a mom, and to suddenly question that possibility triggered
deep sadness and fear. What if our pregnancy was a fluke? What if it never happened again? How would we afford adoption when money was already tight after paying graduate school tuition?
It was a lonely season of waiting, praying, and doubting. I learned a lot about myself and trusting God’s plan as I attended baby showers for friends and often felt like an outsider when the conversation turned to kids. By God’s grace, I got pregnant six months later with my oldest daughter, Ella. Around her first birthday I got pregnant again — only to miscarry this baby before Christmas.
Once again my heart was heavy, and though it made a huge difference having Ella to hold, I also felt the grief of her losing a brother or sister.
Looking back now, it is clear God had a plan. Over the course of my 30s, I birthed four beautiful baby girls, and even if we had not conceived them, I know my prayers to be a mom would have been answered. At the time, however, I couldn’t see past the unknowns. I only saw one road, the most common road to motherhood, and if it didn’t work out, the future looked dismal and dark.
My faith was not as deep then as it is now, yet it took trials like this to deepen it. What I wish I could tell my younger self is that God takes care of His people. His plan is good, perfect, and always on time. His vision is bolder and grander than any tunnel vision we get, and if we wait patiently, He’ll author a better story than any story we could write.
I’d also tell my younger self that life is full of mysteries, and we’ll never get full answers to suffering on this side of heaven. But what we do know, as believers, is the best is yet to come.
“Faith means being sure of what we hope for — and certain of what we do not see.”
Still, hope can feel non-existent during times of loss. Our culture of doom-andgloom only compounds the problem. We are surrounded by negativity in media and pop culture, and many popular movies, books, and works of art leave us feeling terribly depressed because they use the framework of our visible world to process sad events. They show no light at the end of the tunnel, no purpose behind the pain, no hope for the future.
If we believe this world is all there is — that how we feel today is how we’ll always feel, that we’ll never be happy unless our prayers get answered exactly the way we hope, that there is no afterlife to anticipate, that suffering is as senseless as it appears — then we’ll despair. We’ll stay stuck in hopeless places.
But through Jesus, God births hope. He shines a light that conquers darkness and death. A Christian’s hope boils down to three key words: He is risen. Seeing the world through this framework changes everything.
Life on earth feels permanent, yet it is fleeting. Our real home is in heaven, and the ache in your heart that never goes away, that earthly joys and blessings can only temporarily quench, is really a longing for heaven.
God created you to crave Him, and He placed eternity in your heart as a honing device to draw you home toward Him.
Feeling dissatisfied with this world reminds us that we were made for more. We are walking toward our final destination — where perfect peace, love, and joy exist.
God brings new life from heartache, and just as the grief of Good Friday preceded the joy of Easter Sunday, today’s trials can lead to miracles. It is only Friday — and Sunday is coming. The darkness in-between can feel like light years, and you may need years (or decades) to feel hope again, but that hope is worth fighting for. It is worth remembering how the first thing God did after creating the heavens and the earth was bring light into the darkness.
He began the story of humanity by setting the stage for the light of Jesus.
Darkness may be part of your story, but it isn’t the end of your story. Circumstances come and go, but God is forever. Put your trust in Him, not what happens to you. Fix your eyes on what is real, and when you feel scared of the unknowns, cling to the virtue of hope.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mountain Brook mom of four girls, author, speaker, and blogger. Kari’s newest book, “More Than a Mom,” and other bestselling books are available everywhere books are sold. Join Kari on Facebook and Instagram, visit her blog at karikampakis.com, or find her on the Girl Mom Podcast.
Sean of the South
By Sean Dietrich
Graduating against the odds
The Northwest Florida State College parking lot is swarmed with cars. Families are hurrying toward the gymnasium, dressed in their Sunday best.
I pass a man wearing denim. There are grease smudges on his jeans. Holes in his work shirt.
“I’m gonna see my son graduate,” he tells me, lighting a cigarette. “I can hardly believe it.”
Tha man’s name is Danny, he drove here from DeFuniak Springs to see his boy walk across a stage to receive a degree.
“My son’s the pride of our family,” he says. “I love that boy so much.”
Inside the arena is a huge crowd. In the center of the basketball court are hundreds of students in black gowns and square caps. Their faces, happy. Their smiles, blinding.
I stand in the nosebleeds beside Danny. He uses his phone to capture this moment.
Danny tells me his bossman didn’t want him to leave work today. But Danny said, “I’m gonna see my boy walk, sir, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad. I’ll be back after lunch.”
When we sing the national anthem, Danny removes his cap and holds it over his heart. He sings louder than anyone.
Then he waves at his son. But his son doesn’t see him.
“There he is,” Danny says, pointing. “See him?”
“I see him,” I say.
When I first attended this school, it was called Okaloosa Walton College. It was about the size of an area rug back then.
This was the only place that would take an adult dropout like me. And it is the only alma mater I have ever known.
It’s funny. I was afraid to enroll here as an adult. I was worried everyone would think I was stupid. I was embarrassed on my first day of class. But I got over it. It took me less than a week to fall into the gentle rhythm of academia.
I took math with Miss Bronginez — the woman was as downhome as a crop of peanuts. She knew how to explain the Pythagorean theorem to a man who still counted on his fingers.
And Doctor Schott, who sometimes delivered world-class lectures in the back of a double-wide trailer for night class.
And Miss Lopez. I loved her Spanish classes. I took every course she offered until there were none left to take.
I took music with Mister Domulot, who remains one of my closest friends. And Mister Latenser, who still helps me when I have car problems. And Mister Nida, who lets me play in his band sometimes.
That’s the kind of smalltown institution I attended. It was home to me, the kid who had no home. A place where I learned what it meant to study something in earnest.
It was here that a faceless blue-collar man once sat in an English class with a teacher who said, “You really oughta consider a career in writing.”
Last week, I was in my office. I was writing. When it was lunchtime, my wife knocked on the door. She presented me with a turkey sandwich and a small gift bag.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Turkey on rye,” she said.
“I meant what’s in the bag?”
“Oh, I don’t know, it came for you.”
There was a card attached. It read: “Northwest Florida State College.”
Inside the bag was an award. A heavy one. When I saw it, I had to sit down.
The statue was made of crystal. There was writing on it. The trophy read: “Sean Dietrich, Distinguished Alumni, Against the Odds.”
It’s the only award I’ve ever received — unless you count the prize I won for safe forklift driving.
But the inscription on the trophy is only half
correct. Maybe the odds were against me, but they’re against everyone. All you have to do is ask the kids in black gowns.
Or better yet, ask Danny. He’ll tell you. Life is bone hard. And just when you think it can’t get any harder, it raises your insurance premiums.
Still, somehow education found me. And it wasn’t because I was determined, or smart, or because I pushed myself. It was because I was pulled. By good people who stand quietly in this arena.
The ceremony begins. My new friend Danny is all ears. We watch the candidates take the platform.
When they announce his boy’s name, Danny starts cheering so hard I can hear his voice break. Soon, the two of us are clapping and hollering for a kid I’ve never even met.
The boy walks across the stage.
“That’s my son,” Danny says to me. “That’s him, do you see him? That’s my little boy.”
I certainly do see him.
Every time I look in a mirror.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast.
B14 • May 2023 Village Living Opinion
Mondays: Ashtanga Yoga. 8:30 a.m. Japanese Garden. Cost is $12 for members and $15 for non-members.
Tuesdays: Taijiquan (Tai Chi). Intermediate at 4 p.m. and Beginner at 4:45 p.m. Japanese Garden. Cost is $12 for members and $15 for non-members.
Wednesdays: Vinyasa Yoga. 8:30 a.m. Japanese Garden. Cost is $12 for members and $15 for non-members.
May 2: Thyme to Read. 4:30 p.m. Monthly gathering hosted by the Library. Free.
May 5: Children’s Springtime Garden Kit: Mother’s Day Surprise. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $20 for members and $25 for non-members.
May 11: Rosé in the Roses. 5:30 p.m. Dunn Formal Rose Garden. Reservations required. Cost is $30 for members and $35 for non-members.
May 18: Rose Care. 3:30 p.m. Dunn Formal Rose Garden. Jane Underwood, director of operations for the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens, will guide experienced and novice gardeners on how to grow and nurture their roses. Cost is $25 for members and $30 for non-members.
May 20: Family Yoga. 9 a.m. Cost is $15 for one adult with a child and $5 more for each additional family member.
May 30-June 2: Young Artists in the Gardens Summer Camp. 9 a.m. to noon. Ages 6-12. Cost is $180 for members and $225 for non-members.
May 5: Tails in the Trails. 6-10 p.m. Fundraiser benefiting the
Cougar Crossing habitat. Music, animal encounters, small bites from area restaurants, beer, wine, specialty cocktails and a silent auction. Standard pricing (ends May 4): $35 per person and $65 per couple plus tax; Day-of tickets: $40 per person and $75 per couple plus tax. Unlimited drink tickets are also available.
May 13: Pollinator Tea Party. 10-11:30 a.m. Guests will enjoy finger foods and have the opportunity to meet some of our pollinator pals during our Ambassador Animals chat, create an unBEElievable take-home craft and enjoy a fun day at the zoo with ride wristbands. Everyone is encouraged to dress up in their favorite bumble bee or butterfly costume. Tickets are $58 and children younger than 1-yearold can attend for free.
May 20: 17th Annual Zoo Run: Sprint for Sloths. The event will feature a 5K and kid races. The money raised will be donated to The Sloth Conservation Foundation. Registration $20-$40.
Registration required for most events at oneallibrary.org.
May 30: Patty Cake. 9:30 a.m.
May 30: LOL: Extra - Building Together. 3:30 p.m. Crafts, activities and performers for kindergarten through 2nd grade.
May 31: Toddler Tales Storytime. 9:30 a.m. Storytelling Room. For toddlers ages 3 and younger.
May 31: Movers and Makers. 1:30 p.m. Kindergarten prep storytime.
May 31: Hear Here. 4:30 p.m. Storytelling Room. Family chapter book read aloud.
May 1: TAB Meeting. 5 p.m. Community Meeting Room. Earn volunteer hours and improve the library’s young adult department.
May 3: Game On. 3 p.m. Community Meeting Room. Video games, board games and card games. Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).
May 18-19 and 22-23: Exam Breaks. All day. Study for finals at the library.
Tuesdays: Gentle Yoga with Marie Blair. 10 a.m. Community Meeting Room. Bring a yoga mat and water. Registration required.
May 2 and 11: Writing Workshop with Miriam Calleja. 5:30 p.m. Conference Room. A writing workshop for writers of all skill levels.
May 3: Sound Cafe: Meet the Southern Music Research Center. 6:30 p.m. Community Meeting Room. Southern music and history lovers are in for a treat.
May 4: Yoga 101 with Marie Blair. 12:30 p.m. Community Meeting Room. Introduction to yoga techniques, breathing, positions and more.
May 7: Sunday Short Story Matinee. 3 p.m. Community Meeting Room. “Stagecoach.” A 1939 adaptation of an Ernest Haycox story.
May 8: Great Short Stories. 6:30 p.m. Conference Room. A reading and discussion group with conversation about short fiction.
May 9: The Bookies: An O’Neal Library Book Group. 10 a.m. Conference Room. Discussing “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by G. Zevin.
May 14: The Wicker Man! 7 p.m. Community Room. An Under the Mountain Event. A free screening of the 1973 folk horror classic.
May 16: O’Neal Library Board Meeting. 8:30 a.m.
May 23: Books and Beyond. 6:30 p.m. Conference Room. Book club outside the box.
May 31: One Large Connected Family. 11 a.m. Community Room. Understanding 18th-century life in the Creek Nation.
VillageLivingOnline.com May 2023 • B15
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