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Progress 2013

Tomorrow began wiTh yesTerday Chilton County’s future in the context of its past


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Table of conTenTs ECONOMY

Chilton County farmers and fresh food Work behind the scenes to re-open hospital Local economy poised for growth

lEadErship Education officials face many issues Those who knew him carry on former mayor’s legacy Program building tomorrow’s leaders

COMMuNitY Preserving historic house an undertaking Residents offer unique perspective on county’s history Hollis Jackson named Citizen of the Year

A note from the editor


he theme of this year’s edition of Progress, “Tomorrow began with yesterday,” is perfectly personified by Thorsby councilwoman Nicole Hilyer, who is featured on the cover. Hilyer is one of the many people working to ensure Chilton County has a bright future. Her work canDawkins not be fully comprehended unless one considers her past. Hilyer’s first taste of community service was when the town elected her husband, Dearl Hilyer, as mayor. Dearl Hilyer tragically passed in 2012 just after being re-elected to a second term in office, but his

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commitment to Thorsby--and really, everything good--inspired a group of people, including Nicole, to preserve his legacy by doing their best for others. Many local residents will recognize Dearl Hilyer’s Chevrolet truck, “Old Blue,” as a reminder of his continuing impact on the people he touched. The story of Dearl and Nicole Hilyer is inside this edition, as are many other stories we hope will help readers look at our county’s present and future in a meaningful context. The stories are divided into three sections: economy, leadership and community. We think a study of these three aspects of life in Chilton County will give readers a better understanding of just where we are. We hope you join in our excitement about where Chilton County is headed! Dawkins is managing editor of The Clanton Advertiser. The Clanton Advertiser P.O. Box 1379, Clanton, AL 35045 205.755.5747

Economy Gordon Burkhalter, 77, has been working with cows almost his whole life and is one of Chilton County’s few cattle farmers. Photo by Emily Etheredge


Local farmers and the fresh food movement Written by EMilY EthErEdgE


hen the summer months of July to late September arrive, Birmingham chef and Café Dupont owner Chris Dupont eagerly awaits certain varieties of figs that will be delivered to his restaurant. Once the fruit is delivered, Dupont samples the selections that create ideas from his taste buds which recognize the dedication, hard work and determination of local farmers. The produce will eventually be transformed into elegant and delectable cuisines for someone’s dinner. “There is something about the fruit that comes from Chilton County that just tastes wonderful,” Dupont said. “When a certain fruit goes out of season and those of us in the restaurant know it won’t be available again until another year, we are seriously bummed.” Dupont is one of many restaurateurs following a growing movement in the food industry of purchasing local products from area growers, creating new and innovative recipes for consumers that want to be informed of where their food is coming from. “When I first opened my restaurant in 1992, I opened in Springville and had to use a lot of things purchased from local farmers because I didn’t have a lot of money, at the time” Dupont said. “When I started serving foods that had been purchased from farmers markets it was kind of looked at as unique and different and what used to be a novelty is now an expectation.” The metamorphosis of food consumers who want to know where the foods they are eating come from is benefitting local farmers in Chilton County who are recognizing that not only are people wanting to eat foods that are healthy, but they are wanting to eat foods that taste good. Dr. Arlie Powell, co-owner of Petals from the Past in Jemison, services numerous retail and wholesale markets with

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‘there is something about the fruit that comes from Chilton County that just tastes wonderful.’ Chris Dupont, owner of Cafe Dupont restaurant in Birmingham produce he and his family confidently know people will and do enjoy. Powell, his son Jason, wife Gwin, daughter-in-law Shelley and several skilled and knowledgeable employees operate Petals from the Past that has been in Jemison since 1995. After retiring as a fruit scientist from Auburn University, Arlie decided to partner with his son Jason and develop more than six acres of fruit gardens that house over 140 varieties of fruit plants.

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Some of the fruits produced at Petals from the Past include blackberries, blueberries, muscadines, figs, kumquats, Meyer lemons, Asian pears, apples, Oriental persimmons and Satsumas. When in season, the Powells open their farm to anyone interested in picking their own fruit as a “U-Pick farm.” Powell said some of the benefits for having a “U-Pick” farm include allowing individuals to pick a piece of fruit and taste it directly from the crop, families the

opportunity to enjoy a fun activity together and educating those who might want to learn more about growing their own produce. “Our business recognizes a growing buy-fresh, buy-local movement where people are wanting to know what they are eating, where it comes from and how does it taste,” Powell said. “We would like for people to come out and not only have the opportunity to pick fruits they like to eat straight from the crop, but learn more about what they are eating and hopefully

they will want to come back.” Although not all of the fruit crops are open to “U-Pick,” Powell said some of the crops are picked by Petals from the Past employees and sold for purchase at the store. “There are some of our crops that require getting up on a ladder and picking some of the fruit so sometimes it is just easier for us to pick them,” Powell said. “We also sell our fruit in the store for those who just simply don’t enjoy going into an orchard and picking their own fruit.”


owell said the food industry has changed over the last 30 to 40 years with more and more individuals wanting to buy things locally. “People have definitely changed with what they are wanting to eat,” Powell said. “Everyone cares more about not only what they are eating but where the products they are eating comes from.” Powell attributes some generated interest in consumers purchasing local foods to farmers markets popping up in various places throughout Alabama. “Farmers markets create diversity and people most likely will know if they pick up a peach or an apple to purchase where it came from,” Powell said. “That is really important to people right now.” Mountain View Orchards in Jemison produces apples for consumers interested in buying or picking from a local orchard. Co-owners Andy Millard and his father-in-law Steve Wilson are entering into their fifth season of apples, allowing people to come and purchase seven different varieties of apples directly off the farm. Millard said the apples start producing in late July depending on the specific variety of apples that produce at different times and will continue until October. The seven different varieties grown at the orchard include Golden and Red Delicious, Fuji, Arkansas Black, Granny Smith,

Arlie, left, and Jason Powell run Petals From the Past, home to all sorts of fruit one wouldn’t expect to find in Jemison (following page). Photos by Emily Etheredge

Gala and Pink Lady. Although growing apples is not a foreign concept in Chilton County with many farmers growing them years ago, Millard said Washington and a lot of northern states with cooler climates are now the primary producers with little apple growers left in the southeast. When apples are ready to be picked, Millard and Wilson open their orchard and allow anyone interested to come and pick their own. “We try to create a fun time for anyone interested coming out

to the orchard and picking their own,” Millard said. “People enjoy coming and getting the apples fresh off the tree and it often surprises them that they taste kind of different than the ones you buy in the store.” Millard said a lot of apples sold at larger supermarkets have been picked for a while lowering the sugar content and making them taste less sweet as opposed to apples picked directly off the tree with a higher sugar content. “I hear a lot of people say they don’t taste the same as the ones

you buy in the grocery store and that is mainly because what they are picking off the tree tastes a lot sweeter due to its freshness,” Millard said. Millard said the most popular apple varieties sold at the orchard are Golden Delicious and Gala due to them being versatile for eating, cooking and canning. Millard said he enjoys seeing people come to the orchard and learn more about local fruit as well as giving them the opportunity to buy local. “It is amazing to see some of the

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people that will visit our orchard,” Millard said. “We have had people from Oklahoma, Georgia and places across Alabama. People will drive pretty far to have the experience of picking their own apples and it amazes me.”


ccording to Chilton Research and Extension Center director Jim Pitts, Chilton County used to produce dewberries---a type of fruit related to the blackberry in the early 1950s. Although Pitts is unsure as to why the fruit doesn’t grow in the county anymore, he notes blackberries have become a new variety of fruit

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produced in the county that is in high demand. “Local markets love blackberries,” Pitts said. “It has become a good money maker for our folks here in this county.” Pitts said new varieties of peaches are starting to emerge with peach production still the largest produce grown in Chilton County. With more than 80 peach producers in the county, Pitts said new peach varieties out of Clemson, Arkansas and Michigan were released in 2012 and he is excited to see how they will develop in Chilton County. “There seem to be some different varieties of fruits emerging but

you still can’t beat our peaches,” Pitts said. “We still have a steady number of peach producers in this county and younger generations are starting to step up and take over where some of the older generations have stopped.” Dupont said Chilton County blackberries create numerous things at Café Dupont when in season including tarts, sorbets, jams and sauces for vegetables and proteins. “We really try to incorporate the fruits with all of the main courses,” Dupont said. “When you live season to season waiting on certain things to become available you really have your mind soar

when you actually get to taste the fruit as it comes back in season.” Dupont will often take home pints of certain fruits to sample before creating recipes for some of the dishes served on his menu. “Sampling a lot of the fruit not only lets me enjoy some of the delicious produce grown, but it brings creative ideas to my pallet and hopefully allows the consumer to be able to enjoy that certain product in a new and different way.” Powell said one of the enjoyable components for him as a fruit producer is sampling the different cuisines prepared by chefs using the fruits he has provided. “Sampling some of the dishes

prepared by these people who can take something I have grown and transform it into a delicious dish is something I really enjoy.” Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham chef and co-owner Chris Hastings also receives Powell’s fruits that he incorporates on the menu when in season. Some of Hastings’ creations include: Abalone mushrooms, gnocchi, rutabaga and lemon quat aioli, seared Hudson Valley foie gras with muscadine gel, pickled scuppernongs, peanuts and celery ribbons and persimmon verinne with lemon custard, golden kiwi, sage and persimmon sorbet.

mal from getting away. “I have always grown up around cows,” Burkhalter said. “I guess you could say it is in my blood.” Burkhalter, a Verbena native, retired after working for 33 years with the state highway department and now runs a cattle farm with his wife Nina where they have more than 75 cows, four bulls and 50 calves that they raise and sell at a board sale. Burkhalter describes the board sale as an opportunity for cattle farmers and meat producers from the north and west to come and purchase cattle from the southeast and take to areas that have ample

‘People will drive pretty far to have the experience of picking their own apples.’


Andy Millard, co-owner of Mountain View Orchards in Jemison

lthough Chilton County is home to a large percentage of produce farmers, Gordon Burkhalter, 77, owner of Burkhalter Cattle is one of just a few cattle farmers in the county. Burkhalter grew up around cows after hauling his first 1,000-pound steer to Swift Meat Packing in north Montgomery in 1941 when he was 6 years old. Burkhalter laughingly recalls the memory of traveling to Montgomery with his father in a Chevrolet, half-ton pickup truck where the steer was trying to jump out and his father had to corral the ani-

corn that will provide “choice” beef for a feedlot before slaughtering the animals for meat production. Burkhalter said a lot of his meat could end up going to meat producers or beef packing sales but he often never knows what happens to the cows after he sells them. Burkhalter said he has noticed a decline in cattle farmers in recent years due to the fact a cattle farmer requires a lot of work and a lot of land. “There are a lot of people who just don’t have a large enough farm to take care of cattle,” Burkhalter said. “Having cattle is a lot of work

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Once a thriving crop in Chilton County, apples all but disappeared until Andy Millard and his father-in-law opened Mountain View Orchards. Photo by Emily Etheredge

and I don’t think there are a lot of people out there who want to put in that much work anymore.” Burkhalter said technology has transformed the way a lot of buyers purchase cattle at the board sales with buyers now looking at the cattle on the Internet before purchasing it. “A lot of times they will look at a picture of a cow before they decide to purchase it because they want to know what they are buying,” Burkhalter said. “It is also not uncommon anymore for a buyer to travel to the farm and look at the cow in person before buying it. Buyers are more aware of what they are buying than they used to be.” Although most of Burkhalter’s cattle is sold at a board sale, Burkhalter will take some of his cattle to a local processor in Chilton County called Reeds Processing where he will have meat processed for him and his family to consume. “We will take one of our cows and have it processed into hamburger meat, sirloin, t-bone, rib eyes and roast,” Burkhalter said. “It is some of the best meat you will ever taste and is a lot leaner than what you buy in the grocery store. It is a lot of work but I have always enjoyed cows and if I wasn’t working with them, I don’t know what I would be doing.” n

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Don Ball (left) was appointed by the Chilton County Circuit Court to analyze the viability of re-opening Chilton Medical Center. Ball is being helped by Ted Chapin, who was named the hospital’s executive director in September 2011. Photo by Jon Goering

MEN at wOrk

Ball, Chapin taking out ‘hurdles’ that prevent hospital from re-opening Written by stEphEN dawkiNs


he doors to Chilton Medical Center are locked these days, even during what should be business hours. Even if you were inside, there would be no one at the front desk to greet you, no

patients sitting in the waiting room before being called back to see a doctor. There aren’t any doctors, either, or cafeteria workers. There’s no one in the emergency room. The halls at the hospital are mostly empty. It wasn’t always like this at Chilton Medical, which was one of Chilton County’s largest employers and crucial to the quality of life of most all county residents, before it was shut down on Oct. 29, 2012, by the Alabama Department of Public Health. State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson issued the order because

it was becoming increasingly doubtful the hospital could continue providing safe care for patients. Williamson called the situation a “tragedy.” Community leaders hope Chilton Medical Center isn’t closed forever. From mayors to county commissioners to state representatives to businesspeople to folks that have had the need of an emergency room close by, everyone in Chilton County realizes the importance of the hospital to the community. And upon further inspection, Chilton Medical isn’t as lifeless as it may appear.


ed Chapin was named the hospital’s executive director in September 2011. Chapin came to Clanton from North Carolina and has more than 30 years

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‘there were many tears shed those two da of hospital administration experience. In fact, he’s never worked in any other industry: He started in healthcare in 1973 as an orderly while in high school. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Appalachian State University and a master of public health policy and administration from The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Chapin and his wife, Sarah, moved to Clanton and quickly became part of the community, attending Clanton First United Methodist Church and joining the Clanton Kiwanis Club. Shortly after his hiring, Chapin told The Clanton Advertiser: “This community deserves a hospital,

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needs a hospital, and there are good people who work here.” His plan was to do good by Chilton County through his work at the hospital. He didn’t know how difficult that would be.


obin Yeargan started working at Chilton Medical Center in 2001 as a staff nurse on the medical surgical floor. She soon transferred to and “fell in love” with the emergency department. “I loved taking care of hometown people in their times of crisis,” said Yeargan, who worked her way up to director of nursing. “So many have told me how good it was to walk in and see a familiar face. That’s why the employees at CMC

loved working there. They loved not only taking care of the patient but being the support the families needed also.” The first sign of trouble with her employer was when one of her nurses had an issue with her health insurance. Then, Chapin told employees that paychecks would be delayed. There wasn’t enough money to cover them. Rumors were flying because CMC’s operator, Clanton Hospital LLC, was a subsidiary of Carraway Medical Systems Inc., which ran in a hospital in Hope, Ark. that had gone into bankruptcy. Yeargan wanted more job security and took a job at Prattville Baptist Hospital. Many other of CMC’s 150 or so employees would soon

wo days. We were such a family there.’ Robin Yeargan, former Chilton Medical Center employee have to begin similar searches for employment. Chilton Medical Center not being able to issue paychecks was the final straw for the Department of Public Health, which had been working closely with the hospital for weeks, tracking patient care and finances. Williamson, the state health officer, said at the time that it was the first time he had taken such action in his 20 years in the position. Yeargan was going through orientation at the Prattville hospital when she heard the news. Her current employer allowed her to go help her former work family. The day of the closing, workers transferred patients and prepared to

lock the doors. The next day, equipment was shut down and other loose ends tied up. “At this time, we thought it would only be for a few days to weeks,” Yeargan said three months later, with a resolution still not apparent. “There were many tears shed those two days. We were such a family there. “Our patients were also our family. The compassion shown by the staff was amazing.”


he Chilton County Hospital Board was formed upon Chilton Medical Center’s construction in 1951 to serve as governing body of the operation. The board later sold the hospital but didn’t

dissolve, instead devoting its time and funds, which originated from the hospital’s sale, to the county’s health care needs. With Chilton County’s only hospital closed, the need was great. The board developed a plan, along with the state, to analyze the operation while re-opening it on a trial basis. If the analysis determined the hospital to be viable, the board would purchase the hospital facility from Central Alabama Medical Associates LLC. To go along with the about $2 million the hospital board had at its discretion, the Chilton County Commission gave about $1 million toward the plan, funds that also came from the sale of the hospital. “They are certainly doing their

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The sign on the front door at Chilton Medical Center declares the facility closed. It was shut down in October 2012. Photos by Jon Goering due diligence in making sure we don’t end up in the same situation we were in before,” Chapin said.


on Ball was appointed by the Chilton County Circuit Court to perform an analysis of the operation. Ball and Chapin are beacons of busyness in an otherwise dark, still building. They must report back to the state by March 15. “We’re working to find out what the barriers are and how we can tear those barriers down,” Ball said. “There are a lot of obstacles, and most of them are related to finances.” One big obstacle is the hospital’s $4.5 million debt. Even if the hospital’s finances are straightened out and it is reopened, Chilton Medical Center’s future would still be determined by patients walking through its doors. Many of those visits will be dictated by local residents committing to use the facility when possible instead of driving to Alabaster or Prattville, and by local doctors referring their patients to CMC. “We realize it’s going to take a real unified effort to get the hospital back open, and for that to happen, people have to have a sense that things are moving in the right direction,” Ball said.


erhaps one of the hospital’s most significant issues historically has been its frequent ownership changes. “Each time you change ownership, there’s something to be lost

there in terms of continuity,” Ball said. So, many relationships within the health care community and the community at-large need to be either built or mended. Some are already in place. Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver works to attract industry to the area, and he knows potential businesses take into account the presence, or absence, of a healthcare facility. “I think a medical facility has a big part to play,” Driver said. “It means a whole lot when you try to go out and get industry.” Yeargan, the former employee, wants to come back home one day. “My heart will always be with the Chilton County people,” she said. “I feel God called me into nursing to serve. Hopefully, someday, I will be able to lead again in some capacity in Chilton County.”


he problems have been numerous and all-encompassing, but if Chilton County has its way, Chilton Medical Center will reopen. “My gut tells me the community wants to see this place succeed,” Chapin said. He is frequently asked about the hospital’s status at church and at Kiwanis Club meetings. “I’m very optimistic. I think this is one of the few places where people are committed to it. A lot of places wouldn’t go through this trouble. It’s more complicated than I ever imagined. “It’s important for us to set the right course, because it’s a new day.” n

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ready, set, grow

Chilton primed to capitalize on economic turnaround Written by EMilY EthErEdgE


After several years of tough economic hardships in the United States, many communities throughout the country are looking ahead to 2013 with hopes of moving forward. With an unemployment rate continuing to drop, businesses looking to open or expand and a growing population of individuals, Chilton County’s industrial development coordinator Fred Crawford said growth within the county looks promising. Crawford was hired in early July 2012 to help prepare Chilton County for a changing economy by looking at places that might be suitable for new businesses or old businesses that would be interested in expanding. Crawford originally worked for the Alabama Prosthetic and Orthotic Association, National

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Federation of Independent business and the Alabama Hospital Association. He owns Crawford and Crawford and retired to Lake Mitchell five years ago after living in Chilton County for 13 years. “Once I retired, I kept feeling like I had taken so much from the county and I never gave anything

back to it,” Crawford said. “I decided to try to give back in some way and sort of ended my retirement quickly after deciding to do something that would help give back to the community in which I live.” Crawford now spends a lot of his time driving around the county talking with residents,

businesses and developers about ways to help the county grow and gains a better understanding of future businesses that would be suitable to bring to the area. “I have found that growth in this county will come from the north and from the south,” Crawford said. “People will want to relocate and Chilton County will be

a p l a i

o c w t

The construction of a local campus of Jefferson State Community College is perhaps one of the most significant developments for Chilton County’s economy over the past decade. Photo by Tammy Gentry

a happy meeting place due to its proximity in the middle of both larger cities like Birmingham and Montgomery. Growth is coming but we have to be ready for it.” Currently, the total population of Chilton County is 43,643 according to the 2010 U.S. Census with the average median age in the county of 37 years old.

In Thorsby, the median age of the population is 37, Jemison 37, Maplesville 37 and Clanton 39. “This age demographic won’t change much in the next ten years but we are starting to see more families coming to this area,” Crawford said. “In talking with people throughout the county who are in the median age of their

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Johnson Controls Inc. is Chilton County’s largest employer; the operation acquired new property to expand its parking lot to accommodate its expanded workforce. Photo by Tammy Gentry

30s, they understand the need for economic growth and they have a good work ethic.” Crawford said many of his conversations with people living in the county center around individuals wanting to have a choice at jobs and a desire to live a quality life that “middle America encompasses.” “People want to come home from work and go watch their kids play ball on a ball field,” Crawford said. “They want to go pick their little girl up from dance lessons and live in houses that are not jam packed to one another. They want a good educa-

tional system for their children and they want to invest in a community that will give them a good quality of life.” Crawford said a major goal in the coming year is to help provide good jobs for people to stay in the county without having to commute to larger cities for work. “You also have to keep giving things to do for those involved in the upper management of some of the companies we already have here so they won’t get bored,” Crawford said.


rawford said if there was one thing he would want people not familiar with Chilton County to know, is the county is more than peaches. Crawford said his experiences in talking to people who live in some of the larger surrounding cities will identify the county as the “place with the peaches.” Although Crawford said Chilton County will always have a large agricultural community, he hopes more people will recognize the unemployment rate that was 7.5 percent at the start of 2012 and ended 2012 with 6.1 percent.

“We are growing and adding jobs to the area with an unemployment rate that continues to drop and I would hope that people in surrounding cities would start to notice that we have a good thing going on right now,” Crawford said. Crawford projects in the next 15 years within three to five miles of Interstate 65, there will be a strong industrial base and population with the rest of the county maintaining agricultural and timber roots. “There will be residential growth in our county from people relocating from places like Bir-


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ving Per Ser

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative developed a new industrial park for Chilton County. So far, the energy provider is the only business at the park. Photo by Tammy Gentry

‘Growth is coming, but we have to be ready for it.’ Fred Crawford, Chilton County Industrial Developer

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mingham and Shelby County,” Crawford said. “This will put a demand on schools and retail in the area for growth.” Jefferson State Community College Chilton-Clanton coodinator of instructional site Chilton-Clanton center, Julie Emmerich said enrollment in the college since opening in 2008 has rapidly grown. “We started out in the fall of 2008 with 100 students,” Emmerich said. “In the fall of 2012 we had 688 students.”

A cross section of businesses in chilton county Edwards JEwElrY •Owned by Danny Edwards. •Located at 617 2nd Ave. N., Clanton. •63 years of business, all in Clanton; family owned and operated, second generation. •Jewelry sales and repair. •Three full-time employees. FraNkliN irONwOrks, iNC. « •Allen Franklin, CEO and President.

•Located at 146 Tommie Dr., Thorsby. •Originally started out as Tommie Corp. in 1975; name changed to Franklin Ironworks in January of 2012. •Ductile iron foundry specializing in castings. •70–80 employees. haYEs drugs •Owned by Danny Hayes. •Located 24724 U.S. Highway 31, Jemison. •In business since 1977, all in Jemison. •Pharmacy and gift shop. •About 12 employees.

MartiN FuNEral hOME « •Family owned (Jimmy, Donnie and Bobby Martin); entering fourth generation (Robert Mel). •Founded in 1921. •Assists families in planning funerals and cremations.

MOrlYN’s •Owned by Ann Glasscock. •Located at 621 2nd Ave. N., Clanton. •Originally started out as Messer’s and owned by Glasscock’s parents; became MorLyn’s in 2010. •Name comes from combination of Glasscock’s daughters’ names, Morgan and Lynsie. •Jewelry and gifts. •Family owned and operated; five employees. pEOplEs sOuthErN BaNk « •Opened in 1901 as a community bank.

•Three branches; two in Clanton and one in Thorsby. •About 50 employees at the three branches combined. •Remains at original location at 620 Second Ave. N., Clanton. tErrY’s sMall ENgiNEs •Owned by Terry Seales. •Located at 8199 Highway 22, Maplesville. •Moved to Maplesville from Plantersville in 1993. •Four employees; started out with Seales as the lone employee.

Emmerich said one major accomplishment for the school is the development of a nursing program that started in the spring of 2012 and will have 26 students graduating in the summer of 2013 as the first class of nursing students from the Chilton-Clanton campus. “We have a new class of students who started this January semester of 2013 with 30 students enrolled in that class so our nursing program is quickly growing,” Emmerich said. Emmerich said since opening the campus, 64 graduates from the Chilton County area have received from Jefferson State Community College.

“If you look at some of the places in the area including restaurants and businesses, they weren’t here 18 months ago,” Robertson said. “This community is changing and people are realizing that this is a good place to live.” Robertson said the economy is moving in the right direction and he is encouraged with the growth he is seeing within the community. Robertson said after living in the area for more than 15 years, he and his wife Patsy agree the people in Chilton County are what make the community function. “The people in this community are generous and they recognize when there is a need and willingly

‘this community is changing and people are realizing that this is a good place to live.’ Mike Robertson, director of the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce “We hope to continue to expand in the next few years because we are growing and more students are coming to us to get some of their first and second year college classes out of the way before they transfer to another school,” Emmerich said.


irector of the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce Mike Robertson said when comparing the amount of growth in Chilton County with the unemployment rate that continues to drop, it appears that the county has “turned a corner” in terms of moving forward from the economic recession.

respond to that need immediately,” Robertson said. “The generosity and kindness of the people here in Chilton County is what makes this community function and continue to grow.” Crawford said some of the biggest challenges that lie ahead are working with a group of people who want the county to remain the same and working with people who understand the county cannot remain the same. “We must plan for the future and understand that we are going to grow and expand,” Crawford said. “The challenge before me is bringing those two groups together as we look ahead to a community that is changing.” n

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School officials face battles on many fronts Written by EMilY BECkEtt


Today’s students, like these crowding a hallway during a class change at Chilton County High School, must learn despite a turbulent educational environment. Photo by Tammy Gentry

school – a place designed to foster learning, character development and positive social interaction – can be the same place where bullying, violence, peer pressure, teen pregnancy, overcrowding and lack of funding surface. Schools in Chilton County are not exempt from these and other issues occurring on their campuses, and like schools across the United States, they must continue operating and delivering the state-required level of curriculum to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In Chilton County, 13 school campuses account for where more than 7,700 children and about 820 full-time employees spend 35 or more hours a week. More than 100 buses run on 89 bus routes every morning schools are open and transport anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 students to and from schools. In terms of funding, the Chilton County Board of Education is functioning on a $77 million budget with a $4 million reserve for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. School officials and faculty are stretching state funding for schools and leaning on funds parents have raised as the wait continues for a significant economic upturn. Meanwhile, social issues such as bullying are still common at local schools, and shootings and other incidents at U.S. schools have spurred Chilton County’s education leaders and law enforcement to re-evaluate the safety procedures and preventative measures available at all local school campuses.


chools Superintendent Dave Hayden remembers when the word “bullying” was less common when his career in education began at Jemison High School in 1986 than it is now.

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Verbena students Jarred Penton, Samuel Brown and Katie Allen took matters into their own hands by forming Chilton County’s first antibullying club. Photo by Jon Goering

But Hayden said the behaviors including verbal arguments and physical fights that bullying represents were as prevalent then as they are now among students and are not limited to specific gender, age or socioeconomic groups. “You didn’t hear the word ‘bullying’ so much, but there was a certain amount of (kids picking on each other), and you addressed it,” Hayden said. “There was a certain amount of it everywhere. It’s always been around.” The punishment hinges on each situation, but Hayden said detention, suspension and alternative school are among the ways administrators discipline students who break the code of conduct. Hayden said all employees go through training on how to handle and combat bullying, and Deputy David Hubbard of the Chilton County Sheriff ’s Department leads anti-bullying classes and seminars for students and teachers. As the school system’s only resource officer, Hubbard travels to

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every school in the county at least once a week and teaches courses on anti-bullying, anti-drugs, antiviolence and safety. “He has different programs that are age appropriate,” Hayden said. “He’ll counsel with them on occasion—just talk to them one-on-one. He’s good with students in that regard.” After serving as resource officer for about two years, Hubbard has become familiar with students’ behavior patterns and personalities. He said one of his concerns with students today—and one factor he believes leads to bullying—is a lack of interpersonal skills. “We try to improve their communication skills,” Hubbard said, referencing the passive-aggressive approach people tend to use on social media websites. “We sit behind a computer screen and we talk big because we don’t have to face it.” Defamatory posts on social media sites fan the flames of bullying, but they do not account for every incident.

Katosha Pierce, a parent of former Chilton County students, had to watch both of her daughters endure teasing and harassment nearly every day for five months before she transferred them to different schools outside the county. Pierce said one of her younger daughter’s classmates teased her about her height and began taking her lunch and snack money from her. Her daughter refused to report the incidents for fear her classmate would cause even more trouble for her. “She was covering it up because the girl had threatened her,” Pierce said. “It was enough to where I would cry. When your children hurt, you hurt.” Pierce said she thinks every school should have a resource officer or an authority figure available to talk to students and to patrol the hallways, lunchrooms, buses and recess areas where bullying or violence tend to occur more often. “Their presence might help,” Pierce said. “I think the kids have

an issue with telling the teachers because they’re already being bullied and then they will be labeled as snitches.” Although he admitted schools will never be completely free of problems, Hubbard has seen teachers and students making strides in the battle against bullying. As Hubbard walked the hallways at Verbena High School one afternoon in January, he and principal Robin Cagle talked about the first anti-bullying club formed at the school in 2012. With guidance from Hubbard and Cagle, Verbena students Samuel Brown, Katie Allen and Jarred Penton spearheaded the formation of the Be There Club for peer mentoring and problem solving related to bullying and other issues teens face at or away from school. Brown said they felt led to form the club and hope to spread their anti-bullying, anti-drug and antidrinking campaign efforts to other schools via videos, assemblies or dramatizations of scenarios involving such issues and how to

avoid them. Verbena is also the pilot school for a mentoring program in Chilton County offered through the Department of Human Resources. Hayden said the program could expand to other schools if it proves to be successful at Verbena. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, local school and law enforcement officials began re-evaluating safety procedures at every school in the county. “It’s made us all aware that something bad can happen most anywhere,” Hayden said. “I think we’re more proactive and doing

School administrators, counselors and health care professionals encourage girls to report their pregnancies to them so they can formulate a plan to help the students stay healthy and meet attendance and coursework requirements for graduation. When these students are coping with responsibilities of being teen parents, school often becomes an afterthought. “When they come in pregnant, we encourage them to stay in school and graduate,” Chilton County Health Department clinic supervisor Ludean Hicks said. “If they have a good support system at home, they can do it.” According to statistics from the Alabama Campaign to Prevent

‘it was enough to where i would cry. When your children hurt, you hurt.’ Katosha Pierce, mother of children who were bullied what we need to do.” Police officers and state troopers started making more routine visits at the schools. Administrators and teachers were instructed to monitor students more closely, especially during class changes and breaks. Exterior doors at the schools remain locked at all times, and visitors are required to sign in at the front offices and wear badges.


chool officials say it seems the number of girls who are able to graduate from high school after having a baby or while pregnant has increased in recent years.

Teen Pregnancy, the teen pregnancy rate in Chilton County for females aged 10–19 was 34.6 percent, down from 35.2 percent in 2010. In the last 10 years, 2011 had the second lowest percentage, with 33.7 percent recorded in 2004. Data for the teen pregnancy rate in 2012 will not be released until October. In 2011, Alabama’s teen birth rate fell to 20.9 per 1,000 women aged 10–19, according to the ACPTP website. The site said this rate is a historic low for the state and follows a trend across the country that has seen drops in teen birth rates for all races and ethnicities, and

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the teen pregnancy rate has also seen a decline; 29.6 percent in 2011, down from 32.5 percent in 2010. Hicks said she and her staff are not seeing as many young teens come in because of pregnancy as they have in the past. “The ones we see are more like 18 or 19,” Hicks said. “There has been a time when we were seeing 13- or 14-year-olds. I think parents are just getting more in tune with what’s going on and they can pay more attention to girls that age and making sure that they are not just going out without being properly chaperoned.” Maplesville Principal Maggie Hicks and counselor Paula Stokes said their being accessible to talk to students about their circumstances, to monitor their attendance and to adjust their schedule is an important way schools can help these students complete high school. “We try to do what we can to help,” Stokes said. “We try to encourage them to do what they can to get back over here and stay current with their assignments.”


ince the economic recession that began in 2007, a significant decrease in state funding for education has resulted in a decrease in teacher units and auxiliary positions in the Chilton County school system. Superintendent Hayden estimates the school system has had to cut 15 or 16 total units in the past two years, as well as some janitorial, clerical and support personnel. “There’s four people fewer in this building than when I started a few years ago,” Hayden said of the Central Office. “It’s kind of been across the board.” Hayden said money allotted for the transportation department has dwindled, but the board must still pay for bus maintenance and diesel, which sometimes amounts to $30,000 per month. “That’s just what it takes to keep

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Local principals, such as Verbena’s Robin Cagle (right) are grateful for the presence of School Resource Officer Dep. David Hubbard. Photo by Jon Goering

‘you just have to do the best you can with what you have.’ & Development Council Inc. awarded a $6,000 grant to Thorsby School to help buy new English textbooks for grades 7–12 last year. “Sometimes you just have to do the best you can with what you have,” Hayden said. “We’re all doing more with less.”


he mentoring program and anti-bullying club at Verbena and construction projects like Maplesville High’s future band and P.E. facility are two examples of schools overcoming obstacles like bullying and funding shortages. Another sign of progress is the newly formed Education Work-

School Graduation Exam, it is updating graduation requirements for all high school seniors in Alabama including those in Chilton. The new state high school diploma was approved at the Alabama State Board of Education meeting in January and requires a minimum of 24 total credits for graduation. Hayden said individual school boards may vote to add more credits to the minimum number, but a new course called “Career Preparedness” is required for all students. It includes career and academic planning, computer applications and financial literacy.


Chilton County Schools Superintendent Dave Hayden





force Development Council, a group within the Chamber of Commerce that will work to help current and future members of the local workforce. Council members will be Tommy Glasscock, chairman; Janice Hull, Chamber representative; Mike Robertson, Chamber executive director; Lori Patterson, Board of Education president; and state Rep. Kurt Wallace. The council will discuss how to improve the workforce training programs currently offered at LeCroy Career Technical Center, secure more state funding for programs, and learn what the current needs of local industries are. As the state board of education phases out the Alabama High


s ) e r .

this big operation going,” Hayden said. Funding for textbooks and classroom supplies has been nearly nonexistent aside from teachers’ and parents’ voluntary efforts to raise money within their communities. Board member Pam Price is one of these parents and has organized and held fundraisers to help purchase textbooks for schools countywide. “When you’re talking about textbooks that average $60–$70 each, with 7,700 students you’re looking at close to $0.5 million per year,” Hayden said. “That’s tough to do with fundraising. You’re just a long way away from covering the whole county, but anything helps.” Cawaco Resource Conservation


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Students are no longer required to take a foreign language course but must have a minimum of 2.5 elective credits which can include a foreign language course. The new diploma will apply to all students beginning with the ninth-grade class in 2013–2014. As of December 2012, the county school system had 7,622 enrolled students including 467 seniors. “It would be wonderful to have 467 graduates, but things happen,” Hayden said. “Our graduation rate is up some; it’s up right around 76 percent, whereas it’s been around 72–73. Until it’s 100 percent, there’s always room for improvement.” High school students still have access to dual enrollment courses offered through Jefferson State Community College to count toward their college credits. “We have a good working relationship with Jeff State,” Hayden said. “It’s just a win-win situation. I’d love to see that expand.” n

Hubbard works to build rapport with students at schools across Chilton County. Superintendent Dave Hayden said education officials would like to have more “school resource officers,” but funding is a problem. Photo by Jon Goering

Though absent, Dearl Hilyer still inspires Thorsby


Written by stEphEN dawkiNs

horsby is a close-knit community. How close? Well, neverminding geography, the chair in the Thorsby mayor’s office might be the center of the town. From that chair, one could turn right and look out a window steps away from Highway 31, the main (and you might say only) thoroughfare through town. Just on the other side of the highway is the railroad, such a significant part of Thorsby’s past and still a town fixture. Then, further on but still just a stone’s throw away, is Richard Wood Park, where children play while their parents walk around the track. There is Thorsby High School, the town’s only educational institution. And there, further to the right, is Helen Jenkins Chapel, a historic structure dating back to the town’s Scandinavian roots and a location many natives choose for their wedding ceremonies. The mayor’s office also looks out onto the entrance of Town Hall, where almost every Thorsby resident walks through at some point to pay their water bill. Indeed, one could sit in that black office chair in the mayor’s office and feel like everything and everyone in Thorsby is within reach. Dearl Hilyer used to sit in that chair, and maybe he felt that way. One thing is for sure: The whole town felt his touch.


earl Hilyer grew up the oldest of three children. He always had a personality that endeared him to other people and a work ethic that allowed

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preserving a him to succeed at whatever he decided to do. His Thorsby High School classmates elected him to be the school’s first Student Council President. Hilyer had just graduated high school when he started dating Nicole Parrish. “We kind of had the whole high school love story,” she said. They married on Aug. 27, 1988, and had three children:

Aaron, Ashlin and Anna Grace. Dearl Hilyer had a successful professional career, rising to environmental health and safety complex manager with International Paper while working at plants in Thorsby, Opelika, Maplesville, Citronelle and McDavid, Fla. The family moved into a nice house in a subdivision in

Nicole Hilyer keeps the spirit of her husband alive by remembering his family values and by serving on the Thorsby Town Council. Dearl Hilyer was mayor of Thorsby before his passing. He was often seen around town in his 1972 Chevrolet pickup truck, “Old Blue.”

g a legacy

Photo by Jon Goering

Thorsby. Dearl Hilyer’s favorite seat was the leather chair in the living room. The Hilyers tasted tragedy when Aaron died in a car wreck on July 13, 2006, and Dearl Hilyer decided soon after that he wanted to make a difference in his hometown through public service. He told Nicole that he wanted to run for the town council, but she asked why he would stop there. So, Dearl Hilyer ran for and won the town’s mayoral seat in 2008. His parents were surprised he decided to run for mayor, but they weren’t surprised by the result and his success in the position. “When he made up his mind about something, a team of horses wasn’t going to stop him,” Dearl’s mother, Joyce Hilyer, said. Those who knew Dearl Hilyer glow when they talk about him. “He always worked so hard for his family,” his wife, Nicole, said. “He took pride in that. He was always so positive and funny, had a really good attitude and outlook on life. It kind of kept us going. He was laid back. It was quite an event when you made him mad. “You just can’t say enough good things about him.” That doesn’t stop people from trying. Dearl once purchased online a 1969 Ford truck that was identical to one he had driven and wrecked as a youth. That truck had first belonged to his grandfather, Evans Dawson. He told everyone that he had sold the truck he bought to a friend, Randall Higgins. Dearl would ask his father, Charles, “Do you think Randall should have the pipes going out the side or out the back?” Charles would say, “Well, you know I always liked the pipes going out the side.” Then, with the family gathered together one day, Dearl gave his father a card with a key inside. He had fixed up the orange truck—with the pipes going out the side—and made it a gift. Dearl and Charles entered the truck in the

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World of Wheels three times, and the vehicle won first place in its class each time. The truck now sits in a carport at Charles’ house beside two other trucks. One is Aaron’s 1999 Chevrolet. The other is “Old Blue,” Dearl’s 1972 Chevy that was a familiar sight around town. Sometimes he would carry around one of his daughter’s youth athletic teams in the bed of that truck. Other times the truck was Dearl’s ride down the town’s streets during a parade. Mostly, though, Dearl was alone in the seat of that truck, traveling to and from town hall, where he worked hard for the people of Thorsby.


t quickly became apparent that one of Dearl Hilyer’s greatest strengths as mayor was inspiring people to work with him and for the town. Jean Nelson was elected to the town council in 1996, barely lost the mayoral race to Tom Bentley in 2000 and then was re-elected to the council in 2004. “You could get along with him,” Nelson said about Hilyer. “He was always smiling. He was just such a pleasant person to be around.” Thorsby’s appearance was important to Hilyer. He worked to improve Richard Wood and Sam Bentley parks and to keep the town clean, especially during special events. Hilyer also worked to attract business into the town, including a franchise, Dollar General, and a local start-up, Thorsby Drugs. In addition to seeking business, Hilyer brought a strong business sense to town hall. Budgets were carefully crafted and followed. Input was sought from department heads, and Hilyer then made sure they had what they needed to do their jobs. Hilyer kept a detailed list of everyone who called town hall: when they called, what they called about and whether the town government was able to address the caller’s issue. Nelson isn’t sure what, if anything, Hilyer planned to do with the information, but she considers it a helpful resource and it demonstrates Hilyer’s attention to detail and dedication to helping residents. “When he became mayor, it was kind of like he just kicked it into another gear,” Nicole Hilyer said. “He really tried to bring everybody together. I think he gave us a strong sense of community. He gave us something to be proud of.” Perhaps the thing residents and town employees liked most about Hilyer was how he

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was able to make whoever he was talking with feel important. He genuinely cared about what those department heads had to say. He made time to sit down in his black chair and talk to anyone who came into town hall. “He was just our perfect mayor,” Nelson said. But then one day, he no longer could be.


he first sign was the tickle in Dearl Hilyer’s throat. It seemed a minor thing. No one was concerned even after it was mentioned to a family doctor. But it persisted. One Sunday morning soon after Hilyer was re-elected to his second term in office, the tickle became a coughing fit. Another doctor’s visit produced belief that it was simply reflux. After many tests were run and trips were made to specialists, Hilyer was finally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His health deteriorated quickly. “It just hit him so hard and so quick,” Nicole Hilyer said. “It was unbelievable, really. He went from fine one day to not the next. “I kept thinking, this doesn’t happen with 44-year-old people. I guess we were just in denial. It just shocked everybody.” Hilyer passed on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, at Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster. The town of Thorsby grieved. Then, the council had to decide how to move forward. “It never entered our minds that he wouldn’t be back,” said Jean Nelson, who served as mayor pro tem during Hilyer’s absence for treatment. Nelson was appointed the town’s new mayor by the council on Nov. 5, 2012. She said she did not hesitate about accepting the responsibility because she knew in what great shape Hilyer left the town. “People that were working here knew his plan and what he wanted done, so I didn’t worry about it,” Nelson said. “I knew all the positions here were taken care of.” Nelson’s appointment left an open council seat. Any Thorsby resident could apply for the position. Nicole Hilyer thought, “Why not me?” She applied and was nominated by Randall Higgins, himself newly elected to the council. No one else was nominated, and Nicole Hilyer was approved unanimously on Dec. 3, 2012. She said she is excited about the opportunity to continue her late husband’s work. Dearl Hilyer accomplished much in such little time in office, and he made decisions that set Thorsby up for many more years of pros-

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perity. And he inspired a pride in Thorsby that will continue for generations. “I just want people to remember him for being so caring and such a sense of wanting to bring unity to his community,” Nicole Hilyer said. “That was so important for him—for people to come together and take pride in their town. “When people hear his name, I just want them to go back and remember that smile. He loved them. That was not just a job for him, that was not something to just fill a few hours with. He truly loved these people. I wish we would’ve had it longer; we really could’ve done some remarkable things.” Time will show that Dearl Hilyer did many remarkable things. Most remarkable perhaps is that he was able to touch so many people from that one office chair in the small town of Thorsby. n

State Rep. Kurt Wallace and Sen. Cam Ward presented Dearl Hilyer’s family with a legislative resolution recognizing his service. Photo by Jon Goering

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Learning leadership Chilton Leadership program strengthening county Written by stEphEN dawkiNs


ritt Culpepper and LaGora Lykes are two examples of local residents who can say they were born and raised in Chilton County. Still, there were things even they didn’t know about their home. They realized this through Chilton Leadership, a program sponsored by the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System whose purpose is “developing a continuing source

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of informed, civic-oriented leaders who aspire to participate in shaping the future of Chilton County.” Organizers intend for Chilton Leadership to accomplish this goal through education and the building of relationships. Culpepper and Lykes may have had their eyes opened to some interesting facts about Chilton County during “History Day,” for example, but past graduates said the program’s primary benefit is introducing important community members to each other. “Chilton Leadership is most beneficial because it helps you build relationships with people,” said Lykes, a 2010 Leadership graduate who has worked in Chilton County’s education system for 21 years. She is a family engagement worker. Culpepper, vice president at Peoples Southern Bank, was a member of the first Chilton Leadership class. Organizers dropped a flier off at the bank asking for participants. “Even living here all of my life, there were things I didn’t know,” Culpepper said. “It was definitely worth going through.” Chilton Leadership benefits individuals like Culpepper and Lykes among others, and because those individuals are leading Chilton Coun-

meet the chilton leAdership clAss of 2013

rOdNEY BarNEtt •46 years old •Has lived in Chilton County entire life. •Chief of the Thorsby Police Department; joined force in 2002 as reserve officer.

Brad CartEr •30 years old •Has lived in Chilton County entire life; currently resides in Clanton •Business Personal Property Appraiser with the Chilton County Tax Assessor’s office since Nov. 2010.

JEssiE CartEr •30 years old •Has lived in Chilton County for 26 years; currently resides in Clanton •Chilton County Transit Director.

ty into the future, Chilton Leadership benefits the county as a whole.

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hilton Leadership is comprised of eight day-long sessions, each held on the second Tuesday of each month except December. The first session of this year’s program, on Sept. 11, 2012, was an orientation; and the final session, on May 7, will include the class presenting its project and a graduation ceremony. Each class identifies a service project that benefits the community and then works to complete the project. Past projects have included a feasibility study for a Chilton civic center, beautification of Higgins Ferry Park, production of tourism brochures, a library book drive and creation of a digital display promoting the county that was placed at various locations. This year’s Leadership class is presenting “Have a Heart,” an event on Feb. 16 that will serve as an open house for the Chilton County YMCA and a fundraiser for Child Protect, a children’s advocacy center, and the Chilton County Humane Society. The sessions--which usually include participants riding a bus to different stops around the county, where they hear from speakers and experience aspects of the county first-hand--include days devoted to history, economic development, education, public safety, government, and health and human services. Leadership graduates plan the sessions. Lykes, for example, helped organize this class’ education session. “They really needed to know how our county educates kindergarten through 12th grade, but we also have something available from birth all the way through adulthood,” Lykes said about a session that included visits to Maplesville School, Jefferson State Community College’s Clanton campus and the LeCroy Career Tech Center.

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kEviN COrlEY •32 years old •Has lived in Chilton County (Clanton) since 2011. •Assistant Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church.


stEphEN dawkiNs •30 years old •Has lived in Chilton County since Dec. 2006; currently resides in Clanton. •Managing editor of Clanton Advertiser since July 2012.

he first Chilton Leadership class graduated in 1998. Gay West with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System started the program. The idea was to break down the barriers--between municipalities,

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ashlEY EastErliNg •27 years old •Has lived in Chilton County since 2010; currently resides in Jemison. •Administrative Assistant with Central Alabama Electric Cooperative.

professions and circles of friends-that exist even in a rural county like Chilton. “I think it’s about building networks of people across the county,” West said. “You can do more things in a county when you have all these contacts.”

Bill EvaNs •70 years old •Born in Chilton County; moved to Jemison permanently in 2010. •Retired from owning and operating real estate related businesses in Houston, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

kiM gillEspiE •48 years old •Has lived in Chilton County more than 35 years; currently resides in Clanton. •Chief Clerk at Chilton County Tax Assessor’s Office for 11 years.

To begin with, organizers-including West and Mike Robertson, who came on as Chilton County Chamber of Commerce director in 1999--wanted to have Leadership graduates on all the various boards, city councils and commission across the county.

tOMMY glassCOCk •51 years old •Has lived in Chilton County for 47 years; currently resides in Clanton. •Career Tech Supervisor for Chilton County Schools and Director of the Bing LeCroy Technology Center.

The program could provide decision makers with the skills they needed, organizers figured. But somewhere along the way, Leadership became more about including a cross-section of the county, regardless of place of residence, gender or race.

rENEE grEEN •46 years old •Has lived in Chilton County entire life; currently resides in Clanton. •Financial Advisor, Edward Jones Investments.

kEith MaddOx •55 years old •Has lived in Chilton County (Clanton) entire life. •Deputy Chief of Police of City of Clanton; employed at CPD for 28 years.

“We’ve got graduates everywhere,” Robertson said. “We’ve had a good mix each time. We try our best to be as diverse as we can be.” Participants do more than simply go through the sessions. There are the projects, of course. Lead-

paM priCE •49 years old •Has lived in Chilton County (Thorsby) entire life. •Chilton County Board of Education member since 2012; operates catering business.

ership also sponsors political forums in election years for local candidates. Elmer Harris, former Alabama Power president and Chilton County resident, gave $5,000 to set up a scholarship and challenged future Leadership classes to per-


aNNE taddiCkEN •50 years old •Has lived in Chilton County for 20 years; currently resides in Mpalesville. •Serves as Community/ Medical Staff/ Women’s Auxiliary Liaison for Chilton Medical Center.

MarY wYatt •27 years old •Has lived in Chilton County (Clanton) entire life; currently resides in Clanton. •CEO of Chilton County YMCA.

petuate the scholarship. The scholarship has been given each year since Leadership’s inception. More than 150 people have graduated from Chilton Leadership. Some have moved away from the county, but many hold positions of prominence in the commu-

saMaNtha wYatt •31 years old •Has lived in Chilton County two years; currently resides in Verbena. •Financial Analyst, Johnson Controls.

nity—positions where the graduates benefit from the things they learned and the friends they made going through the program. That’s the idea. “You can get a few people together and make a difference,” West said. n

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Communi The Bensons’ home on Summit Street in Thorsby was built in 1897. Photo by Emily Beckett


Family preserves historic home in Thorsby


Written by EMilY BECkEtt

reserving a historic home is a considerable undertaking in terms of time and expenses. Restoring one that is more than a century old and maintaining it from then on is not a one-time project for homeowners; it is an unending task. Neal and Judy Benson accepted this task with their historic home in Thorsby about 10 years ago. Their Summit Street home was built circa 1897 amid three or four acres of cornfields near what is now the heart of downtown Thorsby. According to the town’s historical records, a man named Olaf Schive built the house, and he and his family were its first inhabitants. Neal’s grandparents, William and Virginia Higgins, acquired the house from the Schives. The Higgins family—including Neal’s mother, Dorothy Higgins Benson, and her six siblings—moved to Deatsville temporarily for her father’s job with the railroad but eventually moved back to Thorsby and reclaimed their old house. Neal, Judy and their two daughters, Ashley Benson and Jessica Benson Ellison, inherited the house from Neal’s grandmother in 2001. Virginia Higgins lived in the house until she passed away at age 94. “Her husband William had passed away long before she did, so it was in the family and we just wanted to restore it,” Judy Benson said. “We have tried to do a lot with it.” Neal and Judy kept nearly all of the original Heart Pine floors on the main level. Heart Pine is a type of tree so named because of its high content of heart wood, tight growth ring pattern and red-amber color. In the foyer, the fireplace—from the mantle to the mir-

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Dorothy and Rodney Benson (left, top) passed down their historic Thorsby home to son Neal, who now lives there with his family. Photos by Emily Beckett

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ror to the cast iron screen—is another part of the downstairs they saved and restored. “We tried to keep the front foyer area as original as possible,” Judy said. The front door and sliding pocket doors dividing the foyer and living room are antique. A former Thorsby resident named Yolanda Neeley crafted beveled glass windows for the front of the house and did so for multiple homes in the area before she passed away years ago. “She was the most precious woman, and she loved older homes and building this glasswork to put in,” Judy said. “It means a lot to us that that’s in there.” Waves in the antique windowpanes indicate their old age, and Neal said he does not plan to replace them unless they break. Neal’s mother grew up in the house, and his father, Rodney Benson, was a frequent visitor when he was courting Dorothy before

rooms when they visit Neal and Judy on the weekends. The upstairs level accounts for about 1,000 square feet, and the downstairs measures about 1,500 square feet. Hidden within Neal’s closet in the master bedroom is the sole entrance to an old wine cellar where Schive, the first jeweler in Thorsby, stored many of his jewels in the small space below the house. Although the Bensons keep it closed most of the time, Judy said they use it as a storm shelter during severe weather. They replaced all of the electrical wiring and plumbing and updated the kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures, but their favorite aspects of the house are not new. The wraparound porch is a popular place at the Benson home, especially in the summertime. Judy will sip her morning coffee there, and neighbors walking by will stop

‘it makes you feel good to restore something and see it come back to look good.’ Judy Benson the two married 57 years ago. “When I would pick her up for a date, they would always have a charcoal fire going,” Rodney said, pointing at the fireplace. The two would sit on the front porch swing and enjoy each other’s company as the night breeze wound its way around the house. “He said he would walk over here from Collins Chapel,” Neal said. “They would sit on the porch swing and date.” As they remodeled the upstairs portion, Neal and Judy uncovered hundreds of old corn shucks packed into the roof to insulate the house in the colder months. “We got a lot of corn shucks out of here when we remodeled,” Neal said, laughing. They removed walls upstairs to turn four small bedrooms into two larger ones for their daughters, who were 15 and 10 at the time and now stay in their childhood bed-

and say “hello.” Legend has it that Schive enjoyed the porch too, but for a different reason. Schive kept a parrot on the porch for children who would walk by and talk to it so they could hear the bubbly bird talk back. Neal and Judy often walk the two-minute stretch of sidewalk from their house to the park or a store in Thorsby. “It’s just so convenient,” Judy said. Applying fresh coats of white paint to the exterior is one example of ongoing renovations the couple will have to complete as long as they live in their historic home, but they knew that when they moved in 10 years ago. “When you have an older home, you have a project all the time because you don’t want to lose the character of the home,” Judy said. “It makes you feel good to restore something and see it come back to look good.” n

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Bertha Mae Sullivan, left, and Amegene Smith, right, sit with their mother, Versa Davis, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday. Opposite page: Mary Chism is another Clanton resident who turned 100 recently. Photos by Jon Goering

Living History

100-year-olds offer unique perspective on local history


Written by EMilY BECkEtt

52 Progress

istory books and old sepia photographs offer two-dimensional views of Chilton County as it was in the early to mid-20th century, but they cannot replace the firsthand accounts of two longtime residents. Mary Jones Chism and Versa Harville Davis, both of Clanton, have spent more than half their

lives in the county and have seen its dirt roads paved, its schools integrated and its relatively small population expand to nearly 44,000. Both women recently celebrated their 100th birthdays with family and friends.


hism was born on Nov. 16, 1912, in Clanton. Her mother raised Chism and her two siblings and ran a boarding house in her home for girls attending school in Clanton. “Women didn’t get out and work during the Depression,” Chism

said. “You never saw women working in stores.” Chism described the Great Depression of the 1930s as “awful” and recalled when foods like bananas were considered novelties. “You’d go from one grocery store to the other to see if they had what you were looking for,” she said. Local schools closed for a time during the depression, and some teachers would teach individual students for $5 a month, Chism said. Otherwise, she and her siblings would walk more than a mile every day from their house to the

school located where the old Adair School was off Second Avenue. Her mother made washrags and pillowcases out of flower sacks, and Chism would fold old Union Banner newspapers and put them in her shoes to patch the holes. “You never threw anything away,” she said. Chism remembers when Clanton did not have a bank until Peoples Savings Bank, now Peoples Southern Bank, opened sometime in the late ’50s or early ’60s; when the Reynolds house, also known as the Pledger Man-

or, was built near downtown Clanton; and when what is now Highway 31 was pastureland. Before the fire department was formed, a bucket brigade was how residents battled blazes. She and her late husband, E.G. “Sunshine” Chism, married on Aug. 31, 1935, and had three children: Mary Clyde Huff, Billy Chism and Amelia Alawine. Her husband worked at Upchurch Drug Company, and the two were married for 44 years before he passed away in 1979. “I haven’t thought about old age in a long time,” Chism said. “I just do what I want to do and

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It’s time for banking to be simple again. Branch Locations: Clanton Branch 100 7th Street S. | Clanton, AL 35045 205.280.0158 Jemison Branch 24651 U.S. Hwy. 31 | Jemison, AL 35085 205.688.3166 © 2012 Regions Bank.

AL-SW120106 ClantonAdvertiser.indd 1

2/8/12 2:47 PM

Chism’s daughter, Mary Clyde Huff, lives in Clanton and visits her often at her home. Opposite page: Davis moved to Chilton County in the 1940s and has lived here ever since. Photos by Jon Goering what I can do.”


avis was born on Jan. 2, 1913, in Perry County. After marrying the late Henry Thomas Davis Sr. in 1938 and living in Birmingham for period of time, Davis moved to Chilton County in 1941. She stayed busy raising her nine children and was a housekeeper for Fred and Shelby Thompson and Era Wyatt. Like Chism, Davis remembers when dirt roads dominated the area except for a paved stretch now known as Highway 22, and

54 Progress

when flower sacks were used to make clothes and linens. After Davis and her family moved from Maplesville to Clanton in 1965, schools became racially integrated. Although she no longer lives in it, Davis’ children still own her house on Martin Luther King Street and consider it their “only homeplace.” “We’re trying to keep it in the family,” said Bertha Mae Sullivan, Davis’ youngest daughter. When Davis reflected on the years of raising her nine children, she shook her head and said, “It was a mess.”

She now has 42 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. She is the oldest member and “mother” of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Clanton. Five generations of her family surrounded Davis at her 100th birthday celebration at Brandon’s Place. “It was nice, too,” Davis said. She claimed she has no secret in reaching 100, but Sullivan attributed her mother’s long life to “staying active, working, being kind and having a loving family.” n

Sunday - 1:00 PM until 7:00 PM and Monday - 7:00 AM until 11:00 AM. Our sale in Montgomery begins at 1:00 PM on Monday.

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dOiNg his part Community servant Hollis Jackson named 2013 Citizen of the Year Written by sCOtt MiMs


ttorney, judge, president, board member, volunteer, community leader, history buff, devoted sports fan—each of these could describe a different individual, but in this case they all describe one man—the 2013 Clanton Advertiser Citizen of the Year, Hollis Jackson. The many faces of Hollis Jackson are seen all across Chilton County to the extent that, perhaps, it would be challenging to find an area not influenced by his leadership. Jackson, a native of Chilton County, currently serves as the Clanton City Judge, Maplesville Town Attorney, president of the Clanton Lions Club, Chilton County YMCA board member, Chilton County United Way board member, and a member of the Mental Health Board of Chilton and Shelby Counties. He has also served as a board member of PEECH (Chilton Education Foundation) and the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce, and is a graduate of the Chilton Leadership program. Jackson practices law alongside his father, John Hollis Jackson Jr. The father and son team are the Chilton County Attorney and Assistant County Attorney, respectively, and also work together to serve the municipalities of Thorsby and Jemison. “He has a genuine interest in people, and he has a great love for Chilton County,” said Tony Hughes, fellow Lion and pastor of Walnut Creek United Methodist Church. “Hollis is a person who can cut to the heart of the matter. He sees what the real issues are, and he takes steps to be a good leader.” Hughes said Jackson came to the Lions Club

during a time of transition. He said Jackson, as one of many dedicated members, was instrumental in seeking out women to be part of the club. While women were never prohibited from joining, until recent years, the organization was made up of only men. Through Jackson’s leadership, a greater number of people have leadership roles in the Chilton County Peach Festival and Peach Pageants as well. Jackson became club president in July 2012. He has also served as board member and secretary and was recognized as Lion of the Year.

‘Hollis is a person who can cut to the heart of the matter.’ Tony Hughes, fellow Clanton Lions Club member “Hollis has carried the organization to a new level of membership and ideas that will make Clanton Lions Club far more capable of serving Chilton County,” Hughes said. Like many, Jackson has a deep-seated devotion to Alabama athletics, as well as the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons. But few know of his connection with the Dallas Cowboys organization. Jackson, a 1997 graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, traveled the country as part of the Cowboys’ equipment staff. He would later decide to follow in his father’s

footsteps and attend law school, graduating from the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery and being admitted to practice law in 2003. His father, John Hollis Jackson Jr. (known as “John Hollis”) was extremely pleased with the decision but said Hollis was not pressured to do so. “He’s been a partner here ever since he started practicing law in 2003,” John Hollis Jackson said. “We didn’t push him. He decided on his own…it’s been a very good experience for him.” He went on to describe his son as “thorough,” “hard-working” and someone who takes pride in being prepared. Hollis’ full name is John Hollis Jackson III, and he is named in honor of his grandfather who passed away before he was born. John Hollis Jackson Sr. (also known as “Hollis”) was serving his third consecutive term as mayor of Clanton when he died; he was also a schoolteacher. “From the very beginning, we called him Hollis, just like his grandfather,” his father continued. Although Jackson never knew his grandfather, his life’s accomplishments seem to reflect his spirit and build upon his legacy. “His biggest tribute for anybody always was that they were a good citizen,” John Hollis Jackson said. “He really respected people who worked for their community.” Each year, a board made up of past Citizens of the Year nominates and selects a new recipient of the title. Jackson is the 10th Citizen of the Year; past honorees include Kenneth Moates, Bobby Martin, Curtis Smith, Jimmie Harrison Jr., Mickey Bates, Gay West, Tony Smitherman, Eddie Reed and Tom Brown. Curtis Smith, a fellow Citizen of the Year honoree, chairman of the Chilton County United Way board and former Clanton Lion, described Jackson as “articulate,” “intelligent,” “understanding” and a good problem solver. Smith said he nominated Jackson for the award. “He does his part. He carries his part of the load,” Smith said, adding, “I’ve never heard him say a word against anybody.” n


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Progress 2013  

The Clanton Advertiser's annual Progress edition: Tomorrow Began With Yesterday

Progress 2013  

The Clanton Advertiser's annual Progress edition: Tomorrow Began With Yesterday