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St. Vincent’s First Year • Lovejoy Slingshot Hunt • Wing It Reluctant Horse Doctor • Auto Industry • Ashville: The Beginning

February - March 2013

Edibles Everywhere Foraged food finds its way to Birmingham restaurants

Saving SEDDON Working to preserve historic cemetery

Tiny Prancers

For some farms, bigger is never better


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Features and Articles D iscover The Essence of St. Clair

February - March 2013

Edibles

Everywhere St. Clair forager finds culinary fame in Birmingham restaurants

Page 30 Cover and Index photos by Jerry Martin

Tricky Fishing

Kayak fishing making big splash in St. Clair lakes

Lovejoy Slingshot Hunt Creating an unusual local tradition

Page 8

Bolton’s New Book

Candy Kisses

Springville’s Mike Bolton creates the ultimate fishing guide Page 14

Reluctant Horse Healer

Wing It

Restaurant’s success began with a skillet and a prayer A special recipe for a special Velvet Cake

Page 16 Page 20

Traveling the Backroads In the beginning of St. Clair County, there was Ashville Royal burial marker at armory building

Page 22 Page 27

Page 56

Famous equine doctor never wanted to be a vet ... at first

Page 36

Business News In Brief

Automotive industry driving local economy Celebrating St. Vincent’s first anniversary

Odenville woman inspires with book about daughter’s illness Page 62

Tiny Prancers

For some local farms, bigger is never better

Page 66

Here a Llama Page 44

Family raising llamas for show and profit

Page 46 Seddon Cemetery A local tale of historic survival

Page 52

Page 74

Page 78

online @ www.discoverstclair.com


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Writers AND Photographers

Carol Pappas

Jerry C. Smith

Carol Pappas is editor and publisher of Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine. A newspaper veteran, she retired as editor and publisher of The Daily Home, St. Clair Times and Lakeside Magazine to start her own multimedia company. She has been published in various newspapers and magazines, won dozens of writing awards in features, news and commentary and was named Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist at Auburn University for 2011.

Jerry C. Smith’s interest in photography and writing go back to his teen years. He has produced numerous articles, stories and photographs for local websites and regional newspapers and magazines, including the St. Clair County News, Sand Mountain Living, and Old Tennessee Valley. His photos have appeared in books, on national public television, in local art displays and have captured prizes in various contests. A retired business machine technician and Birmingham native, Jerry now lives near Pell City. He recently published two books: Uniquely St. Clair and Growing Up In The Magic City.

Graham Hadley Graham Hadley is the managing editor and designer for Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine and also manages the magazine website. Along with Carol Pappas, he left The Daily Home as managing editor to become vice president of the Creative Division of Partners by Design multimedia company. An Auburn journalism graduate, Hadley also served as the news editor for The Rome News Tribune in Rome,Ga.

Jerry Martin

Jerry Martin is chief freelance photographer for Partners by Design, a multimedia group based in Pell City. He is a veteran newspaper photographer, whose work earned numerous state awards. His photographs have appeared in many magazines, publications and online.

Samantha Corona Samantha Corona works as a communications coordinator for O2 Ideas, a public relations and marketing firm in Birmingham. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Auburn University, where she served as associate sports editor of The Auburn Plainsman and freelance contributor for the Opelika-Auburn News. She began her professional career with The Daily Home, covering community news, events and local government, as well as contributing to Lakeside Magazine.

Elaine Miller Elaine Hobson Miller is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism from Samford University. She was the first female to cover Birmingham City Hall for the Birmingham Post-Herald, where she worked as reporter, food editor and features writer. A former editor of Birmingham Home & Garden magazine and staff writer for Birmingham magazine, she has written for a variety of local, regional and national publications, including American Profile, Woman’s World, The Dallas Morning News and The Birmingham News. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Myths, Mysteries & Legends of Alabama and Nat King Cole: Unforgettable Musician. She is a member of Alabama Media Professionals and NFPW (the National Federation of Press Women).

Loyd McIntosh Loyd McIntosh is a freelance writer and former news reporter and sports writer for several newspapers throughout the Southeast, including The Daily Home. In over 10 years as a freelance writer, he has published work in a variety of magazines. He is a native of Trussville and now lives in Pell City with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughters Emily Grace and Lily. Loyd is currently the marketing manager for the Birmingham YMCA.

Discover The Essence of St. Clair

February - March 2013 • Vol. 10 • www.discoverstclair.com

Carol Pappas • Editor and Publisher Graham Hadley • Managing Editor and Designer Brandon Wynn • Director of Online Services Jerry Martin • Photography Arthur Phillips • Advertising

A product of Partners by Design www.partnersmultimedia.com 6204 Skippers Cove Pell City, AL 35128 205-335-0281

Printed at Russell Printing, Alexander City, AL.


A passion for discoveries From the Editor

Discovering new people, places and things is a passion of ours. And every other month about this time, that passion tends to come alive in the pages of our magazine. Readers have been our best sources. The conversation usually starts out with “Did you know…” and the end result is a package of stories and photographs that tell others what they didn’t know about their county. In the pages that follow, readers will learn of a young farmer who is making a name for himself as a grower of organic food and a forager of wild edibles he teaches others how to identify in their own back yard. In the ‘long and short of it,’ they will get a close-up view of some of the more exotic animals finding a home in St. Clair County. From llamas to miniature horses, donkeys, goats and brahma bulls, the county has become a menagerie of unlikely pets. Test the waters with the Coosa Riverkeeper, who is bringing the latest sports trend — kayak fishing — to Logan Martin and Neely Henry lakes. Or check out this internationally known doctor and surgeon whose patients are the four-hoofed kind. Go along on a slingshot squirrel hunt or see how the automobile industry is driving our economy. You’ll find out the stories behind them all and more as you thumb through another issue of Discover, The Essence of St. Clair. Welcome to another edition of discoveries. Carol A. Pappas, Editor and Publisher

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 7


Frank Chitwood casts a spinner bait to the bank.


Tricky fishing

Kayak fishing making a splash at Neely Henry & Logan Martin lakes Story by Loyd McIntosh Photos by Jerry Martin Spring time in St. Clair County: fresh air, blue skies, green grass and, of course, fishing — lots and lots of fishing. By the time the ol’ groundhog’s predictions have taken root, there will be – excuse the pun – a boatload of fishing tournaments on and around Neely Henry and Logan Martin lakes. That also means hundreds of noisy bass boats, speed boats and other motorized watercraft making waves all in an attempt to sneak up on the legions of fish that call the Coosa River and its lakes home. Fishing is as ingrained in who we are in these parts as barbecue and football are. But a new way of angling is making its way from salt water to fresh water. It began off the California coast around 15 years ago, and now kayak fishing is heading to fresh water fishing hotspots around St. Clair County. Kayak fishing is on the rise with a growing community of anglers spreading the gospel of the sport as an alternative to traditional fishing. Interested to see it or to try kayak fishing out for yourself? Then clear your schedule and plan to compete in the Coosa Canoe and Kayak Fishing Tournament, organized by the non-profit group, Coosa Riverkeeper. Frank Chitwood, Riverkeeper and chief watchdog for Coosa Riverkeeper, hopes his organization’s efforts will ensure a healthier Coosa River and surrounding waterways for future generations. “Coosa Riverkeeper is a citizen group advocating on behalf of the Coosa River for clean water,” explains Chit-

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 9


Tricky fishing wood. “We stand up to polluters and the government when their actions are not in the best interest of clean water and a healthy river.” The Coosa Canoe and Kayak Fishing Tournament is a charitable event to raise money and awareness of issues facing the Coosa River through an innovative three-stage tournament. Proceeds from the tournament will go toward helping the Coosa Riverkeeper fulfill its vision of a fishable, swimmable, drinkable Coosa River. The first stage, Lake Neely Henry Open, is scheduled to begin at first safe light on Saturday, March 30, and for many in observance, this will be the first time to see some of the tournament’s interesting rules. For instance, competitors are allowed to drive to any spot they wish within the tournament boundaries to put their kayaks in the water. There are also no live wells and no weigh-ins, keeping the negative impact on the fish to a minimum. “You don’t actually keep the fish,” Chitwood explains. “You put them right back after you catch them, so we call it a virtual stringer because it only exists on your camera.” Tournament scoring is based on length, which Chitwood says is just as fair a competitive measure as other tournaments that are weight-based. At the beginning of each tournament, every competitor is given a special fish ruler, and once an angler reels in a catch, he or she places the fish in the trough-like ruler and then takes a photo of the fish on a digital camera or cell phone camera. At the end of the day, anglers arrive with a “digital stringer” instead of live fish they may have kept in a live well for several hours. “So, generally it takes a minute or two to do all that once you reel it in, take a picture or two of it and put it back in the water where it came from as opposed to a bass tournament, where they might give you a poorly ventilated live well where the fish stay for several hours,” he says. Chitwood says this method is less

10 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

It’s a short setup from unloading the boat to taking to the water.


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Rigging a spinner bait

Schedule

Lifting a bass out of the water while standing takes balance.

Another small bass is caught on a crank bait.

Lake Neely Henry Open • • •

Saturday March 30 Check-In, March 29, 7 p.m. at the Back Forty Beer Company and Taproom, downtown Gadsden. Weigh-In 5 p.m. at Blackstone Pub and Eatery in Gadsden Entry Fee: $50

Logan Martin Open • • • •

Saturday, June 1 Check-In, Friday, May 31, Place TBD Weigh-In 6 p.m. Fat Man’s BBQ Entry Fee: $50

Coosa Classic • • • •

October 26-27 Coosa Outdoor Center Check-In, Friday October 25, Coosa Outdoor Center Angler Check-In 5 p.m., Coosa Outdoor Center Entry Fee: $80

Event Sponsors

YUM Lures & Booyah Lures (Each donating $1,000 worth of lures for use during the tournament). Alabama Outdoors Mountain Khakis Zkano Socks (Fort Payne Company donating socks for the Best Female Angler Prize) Coosa Outfitters (Donating the Yeti Coolers) Greater Gadsden Area Tourism Coosa Outdoor Center

The length of the fish on an official scale

12 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


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The big catch stressful on the black bass varieties – primarily large mouth and spotted bass – that are allowed during a Coosa Riverkeeper tournament. The goal, Chitwood says, is to create an alternative to traditional fishing tournaments by keeping mortality rates low and, thus, a healthier Coosa River ecosystem. At a poorly run tournament, in the middle of a hot summer’s day with poor live well conditions, fish mortality can be high, Chitwood says. “At kayak fishing tournaments, we keep fish mortality rates really low. Almost all of them will survive and become larger bass.” The first two stages of the three-stage tournament – the Lake Neely Henry Open in March and the Logan Martin Open in June – are each one-day, three-fish-limit tournaments where only the three biggest fish are counted. “That way it gives people who catch a larger quantity of fish an advantage, but not so much that you can just go out and catch a bunch of little ones. Good combination of quantity versus quality.” The final tournament of the year is the Coosa Classic, a two-day event Oct. 26-27 at the Coosa Outdoor Center in Wetumpka and is a four-fish stringer, with only the two biggest fish from each day counted for the final score. The Coosa Classic is the final event, where the Blackjack Lands Angler of the Year will be crowned at the end of the tournament. The grand prize is a Primo ceramic grill, donated by Blackjack Lands. To learn more about kayak fishing, Coosa Riverkeepers or to register for the Coosa Canoe and Kayak Fishing Tournament, go online at www.coosakayakfishing.com. l

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 13


Bolton’s new book

The Ultimate Guide to Alabama Fishing, a new book by St. Clair County resident and Discover: The Essence of St. Clair writer Mike Bolton is hitting bookshelves across the state. The 320-page book featuring more than 100 maps showing the locations of thousands of pieces of underwater structure on every major lake in Alabama, is on sale in bookstores now. The book written by Bolton was compiled with the help of hundreds of fishermen, including pro anglers and top weekend-tournament fishermen. The book gives great detail on how top anglers fish defined sections of individual lakes season by season. Each lake chapter includes maps showing underwater structure, including roadbeds, brush piles, rock piles, creek channels and many other forms of structure. The book is a result of Bolton, who spent almost 30 years as outdoors editor of The Birmingham News, fishing all across Alabama over those years. “The hours Mike Bolton spent putting together this book is mindboggling,” said professional angler Randy Howell of Springville. “I know because he has spent hundreds of hours in my boat through the years, and I’m just one of more than 75 fishermen that contributed to this book. This is a must-have book for anyone who fishes tournaments in Alabama.” The book includes lakes on the Alabama River, the Black Warrior River, the Chattahoochee River, the Coosa River, the Tallapoosa River, the Tennessee River, the Tombigbee River and the Warrior River. The book also includes sections and maps for the Mobile Delta as well as a saltwater section that includes maps for the Mobile Delta, Perdido Bay and the Alabama Gulf Coast. The 320-page book sells for $24.95 and can be found at major bookstores as well as major sporting goods stores. It is also available on Amazon.com. l

Springville writer creates must-have fishing guide to Alabama waterways

14 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 15


WING IT

Restaurant success built on a wing, a skillet and a prayer Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin Byron Gover’s quest for success began with an idea, a dream, his faith and an oversized iron skillet his mother gave him. A couple of decades later, Pastor Byron Gover credits that success to a wing and a prayer and the frying pan that started it all. “She gave me the frying pan,” he says, motioning toward his mother, Sharon Gover, who works alongside him these days. “That’s what we started out as — just that frying pan.” Tuesdays through Saturdays, you’ll find him manning the fryers at Wing It restaurant or greeting customers with his signature smile and a quip guaranteed to get a smile in return. Tucked away in the rear of a strip mall on US 231 South in Pell City, Wing It has become a gathering place for young and old and in between — anyone who likes a good chicken wing cooked to perfection. Twenty years ago, he was working for the Department of Corrections in a prison kitchen. He took his retirement and decided to find a place for his own kitchen. He established it in Talladega and called it Wings West. His mother gave him an iron skillet that could fry 50 wings at a time. He found a hood system in the woods in Ragland, a household fryer for French Fries, a stove at a thrift store and a deep freezer from his mother, and he turned his finds into a working commercial kitchen. But to be on the safe side, since the grease from the wings had a tendency to spill over the side of the pan, he recalls, there was always “tons of salt” on hand to douse a possible fire. His customers were patient, he says, referring to regular overloads of the fryer he used for French Fries. “If we were real

16 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Sharon and Byron Gover with the skillet that started it all

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 17


WING IT It’s a Mom-andSon operation at Wing It with Byron and Sharon Gover.

busy, people would wait until we could heat it back up.” Fast forward to 2003, and he brought his successful business to Pell City, where he has remained ever since. “Wings were the thing that began us on the road trip to where we are now,” he says. The menu has expanded since those early days, and catering for events like weddings — large and small, classic, contemporary and elegant — is all in a day’s work now for Gover and his family. Today’s menu reaches well beyond the traditional Buffalo Wings with 21 flavors, sporting names like Cajun Ranch, Honey Barbecue, Terriyaki and Lemon Pepper. The recipes came from his uncles, aunts and cousins gathering in Wing It’s kitchen to decide on just the right consistency. A simple “that’ll work” from the taste testers translated into a seal of approval, and a wing recipe was born. Five types of burgers alongside fries like Bacon Cheese Ranch and Cajun Cheese Ranch tell the customer this is no ordinary takeout or eat-in. But wings are still the main event. On Iron Bowl weekend, it is not uncommon to see — pardon the metaphor — 3,000 wings fly out the door. He has a close kinship with the community, supporting schools and civic events, and his success is seen in the number of returning customers. “Communicating with the public is better than the food,” he says. “It’s how you treat people. They’ll come back.” But he quickly adds, “If the food is good, it’s a double whammy.” On Sundays, you’ll find him pastoring Christian Vision Center, a multipurpose building that also can be used as an event venue for large, catered events. His mother oversees that end of the business, providing “everything it takes to have a wedding,” from versatile menus served on something as simple as paper plates to fine china and silverware. “Catering is her passion,” Gover says. “God’s still blessing us, and we’re still growing.” Most small businesses are called “Mom and Pop,” he says with that signature smile again. “We’re Mom and Son, and our success lies in the number of people who return.”

18 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

Catering is now a part of the business plan.

It’s not just wings at Wing It.


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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 19


WING IT: Recipe

Sharon Gover’s

Red Velvet Cake One of the most popular items on the menu at Wing It is Sharon Gover’s Red Velvet Cake. She agreed to share her recipe with Discover readers.

Ingredients

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour 1 ½ cups sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cocoa 1 cup buttermilk 1 ½ cups oil 1 teaspoon white vinegar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 eggs 1 2 oz. bottle red food coloring

Frosting

16 oz. package confectioner’s sugar 1 stick butter, softened 1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened

For the cake …

Stir together dry ingredients. Add other ingredients, mixing well after each addition. Pour into 2 (6 ½-inch by 11-inch) well greased and floured cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool on racks. Frost with cream cheese frosting.

For the frosting …

Combine cream cheese and butter and cream well. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar, blending well after each addition. Beat until smooth and creamy. Spread on cake.

20 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 21


Traveling the

BACKROADS

St. Clair County In the beginning ... Ashville

W.D. Fouts & Sons Motors c.1933

22 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Story by Jerry Smith Photos submitted Photos by Jerry Martin A wagon train set out from Georgia in late autumn of 1816, headed westward-ho toward Shelby County, Alabama, to settle with other recent migrants from North Carolina. Among these latest emigrants were John Ash, his wife Margaret, daughters Jane, Samita and Betsy Ann, Margaret’s parents and seven slaves. Alabama Heritage magazine relates that in January 1817, the travelers stopped for the night at a spring in St. Clair, near the old Creek Indian town of Cataula. Once encamped, the family decided to explore a bit by driving their wagon down an Indian trail (now Beaver Valley Road). While his family was admiring the scenery, John spotted a deer and shot at it. The noise made the horses bolt, and little 3-yearold Betsy Ann was thrown from the wagon. She died from her injuries a few days later. Understandably, everyone in the wagon train was totally devastated. Although Shelby County was not far away, the Ash family decided they could never drive off and leave their daughter buried alone in the wilderness, so they bade farewell to their fellow pilgrims and settled in. Margaret’s father, the Rev. Thomas Newton, built a dogtrot cabin near Betsy Ann’s grave. Now known as the Ash-Newton Cabin, it’s listed as the oldest standing house in St. Clair County. John Ash was the first white man to officially settle in the area. He homesteaded some property in 1817, acquired legal title in 1820, and built a fine, two-story home which still stands, albeit in pitiful condition, just 1.5 miles west of the present-day junction of US 411 and US 231. John became the county’s second judge, served three terms as state senator, and still found time to sire and support a family of 15. In History of St. Clair County, historian Mattie Lou Teague Crow relates that, when organized in 1818, St. Clair County “… reached to the Cherokee Nation, well beyond what today marks the city limits for Attalla and Gadsden.” Thus, the new city of Ashville would fall near the exact geo-center of St. Clair, making it an obvious choice for a future county seat. The first courts, according to Crow, were held at the home of Alexander Brown, near the Indian village of Littafuchee, about four miles south of present-day Ashville. The town itself was established on a huge land patent granted to a local investor, Philip Coleman, who laid off a plat map of some 30 acres, including a courthouse square. First known as St. Clairsville, the town was incorporated shortly after Alabama became a state in 1822, and its name was changed to honor its founder, John Ash. In 1823, Coleman sold Ashville for $10,000 to its five town commissioners, which included Ash. By the following year a log courthouse and jail had been built, not on the square, but across the street,

Teague Bros. Store c. 1900

Richard and Mattie Lou Teague and friend listen to a Victrola. February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 23


Traveling the

BACKROADS Ashville School

because they were meant to be temporary structures. Nevertheless, these log buildings stayed in use until 1844, when the present day courthouse was built on the square. Crow tells that, until then, the square was used as a “village green” for socializing, horse hitching, local produce marketing and an occasional hanging. One of the most impressive additions to Ashville was the Dean/Inzer house. Built in 1852 by Ashville merchant Moses Dean, the beautiful Greek Revival home became occupied in 1866 by John Washington Inzer, who would have a marked influence on the development of Ashville, St. Clair and Alabama. Like Ash, Inzer was a vibrant, ambitious man. Born in 1834 in Gwinnett County, Georgia, his family eventually moved to Eden, near Pell City. At age 20, Inzer studied law, was admitted to the Alabama Bar one year later, and moved to Ashville to practice his profession in 1856. At the ripe old age of 25, John Inzer became St. Clair’s probate judge. In 1861, he represented St. Clair in the Secession Convention, which was held to decide if Alabama would secede from the Union. Only 27 years old, Inzer was the youngest man to attend this convention, and was the last surviving delegate at his death 66 years later. John had voted against secession, but like many of his day, willingly joined the Confederate Army. He was quoted as vowing, “... if Alabama should secede ... I would go with her and stand by her in every peril, even to the cannon’s mouth.” From the rank of private, he quickly rose to lieutenant colonel in the 58th Infantry Regiment and served in many bloody battles, including Corinth, Shiloh and Chickamauga. Taken prisoner at Missionary Ridge, Inzer was held at Johnson Island in Ohio for 18 months. His journal reads, “The Yankees here guarding us have been keeping up a regular fire

24 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

Ladies used this rock, put in place by Moses Dean, to mount horses.


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Traveling the

BACKROADS Seldon Harp at Ashville Drugs c.1923

on us a large portion of the time since we came here. … Such shameless cowards the Yankees are.” Colonel Inzer’s strength, boldness and intelligence had not gone unnoticed by his enemy. During Reconstruction he was again appointed probate judge, this time by the Union, then later reappointed by popular vote. He became a state senator in 1874 and again in 1890. Inzer was a trustee of Howard College when it was originally located in Marion, Alabama, serving in that capacity until after the college moved to East Lake in Birmingham. Howard College is now in Homewood and known as Samford University. A tireless public servant, Inzer was a also a trustee for the Alabama Insane Hospital in Tuscaloosa, later known as Bryce Hospital, and served as Judge of the 16th Circuit Court in 19071908. Colonel/Judge/Senator John Inzer, also known as the Grand Old Man of Alabama, died in 1928 at age 93, a remarkable lifespan for that era. He lies at rest today in Ashville’s “new” cemetery, a few hundred feet behind his home. Members of his family occupied the Inzer home until 1987, when it was willed to Camp 308 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The home has been diligently restored and currently serves as a living museum in honor of Inzer and his beloved Confederacy. Mrs. Crow published Inzer’s journals as Diary of a Confederate Soldier, now available at Ashville Archives.

Notable figures in Ashville history

Ashville’s first merchant was Archibald Sloan, postmaster and proprietor of a mercantile business on Lot 22 of the new town. Others quickly followed, including merchants, lawyers, doctors, preachers and teachers. Ashville’s first school was established in 1831 as Ashville Academy. According to Crow, the Academy’s host building was known as Mount Pleasant Meeting House, also shared by Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist congregations. There was a Methodist church in Ashville as early as 1818, well before the town had a name. Now known as Ashville United Methodist, among its early congregants were many names familiar to St. Clair historians, such as Byers, Robinson, Cather, Box, Embry and its circuit-riding minister, O.L. Milligan. The two-story Masonic Lodge building, built for Cataula Lodge No. 186, was later used jointly by this Methodist congregation and by the Masons until 1892. The lodge building has an incredible history of its own, having been moved across town twice when its space was needed for other buildings. Both moves were momentous occasions to the townsfolk. The Baptists built their own sanctuary in 1859, across the road from the Meeting House. Among its clergy were James Lewis, Hosea Holcomb, Sion Blyth and Jesse Collins. The sanctuary was built by Littleton Yarbrough, the same man who designed and built the courthouse and town jail.

26 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Royal Burial Under Armory

Ashville Savings Bank

Visitors to Ashville’s National Guard Armory are often taken aback by a bronze plaque on the building’s front corner. The plaque reads: ELIZABETH DIAMOND THOMASON 1739-1829 7th Gen. from Mary Queen of Scots m. John Thomason, R.S. 1724-1825

According to Mrs. Crow, Yarbrough cut its timbers from his own plantation, hand-planed and shaped each board, hauled it all to the site by ox wagon, and assembled the entire church without a single nail or screw by using hand-carved wooden pegs. Each peg was marked by a Roman numeral matched to its hole. The Presbyterians built their own edifice in 1879, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, now a Church of Christ. Its congregation and founders included Rogans, Curriers, Newtons, Fulghums, McCluneys and Oldhams. When these churches vacated the Academy building, a new school was built in another part of town. John and Lydia Hardwick Vandegrift bought the old building, moved it across town, and converted it into a fine dwelling. Ashville Academy became St. Clair College in 1896 and Ashville High School in 1910. Mrs. Crow wrote that during Reconstruction after the Civil War, all St. Clair Episcopal churches were closed under martial law because Bishop Richard Wilmer had refused to pray for the President of the United States.

Ashville comes of age

Ashville remained a fine little settlement during its maturing years, according to retired Judge Charles E. Robinson. He tells that, during his childhood, he and his buddies would freely roam around town from early morning until dusk. In fact, he credits his chats with old folks and local lawyers for much of the wisdom he later used on the bench. Charlie and his cohorts were an inquisitive band, seeking out adventure at every turn, often spying on gypsies who had camped nearby, and sometimes watching the town drunk in the throes of DTs. Robinson said they routinely visited several homes around mealtime and ate where the food looked best. The boys also frequented Teague Hardware and Teague Hotel, as Robinson is related to that family. Judge Robinson comes from a St. Clair pioneer family of judges and lawyers, and he and son Charles Jr. have a law

Many things about this sign get your attention besides its location — the alleged pedigree of Elizabeth, the fact that her name is in all-caps while her husband’s is not, their ages at death, 90 and 101 respectively, and the R.S. after John’s name, which stands for Revolutionary Soldier. Here lies a man who fought in a battle that gave us the United States itself, lived twice the average lifespan for men of that era, and shared that long life with a member of England’s royal family. According to Mattie Lou Teague Crow’s story in a 1974 St. Clair Observer, there are perhaps a dozen folks buried on that site, Ashville’s first cemetery, but only one grave was marked with a stone. This grave, belonging to a young lawyer named Earle, was relocated to the “new” cemetery prior to the armory’s construction, but the rest of the graves were not moved, per their families’ request. Oddly, John’s birth year of 1724 does not agree with Crow’s account, which claims it was 1734. Elizabeth Stuart Diamond Thomason was a niece of Queen Anne of the House of Stuart. She was once listed in Burke’s Peerage, but was dropped when she married her first husband, a commoner named John Diamond. The Thomasons raised 10 children. Their son James served as St. Clair’s first county judge. Appointed by Gov. William Wyatt Bibb when the county was organized, he was succeeded a year later by John Ash, the city’s founder. Other descendants also served as probate judges. John’s grandson, Francis Marion Thomason, developed the resort at St. Clair Springs. The plaque was dedicated in 1969 by Broken Arrow Chapter of DAR, presided by Elizabeth Hodges, wife of world-famous archer Howard Hill.

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 27


Traveling the

BACKROADS

McCain Bros. Store

office in Ashville, where they now serve as third- and fourthgeneration attorneys. His father served in the state Legislature in the 1940s, and his namesake grandfather was a US attorney around the turn of the century. He describes a place northwest of Ashville where his grandfather grew up, called Robinson Hill by the locals, “… There was a fine spring about 250 feet up that mountain. It had a concrete trough which fed water all the way down the hill to the house, where it collected in yet another large trough. … There was a dipper hanging beside it for drinking water. … The overflow ran into a livestock corral, then Lord knows where it wound up.” He adds that his grandmother would catch fish in Canoe Creek, keep them in the trough, then dip out a few when they wanted fish for supper. Robinson says when his father was practicing law, the courthouse had no air conditioning. During high-profile trials, local folks would congregate outside its open windows to eavesdrop on the process of justice. He also tells of a place just southwest of town called Gallows Hill, where hangings were once held. Among prominent early Ashville family names known to the judge are Glidewell, Davis, Frazier, Adkins, High, Sullivan, Bowlin, Montgomery, Philips, Embry and Cobb, many of whose descendants are still in the area. Other sources list Ramsey, Tucker, Hodges, Coker and Lonergan. The 73-year-old Robinson describes the Ashville of his boyhood as a purely-Alabama country town, where relatively few people moved in and, once there, even fewer moved away. Most local folks were farmers, although many worked in Gadsden at Republic Steel and Goodyear. He says they were all decent folks who loved the South, worked hard and respected people of all colors and walks of life.

Historic Ashville today

Inside a local store Ashville Gin

Like most small towns, local lore abounds. One of the bestknown sights is the “Upping Block,” a huge, rectangular chunk of sandstone on the west side of the square that was once used as a stepping stone for ladies to mount horses, a community meeting place, a soapbox for local orators and politicians and, according to local legend, a place where slaves were once displayed for sale. World-famous archer Howard Hill is buried in the town cemetery, where he lies beside his wife, Ashville’s Elizabeth Hodges. Hill, originally from Vincent, Alabama, did all the fancy bow and arrow work in old movies like Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn, and other lesser-known films. His archery feats using extremely powerful English longbows of his own making are legendary and unmatched to this day. Those who wish to pursue Ashville and St. Clair history have a great friend in Charlene Simpson, long-time curator of Ashville Archives, next to the Robinson Law Firm, facing the square. This amazing lady presides over several rooms full of documents and museum pieces. She can guide you through almost any genealogical or historical quest pertaining to St. Clair, with an unrivaled knowledge of historical resources in the area. Today’s Ashville retains much of its mid-century look as well as plenty of scenic antebellum buildings, historic markers and other souvenirs of simpler days. It’s well worth a visit. l

28 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 29


St. Clair forager finding culinary fame in Birmingham restaurants Story by Graham Hadley Photos by Jerry Martin


Edibles Everywhere

The Foragers Walk dish that was served to Chef Andrew Zimmern

Where you see weeds, St. Clair’s Chris Bennett sees valuable food. So valuable that he has been able to make a successful side business out of foraging for wild edibles and selling them to high-end restaurants in the Birmingham area. His acumen for finding flavorful food in the wild is good enough, in fact, that some of Chris’ edibles were used by award-winning Chef Chris Hastings at the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham to prepare a meal for famous Chef Andrew Zimmern for an installment of his Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods. The dish, called the Foragers Walk, included chickweed, Virginia pine, wild mushrooms, hoary bittercress, wild lettuce, cat’s ear dandelion, field mustards — “a lot of different stuff,” Chris said. Most of that “stuff” Chris finds growing wild around his house. Pointing to a small cluster of slender, dark-green stems poking out of the winter ground in a field near his house, Chris quickly identifies them as “field onions.” He breaks off a few of the stems and holds them to his nose, saying, “I just snip them off and use them as wild chives. February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 31


Edibles Everywhere Foraging in St. Clair

Chris Bennett shows off one of the edibles he found growing in a field on his family farm.

32 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


A cardoon plant

“They have a more aggressive flavor than regular chives. Why go to the store and buy chives when you can get these in your yard?” And field onions are just the beginning. In just a couple of hours, he proceeds to identify all kinds of edible plants, all growing in winter within a few hundred yards of where he lives on his family’s old farm property in St. Clair not far from the Interstate 20 Chula Vista exit. But, before he started showing off his talent for identifying wild edibles, or foraging, Chris was quick to point out that it took him years of research — studies that are always ongoing — before he was comfortable eating things he found growing in his yard and nearby fields and woods, let alone selling them to restaurants. “People need to know … Rule Number 1 … make absolutely sure what you pick is edible. There are lots of tasty things in nature — but lots of stuff is poison,” he said. It’s his knowledge of not only what is safe to eat, but how it tastes, that has created a market for Chris’ wild edibles in some of Birmingham’s finer dining establishments. You can’t just walk up to a chef and say, “Look what I found in the woods” and have them buy it. You have to build a reputation for your product and also be able to speak their “language.” For Chris, that is easy today — he has worked in restaurants all over the country, from Richmond, Va., to Chicago to Birmingham. He grew up in St. Clair County, on the very property he now forages on — though it was an 84-acre cattle farm back then — before leaving for college to earn a business degree. He knew he did not like traditional farming and had discovered a love and talent for cooking. “I grew up on the farm, but hated doing chores. I would rather be off having adventures in the woods. Back then, in the 1980s, you could still walk down the road and pick blackberries — which you really can’t anymore,” he said. After college, “when I lived in Richmond, I got into cooking, I got more into food; got more into gardening,” he said. And though he describes himself as an omnivore now — “I will pretty much eat anything” — Chris said he was a practic-

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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 33


Edibles Everywhere Foraging in St. Clair

Field onions

Wild lettuce

Wild strawberry plants produce tiny fruits.

Field mustard 34 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


ing vegetarian for a while, which made him pay more attention to what he was eating, reading ingredients labels more carefully. That love of the outdoors, ability in the kitchen and growing interest in more wholesome foods combined to give Chris the foundation he needed to begin foraging. “When I lived in Chicago, I read up on a lot of European chefs. They use a lot of wild edible plants. I learned there was a lot more out there than wild mushrooms,” he said. “There are things out there all around us.” In 2005, Chris returned to Alabama to get the old family farm up and running. But he did not want to do traditional farming. Cultivating the land for foraging did away with a lot of the farm labor that did not interest him and allowed Chris to focus on his new passion. Though he has a regular “day” job working as a cheese buyer for Whole Foods in Birmingham, Chris makes time to gather and sell his wild edible “finds” to restaurants. Because he not only knows what is edible, he knows how it will taste, Chris can tell chefs exactly what edibles go with what dishes and how they can be prepared. “I never sell anything I have not eaten,” he said. “My cooking background lets me tell them how to use it, how to cook it — or serve it raw, how it tastes.” He also helps the restaurants keep track of what wild edibles are in season. “They come to me and ask is something still in season — like wild persimmons. Those are gone by now.” As a case in point, Chris walks over to a cluster of what look like tall, leafy weeds with small, bright-yellow flowers on top. “Wild edibles are mostly considered weeds by people who see them growing up in a yard or field. ...” This group of yellow flowering “weeds” grew where Chris had planted tomatoes and covered the ground with hay. “These plants came up. I am always looking at what things are. These, the leafs look like greens and the flowers look like Brassica” (a genus of plants that includes a number of vegetables, including mustards and cabbages). “I finally figured out they are field mustard,” he said. Chris uses several tools to help him identify new plants. He always carries a small bound notebook with him where he writes down everything about what he has found, sketches pictures, even takes pressings of the plants. And, while he still relies on several books, Chris is quick to take advantage of modern technology to help him — using his iPhone to take pictures of the plants and Google and other online tools to identify them. “It takes a while to learn what something is,” he said, reiterating, “People need to know — make absolutely sure what you pick is edible.” He also said it is equally important to know about where you are picking — since fertilizers and pesticides used in fields can be toxic, and some of the plants will actually draw heavy metals and other harmful chemicals up out of contaminated soil. Chris is more than ready to help with that — organizing classes on his farm several times a year where he takes people out and teaches them his foraging skills. People can check out his class schedule and sign up on his website and blog: hollowspringfarm.blogspot.com. He also uses the site as a way to spread information about what is in season and anything new he has found. Which, despite the time he has spent roaming his family property, still happens frequently. Walking across the road to another field that is part of the

Chris explains why the Virginia pine is one of his favorites. farm, Chris says, “I have been back here around eight years, and I am still finding new things.” Pointing all around one side of the field, he identifies a number of small plants that make up a wild strawberry patch he uncovered after cutting the field. Though not in season now, when the plants produce fruit, they are what Chris describes as some of the best, most flavorful tiny strawberries you can find. “They will ruin you for eating regular strawberries,” he said. Another one of his favorite plants — a tree actually — borders the field. Chris strips off some needles from a Virginia pine and rolls them in his hands, producing a surprisingly strong citrus scent, with a hint of pine in the background. “I make tea with the needles. It has a clean, pine flavor, but you can infuse it into any kind of liquid, everything from vodka to milk, even make a meringue with it.” And, like many of the plants he gathers, the pine needles are good for you as more than just an edible, often containing high levels of vitamin C, especially in the winter. “If I am starting to feel sick — I make tea with this,” he said, pointing out that many pine species have edible needles, but the complex citrusy-pine flavor makes the Virginia pine his favorite. Chris has found and grows all sorts of other plants on the farm — sage, herbs, kale, cardoon (similar to an artichoke), chickweed (tastes like a pea pod), wild lettuce (which has the classic lettuce bitterness and is less tough than a dandelion green) — the list goes on and on. And it keeps growing. Chris is always on the lookout for new edibles. “You never know what you are going to find,” he said. l

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 35


The reluctant horse healer

Nationally known equine doctor never wanted to be a vet ... at first

36 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Jerry Martin Growing up on the family farm in Blount County, Ed Murray harbored a secret fear. The Pell City-based equine veterinarian was afraid he would grow up to be a veterinarian. “It was mostly a poultry farm, but the vets would come to check on the other animals, and I’d help them, and I’d see how hard they worked,” says Murray. “I just didn’t want to be a vet.” More than 20,000 human clients from throughout the Southeast and as far away as Oklahoma are happy that he changed his mind. When you consider that most of those humans own many horses, it’s clear that the guy who didn’t want to be a vet has affected a lot of lives by becoming one. With its cluster of six barns and corral and no sign out front, Murray’s Coosa Valley Equine Center looks more like a horse farm than a veterinary clinic. And that suits Murray and staff just fine. “We don’t need a sign,” he says. “People don’t drive around with a lame horse in their trailer looking for a vet. And we’re not equipped or prepared for other animals.” It was while at Samford University that fate caught up with Murray, deciding that he was meant to be a vet. After completing a pre-professional science curriculum and some summer correspondence courses in veterinary medicine, he entered Auburn University in 1969. At 19, he was the youngest member of his class. “That’s why I never got any credibility while there,” he likes to joke. Perhaps that lack of credibility was due to some of the stunts he pulled at Auburn. Longtime friend Jimmy Buckner of Oneonta says that while Murray was in vet school, he cut the top off his Mercury Comet to turn it into a convertible. “He wasn’t a troublemaker, though, he was just an ordinary guy,” Buckner says. “He was one of the top students in his graduating class, too. He has a photographic mind. You tell him something today and a year from now he can quote it back verbatim.” While in school, Murray thought he wanted a mixed rural practice based primarily on family farms. After graduation, he went to work with Dr. Charles Payton in Oneonta. St. Clair County had no veterinarians then, and Payton’s practice had a lot of clients here. So in 1975, they opened an office in Pell City, in the original Eden dental clinic building. The practice grew, and Murray’s horse practice spun off in 1987. He moved to his present 10-acre site in 1988, but the two practices were conjoined for five or six years. “They did all other stuff, and I did horses, because no one else would do them,” Murray says. “I moved here to allow both areas of our practice to expand.” In the early days of his practice, he and his wife, Sandra Jean, owned show horses, which intensified his investment in the horse industry. “Sandra Jean has always been essential to my operation,” Murray says. “We’ve been together since the Fourth of July 1976, and in those early years, she drove as many miles and watched as many mares’ butts as I did.”

Modern technology makes it much easier to diagnose a problem. The office is in the main building, which is a huge barn.


Horse healer Veterinarian technicians give horses in recovery some fresh air and exercise.

A veterinary practice is “a family thing,” according to Sandra Jean, who worked during the day, then accompanied her husband on emergency calls nights and weekends. “We enjoyed it because we got to know the people,” she says. “They weren’t just clients, but friends, too. We would spend several hours with them if we were doing a C-section on a cow or pulling a calf, then we’d go to dinner with them. That was our social life.” Their only son, Austin, ate many meals out of Ziplock bags from the back of the practice truck while growing up because that was the Murrays’ family time. “A lot of the time Ed would leave before Austin got up and get back after he’d gone to bed, so we used the time we had,” Sandra Jean says. What makes her husband such a good vet, in her opinion, is the way he treats everybody’s animals as if they were his own. “He’s up front with you, tells you if he can’t justify a treatment,” she explains. “People trust him.” About 50 to 60 percent of his clients are from Alabama, while the remainder come from surrounding states. He specializes in lameness issues and surgeries, but also sees well horses for their annual physical exams. “I’ve done more than 1,000 abdominal surgeries in my 40 years of practice, usually at inopportune times, like Christmas or New Year’s Day, because we’re a referral center,” Murray says. “You can’t schedule an impacted colon.” His reward is seeing horses

38 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

Dr. Murray has removed many a calcification such as this from an impacted colon.


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Horse healer

recover. “Ninety-eight percent of horses with an intestinal blockage won’t live without surgery,” he says. He moves horses before and after surgery via a hoist that runs the width of his main building, through the induction and recovery room at one end, the surgery room in the center and into the intensive care unit at the other end. A traveling, coach-based MRI system is docked behind that building. The coach is a large bus with sliding doors on either side, because horses have to be anesthetized and brought in sideways. Tammy Duley, an Ashville resident who has worked for Murray since 2006, says Murray is very meticulous in his work and doesn’t cut corners to save time or money. “He has a way with horses. He’s very quiet. I haven’t seen a procedure that he couldn’t do,” she says. The number of patients he sees varies daily, from as few as 12-14 horses to 40-plus. He has a “rolling staff” of 20-25 employees, including three full-time vets — Dr. John Sudduth, Dr. Jody Wagner and Dr. Megan Hunt — and several technicians on any given day. They’re seeing fewer recreational and pet horses now due to the economy, but about the same number of performance and show horses, in both Western and English disciplines, as ever. The most problematic are the young horses that haven’t been trained. They represent a constant challenge because they are scared and can hurt

Dr. Murray checks a patient’s leg after recent surgery.

40 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


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Kayla Dill brings a horse into the treatment area for Dr. Murray. a person accidentally. Murray has been kicked, bitten and shoved by horses, but the only time an injury resulted in surgery involved a dead horse. He was helping a backhoe driver get an old horse into its grave after putting it to sleep and tore the cartilage in his knee when he stepped out of the hole and into the backhoe bucket. His 27-year tenure on the American Quarter Horse Association’s Board of Directors has helped him stay abreast of the latest trends and technology. “The American Quarter Horse Association is honored to have the long-time service of Dr. Ed Murray,” says La Donna Wilkinson, AQHA senior director of registration. “He has served in a leadership role with AQHA since 1986 and is currently on the Stud Book and Registration Committee.” When he was on the research committee, he was involved in cutting-edge studies at many universities. He got to see “what was working and what wasn’t” and had to be prepared to talk intelligently with the researchers when he visited with them. He still does a lot of reading in his field, but most of it’s online these days. He’s on the board of directors of the Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians Program in Talladega and the advisory board of Jefferson State Community College’s veterinary technician program. “We’ve had students from 20 of the approximately 30 veterinary schools in the country in our practice,” he says. “Many are now in practice across the South. This is very important to me and my staff. It’s not all about us; it’s also about the industry and developing a veterinary support and supply chain.” He has cut back on time spent at the clinic, claiming that he only works half days now. “I’m just there from 7 to 7,” he jokes. Coosa Valley is a 24-hour emergency clinic, so he’s still subject to those middle-of-the-night calls, but lets Dr. Sudduth handle the daytime farm calls. “I may do one a month, but those are mostly social visits with someone I’ve worked with for 30 years,” he says, referring to his clients as if they were his employers.

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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 41


Horse healer Dr. Ed Murray and wife, Sandra Jean, with a patient

He has no idea when he’ll retire because he still enjoys the mental and physical challenges of his practice. Diagnosing patients keeps him mentally alert, while physical challenges come when he’s using a magnifier to see suture material during eye surgery or taking out a bone chip arthroscopically, not to mention wrestling with a 200-pound impacted colon. Recreation for him and Sandra Jean usually consists of short weekends in Auburn, where their second home is 400-500 feet from Jordan-Hare Stadium. “You can see our great room from our suite at the stadium,” he says. He still maintains the family farm, now a working cattle farm, in the Rosa community near Oneonta. The couple live in a waterfront house at Mays Bend on Logan Martin Lake, where his extensive bourbon collection requires a rolling step ladder to access all the bottles. “I must have 50 open right now,” he says. During summer months, when Daylight Savings Time makes for more sunshine, he tries to get home by 7 or 7:30 p.m. so he can jump in his boat and cruise around for about an hour. “We enjoy visiting with our neighbors up and down the shoreline,” he explains. l

42 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

Vet tech Carrie Spivey is dwarfed by the size of the treatment area.


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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 43


Business Briefing Finishing touches are being added to American Family Urgent Care, set to open in Pell City in February.

Nufab is moving into new quarters in Riverside.

Moving Dirt, creating jobs The St. Clair Economic Development Council is reporting movement throughout the county that is resulting in increased jobs for the region. Moody’s Brompton interchange will soon house not one, but two new Travel Centers: Valero and Love’s. “Both of these establishments will provide needed sales tax and gasoline revenues to the City of Moody,” the EDC reports. “Moody’s mayor and Council and St. Clair County Commission have worked diligently to reach agreements that allow the infrastructure improvements necessary for these facilities and other new growth on this corridor.” Throughout 2012, the EDC assisted local developers in locating Dollar General stores throughout the more rural areas of St. Clair County. “We hope to continue to see these

44 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair

stores build in our county to provide neighborhood generalstore needs.” Springville, too, has seen growth in downtown retail, and a new Pizza Hut has located in the Springville Station shopping center. In Riverside, Nufab Rebar, LLC which broke ground in June, is moving into its new plant on US 78 near Interstate 20. The investment of all entities involved in the concrete reinforcement steel manufacturer’s location there represents approximately $10 million, according to Riverside Mayor Rusty Jessup. Nufab is a subsidiary of Nucor Steel, and the move is expected to translate into 80 jobs.


By Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin Hancock Chiropractic locates in Pell City Hancock Chiropractic opened its doors in Pell City in late November, offering comprehensive chiropractic care from its new office at Forrest Place on US 231 South. Dr. Danny Hancock of Rainbow City operates the practice after having worked alongside his father, Dr. Steve Knighton, for the past 10 years. “The overall growth of Pell City and St. Clair County provided an excellent opportunity for the kind of chiropractic care we offer,” Hancock said. Hancock also is partnering with the medical community, physical therapy and pain management to serve needs. Among Hancock Chiropractic’s services are work with disc bulges and problems, low back pain, spinal manipulations, spinal decompression and flexion distraction.

Dr. Danny Hancock adjusts a patient.

New St. Clair DHR project under way A new 30,200-square-foot facility for the St. Clair County Department of Human Resources is expected to open in July, according to Jason Goodgame, vice president of Goodgame Company, construction manager for the project. The facility is located behind the St. Clair County Health Department on Jeanne Pruett Drive. The new location will double the size of the old DHR facility and represents an investment of about $6.7 million. The St. Clair Public Building Authority is the owner. Birmingham Heart Clinic opens new location Birmingham Heart Clinic (BHC), which operates locations in Trussville and Pell City, opened an additional satellite clinic at St. Vincent’s Blount Hospital located at 150 Gilbreath Drive in Oneonta. BHC has locations at 100 Pilot Medical Drive, Suite 300 in Trussville and a satellite clinic at 70 Plaza Drive at Northside Medical Associates in Pell City. Birmingham Heart Clinic (BHC) is a cardiology practice specializing in the detection, management and treatment of adult coronary, peripheral (PAD) and carotid diseases. DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 45


Business News

Auto industry driving economy

Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin

2014 MDX Prototype at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show Photo courtesy of Honda Manufacturing

Like a perfectly tuned race car darting toward the checkered flag, St. Clair County’s economy roared in 2012 thanks to the automobile industry that propelled it. “It led the charge,” said Don Smith, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Council. Four out of six expansions were on the automobile end. It created hundreds of new jobs and bolstered corporate investments by dollars measured not in millions, but in tens of millions. Inside the county, Steele’s Yachiyo, a Tier 1 supplier of parts for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama’s nearby Lincoln plant, is in the midst of its second expansion in 12 months. The newest addition increases the company’s capacity to handle parts for the Acura MDX line being built at Honda. This year, HMA will add production of the luxury sport utility vehicle and increase annual production capacity to more than 340,000 vehicles and engines. Since the beginning of 2012 and into the next 12 months, Yachiyo is adding 100 employees and upping its investment by $30 million. In early January, employment stood at about 250 and will “get close to the 280 mark,” Smith said. At WKW in Pell City, which provides components for Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW, growth has gone from drawing plans to reality. When the German-based company located in Pell City, officials were hoping to get to the 300-mark in em-

46 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


A Ridgelines rolls off the assembly line.


Business News Automotive

ployment. With recent expansions, that employment roster topped 600. “They have grown and increased business to a much larger scale than anyone imagined,” Smith said. Eissmann, another German company calling Pell City home, doubled the size of its facility over the past 12 months to increase its ability to manufacture high-end leather components for the automobile industry with its leading customers like Mercedes. Honda suppliers located in the county are thriving as well. Moody’s Suitomo provides wiring harnesses for a growing Honda. Ipak in Pell City produces bags in which Honda parts are shipped. And Southern Rack and Fab, also in Pell City, manufactures racks for Honda. There is no mistaking the impact of Honda on St. Clair County even though it is located in a neighboring county, Smith noted. While WKW is the largest private employer located inside St. Clair’s borders, Honda is “by far, the largest private employer of St. Clair County citizens. Honda has definitely been — no doubt — the engine of growth for the southeast portion of St. Clair County.” And that kinship between company and neighboring county has a long history. “Honda Manufacturing of Alabama has a special relationship with St. Clair County,” said Mark Morrison, manager of HMA’s Corporate Affairs and Communication. “In

48 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

By the Numbers Honda’s Impact In St. Clair County • 600 associates live in St. Clair County • Annual payroll for these associates tops $33 million • In 2012, Honda spent more than $323 million with businesses based in St. Clair County, ranging from Yachiyo and Southern Rack & Fab to Goodgame Company and Johnny’s Electric.


Michael Frame Assembly Associate & Motorcyclist

Steve Powertrain Assembly Associate & Church Drummer

Nannett Purchasing Associate & League Bowler

Ashley Frame Assembly Associate & Softball Catcher

Eric Weld Associate & Emergency Rescue Volunteer

At Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, we are known by the quality products we build – the Odyssey, Pilot, Ridgeline and V-6 engines. Our strength, though, is in the diversity of our team of 4,000 associates. We all have unique talents and different interests. What makes us, makes Honda – and our products – better.

Kim Paint Associate & Tennis Player www.hondaalabama.com


Business News Automotive

1999, Honda announced it would build a plant in Alabama. It was wasn’t long after that before we opened up our first office in the state in Pell City in the former GTE building. Before we moved to our plant in July 2001, we had more than 200 people working out of the Pell City office.” Honda’s employment numbers surpass more than half the populations of St. Clair County’s municipalities. “It’s like a little city over there,” Smith said. And like a neighbor any county gladly welcomes, it has created additional wealth and additional jobs by producing more than 2.6 million vehicles and engines since 2001. Suppliers aren’t the only beneficiaries of this good neighbor. Local contractors, like Pell City-based Goodgame Company, have been doing business at Honda for more than a decade in addition to building for its suppliers. “There is no question Honda has had a huge impact on this county,” Goodgame said, pointing out the number of second- and third-tier suppliers that have “grown our business.” In addition, Goodgame has been onsite at Honda doing work all 13 years of its Alabama existence.

Situated just a few miles away from the plant, Pell City has been able to take advantage of its location from a retail standpoint with new avenues opening up. Publix grocery store and a new strip mall with Goody’s and Burke’s Outlet are among retailers now on the economic landscape. St. Clair County’s melting pot of auto-related industries has put the county on an international map of where to do business, Smith said. “St. Clair County has a reputation in the Southeast as a great place to do business.” For example, “When a German supplier is looking at Alabama, St. Clair County is usually in the discussion.” The auto industry has been “good for business,” Goodgame added. “Across the board, it has significantly increased our footprint in the last decade. He listed WKW, Eissmann, Orlikon and Nissin Energy Logistics as other projects on which Goodgame Company has worked. Building strong multi-cultural relationships with these Japanese and German-based companies is key. “We’re building trust, and they are coming to us when they need something. And because of that strong foundation, St. Clair’s prominence in the auto industry arena is the catalyst

50 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


WKW, largest auto industry employer inside St. Clair for a stronger economy overall. “Not only are their parts going into products sold in the U.S., but internationally,” Smith said. “Those jobs typically have higher skill sets and higher wages and benefits. When we recruit new manufacturers into St. Clair County, we target those that employ advanced technology and higher skill sets. Unlike basic manufacturing, these jobs are more difficult to outsource. It gives us a more stable economy.”

Looking ahead

For the future, economic officials are looking well beyond 2012’s finish line. “We have renewed our commitment to obtain competitive sites. I believe we will have more auto suppliers locating in St. Clair County over the next five years,” he said. “If you don’t have competitive sites, they’re not coming.” Under the EDC’s three-year strategic plan, “We are concentrating on getting product,” he added. “Identifying new land for development is at the top of the list. Once that is in place, the rest of it — job creation — will fall in behind it.” To reach that end, Smith talked of the seminar EDC held in late 2012 for the county’s elected officials, explaining to them exactly what it takes to land new industry and facilitate expanding industry. “Every community in St. Clair County now understands what it takes. We have seen tremendous response from elected officials.” Pell City stands as an example of coming out on top in the competition for business because of its preparation, Smith said. “Pell City has done an incredible job with competitive sites and infrastructure. It’s a proactive approach.” And with a lion’s share of the new growth inside its city limits, the approach is apparently working.

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 51


Business News

A cause for celebration St. Vincent’s first anniversary

Kidada Hawkins holds up the master plan that managed to move an entire hospital, its staff and patients to the new facility.

52 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin St. Vincent’s Health System President and CEO John O’Neil remembers the day he and parent company officials from Ascension Health were on a two-hour conference call as he was traveling to his new home in Alabama. It was an historic phone call, not just for the company but for Pell City, St. Clair County and the region. By the time the call was over, the decision was made to move forward with building a new state-of-the-art hospital in Pell City, Alabama. Partners came together — St. Vincent’s, St. Clair Health Care Authority, St. Clair County Commission, St. Clair Economic Development Council and City of Pell City. Dirt began to move. And rising from what was nothing but woods would become a beacon for health care in the region. In December 2011, St. Vincent’s St. Clair opened its impressive doors in a new facility just north of Interstate 20, and in only 12 months, its impact has been felt in ways never imagined in most circles. As he looked over a crowd of well-wishers and staff a year later at the hospital’s first-anniversary celebration, O’Neill recalled the phone call that left no doubt that the hospital system is “committed to this county, this facility and you.” Kidada Hawkins, vice president of Rural Hospital Operations and part of the transition team during the move from the old, aging facility on John Haynes Drive, echoed O’Neil’s outlook on the role of St. Vincent’s in St. Clair County life. “We are blessed to be here. This is not a hospital, it’s a ministry,” he said. Evan Ray has since taken the reins of the thriving St. Vincent’s St. Clair as president and chief operating officer of Rural Hospital Operations, noting just how far the hospital has come in such a short time. Emergency Department usage is up 30 percent. In-patient discharges soared 47 percent. Surgeries increased 25 percent, and outpatient services are up 20 percent. Physicians Plaza, the professional office building adjacent to the hospital, has seen tremendous growth with new doctors, an advanced wound-care center and a durable medical supply facility. A sleep-disorder center opened its doors in December, and it earned prestigious national Joint Commission Accreditation for the hospital and laboratory. Ray credits the genesis of it all to the “leadership coming to the table to bring this to reality.” And a welcoming community since has provided the sturdy support it needed to build for the future. “We are going to continue to see growth,” Ray predicted. Expanded services like vascular surgery, podiatry and urology are “moving forward.” Endocrinology services have been added. The hyperbaric oxygen treatment offered through the only wound-care center in St. Clair and the only one in the St. Vincent’s system is a service with high demand since opening in August. In the first quarter of 2013, an occupational-health clinic will open to deal with growth spurred by Honda and other manufacturing in the region. The hospital is working “hand in hand to treat veterans,” who are beginning to move into the Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home on 27 acres just across the road. Dr. Barry Collins, whose Pell City Internal Family Medicine practice is in Physicians Plaza, is serving as medical director at the veterans home.

St. Clair EDC Executive Director Don Smith (left) and former Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford share a word at the anniversary. In the background are Don Perry, chairman of St. Vincent’s Advisory Board and former Pell City Mayor Lawrence Fields, who chairs the Health Care Authority.

President and COO of Rural Hospital Operations Evan Ray

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 53


Business News St. Vincent’s Thousands now see St. Vincent’s lighting up the evening sky over Interstate 20.

Veteran Ray Phillips from the Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home led Pledge of Allegiance at anniversary.

54 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

A few hundred yards down Veterans Parkway, Jefferson State Community College is gearing up for expansion of its nursing school. Growth is evident all around the hospital, and inside, plans are expected to keep pace. “Based on the response from the community, there is no doubt we will be expanding. There is need for a footprint expansion,” Ray said. “This is a real business-development-minded community. We are pleased with the mindset. It has been incredibly warm and welcoming, internally and out in the community.” And St. Vincent’s has answered with cutting-edge technology, like its all-digital imaging equipment. It is making services more accessible with accommodating scheduling, like Saturday mammography by appointment only or special rates on preventive tests at certain times of the year. “It’s not just a new building,” Ray said. “It’s all top notch” — from services offered to services rendered. “There is no service that we offer here that can be surpassed by any hospital in the region.” St. Clair Health Care Authority Chairman Lawrence Fields agreed, looking at it from various viewpoints. As directly involved with the hospital through the Authority, he sees the growth and the improvements firsthand. “We have had a record-breaking first year,” and he, too, hinted at expansions to meet the needs of the community. As a former mayor, he sees it as “one of the biggest things that has taken place around here. It’s just tremendous and it’s going to continue to grow.” And as a businessman in real estate, it has “affected our business. Three couples say they are moving to Pell City because of the hospital. It is one of the most modern in the country. I have heard nothing but good things.” l


The New St. Vincent’s St. Clair opened December 10, 2011. We celebrate our first anniversary by acknowledging the tremendous support of our partners, local business leaders, and our community. The people of St. Clair County and surrounding areas have embraced the new facility and helped exceed expectations for our first year. Our success would not be possible without the physicians, associates, and volunteers who provide compassionate, quality care for our patients, their families and visitors.

Quality • First-ever accreditation by The Joint Commission • Successful completion of the Alabama Department of

Public Health state licensure inspection • No Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia in last two years • Exceeded Patient Satisfaction score goals for inpatient services

Technology • Implemented new technology for improved processes: • Digital Imaging Equipment • Electronic Medical Records (EMR) • Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE) for physicians • Bar Coded Medicine Administration • Wireless connectivity

7063 Veterans Parkway Pell City, AL 35125 (205) 338-3301 stvhs.com/stclair

Growth • Opened Physicians Plaza • Added programs and services: • Durable Medical Equipment • Advanced Wound Center • Sleep Diagnostic Center

• Added specialists to the medical staff:

• Endocrinology • ENT • Gastroenterology • General Surgery • Nephrology • Neurology • Obstetrics/Gynecology • Ophthalmology • Compared to prior year (July-October) increased volume in services: • Inpatient admissions • Emergency Department visits • Outpatient diagnostics visits • Surgical procedures • Performed first cardiac CTA (alternative to heart catheterization)

Community Service • STVHS Heart Day 2012 - 268 screened • STVHS Mammography $99 special in October 2012 - 252 mammograms performed • Hosted Small Business Health Care Seminar • Held first Health Fair on campus • Participated in Community Health Fairs: Quintard Mall, Lincoln Back to School, St. Clair County, and Talladega Breast Health


Lovejoy Slingshot Hunt Creating a most unusual tradition Photos by Jerry Martin The T-shirt peeking out from the opening of the camouflage jacket read: “Alabama: So Many Squirrels. So Few Recipes.” If you’re making such a fashion statement and others are envious of your attire, chances are that you are participating in the annual Lovejoy Slingshot Hunt. This most unusual family reunion/good ole’ boy gathering features men and women, adults and children hunting squirrels with nothing more than slingshots. Participants from across Alabama and the South come to Lyman Lovejoy’s farm in Ashville each year to witness the decades-old family tradition firsthand. The annual event has been celebrated for 38 consecutive years, and it continues to grow in popularity thanks to nationwide publicity in major outdoors magazines like Outdoor Life and Southern Outdoors. The annual hunt has been featured on outdoor television shows across the Southeast as well as on the ESPN and Mossy Oak websites. The news of the Lovejoy family being so deadly with their slingshots has appeared in hunting blogs as far away as England. “It can all be traced back to my dad, Sim Lovejoy,” Lyman Lovejoy explained. “He was one of 16 children in a family that couldn’t afford a shotgun when he was a young boy. They hunted with slingshots to put food on the table in those days.” Sim Lovejoy, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 92, was known for both his expertise with a 56 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Lyman Lovejoy takes aim. February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 57


Lovejoy Slingshot Hunt

slingshot and his handshake that would crush bones. Folks who had the opportunity to hunt squirrels with the patriarch of the family knew better than to refer to their weapons as slingshots. “Don’t be telling nobody that this is a slingshot,” Sim Lovejoy was quoted saying in a 2001 Birmingham News article. “A slingshot is what David used to slay Goliath. This is a flip. Everybody calls them slingshots, but they are really called flips.” Webster’s Dictionary doesn’t really agree, but what does it know about hunting squirrels in St. Clair County with such a crude weapon? Webster defines a slingshot as a “forked stick with an elastic band attached for shooting small stones, etc.” Under “flip” in the dictionary, nowhere does it mention a flip being a weapon. When that was explained to Sim Lovejoy once, he just scoffed. “If you don’t flip it forward at the end of a shot and you let one of those steel ball bearings hit your finger or your thumb you’ll understand why it is called a flip,” Sim Lovejoy said with a laugh. Most of the Lovejoy kinfolk are excellent marksmen with their slingshots, but none have ever reached the iconic status of Sim Lovejoy. “He was a legend by age 7,” Lyman Lovejoy said. “By that age he was already shooting running rabbits and squirrels running in trees.” Sim Lovejoy continued to hunt with his slingshot until 2005, a year before his death. At age 91 he was still mowing down targets from 35 feet away and 58 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

Sim shows off his ability with a slingshot in this newspaper clipping.


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Lovejoy Slingshot Hunt Young sharpshooter focuses

Ryan Nix and dog, Bear knocking holes in soft drink cans tossed into the air. Sim Lovejoy was responsible for getting thousands involved in the hobby he so enjoyed. His family estimates that he made as many as 10,000 slingshots for others in his lifetime. Among the crowd at this year’s hunt was Donald Hulsey of Odenville, a student of Sim Lovejoy’s in the art of making slingshots. Hulsey continues to find the forked sticks in the woods and whittle them to hand size to make them for anyone interested in having one. It’s yet another way of carrying on the tradition. Sim Lovejoy was just a local legend most of his life until 2000 when a Birmingham News story featuring him went world-wide via the Associated Press. “TV news crews and newspaper and magazine writers came out of the woodwork,” Lyman Lovejoy said. “He got calls from Alaska and Missouri and everywhere else from people who wanted a handmade Sim Lovejoy slingshot. He made a slingshot for every one of them

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60 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

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and never charged a penny.” Sim Lovejoy was buried in his trademark overalls with one of his slingshots in his bib pocket. Never once did the family consider ending the annual event following his death. They now use the event as a tribute to the man who started it all. “We wouldn’t have dared ending the hunt when he died,” Lyman Lovejoy said. “It definitely isn’t the same without him, but Dad would have wanted us to carry on.” The annual hunt draws as many as 100 participants and features breakfast and lunch cooked over an open pit. It draws all walks of life, including judges, lawyers, bankers and just the plain curious. Many bring their kids or grandkids to give them a glimpse into how hunting was once done in Alabama. The Lovejoys supply the slingshots and the ammunition, which consists of ½-inch ball bearings which they specially order. The ball bearings come in 50-pound boxes, and the hunters typically go through 150 pounds of the steel balls each hunt. It is not unusual for the hunters to kill nine to 11 squirrels on a hunt. “It’s not as tough as it sounds,” Lyman Lovejoy said. “We have dogs that tree the squirrels, and when you have 70 or so people on the ground firing away at them somebody is going to nail one.” l

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Candy Kisses Odenville woman inspires with book on daughter’s life-threatening illness Story by Samantha Corona Photos by Jerry Martin Candy Sparks has never read the book that bears her name. Her friends, family, neighbors, third-grade students and their parents can all quote stories and share details, but for Candy, living it was enough. Her mother, Mary, began writing Candy Kisses: My Miracle from God as little notes and journals throughout Candy’s three-year battle with Leukemia, disseminated candidiasis and pancreatitis. After just three months of working to compile the notes and memories, Mary’s, Candy’s and the Sparks’ family story was ready to be published. “I had been writing throughout the years, but it just never came together,” Mary said. “Then one day, I told my husband, Bobby, ‘God wants the book now,’ and that was it. God wrote the book, I just typed it for Him.” The first copies arrived in June 2012, and within just a few months, more than 400 copies had been sold throughout the Odenville community. As word spread, more and more people wanted to hear the mother’s first-hand account of her “miracle from God.” Today, only a few copies are left on Amazon.com and in the coming months, Mary and Candy’s story will debut at Christian bookstores nationwide. “There have been so many people involved and so many who helped either by sending gifts or sharing Candy’s story or by offering up prayers for her,” Mary said. “Everyone here still thinks of Candy as their miracle. We’ll say that she is our miracle, and they correct us and say ‘no, she’s our miracle.’”

Candy Kisses: My Miracle from God is available for purchase at the Odenville Water Board and Scizzors Hair Salon in Odenville. The book is also available on Amazon.com or by contacting Mary Sparks at 205-966-7530 or sunsets0771@windstream.net

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for more information 62 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Mary Sparks (right) says she always tells people, “If you want to see how good God is, just look at my Candy Kisses. She’s my miracle from God.”

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 63


Candy Kisses The Journey

On April 1, 1997, Candy was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). She was just 11 years old. Mary’s story starts with the day of the diagnosis and follows month by month through the daily struggles and hard-fought battles that brought the Sparks family to the brink of their worst fears and to the height of total jubilation as they saw their prayers and the prayers of a whole community answered. While taking readers through Candy’s illness, Mary offers a first-hand and inspirational image of what it was like for her, Bobby and their son, Jason, almost living at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham and dealing with the unknown every day. She tells of the scary moments – like when she first heard the word leukemia and had to stand by and watch the series of tests that Candy had to endure; or the day the leukemia turned into disseminated candidiasis, a life-threatening infection that attacks the vital organs and usually claims its victims within one week. Then, there was the horrific moment when Candy’s heart stopped beating and Bobby and Jason rushed in to tell Mary that “Candy is gone.” It was five minutes that felt like an eternity, she said. There is sadness. In the height of her illness, Candy lost one of her best friends, a young girl who was also suffering from similar illnesses. And there is hope. The journey back to a normal life wasn’t an easy one. Candy’s strong-willed mindset pushed her to defy the odds and relearn to do even the most basic things all by herself. Mary writes that the outpouring of love and support from the Odenville community helped to keep the family going. Candy’s school and several churches held fundraisers and blood drives in her honor. Friends and strangers alike sent gifts, prayers, drawings and inspirational messages just to let the Sparks family know that they weren’t alone. Outlined with scriptures and small prayers, Mary hopes her book shows that through prayer, patience and the kindness of others, miracles can happen. “I always say, if you want to see how good God is, look at my Candy kisses,” Mary said. “That’s what this book is about, knowing how good God is.”

Candy Sparks in her room at Odenville Intermediate School.

Sharing the story

Now that the story is out, the popularity is only growing. Over Christmas, Mary said people were stopping by the Sparks’ home to pick up 10, 15 or 20 copies of the book to give as presents. “They say they want to give it to people going through different illnesses, sicknesses, addictions, depression, divorce, loneliness,” she said. “It helps with so many things, and I have people tell me that they haven’t had cancer, or don’t even know anyone who has, but Candy’s story has helped them look at whatever problems they are facing in their lives and realize that they can survive it.” For Candy, getting to that point took a little more time. Now at 27 years old, she’s a graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a bachelor’s degree in social work and minor in criminal justice. She went on to earn her master’s in early childhood and elementary education and is a third-grade teacher at Odenville Intermediate School – her and her dad’s former school. “At first, I wondered what is the purpose of all this, and I

still do sometimes,” Candy said. “But I feel like my story helps people see that if I can do this, you can do this, too. You can overcome any problems you may have. And I am so happy for that.” Still, while she hopes that others continue to enjoy her mom’s book and share her story, she doesn’t have any immediate plans to add it to her own reading list. “I’ll have my students come up to me and say, ‘My mom is reading your book’ or ‘My aunt is reading your book.’” she laughed. “Maybe one day I’ll read it all, but living through it was enough for me right now.” l

64 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


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Tiny Prancers Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Jerry Martin Did you hear the one about the horse wearing tennis shoes? No, that’s not the first line of a joke. It’s a reality for folks who have seen Jelly Bean, a miniature horse owned by Odenville’s Dana Dowdle. Once a greeter at Pell City’s Home Depot, Jelly Bean visits schools, nursing homes and hospitals, wearing the tennis shoes to keep him from slipping on slick floors. One might think that Jelly Bean is a novelty, but this tiny prancer isn’t the only miniature animal around these parts. Ken and Donna Hale of Ashville raise miniature brahmas, or zebus, while Susan and Al Maddox of Springville have miniature goats. With the exception of miniature horses, which can’t carry riders weighing more than 70 pounds, you can do just about anything with the little fellows that you can with their full-size counterparts. You can show them, train them to pull carts and do tricks, or simply sit and watch them romp around your yard. They take up less space than the standard versions and eat less, too. Their primary appeal, however, seems to be the cuteness factor. Standing just 26 inches tall from bare hoof to the top of his withers, Jelly Bean is a micro-miniature horse who weighs about 100 pounds and thinks he’s a dog. “He lives in our barn, but romps through the yard like a dog,” says owner Dana Dowdle. “If he could, he would bark.” He prefers dog biscuits and French fries to apples and carrots and rides in the back seat of Dowdle’s pick-up truck, sticking his head out the window when they go through fast-food drive-through lanes. He was the first miniature horse in Alabama to be certified as a service animal by Hand in Paw, a non-profit organization that provides animal-assisted therapy to children and adults with mental, physical, emotional and educational needs. Dowdle’s brother, who died in 2011, raised miniature horses with the idea of training them as service animals. He gave her Jelly Bean in 2002, right after the horse was born. Dowdle took him into her house,

66 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair

Bigger is never better for several St. Clair farms

Al and Susan Maddox spend a lot of time with their goats.

Ken and Donna Hare during a feeding session with the cows.


Dana Dowdle cuddles with her Jelly Bean.


Tiny Prancers cuddled him and rocked him like a baby, which helped to gentle him. She put diapers on him and made him underwear, because she was “too lazy to go through the house training process.” She has worked with several service minis over the past 10 years, but Jelly Bean is the only one that is certified. “My brother made a ramp for him to climb up into my truck, and I made him outfits for different occasions,” Dana says. “He has a Bob the Builder outfit, a ScoobyDoo outfit, baseball and police uniforms and holiday outfits as well.” Jelly Bean participates in Christmas parades and serves as a mascot for the St. Clair County Humane Society, the Moody Miracle League and the Margaret Police Department, where he is an honorary sergeant. During the six years that Dana worked as a greeter at Home Depot, he often accompanied her to work. He’s so tiny, people sometimes mistake him for a goat. “Even though he’s a stallion, he’s very sweet and gentle,” says Dowdle, who is known as Jelly Bean’s mom. Her helper at these events is 17-year-old Krissy McCarty, who gets credit from the Key Club at Springville High School for assisting Dowdle. “She helps by standing close to Jelly Bean, in case kids run up to him and spook him,” Dowdle says. “So far, he has never had a problem, but it’s nice to be prepared.” Dowdle has trained Jelly Bean to bow, rear up and to lie down so children can pet him. She figures he has another 10-15 years of service left. “I’m doing this in memory of my daughter, Mandy, who died at the age of 4 from cystic fibrosis, and for all the mothers who are going through what I went through with her,” she says. “But I’m also happy that we could carry out my brother’s dream.”

Minis have long history

The result of 400 years of selective breeding, miniature horses draw on the blood of English and Dutch mine horses brought to the U.S. in the 19th century and used in Appalachian coal mines as late as 1950. They also draw upon the blood of the Shetland pony. It’s almost impossible to know how many minis are in this country, though, because many are unregistered pets in people’s backyards. “All minis are not registered through us or other registry organizations,” says Stephanie Haselwander, events and promotions director for the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) in Alvarado, Texas. “We register minis that are 34 inches and

68 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair

Jelly Bean shows off a trick he performs often for owner Dana Dowdle.


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Tiny Prancers Donna Hare enjoys a lick from one of their young cows.

smaller, measured at the last hairs of the mane. Right now, we have over 213,000 in our database. And that number doesn’t tell us much, since some of those horses could have been registered with us and died.”

Tiny Brahmas turn heads

Apparently, it isn’t quite as difficult to determine the number of miniature Brahma cows in this country. According to the website www.drdoolittle.net, there are just 2,000 registered zebus in the whole U.S. In a normal week, eight to 10 strangers will stop by Ken and Donna Hale’s farm on U.S. 231 to look at their zebus, and four will come back and buy one. Most people just want them as pets, but the Hale zebus are registered and can be used as show animals. They can also supply beef. “Some people look at me like I’m a cannibal when I talk about eating them, but a 400-pound bull will yield about 200 pounds of meat, enough to last most families all year,” says Ken Hale. “Zebu meat has less cholesterol than the meat of bigger cows, and their milk has a higher butterfat content — 8 percent — than the milk of larger Brahmas.” Zebus top out at 42 inches, measured at the withers, and weigh 300-600 pounds

70 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair

One of the Hare’s bulls


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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 71


Tiny Prancers when fully grown. Hale has always loved Brahmas, but claims he is too chicken to deal with the standard variety, which can reach 6 feet in height and weigh around 2,000 pounds. He found the first stock for his herd in Athens, Georgia, via an Internet search. He purchased four — two brood cows and two young heifers named Miss Peaches, Bonnie, Millie and Sara, respectively — in April 2011. “They are one-person animals,” Hale says. “They will eat out of my hand, but crowd around my wife, Donna, who is the brains of our operation. Sara will nuzzle her and put her head on Donna’s shoulders. Three of the smaller calves will lie down with their heads in my wife’s lap. Yet they run from strangers.” Despite their gentleness, they are animals that have horns when they are grown and know how to use them. “A momma gored my brother when he tried to pick up her calf,” Hale says. They are easy to raise, requiring only half an acre per animal and about one to one-and-a-half pounds of feed daily. A standard-size cow needs 15-20 pounds of feed per day. Unlike large cows, their hooves must be trimmed regularly. They breed late, starting at the age of 3, and weigh about 1516 pounds at birth.

72 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair


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In addition to dwarf goats, the Maddoxes also raise alpacas (facing page) and miniature horses. “They look like fawns when they are born, and their mommas hide them,” Hale says. “Like fawns, if they’re under a clump of fescue, the calves won’t move. So unless you step on them, it’s hard to find them. I have to go hunting them down.” But they grow fast, doubling in size in their first three months. They get more docile as they get older and are sometimes used in youth rodeos. “They can live up to 25 years, and most people keep them until they die, unless they’re raising them for food,” Hale says. “They’re nothing but muscle.” They are primarily gray in color, but also come in black, red, spotted or almost pure white. Raising zebus is a business for the Hales, but the business brings them lots of pleasure. “I’m handicapped, I have emphysema, and I’m on a breathing machine,” Hale points out. “It’s so rewarding to go out to the pasture in my wheelchair and feed ‘em and watch ‘em eat and play. The calves are so much fun. It’s almost like watching a Norman Rockwell movie.”

Got her (dwarf) goat

That’s the way Susan Maddox feels about the Nigerian dwarf goats she and husband, Al, raise at their Old Farts Farm on US 11 in Springville. When Susan gets tired of feeding her chickens, peacocks, ducks, rabbits, pigeons, quail, alpacas and miniature horses, she goes and sits in the goat pen, and all is right with the world. And despite the fact that Al didn’t want Susan to buy any dwarf goats in

the first place, he often gets down on his hands and knees in their pen and lets them crawl on his back. “I’m their playpretty,” he says. Nigerian dwarf males get up to 28 inches in height, females 26 inches, according to Tara Maynard, who helps the Maddoxes with their farm chores. “Larger than that, they’re considered pygmies, not dwarfs,” she says. “Even though they’re little, dwarfs can supply enough milk for a small family daily.” The Maddoxes have to buy food made especially for dwarfs, because the feed made for larger goats contains too much copper for their tiny systems. The dwarf nannies give birth once a year, and have one kid the first time and twins or triplets after that. So the Maddoxes usually have 12-15 dwarf goat babies every year. They weigh from one to two pounds at birth, and although they raise them to sell, sometimes Susan finds it hard to part with one. “Sometimes I cry, and the buyer feels guilty,” she admits. Most people buy them for pets, but occasionally someone wants them for meat. Susan can tell the difference, and usually discourages meat-buyers by jacking up the price. “I normally get $75-$100 for a dwarf, but if I suspect they want to eat it, I’ll ask $500.” As with all their animals, the Maddoxes put a lot of time into raising the dwarf babies. “We handle them and gentle them from the time they’re born,” she says. “I spoil ‘em. They’re no trouble to care for. If you ever get any, you’ll find yourself sitting out in the pen, just watching them play.” l

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Here’s a llama, there’s a llama and another little llama* Rio is one of the mama llamas at the farm.

Raising llamas for show and profit

* The Llama song: Check it out on www.discoverstclair.com ... WARNING: It will stick in your head, really.

74 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Jerry Martin “Come on, girls,” Nancy Miller-Borg calls from the barn at her hilly farm in Steele. It takes a few moments for her voice to register, but soon, a herd of female llamas begins walking, then running up the hill toward the barn. They crowd around Nancy, looking for food, assuming that’s the reason she summoned them. One of the ‘girls’ is 23-year-old Roxie, who wears a blanket to stay warm, because her natural brownand-white coat is light wool. Like several of the Borg llamas, she is too old to breed or show and has become a pet. “There isn’t a big market for a 23-year-old llama who’s blind in one eye and deaf,” Nancy says. Who would have thought there would be a market for any type of llama outside of South America? Yet an estimated 65,000-100,000 of these exotic creatures live in the United States. Kept as pets and as show animals, they also pull carts, carry camping gear and small children along mountainous trails, provide wool for fiber, and protect sheep and goats from coyotes. “I got interested in llamas when I read about a llama show at Twin Pines Conference Center in Shelby County,” Nancy explains. “I went, I fell in love, and the next week, I was a llama owner.” Nancy soon started showing, then breeding llamas. She and Don, who have been married seven years, have a herd of 16, including three studs and a 1-year-old that is spending a few months with a friend in North Carolina. “When they’re babies, they need to be around other llamas their own age, and we’re not raising babies anymore,” Nancy explains. Chenille, a 2-year-old female, has won four “Best of Shows” in llama competitions. Shows are broken down into six categories according to gender and type of coats (light, medium or heavy), and three of the Borgs’ other llamas, 2Be, Onxy and Ebony, have won grand championships. “Best of Show” comes from all the grand champions. For more than 4,000 years, llamas have been used to transport goods across the rugged Andean mountains in South America, where they also provide meat for food and fur to make clothes. They have split, padded hooves that give them traction and cause negligible impact on trails or vegetation. “Llamas have been in the U.S. about 30-40 years, and when they first came here, they were going for $20,000-$40,000 each,” says Don. “Now, you’d expect to pay about $2,000 for a good quality llama.” They travel easily in trailers, vans and pickup trucks, lying down while a vehicle is in motion. Nancy hauls Tatoo, an 18-year-old Appaloosa (just like the horse of same name) male to schools, libraries and nursing homes in her Toyota Sequoia with the back seats down. Llamas don’t spook easily, so wheelchairs and camera flashes don’t bother them. “We’ve been traveling 15 years, and he’s had only one accident,” Nancy says of Tatoo. “That was in a nursing home, because it was raining and he couldn’t go outside to do his business. I was so embarrassed, but the nurse said she cleaned up far worse accidents every day.”

Tatoo and Dana spend a lot of time together.

Beeper appears to reflect on her life at the MillerBorg llama farm. February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 75


Here’s a llama ...

2Be, Iris and Beeper each have distinctive coat colors.

Besides visiting old folks and children, Tatoo walks and rides in parades. Nancy is particularly fond of the Altoona Christmas parade, because she can dress him up in his holiday attire. “I put a pack on him and put packages in it,” she says. “I put a garland around his neck and a Santa hat on his head, with holes cut for the ears. Before the parade starts, people will come up and pet him and get their pictures made with him.” Llamas can be solid, spotted or have a wide variety of markings, with colors ranging from white to black and shades of gray, brown, beige, red or roan. They stand 36 inches to 47 inches tall at the shoulders and 5 feet to 6 and a half feet at the head, and weigh from 200 to 450 pounds as adults. Easyto-keep animals, they eat 5 to 10 percent as much as a horse, so they require only about a quarter of an acre of pasture each for grazing. The Borgs don’t have much pasture because of all their trees, so they supplement with round hay bales. “Having babies (called crias) is great fun, and I love watching them grow up,” Nancy says. “They are mostly easy birthers, and unlike horses, they read the manual and 99 percent of the time have their baby in the day time. They usually give birth to just one cria, and rarely do you have to have a vet.” The Borgs aren’t in the breeding business anymore. They still show their llamas, however, because they enjoy the show atmosphere and getting together with all the friends they’ve made throughout the country. “It’s great fun to show animals you’ve bred, but gestation is 11 months, and then they have to be at least 5 months old to show,” Nancy says. “Plus, you need a lot of energy to market a product if you are into breeding. After 20 years, it’s time a younger group took over the breeding.” She continues to host the Heart of Dixie Llama & Alpaca Show in Huntsville every Labor Day. Sometimes, the Borgs grab a few moments between shows, parades, and civic obligations to just to just sit and watch their animals play. When cavorting around the pasture, llamas look like they’re on pogo sticks, because they bounce up and down


Dana and Tatoo cause many a head to turn while driving down the road in her SUV.

on all four feet at once. “Llamas are very tame, lovable creatures,” says Don. “Each one has it’s own personality.” Despite their gentleness, llamas often get a bad rap about spitting. But Nancy sets the record straight. They usually only spit at other llamas during tussles over food or other hierarchy issues. If those at petting zoos spit, they’ve probably been mishandled or mistreated, or like other herd animals, they’re unhappy being alone. “Sometimes kids will tell me they or a friend was spit on by a llama at a zoo, and I tell them that if someone were poking you with sticks through a fence or throwing rocks at you, you’d spit at him,

too,” Nancy says. Another feature for which llamas are noted is the variety of sounds they make. The most common sound is a humming noise, and there are a number of reasons why they hum. A female will hum to her cria, which seems to reassure the baby that Mom is still around. If an animal is unsure about what is going on, such as being penned up, it may issue a “worried” hum. “Traveling with friends, Tatoo will try to talk (hum) over us,” Nancy says. But Don has the definitive answer as to why llamas hum. Trying not to grin, he says, “It’s because they don’t know the words to the song.” l

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 77


A Woodsman of the World marker was provided in the early years of the insurance company’s existence.

78 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013


• A modern tale of historic survival • Story by Carol Pappas — Photos by Jerry Martin

It would be more than a decade before the young, upstart town known as Pell City would be incorporated to its west. Riverside lay to its east. In the middle, thrived the timber town of Seddon. Population: 500. The year was 1880 when Seddon Community was established — Georgia Pacific Railroad System to its north and the Coosa River on its southern side. Named for Thomas Seddon, the first Secretary of War for the Confederate States under President Jefferson Davis, its place in Alabama history is well-rooted. But the Seddon of today is little more than a shoreline on Logan Martin Lake, its most prominent remnant, the Seddon Cemetery that stands above it on a hillside. Jimmie Nell Miller calls Seddon Cemetery, “A Survivor of the Flood Waters,” and she probably knows its history more intimately than most. She should. She has invested months into research and gathering supporting evidence to have the Pell City cemetery listed on the Alabama Register of Historic Cemeteries. In October, her quest was successful. It joined only one other cemetery in St. Clair County, referred to as the old Pell City Cemetery, on the prestigious list of only 548 across Alabama. “It has gotten me into a lot of history of the area I never would have gotten into, that’s for sure,” she said, noting that six generations of her own family are buried there. Her husband, Ray, serves as chairman of the board of trustees for the cemetery, and the couple along with others, are working to preserve it — and its history — for the future. As you enter the cemetery, a nondescript black-and-white sign proclaims, “Seddon Cemetery — Established 1800.” The earliest legible marker is from 1840, some 40 years before the town of Seddon was founded. In the narrative supporting Seddon Cemetery’s inclusion on the historic list, Mrs. Miller talks of the town’s history. “There were two churches built in the booming Seddon community. One was Fishing Creek Methodist Church, which was located on a hill and beside it was a graveyard.” Fishing Creek, the Millers explain, was the name of a nearby tributary on the Coosa River. Close by was Ferryville, named for the ferry that crossed the Coosa from there en route to Talladega. Eventually, it would be known as Truss Ferry, its name coming from Maj. J.D. Truss, a Confederate officer who built the ferry and for whose family Trussville was named. He had been a captain of the 10th Alabama Infantry. “He and his men mustered under an apple tree in Cropwell, Alabama, then marched to Montevallo (75 miles), where they took a train to join Gen. Robert E. Lee in Virginia,” Mrs. Miller wrote. A Confederate flag marks his grave in Seddon today. The Trusses were a prominent family in St. Clair, many of their ancestors buried in Seddon Cemetery. They were among 92 whose remains were moved to Seddon when the Truss Family Cemetery and other gravesites were to be covered by water during the creation of Logan Martin Lake in 1964.

From left, Jimmie Nell Miller, Ray Miller, Isabella Trussell and Curtis Pond brave a rainy day to tell their story. As trustees, they, along with Bill Ervin and Evelyn Funderburg, are working toward perpetual care for the cemetery. In all, some 1,400 gravesites had to be moved to other Pell City and Cropwell cemeteries to survive Logan Martin’s flood waters, just like Seddon. Homes and buildings were taken down to their foundation to make way for the lake as well. As she tells the story, Mrs. Miller pores over documents provided by Alabama Power Co., which built the lake, noting how gravesites — marked and unmarked — were moved to neighboring cemeteries to be spared by the flood. Coosa Valley Cemetery, located in the Easonville area, experienced a similar fate with graves moved from an old part to a new one. But some of those buried at Coosa Valley were moved to Seddon as well. Detailed reports from an Aiken, S.C., mortician note the number of graves moved on a single day, the grave number and name, if available, new number and location of the grave and even the weather that day — fair or cloudy. Many of the graves are unmarked, and older citizens tell stories of playing in the cemetery as children and remembering gravesites marked only with a rock or brick, Mrs. Miller said. Their stories are lost, but an effort to preserve the cemetery is aimed at protecting the rest. Walking among the markers today is like turning the pages of a history book. Buried at Seddon are veterans of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars. The late Alabama Supreme Court Justice Eric Embry is buried there as is his father, Judge Frank Embry, who served in

February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 79


Seven little markers in a row tell the story of a family who lost a child each of seven years.

the Alabama House of Representatives. They are the only father and son to sit on the same Supreme Court panel — Eric as justice and Frank in a supernumerary post. Eric’s niece, Isabella Trussell, is one of those on the board of trustees seeking to preserve the cemetery so the memories of those buried there can truly be eternal. As a lawyer in the 1960s specializing in civil law, Eric Embry was retained by the Saturday Evening Post, CBS and New York Times. The Times case led to the historic Sullivan Decision, still a key precedent in arguing Constitutional law for Freedom of the Press. Frank Embry not only served in the Legislature, he was a two-term mayor of Pell City and a councilman. As a circuit judge for Blount and St. Clair, he was appointed along with two other judges to intervene in the Phenix City racketeering scandal of 1954, where hearings struck down local elections. The old monuments hint at when the plagues came through Alabama. One family lost a child every year for seven years. Seven little monuments in a row mark the tragedies.

80 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

A marker built in the shape of a chimney


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February - March 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 81


Preserving the past for future The Millers and other volunteer trustees of the cemetery don’t want to see this precious history lost. There were no provisions for perpetual care, and they are working toward charity status to receive tax-free donations. The only sources of income are lot owner donations and fund drives. Land has been added to the original cemetery, and plans call for future expansion if funds become available. An application has been made for an historic marker to be erected at the cemetery, which will say: SEDDON CEMETERY Established — early 1800s Seddon Cemetery is recognized as having historical significance in this area and is added to the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register by the Alabama Historical Commission October 17, 2012

Interesting markers are found throughout the cemetery — these in the shape of houses.

Seddon Cemetery overlooks the part of Logan Martin that was known as Fishing Creek. 82 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | February - March 2013

“Seventy years ago, there was still a lot of interest in Seddon Cemetery with memorial days and ‘dinner-on-theground’ events, all centered around the cemetery,” Mrs. Miller said. “Since then, there has been a slow and steady decline of interest due to the old families dying off and their younger generations either moving away or having no interest in keeping up old traditions. “I could foresee the humble little cemetery and its 200 years of local history becoming grown up and forgotten,” she said. Her husband agrees, and that’s why he is working to save it for the future. “Many members of St. Clair County’s prominent pioneer families are buried in Seddon Cemetery. These people were instrumental in helping make St. Clair County the vibrant, successful county it is today.” They deserve a final resting place that is “dignified and well maintained.” Calling it a “huge first step,” Mrs. Miller noted that the cemetery’s inclusion on the Historical Cemetery Register should help in gaining interest and funding “to preserve this site for generations to come.” l For more images from Seddon Cemetery, check out discoverstclair.com


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