Discover St. Clair October and November 2020

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Chef Cory • South of Sanity Farms • Author Teresa Thorne Concert on the Water • Economic Optimism • Resale to the Rescue

October & November 2020

Carolyn Hall

Turning thread into art

Special Veterans Edition

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Features and Articles Discover

The Essence of St. Clair

Carolyn Hall Handiwork tells a story in every stitch

Page 28

Chef Cory, food artist Page 8

Cooking with Cory Family recipes

Page 16

Traveling the Backroads Author Teresa Thorne

Best of St. Clair

South of Sanity Farms Page 40 Concert on the water Page 50

Pell City Rotary Veterans

Page 18 Page 27 Page 36

Wreaths Across America Page 54 Sponsor a wreath Page 56 Tomb of Unknown Soldier Page 60 Bob Curl amazing life Page 66

St. Clair Business

Second job for steel icon Page 72 Resale to the Rescue Page 74 Economic optimism Page 80

October & November 2020

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Carol Pappas

Writers AND Photographers

Carol Pappas is editor and publisher of Discover St. Clair Magazine. A retired newspaper executive, she served as editor and publisher of several newspapers and magazines during her career. She won dozens of writing awards in features, news and commentary and was named Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist at Auburn University. She serves as president/CEO of Partners by Design, the multimedia group that publishes Discover.

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.

Jackie Romine Walburn

Elaine Hobson Miller

Jackie Romine Walburn, a Birmingham native and freelance writer, is an Auburn journalism graduate who has worked as a reporter, editor and corporate communications manager. She’s had recent writing published in the Birmingham Arts Journal and Jackie is currently seeking an agent and publisher for her first novel, Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone.

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. She is a member of Alabama Media Professionals and NFPW (the National Federation of Press Women). Follow her weekly blog about life with a dozen four-legged critters, life in the country and life in general at

Joe Whitten Joe Whitten was born in Bryant on Sand Mountain. When he arrived in Odenville in 1961 to teach at St. Clair County High School, he found a place to call home. He and his wife, Gail, taught across the hall from each other. He continues to live in Odenville in a 1904 house they called home for 36 years. Joe was active in the Alabama Writers’ Conclave and the Alabama State Poetry Society. The society named him Poet of the Year in 2000. Joe has also published a number of St. Clair County local history books.

Linda Long Linda Long has worked in communications for more than 25 years in print, broadcast, nonprofit promotion and special event planning and implementation. Her writing has appeared in Business Alabama Magazine, Technology Alabama, Mobile Bay Monthly, Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, Partners Magazine, Birmingham Magazine, Alabama Alive, Cahaba Talk, Hoover Outlook and Shelby Living. She served as news and special projects producer for NBC13 News, where her work won national, regional and state honors, including two Emmy Award nominations.

Leigh Pritchett

Leigh Pritchett is a wife and mother. She earned the Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Montevallo. In the late 1990s, she left a career with a New York Times Regional Newspaper to be a stay-athome mom and freelance writer. She was blessed with the opportunity to spend 22 years homeschooling her three children.

Scottie Vickery Scottie Vickery is a writer with a degree in journalism from the University of Alabama and was a reporter for The Birmingham News. Her first assignment was covering St. Clair and Blount counties. She has more than 30 years of writing and editing experience and her work has appeared in a variety of publications. She also has worked in the nonprofit industry.

Paul South Paul South, a native of Fairfield, is an Au¬burn graduate with a degree in journalism and a double minor in history. He also has a Juris Doctorate degree from the Birmingham School of Law. Although sports writing was always his first love, he had a versa¬tile career as reporter, columnist and first full-time sports information director at Samford University.

From the Editor

Old stories, storytelling and so much more This is one of my favorite editions each year when we salute veterans, those men and women who have sacrificed so much in service to our country. It reminds me of my own father’s service – fresh from college and ready for his new life, but like so many others, he took a detour when World War II broke out, and it landed him in the Philippines. And just like tens of thousands of other immigrants, who became naturalized citizens, this Greek-born young man made good on his oath of allegiance. I remember the well-worn black and white snapshots of him – handsome and fit, ready to take on the world. No telling the horrors of war he would witness. Like so many from that era, he never talked about it when he returned home. The remnant reminder was the shrapnel scars on his arm. While my father never really told us his story, I feel blessed that Discover Magazine is able to tell other stories of veterans and sacrifice. They are important accounts of history not only to read, but to help us understand, and they never cease to inspire. When the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home opened in St. Clair County, the old cliché, ‘If these walls could talk,’ was never more appropriate. But walls don’t talk. People do. And it has been our honor year after year for these veterans to open up and talk to us, relate their experiences and put what it really means to serve in perspective for the rest of us. Such is the case with Robert Curl, who is featured in this issue. Now in his 90s, he remembers vividly a fateful day in June 1945 – D-Day, the invasion of Normandy. He was there. Through his eloquence, he takes us there. Other stories of inspiration are part of this special salute, too, like those laying Wreaths Across America to commemorate the sacrifices of our fallen heroes. And we learn the story behind a cemetery created in St. Clair County just for veterans.

There are other stories to be told as well. They are stories like a St. Clair County author making her mark through literature. We’ll take you into the kitchen of a noted chef who grew up cooking barbecue alongside his father in their Springville restaurant. As if that’s not enough, you might learn a thing or two from an afghan-maker who has a story to tell with just about every stitch. There’s even more in the pages that lie ahead. Turn this one and discover it all with us. Carol Pappas Editor and Publisher

Discover The Essence of St. Clair

October & November 2020 • Vol. 56 •

Carol Pappas • Editor and Publisher Graham Hadley • Managing Editor and Designer Dale Halpin • Advertising Toni Franklin • Graphic Designer

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Chef Cory Springville-bred food artist finds home in Birmingham’s noted culinary scene

Story by Scottie Vickery Photos by Graham Hadley Submitted Photos Cory Bolton had barely started walking when his grandmother plopped him on the kitchen counter with a spoon and a mixing bowl full of corn meal. It was an easy way to keep the toddler entertained while she cooked, so she told him he was helping. It turns out those early days in the kitchen with his grandmother, Sandra Bolton, were much more than a diversion. They were the first cooking lessons Cory, who grew up in Springville and is now the executive chef at Fancy’s on 5th in Avondale, ever had. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “She made biscuits pretty much every day, and she’d put me on the counter with this big green glass bowl. By the time I was three or four, I was kneading the dough, and she would teach me as she went. That really set into motion for me a lifetime of enjoying food.” These days, the 32-year-old Bolton is giving guests at Fancy’s on 5th plenty of food to enjoy themselves. The restaurant, which bills itself as an oyster dive and burger bar, offers everything from


seared ahi tuna and oysters served with golden kiwi strawberry mignonette to a fried flounder BLT, grilled octopus tacos, and a burger featuring chipotle aioli, pico de gallo, fried jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. “I cook a little bit of everything, but my specialty is definitely seafood – Southern-style food and seafood,” he said. “I’ve cut about every fish in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Home cooking

Cory has been at a number of restaurants in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa over the years, working his way up from dishwasher to cook to sous-chef to head chef to the co-star in an online cooking show. His start in the restaurant business, though, came close to home when his parents, Mike and Beth Bolton, opened Big Bolton’s BBQ in Argo in 2009. Cory, 21 at the time, helped them run the place. Mike, who had just retired after 25 years as an outdoor writer and columnist for The Birmingham News, definitely knew his way around a grill and a smoker. “The men in my family like to cook meat, smoke meat,” Cory said. “Dad was always doing the hunting and fishing stuff – cooking Boston butts or brisket at the hunting camp.” Mike, the author of several books, including

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Chef Cory Bolton outside Fancy’s on Fifth in Birmingham Facing page: Just a few of the offerings at Fancy’s - flat iron steak with manchego smashed potatoes, creamed spinach and crispy artichokes; crab claws; and beef tartare with a quail egg

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Chef Cory

Customers outside Birmingham’s Fancy’s on Fifth. Preparing and Cooking Alabama’s Wild Game, is quick to declare his son the expert. “He’s a much better cook than I am,” Mike said. “I was pretty simple, but he was always trying different things. He came up with a marinade for grilled chicken that was incredible. People just loved it.” After moving Big Bolton’s to a new location in Springville, the family closed the restaurant in 2011 during the economic downturn. “I tell people that saying, ‘You can cook good, you ought to open a restaurant’ is a lot like saying, ‘You put your seatbelt on good, you ought to be a NASCAR driver,’” said Mike, now the editor of Alabama Outdoor News and the owner of Victory Lane Catering. While the experience led Mike to say “never again” to the restaurant business, the disappointment inspired Cory to work even harder to achieve his dream. “I’m definitely a person who, if I get knocked down, I’m going to get back up,” he said. “If Big Bolton’s goes out of business, then I’m going to show everyone that I can be a chef.” He’s drawn on his St. Clair County upbringing throughout his career. Cory was especially involved in extracurricular activities and sports at Springville High School, and the lessons he learned on the field have helped him in his career. “All of the team-building stuff, I use it every day,” said Cory, who was captain of the football team and helped with coaching after high school. “Trying to get an 18-year-old kid to focus, and not text girls, is a lot like a chef trying to get guys to focus intently for six hours. Sports taught me to lead a team and be part of a team.” Growing up, Cory traveled to barbecue competitions, Bassmaster Classics, and trade shows with his father, and he got early exposure to some of the more exotic foods. “I’m eating rattlesnake, fried crappie, squirrel soup and all this crazy food most kids don’t get to experience,” he said.


Cory also cooks at Melt, across the street from Fancy’s

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

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Chef Cory

Cooking burgers to go

Oysters and crab claws are a staple


Fancy’s iconic logo shines over the bar. The restaurant was named for the elephant that used to reside across the street in Avondale Park.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

At church, he found more than a spiritual foundation. His parents were the kitchen managers at Clearbranch United Methodist Church for about 12 years, and Cory and his sister, Lauren, could often be found helping with spaghetti dinners and other events. “Even as a 12-year-old, I’m learning how to use industrial kitchen equipment at my church,” he said. “I never knew I was in training.” The real foundation, though, was set at the nearby Trussville home of his grandparents, Sandra and Clyde Bolton. “I have four grandchildren, and Cory is the only boy,” Sandra said. “The girls didn’t care much about being in the kitchen, but Cory always was. I’ve always had a love for cooking, and Cory is like me on that. It’s not work for us, it’s fun.”

Pursuing his dreams

Despite his love of cooking, Cory is self-taught and never attended culinary school. As a student at Jacksonville State University and Jefferson State Community College, he envisioned a career in public relations, or as a journalist or sports information director. The kitchen, however, kept calling his name. He worked in a number of places over the years, including food trucks and Primeaux Cheese & Vino in Birmingham, and he enjoyed a stint as head chef at a sushi restaurant. His years at the award-winning Ocean, in Birmingham’s Five Points district, shaped him the most, however. “That was a real turning point for me because I had a real mentor,” Cory said of the restaurant’s owner, George Reis. “George is a real live chef – intense, not accepting less than perfection. He helped me develop my cooking for sure, but he taught me how to be a chef.” Reis allowed Bolton to change the menu and add his own flair to dishes, and he also taught him to trust himself in the kitchen. “He let me come into my own as a chef, and I really understood what we were doing,” said Cory, who also worked for Ocean’s sister restaurant, 26. “I didn’t have to read the music, I could just play by ear.” That instinct is what makes him stand out from the crowd, Mike said. “Cory really gets that cooking is about 25 percent cooking and 75 percent science,” he said. “He’s really good at that.” It’s something that came naturally, even as a child helping his father grill, Cory said. “Good barbecue is good but without great sauce, it’s just good barbecue,” he said. “The sauce has to have the right amount of sweet, spice and acidity. Good sauce isn’t just sweet or just spicy or just tangy, it’s a balance of all those things. At 10 years old, if you’re understanding the balance of flavors, you’re really understanding the science of cooking.” He got to experiment a little in the three years he was executive chef at River in Tuscaloosa before moving back to Birmingham to be closer to home and family. Bolton’s friend and fellow chef Addison Porter followed him to River, and the duo got creative with steaks, seafood and dishes like pork rinds and queso cheese with black-eyed pea relish. “We were doing some really great stuff, complicated food,” Cory said. “It was crazy busy. After an Alabama-LSU game, you’re serving 500, 600 people.” While at River, Cory and Addison started filming “Chunks,” a cooking show for, a food-focused social network featuring recipes, how-to videos and inspiration. They filmed four episodes before the pandemic, and Cory hopes to eventually do more. They made some over-the-top creations for the show, including a 10-pound egg roll stuffed with gameday

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Chef Cory

Fancy’s dining room is open for business

Mike, Cory and Beth Bolton in the kitchen

For more, visit Fancy’s on Fifth’s website or follow them on Facebook 14

foods, including burgers, buffalo chicken, chips and salsa. “We are kind of flamboyant, crazy people, and we’ve had a lot of fun,” Cory said. “We’ve worked in the kitchen together for about seven years and everyone says we speak a different language. One of us will just point, and the other one knows exactly what he wants.” That rapport comes in handy with Cory’s latest mission of doing the impossible and making his grandmother’s fried chicken recipe even better. “Fried chicken is my favorite food ever,” Cory said. “My ultimate goal is to open a fried chicken restaurant and let Addison run it.” Green onion and a specially seasoned flour are the secret ingredients in Sandra’s recipe, and Cory and Addison have experimented with additional spices and seasonings. “We started with everything we loved about her recipe and have been adding different things and trying to perfect it,” Cory said. “We’ve worked on it, and I’m not kidding, for five years like mad scientists.” So, what does Sandra think about his lofty goal? “I don’t know if I can even take it to her,” Cory said with a laugh. “If she knew I changed her recipe, I might not be able to go to Thanksgiving.” He’s not really worried, though. While he loves being the “crazy, city boy chef,” Cory acknowledges his grandmother always welcomes him with open arms, and she’ll always be the best cook he knows. “You can take a recipe you loved as a child, add high level techniques and skill, but it’s still never going to be what your grandmother cooked,” he said. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


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Chef Cory Cooking with Corey and Sandra Recipes from the Bolton family Cory’s Crab Fritters with Lemon Basil Aioli

Crab Fritters with Lemon Basil Aioli Cory Bolton

Crab Fritters • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter • 1 small white onion, finely chopped • 1 (11-ounce) can corn, drained, divided • 1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained • 1 cup all-purpose flour • 1 teaspoon baking powder • 1 teaspoon kosher salt • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper • 2/3 cup whole milk • 2 large eggs • 1 (6-ounce) can crab meat, drained • 1/4 cup vegetable oil for frying, or as needed Lemon Basil Aioli • 2/3 cup mayonnaise • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest • 3 tablespoons lemon juice • 1 tablespoon corn • 1 clove garlic, minced • 1/4 cup chopped basil


Directions for Fritters: Melt butter in a medium 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook onions 3 to 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Set aside 1 tablespoon corn for aioli. In the same skillet, combine remaining corn and chiles with cooked onions. Remove skillet from heat. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. In a large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Gradually whisk flour mixture into milk mixture just until smooth. Stir in corn and chiles mixture and crabmeat. Cover and refrigerate 10 minutes. Add enough oil to skillet so it reaches about 1/2 inch deep; heat over mediumhigh heat. Carefully drop 6 to 7 mounds of batter by tablespoon into hot oil. Cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer fritters to paper towels and repeat with remaining batter.

Directions: Brown beef in shortening. Add onions, tomatoes, catsup, steak sauce, green pepper, and parsley. Simmer 30 minutes. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain. Combine macaroni and ground beef mixture in casserole. Season to taste. Spoon mushroom soup into mixture and mix lightly. Top with grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until top is bubbling and brown.

Directions for Aiolo Mix all ingredients and use for dipping.

Football Casserole Sandra Bolton

From When Dinnerbells Ring: A Collection of Recipes by Talladega Junior Welfare League Ingredients: • 1 pound ground beef • 2 tablespoons shortening • 1 medium onion, chopped • 2 cups canned tomatoes • 1 tablespoon catsup • 1 tablespoon steak sauce • ½ cup green peppers, chopped • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped • 1 5-ounce package elbow macaroni • Salt and pepper to taste • 1 can cream of mushroom soup • 1 cup grated cheese

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Sandra Bolton and her Football Casserole

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Traveling the


Teresa K. Thorne St. Clair author’s writing continues to make an impact

Booksigning for Noah’s Wife


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Story by Joe Whitten Submitted Photos


Backroads often twist and turn through the county, or as a rural storekeeper once said of a county road, “It twisties and turnses.” This month we twist and turn up Straight Mountain to the quiet and peaceful home of Teresa K. Thorne. T.K., as her friends call her, has an inquisitive and investigative mind that has made her successful in the work-aday world as well as the world of novelist and historian. Now fully retired, she writes full-time at her mountaintop home above the historic town of Springville. “T.K. Thorne is one of Alabama’s literary treasures, in the tradition of our state’s many talented, inventive, creative writers,” Alabama author Barry Marks said of her work. “Her ideas are fresh and her prose clear. Someday, she will get the full recognition she deserves.”

Taking root in Alabama

Born to Warren and Jane Lobman Katz, T.K. grew up in Montgomery. Jane Lobman’s family was old Montgomery stock while Warren Katz was a Brooklyn, New Yorker. “He met my mother at Syracuse University,” T.K. smiled, “followed her to the South and never looked back.” His Brooklyn mindset, however, stymied his understanding of Southerners’ love of land and space. “When I wanted to buy some property,” T.K. recalled, “he said, ‘Why do you want to buy property?’ I said the only thing I could think of – ‘Because I like to be around trees.’ And he said, ‘Trees? Trees? You want trees? Go to a park.’” As a child, Teresa’s interest focused on space and her desire to be an astronaut. She recently told how as a 10- or 11-yearold she wrote a letter to NASA asking what college courses she should take to be an astronaut. She let her mother proofread it, and her mother “thought it was so cute” that she took it to T.K.’s dad to read. “Daddy read it very seriously,” she said, “then he told me that he didn’t want to disappoint me, but that was not where I should aim. And when I asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘Because your eyes are too bad.’ Now, back then there was no such thing as a woman astronaut. It was all jet fighter test pilots who became astronauts, but Daddy didn’t mention that to me; just told me it was my eyesight.” That crushed T.K., but she later discovered that her Dad’s hopes to be a Navy pilot were dashed because of his poor eyesight, and she realized, “He was trying to save me from that disappointment.” But the disappointment turned her away from science, which she really enjoyed. It’s fascinating to know why T.K. longed to be an astronaut. “I wasn’t that interested in going into space; I wanted to meet aliens. I watched out the window of my room every night to see if the ship had landed to take me and my dog off on an adventure. Since they didn’t come, I figured I’d have to go to them.” With astronaut dreams gone, when college came, she found herself wondering what to study, and “I just kind of decided to go into social work,” she recounted. “I liked the idea of helping people.” After obtaining an undergraduate degree, she earned a master’s in social work from the University of Alabama. In the master’s program, T.K. had to write a paper using a topic chosen from a list provided by the professor. “One of the topics was Police-Social Work in Birmingham,” she recalled. “I was in my first marriage. I was living in Birmingham, and I thought, ‘It’s in Birmingham; I’ll write about that.’ I had no


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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Traveling the

Books by T.K. Thorne BACKROADS

prior interest in police work.” The resulting paper made its way to then Birmingham Chief of Police James Parsons, who contacted her and said, “It’s a good paper, and I need a grant writer. I need somebody who can write.” And when T.K. graduated, Parsons offered her the job. T.K.’s desire to write originated early on, but grant writing “… wasn’t what I had in mind,” she laughed. “But it was a job, and I took it.” This was 1976, the early days of computers, and her first assignment was to write a grant for Computer Aided Dispatching. T.K. confessed she didn’t know how to write a grant, but she knew the dispatching system should be designed to help police officers. To figure that out, she rode with them, then wrote the grant and the Birmingham Police Department received the city’s first computer.

A new career

Riding patrol with the officers intrigued T.K. who said, “It gave me a taste for police work. I enjoyed not knowing what was around the corner, not knowing what was gonna happen next … It was almost like being an astronaut,” she laughed. And she met a lot of strange people. “Not aliens, but strange enough.” Believing she would enjoy police work, T.K. “gave it a whirl,” and she enjoyed the whirl for over two decades. Working her way up the ranks, she retired as a captain in 1999. T.K. then began a second career by taking a job as the executive director of CAP (City Action Partnership) in downtown Birmingham. She retired from this position in August 2016. Ariel Worthy wrote a retirement article for the Aug. 4 issue of The Birmingham Times, and its title summed up her reason for retiring: “Teresa Thorne: After 18 years as head of CAP plans to retire and write books full-time.”


Teresa, age 16, at Pea Level (David Kerns photo)

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020





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Traveling the

BACKROADS Fulfilling a dream

T.K. had, of course, been writing nights and weekends while working her full-time job. She wrote a science fiction novel first. “I wanted to check out those aliens,” she said. “After you’ve dreamed up a whole new world, you know your imagination can go anywhere and do anything.” However, finding no publisher for this book, she put it aside for a few years, but now is reworking it. “I thought it was a good book, and I still do,” she said. With that disappointment, T.K. began looking for what in today’s writing jargon is called a “high concept plot” – that means the premise of the novel grabs the publisher’s attention before opening the manuscript. As she contemplated this idea, she didn’t realize it, but Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel, Ahab’s Wife, would be the catalyst for her first success. Ahab’s Wife is a 700-page novel based on a single reference in Moby Dick to “Captain Ahab’s young wife at home.” T.K.’s inspiration came at a poetry reading as she listened to Irene Latham read a poem about Noah’s wife. After reading the poem, Irene told how the idea to write it came because her minister mentioned that Genesis made only scant reference to Noah’s wife and never gave her a name. “It was, like, ‘Wow! How much more famous can you be than Noah? But her whole life is a big blank! So, my brain was on fire through the rest of the poetry session.” With that “high concept,” T.K. plunged into meticulous research of the Genesis flood. Wanting scientific answers to her questions, “Did the flood really happen and if so, when and where did it occur?” She consulted retired UAB math professor and Springville resident, Art Siegel, a man she believed “knew everything.” Siegel didn’t disappoint. He sent her to research scientist Robert Ballard. Ballard’s underwater video exploration had yielded both the Titanic and the submarine, USS Scorpion, possibly sent to Davie Jones’ Locker by Russia. Intrigued by the work of scientists William Ryan and Walter Pittman, who documented evidence the Black Sea had changed suddenly from fresh water to salt water, Ballard took his equipment to the Black Sea. T.K. explained: “If this flood happened as these scientists said it did, then Ballard wanted to search for evidence of a prior civilization at the bottom of the Black Sea.” Ballard had been broadcasting an educational television program where schools could check in daily to see his progress. T.K. discovered this program and followed it. Ballard’s research money was almost gone when, about 2 miles off the coast of the Black Sea, his underwater camera recorded signs of an ancient civilization – remains of housing structures and relics reflecting the same time period as Ryan and Pitman believed Noah’s flood happened, approximately 5,500 B.C. T.K. studied Ryan and Pitman’s book, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries and the Event that Changed the World, as well as ancient, extra-biblical accounts of a flood catastrophe, early religion and archeological findings and then settled down to write her novel, Noah’s Wife, based loosely on


Teresa, far left, in Graetz pool (Photo curtesy Robert and Jeannie Graetz)

the Genesis account. Naming her character Na’amah, T.K. wrote the first chapter. In reading over it, she said, “I realized there was something different about Na’amah, and I diagnosed her as having Asperger’s syndrome. “That prompted an argument in my head. ‘You can’t let Noah’s wife have Asperger’s!’ Then my other voice said, ‘Why not?’ I finally decided to let my character be herself.”

A winning idea

When the editors submitted Noah’s Wife to Forewords Review, it needed a contest entry category. “We put it in historical fiction, and it won,” she smiled. “I was floating. My first book! My first-born.” The novel continues in print today. A short while after Noah’s Wife rolled off the press and began selling, T.K. was in the car with a fellow CAP worker. “I was in the passenger seat,” she recalled, “and he kind of cut his eyes over at me and said, ‘Noah’s wife, huh? What’s next, Lot’s wife?’ I thought, ‘Oh, no way; that’s Sodom and Gomorrah!’” However, the idea wouldn’t let go, and her creative thinking cranked up. “I knew that two angels appeared prominently in this story,” she explained, “and who in heck would the angels be?” The puzzle solved itself in the kitchen. “I was unloading the dishwasher, and the answer hit me.” Thus, Angels at the Gate came to be written and published. Read the book to learn of Lot’s fictional wife, Adira, and who the two angels were. This novel received the Benjamin Franklin Award, a national honor for Historical Fiction. Her third novel was House of Rose, the first in a trilogy about Birmingham Police Officer Rose Brighton, who chases a suspect down an alley and finds herself staring at a dead body shot in the back – with her gun. Fellow Alabama author, Irene Latham, says of T.K.’s skill, “Teresa is one of those versatile writers who’s equally at home composing fiction, nonfiction, romance, mystery, poetry, humor

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

When clients talk, Lori listens. Buying, selling? You should, too! Here’s just a sampling of what they had to say: “Just had the best experience with Lori! I have been a real estate agent for over 25 years in Atlanta. Wanting a house on the lake, and not knowing the area, Lori was recommended to help me. I had pretty specific needs as far as location, view, size, etc. but never did I feel pressured to make a decision. She continued to search and show anything close to my requirements, and never gave up on me finding my dream home.” – Beth “Lori was great. She helped us to purchase a house from out of state move. Her professionalism and knowledge of the area were exceptional. Lori went above and beyond what I would have expected. She helped to take measurements and video calls as we were unable to see most of the property in person. She made it seem like we were there the entire time!” – Chris

“Lori listed a lot of land for us and we expected it to take a year or more to sell. She was diligent and professional - our lot sold within a couple of months! Lori has a passion for connecting people with the right locations and it shows in every interaction.” – Tina “I met Lori by chance. My wife and I were looking at purchasing a house, and as fate would have it Lori was showing the home we looked at. She was so wonderful, caring, and understanding of what WE needed. And she helped us find our dream home! I would recommend Lori to anyone and everyone that is searching for their dream home.” – Christopher

Traveling the

BACKROADS … She’s a storyteller with breadth and depth. When I pick up one of her pieces, I know I won’t be disappointed – and I’ll likely learn something new and, also, experience deep emotion.”

Revisiting history

The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church burns in the memory of many Alabama citizens, and for the lover of local Alabama history, T.K.’s history, Last Chance for Justice, is a must read. This carefully researched book is the story of the investigation behind the murders of the four young girls in that 1963 horrific church bombing. T.K. wrote from the perspective of Birmingham police detective Ben Herren and FBI Special Agent Bill Fleming, whose initially frosty relationship evolved into a close partnership. These men secretly analyzed thousands of FBI documents about the bombing and the Ku Klux Klan before conducting their first interview with Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry – an interview that broke open the case and prepared the way to justice. Also playing a part in this history is bomber Thomas Blanton, who recently died in prison. The urgency of writing this book connects closely with T.K.’s formative years. Her focus on social justice had been nurtured by her parents and their friends, and by the values learned from Montgomery’s Reform Jewish Synagogue, Temple Beth-Or, where the family attended. The Katz family had an enduring friendship with Virginia and Clifford Durr, well-known Alabama social justice advocates and activists in a day when to be thus inclined was not socially or politically favorable. The Durrs paid the bail for Rosa Parks after she was jailed for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person. The Katz family supported the boycott. In a Dec. 1, 2014 online blog, T.K. told how, as a little girl, she had met Rosa Parks at the Durrs’ farm in Wetumpka. The adult conversation caused T.K. to ask, “‘Were you really just tired and didn’t want to get up?’ Rosa Parks turned to me with a good-natured chuckle, and said, ‘Oh, it was planned, child. I’d never have done it if I didn’t know that Mr. Durr and Mr. (E.D.) Nixon were there to bail me out.’”

A mother’s influence

When asked how such things had influenced her, T.K. responded, “Social justice was my background growing up. It was like the air I breathed. My mother was the state lobbyist for the League of Women Voters. “She started a newsletter, typed with carbon copies, the first regular report that informed people about the status of bills in the legislature. And my mother was a lobbyist, so I went with her several times to the legislature and watched her stand up to the ‘good ’ole boys.’” Mrs. Katz was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000. Social justice and her police experience converged when T.K. attended a symposium called The Gathering: Civil Justice Remembered sponsored by Birmingham Southern College. This event brought together families, journalists, attorneys and law enforcement involved, over a 40-year span, in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing case. The bombing had


Teresa, first on left, second row, Birmingham Police Academy always interested her. At The Gathering, she sat in the very top bleachers and couldn’t really see who was on stage. An investigator on the 1990s case was talking about behindthe-scenes stories of the investigation. T.K. recalled, “I was thinking, ‘That’s fascinating! I didn’t know that. People need to know that.’” As she listened, the more familiar the speaker’s voice sounded, until she realized it was Ben Herren, an officer she had worked with in the police department. So, after the meeting, she spoke with him, saying, “‘Ben, I didn’t know you were investigating this.’ He said, ‘That’s because we wanted to keep it secret until a certain point, so we put out the word that I was assigned to the FBI on an auto theft task force.’ I said, ‘Just the few stories I heard are riveting, and they are part of the historical record that should be captured. Somebody ought to write book about that.’ I had no idea at that point, I would be that person.” Ben Herren had worked on the 1990s investigation with Bill Fleming, FBI special agent on the case. A few years after T.K. connected with Ben, Bill was retired and getting up in years. Realizing the historical importance of Herren and Fleming’s work, T.K. said to them, “You can’t wait any longer for somebody to document this.” Her initial thought was to record their stories of bringing the last church bombers Bobby Frank Cherry and Robert Blanton to justice and preserve the tapes in a museum or university. She told Herren and Fleming, “This history must not be lost. … I will commit to spending time to interview you and get it recorded. Then you can decide what we do with it.” They accepted her offer and began meeting about every week or two at lunchtime in T.K.’s office. It took a year and a half to record their behind-the-scenes investigation stories, which filled many cassette tapes. T.K. said to Ben and Bill, “‘OK, where do we send the tapes to be archived?’ I will never forget the moment. Ben looked at Bill; Bill looked at Ben, and Ben looked back at me and said, ‘We want you to write a book.’”

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

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Traveling the

BACKROADS Digging for the story

Although taken aback, T.K. agreed to write it, and that job took another four years. Interviews required transcription and a careful examination of a box of confidential report copies supplied by Fleming. So, she collated transcribed stories with FBI reports to give structure to the book. As her writing progressed, T.K. noticed newspaper articles about the approaching 50th anniversary of the church bombing and Birmingham’s preparations to commemorate that tragic day. Knowing the book needed to be off the press by commemoration date, she worked long into many nights, finished it, and gave the manuscript to her literary agent who quickly secured Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago, as publisher. Last Chance for Justice was in bookstores by the anniversary date. T.K.’s first book signing occurred at the 16th Street Baptist Church. Among those attending the event were Bill Fleming, Bob Herren and Doug Jones, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, who is now a U.S. senator. In an email response, Herren wrote, “I was asked what it was like to work with Teresa Thorne on her book Last Chance for Justice. Working with Teresa could not be called work for me; it was a conversation between longtime friends. Teresa and I met 43 years ago when we worked as officers of the Birmingham Police Department; we have maintained our friendship through the years. Teresa did all the work on this book – writing, editing and research – I just assisted with facts and color commentary on the reinvestigation of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. “Teresa’s ability to intertwine human interest stories along with facts make her writing engaging and fascinating. I’m thankful that Teresa recorded the history of this reinvestigation in her book, Last Chance for Justice.” Another Alabama history book now at the publishers is T.K.’s Behind the Magic Curtain: Secrets, Spies, and Unsung White Allies of Birmingham’s Civil Rights Days. This book challenges the popular perception that had painted the “Magic City” of Birmingham during the civil rights era with simplistic brushes. It is a fully documented book of historical research, firsthand and archived recollections that include: The Birmingham News police beat reporter, Tom Lankford; members of a Jewish Defense Committee who worked behind the scenes to support the black movement; business leaders who changed the city’s civil rights direction; and private individuals who paid the price socially, financially, and almost mortally when threatened with death. “This book,” T.K. said, “pulls back the curtain at a time when the eyes of the world turned on Birmingham, Ala. It reminds us that history, even a time period well-trodden, is multifaceted and complex, as was the spectrum of people in a city that played a significant role in changing the world.”

Writing what she knows

On the importance of both fiction and history in our southern culture and with many books in the works, T.K. said, “‘Write what you know’ is an adage every writer hears, and yet its meaning is elusive. I think ‘what you know’ has more to do


Teresa and Don Noble interview

Book launch for Last Chance for Justice with investigators of the 16th St. Church bombing. Ben Herren, Teresa, Bill Fleming. with who you are or who you can imagine yourself to be than facts or even actual experiences. Writers ‘travel’ across place and time and even gender, but everything is rooted in who we are. I am a child of the South. Like water for fish, that shapes everything I write, regardless of the setting,” she said. “One of the ways to explore what that means is to write about the South. Everything is history. The ‘current’ will be history by the time it is published, yet we connect with who we are by understanding who we were, both individually and culturally. People are human beings no matter what influences have shaped them, but those influences are unique and important. If we don’t explore them, we are fish unaware of the water we swim in.” When Teresa K. Thorne talks to school groups, she takes along her expandable file folder full of rejection slips. Those rejections seem to have spurred her forward rather than to discourage her, for she is indeed a successful local author. One hopes that when she’s finished rewriting her science fiction book, it will soon appear on bookstore shelves. And wouldn’t it be a fine thing if while she’s working on this rewrite, she looks out her window one night to see a spacecraft and some aliens waving to her from her lawn? l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Thanks for helping us Discover

THE BEST OF ST. CLAIR In our annual non-scientific polling from our readers, the 2020 “Discover the Best of St. Clair Awards” are now official. Presentations have been made, and we will feature our winners in the December issue so you can discover them, too. We thank each of our readers who took the time to cast their ballot and root for their favorite. We’ll be back again next year in August giving one and all an opportunity to vote for the Best of St. Clair. Wait no longer, here are the 2020 winners: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Hamburger Fat Mans Bar B Que Charlie’s BBQ Catfish - The Ark Barbecue -R&R BBQ Pie - Pell City Steakhouse Cake - Pell City Coffee Company Coffee - Pell City Coffee Company Restaurant - Charlie’s BBQ Fast Food - Chick Fil A Pell City Lunch Spot - Charlie’s BBQ Onion Rings - Charlie’s BBQ French Fries - Charlie’s BBQ Wings - Buffalo Wild Wings Dinner Spot - R&R BBQ Seafood - The Ark Ribs - Charlie’ BBQs Pizza - Carpenetti’s Steak - Louie’s Grill Asian Food - Oishi Country Cooking - Triple T’s Buffet - City Market Sandwiches J&S R&R BBQ Salads - Charlie’s BBQ Meat N’ Three - Triple T’s Breakfast Spot - Cracker Barrel Moody Mexican Food - El Cazador Historic site - Looney House

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Kayak/Canoeing - Yak the creek Scenic Spot - Pell City Lakeside Park Gift Shop - Magnolias Park - Pell City Lakeside Park Splash Pad - Pell City Lakeside Park Nonprofit - Gateway Community Garden Civic Club - Pell City Rotary Church Group New Hope Seddon Baptist St. Simon Peter Episcopal Gathering Place Library - Pell City Chamber of Commerc - Pell City Artist - Cayce Johnson Photographer - Red Magnolia Photography Woodworking - Cayce Johnson Potter - Janet Entler Doctor Dr. Barry Collins Dr. Rock Helms Dentist - Aultman Pediatrician - Springville Pediatrics Orthodontist PT Ortho Pell City Rape and Brooks Smiles by Benton Vlachos Pell City Chiropractor - Hancock Chiropractic Pharmacist - Curt Eddy Pharmacy Northside Apothecary Odenville Drugs Antique Store - David Tims’ Antiques Lawyer - John Rea Jeweler - Griffins Jewelers Pell City Florist - Flower Art by Vanessa Hair Salon - The Style Bar Hair Stylist - Christy Harmon

• Nail Salon - LeNails • Manicurist - John at Elegant nails • Massage Therapist - Patience Bradford • Physical Therapist - Tyler McGrady Therapy South • Insurance Company - JP Dailey State Farm • Realty Company - Fields & Gossett • Realtor - Caran Wilbanks • Mortgage Company - Coosa Valley Mortgage • Bank - Metro Bank • Boat Dealership - Woods Surfside • Boat Sales Exec - Rodney Humphries • Boat Mechanic - Rodney Humphries • Auto Dealership - Town & Country • Auto Sales Exec - Norman Wilder • Auto Repair - MPS Automotive Pell City • Homebuilder - Cline • Interior Designer - Gerald Ensley • Upholstery - Incredible Touch German Upholstery • Clothes Boutique - U.G. • Caterer - Complete/Bowling • Grocery Store - Publix Pell City

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Carolyn Hall Amazing handiwork tells a story in every delicate stitch Story by Leigh Pritchett Photos by Graham Hadley Carolyn Hall is surrounded by heritage. In her parlor are shelves of medical books belonging to her grandfather, Dr. R.A. Martin, and a wicker baby scale from a nursery unit at Martin Hospital. A collection of apothecary jars recalls the three generations that her family ran the corner Rexall drug store in downtown Pell City. In a sunny room down the hall are two exquisitely detailed quilts that her grandmother Ada Kincaid made prior to 1936. The stitching of one quilt forms an intricate feather design, while the stitching of the other quilt is an equally complex rose pattern. Treasured heirlooms they are. Such a setting seemed appropriate for discussing keepsakes – those Carolyn inherited, as well as those she is creating for her four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The trove of cross-stitch artistry she has sewn for her family represents thousands of hours of work spanning decades. “I have done a little bit of everything with crossstitch,” Carolyn said. She has made switch-plate covers, Christmas ornaments, a multi-dimensional Christmas train, tablecloth and napkins, pillows, pictures and crossstitch designs on sweatshirts. Cross-stitch afghans are the bulk of her work. She has completed many different afghans, featuring lighthouses, dogs, cats, stars and sailboats, ABCs, mallards and fruit. Each piece has its own unique story and exhibits the special bond between the giver and receiver: The afghan with an Aztec motif was the choice of daughter Cindy, who lives in Tennessee.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Carolyn shows off one of her favorite afghans depicting famous lighthouses. Inset: Detail of one of the houses in the piece she is working on now DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Carolyn working on her current project


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Carolyn Hall Several colors of thread were used to get the shading just right.

Daughter Stacy, who lives in Birmingham, wanted the afghan of “ice cream colors” that Carolyn made in the 1990s. “This is my favorite (afghan),” Carolyn said. Daughter Mick, who lives in Colorado, displays one of her mother’s afghans as an art piece. Mick’s features wild birds perched on branches that stretch from square to square across the afghan. For the afghan of son Rob, who works in construction in Florida, Carolyn chose storefront designs. She even altered the size, shape and lettering on the apothecary sign to make it read “Pell City Drug Co.” Each grandchild and great-grandchild has one of Carolyn’s afghans, and a stash of afghans awaits future greatgrandchildren. Susan Mann, assistant director of Pell City Library, said Carolyn’s creations are priceless treasures the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can “cherish. ... They will be special keepsakes forever. And each time they see them or use them, they will think of her, and remember those sweet moments shared.” Friends and neighbors also have been beneficiaries of some of Carolyn’s handiwork. Much care goes into each cross-stitch piece because Carolyn wants flawlessness. “I don’t want to do anything that isn’t first class,” she said. Joyce Thrower of Pell City, who has known the Hall family at least 50 years, has seen nearly every piece Carolyn has finished. “She does beautiful work. Everything she does is perfect,” Joyce said. Susan, likewise, described Carolyn’s work as “meticulous.” She pointed out that Carolyn’s cross-stitch is as pretty on the back as on the front. When trying to decide which of Carolyn’s afghans she likes best, Susan confessed, “Every time she does a new one, it becomes my favorite.” But Susan did say her top three would be the colorful birds on a pale mint afghan; a kitten whose spilled milk “drips”

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Carolyn Hall The original baby scale from the hospital in Pell City

Carolyn shows off some of her collection of historic pharmacy bottles and equipment.

down an afghan, and the Victorian “painted ladies” homes of Chincoteague, Va. The last one is in progress. Carolyn started the “painted ladies” afghan around Labor Day 2019. In August 2020, she reached the halfway point. Carolyn may spend a year or two, working almost every day, on one afghan until it is completed. Her longest project took more than two decades. She started the piece – a cross-stitch, bed-cover quilt – when pregnant with Rob, her fourth child. She finished it when he was 23. In between, the project got shelved while she reared her children, was a homemaker and helped her pharmacist husband, Robert “Bob” Hall, run Pell City Drug Co. A Pell City legacy Carolyn’s grandparents – Dr. R.A. and Mary Martin – arrived in Pell City in its infancy. “My grandfather moved here in 1903. He was a surgeon at the Gertrude Comer Hospital” at Avondale Mills, Carolyn said. After the hospital closed in the 1920s, Dr. Martin opened a six-bed clinic above Pell City Drug Co. When the building next door became available in the 1930s, Dr. Martin moved the hospital there. For more than 30 years, Martin Hospital occupied that building, which is now the law offices of Hugh E. and Gibson Holladay. Carolyn and all four of her children were born in Martin Hospital. As for Pell City Drug Co., Dr. Martin established it soon after arriving in Pell City. “That was one of the first Rexall franchises (in the nation),” Carolyn said. Her mother, Mary Ruth Kincaid, later inherited Pell City Drug Co. and then Carolyn and Bob acquired it after Mary Ruth’s death. Carolyn and Bob, who had met while studying pharmacy at Auburn University, operated the drug store from 1961 to November 2001. In just two more months, the store would have been 99 years old. The drug store, with its iconic soda fountain, was such a fixture and a necessity in Pell City that is was open every day except Christmas. Until her last child was in high school, Carolyn worked at the


These bannisters were salvaged from a building in historic downtown Pell City. store only when needed. But after long-time bookkeeper Annie Scott Stephens died, Carolyn assumed that job. Bob passed away six years after retiring. No idle hands here When Carolyn was in junior high school, her grandmother Mary Martin taught her to embroider. Carolyn’s first pieces were pillowcases and dresser scarves, most of which she still has. Though she gave up needlework for a time, she resumed after college, putting it down again during child-rearing. What drew her back to it is the fascination of creating an art

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

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Carolyn particularly likes doing pieces that go between the frames, giving them an almost threedimensional look.

One of the afghan’s with a repeating pattern

Several of the switch plates she has created

Her stich work looks almost as good from the back as the front. 34

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Carolyn Hall The level of detail Carolyn works at leaves lots of left-over thread.

piece one stitch at a time. “The creating is what I like,” Carolyn said. “This satisfies my creativity.” Instead of using pre-stamped, cross-stitch patterns, Carolyn prefers the challenge of starting with a blank “canvas.” She must align the subject perfectly and count each stitch she sews in order to be precise. “With cross-stitch, you’ve got to pay attention,” because one mistake affects the entire design, Carolyn said. Some of her projects are so complex that they may require as many as 75 different thread colors. Though dealing with macular degeneration and glaucoma, Carolyn sews for hours each morning. Often, she becomes so engaged that she does not want to put it down. “It’s calming. It’s peaceful. It keeps your mind occupied. And you’re creating something. What’s not to like? ... My grandmother would be proud,” she said. “... My grandmother didn’t believe in idle hands sitting around at night.” Carolyn also walks four times a week, reads mysteries and is a volunteer hostess for library events. She might also be found on a travel adventure, such as Iceland in winter. Just the same, she is always looking to the next cross-stitch challenge. Already, she has another afghan to begin after she finishes the “painted ladies” ... in about a year. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Pell City Rotary 46 years later: Still serving, giving back to community It’s 46 years and counting for Pell City Rotary Club and while the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed its approach a bit, one ideal drives its constancy – “Service Above Self” – the motto of Rotary International. Its local motto, “Where service and leadership meet,” is indeed a case in action with leading business people and civic-minded citizens working in countless projects to make the community it serves a better place. Service in action At the height of the pandemic that gripped the country, groups of Pell City Rotarians volunteered to make the rounds at the city’s hospital and medical facilities, providing meals from local restaurants for frontline workers. They restocked the shelves at the Love Pantry, the city’s food bank for those less fortunate. The club’s golf tournament – its largest fundraiser of the year – got a late start, moving from May to August, but it finished strong as the community, sponsors and players came together to raise money for a host of good causes Rotary supports. Rotarians who dedicate their time to volunteer for events to raise money for those causes are quick to tell the dozens of sponsors and supporters, “Because you give, we can give,” and those words ring true from one end of the city to the other. Benefiting from Rotary’s giving are: Lakeside Park, Pell City Center for Education and the Performing Arts, Easterseals Community Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Children’s Place Child Advocacy Center, Christian Love Pantry, Boy Scouts, St. Clair Literacy Council, Toys for Kids, Library Guild, YWCA, Mustard Seed Society, Ann’s New Life Center, Logan


John Rea and girls at the Father Daughter Dance.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Because you give, we can give... Pell City Rotary Club says thanks to our sponsors of the Ray Cox Memorial Golf Tournament, Rotary Tennis Tournament and Father-Daughter Dance! Leeds Stained Glass Preston Rhodes Allstate Technical Consulting Services LLC Royal Foods Davis Worley Stone and Son Electrical BSE Industrial Contractors Metro Bank Chad Richey and Merrill Lynch Lovejoy Realty Joe Paul Abbott, Union State Insurance Hill, Gossett, Kemp & Hufford Patricia Couch State Rep. Randy Wood State Sen. James McClendon Byron Woods Municipal Consultants Ford Meter Box Sarah Brazzolotto Woods Surfside Marina Goodgame Company Blair & Parsons Southland Golf Cart Henderson’s Builders Supply Fields Gossett Realty Usrey Funeral Home Adam Bain Coosa Valley Mortgage ASC Allen Service Company Meg Clements Commission Chairman Paul Manning

Bill Hereford Jay Jenkins State Rep. Jim Hill Trotter Foundation Barnett, Jones, Wilson LLC Griffins Jewelers Bain and Company Eden Family Dentistry Bart Perry State Farm The Bline Agency Johnny’s Electric Kilgroe Funeral Home Tradesman Co. Rodney’s Marine Center LLC Sheriff Billy Murray Brooke Tollison Ray Miller Superior Motors Discount Auto Sales Northside Medical Associates Hugh Holladay Hargray

Douglas Manufacturing Co. Inc. Trussell, Funderburg, Rea, Bell & Furgerson JCSC Services Inc. AOD Federal Credit Union Express Oil Change Union State Bank Union State Insurance McSweeney Automotive ERA King Dr. James W. Bedsole Eye Care Brentwood Child Care Classic Home Mortgage Wood Appraisal Services Joe Sawyer Caran Wilbanks Wendell Bedsole Janet Mueller Serge and Sarah Brazzolotto Teresa Carden Dot Wood

Club of Pell City The Rotary Club of Pell City meets at noon every Tuesday at the Pell City Municipal Complex, 1000 Bruce Etheredge Parkway in Pell City, AL. For more information, please visit our website at

Martin Tennis Association, PCHS Show Choir, Kennedy Elementary School and the Pell City Education Foundation. Its college scholarship program over the years has helped mold many of the leaders in the community who serve today. Pell City Rotary’s handiwork also is seen in another of its growing fundraisers that has a dual purpose. The annual Father-Daughter Dance, of course, raises money. But more than that, it brings the community together around a much-anticipated major event centered around daughters and their daddies in a night they will remember for years to come. The club’s tennis tournament in the fall has grown every year, and it is yet another example of how Rotary gives back to the community. And in turn, the community gives back to Rotary. In addition to a club full of dedicated volunteers, Rotary is boosted in its efforts with assistance from Pell City School System, the City of Pell City, CEPA, Polly Warren/ KFC, Brittany Smith with Main Street Memories, Melissa McClain with Red Magnolia Photography and Southland Golf Carts. It truly is a community effort. Weekly focus Tuesday’s Rotary Club meetings look a little different these days. Rotarians don masks to enter, and social distancing is practiced. Other members join by Zoom video conferencing. While the look may have changed during the pandemic, the focus has not. Enlightening and engaging speakers – from experts in their fields to advocates for beneficial community programs to local youths making an impact – still make their way to the podium. And their messages, whether delivered in person or virtually, raise awareness among Rotarians and, in many cases, spur them to action to help many a worthy cause. After all, that’s what Rotary is all about: One profits most who serves best. It’s been 46 years since 25 businessmen founded the club based on that principle. And today, it’s stronger than ever. l Visit Pell City Rotary online here


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Rotary Golf Tournament

Fun at the Father Dauther Dance.

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Elizabeth is the horse enthusiast and gives lessons in their care and riding.

A lifestyle worth sharing 40

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Graham Hadley

Steve Atchison loves to make things from scratch. He finds great satisfaction in taking raw materials and turning them into finished products. Whether it’s planting a seed that provides vegetables, cutting up a downed tree and making a bowl, raising livestock to put meat on the table, or raising goats to drink their milk and make cheese and soap, that’s how Steve wants to live. “It is such a joy in life to start with the raw materials and have your hands on it all of the way through to the finished product,” he says. This joy led Steve and his wife, Susan, to leave their 5-acre plot in Clay and move to a 15-acre farm in the country, where they could pursue a more selfsustaining lifestyle. That’s how South of Sanity Farms was born. People’s reaction to their move is how the farm got its name. “Friends and family thought we were insane,” Steve says. “Then this veterinary clinic in Trussville that I used to pass by all of the time had a sign one day that stated, ‘Everybody is somebody’s weirdo.’ I felt like people were questioning my sanity, like I was becoming their weirdo, and I figured we were all a little south of sanity in someone else’s mind.” There’s nothing unusual about raising your own food or selling products that come from your animals, like goat-milk soaps. What sets apart the Atchison farm is the desire to share this lifestyle in practical ways with other folks. He and Susan see their farm as a ministry to families, which has led them to host Family Fun Days, day camps for specialneeds people, and their latest venture, Airbnb units. Their farm is on Lister Drive in Pell City, where grassy pastures surround their small brick, 1970s-era ranch-style home, a smaller cottage behind that, and an above-ground swimming pool between them. Behind those is a little red barn, while off to one side is a two-acre pond stocked with fish. The pond is home to two ducks that moved from Clay with the Atchisons and a couple of mallards that flew in this year, plus the occasional

Luke shows off one of the many rabbits on the farm.

Will helps out with the chickens and other animals.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020



Steve says the goats on the farm are very well socialized.

Goat-milk soap on the racks ready for packaging

Always working to come up with new soap scents 42

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

South of Sanity sells their homemade products. itinerant geese. Canoes, paddle boats and kayaks are tied up on the banks, while three horses wander from one pasture to another in search of sweeter grass. A tire swing hangs from a nearby tree, next to a large travel trailer and an even larger trailer that looks like it was once a job-site office. A cow and her calf, the calf destined for the Atchisons’ freezer, graze in a pasture near the main house. Goats come when called, nuzzling you and wanting to be petted. Chickens cluck at the barn nearby, where rabbits are also housed, and an elderly pet pig sleeps so much you could be there three hours and not see her move. The Atchisons eat some of the chickens, their eggs and the rabbits. They have raised and home-processed sheep and pigs, including one of the latter while they lived in Clay. “I was very detached from the processing of food, and wanted to experience that,” Steve says. “It’s a two-to three-year journey to get that first bite of meat on the table.” The goats produce enough milk for the Atchisons’ dairy needs and for making soaps, but the family also enjoys the cow’s milk. “I can get a quart off the cow or four gallons, depending on when her calf has nursed,” Steve says. Hand-milking wore out the muscles in his hands, so he purchased a milking machine to ease his pain. Much of the goat milk goes into the freezer to make soap, and he has enough stored to last at least until spring. Other animals wandering about include four dogs: a couple of Great Pyrenees, a Newfoundland and a mixed-breed terrier. A landscaper who went from working five to seven days a week to one and a half so he could spend more time with his family, Steve makes soap in a 20-foot-by-25-foot room that takes up half the basement of the frame cottage. His keen sense of smell aids him in soap-making. “I like playing around with scents,” he says. “As a kid I wanted to be a master sniffer at NASA.” He learned the trade by reading, researching the internet and watching YouTube videos. Once he mastered the basics, he started experimenting with different oils, learning to balance the lye with the oils and milk. “You have to start with frozen milk,

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020



Steve built this chapel over their barn. The stained glass over the altar was his first effort at that art. so you won’t scorch it with the lye,” Steve explains. He freezes it in large blocks, weighs and cuts it into smaller chunks, then adds a food-grade lye to convert the fats and oils in the milk into hardened soap. It’s a chemical process that does not use heat from a stove or fire. Rows of empty metal shipping bottles fill one shelf in the soap room, plastic bottles of lye line another, while cardboard tubes hold product labels. Plastic bins store the finished soaps, lotions and balms. Atchison makes 6,000-7,000 bars of soap a year, with 19 different scents. “I’ve got more money tied up in essential oils than anything else,” he says. Normally, outlets like Christmas Village in Birmingham and Homestead Hollow in Springville, plus other fall festivals, provide 80 percent of his sales, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of these shows. “I stock the bathrooms of our Airbnb units with sample bars of soaps, and probably 50 percent of our visitors will buy bars,


which helps pay the bills,” he says. Steve doesn’t use goat’s milk in his body butters, salves, lip balms or nipple balms (for nursing mothers), because doing so would require the use of a preservative. That would go against one of his goals, to live a more chemical-free life. “I am under the opinion that chemicals cause harm to the environment and to the human body and so our family makes a conscious effort to minimize our exposure,” Steve says. “With our skin care products, this means using all organic oils and butters, pure essential oils and no chemical preservatives.” Extending that philosophy to the rest of the farm, they give non-GMO feed to their animals, use rabbit manure as a fertilizer, add organic matter back to the garden soil from their compost piles and never use Roundup or synthetic fertilizers. In the other half of the cottage basement is Steve’s woodworking shop, Visit South of Sanity Farms on where he turns bowls on a lathe when he has time. He gets wood from friends Facebook, click here

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

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Mom and calf take shelter from the rain.

and from his own downed trees, and has a burl waiting for him after he has practiced the craft some more. “I love making anything,” Steve says. His oldest son, Luke, 10, is following in Dad’s footsteps. “He’s experimenting with making canjos, which are banjos made with cans,” Steve explains. The goats were supposed to play another role on the farm besides providing milk, but the pandemic intervened. The Atchisons had planned to start goat yoga classes last spring (2020). They hosted a few, pre-pandemic birthday parties, which were basically petting-zoo parties where the Atchisons set up tables in the barn, people brought their own cake and ice cream and the kids got to pet the animals. Steve turned the job-site trailer into a handicap-accessible classroom for the youth and special needs day camps and church youth retreats. However, these, too, have been put on hold until next year. “We’ll see about the future,” Steve says. Isidore’s Place is the nonprofit arm of the farm that sponsors the


quarterly Family Fun Days, which are designed to give folks a taste of farm life. Advertising via their Facebook page, the Atchisons invite anyone who’s interested to join them for a big cookout or potluck meal. The organization, funded in part by soap sales, is named for the patron saint of farmers. “At the Family Fun Days, we let folks play with the animals and enjoy the pond,” Steve says. “Elizabeth (their 13-year-old daughter) leads kids around on the horses and sometimes we’ve had live music. For the one in December, we did a Nativity play that I wrote from the perspective of the shepherd. We also set up an arts-and-crafts area for kids to make something while they were here. And it’s all free.” The event gives families a chance to slow down, reflect and re-focus on the truly important things, according to South of Sanity’s Facebook page. “We love to talk to people about what we do here,” Steve adds. The two Airbnb units are the latest addition to the farm. The first opened in January in the travel-trailer next

This old truck is on its way to becoming another Airbnb space

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Steve plays one of the canjos Luke puts together.


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Steve and Susan Atchison with their children Elizabeth, Will, Luke and Benji in front of the pond on the property to the pond. In June they added the two-bedroom, one-bath cottage behind their house, which has seen several incarnations. Originally built as a pottery studio and garage, it became a home church, then an apartment for the mother of former owners. Next to the barn is an old U-Haul trailer that Steve hopes to refurbish and turn into a tiny house for a third unit. “The Airbnb side has been such a blessing,” Steve says. “Occupancy has been steady. We get a ton of traffic from Atlanta. Lots of people don’t want to stay in a motel during this pandemic. Guests get the run of the farm, and the animals are a big draw for people with children.” Cleaning the units is his responsibility. “I’ve changed more sheets in the last few months than in the rest of my life combined,” he says. Susan, a nurse who works one day a week as a lactation consultant at Brookwood Hospital, is the principal educator for their four children: Elizabeth and Luke; Will, 6, and Benji, 1 and a half. “Susie spends a lot of time in the garden planting, maintaining and harvesting, then freezing or canning what we harvest,” Steve says. “She also shares her homemade bread cultures and starters, along with her kombucha (fermented tea full of probiotics and enzymes) with guests.” On the top level of the barn, Steve has turned a hay loft into a chapel that the family uses for reading and meditating all week and for Sunday-morning worship services. Steve put up


the inside walls and made the pulpit, communion table and a piece of stained-glass art. The pews were donated by a woman in Ashville who had several stored in her attic. Steve cut them down to better fit into the chapel’s space. In their non-denominational services, they read Scripture, play church hymns and contemporary Christian music and hold open dialogue where anyone can share whatever is on their heart. “All Airbnb guests are invited to join us,” Steve says. “I would say about half of them do. We had one guest play the guitar for us, which was nice. Sometimes we are done in 30 minutes if they have to get back on the road and sometimes it goes for two hours.” Another part of their ministry is hosting individual families that want to spend a few hours learning aspects of homesteading. This is done by appointment only, and the families don’t have to stay in one of their Airbnbs to participate. “Some families just want to let their kids see the animals and some want to actually learn to do what we do,” Steve says. “Like one morning, a family came out that wanted to pursue this lifestyle and raising meat chickens was one of the ventures they had in mind. They were looking for some hands-on experience, so that is what we did.” Sharing their worship services, their farm and their lifestyle is special to the Atchison family, Steve says. “This place is an absolute gift to us, a gift that we don’t want to waste.” l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

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A Night at the Opera

On Logan Martin Lake Story by Leigh Pritchett Submitted Photos


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Summer-ending concert may become yearly event

Boats and spectators in front of the stage.

Jason Rogoff and Jeff Thompson found the cure for the quarantined summer blues: an outdoor rock concert ... during Labor Day weekend. But it cannot be your normal concert. This one has to be arranged in less than eight weeks; it has to feature a sought-after performer who just happens to be available because of pandemic cancellations; it has to provide seating that socially distances audience members attending by land and huge video screens visible to those attending by boat; it has to raise funds for two entities, and it has to be full of energy. That concert – which was on Sept. 4 at Pell City Sports Complex on the shores of Logan Martin Lake – fulfilled all the requirements and quite possibly began an annual event. For the concert, the Black Jacket Symphony performed the songs from the Queen album, A Night at the Opera, and featured the vocal talent of Marc Martel. Martel provided some vocals for Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic about Queen’s late lead singer Freddie Mercury, said Rogoff, director and producer of the Black Jacket Symphony. Thompson, who is director of the Center for Education and Performing Arts (CEPA) in Pell City, said Rogoff approached him about an outdoor concert patterned after others that the Black Jacket Symphony had held in Birmingham. For the Black Jacket Symphony, this would be a return visit to Pell City. In February 2020, the Black Jacket Symphony performed Fleetwood Mac’s album, Rumours, in concert at CEPA and had scheduled Led Zeppelin IV for May. But COVID containment measures canceled Led Zeppelin IV.

Thompson saw the Night at the Opera concert as an opportunity to provide entertainment to residents in an environment that met containment guidelines. And what better entertainment to provide, Thompson thought, than something with high energy, such as Queen? Rogoff noted that Martel is in very high demand for his vocals. Yet, with so many engagements curtailed because of the pandemic, Martel happened to be available on short notice to do the concert. “We got incredibly fortunate to get that show,” Thompson said. Eric Housh and Justin Hogeland, organizers of the annual Lakefest and Boat Show, joined the effort, helping to secure sponsors. The generosity of title sponsor AmFirst Federal Credit Union not only allowed boaters to attend free, but also provided large video screens to enhance viewing. Also lending cooperation were the City of Pell City and its Parks and Recreation Department, Pell City Police Department, Pell City Fire Department and Pell City Chamber of Commerce. The concert was attended by an estimated 1,600 people – half of them seated in a properly distanced “tailgating” grid on land and the rest aboard 200-250 boats, Thompson said. The tailgating grid was nearly sold out. “We were thrilled with the turnout,” Thompson said. Housh noted that the concert was a good ending to a very unusual summer. “Everyone needed that.” Rogoff found the enthusiasm from the community, organizers and businesses to be “incredible.” Pell City’s city manager, Brian Muenger, saw the concert from a boat. He said people have asked numerous times since the event, “Why haven’t we done this before?” Others, he said, have even suggested having monthly summertime concerts. Muenger believes a concert that can be attended by land or water could become “a signature, endof-the-summer event” for Pell City. “We would love to find a way to make it an annual Labor Day event,” Rogoff said. Additional sponsors of the concert included Natasha O’Konski of Keller Williams Realty; Nicole Anderson of Lake Homes Realty; State Farm Insurance agents Brandon Tate and Bart Perry; St. Clair County Tourism; Rambo Marine; Hargray Communications; Lakeside Boathouse; Aultman Dental; AOD Federal Credit Union; the law firm Trussell, Funderburg, Rea, Bell & Furgerson; Discover: The Essence of St. Clair magazine; 94.1 The River, and The Daily Home newspaper. Through overwhelming support of sponsors, the concert also raised some funds for CEPA programs and for Logan Martin Charity Foundation, which hosts the annual Lakefest and Boat Show. (This summer’s Lakefest was canceled because of the pandemic.) Logan Martin Charity Foundation contributes to projects that benefit Logan Martin Lake and Lakeside Park.


A Night at the Opera

Marc Martel and Black Jacket Symphony performing Queen

Aerial view of the concert

The stage lights up the night

Visit the Black Jacket Symphony online at

Marc Martel once again playing guitar during a BJS Queen show

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


A soldier places flags on graves of the fallen.


A special way to honor those who served

Story by Leigh Pritchett Photos courtesy of Jerry W. Garrett Jr. and John Bryant Submitted Photos

During the Christmas season this year, it will be a time to reflect on the gift of freedom and to pay tribute to those who secured it. At 11 a.m. Dec. 19 at St. Clair Memorial Gardens, the second annual Wreaths Across America (WAA) observance will place wreaths at gravesites of veterans. Hundreds of wreaths will be put on veteran graves at St. Clair Memorial Gardens, Valley Hill Cemetery, Oak Ridge Cemetery and elsewhere in the county, said Mindy and Keaton Manners and Julia Skelton, local WAA organizers. The first WAA event in St. Clair County was Dec. 14, 2019. That morning, families, friends and volunteers placed 300 live, evergreen wreaths on veteran graves as part of a nationwide effort.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020



Wreaths placed in St. Clair Memorial Gardens.

“Each year, millions of Americans come together to remember the fallen, honor those that serve and their families, and teach the next generation about the value of freedom,” notes the national WAA organization. “This gathering of volunteers and patriots takes place in local and national cemeteries in all 50 states” and some American cemeteries in Europe. “... In 2019, approximately 2.2 million veteran wreaths were placed on headstones at 2,158 participating locations around the country in honor of the service and sacrifices made for our freedoms.” Broken Arrow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), along with Steve Perry and Usrey Funeral Home, worked to bring the local event together. Giving their assistance were St. Clair County High School JROTC, Canoe Creek Society of Children of the American Revolution (CAR), Henderson Builders Supply Co. in Pell City and numerous residents of Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home. Susan Bowman of Pell City was touched by the number of wreaths and the number of people who came to help place those wreaths. This was her first time to be part of such an observance. She got to place wreaths at the graves of her father, Jesse Hooks, and her sister, Kathy Lynn Hooks, both of whom had served in the Army. “I was very proud and teary-eyed. I was very teary-eyed,” she said. “Just emotions running through me.” Those same words would describe the writer of this article and her sisters as well. Only two months before WAA, our dad – retired Chief Master Sgt. Porter Bailey – had been buried with military honors.


Sponsor a wreath Local coordinators of Wreaths Across America would like to provide as many as 600 wreaths this year for veterans’ graves in St. Clair County. Wreaths can be sponsored for $15 apiece. To sponsor a wreath, pick up an order form at Usrey Funeral Home or Pell City Library or visit WreathsAcrossAmerica. org. When ordering online, be careful to select “Alabama St. Clair Memorial Gardens” (because more than one “St. Clair” exists in the U.S.). Wreaths also may be sponsored through specific groups, such as Broken Arrow Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), St. Clair County High School JROTC and Knights of Columbus, Assembly 2972, Our Lady of the Lake. To sponsor through one of these groups, go to and use the appropriate fundraising code below: • AL0074 to sponsor through Broken Arrow DAR. • AL0091 to sponsor through Knights of Columbus, Assembly 2972, Our Lady of the Lake. • AL0083P to sponsor through the cadets of St. Clair County High School JROTC; or visit www. pages/162229. For every two wreaths ordered on the WAA website through Broken Arrow DAR or Knights of Columbus, Assembly 2972, a third wreath will be added. Knights of Columbus, Assembly 2972 also is accepting sponsorship at

Getting to place a WAA wreath at his gravesite stirred the pangs of grief. But it also filled our hearts with pride for the 37 years he served this nation in the Army, Air Force and Alabama Air National Guard. The day brought emotional extremes for Lyle and Shelly Harmon, who are the parents of three sons. Well in advance of the ceremony, Harmon – who is St. Clair County’s district attorney and chief warrant officer 4 with Alabama Army National Guard – had agreed to serve as master of ceremonies. Then, hardly a month before the observance, son Sloan (known as “Boo”) was fatally shot just off an I-20 exit.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

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JROTC members salute during service at St. Clair Memorial Gardens.

An airman first class with the Air Force, Boo was a KC-135 crew chief at the Alabama Air National Guard’s 117th Air Refueling Wing in Birmingham. He had just turned 20 a few days before the murder. Though serving as WAA master of ceremonies so soon after Boo’s death was difficult, “I felt I should,” Lyle Harmon said. “... I can’t even express how humbling that was to do that. ... It was quite humbling.” At the same time, it was “a huge honor,” Harmon added. During the ceremony, veterans of the Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines each placed a wreath at the respective monuments that stand at St. Clair Memorial Gardens. Because the veteran who was to place the wreath at the Air Force monument could not attend, Shelly Harmon did it. Lyle Harmon watched his wife – a grieving, heartbroken mother – place a wreath of tribute at the Air Force monument. Thinking back on what Shelly did that day, Harmon recalled, “I’m just so proud of my wife. She is unbelievably faithful and strong.”

The origin

The simple request of another grieving mother was the catalyst for the local WAA observance. In early summer of 2019, that mother contacted a DAR group in Birmingham, explaining that she was unable to place a wreath or flag for Memorial Day on her son’s grave in St. Clair Memorial Gardens. Mrs. Manners – a member of Broken Arrow DAR in Pell City – and her husband volunteered to lay the wreath. When Mr. and Mrs. Manners went for that reason to St. Clair Memorial Gardens, which is the only cemetery in the county with a section specifically for the military, the couple were surprised by the number of veterans’ graves they saw. In the two-mile trip from the cemetery back to their home, Manners – an Army veteran – and Mrs. Manners decided they must organize a tribute to veterans interred there.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Honoring St. Clair veterans at the memorial service

For about six years, the couple had attended WAA observances at Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. Now, they felt it was time to bring that tribute to St. Clair County. They set a goal of 300 wreaths, 260 of which would be for St. Clair Memorial Gardens. The remainder would go to graves in Valley Hill Cemetery, Oak Ridge Cemetery and Broken Arrow Cemetery at the request of various families. St. Clair County High School JROTC joined the effort, raising funds for 100 wreaths and providing military color guard for the ceremony. The JROTC leaders, Retired Maj. Channing McGee and Retired Sgt. 1st Class Vicki Glover, said participating in WAA “teaches cadets the importance of community service and instills patriotism by honoring these veterans and their sacrifice.” For the 2020 event, the cadets plan to provide another 100 wreaths. (For information on how to help the cadets meet their goal, see the accompanying story, “Sponsor a wreath.”)

St. Clair debut

The first WAA event in St. Clair County was met with such support in the community that the entire ceremony was finalized within three months, the Manners said. But the enthusiasm following the event brought the 2020 ceremony together even quicker. “Two days after this past event, we had it all lined up for this year,” he said. This year’s event will also feature a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (For more information, read the accompanying story, “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier replica to be on display.”) After attending last year’s WAA, John Bryant of Alpine encouraged fellow members of the Knights of Columbus, Assembly 2972, Our Lady of the Lake to volunteer to lay wreaths of remembrance on graves of fallen heroes and to honor those who served the nation. “I can’t think of anything that shows more patriotism than to honor and to show respect for our veterans,” Bryant said. “... I feel like we need more patriotism. We need to let this country know we love it, and we need to remember that the privileges we have today are because of our veterans.” Skelton, who is also a member of Broken Arrow DAR, said volunteers will be needed to help place wreaths at St. Clair Memorial Gardens and possibly at Valley Hill Cemetery and Oak Ridge Cemetery. Wreath placement generally is guided by military designations on headstones or footstones. However, Mrs. Manners said wreath-placement requests can be made for veterans whose grave markers have no military designation. A copy of the veteran’s DD-214 or a photo of the veteran in uniform will suffice as proof of military service. Editor’s Note: To request wreath placement and provide documentation, email Mrs. Manners at

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020



Tomb of Unknown Soldier replica coming to St. Clair A replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will be on display in St. Clair County Dec. 19 as part of the Wreaths Across America. Visit the replica free of charge from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Clair Memorial Gardens. The traveling exhibit is a project of the Americanism Committee of the Exchange Club of Rome, Ga. The replica is 20 feet by 30 feet, half the scale of the original tomb at Arlington National Cemetery. Great attention has been given to precision. Even the depth of the carvings is exactly the same as those of the actual tomb, said Bill King, project manager of A Call to Honor: A Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Replica. “Everything on our tomb is identical,” he said. Exchange Club members and craftsmen local to Rome built the replica using blueprints from Arlington. King said the replica weighs 450 pounds. It was completed a week before Memorial Day in 2016. Later, the crypts for World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War were added. Arlington has also provided eightfoot-by-eight-foot photos that serve as the backdrop. King said six historic American flags flank the replica while on display: • Grand Union Flag • Betsy Ross Flag • Flag of 15 stars and 15 stripes • Old Glory (34 stars; Civil War) • Liberty Flag (48 stars; WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War) • 50 stars In addition, members of the replica traveling team give history about tomb guards and explain how the guards are selected and trained.

The replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on display.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


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Veterans cemetery a first for the county St. Clair Memorial Gardens serves as county’s only dedicated veteran burial ground Story by Jackie Romine Walburn Photos by Graham Hadley Submitted Photos When folks at St. Clair Memorial Gardens and Usrey Funeral Home decided to dedicate a section of the cemetery to U.S Armed Forces veterans, owner Steve Perry first consulted with local veterans. “I actively got together with a group of veterans in town,” Perry says. “We wanted their input, to know what’s important to them.” The veterans’ group with members who served in Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War supported the idea and helped Perry work up rules and regulations for the veterans’ section in Pell City, which opened in 2012. The rules they decided on are pretty much the same as those used by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ official U.S. veterans cemeteries. The section is for veterans and spouses and dependent children. Official honorable discharge papers – known as DD214 – are required to qualify. Alabama’s only official U.S. National Cemetery is the Alabama National Cemetery at Montevallo and is one of 148 national veteran cemeteries, 33 soldier lots and monument sites in 42 states, according to the VA. The idea behind the Pell City veterans’ section was not to take away from Montevallo but to expand on it and to offer a nearby choice for St. Clair-area veterans. “The vets were all behind the idea and wanted to see it happen,” Perry said. “They liked the idea of the burial ground being closer to home and wanted to make sure things were done right, and we didn’t just throw up a veterans’ section. That’s why we follow the strict rules and regulations. “We take comfort in knowing that vets had a part in putting this together,” said Perry, whose family has been the funeral home business since 1927, with Usrey’s Funeral Home in Talladega, which is now operated by Perry’s brother Mike. The Pell City location – funeral home and cemetery – were purchased one after the other in 2003 and 2004.


The American Flag catches the breeze over the markers for the armed forces.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Stone markers represent each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

St. Clair Memorial Garden’s veterans’ section is set off from the rest of the 14- acre cemetery by a U.S. flag and large granite markers for each division of the U.S. Armed Forces – the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. The first burial in the veterans’ section was in 2012 – the wife of one of the veterans Perry consulted early on. The veterans’ section is laid out in lots of 16 grave spaces for a total of 352 spaces, which are filled in order – not by selection, the same way official veteran cemeteries are filled. Spaces can be pre-purchased, but purchasers cannot pick the space location. This tradition of going in order, not pre-selected location, is the way the national cemeteries operate, Perry says. Burial spaces for a veteran and a spouse can be together with companion markers. All honorably discharged veterans of active service are entitled to a free marker, a burial flag and military funeral honors, regardless of where they are buried. Usrey and cemetery officials help veterans apply for these benefits, including the bronze markers used at St. Clair Memorial Cemetery. No large family markers are used in the veterans’ section. National VA cemeteries provide the burial space and opening and closing at no cost to the veteran’s family, according to Families are still responsible for funeral home, cremation or other burial costs. Because the St. Clair cemetery is not associated directly

with the VA, spaces in the veterans’ section are purchased, in advance in a pre-purchase or at the time of burial planning. However, Perry and staff handle the paperwork for veteran families, applying for the free grave marker, which are bronze as all markers are at the St. Clair cemetery. They also help arrange for military funeral honors at the family’s request. Military funeral honors provided by the VA for qualifying veterans buried at veterans’ cemeteries or elsewhere include a presentation of a U.S. burial flag, folded and presented to the family and the playing of taps, according to Federal law defines a military funeral honors detail as two or more uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the veteran’s parent service of the armed service. Word is still spreading about Usrey’s services for veterans and the Pell City location’s veterans’ section, Perry says, noting that some veterans and families don’t know about the section just for veterans and others have family burial plots already purchased or family traditions of church cemetery burials. “We just want veterans and their families to know this is here. We’ve always supported veterans, and this is a tribute to them,” Perry says. The support takes on a personal meaning to the Perrys, too. Both of their grandfathers were World War II veterans, with the paternal grandfather serving as a paratrooper and the maternal grandfather serving as a medic in World War II, Perry says. “This is a tribute to their service, too.”

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


An amazing life ST. CLAIR REMEMBERS

At 95, World War II vet Bob Curl recalls horror of war, an unconditional love and a wonderful life Story by Paul South Submitted Photos Barely a year out of high school, Bob Curl saw things a kid his age ought never see: the shattered bodies of young men, their lives snatched in a twinkling. He’s also known the joy that every human heart should know, the magic of an unconditional, longlasting love that endures to this day, though its beloved is years gone. Like a Frank Capra movie of the 1940s, Curl – now 95 – has known horror and heartbreak, love, laughter and selfless service, the stuff poured into a life well lived. A resident of the Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home in St. Clair County, Curl still drives, running the roads, snapping photos of his trips with cameras from his large collection of vintage photography gear. He’s been interviewed by historians from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. His smiles and his stories are well known at the place he calls home – a wonderful place, he says, where he’s been known to join a side in a rollicking game of volleyball. “I tell people I live at a country club,” he says. Chat with him long enough, and Curl will tell you stories of bloodied French beaches, a department store fire, the Sabbath morning he first saw the love of his life and the time he met the legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle. What a life. First, let’s tackle the hard part of Bob Curl’s days. In June 1944, his job as a Navy radarman was simple – to use the high technology of the day to find Omaha Beach. He did. In a briefing in Britain days before the invasion, the teenage sailor learned that he would be part of the first flotilla of Allied vessels, facing batteries of German 88s, heavy artillery protected by reinforced concrete pillboxes. “We were told we were probably going to be killed,” Curl said. So, I wrote a letter to my mother.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

American troops in a landing craft.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


ST. CLAIR REMEMBERS I told her I wish I’d been a better son. She didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. But I thought that was the end of me.” A strike on one of those pillboxes, Curl believes, saved his life. On June 9, three days after D- Day, the initial Allied thrust onto the European continent, aimed at ending Nazi occupation, Curl slogged ashore through bloodied water and shrapnel-peppered sand. What he saw is seared in memory, more than 75 years later. “… Bodies and parts of bodies all over the place,” Curl remembered. “(Pulitzer Prizewinning newsman) Ernie Pyle came on our boat. He went on the beach the second day (June 7) and when he came back, he wrote what he saw. They censored it and wouldn’t let it go through. At that time, the only way you could make a copy was carbon paper and onion skin paper. And he submitted his story, and they thought it was too graphic and too bad. So, they censored it.” Pyle, who was killed in the Pacific while embedded with an American unit, on D-Day wrote of bloody boots and the mundane and the strange that fighting men carried into the carnage – cigarettes and writing paper, a banjo and a tennis racket. Pyle saw what he thought were two sticks jutting out of the sand. He was mistaken. “They were a soldier’s two feet,” Pyle wrote. “He was completely covered by the shifting sands except for his feet. The toes of his G.I. shoes pointed toward the land he had come far to see and which we saw so briefly.” As Pyle finished the dispatch that War Department censors quashed, Curl asked him for the trash-can-bound carbon of the story and Pyle gave it to him. It’s long lost, but after the war, as a college student struggling with an English class, Curl copied Pyle’s story word for word, hoping for a needed good grade. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, I got him now,’” Curl said of his tough taskmaster professor. Pyle’s work earned Curl a C+. After victory in Europe, Curl was preparing for the invasion of Japan on Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands when he learned of victory in Japan.

Visiting the World War II memorial

A love story

He would have a personal victory once he returned home. He married his wife, the former Nell Spring. The Methodist minister’s son met his future wife at a church youth social on Valentine’s Day in 1943. They dated for three months. He enlisted in the Navy the Saturday after graduation in May. He fell in love with her earlier that day, as he walked into church with a friend on his first Sunday in a new town.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Bob and Nell Curl

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ST. CLAIR REMEMBERS “When I walked into church that morning, the most beautiful girl I ever saw was giving the devotion up there,” Curl recalled. “I nudged that boy next to me – I was 16 or 17 – I said, ‘I don’t know who that girl is, but I’m going to marry her.’” It was the beginning of what would be a 69-year marriage, an old-fashioned love affair. She’s gone now, but every night, he talks with her, looking into the eyes of her picture adorning a wall in his room. “She was the most wonderful lady I’ve ever known.”

Early years

Theirs is a magical story, one of several he tells. He got his first job in a local movie theater. Armed with a broomstick with a nail poking sharply from its end, Curl picked up trash. His salary in the teeth of the Great Depression? “I got to see all the movies for free,” he said. The cost: One thin dime. Another story was like something from a movie. As a nine-year-old while shopping with his mother at Birmingham’s iconic Loveman’s department store, a fire broke out, filling the store with smoke. “We couldn’t go down the elevator,” Curl said. “I had my mother by the hand. We made it down to the first floor. The smoke was so thick, we couldn’t see. But we heard a voice telling us, ‘Come this way,’ That voice led us all the way out of the store. We got out through a broken show window.” Ironically, Curl spent his professional life after the war as a Birmingham firefighter, who would go on to help train new recruits in the fire service. Like so many of his generation, Curl gave back to his community, while at the same time raising his family. Now in retirement, he’s still impacting lives. A small bottle of shrapnel-laced sand from Omaha Beach – given by Curl to the veterans’ home – is part of a display honoring those who served. But more than the artifacts of war, Curl radiates happiness. Said Hiliary Hardwick, director of the Veterans Home, “He definitely doesn’t act 95. He just has the most positive outlook on everything. I’ve never heard him or seen him when he’s upset. He just kind of takes life as it comes, and he just makes the most of it.” She added, “He’s probably one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever met. He generally thinks of others before himself. He’s unique. You know, they call the World War II guys ‘The Greatest Generation.’ He’s truly the epitome of that. He’s selfless in everything that he does.” Curl, she says, “just radiates happiness.” Curl credits his heart for others to his dad, the late Rev. John Wesley Curl, whom he calls, “the best man I ever knew.” Asked how he would sum up his own wonderful life, Curl responds with the two words he hopes will be his epitaph: “He tried.”


Hill over Omaha Beach

Volleyball at the Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home in Pell City

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


SAME BANKERS You may know us as Valley National Bank. Now, just call us Valley. The way we refer to ourselves may be new. But what isn’t new is our dedication to helping you achieve your financial goals. As a mid-sized regional bank, we’re proud to offer you all the advantages of a large financial institution with the personalized service of a small one. This is banking with flexibility—how, where and when you want it. PELL CITY 1930 Martin Street South

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St. Clair Alabama

Business Review Louis

A new era begins at Northside

72 DISCOVER Essence St. Clair •••August & September 2013 of St. ClairThe •The Business Review DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair October & November 2017 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair •August February & March 2016 72 2016 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair & September 2017 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair June & July 2017 72 DISCOVER DISCOVER Essence The Essence of St. Clair of St. ••Clair Clair December June 2016 July & 2015 2017 Essence ofof St. Clair December 2017 & January January 2018 DISCOVER The Essence of St. •••April May 72• DISCOVER The Essence DISCOVER The The Essence of St. St. Clair Clair October 2019 && November 2020 2020

The Blue Coyote Contracting crew

Second career for steel icon Garrison founds Blue Coyote Contracting There is a “new” company in Pell City, but maybe not exactly new. John Garrison retired from his steel business, Garrison Steel, a year ago and sold it to his son Jason, but he kept the dirt moving equipment he customarily used to improve property around the company. “I love moving dirt, clearing land and turning an overgrown hill into a flat usable piece of property,” said Garrison. “I ride through the countryside and see property all over this county that would be beautiful if only it was cleared of undergrowth or scrub trees.” Out of that desire and the needs Garrison saw, Blue Coyote Contracting, LLC came to be. “Farmers and country residents need ponds built for livestock or recreation, and we can do those things. New farm roads or renovated chert roads we do. Heck, we’ve had good success at building barns and fences, so we can talk to a customer about those needs as well.” He talked about his own personal experience. “Living in the country and in St. Clair County has been one of my greatest pleasures because there are good folks here – salt of the earth kind of folks who I enjoy meeting and getting to know and collaborating with about a project they need done with heavy equipment.” Retirement has a different meaning for Garrison than it does for some. “The fast-paced, high-stakes steel construction business I owned for nearly 30 years is for a younger team who can stand that kind of pressure every day, but I must stay relevant and active. With the background I and my team have in running some of the largest most complex projects in the eastern U.S., we can bring assurance to a customer that their job is done the right way.” At Blue Coyote Contracting, LLC, Garrison said, “we might be old, but we have a lot of experience and skill and hard work left in us. Billy Osburne, Jess McHugh and Jeremy Walker, the crew, were all brought up with honesty and integrity in how to deal with people.” For home-site needs, brush clearing,

tree clearing and grinding, road building or ponds, Blue Coyote wants to come out and plan the project with the client while keeping an eye on protecting the environment. The company has the ability and experience to assess the timber value of property, too. “If you have land that you want to make beautiful, useful and more valuable, we can make that happen,” he said. Municipalities are encouraged to reach out for services as well. “Call us for a friendly assessment of your project needs,” Garrison said. “We love meeting our neighbors.”

Road clearing work in progress

DISCOVER The Essence St. Clair •••August & September 2013 Business Review •July DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 73 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair October & November 2017 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair •August February & March 2016 2016 73 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair & September 2017 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair June & 2017 DISCOVER DISCOVER The Essence The Essence of St. Clair of St. ••Clair Clair December June 2016 July & 2015 2017 73 Essence ofof St. Clair December 2017 & January January 2018 DISCOVER The Essence of St. •••April May DISCOVER The The Essence of St. St. Clair Clair October 2019 && November 2020 2020 73

Business Review

Resale to the Rescue

Operation to sustain Animal Savers of Pell City opens

Resale to the Rescue building 74

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Resale to the Rescue, a new concept in sustainable fundraising for Animal Savers of Pell City Inc. (ASPCI), opened its doors Labor Day Weekend. The “gently used” merchandise that now fills this resale shop at 20 Cropwell Drive, Suite 120, is attractively priced and ready for customers to take advantage while supporting animal welfare in the community, said Dana Ellison, who has long been an advocate for the organization. She got the idea to create the shop from a similar one she visited in New Orleans. When she returned home with the suggestion that it replace the annual fundraiser, Mardi Paws, which came to an end in 2019, others in the organization got behind it to make it happen. The need was evident. COVID impacted fundraising, and they needed a steady and sustainable revenue stream. “People started making donations, and others got involved by volunteering,” she said. The location is across Cropwell Drive from Ace Hardware and is owned by Rhonda and Jeff Noble/Eagleseye Investments. Along with having the ideal spot, the Nobles really helped get the facility to the opening stage and “put us on the road to success.” The store features furniture and household items, kitchen, baby, patio and garden accessories. Bicycles, games and toys are also in the mix. There is limited clothing and formal wear as well as trendy business attire. It will be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and proceeds will go to ASPCI’s spay-and-neutering program for low-income households and its transport program that helps animals find their ‘forever’ homes. Through July, ASPCI had issued 468 SNAP spayand-neuter certificates, underscoring the need for such a program. Even during the pandemic, they safely issued the much-needed certificates. Throughout the year, ASPCI partners with Alabama Rescue Relay to transport animals for adoption in multiple states four times a month. About 3,000 animals per year are transported through the program and find homes through guaranteed adoption from ‘no kill’ rescue shelters in those states. ASPCI is a 100 percent nonprofit entity supported by a network of volunteers and donors. Numerous local veterinarians provide their services to the SNAP certificate holder. The ASPCI then pays the vet. Devoted volunteers, Erin Layton and Becky Harshman, are involved in the transport program, and other volunteers will be manning the resale shop. Members of the community are encouraged to get involved by making donations to the store’s inventory, but they must do so by appointment only, calling 205-234-0808. There will be no drop-off sites. “We are not a thrift store,” Ellison said. “We will be selective in the items we take.” As for what the future holds, Ellison said, “Our goal is to expand and save as many fur babies as possible, and we need your help.”

Something for everyone on sale

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Business Directory

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Business Directory

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Business Review ‘Economic optimism’ boon to Pell City business community BEI’s new storefront on Martin Street in Pell City

Story by Linda Long Photos by Graham Hadley A period of “economic optimism.” That’s how Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Urainah Glidewell explains the current business climate in Pell City. In just six months, more than a dozen new businesses have opened their doors, and that in the middle of a pandemic. City Manager Brian Muenger sums it up like this: “Definitely an interesting and challenging time for businesses, but outside of mandatory closures, a lot of our businesses are actually thriving during this hard time.” That’s exactly what this newest group of Pell City entrepreneurs has in mind. This versatile bunch of folks includes the owner of a new waterfront restaurant, a health-food aficionado, a 24/7-gym owner and a printer extraordinaire.



That printer is Ed Brasher who, along with son Trey Brasher, owns BEI (Brasher Electronics, Inc.). The company specializes in a little bit of anything printed from banners to business cards, refrigerator magnets to wedding invitations. They also equip

emergency vehicles with flashing lights and communication equipment. BEI started out in 2003 in a two-car garage in Odenville, but according to Ed Brasher, “by 2007, we had grown to 5,000 square feet. By 2008, we expanded to 36,000 square feet. Here we are in 2020, and we’ve opened a second store.” Brasher says he’s pleased with the response he’s getting in Pell City. “We left the BEI trailers with our logo parked here for a few weeks, and people kept saying why don’t you bring your business here. So, we decided, why not?” Brasher will operate out of Pell City while Trey will be in charge of the Odenville location.


Out on Logan Martin Lake, boats and cars are making fast tracks to the Lakeside Grill at Coosa Island. Co-owners Nicole Anderson and Chef Keith Clements are rapidly turning the grill into a destination point for folks looking for a laid-back place to chill with friends. “We are really, really busy,” laughed Anderson. “We’re drawing good crowds, especially on weekends when we have live music. The lake needed something like this. Everybody is

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020

Pell City’s Landmark Steak House for over 55 Years!


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Business Review having a good time.” The live music draws them in. The food brings them back, and these adventurous owners are certainly not timid with their menu choices. For example, one selection might be Chef Clements’ “Lakeness Monster Burger,” made with a blend of BBQ and queso on top of a thick juicy burger, topped with an onion ring and jalapeño popper, definitely not for the faint of heart. Anderson says she’s making plans for the fall and winter months when the weather might not be so conducive to the restaurant’s popular, screened-in patio. “I’ve already booked some Christmas parties, and we’re scheduling catering events, and if the weather gets too bad, we’ll just move inside,” she said.

Economic Optimism

Lakeside Grill at Coosa Island


Planet Nutrition, another restaurant of sorts, is new to Pell City and what owner Steven LeJeune calls “kind of like if a Smoothie King merged with a GNC. We do vitamin supplements, protein bars and 43 kinds of smoothies – all high protein, low fat and low carb.” With flavors like butterscotch, strawberry delight, banana scream, pineapple, wedding cake and piña coladas, you’ve got to know this is not your runof-the-mill way to get fit. It could also explain why customers are beating a path to LeJeune’s door. He says the pandemic set his opening back about a month, but with a “drive-through window and great support from the people of Pell City, we’re doing OK.” Muenger echoes the sentiment. “They’re doing a great business. They’ve developed quite a following in a short time.” LeJeune says perhaps the biggest boost to his business was “when the gyms re-opened following their mandatory closings due to the pandemic. “The gyms are our lifeblood,” he said, though he is quick to add that he doesn’t expect to keep the same opening hours as Pell City’s newest gym – Workout Anytime. According to Todd Stewart, manager of Workout Anytime, “that’s exactly what we offer, an opportunity for people to work out at a time that’s convenient for them. With a lot of people working different shifts, having flexible gym hours gives everybody the chance not to have to miss their workouts.” He says the new gym offers over 12,000 feet of workout or meeting space for its members. “Right now, we’re offering everybody a free, one-day pass to try us out.” Stewart said after being open for only three weeks, the membership roll had already hit close to 600. The gym is equipped with matrix, some of the newest and most sophisticated equipment on the market today, but still by far, everybody’s favorite is the tanning booth. “We have both the reclining and vertical designs.”


Planet Nutrition at the Publix Shopping Center in Pell City

Workout Anytime has opened in Pell City on Martin Street.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2020


Health & Wellness Fair in partnership with M4A

October 22 – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. 70-74 Plaza Drive Pell City

For FREE TICKETS Call 205-814-7253

COVID-19 guidelines will be followed to ensure safety.

Need help choosing the best Medicare Advantage plan partner? M4A will be on hand to provide unbiased evaluation of individual needs to choose your best option. Virtual assistance is available as needed.

Vendors include: Blue Cross, Cigna HSP, Humana, UHC, Viva

Education, prevention are key to your good health • • • • •

Find out about all the specialty options we have available here in Pell City. Meet with insurance providers to learn about the best Medicare Advantage plan to meet your current life situation and care. Create relationships with insurance partners to better understand the resources and benefits available to you. Perform health screenings to ensure all health care needs are being met, assessed and managed. Vaccinations, foot/eye exams, schedule colonoscopies, order Cologuard, schedule mammograms and bone density tests and receive hemoccult cards for home testing to be examined by a laboratory.