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Artist Captures Moments Live • Metro Bank Celebrates 30 Years Honda’s Impact on Region • Whitney Junction • Rotary Serving Community

October & November 2019


SURFING LOGAN MARTIN A cool boat, a tasty wake and you’re OK!

Special Veterans Edition

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Features and Articles Discover

The Essence of St. Clair

urfing S Wake ON LOGAN MARTIN LAKE A LakeLife special Page 16 Artist Joy Varnell Page 8

Traveling the Backroads Whitney Junction Charles Whitney

Best of Discover

Page 22 Page 34 Page 43

Pell City Rotary Serving the community

Pell City Civic Center

Veterans Section

Page 36

Three veterans three different wars

B-17 pilot remembers French Liberation


30 Years of Banking Success Page 66

Page 44

Page 48 Page 58

Honda’s impact on state, county continues

Page 74 How Honda affects region Page 79 Building from one end of Pell City to the other Page 84

October & November 2019

We Built Honda’s Newest SUV. The Adventures Are Up To You.

If you’re ready for the road less traveled, then Honda Manufacturing of Alabama has built the perfect SUV for wherever you’ll roam. The 2019 Honda Passport is packed with possibilities, including plenty of cargo room, seating for five, a cabin filled with the latest technology and 280 horsepower to handle any adventure. And we couldn’t have done it without our team of 4,500 associates in Lincoln, Alabama. Our dedication to delivering only the best for our customers is where the journey begins for every vehicle and engine we build.

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 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 Alalitcom. Jackie is currently seeking an agent and publisher for her first novel, Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone.

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.

Wallace Bromberg Jr. Wally graduated from Auburn University where he graduated in 1976 with his BA in History and minors in German and Education. Wally’s skills in photography blossomed during college.After a 30-year career, he decided to dust off his camera skills and pursue photography full time.

Mike Callahan Mike Callahan is a freelance photographer who resides on Logan Martin Lake in Pell City. He specializes in commercial, nature and family photography. Mike’s work has been published in Outdoor Alabama Magazine, Alabama Trucking Association and Alabama Concrete Industries magazines. Publishing his work to the internet frequently, he has won many honors for pictures of the day and week.

Elaine Hobson Miller Elaine Hobson Miller is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism from Samford University. She was the first female to cover Birmingham City Hall for the Birmingham Post-Herald, where she worked as reporter, food editor and features writer. A former editor of Birmingham Home & Garden magazine and staff writer for Birmingham magazine, she has written for a variety of local, regional and national publications. 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

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.

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.

From the Editor

Impactful stories

Impact. It’s that indelible mark people seem to leave on the world, if only their small corner of it. It says, ‘I’ve been here, and when I leave, it will be better off than I found it.’ That seems to be the underlying theme running through this issue of Discover Magazine. In business, Metro Bank celebrates 30 years of making an impact on our community, growing into a community bank that gave countless businesses their start and one that has been at the heart of so many good causes, they’re impossible to enumerate. Then, there’s Honda Manufacturing of Alabama. While not actually located in St. Clair, there’s no mistaking its impact. The county’s largest employer outside its borders, the numbers tell the story: 2,069 jobs, $205.5 million in earnings and $3.9 million in local sales taxes – all in St. Clair County. In our special salute to veterans, it is easy to see the impact of what these brave men did in defense of our country and the freedoms we hold so dear. Representing World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars, residents of the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in St. Clair County tell their personal stories of serving their country. Another kind of impact is the unmistakable theme the minute you walk through the door of the newly renovated, cuttingedge Pell City Civic Center or peek inside the new tennis center or play a match on brand new courts. Their impact is seen in the enhanced quality of life, the image these facilities project for the community and the improved recreational offerings Pell City now has. And how about live event artist Joy Varnell of Springville? She actually captures wedding couples’ special moments on canvas in real time. The impact of that very instant when they say ‘I do’ or take that first dance is a memory preserved in the beauty of a painting to be cherished.

Impact can come in many different forms, as is evidenced in this edition of Discover. But that common thread of making their mark runs through them all. There are plenty more stories to savor in this issue of Discover. Turn the page and discover them all with us. Carol Pappas Editor and Publisher

Discover The Essence of St. Clair

October & November 2019 • Vol. 50 •

Carol Pappas • Editor and Publisher Graham Hadley • Managing Editor and Designer Mike Callahan • Photography Wallace Bromberg Jr. • Photography Susan Wall • Photography Dale Halpin • Advertising Toni Franklin • Graphic Designer

A product of Partners by Design 1911 Cogswell Avenue Pell City, AL 35125 205-338-3466

Printed at Russell Printing, Alexander City, AL 7

Artist Joy Varnell working on the background scene for a live event painting 8

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

Joy Varnell

Capturing the living moment on her canvas Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Mike Callahan Submitted photos One night, artist Joy Varnell was up late watching television when she stumbled upon a show about beach weddings. As the camera panned the California venue, she spotted an artist among the guests, paint brush in hand and canvas on easel. Intrigued, she recorded the show, then played it several more times. Realizing he was painting the wedding scene, she said to herself, “I think I can do that.” The problem was, she didn’t know how to get started. That issue was soon resolved when she walked into the home of a friend/client and spotted a wedding invitation on her kitchen counter. “The client mentioned that she wanted to give the wedding couple something unique, and I suggested that I go to the wedding and paint a picture,” Joy said. “She agreed, and when I got back to my car, I thought, ‘What have I done?’ ” What she did was create a new twist in her artistic career, one that eventually caused her to dump her day job and paint 40 hours a week. She attends weddings and receptions, capturing special moments on canvas. After eight years, that twist has resulted in more than 300 paintings, taken her and her husband all over the United States, and made a lot of brides happy. Joy started drawing as a child and painting as a teenager. She studied interior design at Southern Institute (which later became Phillips College) and worked as a kitchen designer for 16 years before striking out on her own to do interior design and faux finishes — a lot of faux finishes. During all those years, she was painting in her spare time and selling her work. Her husband, Tim, kept encouraging her to spend more hours at her easel. Then came that first wedding, a huge event at the Birmingham Museum of Art. She painted the bridal couple descending the stairs for the reception, and in a newspaper article about the wedding, the bridegroom mentioned that her painting was his favorite gift. From there, her new venture took wings.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


When the bride’s mother saw the original painting of Peyton and Sean Forestier, she noticed that the groom’s parents were missing. Joy added them in front of the tables at left.

Jessica Silvers Posey married Aaron Posey at the Chick Berry Farm in Laurel, Delaware.

Jurrita Williams and Calvin Louise got marred at The North River Yacht Club,Tuscaloosa.


“This got bigger and bigger and just took over, and I quit doing interior design,” she said. The transition from landscapes, pet portraits and still life to painting people was a struggle at first, but Joy has a knack for looking at something and being able to paint it. Soon, she was painting weekdays and attending one or two weddings on the weekends. Now, it’s a full-time business. “I did 48 paintings in 2018,” said Joy, who calls herself a “live-event artist.” Her modus operandi is to show up about three hours before the event, usually wearing a black dress or pants, to start painting the background. “The vendors usually dress in black, so I do, too,” she explained. The most popular request is to capture the bride and groom’s first dance, so she usually sets up at the reception. When the guests come in, she’s ready to paint them into the scene. When the wedding couple appears, she adds them to the painting. She tries to get a good likeness of the bride and groom, but not the people in the background. Most of them can be recognized by what they’re wearing. She uses the term, “most,” but brides and their mothers are much more specific than that. “The details of the people in the painting are amazing,” said Pamela Rhodes, mother of a bride who married in Addis, Louisiana. “Joy painted my daughter and son-in-law’s first dance as husband and wife (Peyton and Sean Forestier). We are able to identify every person painted, even the guy singing on the stage (my brother-in-law).” “The Creator of the Universe certainly shines through Joy’s hand,” gushed Jurrita Williams Louie of Dallas, Texas, who got married in Tuscaloosa, her and her husband’s hometown. “She captured our first dance as Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Louie as if God came down from heaven to earth to do it. I can’t quite get over the detail and thoughtfulness with each stroke.” Joy’s medium is acrylics because they have no odor and dry quickly. “I have to work very fast, so at least the couple can see themselves before they leave,” she said. “People come up and say, ‘It looks just like them,’ as if they are surprised. Well, that’s the point.” As for mistakes, she just paints over them. At the time she started, she found only four artists doing what she does. Three were in California, one in New York. There are many more now, but she believes the examples on her website,, and her willingness to travel make her stand out. Her new business has taken her to California, New York, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, Georgia and up and down the East Coast as well. “I average about 12-15 weddings around the New Orleans area and south Louisiana each year,” she said. One such event took place at the restored art deco Lakefront Airport terminal in New Orleans. “It was my daughter, Celeste’s, wedding to Don Jude,” said Claudine Hope’Perret. “It was their first dance, and the painting shows amazing work and detail, even down to their lit-up tennis shoes.” No one has ever expressed a dislike of her paintings, though she did have a girl ask her to re-do the groom’s

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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Joy at work capturing the living moment with paint and brush.

The big reveal of the painting to the bride


hair once. “I strive very hard to get what they want,” she said. Tim, who is retired from the Norfolk Southern Railroad, goes to the weddings with Joy and does most of the driving. Anything over 500 miles, they fly. He packs up her paints and tools at home, unpacks and sets up at the venue, then repacks. “He calls himself my roadie,” she said. “He’s my public relations man, too. He mingles.” Some of the brides are nervous, and others just very excited and enjoying their day. The grooms are always nervous, and usually say, “Where do you want me?” Kids just stand and stare. The most common request she gets while painting is, “Will you take 10 (or 20) pounds off me?” That often comes from the mother of the bride. “Sometimes a woman will come up and talk to me because she’s afraid to talk to Joy,” Tim said. “One woman asked if Joy would take off her stomach and give her some boobs.” A man might ask her to cover a bald spot. Sometimes Joy adds details that represent something meaningful to the couple. Once, she painted a map rolled out to represent a treasure hunt, because that’s how the groom led the bride to her ring and his proposal. She has painted favorite dogs, relatives who couldn’t attend, even dead relatives into the paintings. She has put cats in, too. “Very often the venue will have one, and I’ll paint it peeping through a window,” she said. Occasionally she’ll give the bride a brush and let her paint a few strokes of her own. She has painted outdoors in all types of weather, from 35-degree temperatures on New Year’s Eve to 95-degrees in the sun. She prefers the reception to the ceremony because it’s less structured, and she gets to interact with the people. “That’s part of what makes it fun,” she said. One of her most memorable events was a Hindu wedding in Indiana. The bride wanted her to paint the Seven Vows, but she didn’t know what they were or where they occurred in the ceremony, which was four hours long. She kept asking people, and no one seemed to know. Parts of the ceremony were in English, parts in Hindi, and it turned out that the Seven Vows were at the end. Tim found out and clued her in. An outdoor wedding in Biloxi, Mississippi, was notable because a storm came up and sent many guests inside. The bridal party remained outside, and at the end of ceremony, the couple was framed by a rainbow. There was one in Fort Deposit they’ll never forget, either, but for a very different reason. “When we got out of the car there, we realized we had left my paints at home,” Joy recalled. They carry an emergency set, which has been upgraded as a result of that trip. She hates having to tell people she is already booked for their special date, and has painted two events in one day, as much as 90 miles apart. One time, she got two separate bookings for the same wedding, at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover. “The bride’s mother had contacted me and asked for a painting of the couple’s first dance,” she said. “Then I got another request for the same wedding. The bride wanted one of the father-daughter dance to give to her parents. Neither knew about the other’s request.” She had two canvases on her easel throughout the recep-

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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Sometimes Joy moves her tools into her hallway to paint.

Walls at the Varnell home feature many of Joy’s still-life paintings.


Tim packs up Joy’s paints and brushes for the next road trip.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

tion and kept swapping them back and forth so neither party would know about the other. The backgrounds were the same. “The bride’s mother began to catch on, but the dad never did,” Joy said. “I presented both paintings at the end.” Sometimes she finishes a painting on site but brings home most of them so she can apply an art varnish as a protective sealer. Her studio is a sunny 11’ x1 2’ room of her house, with a huge front-facing window. She and Tim have lived in that house on a mountain top in Springville for 12 years, surrounded by rock formations, trees and lots of wildlife. Deer and turkey wander around the property, along with a family of foxes that they feed daily. The house is filled with Joy’s still-life paintings, such as wine bottles so real you want to grab one and pour a drink. Jessica Silvers Posey of Maryland, who married Aaron Posey in Laurel, Delaware, said Joy painted the most beautiful picture of the couple’s first dance. “The details are phenomenal,” she said. “I relive that moment every time I look at the painting. Everyone who walks past this painting in our house can’t help but stop and stare.” While mothers, parents, bridesmaids, co-workers and grooms hire her to paint as a gift, most of the time it’s the brides who engage her services. She offers three standard sizes, 18” x 24”, 24” x 30” and 30” x 36”. Clients may choose something larger but cannot choose whether the finished product will be vertical or horizontal. “I decide that, depending upon the venue and what I want to get in the painting,” Joy said. The largest one she has done was 42” x 48”. Her prices start at $1,000, plus travel expenses if she goes outside the Birmingham Metro area. Although 99 percent of her business comes from weddings, she has painted at Christmas parties, company anniversaries and fundraisers. One of her corporate events was the opening of Nick Saban’s Mercedes-Benz dealership on I-459. And yes, the coach was there. Even though she doesn’t normally turn down an event unless she is already booked, she did refuse to paint at one recent wedding. Her own daughter was the bride, the wedding took place at Joy and Tim’s house, and Joy wanted to relax as much as possible and enjoy it. “I will paint it later from photographs,” she said. l



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Joy painted this one from Tim’s description of a dream he had, then gifted Tim with the painting.

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


urfing S Wake E K A L IN T R A M N A G O L ON Rock & Rolling, high flying, surfer judge hits the waves Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Graham Hadley

Most weekdays, you’ll find him donning a black robe, gavel in hand, poised to rule in a court case. In those somber surroundings, it’s difficult to imagine what the judge might do for a little R&R. But after the day’s work is complete, it’s as if Superman has just stepped into that iconic phone booth. He transforms into one rockin’ and rollin,’ high flyin,’ lake surfin,’ incredibly cool dude. Pick your passion. St. Clair County District Judge Alan Furr does, although you’re never quite sure which one it will be. Electric guitar in hand, that’s him on a Saturday night, a natural at leading the band, The Wingnuts. The band got its start in an airplane hangar in 2010, its members mostly pilots, including Furr. Since then, they’ve built quite a following, playing oldies and Rock & Roll for audiences across the region. That might be enough to keep most busy, but not Furr. He’s made the cockpit selfie with wife Sandra locally famous on Facebook. It’s not uncommon to see the Furr’s take to the skies for short hops and long treks. His newest past-time adventure puts him and Sandra out on their beloved Logan Martin Lake, a stone’s throw from their home on Cropwell Creek. They’re not quite hanging 10, they admit, but to them, it’s close. At 60-something, they’re nothing short of inspiring with their wake surfing prowess. “Sandra and I bought our first board and started learning to wake surf around 2010, but we didn’t have a good surf boat, so the learning was difficult,” Furr said. “Consequently, we both primarily stayed with slalom skiing, and I also rode a wakeboard. Now that we are in our mid-60s, we figured we

Alan Furr showing off his wake surfing skills on Logan Martin

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019



Wake Surfing Lean back on the board and pop out of the water.

needed to concentrate on a ‘milder’ form of water sport.” In 2015, they bought a MasterCraft NXT20, which is designed for wake surfing. “So, for the past couple of years we’ve been surfing on Logan Martin,” he said. It requires a boat that is set up with a “surf system” and ballast, a wake-surf board, and “the willingness to give it a try.”

How it works



Drop into the wake until the rope goes slack.

Let go of the rope and you are surfing!

So what does it take to wake surf? When a boat moves through the water, it creates a wake. When the hull of the boat displaces the water, it goes back to where it previously was. That constant flow of water creates a constant wave, and the surfer trails behind the boat on its wake without actually being pulled by the boat. You get up on the wake with a special board and tow rope, similar to skiing, but that’s where the similarity stops. When the rope gives some slack, it’s time to drop the rope and go wake surfin’ with the Furrs.

Let’s go surFin’ now…

Sandra goes first. With the board parallel, and her heels atop the side, she waits for the start. He throttles the boat, and up she pops, giving a twist and allowing the board to get perpendicular with the back of the boat. Once the driver tightens the rope and gives it a little bit of throttle, the water behind the board pushes the board up, and you just stand up. Only a few feet behind the boat, she concentrates on the wake, her balance and finding the “sweet spot.” “You’re trying to get a speed on the board that matches the speed of the boat,” Furr explains. “You find that sweet spot that matches the speed with the boat.” “And when you can feel it,” Sandra adds, “you can actually feel the wave pushing you. It’s the coolest feeling, and when you feel it, you know it.” She hits the sweet spot, and she drops the rope. Then, it’s like watching the old Beach Boys tune, Surfin’ Safari, in motion.

Everybody’s learning how…

Before getting a special boat, “we fooled around for a year or two,” learning what to do, Furr said. “We could get up and hold the rope, but we couldn’t get slack. This boat is what really made the difference, and also that board.” They transitioned to the new boat, and that’s when it all started coming together for them. “I always thought I’d like to surf, but this is as close as I’ll ever get to it,” he said. He went a step further, pointing out the benefits


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


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Wake Surfing Sandra riding the perfect boatgenerated ‘wave’.

Taking to the air


On stage with the WingNuts

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Furr shows off his board from the transom of his boat. of his brand of surfing. “First, there are no sharks.” In ocean surfing, you must swim out on your board. “With this one, you just start the motor.” The Furrs haven’t tried those fancy moves yet, like the Fire Hydrant and 360s, but there are plenty on Logan Martin who do, he said. To which, Sandra quickly retorted, “Yeah, but they’re not 63 and 64.” For the time being the Furr’s will stick to “carving” the wake, although conquering the 360 is on their bucket list. “A lot of people are getting into it. We just chose it because we’re getting older and wanted something to do – a little more low impact,” Furr said. “There are several wake surfers here in Cropwell Creek,” he added, “and I’m sure there are many all over the lake. We are by no means the best...but we’re probably the oldest.” l

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Traveling the


WHITNEY JUNCTION A place of memories, lore and a storied past

Sheffield’s store 22

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

Railroad siding at old Whitney Junction

Story by Joe Whitten Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr. Submitted photos Whitney Junction, lying in northwest St. Clair County at the intersection of US Highways 11 and 231, is one of the many unincorporated communities throughout the county. The original junction, however, was east of there in 1891 when the Tennessee River, Ashville and Coosa Railroad connected with the Alabama Great Southern (AGS) Railroad. Settlers had arrived in the area long before the building of the train station in 1872, when the AGS began operation and before the US Post Office began in 1875. The station and post office were named for Charles O. Whitney, a whiskey-drinking, gambling Reconstruction Carpetbagging politician, who had been active in establishing the AGS railroad from Birmingham to Chattanooga. Records show that James C. Ward was appointed the first postmaster on March 22, 1875. Surnames of the other postmasters ring of old St. Clair County families — Yates, Box, Beason, Early, Partlow, Sheffield and Shelton. The First Settlers According to Linda Moyer, a Neeley descendant, around the time that Alabama became a state in 1819, two North Carolina sisters and their husbands settled in today’s Whitney. The two couples were Elizabeth Brumfield and William McCorkle and Charity Brumfield and Thomas Neeley. Coming with the McCorkles were their daughter and her husband, Eliza Louisa and Anderson Reeves. Louisa and Anderson had 15 children. The area grew as the Partlow, Montgomery, Sheffield, Bowlen, Allman and Harp families settled there. Children grew up, fell in love, and these families became interconnected through marriages. Cowan Sheffield married Mary Allman, and the home they built still stands off Highway 11, just south of Reeves Grove Church. Their granddaughter, Linda Moyer, believes they built the house in the 1860s, well before the church’s organization in 1872. “The Reeves Grove Church records,” she recalled, “say that my granddaddy would start the fire every Sunday morning in the potbelly stove.”

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Traveling the


Ophelia Washington and Billy George Washington at Cafe-Service Station

According to Moyer, Cowan Sheffield’s uncle, Wesley Sheffield, Sr. “…rode the horse his son had brought back from the Civil War to collect money” to build the Reeves Grove Church, and that John Partlow “hewed the logs and split the shingles” for the building. Reeves’ descendant, Joe Sweatt, recalled, “My great-great grandparents, Louisa and Anderson Reeves, donated the land to build the church on.” Sweatt told of a c1872 family letter stating that the supporting timbers of the church were cut in Etowah County, shipped down the Coosa River to Greensport, and then hauled by ox wagon to the church location. Attendance increased in the early 2000s, and the church added a new Fellowship Hall next to the sanctuary. By 2007, having outgrown the 1872 building altogether, they constructed a larger sanctuary, connecting it to the Fellowship Hall. Rev. Paul Alexander became pastor of the church as the new building reached completion, and he conducted the first worship service in it. A few years later, the church began Phase Two, during which they added Sunday School rooms. Church leaders today include deacons Clarence Harris, Jerry Payne, Johnny Kuykendall and Maurice Wilkins. Jerry Payne is Sunday School director. Music director is Charles Simmons. In addition to the choir, Rev. Alexander said, “We have a group of young folks who do special singing for us.” Three pianists serve the church: Jenny Greggs, Deb Kuykendall and Cindy Alexander. Youth Directors Zach and Stormy Davis participate in community youth services sponsored by several churches that take turns hosting services during the year. Expressing his vision for the church, Alexander said, “Our biggest goal is to see people come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. We would love for our church to grow, but I would rather that the church grows spiritually rather than just adding numbers. We don’t focus on numbers. We focus


Nettie Sheffield at post office window

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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BACKROADS on people getting closer to the Lord and winning folks to Christ.” Efforts to restore the historic 1872 Reeves Grove Church are detailed in Elaine Hobson Miller’s article in the April-May 2019 Discover.

Reeves Grove Singing School

Reeves Grove School The original deed for Reeves Grove Church stated that the Eliza Reeves hoped the building would also be a school. According to Moyer, Cowan Sheffield served as first headmaster when the school opened in the church. Later, a schoolhouse was constructed across the road to the right of where the cemetery is today. Ashville Railroad Montgomery’s The Weekly Advertiser reported on April 23, 1891, “The Tennessee River, Ashville and Coosa Railroad has been completed from Whitney Station on the Alabama Great Southern Railroad to Ashville, the county seat of St. Clair County. The new line is now open for traffic. The road will be extended to the Tennessee River in the north and to a point on the Southern Pacific in the south at an early date.” Mattie Lou Teague Crow records in her History of St. Clair County that the 1890s depression forced this railroad venture into bankruptcy. She wrote, “The steel rails were ripped up for scrap iron [sic]. The old ties rotted. Today’s Whitney-Ashville highway uses most of the old right-of-way.”

Hershel Montgomery’s store at highway junction

Evergreen’s historian Rena Blunt 26

Evergreen Deacon Joe Blunt

The 1886 African American Church Organized in 1886, Evergreen Baptist Church, celebrated its 133rd anniversary on Sept. 22 this year. Name are of the first members are not available, but this soon after the Civil War, they doubtless were former slaves and their children. Rena Blunt, grandmother of current pastor Elder Paul Jones, recorded in 2007 what she remembered of the history of Evergreen Baptist. She stated that the church “was founded by the Rev. Gales and Bro. Green Neeley. The first church was a small green church facing the railroad.” She listed the following pastors: “Rev. Woody and Rev. Shephard; Rev. Brown, 1922-1966; Rev. Bell, 1967-1968; Rev. J. C. Evans, 1968-72; Thomas Jordan, 1973; B.J. Bedford, -1990; Jerry G. Bean 1990-2016; and Elder Paul Jones, 2016-present.” Around 1922, Mrs. Blunt recalled, the church moved to U.S. 231 where today’s BP station stands. After I-59 was created, the church moved down to its present location on Sheffield Drive. Elder Jones, said in an interview, “The church I remember was there by the interstate where the BP Service Station is now. It was a wooden church with tarpaper siding that looked like bricks. We had boards nailed between the trees for people to

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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BACKROADS sit around and eat.” The other locations he’d been told of were the one by the railroad tracks and one on Highway 11, “but its name, Evergreen Baptist, never changed.” Elder Jones spoke of his ministry: “God called me to preach. I was teaching Sunday school in another church, and then I would come over here. For some reason, the Spirit kept leading me back here, and the next thing I knew, God had planted Rhonda and me in this church family.” The pastor of a small congregation has more responsibilities than the pastor of a larger church. Elder Jones plays the keyboard for the singing, conducts a Thursday evening Bible study, and heads up the Sunday school, also giving a weekly review of the lesson. “My plate’s pretty full,” he observes. First Lady Rhonda adds, “We often say we both wear three or four different hats. So, whatever is going on at any time, we do what is needed.” Picking up on that theme, Elder Jones mentioned the faithfulness of Pinkie Brewster and Effie Lee Brewster. “Others may have come and gone,” he said, “but over the years, those two have been steadfast supporters of Evergreen’s ministry…When God chooses you for a task,” Elder Jones testified, “you can’t quit. The love of God will not allow you to walk away from the souls you are over.” When asked about his vision for the church, he replied, “It’s the Word of God. I must teach with knowledge and understanding. That’s the only way — His whole Word. I wouldn’t leave anything out.” He observed that some folk skip scriptures, but Elder Jones is fervent in preaching the whole Word. “Without a vision, the people perish,” he said. Speaking of First Lady Rhonda Mabry Jones, his wife of 42 years, he reflects that her working for the Lord alongside him was vital to his preaching effectively. Serving Evergreen today as Deacons are Sam Blunt, Allen Looney, Henry Blunt and two Junior Deacons, Denzell Williams and Damion Jones. Elder Jones remembered two deceased deacons saying, “Deacons Robert Brewster and Earnest Brewster contributed much to God’s work here and helped make Evergreen what it is today.” The church continues to improve the facilities as God provides. “All races are welcomed to worship together.” Elder Jones concludes, “If you’re looking for a church, come worship with us.”

Reeves Grove Baptist 1872 sanctuary

Whitney, Alabama, Memories Two articles in The St. Clair News-Aegis, Dec. 7, 1975, and July 3, 1976, record some of Nettie Lou Sheffield’s Whitney memories. Appointed postmaster Feb. 28, 1936, Nettie Sheffield retired in 1965, and her daughter, Wanda E. Shelton, was appointed acting postmaster


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Health Care Inc. showing wall originally part of Motel Linda Gargus Market, across from Health Care Inc.

July 31, 1965. Official Washington, DC, records list Wanda Shelton as the last postmaster, but she was not. In 1976, Nettie Sheffield told The New-Aegis that when Wanda died soon after appointment, “The postmaster at Ashville said, ‘Take over,’ and that’s what I done. I’ve been here ever since.” Whitney Post Office was “discontinued” on March 31, 1967, and converted to a rural station of Ashville. “There was four stores, a train depot, a honkytonk — started out as a cafe,” Nettie said in 1975. She then added a refrain probably heard since Noah had grandchildren, “but the young people hung around, and you know how they are. Well, pretty soon it was a honkytonk!” She noted that the other four stores were owned by the Montgomery, Beason, Rickles and Baggett families. In the 1976 article, Nettie still ran the store in the building where she and her husband first opened for business in 1936. She was a month shy of 81 and still opening around 7 a.m. and closed at 4 p.m. “I figure nine hours a day is enough for anybody to work — especially if they’re as old as me,” she said. Joe Sweatt Having lived in Whitney all his life, Joe Sweatt has fond memories. He grew up in the family home just below where he and wife Helen live today Asked about his memories, he said, “I guess the fondest is living close to Muckelroy Creek. Harold Whisenant and I rode our bicycles all around here back then. We took some old burlap sacks and filled ‘em up with dirt off the creek bank and dammed up the creek. My daddy built us a diving board. It was the nicest swimming hole you’ve ever seen. People from Etowah County used to come and swim there. We’d go down there in the mornings and ride on inner tubes until the sun came up and it got warm enough that we could get in that cold creek water.” Enjoying his memories, Sweatt continued. “We always tried to save up a little money so we could go down to Hershel


Montgomery’s store down at the crossroads. A Coca-Cola was a nickel and a pack of chips — corn curls — was a nickel, and he’d charge us a penny tax. He’d fuss if we didn’t have that penny for the tax.” Prison Camp “I remember my grandmother talking about the prison camp, Camp O, they called it, up where the nursing home is now. She used to tell me tales, about when they heard the hound dogs, they knew some prisoner had run. Even back then, they used tracking dogs.” Wayne Ruple’s fine collection of interviews titled, Remembering Whitney, has several memories about the prison camp. O.J. Moore also remembered the bloodhounds tracking a convict, saying, “Those dogs would put him up a tree. He’d come on down and go back to camp.” Wade Partlow recalled, “The prisoners did all the local road work…They used some road machines — many pulled by horses and mules.” Tiny McKay said, “You know Number 11 was built by convicts…. They used mules and flip scrapes…231 was built by convicts.” The prison camp discontinued at some point, and on that property a Rhode Island couple, Pat and Carol Roberson, built the Motel Linda c1960. Jimmie Washington Keith lived in Springville and worked at the motel. She recalled that many of the I-59 workers found lodging at Motel Linda. It’s believed the business ceased operation toward the end of the 1960s. When Motel Linda closed, Whitney Nursing Home began operation there in 1969. It had been reconstructed to meet the standards of that time. When present owner, Pam Penland, took over in 1982, it was an intermediate care facility. Today it is Health Care, Inc., and is licensed as a Medicare-Medicaid longterm nursing home. In Remembering Whitney, Wade Partlow recalled Hershel Montgomery’s store at the crossroads and that across US 231 from the store “…there was a service station… and a restaurant known as Ma Washington’s Restaurant.” In a recent interview, Mrs. Washington’s daughter, Jimmie Keith, supplied additional information. Ralph Windham owned the building where her mother, Ophelia Washington, ran the restaurant in one side, and Billy George Washington, Ophelia’s son, ran the service station in the other side. Jimmie’s nephew, Joe Cox, recalled that it was an Amoco Service Station. The service station and restaurant are gone, but on Hershel Montgomery’s corner, a store still serves Whitney Junction.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


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BACKROADS Whitney on National TV A segment of Jack Bailey’s Queen for a Day TV show was filmed in Whitney in 1956. Mrs. Dorothy Brock, the sole provider for her family, won the title with her need to stock a small store located northeast of Reeves Grove Church near the crossroads. NBC cameramen filmed while Jack Bailey emceed and crowned Mrs. Brock as Queen. Sen. E. L. Roberts attended and officially cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the store. The Etowah NewsJournal, Sept. 13, 1956, reported that 3,000 “from many states” attended the event. Entertainment was provided as well as balloons, ice cream, soft drinks for all ages, and “500 orchids were given away to the first 500 ladies who registered.” Viola Hyatt, Ax Murderer Three years later, in 1959, the area again made newspaper and television headlines when Ax Murderess, Viola Hyatt, threw a torso off at a vacant house in Whitney. Hyatt, who lived with her father in White Plains, Calhoun County, killed two of their farm workers with shotgun blasts to the face. She hacked up their bodies with an ax and scattered body parts on a road trip through Etowah and St. Clair counties. Joe Sweatt remembered it: “We were swimming up there at the swimming hole one day, and my mother came up and said, ‘Get out; they’ve found a body up the road.’ About a quarter of a mile toward Steele from the crossroads, Viola Hyatt, the ax murderer, had dumped one of the bodies there. In those days, they didn’t secure the crime scene like they do today, and I remember we pulled off on the side of the road, and I remember looking up and seeing the body lying there.” Fear gripped local folk and didn’t subside until Viola’s arrest. She went to trial, was convicted, and sent to prison. However, in 1970, she was granted parole. Jacksonville locals remember that she returned to the family farm and that she also ran a store in Rabbitown, and a retired Jacksonville State University professor recalled her taking classes there.


Reeves Grove Baptist Church

The Sheffield House Miracle — perhaps An article about a community should not end with a murder, so this ends with Wayne Tucker’s story of a mysteriously prevented tragedy. “When I was a teenager,” Wayne recalled, “a Church of God minister who lived close to Whitney Junction told me and his son, my best friend, about an accident at the junction. That was a dangerous intersection before the interstate opened, as evidenced by the number of memorial crosses placed there.

A bad accident happened, and several men tried to lift the car to get a man out. They couldn’t lift it. Suddenly, a big man appeared and helped lift up the car. By the time the rescuers attended to the crash victim, the big man was nowhere in sight — and nobody saw him leave.” Just the extra man needed to lift the car or a miracle? Who can say? However, Tucker remembers the minister as a godly man who gave God the credit for the man’s rescue. A miracle is much better than a murder. Somebody say, “Amen!” l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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Just who was Charles Whitney? Story by Joe Whitten Who was the Carpetbagger, Charles O. Whitney, for whom the Alabama Great Southern Railroad named a station in St. Clair County and the US Government named a post office? Mattie Lou Teague Crow dismisses him with a single sentence in her History of St. Clair County, Alabama: “This little station there was named for a member of the Alabama Carpetbagger Legislature, Charley Whitney, and it has remained Whitney to this day.” Those who knew Mrs. Crow can hear the disdain expressed in that sentence — especially in the word, “Charley,” for newspaper articles and Alabama Senate minutes never referred to him as “Charley” but always as Charles O. or C.O. Whitney. Personal information remains scant. However, from research done by Springville’s Jerri Jenkins, we know he was born in Vermont in 1832, and that he married in New York. His wife’s first name was Adellia. The 1866 Census shows him living in Jackson County, Alabama, but by 1870, he lived with his wife and four children in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He never lived in St. Clair County. Reconstruction political records show he was able to get a post office established in Scottsboro and was appointed postmaster there in 1867. In September that same year, he was a member of the Constitutional Convention as appointed senator from Jackson County. His years in the Alabama Legislature appear as bumpy as the mudrutted roads snaking their way from north Alabama to Montgomery in the 19th Century. Whiskey drinking and poker playing punctuated his years in politics and on at least one occasion brought legal trouble down upon him. By 1869, he was revenue collector for the 3rd District of Jackson County. In 1870, editorials railed against him and his cronies, one accusing them of thievery against “the true sons of the South.” The Montgomery Advertiser of July 3, 1870, quoted the Jackson County newspaper, Stevenson New Era, saying, “The men of solidity and brains who once marched with the Republican Party, left it when such wretches as Whitney walked over them into official power.” Whitney was a mover and shaker in establishing the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad, which became the Alabama Great Southern Railroad. He may also have been a taker as well, for in February 1871, the Senate passed a resolution to begin investigating possible fraud in state-issued railroad bonds. Graft was an underlying theme of the Reconstruction years. On April 26, 1872, the Nashville Union and American, Nashville, Tennessee, reported the sale of the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad to Maj. T.J. Burnett of Greenville, Alabama, for $312,000.00. Charles O. Whitney lost the bid by $1,000.00. The United States Postal Service in Washington has no information about how the Whitney, Alabama, Post Office came to be named after this man. Politics played a part for he helped get the railroad established through Alabama to Chattanooga and was appointed assistant superintendent of the Northern Division of the Alabama Great Southern Railroad. Whitney took part in the false arrest and imprisonment of exgovernor Lewis Parsons in 1873. Parsons, grandson of theologian Jonathan Edwards, settled in Talladega to practice law in 1840. During the Civil War, he remained loyal to the Union, so at Reconstruction, President Andrew Johnson, in June 1865, appointed him Provisional Governor of Alabama. His term ended in December 1865, but he remained in Alabama politics.


The Gadsden Times on March 13, 1873, reported that Lewis Parsons sued Whitney and three others for $250,00 for his false arrest on the “charge of violating the Enforcement Acts.” Those Acts protected former slaves’ civil rights. When it went to trial in December 1873, Parsons won his case and was awarded $10,000 from Whitney and cohorts. In the late summer of 1875, Charles Whitney fell ill with dysentery and suffered for weeks at his Chattanooga home. Having heard that the waters of Sulphur Springs, Rhea County, Tennessee, were “considered a certain cure” for dysentery, Whitney started the journey there by steamboat up the Tennessee River. The landing nearest Sulphur Spring had closed because of the wreckage of a recently burned steamboat, therefore Whitney’s boat had to land at a harbor some distance away. The sky poured rain as Whitney was taken from the boat, and the only conveyance was an open wagon in which he was transported a mile to the nearest home. They sent for a doctor at Sulphur Springs who came and tended him, but it was too late. The Montgomery Advertiser, Sept. 3, 1875, reported that “in his debilitated state and exhaustion,” he never recovered and died. The article ends: “He was buried at Sulphur Springs on Saturday as it was impossible to procure a case in which to remove his remains, and (he) will rest there until fall.” The intention was to later move his grave to Chattanooga. But there he lay, undisturbed, until May 1885 when his sister, Mrs. Hammett, swooped in from Los Angeles, California, as suddenly as Endora could materialize on Bewitched and presented Sulphur Springs’ officials with “written authority from Mrs. Whitney, Charles’ widow, to exhume the remains…and to take anything from the body she desired.” This caused consternation and curiosity, according to the newspapers, and a crowd gathered to watch. With the coffin out of the grave, “she directed that the body be removed,” but nothing remained but “bones and shreds of clothing.” She picked up the skull and addressed the people “on the spiritual life of humanity,” saying that man was “possessed of two spirits. One dwelled in the hair and the other in the bones. That the spirits of the bones could only be freed through fire and that the spirit of the deceased was communicated to the living mediums through the hair.” She then ‘plucked all the hair from the skull” and put “each lock” in her receptacle. Then, getting down into the grace, she incanted, “Now I am possessed of my brother’s spirit, and I speak for him.” Closing her eyes, she spent some time apparently communicating with her brother. When the incantation and communication ended, she ordered the men who had exhumed the coffin to burn her brother’s bones. The officials “stood aghast but were powerless to interfere as she had full authority” to do as she wished. At her command, the men built a high pyre and placed the bones on top. “She lighted the pyre herself and stood by until the bones crumbled into dust.” When fire died out, she exclaimed, “Thus do I free the spirit.” She declined to take her brother’s ashes but ordered that the grave be left opened for several days “to allow the spirits freedom in coming and going.” Mrs. Hammett spent the night at a doctor’s home and departed the next day — leaving an awe-struck community in her wake. That seems to be the last of Charles O. Whitney, a man perhaps more fascinating in death than in life. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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Story by Jackie Walburn Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr. Upgraded facilities and expanded services – including a tennis building, more tennis courts and new parking and access roads to Lakeside Park – are part of community benefits boosted with Pell City Civic Center’s $2.3 million renovation. “Everything inside the building is new,” Pell City Parks and Recreation Director Bubba Edge said about the civic center and parks and recreation headquarters originally built in 1976. From the modern foyer and service desk area to a new game room with video games and foosball, the list of improvements to the 43-year-old building is lengthy and magnifies the services available to Pell City residents and businesses. The new interior area includes a newly designed reception area with glass walls forming an open view of the basketball court. There are sealed concrete floors and refurbished doors throughout, plus new offices and a security system with video camera coverage throughout the facility, which reopened with a ribbon cutting July 29. UPGRADES EVERYWHERE The existing fitness room was moved to an area with curvedglass window views of a new fitness area that has all new equipment and televisions. The previous weight room was converted into a hallway, and men’s and women’s locker rooms were added, including more restroom facilities, showers and lockers. A warming or catering kitchen replaced the old kitchen and complements the center’s multipurpose room, which is available for meetings and events. New LED lights were added throughout the facilities, except for in the gymnasium, which had upgrades including new bleachers to accommodate up to 200, handrails, a freshly refurbished and painted floor and new basketball goals. Among the needed, but not so visible improvements is a new heating and air conditioning system that accounted for some $300,000 of the $2 million-plus project, Edge says. The upgrade also includes new computers and computer systems, a

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Pell City Civic Center

A brand new lobby for the center

new phone system and plumbing upgrades. The renovation also prompted the addition of new full and part-time positions at the center, taking employment levels at the center and recreation departments up to about 30 full and part-time employees plus some seasonal workers. With most of the work happening inside the civic center and on the grounds of the city property, the exterior of the civic center is unchanged, except for a new marquee sign and electronic message board in front of the center at 2801 Stemley Bridge Road.


TENNIS AND MORE A new Pell City Tennis Center building and two new tennis courts with LED lighting are game changers for local tennis players, says Bronson Tucker, assistant tennis pro with the Parks and Recreation Department. Having 10 courts will allow for bigger tournaments and reduce the chances of players having to wait for a court to be available. The new tennis facilities opened in June 2019. The new and upgraded tennis facilities cost about $400,000 of the overall improvements budget, officials say. The new tennis building offers restrooms, storage space, an office and a canopy-covered viewing deck. Funding included a grant from the U.S. Tennis Association, via the local chapter, and support from Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council. Renovation also included the relocation of power poles, an extension of the parking area and a streamlined entryway from Alabama 34 into the Civic Center area. This upgrade allows for one access point to Lakeside Park, the center and tennis facilities. “There’s something going on at Lakeside Park every weekend, and these improvements are making a difference,”

Practing on the newly redone tennis courts

Pell City Parks and Recreation Director Bubba Edge

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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Edge says about improved access to the 67acre Lakeside Park. The park, the civic center, the tennis facilities are all part of the Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Senior Center, the Municipal Complex, walking tracks and ball fields. 40 YEARS IN THE MAKING One of the goals of the civic center renovation was to emphasize the recreational services at the center, Edge says. “We wanted the civic center to go back to recreation. That’s why we installed a game room, a fitness center, the walking track and the basketball court, so that everyone has access to activities they care about.” An updated place for the community to gather is another goal of the project, says Brian Muenger, city manager for Pell City. “Public spaces, such as the Civic Center and Tennis Complex, provide our citizens the opportunity to do more than just exercise or play a sport. They are social hubs where people socialize and bond with one another around common interests. We placed a special emphasis on the common areas, such as the viewing area at the tennis facility, that provide a comfortable environment for patrons to relax and enjoy the company of one another.” The center still has spaces and improved facilities for events, and planners hope to bring a Christmas Dance back to the civic center. With the exception of the addition of a banquet room and a roof retrofitting in 2000, the renovations are the first major investments in the civic center since it opened in 1976, says Edge, a former Pell City businessman and volunteer coach who has worked with parks and recreation more than 10 years. Helping to oversee the renovations was a welcome challenge for Edge and others at parks and recreation, as they watched dreamed-of improvements come to life. With work spread out over 18 months, the civic center project was designed by Williams Blackstock Architects of Birmingham with Sean Whitt of that company working closely with the city. Douglas Built LLC of Vincent was general contractor and Goodgame Company, Inc. of Pell City handled construction management. AN INVESTMENT FOR COMMUNITY “This was more than just a building renovation,” emphasizes Muenger. “It was an investment for our community.” He credits the mayor and city council for supporting the investments and making the project come to fruition. “Through this investment, we now have a facility that all residents can enjoy for years to come.” Muenger points to the improvements in facilities and services. “The experience and diversity of the offerings at the Civic Center are on a completely different level now,” he


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Pell City Civic Center

Upgraded basketball court and suspended walking track

Video and other recreational games says. “We have a first-class fitness and wellness area, a game room, lounge area, new locker rooms, additional tennis courts and a new tennis building. The facility infrastructure was also upgraded, with expanded parking areas to allow us to simultaneously conduct multiple programs.”

Resurfaced and improved tennis courts 42

EASIER SIGNUP AND NEW FEE SCHEDULE Another plus of the computer system upgrade is availability for the first time of online registration for city sports leagues and civic center membership. Before, parents of the hundreds of youth who routinely play sports in city leagues had to come in person and wait in line with cash or check to register their children. Now, it’s all online, along with applying for membership at the civic center and to book facilities there. Memberships and participation in parks and recreation activities is based on interest and residency, Edge says. The Pell City Council recently approved a new fee schedule, which includes annual memberships for family and individuals, tennis memberships, daily guest fees and team fees. More information for membership fees, pricing, and registration are available online at pellcity.recdesk. com or by calling the Pell City Civic Center at 205-338-9713. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

Thanks for helping us Discover

THE BEST OF ST. CLAIR In our second ever, non-scientific polling from our readers, the 2019 “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 2019 winners: • • • • • • • •

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

Best Hamburger -Charlie’s Catfish -Ark Barbecue - Charlie’s Pie - Pell City Steakhouse Cake – Pell City Coffee Three Earred Rabbit Coffee - Pell City Coffee Restaurant - Charlies Fast Food – Dairy Queen, Pell City Jack’s Odenville Chick Fil A, Pell City Lunch Spot - Pell City Steakhouse Onion Rings - Pell City Steak House French Fries - Charlie’s Wings - Big Deddy’s Dinner Spot - Heart of Dixie Seafood - The Ark Ribs - Charlie’s Pizza – Carpanetti’s Steak - Louie’s Grill Asian Food - Oishi Country Cooking - Triple T’s Buffet - City Market Sandwiches - J&S Country Store Salads - Heart of Dixie Meat ‘n Three - Triple T’s Breakfast Spot - Jack’s, Pell City Mexican Food – Guadalajara El Cazador Historic Site - Looney House Kayaking & Canoeing – Yak the Creek Boating - Logan Martin Fishing - Logan Martin Hiking - Horse Pens 40 Biking - Pell City Lakeside Park

• Scenic Spot - Horse Pens 40 Inzer House Looney House Logan Martin Pirate Island • Gift Shop - Main Street Drugs • Park - Pell City Lakeside Park • Splash Pad - Pell City • Picnic Area - Pell City Lakeside Park • Farm - Hardwick • Skiing - Logan Martin • Personal Watercraft Riding - Logan Martin • Non Profit Group -Moody Miracle League • Civic Club -National Society Daughters • • of the American Revolution • Broken Arrow Chapter Pell City • Church Group - Friendship Baptist • • Professional Group - Pell City BPW • • Recreational Group • Springville Youth Soccer Pell City Gateway Garden • Pell City Parks and Recreation Birmingham Sailing Club • Pell City Line Dancers • Library - Pell City • • Doctor – Dr. Michael Dupre, Northside Medical • • Dentist – Dr. James Roe • Pediatrcian - Dr. Hunter Russell, Northside Purohit Pediatrics Springville Pediatrics • Orthodontist - PT Orthodontics • Chiropractor - Webber • • Pharmacist - Curt Eddy • Pharmacy - Main Street Drugs • • Lawyer – Erskine Funderburg • Jeweler - Griffins • • Florist - Flower Art by Vanessa • • Hair Salon - • Shear Genius, Odenville Southern Roots • • Hair Stylist -Ashley Windham • Nail Salon - Le Nails • Manicurist - John at Tranquil Spa • • Massage Therapist Renee Collier • Andrea Brown • Physical Therapist -Tyler McGrady • Insurance Company - MB Financial • Insurance Agent • Cayce Wilson • Brooke Tollison •

Realty Company - Lake Homes Realtor - Nicole Anderson Mortgage Company - Coosa Valley Mortgage Bank - Metro Antiques - Tims Boat Dealership – Rodney’s Marine Boat Sales Executive – Rodney Humphries Boat Mechanic - Paul Davis, Trident Automobile Dealership - Town and Country Automotive Sales Executive - Adam Green Chris Cole Ronald Beavers Doug Bailey Mark Johnson Norman Wilder Automobile Repair - Willie’s Garage, Odenville Home Builder - Charlie’s Construction Interior Designer - Gerald Ensley Upholstery - Echols Clothes Store Boutique - Uptown Girls Caterer Polly Green Polly Warren Grocery Store or Market – Publix, Pell City Artist Sondra Carlisle David Foote Anita Bice Photographer - Kelsey Bain Woodworking - David Foote Potter - Tena Payne, Earthborn

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Pell City Rotary Giving back to the community it serves

Golf tournament fundraiser

Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Matthew Pope and Joe Paul Abbott When 25 businessmen founded Pell City Rotary Club in 1974, it had as its centerpiece the Rotary motto – Service Above Self. The projects that followed for this fledgling club would benefit countless individuals and organizations here at home and around the world. As today’s Pell City Rotary Club celebrates its 45th anniversary, its membership roster is approaching 90 men and women who still hold Service Above Self as their guide. Just take a look around the community, and Rotary’s hand in many a good work can be found – like the sensory room at Williams Intermediate to help autistic children smoothly transition into a school setting or the many other programs to which it awards grants. Rotary’s ‘investments’ also include: Features of Lakeside Park, Pell City Center for Education and the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian and Alabama Humanities Foundation’s


traveling exhibit, The Way We Worked, Easterseals Community Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Children’s Place, Christian Love Pantry, Boy Scouts, St. Clair Literacy Council, Toys for Kids, Library Guild, YWCA, Mustard Seed Society, Ann’s New Life Center, Logan Martin Tennis Association, PCHS Show Choir, Kennedy Elementary School and the Pell City Education Foundation. Of course, there are plenty more of the worthiest of causes where Rotary plays a vital role. Add to that the seed money for future leaders. Many of them are now in Pell City and across the country, the beneficiaries of Rotary Club Scholarships, a sizable boost for Pell City High School graduates heading to college. Globally, Pell City Rotary’s reach is found in the movement to wipe out polio, providing clean drinking water for developing nations and providing eye exams and glasses to children in Belarus.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

Because you give, we can give… Pell City Rotary Club says thanks to our 2019 Ray Cox Memorial Golf Tournament Sponsors! Bill Hereford Sarah M. Brazzolotto LLC Technical Consulting Service Inc. Davis Worley Union State Insurance James W. Bedsole Eyecare JCSC Service Allstate Insurance, Corey Bline Coosa Valley Mortgage Metro Bank Kilgroe Funeral Home Superior Motors Discount Motors Henderson’s Builders Supply Town & Country Ford Therapy South Eden Family Dentistry Ford Meter Box Woods Surfside Marina Allen Service Company ALFA, Brooke Tollison Barnett, Jones and Wilson LLC McSweeney Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Goodgame Company Fields Gossett Realty Johnny’s Electric Phoenix Energy Group Gilreath Printing Merrill Lynch, Chad Richey State Senator Jim McClendon

Admiral Dennis Brooks State Rep. Randy Wood Logan Martin LakeLife Trussell, Funderburg, Rea & Bell Blair Parsons Royal Foods Usrey Funeral Home Hugh Holladay Lovejoy Realty Griffins Jewelers Trotter Foundation Robert L. Howard Veterans Home Douglas Manufacturing Stone and Son Electrical Contractors Bain and Co. Northside Medical Ray Miller Four Star Homes LLC Southland Golf Cart Sales Allstate Insurance, Preston Rhodes

Municipal Consultants Paul and Marie Manning Harvest Center Church Leeds Stained Glass BSE Industrial Contractors Hill, Gossett, Kemp and Hufford Patricia Couch Classic Home Mortgage, Teresa Carden State Rep. Jim Hill Robinson Law Firm The Bain Team Rodney’s Marine Center Tradesman ERA King Lakeside Landing B.G. Simmons Sheriff Billy Murray Jay Watson Crossings Contractors LLC Cypress Hawthorne

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,

Pell City Rotary • Service Above Self Where giving starts

Rotarians are poised to make a difference in the community and beyond because they roll up their sleeves and get to work on three major fundraisers each year that provide the seed money for these worthwhile efforts. The Ray Cox Memorial Golf Tournament leads the list, enabling the club to provide much of its funding for charitable works. The Rotary Club Tennis Tournament, set this year for Oct. 10 at Pell City Tennis Center, is a community event that is growing each year. And Rotarians use it as a teachable moment for youths, telling them about the impact of their participation. By playing, they, too, are helping raise money to give back to the community. Begun just a few years back, the Rotary Father Daughter Dance has quickly become a highlight of the year that yields benefits on multiple levels. Not only does it raise money for grants, it brings daddies and daughters together in a truly communitywide event, sure to be a special memory both father and daughter will savor for a long time to come. “It has built every year,” said Rotary President Meg Clements. “It is highly successful.” Rotary’s approach to this fundraiser is to keep pricing low and bolster its accessibility to the entire community.

Strength in members

A club like Pell City Rotary is only as strong as its members. Just as its new motto implies, it’s “Where service and leadership meet.” It’s where service is the main order of the day – any day. Clements’ own service began at a young age when she volunteered at an American Legion pancake breakfast. It was an ideal instilled in her from her grandparents, the late Hugh Williamson, a former Pell City mayor, and Amelia Williamson, a former teacher. “They always encouraged me to do community service,” she said. While she noted that her service doesn’t differ from the nearly 90 members of the club when it comes to giving back to the community, she singled out Elmer Harris, former Alabama Power Co. president, who has been an inspiring example of service inside and outside the club. When the new Pell City Municipal Complex opened, one of its leading features is a banquet hall that serves as Rotary’s meeting room. It is equipped with cutting edge technology, linens, china and silverware. He wanted it to be a place Rotary and the community could be proud of, and he set out to make it happen. “He is the most gracious individual I have ever come in contact with,” she said. “He believes it is something he is able to do, so he does it. I can’t say enough about everything Elmer has done for Pell City Rotary and the City of Pell City. He has the best giving heart.”


Father-daughter dance

A test for community service

Harris is but one example of giving. Rotarians have guiding principles they recite at the conclusion of every meeting. It’s the same test recited by Rotarians around the world, called The Four Way Test Of the things we think, say or do: 1. Is it the TRUTH? 2. Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? 4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? It is meant to be a guide to life and profession for members. As you look around the community where good works are in play, Pell City Rotarians appear to have aced that test. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


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Those who serve ST. CLAIR REMEMBERS

At 99, memory of French Liberation still clear to World War II vet

Story by Scottie Vickery Contributed Photos As First Lieutenant William E. Massey plummeted 26,000 feet toward the ground, the 23-year-old bomber pilot realized he had reached the end. “This is my last mission,” he thought. “It’s all over.” It was June 19, 1944, and Massey was flying his 19th mission in World War II when his B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down over Jauldes, a small village in France. Hurtling through the air, he worked frantically, managing to partially attach his parachute to his harness and pull the rip cord just in time. After a miraculous landing, he spent more than two months with members of the French Underground, who helped hide him and other Allied soldiers and airmen from the Germans. “We were on a mission that took 76 days,” Massey said, recounting his story just days before the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris on August 24. “I like to tell my story. Most people think that war is just shooting at each other, but there’s a lot more behind a military life.”

B-17 Flying Fortresses during the liberation of France DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019



Massey in front of a B-17 Flying Fortress

Massey, who will celebrate his 99th birthday in November, has lots of memorabilia decorating his room at the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City. There’s a framed map of France – the one he carried the day he was shot down – and a large photo of a B-17 cockpit. A collection of awards dot the walls, as well, including a 2015 letter stating that he would be presented with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest order of merit. He accepted the award in January 2016 on behalf of all the soldiers who volunteered their services during the war. “They say that 1 in 4 airmen didn’t make it back,” said Massey, who flew with the 401st Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force out of England. “So many paid the ultimate price.” 50

Cockpit of a B-17G, the plane Massey flew

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019




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The letter notifying his family he was missing in action.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

ST. CLAIR REMEMBERS Some of Massey’s medals on display.

Volunteering for service

Born in Bessemer, Massey was 21 when he enlisted shortly after the U.S. entered the war in 1941. He saw a poster for Aviation Cadet Training and knew that’s what he wanted to do. “I had never been in an airplane,” he said. “I’d never been off the ground. I had such a desire to fly, though, I knew I could do it.” He had 240 hours of training before his first mission and eventually flew two separate missions on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy. The fateful flight, which he wasn’t scheduled to make, came 13 days later. “One of the pilots showed up drunk, and his crew refused to fly with him,” Massey said. “They asked me if I wanted to just take his place or go with my own crew. We had flown 18 missions together, and I knew

The telegram notifing his family he was alive and back in service.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019



Massey and the survivors returned after the war to visit the area.

what each man was capable of doing, so I chose to take my own crew.” They were headed for an airfield in Bordeaux. “Our intelligence had learned that the Germans had amassed large numbers of troops and equipment to combat the invasion. The mission was to destroy the airport and as much of the equipment as possible,” he said. Thirty minutes from their target, they ran into antiaircraft fire. The cockpit filled with smoke, and Massey knew the plane’s hydraulic system had been hit. “There was no chance in putting that fire out, so I immediately hit the bail out switch,” he said. “At an altitude of 26,000 feet, the temperature runs about 32 degrees below zero. I was trying to buckle my chute to my harness, but my hands were so cold, I couldn’t get them to function right.” Finally, as the air grew warmer closer to ground, he managed to get the left buckle hooked with about 3,000 feet to spare. “The ground was coming fast,” he said, and he had to decide whether to keep trying to fully attach the chute or pull the rip cord with just one buckle attached. “That’s what I did, and thankfully it opened clean and blossomed out,” he said. “The jolt was so strong it pulled my boots off. I hit the ground in my stocking feet.” Massey knew he could see German soldiers at any time, so he hid himself and his parachute in the woods. He 54

Massey in his flight gear.

tried to catch the attention of a French farmer in a nearby pasture but was unsuccessful. A little later, another farmer came by and seemed to be searching for something. “I took a chance the old gent told him where the American airman was,” Massey said. “I summed that one up just right. He had a horse cart filled with hay. He hid me under it and off we go. Where, I didn’t know.” Massey spent the night in a barn, hiding in the hayloft. The next day, the man brought two more members of Massey’s crew – 2nd Lt. Lewis Stelljes, a bombardier, and Sgt. Francis Berard, a waist gunner – who had also survived the crash. They later learned that the seven other members of the crew perished on the plane, a reality that still haunts Massey today.

A network of safety

The man who helped them was part of the French Underground, which maintained escape networks to protect Allied soldiers and airmen from the Germans. It was one effort of the French Resistance, which sabotaged roads and airfields and destroyed communications networks to thwart the enemy. It also provided intelligence reports to the Allies, which was vital to the success of D-Day. “Their job was to be a nuisance,” Massey said. “They

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

honor those who served and those whoserved serve. WeWe honor those who have and those who serve

Thank you to all of our Veterans and their Families

Thank you to all of our Veterans (205) 884-2265 and their Families (205) 884-2265

ST. CLAIR REMEMBERS were going to look after us, and we were going to stay and fight with them. From then on out, we moved about quite frequently to different houses. We mostly slept in barns.” Massey fondly remembers a 5-year-old girl who occasionally brought them food, which was getting scarce in France. “It was normally a piece of bread, cheese or a boiled egg, but Lord have mercy, it sure was good,” he said. Eventually they met a man named Joe, who said he was a member of the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency. He promised to help them escape. “One night, a cargo plane came in with more ammunition and food,” Massey said. “When it took off to return to England, there were three happy Americans on board. We were on our way home.” During a debriefing with an intelligence officer, Massey learned that paperwork supporting his promotion to captain had been sent in the same day his plane went down. When he asked about the status, the officer told him, “It will catch up with you.” The promotion never did, and it is one of Massey’s biggest regrets. “I was presumed dead, and they didn’t promote dead men. I worked for years to get it straightened out,” he said, adding that records from the 8th Air Force were destroyed when the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri burned down in the 1970s. “Getting shot down changed my whole life, but I was happy to be able to do something for my country. My country has done so much for me.” Massey returned home and attended the University of Alabama, where he earned an industrial engineering degree and met his wife. The couple raised two children and were married for 56 years before she passed away. Massey, who worked for General Motors for 31 years and retired in 1980, continued to fly with a Reserve unit for about six years. In 1961, Massey, Stelljes and Berard returned to France for the dedication of a monument honoring the crash survivors and the seven men who perished. While there, they visited with many of the people who helped them escape, even reconnecting with 21-year-old Jean Marie Blanchon, who had brought them food when she was 5. Shortly after the trip, Massey was quoted in The Birmingham News as saying, “We were there to thank them, but they were still thanking us for coming over to fight for their liberation.” For years, Massey continued to correspond with the mayor of Jauldes, who wrote the following in an undated letter to the American airman:

The last place they hid before escaping

Massey looks through a scrapbook in his room at the Col. Robert Howard Veterans Home in Pell City.

Every year on the 8th of May (Victory in Europe Day) the population goes to the monument and after ringing bells to the dead, the mayor places a wreath and observes a moment of silence. Nobody here has forgotten the sacrifice of your compatriots. 56

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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The St. Clair County Commissioners proudly honor our veterans. They are what makes St. Clair County second to none.

Left to right: Commissioner Tommy Bowers District Three, Commissioner Jimmy Roberts District Four, Commissioner Jeff Brown District One, Commissioner Ricky Parker District Two, and Chairman Paul Manning (Seated).


Three veterans, three wars,

ALL VOLUNTEERS Stories from Korea, Vietnam and Iraq Story and photos by Graham Hadley Contributed photos Three wars, three generations, three soldiers — all U.S. Marines and all volunteered for service. And all said, without hesitation, they would do it again. Retired from service now and living in the Col. Robert Howard Veterans Home in Pell City, the three soldiers recounted their experiences in the military and how that service has defined who they are and how they have led their lives.

Sgt. John Weaver, Korean War

Tough – no better word describes retired Marine Sgt. John Weaver. Even in his 80s, wearing his trademark kilt, the veteran soldier, a member of the elite Marine Recon unit, exudes an unfailing determination and inner strength. But Weaver says that is not always how people saw him. Before his service in the Korean War, he first had to prove himself in the U.S. Marine Corps Basic Training Camp at Parris Island, S.C. The USMC training is notoriously difficult, and Weaver says he did not appear to fit the bill because, in his words, he is so short. “At Parris Island, I was the little guy,” he said with a grin. On the obstacle course, the recruits have to scale a tall, vertical wood wall. “Boy did they put it to me on that wall, and boy did I make it over. They never thought I would. “So, I got a running start, kicked my foot as hard as I could into the bottom board, got a toehold, and launched myself over the wall. My sergeant looked at me and said, ‘Weaver, do that again.’ So I did, again and again,” he said. That rigorous training only stepped up a notch as he continued to prove himself, earning a spot in Recon. “I was hell on wheels. We all were. Recon was like a Marine Corps inside the Marine Corps. The other soldiers would not even walk across the grass in front of our barracks.” His small stature quickly became an asset. He could move through places other Marines could not fit, and he did so silently – a trick he learned from his father, who had been in the Canadian military – allowing him to take 58

John Weaver enemies by surprise. “That was one of the first things my father taught me. And I remember it to this day. He was tough, too.” Weaver was also a crack shot, particularly with his two weapons of choice, the Springfield M-1 Garand battle rifle – our main infantry rifle in both World War II and Korea – and the standard military 1911 .45-caliber pistol. “The first time on the range with the M-1, I put every round through the bull’s eye. I am a crack shot,” he said. Something he has passed on to his children, teaching them how to shoot and safely handle a firearm as they grew up. One daughter is so good she is a marksmanship instructor, something Weaver is very proud of. That toughness and skillset proved invaluable to Weaver when he was deployed to Korea in the closing months of war in late 1952 and early 1953. During his time in

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

American Marines attack an enemy position with grenades north of Kumwha, Republic of Korea.

ST. CLAIR REMEMBERS combat, he racked up an impressive list of medals, both from the U.S. military and the South Korean Government, eventually receiving one of their highest military honors, the equivalent of the Medal of Honor in the United States. Like many veterans, Weaver says he does not often talk about his time in combat, especially with people who have not been there. “Most people who have not done it just don’t understand,” he said. He does not sugar coat his experiences. “My job was to kill the enemy soldiers. And I was good at it. Very good at it. And I don’t feel remorse for it. Don’t get me wrong, there were times I was shooting them, killing them and killing them, and there were tears in my eyes – they were soldiers, too, and they were doing the exact same thing I was. But I was better at it. I don’t feel bad about it then, and I don’t feel bad about it now. It was what I had to do, kill them.” At one point, Weaver, three other Marine sergeants and a private were all that was left of their unit, trying to hold a piece of ground against advancing North Korean and Chinese units. “We kept shooting and shooting. Some of us were wounded, but we kept shooting. That was what I received some of my medals for. I must have killed 200 of them that day, maybe more. There were only five of us left. I kept firing and firing, even after I was hit. “The other men with me had guts, real guts – guts, guts, guts. I was not going to let them down. Even after I was wounded twice.” Those five men held out for almost a day against continual opposition from advancing soldiers until they were eventually relieved by U.S. reinforcements. “They said we killed more than 500 people that day. I am not proud of it, I am not embarrassed by it, I don’t feel bad about it, even now. We were tough, and we had to do it. It was war and that was our job.” Eventually, in the summer of 1953, the Korean War was halted and Weaver returned home. He never intended to leave his beloved Marine Corps, but he knew if he wanted to be a better Marine, he needed better education. “I had dropped out of school at 17 to join up. I knew I needed more education,” he said. He began attending school to finish up his high school education and more, always intending to return to the Marines. “But then I got married, and that ended that,” he said. Eventually he got a job in the food industry, and actually worked for years with a fellow member of the Marine Recon unit who had seen service in Korea. “We just knew who we were without having to talk about it. We were Marines. “We were Marines in Korea, we were Marines then, I am still a Marine, and I will always be a Marine. If I could go back today, I would,” said the veteran, steady eyes looking out from under his Marine Recon cap. 60

Joe Stephens His advice for people looking to enlist today? Consider it an honor to serve your country, but make the decision very carefully. “Those were rough times. I remember every day everything I did then. … It is no little decision to join the Marines,” Weaver said, but he would join back up in an instant.. “I am just an old Marine at heart. I am still a Marine,” he said proudly.

Sgt. Joe Stephens, Vietnam

Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Joe Stephens is quick to downplay his role during the Vietnam War. As an aviation mechanic, he was not on the front lines and only rarely came under fire, usually from missiles or unguided rockets aimed toward his base. But his actions prove that many of the soldiers on the front lines owe their lives to the people supporting them from the rear. Like all the other soldiers interviewed, Stephens was not drafted, he volunteered. Originally from Oxford, the small-town Alabama environment played a big part in that decision. “I was really patriotic. The flag in school was very important. I was fascinated with history, how we won our

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019



F-4B phantoms used by the Marine Corps in Vietnam independence. I wanted to serve our country,” he said. But it was a strange time to be serving in the military, the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 70s, with peace protests at Kent State, the deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and President Nixon’s back and forth on the United State’s position in Vietnam, eventually leading to our withdrawal from the war. “I volunteered right after Kent State. And after I was deployed overseas in a combat zone, we would hear the news about what was going on back home. There was lots of stress. And there was real racial stress, too,” he said. But they were soldiers in a war zone and had jobs to do. His was to maintain aircraft, particularly the F4 Phantom, the mainstay multi-role fighter jet for the U.S. military in Vietnam, and the iconic Bell UH-1 Iroquois Huey helicopters that have become something of the symbol of the war for our country. He also worked on the twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook helicopter – another workhorse of the military in Vietnam. And he loved his work. He was so good at it that, after the war, he was stationed in the United States training others how to work on airplanes stateside until his discharge. While he was rarely directly in harm’s way, Stephens’ first experience in country was stepping off the transport with warning sirens blaring. “I was just standing there with my gear and had no idea what was going on or where I was supposed to go. The sirens were going off and people were running everywhere. I eventually followed some other soldiers into a bunker,” he said. There were mountains between them and the enemy and larger American military installations, so they were rarely the target. Still, that day, part of the base he was at actually took damage either 62

from rockets or a missile. Stephens’ unit was part of the Marine Corps, but they lent support to anyone on the ground who needed it. That need could come at a moment’s notice. So they kept several aircraft at the ready on what he called the “hot pad”, with pilot, mechanics and flight crew on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “If a unit got in trouble, we could get there as fast as possible,” he said. “We always had three to four aircraft at the ready. We would sit out there 12 hours at a time. We took pride in how fast we could get a plane in the air. “All of us knew the importance of being able to help our fellow Marines out there.” And if that 12-hour rotation he had do meant he missed out on leave or other activities, then that was a price Stephens was more than willing to pay. “I even missed seeing Bob Hope when he came.” Half way through his tour in-country, Nixon started pulling U.S. troops out of Vietnam. Stephens credits his Marine Corps with being crafty – “They started pulling out non-combat troops. I was put on a ship to Okinawa, Japan, and thought I was going home.” But the Marines knew, despite the order to remove about half their forces from Vietnam, they needed the support for their troops still on the ground. “So they put us on another ship (the Marine equivalent of a light aircraft carrier) and parked us right off the coast of Vietnam so we could still do our jobs and not technically be on the ground in Vietnam. I had thought I might be going home, but instead we were right back at work” with their aircraft running missions from the ship instead of from an airstrip. He spent the entire second half of his tour at sea. Stephens did not mind, it meant he never missed a day of combat pay, though he did say he much preferred being on land in Vietnam. “The ship felt cramped,” he said. And they were also at the mercy of the sailors, especially when it came to taking the ship into port for leave either in Japan, Hong Kong or the Philippines. But for all his time overseas, Stephens does not regret enlisting or any of his time in the military. “I got to see all sorts of things no small-town Alabama boy would have gotten to do,” he said, noting particularly he got to check off a childhood dream. “I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club and Disney on TV in Oxford. I never thought I would get to go there. But for a while, I was stationed in California. I got to go to Disneyland. I went almost every leave I had. It was a dream of mine to go. Back then, you had tickets for everything. On my last day, I had all these tickets left over, I just gave them to a mother and her son and told them to ‘Enjoy themselves.’ That never would have happened if I had not joined up.” And better yet, he got to fly in many of the aircraft he worked on. Whether it was for work or travel, he spent a lot of time in the air. “If we needed to go somewhere or had leave and wanted

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

A model Bell UH-1 Iriquois ‘Huey’ helicopter Joe keeps in his room

to go, we would just find a pilot who was willing and we would go.” Even in peace time, enlisting is a big decision, but even more so during war. Stephens says he would enlist again, but like Weaver, says it is a big decision for anyone to make. “Today, the military is still a good career, but it is something to think about before doing it. It takes dedication and desire. It is not something to be taken lightly,” he said.

Sgt. James Bryant, Iraq

James Bryant did double duty for his country. Not only is he a former Marine, after his enlistment with the Marine Corps was over, he signed up with the Army Reserves. And for Bryant, the military has been a life-saver, literally. He gladly served his country, and the military has returned the favor. Bryant suffers from Huntington’s disease, sometimes called Huntington’s chorea, a genetic neurological disorder that can be treated, but not cured. It has been described as having ALS and Parkinson’s at the same time and runs in families. Bryant has served his country as a Marine and the Army DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019



a place he is quick to tell you has greatly improved his life. He says he loves living there, with other veterans and people he can relate to. “They treat me great,” he said. And the military has been instrumental in helping cover the expenses for treating his condition and providing a comfortable and active living environment. His only regret? Bryant is an avid University of Alabama fan. You can instantly spot him in his crimson and white shirt in the common areas of the VA home – but no matter how many times he asks, they won’t let him paint all the walls in his room the trademark Crimson. But aside from that, he is quick to thank the military for serving him after he has given so much of his life serving his country. And like the others, he would sign up again without hesitation if given the opportunity. l

Preparing for deployment to Iraq and deployed to Iraq during Desert Storm, said his sister, Diane Dover of Ohatchee. Originally from Panama City, Florida, he enlisted young and was heavily influenced by family members in the military. “I always wanted to serve my country. Growing up, people like my godfather, who was in the Air Force, were important to me,” he said. He has nothing but praise for his military experience. In fact, after his discharge from the Marine Corps, he took on several jobs, including working as a professional truck driver, but it never was the same. “I missed being in the military,” he said, so he signed up for the Army Reserves. “I decided to go back, and it was the best thing I ever did.” And that decision has had a huge impact on his life today. One of his commanding officers noticed Bryant was exhibiting similar symptoms to one of his own family members and recommended he immediately see a doctor, who made the Huntington’s diagnosis. Dover said the illness runs in her family, and she has already lost several siblings to it. And while there is no cure, there are treatments that can make huge differences in the quality of life for patients – the earlier the better. Having the officer spot the problem early on has helped Bryant. Because Huntington’s affects everything from speech to the ability to walk and fine motor skills, he has moved to the Col. Robert Howard Veterans Home in Pell City, 64

James Bryant was one of thousands of American soldiers who took part in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


today and always.

256-245-4776 - Sylacauga. Childersburg. Moody. Alex City

Metro Bank

30 years of community-centered banking success Story and photos by Carol Pappas Submitted photos

For those who were around in the early days, Metro Bank’s success could be captured in a single image: Founder and President Ray Cox in his office surrounded by newspaper clippings to be laminated and sent to people who had been recognized – whether it was a huge honor or a small achievement. It was his signature act, letting people know he noticed their accomplishments. A personal note handwritten by him was the usual accompaniment. He made people feel special. If they came in the bank, he always called them by name. That was 30 years ago when he dreamed of a community bank that would one day be the heart of Pell City, making people feel special and growing businesses with seed investment to help them get their start and then flourish on their own.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Metro Bank “Ray set the tone,” said Metro President and CEO Jason Dorough. “He didn’t want to be the biggest bank, he wanted to be the best bank. He had a way of lighting up the room. He had that presence about him. He was a master at it.” Cox passed away of cancer in 2005 at the age of 54, but not before he built the sturdiest of foundations for what is now the 12th largest bank in the state. Along the way, Metro has returned $32 million to local shareholders in dividends. That first dividend check was important to Cox. He wanted to give back to those who believed in him and in his bank. He handed out as many of those checks personally as he could. As the cliché goes, he was like a kid at Christmas, only he was Santa. Of course, it wasn’t easy to get to that point, and Cox earned a reputation of being “tight. He squeezed a dollar,” Dorough said, barely disguising the amusement of it as he recalled. He opened the bank with a manual typewriter, and employees used hotel pens and pencils Cox collected over the years when he traveled as an auditor. He would even instruct employees to turn the pencil every so often to keep them sharp, Dorough said.

Ray Cox at the beginning

Emory Cox, Ray’s son, with Board Member Joe Dorough 68

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

Jason Dorough, president and CEO

Relationships are not the only thing we build, but they are the most important.

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Goodgame Company, Inc., is an award-winning supplier of the American Buildings Company.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Metro Bank Anniversary worth celebrating

This year marks 30 years since Metro Bank first opened its doors in a mobile home on the property where the bank’s headquarters now stand. There were eight original employees – three of whom are still with the bank today, Jeanette Allen, Renee Nunnelly and Reva Dorough. Ray was working for the FDIC as an auditor. He knew Pell City was growing at the time, and there was plenty of room for another bank to enter the landscape. He and others raised $2 million in stock to capitalize the bank. Today, it would have taken $20 million. And they built assets worth over $740 million. Other banks might rival those numbers, but they bought other banks to get there. Metro relied on organic growth, opening new branches and hiring locally as much as they could. Today’s employment roster stands at 170 in its three locations in Pell City and branches in Moody, Ragland, Lincoln, Heflin, Ashville and Southside. There’s even an ATM in Odenville. The original building, which replaced the temporary one was built in 1989 and was 4,700 square feet. In 1998, 13,300 square feet were added. And in 2009, the latest addition meant another 29,646 square feet, bringing the size of Metro to 47,646 square feet. But through all that growth, Metro has remained “like family,” Dorough said. He talked of his own growth within the bank. He has been there 28 of its 30 years. “We all consider it one big family.” For him personally, “Being able to lead our employees and do it in a town where you were born and raised, it certainly means a lot. The bank’s been my life.” It’s a daunting experience as well. “It’s certainly an honor. I have big shoes to fill. We’ve had great leaders who showed me the way, and I want to continue that. They were all different, but they all had the same goal – be the best bank you can be, give the best return for your customers, be the best for your employees and be an asset to our community.” After Cox died, Don Perry succeeded him as president and CEO. While their styles were different, their philosophies of community banking mirrored one another. Perry is credited with giving so many businesses their start, just like Cox, and his commitment to community involvement was evident. He believed in giving back to


Industry of Year

The original, temporary headquarters

Employee activities are part of being in the Metro ‘family’.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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Metro Bank the community, and he believed in growth of the bank through strong relationships. Perry shared Cox’s philosophy of lending money not so much according to the rules but relying on a belief in the person. “It may not fit in the loan policy, but he believed in the person,” Dorough said. Perry began his career at the bank a month before Dorough. “He was senior lender until Ray passed away, and he became president. He had a big influence on the bank. He had a big influence on me. He carried on with the bank the way Ray set it up.” Cox and Perry were “totally different” in their styles, Dorough said. “Don was his own person, and he did an excellent job. He understood how the bank was founded. He understood the foundation and added to it.” Perry stepped down as president in 2014 and retired as CEO in 2015. He tragically died of a sudden heart attack in 2017 at age 68.

First annual Ray Cox Blood Drive

Continuing the legacy

Today, Dorough continues the work and the philosophies of his predecessors. He talked of his small town roots, and how they help shape his approach. “In a small town, you know everybody. You know their history. You can relate to people, and people can relate to you. People bank with people. They don’t bank with buildings,” he said. Three of the original employees can attest to Dorough’s sentiments. Renee Nunnelly talked of Cox’s attention to customer service and relationships. He would give employees a list of bank customers and encourage them to do business with them and support them. Reva Dorough recounted the community involvement aspect – on a company basis as well as an individual one. “Our people are good about giving time,” she said. Jeanette Allen recalled how so many times people would say, “ ‘Ray gave me a chance when no one else would.’ In the hospital, he was still making loans to nurses. That’s the kind of person he was.” Allen also talked of the bank family and its close ties with the community, citing the example of the first Ray Cox Blood


Bank interior as it looks today

Don Perry

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


OPEN FOR BUSINESS Original employees, from left, Jeanette Allen, Reva Dorough and Renee Nunnelly

Cutting edge, fully equipped weight and exercise facility Completely renovated gym, improved seating, indoor walking track Game Room Social Areas

Board members Richard Knight and Greg Bain Drive. “I could not believe the outpouring of love and support from all of the people in the community. The Red Cross had to bring two buses to take care of all the blood donations on Ray’s behalf. The show of compassion touched our Metro Bank Family.” As if to underscore how those countless people on the receiving end of one of Cox’s laminated news stories and personal notes must have felt, Allen plucked a piece of paper from her desk that she’s kept for years. It’s a symbol of recognition from Cox. Signed with his initials, RFC, the words were handwritten and simple, but the meaning runs deep. “Good job!,” it says. At 30 years and counting, the same could be said of Metro Bank. l

Tennis Center New Courts Affordable individual and family memberships available

Pell City CiviC Center

Mon-Fri 6am-9pm, Sat 8am-9pm and Sun 1pm-6 pm 2801 Stemley Bridge Rd. Pell City AL 35128 (205) 338-3818

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


St. Clair Alabama Business

Business Review HONDA

Manufacturing of Alabama Louis

EDPA’s Steve Sewell at the Honda Economic Impact presentation at Vulcan in Birmingham

A new era begins at Northside

7474 DISCOVER The Essence ofofSt. Clair • October &&& November 2019 DISCOVER Essence St. Clair •••August September 2013 of St. ClairThe •The Business Review 74 DISCOVER The Essence St. Clair October November 2017 DISCOVER The Essence St. Clair •August February &July March 2016 & 2016 DISCOVER The Essence ofof St. Clair & September 2017 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair June July 2017 DISCOVER DISCOVER Essence The Essence of St. Clair of St. ••Clair Clair December June 2016 & & 2015 2017 74• DISCOVER The Essence DISCOVER The Essence ofof St. Clair December 2017 & January January 2018 74 DISCOVER The Essence of St. •••April & May

Story and Photos by Carol Pappas Photos contributed from Honda

Impact on state and St. Clair continues upward climb

Its Alabama beginnings came in a code word: “Bingo.” That was the name of the secret project that brought five counties together in an unparalleled partnership to locate Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in the tiny town of Lincoln. While the leaders of any one of those counties would have celebrated its location within their own borders, they realized the potential impact on the entire region – their constituencies readily included. So, they went to work to lure the Japanese automobile manufacturer to a land where ‘y’all’ eventually became ‘us.’ And 20 years later, that impact those counties dreamed of is unmistakably real. In a five-county ‘thank you’ tour of Calhoun, Etowah, Jefferson, St. Clair and Talladega counties, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama unveiled the latest economic impact results from the plant itself and its Key Tier 1 Suppliers. By the numbers, that’s a $12 billion annual economic impact on Alabama, providing 45,000

Odyssey minivans roll off the line at the plant in Lincoln.

DISCOVER The Essence ofofSt. Clair • October &&& November 2019 DISCOVER The Essence St. Clair •••August September 2013 Business Review •July DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair 75 • 75 DISCOVER The Essence St. Clair October November 2017 75 DISCOVER The Essence St. Clair •August February &July March 2016 & 2016 DISCOVER The Essence ofof 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 & & 2015 2017 DISCOVER The Essence ofof St. Clair December 2017 & January January 2018 75 DISCOVER The Essence of St. •••April & May 75

Business Review

HONDA Manufacturing

jobs and amounting to 5.4 percent of the Gross State Product of Alabama. How does that stack up in St. Clair County? Just add it up: 2,069 total jobs generated; $145.4 million in total earnings and $2.8 million in local sales taxes. “There is no doubt about Honda’s impact on St. Clair County,” said St. Clair Economic Development Council Executive Director Don Smith. He points to real life examples, like the Honda suppliers who have expanded – and expanded again. “The Honda location has been an incredible project for this area but not just in the thousands of high paying jobs or the billions in economic impact,” Smith added. “The project brought the communities in this region together and showed the impact of regional cooperation. The success of this project helped provide the leaders in St. Clair County the blueprint for the EDC on communities working together countywide for the benefit of all their citizens.  It’s been a great success story.” The employment figures underscore the successes felt in St. Clair County. Honda employs more than 600 St. Clair Countians, making it the largest employer in the county that isn’t actually located in the county. Jason Goodgame, vice president of Goodgame Co., tells his own real-life example. Goodgame Co. is now in the top 20 of largest general contractors in Alabama. He once likened it to the centerpiece of a commercial for Honda. “Honda took a small, family-owned company and made us into what we are today.” Similar success stories have played out all over the region and state, said


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

EYE CARE THAT’S CLOSE TO YOUR HOME. FOR THOSE WHO ARE CLOSE TO YOUR HEART. UAB Callahan Eye Hospital Clinic in Pell City offers the full spectrum of adult and pediatric eye care, including same day appointments. Plus, it’s backed by the knowledge, experience and advanced treatments UAB is known for – all conveniently located near your home. Shop our optical store for a variety of designer eyeglass frames. Special discounts available for clinic patients. | 7067 Veterans Pkwy, Ste. 240, Pell City, AL 35125


Business Review

HONDA Manufacturing

Honda Logistics ribbon cutting

Steve Sewell, executive vice president of EDPA, who worked with efforts to bring Honda to Alabama from the beginning. Projections back then versus reality now: • 6,800 jobs projected statewide – 45,000 actual jobs created so far • $186 million payroll projected – $1.3 billion in actual earnings to Alabama households • $2.1 billion direct and indirect impact income – $12 billion actual impact Bringing the numbers closer to home, Sewell cited projections versus reality for St. Clair County: • 760 jobs forecast – more than 2,000 filled • $5.9 million in earnings predicted – more than $145 million earned • $164,000 expected in new tax revenue – more than $2.8 million collected Eighteen years after production began, Sewell said, “It has been a phenomenal success story beyond anyone’s expectations.”


Celebrating the Ridgeline arrival

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Business Directory

Business Cards


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Business Directory

Business Cards


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Business Review

Building Pell City

Construction from one end of the city to the other

More stores opening next to Publix.

Story by Linda Long Photos by Graham Hadley Pell City looks a lot like boom town these days. From medical care to hardware, fast food to homes, new construction is sprouting up like spring flowers on a May day. And as predicted, retail is on the move. According to City Manager Brian Muenger, U.S. 231 South is a major contender for the location of new development. It joins the I-20/U.S. 231 hub, known traditionally as the hot spot for new business. “People are beginning to see 231 South as a viable area for investment,” he said. “We’ve had a huge amount of interest lately, particularly in that area south of town. Three medical facilities are either being expanded or under new construction. At the same time, we’ve got multiple inline shopping options being built adjacent to the Publix parking lot. All that is happening at the same time.”


Muenger said the entire outparcel development at Publix includes the construction of five retail spaces totaling 8,000 square feet, with a prospect of 5,000 more to be developed adjacent to the original space in the future. So far, no tenant names have been released. However, one very well-known name is moving into the area, Ace Hardware, complete with new inventory and a new image. To be located in the now vacant furniture store at the corner of Cropwell Drive and U.S. 231 South, the store is expected to open in the next few months. Muenger says the new Ace will be similar to the company’s other new stores recently opened in Tuscaloosa and Gulf Shores. “Their inventory now reflects more of a lifestyle brand type store, and their items are geared to target homeowners along the lake,” he said. “They (Ace) really like that area because of its proximity to our lakefront homeowners.” According to Ace’s David Majure, “the new ACE Pinnacle stores carry many lines of merchandise that are not currently being sold in Pell City that we believe would appeal to the lake

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

New life for old building as the new ACE Hardware on 231

Taco Bell’s new location on 231

Alabaster Career Center

109 Plaza Circle - Phone: 205.663.2542

Birmingham Career Center

3214 4th Ave. South - Phone: 205.582.5200

Blountsville Career Center

68644 Main St., Suite 5 - Phone: 205.429.4311

Pell City Career Center

311 Miles Parkway - Phone: 205.338.5440

Walker County Career Center

2604 Viking Drive - Phone: 205.384.4557

AOD Credit Union site next to Zaxby’s off Interstate 20 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019


Business Review crowd. We carry an abbreviated section of hardware, plumbing, electrical and paint with more emphasis on plants, garden and unique items.” Other new businesses underway in Pell City include the AOD Credit Union, which will be built on Vaughan Lane in the coming months and a new, larger Taco Bell is on the drawing board along with another new fast food establishment next to Wendy’s. Both fast food restaurants are to be located on U.S. 231 North. So, what is with all this new business development? Why Pell City and why now? According to Muenger, a combination of factors is contributing to the building boom. In addition to a strong economy in recent years, there is also a synergy of sorts at play where success breeds success. “On 231 South, specifically,” said Muenger, “the success of Publix, Dairy Queen, some of those early occupants, signaled to investors that this is a viable area even though it is somewhat off the interstate. We’re very pleased to see people doing well with their existing businesses down there while also seeing it as a good area for new development. What’s happening is not that new businesses are taking away from existing businesses but rather those established businesses are seeing substantial gains in their sales.” According to Muenger, another factor contributing to the rise in retail is a steady and substantial rise in the retail base. “People who live in that part of town are more likely to patronize those businesses because they’re closer. If you can get what you need closer to home, you’re going to take that option. “What I see,” Muenger continued, “is that our market is just growing, and we’re growing to meet the demand. A lot of people are building houses. This year, already 70-plus new homes have been built, for the third straight year in a row.” Muenger pointed to the new home construction at Fox Hollow with its some 100 new lots under development, as an example. According to Muenger, while the population in Pell City grows, retailers are beginning to realize “what we’ve known for a long time that Pell City is the retail hub for a lot more than just the people who live here. We’ve got 40,000 people that live within a 10-mile radius of the city. While not all of those people shop here exclusively, many of them shop here frequently. So, the buying power you generate with that many people is huge. We are a least an option for many of those people who are choosing to do business here, and we are very grateful for that.” Despite the unarguable fact that Pell City is indeed on the move and progress bound, Muenger says there are needs that aren’t yet addressed. “I still see Pell City as being a market that has yet to be fully utilized by certain segments of developers,” he said, “specifically in the service restaurant area. We have a number of limited service restaurants and some full-service restaurants, but our metrics show there are literally millions of dollars being spent outside our community because people are choosing to drive elsewhere to dine.” Muenger predicts whoever delivers the first large full-service restaurant will “be rewarded greatly in their business success. All the numbers and feedback I hear tell me this is something people really desire and a need that should be addressed in our


Building Pell City

New home construction throughout Fox Hollow

The old hospital is coming down to make room for new business. community. We’re looking forward to satisfying that need in the coming years, and I think we’re headed in that direction.” Muenger says the city has been in discussion with some possible candidates, including some chain restaurants, but he can’t talk specifics right now. Officials also expect a major retail development to locate on the old St. Clair Regional Hospital property on John Haynes Drive and fronting Interstate 20. Demolition of the old facility is the next step.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • October & November 2019

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Profile for Discover The Essence of St. Clair

Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine October & November 2019  

Judge Alan Furr Wake Surfing on Logan Martin, Veterans Tribute section, Artist Joy Varnell, Best of St. Clair Winners, Whitney Junction, Pel...

Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine October & November 2019  

Judge Alan Furr Wake Surfing on Logan Martin, Veterans Tribute section, Artist Joy Varnell, Best of St. Clair Winners, Whitney Junction, Pel...