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Motorcycle Pet Passenger • Crazy Horse Restaurant Local Rosie the Riveter • Log Homes • Storyteller on the Mountain

June - July 2013

Western Author Ralph Compton an Odenville legend

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Features and Articles D iscover The Essence of St. Clair

June - July 2013

Western Author

Ralph Compton an Odenville legend

Page 40 Cover and Index photos by Jerry Martin

Kickstand Up!

Pet passenger a motorcycle easy rider

A Common Past St. Clair Springs log homes

Page 8

Evelyn Does It All From basement to the ‘penthouse’ of catering Evelyn’s Tangy and Spicy Meatballs

Memory Lane

Crazy Horse Beer Cheese Soup

Page 62

Lena Ryan Page 18

Page 20

Page 26 Page 30

St. Clair’s very own Rosie the Riveter


Cultivating stone-age technology

Business News St. Clair growth is no accident

Crazy Horse

Becoming an Argo eatery icon

A special car show for veterans home residents

Page 14

Traveling the Backroads Easonville: A river runs over it

Page 54

Page 32

Springville High School annual event draws crowd

The Persistent Artist

Page 46

Steele’s Lynn Smith paints picture of Success

Page 48

Dolores Hydock

Farm Day

Page 52

Page 64

Storyteller gets schooled on Chandler Mountain

Page 68

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online @

15 2 2 6 u s h w y 411, o d e n v i l l e , a l 14 0 6 4 h w y 7 5 , r e m l a p, a l recycle with us.

Writers AND Photographers

Carol Pappas

Graham Hadley

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

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

Jerry C. Smith

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

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

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

Jerry Martin

Samantha Corona

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

Jane Newton Henry Jane Newton Henry is a freelance writer with an M.A. degree from The University of Alabama. She has retired from Alabama Power Co., where she worked as a writer and editor in the Public Relations Department. She was an adjunct instructor at The University of Alabama and Samford University. Her work has appeared in publications and online. She co-authored Leeds, a pictorial history of the small Alabama city.

Discover The Essence of St. Clair

June -July 2013 • Vol. 12 •

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

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

Printed at Russell Printing, Alexander City, AL.

Discover concludes second year From the Editor As our second year comes to a close for Discover, The Essence of St. Clair, we cannot help but think back on the discoveries we have made about this special place we call home. They have ranged from national championship dogs trained here to unknown wildlife areas to breathtaking homes to the interesting people with unique stories who live right around the corner or across the county. When we created this magazine, it was to facilitate those kinds of discoveries, exploring new angles on familiar places and introducing our readers to what St. Clair County has to offer — old and new alike. As we head into our third year, our mission has not wavered. This issue is testament to that. In it, you will discover that a 92-year-old avid book reader from Ashville has her own story to tell. She was a Rosie the Riveter in World War II, and she even had an airplane named after her. You can read about why Odenville is proud of its native son, Ralph Compton. After all, he became a best-selling western author with 23 books to his credit. You might find of interest how a Steele artist has painted herself a national reputation with Christmas ornaments as her canvas or how a Springville caterer started a business from her basement and built it into a proverbial penthouse. You’ll find these stories and more in this month’s issue of Discover. Come discover them along with us.

Carol Pappas, Editor and Publisher

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 7

Kickstand Up!

Pet passenger an easy rider in St. Clair Story by Jerry Smith Photos by Jerry Martin Mike Enoch enjoys few things more than a leisurely motorcycle ride with his friend Katt on the seat behind him. That doesn’t sound unusual for a Southern boy on a warm summer day, until you realize that Katt is actually a large brown dog. For Mike and Katt, it’s a wondrous association, both enjoying each other’s company in a unique way, with lots of attention from bystanders. Dogs on bikes are not new, but they’re usually just shivery Chihuahuas or yapping Yorkies stuffed into a saddle bag or handlebar pouch. Katt, however, is full-sized — a real man’s dog with no self-esteem issues, and she rides on a seat like the rest of us. And besides, it’s safer and more comfortable than riding in the back of a pickup truck. Pell City folks are becoming accustomed to seeing this eye-catching duo on city streets, but first-timers always do a doubletake when passing them on the road or seeing Mike’s bike parked at a local store, with Katt standing guard while he’s inside taking care of business. Katt is a three year old female pit bull/ mastiff mix, so no other security system is needed for their motorcycle. Katt’s domain is a special shelter Mike fabricated to fit over the rear seat, which also serves as a framework for a carrier that holds camping and fishing equipment. She’s a wellbehaved dog with a warm, salival persona, but it’s probably not a good idea to mess with her bike. Mike raised Katt from a puppy. He explains that her name came from the way she scampered and played, more like a kitten than a puppy. As she matured, the name Cat became a bit unseemly for such a noble

8 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair |

Mike and Katt on Mike’s bike

Kickstand Up! On the open road together

canine, so he morphed it into Katt instead. They ride a dark blue 2001 Honda Shadow 1100cc Sabre. This model has ample power, yet is light and agile enough to get them around on twolane country roads as they explore St. Clair and its environs. The Shadow is his first bike, and Mike has put more than 27,000 miles on it, mostly before Katt started insisting on going along. He explains that once Katt has sensed he is going somewhere, she jumps up on the bike seat and uses all her doggie wiles to make him feel bad for leaving her behind. After a few such drama sessions, Mike relented and built his friend a special carrier to provide safety and shelter. It allows her to watch the road ahead from either side, with her snout usually nestled against his leg or waist. When stopped, Katt absolutely will not jump off the bike unless Mike gives her spoken permission. Mike claims he’s tested her several times, finding that nothing can entice her down, even for hours at a time. In fact, she often sleeps on the bike when they’re at home. During an interview session at Pell City’s Lakeside Park, Katt sat politely and patiently on her padded perch while we talked, but it soon became clear from her body language that she had doggie needs.

10 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013



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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 11

Kickstand Up!

Mike finally relented, ordered her down, and she hit the ground running. After a few laps around the parking lot and nearby woods, all within a perimeter established by Mike’s voice commands, she obediently returned to her post. Mike says Katt already has some 1,000-plus miles under her, uh...collar, with no mishaps or problems at all, and he looks forward to lots more pleasant mileage as they run errands, explore this part of the state, and venture out on fishing and wilderness camping trips. They’ve taken a few longer treks together, such as Stone Mountain, Buck’s Pocket and a campground in Tennessee, but Mike says the norm is less than a hundred miles each way, with several scenic and pit stops so neither man nor pet becomes uncomfortable. At age 51, Mike is the owner-operator of Carpet Solutions Cleaning Co., a local firm specializing in cleaning and treating commercial carpets. It’s hard work, and Mike performs it with due diligence, so having a means of rest and recreation is a

12 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

necessity. Both he and Katt enjoy the natural camaraderie of a man and his dog, along with a growing notability among St. Clair folks. In fact, the interview was interrupted several times by curious park visitors, all with basically the same questions, as well as several honks from passing cars. So what’s in the future for the travel team of Honda, Mike and Katt? Mike says he may try to fit her with goggles (Doggles?) to protect her eyes, and possibly even a doggie helmet, as they expand their travel radius to include more vacations and camping expeditions. Mike also wants to breed her to a full-blooded bull mastiff at least once before she’s neutered, to produce a dog that’s slightly larger than Katt. If her cool demeanor and powerful physique prevails, those pups should make great pets and watchdogs. Does Mike plan to sell his Honda anytime soon? “Nope, she’d probably leave me and go with the bike, and I wouldn’t blame her if she did.” l


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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 13

Evelyn and her gourmet sauces 14 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Evelyn does it all

From basement to ‘penthouse’ of catering Story by Jane Newton Henry Photos by Jerry Martin

Evelyn is shown with her husband, Don, in 1970, when she was named a Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist.

Evelyn Criswell of Springville didn’t intend to become a caterer. But after she was named a finalist in the 1970 Pillsbury Bake-Off, a friend asked her to help cater a wedding, and she agreed. Then, as Evelyn tells the story, “three months before that wedding, she called me again and said her husband had been transferred to Oklahoma. “She said, ‘Evelyn, you’re going to have to do that wedding.’ “I said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that.’ She said, ‘Oh, yes you can. I’m going to leave you all of my equipment, and you do it.’ “So I did it, and from that night on, catering has been a continual thing,” Evelyn said. “I didn’t mean to get into it, but I’ve enjoyed it.” She caters wedding receptions, parties and corporate events, mostly in the Birmingham metropolitan area. She estimates that she has catered the wedding receptions of a thousand brides over the past 40 years. The catering business has changed a lot in that time. “Back then, all you did was two cakes, punch, coffee, mints and nuts,” she said. “Now things are different. They have so much food – they want roast beef and shrimp. We didn’t have all of that years ago.” That change is reflected in the three catering packages listed on her website ( While she still offers the basics — cakes, punch, coffee, mints and nuts, she also serves fruit compotes, cheeses and fresh vegetables, along with options that range from dips and meatballs to shrimp mousse and carved meats. As much as Evelyn enjoys being a caterer, she admits that it’s hard work. “And it’s a lot of work.

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 15

Evelyn Criswell puts the finishing touches on a wedding cake. 16 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Evelyn It takes a toll on your body,” she said. “It’s a nerve-wracking business, because you don’t have time to make things over.” She tells of a near-disaster that happened when she was delivering cakes to a reception in July. “It was hot as blazes, and when I hit a bump with the van, the icing just slid right off one of my cakes. But I always carry extra icing with me. So when we got to Birmingham Country Club, I got in the walk-in freezer with that cake, and I re-iced the cake inside the freezer.” Evelyn credits her mother with teaching her how to cook, beginning at age 8. “Mother could make something out of nothing,” she said. “She would just throw stuff together, and it would taste good.” Her early success in Pillsbury Bake-Offs – she was also a finalist in 1973 and 1978 – attest to the notion that Evelyn, like her mother, has a special talent for developing recipes. She created the recipes for the sauces she uses in her catering work and for the dishes that include those sauces. “Brides and grooms would call me and ask me to make meatballs for their anniversaries or for parties,” she said. “They suggested that I put my meatball sauce on the market, but we didn’t know how.” So in 1995, Evelyn and her husband, Don, located someone with expertise in that area and quickly learned the ins and outs of marketing food products. Within a few months, Evelyn’s Original Gourmet Sauce and Marinade hit the grocery-store shelves. “At the Western Supermarket in Mountain Brook – the first grocery store we sold to, one of the managers liked the sauce and asked for something like 15 cases,” she said. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought that if we sold one case, we’d be doing well.” Evelyn soon followed her original sauce with a Tangy ‘N’ Spicy version. And about a year later, she rolled out three dessert sauces — Dark & Decadent Chocolate Sauce, White Silk Chocolate Sauce and Praline Indulgence — as well as a NonAlcoholic Muscadine Blush punch. Don sells the sauces to gift shops, restaurants and grocery stores throughout Alabama. Some of the recipes for dishes that use these sauces, as well as her winning recipes from Pillsbury Bake-Offs, have been featured in publications such as Southern Living, Southern Living’s Best of 2000 Recipes, A Treasury of Southern Baking, The New York Times Regional Newspapers, and publications from Pillsbury. Her recipes are also available on her website, For the past 18 years, Evelyn has baked and decorated cakes and prepared the food for her catering business in a commercial kitchen in the basement of her Springville home. Her children – Dawn, Keith and Kevin —have worked alongside their mother off and on since they were in high school, washing dishes, loading trucks and setting up cakes. Her husband pitches in whenever he can. She also hires chefs and former caterers to help her on the weekends. After 40 years in the catering business, Evelyn has no plans to retire. “Now I’m catering the wedding receptions of the next generation – the daughters of my first brides and grooms,” she said. “Their mothers track me down. I’ve had them call me and ask, ‘Are you still doing this?’ and I’ll say, ‘Yes, I am. What else would I do?’” l


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Evelyn’s Tangy ‘N’ Spicy Meatballs

Evelyn and her original gourmet sauce

• • • • • •

4 2 4 2 4 4

pounds ground chuck eggs, beaten cups bread crumbs 1/2 teaspoons onion powder teaspoons garlic salt tablespoons Evelyn’s Tangy ‘N’ Spicy Gourmet Sauce or Evelyn’s Original Gourmet Sauce

Mix well and roll into 1 1/2-inch balls. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place on greased baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, turn each meatball. Return to oven and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes, or until done. Drain well. Place in Crock Pot or 12- x 18-inch baking dish. Cover with 2 bottles of Evelyn’s Tangy ‘N’ Spicy Gourmet Sauce or Evelyn’s Original Gourmet Sauce. Heat until bubbly or until heated through. Place into desired serving container.

18 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

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Traveling the



A river runs over it

Former Easonville area, U.S. 231 on left, recent aerial by Jerry Smith 20 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Story by Jerry Smith Photos by Jerry Martin Billy “Pick” Cosper of Easonville, Alabama, faced a most formidable task, requiring great care and attention to detail. He had volunteered to move the earthly remains of his entire pioneer family and others to higher ground, lest their final resting places soon become lost forever beneath the impounded backwaters of the Coosa River. Easonville, founded in 1821, was a quaint, quietly historic little town near the banks of the Coosa. It had everything going for it, except for one fatal flaw — its elevation. When Alabama Power Co. envisioned its Logan Martin Reservoir in the 1950s, it quickly became clear that Easonville would be inundated to an average depth of 20 feet. In Mattie Lou Teague Crow’s History of St. Clair County (1973), Vera Wadsworth, a local lady of pioneer family stock, tells of early life there: “Easonville was once an Indian village. Until about the year 1820, it was beautifully forested and inhabited by Indians and the game which they hunted.... There were many springs and streams nearby, and the deep forests abounded in wildlife. “The older people living in the community can remember hearing Mr. Ira Harmon tell how the Indians and white settlers lived together harmoniously in Coosa Valley.... Around the year 1820, Mr. Bolivar Eason (and family) became the first white people to settle in Easonville....Some of (the later settlers) were people of education, refinement and means. “...The community was known as “Eatand-camp,” as it was a Methodist campground. Every year, people from miles around came there and attended a camp meeting. They came in buggies and wagons, and brought with them food and bedding for their families and feed for their stock.” The town prospered after the Civil War, with a cotton gin, dairy farm, blacksmith shop, grist mill, mercantile stores, and most of the other usual accouterments of a rural farm community. Both Cropwell and Easonville had fine schools which attracted additional students from other areas. The town mellowed well during the early 20th century, eventually becoming a quiet little village with deeply historical roots, eclipsed in growth but not gentility by larger cities to the north and south. Dr. Betty (Ingram) Cosper, who once taught school at Coosa Valley Elementary, grew up in Easonville. She describes the town during the 1940s and 1950s as “rural USA,” populated mostly by outlying farmers and perhaps 200 townsfolk.

Easonville in the 1940s

Easonville School frame section built in 1888 June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 21

Traveling the


Easonville School

Easonville Methodist, on blocks for moving, would become Coosa Valley Baptist. 22 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

She recalls her family’s dairy farm, horse-drawn wagons bringing cotton to Harmon’s Gin, smoke and metallic din from the blacksmith shop, five-cent loaves of bread at Harmon’s Store, church socials and voyaging out of town to the movie theater at Pell City. Two cemeteries were also part of the civic infrastructure of this pioneer settlement, replete with names familiar to anyone cognizant of southern St. Clair County history. Among them were Wadsworth, Waite, Ingram, Willingham, Maddox, Drake, Harmon, Lee, Hayes, Ross, Funderburg and the Cosper family, who had come to America from Germany and Holland well before the American Revolution, thence from Virginia and the Carolinas to St. Clair County. “Pick” Cosper, a local builder, was chosen to officiate the cemetery relocation project. He was assisted in part by his cousin, Pickens DeJournette Cosper, better known as P.D., who had taken a leave of absence from his job in Florida to camp in an Airstream trailer near the work site. Alabama Power traded Easonville’s cemetery properties for some high ground across a proposed reroute of US 231, land which became the site for a new Coosa Valley Cemetery, a church and an elementary school. According to Dr. Cosper, church members were heavily involved in the move, as well as a contractor from South Carolina. A keen negotiator, Pick also saved from destruction a Methodist church in Easonville that had been built by his own father. The Methodists no longer wanted the aging edifice due to declining church membership, so Pick offered it to the Baptists

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Traveling the


U.S. 231 Road Crew in 1915 with James Henry and William Royal Cosper in bottom left 24 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013



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for the sum of one dollar; “as is, where is, come and get it right now.” The venerable old building was jacked up and moved onto land adjacent to the new cemetery and the future Coosa Valley Elementary School. Enlarged, and rechristened Coosa Valley Baptist Church, it stands there proudly today, an eye-catching landmark on US 231 South. The Cosper family plot in the new cemetery is quite spacious and densely occupied with several marker dates in the 1850s. Another unrelated grave is dated 1835. Many now lying in repose there were moved from cemeteries elsewhere, including at least one interred in a solid copper casket made in England, said to have looked good as new even though more than 125 years old. P.D. purchased a large marble statue of Jesus Christ from Italy, and had it installed in the middle of the cemetery in honor of his namesake great-grandfather and local physician, Dr. Pickens DeJournette Cosper, who had been buried, and re-buried, in a special iron casket. Several unmarked graves were also carefully excavated, and their remnants relocated in a special plot. For those interested in specifics of local history, it’s an interesting place to explore. Coosa Valley’s nicely-maintained layout is well-conceived, with related families blended into adjacent plots rather than scattered all over the grounds as in most older facilities. History buffs will find practically every Easonville pioneer family name represented, in patterns that greatly simplify genealogy research. It’s also a nice break from one’s present, hectic world to walk to the shoreline at Lakeside Landing, gaze out upon the deep waters, and conjure visions of a stately, quiet little Southern hamlet which totally gave up its existence to help create shoreline home sites, flood control, recreation and hydroelectricity for thousands. Such is often the dear price of progress. l

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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 25

Crazy Horse Story by Elaine Miller Photos by Jerry Martin Butch Evans and his wife, Karen, were sitting in their den one evening, bored out of their minds, when the idea of starting a restaurant was born. “My wife said, ‘Are we gonna sit sit here like this until we’re 80, falling asleep in the recliners?’ “I said, ‘I can fix that.’” And that’s how Crazy Horse Restaurant was born. “I had been in the food business all my life,” says Evans, who owns Evans Steaks and Seafood, a wholesale company, on Birmingham’s Finley Avenue. “I called on restaurants. I didn’t know whether people would accept fine dining in Argo, though.” Apparently, he had no cause for worry. Since opening in the former Denise’s Country Diner location in October 2011, business has been steadily increasing. Hungry patrons looking for something besides meatloaf and mashed potatoes come from St. Clair, Etowah, Jefferson and Shelby Counties to sample the steak and seafood menu. “The locals support breakfast and lunch, the dinner crowd comes from Trussville and beyond,” says Evans. Trying to make a unique place in the middle of nowhere, Evans didn’t want a typical meat-and-three kind of place. “Anybody can slap a hamburger steak or beef tips and rice on a plate, but to have a good piece of meat is totally

Executive Chef Andrea Peagler oversees the kitchen at The Crazy Horse Restaurant.

Becoming an Argo eatery icon 26 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Grilled Shrimp Pasta with Cream Sauce different,” says restaurant manager Tony Green. “Quality is the key, along with freshness.” Gulf Coast seafood is delivered daily and all steaks are cut fresh daily. “Nothing is frozen,” says Green, who is Evans’ brother-in-law. Fried Large Buttermilk Breaded Shrimp and New Orleans-Style Shrimp & Grits are served daily, but the Catch of the Day, usually grouper, is served only on Thursday nights. Customers can get it blackened with lemon butter sauce or potato crusted. Also featured are grouper fingers. Seafood Saturday offers platters of fried oysters, grilled shrimp pasta with creme sauce and sautéed Gulf scallops in butter sauce. On the menu Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are the chargrilled steaks, with the 8-oz filet mignon being the most popular. It’s served with a baked sweet potato and fresh asparagus. Dessert choices are simple. Strawberry cake (a local woman bakes and delivers) and bread pudding with whiskey sauce are the only meal-ender items on the menu. The popular orange rolls aren’t made on the premises, but customers buy them by the dozen to take home. Soup of the Day is either Beer Cheese (see recipe) or Seafood Chowder, each made fresh daily. Breakfast consists of “just about anything a customer wants,” according to Evans. Favorites are the Crazy Horse Special and the Stable Hand Special.

The women of the Crazy Horse include, back row, Stacy Stephens, Tara Martin and DeAnn Davis, front row, Beth Cardwell and Cate Howe. Not shown is owner Butch Evans’ wife, Karen. June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 27

Crazy Horse

The 8-ounce filet mignon is the most popular item on the menu.

Some of the guys behind the scenes include Executive Chef Andrea Peagler, fry cook Cody Miller, manager Tony Green, sou chef Joseph Thomas and owner Butch Evans.

28 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

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2841 Moody Parkway Moody, Alabama 35004 Office: (205) 640-7671 Fax: (205) 640-1795 The former consists of two eggs, any style, with grits or gravy, hash browns or home fries, and a sampling of smoked sausage, ham and bacon, along with biscuits. The latter starts with two eggs, adding pancakes, grits and bacon or sausage. Denise Sims, former owner of Denise’s Country Diner, and Dustin Nelson prepare the breakfasts. “Saturday morning breakfasts are packed to capacity,” says Green. Capacity is 104 seats, including the 24 on the screened-in patio added in February. Head chef Andrea Peagler, the Regions Bank chef in downtown Birmingham by day, oversees the kitchen at the Crazy Horse on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Lunch offerings include sandwiches filled with chargrilled burgers, chicken breasts and New York strip steaks, plus chicken salad, hot dogs and fried chicken tenders. As for the name of the restaurant, that came from two sources: The Birmingham club where Butch and Karen had their first date in 1974, and the fact that Karen has horses. “I came home from work one day, and Karen said, ‘I thought of a name,’” Butch explains. “It seemed like a fit.” Green grew up working in fast-food restaurants, but in his day job is advertising products manager at Progressive Farmer. When he started at the Crazy Horse, he was only going to be there Thursday nights, which quickly turned into a three-day weekend. “It’s tiring, but fun,” he says. “When it stops being fun, I’ll quit.” The Crazy Horse Restaurant, located at 281 US Highway 11 in the Argo Village shopping strip, is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. On Thursdays and Fridays, it’s open from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Saturday hours are 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Reservations are taken only for Thursday nights. The Crazy Horse is closed Sundays and Mondays. l

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 29

The Crazy Horse Restaurant’s Beer Cheese Soup

• • • • • • • • •

8 cups milk 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce, or to taste 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 4 tablespoons chicken seasoning base 1 pound jarred, processed cheese product 6 tablespoons cornstarch 1/3 cup cold water 1 cup beer Cayenne pepper, to taste

Combine milk, Tabasco, Worcestershire and chicken seasoning base in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Warm cheese product jar in hot water or microwave. Mix well into soup. Dissolve cornstarch completely in the water. Stir into soup, which should thicken rapidly. Add beer to soup and stir well. To serve, ladle into bowls and dust with cayenne. 30 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 31

Knapping Cultivating stone-age techniques Story by Jerry C. Smith Photos by Jerry Martin

32 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Longer ago than most folks can imagine, stone crafting gave humans mastery over a world filled with physically superior creatures. It’s also one of mankind’s oldest art forms, born of a need to stay alive and often linked to religious ceremony. Stone blades were mounted on arrows, spears, atlatl darts, harpoons, daggers, tomahawks, skinning knives, axes, hoes, war clubs, drills, even fishhooks. Decorative and ritual pieces included gorgets, sacrificial cutlery, amulets, medallions, rings and various other pieces of jewelry. Pell City’s Roger Pate, a 30-year veteran of local artifact collecting, owns thousands of such pieces. He explains that, over the 12,000 years, countless American aboriginal tribes settled anywhere there was a reliable source of fresh water. Their very lives depended on how well they made tools and weapons. Before mankind learned to refine metal, stone was the key element in practically every hand tool used by most primitive cultures; hence, the term Stone Age which, for isolated American Indians, lasted until they began trading with Europeans for metal goods during early colonial days. The skill of working stone into sharp implements is called knapping. Simply put, knapping is the act of breaking and chipping away at pieces of stone to produce desirable shapes with sharp edges. It’s become a modern-day hobby among history and craft enthusiasts. Avid knappers love to compete with each other for the most beautiful and authentic pieces. New London’s Gerald Hoyle and his brother, Wayne, have become masters of the craft. Skilled artisans like the Hoyles are notorious for having cramped, cluttered workspaces. As long as enough stuff can be pushed aside to allow room for their gifted hands and a few simple tools, a properly finished product is all that matters. And Gerald’s work is superb — remarkably so, considering he’s only been doing it for about five years. He works seated at a waist-high bench, with the piece cushioned on a thick square of leather, and cradled in an authentic nutting stone, a rounded sandstone with a depression chiseled into its flat side. They were traditionally used by Native Americans to hold nuts for cracking. His knapping implements consist of sharpened deer antlers, rounded “hammer stones” picked up from creek bottoms, leather for protective padding, coarse sandstone blocks for treating edges, and special flaking tools he fabricates from thick copper wire and aluminum rods mounted in regular tool handles. Gerald explains that copper has exactly the same hardness as deer antler, but smells much better when he sharpens it on a grinder. Gerald carries on a lively conversation as he deftly chips away at a chunk of black obsidian he had just hammered off the corner of a much larger piece. It was misshapen, bulged out in all


the wrong places, and looked nothing like the business end of a weapon — more like something one might skip across a pond. But Gerald’s keen eye had visualized a shape suitable for an atlatl point within this irregular hunk of shiny stone, and proceeded apace to extract it. As he worked, the piece began to take on an isosceles triangle shape with razor sharp point, serrated sides designed to slice flesh, and elegantly crafted barbs and notches at the large end. The end result was a precision, totally lethal weapon tip for hunting or warfare. Obsidian is an extremely fine-grained form of volcanic glass, similar to quartz and can be shaped into edges sharper than the finest steel. In fact, obsidian is made into modern instruments for delicate eye surgery, with cutting edges approaching a single molecule in width. Its sharpness and crystalline nature were further evidenced by Gerald’s fingers, which began to bleed from several tiny cuts as he worked. Knapping is definitely a labor of love, reinforced with a tetanus shot and Band-Aids. Other stones are almost as sharp as obsidian when properly tooled. Flint is actually a hard, fine-grained version of chert and was used extensively by local Indians who had no nearby source of obsidian other than trading with distant tribes. Also useful were dolomite, quartz, greenstone, jasper, quartzite, stromatolite, chalcedony, even a type of iron ore called hematite. More exotic-

34 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

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Knapping sounding materials include Horse Creek chert, novaculite, sugar slate, Hillabee greenstone and rainbow obsidian. Modern hobbyists love to experiment with other materials, such as glassy slag from blast furnaces and even old drink bottles melted in trash fires. The Hoyle brothers have made scores of these experimental points, some almost indistinguishable from quartz or smoky obsidian. Born in Pahokee, Florida, Gerald moved with his family to New London in 1952, and he’s been in the neighborhood ever since. A 1963 Pell City High graduate, he served in the Air Force for four years, then worked as a truck mechanic for 32 years at Ryder in Oxford. Now retired and a robust 67 years of age, Gerald stays very busy. When he’s not emulating Paleo Tool-Man, he enjoys photography, paleontology, collecting rocks and artifacts from local tribal sites, demonstrating his crafts to school children and preaching the gospel at Mt. Olive Freewill Baptist in Dunnavant. He also does volunteer work at the new State Veterans’ Home in Pell City, where he entertains residents with lively conversation, games of dominos, and reading to the visually impaired. Gerald’s wife, Mary Margaret, tolerates his hobby because it provides so many large, multicolored stones for her flower beds. Her avocation is machine embroidery and quilting. Though not a flint-knapper herself, she often helps her husband make fine jewelry from his artifacts. However, his handiwork has caused her some concern at times. For instance, she was not happy when a pile of flint rocks which he was trying to heat-temper in her kitchen oven, exploded, filling the whole cavity with tiny slivers of razor-sharp stone. Nor does she share his enthusiasm when he loads their car down with heavy stones he’s spotted and picked up while they travel. It’s nothing new. The Hoyle brothers’ passion for paleo crafts goes all the way back to their childhood, when they spent countless hours searching fields and river banks for stone products. Both men

36 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Before the bow


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Long before the bow and arrow were invented, primitive man depended on a weapon called the atlatl to put distance between him and his prey. Prior to its invention, his only option for large game was to either entrap or sneak up on his quarry, then drive a heavy spear into it at point-blank range. Obviously, this was mortally risky, especially if the animal was not subdued by the first thrust. The atlatl is thought to have evolved on the Eurasian continent more than 40,000 years ago as the world’s first weapon system It’s little more than a stick, one to two feet in length, with a hook on one end and a handle with wrist strap on the other. Essentially, it’s a launching device for a projectile called a dart, somewhere in size between a short, skinny spear and a long, fat arrow. In fact, most so-called “arrowheads” were made for atlatls, larger than regular arrow points. Physically, the atlatl makes the user’s throwing arm up to two feet longer, with an extra elbow, and capable of hurling a dart with killing velocity for more than a hundred feet. Although used in various forms by most early cultures, it’s generically named after the Aztec version that was so effective against invading Spaniards. Their darts could actually pierce Spanish armor with the force of a .38-caliber pistol bullet. An Australian version, the woomera, is still used by their Aborigines. Asian emigres are thought by paleo-experts to have abandoned the bow and arrow (also first developed in Eurasia), bringing only atlatls and spears with them across the Bering land bridge when they populated our continent. Easier to make, use and maintain than bows and arrows, atlatls served American Indians well for many thousands of years before their 11th hour re-invention of the bow and arrow somewhere around the time of Christ. That’s why artifact hunters find so many points that are too large and crudely made for arrows. They were designed for something older, larger, simpler and much more powerful.

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38 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

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have extensive collections of museum-quality goods. Before he retired, Gerald often knapped on his lunch break while others... well, napped. Gerald explains that using primitive methods while working with stone helps him reach out and touch the past, when much hardier men depended on such skills to stay alive and prosper. He especially enjoys giving his craftworks to people he likes, free of charge, and eagerly shares his love of history with others. Would you like to try your hand at knapping? The Hoyle brothers advise aspiring knappers to start out with good materials and tools, seek the advice of experts on basic technique, and practice, practice, practice. Because of the extreme sharpness and minute size of stone flakes, it’s also mandatory that you wear old clothes, gloves and safety glasses, and never allow bare feet anywhere near your work area. Gerald has jump-started several local folks in this fascinating hobby, including this writer. His advice includes a warning that your first few hours of work will most likely consist of turning larger rocks into lots of smaller ones before you actually create a presentable result. Most novices will eventually produce an acceptable piece, but it seems there are always a few who never really “get the point” of this fascinating pastime. l

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Ralph Compton

40 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Western Author, Odenville Legend Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin It was a simple question, really: “Can you write a western?” The reply was equally without complexities: “I said I didn’t know, but I’d like to try.” And beginning at age 56, Ralph Compton did indeed write a Western — 23 of them in just eight years — and is mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey and Larry McMurtry. But this story didn’t begin with the birth of an author, it began with the birth of a baby boy in a little log home with a dirt floor. “You walked three miles along the Seaboard Railroad track, climbed a cut bank and trudged another three miles through the woods,” he wrote in his autobiography. Townfolks and passersby on US 411 who see the sign that reads, “Home of Ralph Compton,” know the destination point of that long ago six-mile trek —

Odenville, Alabama. Born April 11, 1934, Compton says he missed the worst of the depression. “We were in the midst of one of our own when the rest of the country caught up to us. It seemed like we all started poor and went downhill from there,” he wrote. His mother had a sixth grade education; his father, fifth grade. “By the time FDR’s ‘team of mules, seed and fertilizer’ stake got to us, there were no mules.” His father secured a team of oxen, seed and fertilizer and planted a crop. “In his best year, he made almost enough to repay what he owed the government.” Compton grew up on Hannah Mountain near Lynch Lake and graduated from St. Clair County High School in Odenville, no small feat for the boy with less than meager means. “In those days, ‘welfare’ families were not looked on with favor,” he said. “There were four of us, and we received the staggering sum of $39 a month. I owe my high school graduation to understanding teachers who provided odd jobs so that I had the bare

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 41

42 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Ralph Compton Brother Bill Compton

necessities.” He singled out his high school principal, Nancy Wilson, who encouraged him not only to read, but to remember what he read. “Because I did read, she moved me ahead, encouraging me to read literature and history more advanced than my grade required. Before my graduation, I knew I wanted to write, although I wasn’t sure what.” It would be more than three decades before he settled that question. The Goodnight Trail launched his western novels career, selling more than 1 million copies upon its release. The book’s dedication was to the spark that ignited his passion for literature. “To Nancy Wilson, principal of the St. Clair County High School in 1954,” it says. Ten more “trail series” books would follow, along with a dozen other western novels. Six Guns and Double Eagles, The California Trail and the Shawnee Trail were in the top 50 most requested western novels the year before he died, according to a Birmingham News story on his death in 1998. The story quotes his brother, Bill, who talked of his songwriting days in Nashville. “He played guitar and liked bluegrass music.” In his autobiography, Compton writes about Bill. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Compton said he returned home to find his brother “an accomplished guitarist and singer, and the two of us set out to make big tracks.” They played legion halls, armories, schools and radio stations. “Most little stations provided time for free on Saturday afternoon, usually 15 to 30 minutes for those enthusiastic enough (or dumb enough) to donate their ‘talent’ for the exposure,” Compton recalled. One time they were on three stations — live — and they raced from one station to the other just for the chance to play. They split up in 1960, and Bill went on to play with Coun-

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 43

Ralph Compton

Compton’s high school principal, Nancy Wilson 44 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Bill Compton on the Country Boy Eddie Show



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try Boy Eddie, a popular television show in Birmingham and in Alabama. Ralph headed north to Nashville with hopes of becoming a songwriter. “Nashville wasted no time in giving me a hard way to go.” He and a friend eventually started a tabloid magazine, The Rhinestone Rooster. “We went broke, were able to borrow some additional money, and went broke again,” he wrote. But he saved the logo and used it as a record label in producing recording sessions with limited success. He moved from one odd job to another before finally calling an end to his songwriting career. He had begun a novel in 1989 on a subject he knew all too well — growing up in the south during the Depression. When he showed it to a literary agent, he acknowledged he had potential and said, “I like it, but I can’t sell it. Can you write a western?” And that single, simple question launched a stellar career as a bestselling novelist with St. Martin’s Press and Signet Publishers, his historical accuracy becoming his trademark. He passed away at age 64 of cancer. But his works and his words are his legacy. In his hometown of Odenville the pride of what he accomplished runs a little deeper. A display case at the library features his cowboy boots and a cowboy hat he donated. Nearby are rows and rows of his books, the most popular western author by far at his hometown library, Librarian Betty Corley says. “L’Amour is very famous, very well known, but they still get Compton.” Outside, the library’s western themed sign, too, proclaims his roots. Perhaps it is because his own story is as inspiring as his westerns are captivating. From dirt floor beginnings to bestselling author certainly has the makings of a story to be told and retold. In a 1993 issue of The Roundup for Western Writers of America, he recounted the question that changed his life. “Can you write a western? I could, and thank God, I did. My one regret is that I lacked the confidence and courage to do it sooner. “While the Old West lives only in the pages of history, I believe there’s something within each of us that longs for those days when there was yet another frontier to be conquered, another mountain to cross, and the thrill of the unknown. I believe the Old West will live forever — perhaps not in Hollywood, but in the hearts and minds of men and women who refuse to let it die.” And the memory of Ralph Compton lives on in the town proud to call him its native son. l

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Business Briefing

By Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin

St. Vincent’s St. Clair staff members celebrate their Zero Award from Ascension Health.

Hospital Lauded by Parent company A score of zero can be a good thing. Just ask officials of St. Vincent’s St. Clair, who are celebrating their Zero Award from Ascension Health. The award recognizes the hospital for demonstrating sustained outstanding performance at minimizing harm to patients (complications or errors resulting that may have been avoided in the hospital) in eight categories for 12 consecutive months. St. Vincent’s St. Clair is one of five facilities that comprise St. Vincent’s Health System and is a member of Ascension Health, the nation’s largest not-for-profit and largest Catholic healthcare system. “Healing Without Harm” is a systemwide initiative designed to improve patient safety by reducing the type of safety issues and complications that may occur in hospitals. The award recognizes the outstanding performance of

46 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair

St. Vincent’s St. Clair. “We join Ascension Health in commending the collaborative efforts of the St. Vincent’s St. Clair medical staff and our associates in improving patient safety and enhancing quality care,” said Evan Ray, FACHE, President of Rural Hospital Operations for St. Vincent’s Health System. The new St. Vincent’s St. Clair opened in December 2011. The 79,000 sq. ft., 40-bed hospital offers a 24-hour emergency department, intensive care, private inpatient rooms, and inpatient and outpatient surgical services. Outpatient services include wound care, physical therapy, cardiac rehabilitation, sleep studies, and the latest in diagnostic imaging. For more information about St. Vincent’s Health System, log onto

Enjoy lifE on thE lakE this sEason or all yEar long

Rodney’s Marine Opens

Rodney’s Marine Center LLC has opened its doors in Cropwell in April, offering full service and repairs on all types of boats. Rodney Humphries, who has more than 20 years experience in the field, is owner. It is located at 6030 Martin Street South in Cropwell. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

Boat upholstery business open

Incredible Touch, a boat upholstery operation, opened in Cropwell at 6030 Martin Street South, along with Rodney’s Marine. Owned by Irene Bierbaum, Incredible Touch specializes in upholstering boat furniture and cushions with more than 20 years experience in the upholstery business. Hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 47

Business News Story behind the story:

St. Clair’s growth no accident

Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin

There is good reason St. Clair County is among the fastest growing counties in Alabama. Actually, there is an abundance of them. If you look at economic indicators — new jobs, increased wages and new investment by new or expanding business — the numbers head in a significant upward direction coinciding with the creation of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council. Rather than cities working alone or competing against one another as they had in the past, it was the first countywide economic development push, bringing all municipalities together toward a single goal: Grow St. Clair County. What it meant in real terms was that what was good for one was good for all, say proponents of the plan. That was 1998. In 2013, the numbers speak for themselves. More than 5,500 jobs have been created. New paychecks total more than $100 million. And new investment is approaching the $1 billion mark. EDC Executive Director Don Smith has successfully built upon the foundations laid by predecessors Ed Gardner Sr. and Ed Gardner Jr., and he and Retail and Marketing Specialist Candice Hill are crafting quite a success story of their own. It centers on goals and outcomes. Every few years, EDC sets its sights on aims that will improve the economic picture and hence, the quality of life for St. Clair County. Strategic planning and strategic thinking are key components of the equation, bringing the public and business sectors into a collaboration with the Council to develop specific goals. Fresh off meeting all of its goals in 2011, EDC developed a new set for 2012-2014. It is on track to meet those in two years, not three. And officials are conducting strategic planning sessions this month that will help determine the Council’s immediate future course with a new set of goals to move the county forward. In the 2012-2014 goals, the EDC hoped to announce $100 million in new capital investment by the end of 2014. Capital investment of $98.4 million since 2011 already puts EDC at 98.4 percent of that goal, which should be surpassed by the end of the year.

48 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Jenkins Brick in Moody

Nufab Rebar, now Nucor, opens in Riverside.

Others completed more than a year early were the announcements of $20 million in additional payroll from new jobs created and more than double its goal of $1 million in additional tax revenue for schools at $2.4 million. “We have had success in being good stewards of the funds the people have given us,” said Smith. “We hope because of that, we will get support from business leaders and the public sector once again” as a new capital campaign launches this summer on the heels of goals set by strategic planning. It will be an opportunity for partners — businesses, organizations and individuals — to play a pivotal role in where St. Clair County heads from here. The monetary goal is to raise $1 million from the private sector over the next five years to help bring new objectives for enhancing the county’s economic prospects to fruition. And surveys for public input are on the website at and on Facebook. Called Partnership for Tomorrow, the capital campaign is as the name implies — a coming together of all entities with an eye toward a better future. Smith calls it “staying true to what you’re really good

By the numbers Talk about an impressive track record. Since the EDC’s inception in 1998, the numbers tell an economic success story: Total Announced New Jobs: 5,500 + Total Announced New Wages: $108,000,000 + Total Announced Investment: $980,250,000 + June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 49

Business News St. Clair Growth Since 2000, St. Clair Economic Development Council saw these projects come to fruition for St. Clair County: COMMUNITY • Jefferson State Community College • New County Hospital • New VA Nursing Home COMMERICAL • Village at Moody • Home Depot • Cracker Barrel • Springville Station • Tractor Supply • Margaret Commercial Development • Love’s Travel Center - I-59 • Jack’s • Publix • Town and Country • Burkes/Goody’s • High Tide Development • Love’s Travel Center - I-20 INDUSTRIAL • Industrial Galvanizers of Birmingham • Benjamin Moore • Honda Temporary Office • Jones Stephens Corporation • National Cement • Duraweld, Inc. • Energy Absorption Systems • Nissin International • Preferred Sourcing • Royal Foods • Safety Wear • Sumitomo • Southern Monopole and Utilities Co. • Yachiyo Manufacturing of Alabama • Exotic Foods • TNT Logistics • Eissmann GMbH • EMJ Metals • Kelcraft Finish Solutions • Jenkins Brick • Trinity Glass • Natural Science Center • AFCO • NASCO/Moody Commerce Park2 • Red Diamond • CMC Impact Metals • Jim Bishop Cabinets • Outback Welding • Southern Rack & Fab • VST Keller • WKW • Rain Bird • Leeds Stain Glass • Indie Candy • Nufab Rebar • MailSouth • Project Colossus • Phoenix Energy

at.” Gardner Sr. brought in grants, federal funding for projects and capitalized on a strong state background as the former director of Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to put the county on strong footing. Gardner Jr. expanded from industrial recruitment to workforce development, retail development and leadership development. And Smith and Hill bring all those strengths together to build a comprehensive plan for the future for St. Clair County. They are constantly challenged and motivated by what they describe as a “visionary” board with Tommy Bowers as chairman and members Lyman Lovejoy, Dana Webb, Drew Goolsby and Joe Kelly. “They have a tremendous amount of expertise in a number of fields. They know the area and the people of the area, and they have a tremendous vision of what St. Clair County should look like in the years to come,” Smith said. The county commission has played an integral role in it all. “We wouldn’t be here without the foresight and cooperation the county commission has shown over the years,” Smith noted. And the “consistency of leadership where everybody is on the same page has been key,” Hill added. “They have stayed on the same page for quite some time.” What all of those variables have added up to is a positive economic impact on areas of the county, both large and small, a boon to education coffers, more jobs, more investment and more opportunities for all of its citizens. Young people no longer have to look for careers in larger areas. Ample opportunities are not only right here at home, they are growing. Hill pointed out that the mission statement is “ ‘To create jobs, increase wealth and improve the quality of life for St. Clair County citizens.’ Definitely a lot of projects have fallen under that umbrella — more than anybody ever imagined.” l

50 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013


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Springville High School Fourth Annual Farm Day With growing urbanization, folks in Springville wanted to make sure their children didn’t lose out on knowing the value in agriculture. And what began as an experience for its youngest students has grown into a bumper crop of an event. Springville High School FFA’s fourth annual Farm Day was a huge success this year, enabling more than 900 students from the city’s elementary school to get up close and personal with farm animals, implements and activities. Farm Day started four years ago when one of the Springville Elementary School teachers approached Lamar Vann, the high school’s ag/science teacher and FFA advisor, about hosting some type of farm experience for the kindergarteners and first graders. “So many kids nowadays never get to see farm animals or tractors up close,” says Vann. The first Farm Day, held in 2010, proved so popular that it was expanded the second year to include the entire elementary school, grades kindergarten through fifth. It became an annual event, which took place April 12 this year. Students came to the high school campus in three different groups, with each group getting to spend about two hours with the animals. FFA members and their parents brought goats, pigs, cows, horses, chickens, ducks, rabbits and a pheasant for students to ask questions about and interact with, according to Vann. “Several of our FFA members put on demonstrations for the students,” Vann says. “Blake Campbell showed them how to milk a goat, Jordan Hardiman brought horses, and Tyler Dennis brought an aquaponics display that he put together himself.” In addition, some of the parents brought various types of tractors, including a 1940s model, and one of them gave a tractor safety demonstration. “We tried to make the program interactive, with something for each grade level,” Vann says. — Elaine Hobson Miller

52 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Students look at the fish swimming below the vegetables in the aquaponics display.

Students from Sringville Elementary School pet one of Jorden Hardiman’s horses.

Kakota McSweeney talks to students about the safety issues of operating a farm tractor.

A common past

Jimmy Calvert and his dog, Amber

St. Clair Springs log homes 54 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Jerry Martin More than 100 years ago, the Jones Road homes of Mike and Cathy Harris and Jimmy Calvert on Jones Road began as simple, four-room log cabins. They were part of the same piece of property, the latter housing the servants’ quarters for the former. Additions and renovations have saved these relics of the past from the ravages of time and neglect, while the personal touches of current and former owners have turned them into modern-day cottages that retain much of their rusticity. “It feels like half my house is old, half is new, but we don’t know when each was built,” says Cathy Harris, who moved here with husband, Mike, in June 2012 from Raleigh, N.C. That description fits both the Harris home and the Calvert home. The split personality of the houses is more evident in the Harris home, however, especially from the outside. A stone facade covers the newer half, while the log section, with its tan chinking, dominates the other. Where the two are joined inside, exposed logs remind the owners of the house’s humble beginnings. “Every floor in this house is (made of) a different kind of wood,” says Cathy Harris. “I think every owner put his own stamp on this house.” Their stamp happens to be a combination of rustic furnishings from a mountain cabin they used to own and from their Raleigh residence. In the dining area, a faux antler chandelier hangs over a huge round table that belonged to Cathy’s mother. The table is topped by a twig basket on a large lazy Susan, and is surrounded by old hickory chairs. “I’d rather be outside than inside, so everything is decorated outdoorsy,” Cathy explains as she leads a tour of the house. The master bedroom has prints of green ferns, either elk or deer antlers (she’s not sure which) hanging over the bed, with a rustic wooden bench at its foot. The Great Room has leather sofas and a long, low, wooden coffee table. Coming out of the kitchen on the opposite side of the dining room, the original log section of the house begins. “I call this my living room because it’s a little more formal than the Great Room,” Cathy says. A stone fireplace and a red front door dominate the room, but the deer head over the fireplace, like the antlers throughout, was purchased, not shot. “We don’t hunt,” Cathy says. “I bought that deer head at an antique store for $40.” More antlers, prints of dogs and horses, a rustic wooden coffee and an end table share space with a Persian rug. A sheep-horn lamp from the old Rich’s store in Atlanta is draped with the halters the grown Harris children used with their childhood ponies. More antlers adorn the walls and built-in bookcases in this room. But the most striking feature of the living room is the wooden catwalk high above. Steep log steps lead up to the catwalk, which has a small loft at each end that the Harrises use for storage. Arthur Weeks, the late Birmingham artist who owned the original L-shaped house in the 1980s, used both areas as bedrooms, even though their peaks only allow standing room in their centers. It was Weeks who added the skylight that brightens the room, but the catwalk and lofts are original to the house. Off one side of the living room is a small area with a log

The Harris home

One of the Harris guest bedrooms

Calvert’s home office June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 55

A common past

Calvert’s home

Another of the Harris’guest bedrooms Mike and Cathy Harris and two of their five dogs, Lila (left) and Gracie (right) enjoy log-home living.

Calvert home front

The Harris dining room 56 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

The screened porch at Calvert’s home.

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ceiling that Mike uses as his office, while off the other side are two small bedrooms and two bathrooms. The ceilings are low and the floors are sloping in these rooms, but a structural engineer pronounced the house safe. The sloping is due to settling. These bedrooms were carpeted and decorated by the former owner, who painted the log walls in one of them. “I don’t know what’s under the carpet,” Cathy confesses. The Harrises have done no remodeling inside the home, other than painting some of the rooms and adding granite countertops in the kitchen. Outside, however, they literally hit the ground running from the moment they arrived. Their first project was to take down a huge tree house in the backyard and their pond’s boat house that was falling in. Most of the gardens were put in by Weeks, but they put up new fencing, limbed some trees, planted grass and cleaned up outside. Next, they screened in the open porch at the rear and built a pool equipment house. The swimming pool was already there. A real working well sits unused in a side yard. “When the weather is nice, we live on the screened porch,” says Cathy. “We need to put a TV out there, we use it so much.” Arthur Weeks disassembled a small log barn that was behind what is now Jimmy Calvert’s house, just up the road, then reassembled it to one side of the house and used it as his studio. Now a small, two-level apartment rented by Jimbo Bowers, the former barn also has a shed roof that shields lawn equipment from the elements. Jimmy Calvert says the original 800-square-foot log portion of his 2,900 squarefoot house probably was built in the late 1800s, while the two-story cottage-style addition was built by former owners Donnie Joe and Kim Kirkland in 1998-99. The four-room log cabin has three fireplaces around one central chimney, a common arrangement for the time in which it was built. “It was an emotional buy,” Calvert says about his purchase. An attorney with an office in Birmingham and Springville, he moved from Bir-

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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 57

Stairs lead to a walkway and loft area in the Harris home.

58 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

A common past

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mingham in 2004. His master bedroom was in the original log cabin while renovating the addition, which now has his living room, master bedroom and bath downstairs, two bedrooms and a bath upstairs. He has spent six figures over the course of eight years, and most of his free time during 2009 and 2010, restoring the place. “There’s not an inch of this place that I haven’t restored,” Calvert says. With the help of a friend, Walker Peerson, who was experienced in home construction and renovation, Calvert ripped out the floors down to the dirt in the original kitchen and dining room. That’s when he discovered that the logs underneath were laid out in a hub-and-spoke fashion, with the fireplace as the hub. He had to replace many of the floor joists and put down new heart pine floors. He removed the tile covering all the stone fireplaces and rebuilt the hearths. He tore out all the replacement windows and rebuilt their frames, putting plate glass in several rooms while keeping the one window that was original to the house. It’s now in his home office. He re-wired and re-plumbed the log cabin, too. “A lot of the chinking was coming out, so I scraped out those places and re-caulked them, using a product called PermaChink,” Calvert says. “Then I painted the chinking an antique

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 59

A common past

Wood fencing surrounds the Harris home.

Jimmy Calvert in his kitchen

Calvert home dining room 60 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

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The Harris kitchen and living area white.” He removed the walls of the hallway between what was the original kitchen and a bedroom in the log section, then built a modern kitchen with pine countertops and stainless-steel appliances in the former bedroom. He and Peerson then built a 3-foot by 6-foot picture window at one end, overlooking the backyard. The original kitchen is now his dining room. His home office is in what used to be a second log bedroom. “I’m 80 percent done with what I want to do here,” Calvert says. “What’s left is cosmetic, little things like knobs on the kitchen cabinets.” He also rebuilt an old skinning shed outside, turning it into an air conditioned workshop and dog house for his two dogs. A 350-year-old oak tree lends shade to the screened porch on the front of the house. The concrete floor of the porch is patchy, but Calvert plans to leave it that way to maintain its rustic appearance. He also built a new deck on the back of the house and took down some old, dilapidated chicken houses. Calvert has been told that the cabin was re-chinked in 1937 using mud from the pond behind his house. Initials and a date that were written in the chinking on one side of the house prove that point. “Jones Road was the original road from Springville to Ashville,” Calvert says. “You came up Highway 11, and right onto Jones Springs Road. Then they built I-59 and cut off this road, which now dead ends next to my property. Alabama 23 now goes over I-59 from Springville to St. Clair Springs and up to Ashville.” l

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Memory Lane Memorial Day Weekend Car Show at Veterans Home Story and photos by Graham Hadley A group of vintage-car enthusiasts from St. Clair County gathered their unique cars and trucks together to give the residents of the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City a special treat Memorial Day weekend. That Saturday, under a perfect sky, a multitude of vintage cars and trucks graced the parking lot in front of the veterans home. “Our residents often can’t go out to events like this, so we bring the event to them,” said Kristin Copeland, activities director for the veterans home. The car show, organized by Jerry Moore and John Whalen, coincided with the home’s family cook-out that Saturday, May 25. “It’s very special to our residents. It brings their families out, gets everyone involved,” Copeland said. Moore said the idea for the show, which included everything for the classic-car buff, from an old Volkswagen Beetle to a beautifully

62 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

restored Corvette to an old Ford Model A, grew out of discussions with friends at a local restaurant. “There is a group of 10 or 12 of us that meet almost every day at Jack’s. We know different people who are in the show,” Moore said. “Myself and another guy, John Whalen, got the idea to do a show here.” Response from the car-collector community was overwhelming. So many people wanted to come out and take part that they actually had to turn some car owners away due to lack of space, he said. Malia Thibado, the little girl from the Alabama School for the Blind who sang in the nation’s Capitol for the dedication of the Helen Keller statue, was on hand to entertain everyone. “I told her about Memorial Day and she aked to come to the veterans home,” Malia’s mom, Karen, said. The Thibados also brought their white Thunderbird for the show. Their car was ultimately picked as the volunteer favorite. The veterans and the families also got to pick their favorite cars. Eunice Galloway and a host of staff and volunteers made sure every veteran who wanted to see the vehicles, even if they are confined to a bed, got their chance. “Everybody who wanted to got to see the cars — some more than once,” Galloway said. Moore and the other organizers wanted to extend their gratitude to all the businesses that contributed to make the show a success — an event that they may very well do again, he said. Sponsors included Hazlewood Nursery, NAPA, Lakeside Landing, Dixie Auto Parts, Woods Surfside Marina, Dollar General, Pell City Steakhouse, Advance Auto Parts, Golden Rule, Auto Zone, Cracker Barrel and Gilreath Printing. l

Malia Thibado and the family’s Thunderbird

Jerry Moore and his 1934 Ford

This classic was covered in all sorts of scrap and memorabelia and was one of the crowd favorites.

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 63

Lena Ryan St. Clair’s own Rosie the Riveter could buck with the best of ‘em

Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Jerry Martin Submitted photos It’s hard to picture petite Lena Ryan scrambling across the wing span of a B-29 bomber with a rivet gun in her hand or hanging high in the air in a swing bucking rivets. During the early 1940s, that’s exactly what she did, making this 92-yearold a real-life example of Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon of working American women of World War II. During that war, Mrs. Ryan riveted sheet metal onto the wings, fuselages and gun turrets of the B-29 at Betchel, McCombs and Parsons Airplane Modification Center in Birmingham. She donned green coveralls and wrapped a scarf around her head, much like the red-and-white bandana and gray coveralls depicted by the fictional Rosie of song, movies and posters. Today, she is more often seen with a book in her hand, and her silver locks aren’t hidden beneath a turban. Every Thursday, her friend, Kay Hughes, takes her to the His & Hers Styling Salon in Ashville to have her hair washed and set, then to the St. Clair County Library, where the staff has a shelf full of books picked out especially for her. To put it mildly, she is one well-read Rosie. “Our records show that she has read 776 books over the past three years,” says Lisa Kirchner, the library’s office manager. As one of the 6 million to 10 million women who contributed to the war effort between 1942 and 1945, Mrs. Ryan had precious little time to read while working at the aircraft factory. Shortly after her marriage in 1941 to Oscar Stanley, her childhood sweetheart, her soldier husband was sent to Europe. She moved from Tennessee to Alabama and went to work making the B-29, the largest of the WW II bombers. She was 20 or 21 at the time, she says. “It was something to behold,” Ryan says of the B-29. “It had a wing span of 141 feet. I would get at the tip of one wing and run up and over the body of the plane to the other wing tip. I did this quite often just because I wanted to.” One day, the factory needed a rivet bucker, one of two

64 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Lena Ryan peruses a book about World War II, when she riveted bolts at an aircraft factory in Birmingham.

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 65

The crew of a World War II B-29 bomber named their airplane, “Leaping Lena,” after St. Clair County resident Lena Ryan.

She still wears the ring a fellow worker made for her out of discarded bolts. 66 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Lena as she looked during World War II.

Lena Ryan


people who made up the riveting team. The riveter put the bolt in a pre-drilled hole with a riveting gun, while the bucker held a bar against the other side of the metal to smooth out the end of the rivet. “They put me in a swing way up in the air and I bucked rivets,” she says. She also worked on the life rafts, gun turrets and front of the plane. She wrote, “Lena was here,” in the raft and a turret of one of them, and signed her name. Later, she received a letter from the crew thanking her for a job well done. “The letter stated that they had made several successful missions, so they felt I gave them luck,” she says. “They named their plane, ‘Leaping Lena,’ and I saw it on the newsreel at the Alabama Theater about a month later. That pleased me very much.” Ryan has a photograph of that plane, too, with “Leaping Lena” prominently displayed on the right side, next to a drawing of a kangaroo. Another treasured memento from her riveting days is the ring made of discarded rivets by one of her fellow workers. The ring is inlayed with gold. “A jeweler who was called up (drafted) worked with me, and he made me a ring out of bolts from a B-29 and inscribed my name on it. I still wear it once in a while.” Her husband was killed during the war, but she continued to work at the airplane plant until it closed in 1945. In 1947 she married Claude Ryan, who had fought in the Pacific Theater during the War. They had two daughters, Nora Martin and Carol Salser. After 54 years of marriage, her husband died in 2001, and Mrs. Ryan lives with Carol and her husband between Odenville and Ashville. She spends most of her time reading. Her favorite genre is westerns, and she checks out five books per week. She says she can always count on the library staff having more books ready for her on Thursdays. “They are so nice to me. They pick out my books and have them ready,” she says. “Mrs. Ryan has her own shelf behind the check-out counter, and we put a sticker on the outside of the books we pick out for her,” says Lisa Kirchner, the library’s office manager. “When she reads a book, we put a sticker in it with her initials on it, so she’ll know not to check it out again.” “And it must be a yellow sticker,” says Judy Douglas, director of the St. Clair County Library System. Ryan likes all types of books, including romance novels and both fiction and nonfiction works about America’s pioneer days. She highly recommends one she read recently called The Lewis and Clark Expedition, by Patricia Quiri. Her love of westerns goes back to her teen years, when she first came across novelists Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. “Our federal grants are aimed at the older reader.,” says Judy Douglas. “Large print books help meet that target, since many older readers can only read large print books. When I write these grants, Ms. Ryan is in the back of my mind.” She reads every day, usually in her daughter’s sunroom, with her cat, Freddie Max, asleep at her side. “I named him that because he needed a bail-out,” she says, chuckling. “He waits in the sunroom by the glass door until I get my bath and get out there and sit down with my book. Then he sits beside me. He worries about me.” She used to knit and crochet, but not anymore. “I’d rather read,” she says. A member of Odenville Presbyterian Church, where she taught a seniors Bible class for 20 years, Ryan missed a few Sundays during the Spring because she fell and hurt her knee. “Nothing was broken, so I just shuffle along,” she says, cheerily. She reads every day, and sometimes during a sleepless night. “That’s why I sleep on rainy days. Sometimes I don’t even want to eat or if I do, I can’t wait until I finish eating to read.” One year, the library staff printed a certificate proclaiming Mrs. Ryan their Most Valued Patron. They placed a paper crown on her head and gave her flowers. “We look forward to her coming in here,” Kirchner says. “It’s hard to be around her and not be her friend,” says Douglas. “She makes us smile.” When she turned 92, Ryan walked into the library and announced that she was 29. “I’m going backwards now,” she told anyone who was listening. As for her Rosie days, Ryan says she feels honored to have helped her country by working on the biggest and fastest bomber of World War II. “I’m very proud to have served my country in my small way.” l




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The Persistent Artist Steele’s Lynn Smith paints a picture of success Smith paints some scenes from photos.

68 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Story by Samantha Corona Photos by Jerry Martin

Persistence is a trait that Lynn Smith has in abundance. It led her to a 38-year career with Alfa insurance. It carried her through a stroke and high blood pressure. It guided her through the loss of her father and helping to support her mother, and it pushed her to turn her talent for creating hand-painted Christmas ornaments into a business that has attracted customers across the country. Things that seem difficult are simply challenges to Smith. “Those are the things I want to try,” she said, sitting at the painting table in her Steele home. Smith started painting years ago as a hobby and relaxing outlet. She never really cared for canvas, so on a suggestion, she tried her hand at decorating Christmas ornaments. The connection was instant. “I used to say that you can paint on anything… well, that got me into trouble,” she laughed. She started practicing on ornaments and as they began catching the attention of friends, Smith shared her hobby by giving them away as gifts. As buzz continued to grow about her handicrafts, friends and family knew she had found a calling. Smith said a dear friend, Margaret Evans, encouraged her to take the ornaments to stores and try to sell them. She debated over whether her pieces were good enough, but in her usual fashion, the decision to pursue the idea won out. She called her friends and asked for the ornaments back, got in the car with her mom and started driving. Without a specific place in mind, Smith ended up in Helen, Georgia, at a store called The Holiday Shop. She got out of the car with a box of her ornaments and told her mom to pray. “I walked up and then for some reason a voice told me to keep walking,” Smith said. “I passed The Holiday Shop and a little further down was a Christmas shop. As I walked in, I heard the voice again. It told me ‘be persistent’.” Smith was immediately told no because the store only bought from companies. She asked the saleswoman to please at least give one of her ornaments to the owner. Before she was out of the store, the owner reconsidered and said she would take all 13 dozen she had. She gave Smith a bag of blank, higher quality

Lynn Smith’s handpainted Christmas ornaments have attracted customers in hotels and Christmas-inspired shops across the country.

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 69

The Persistent Artist

Lynn with mother, Betty ornament balls and cards with pictures of different buildings. She asked if she could paint scenes on the ornaments and without hesitation, Smith agreed. “She said, ‘do you take cash?’” Smith laughed. “So I sold her all I had with me, and I left with an order for more.” Since that day, the orders have continued to come in for Smith’s ornaments. Her “paint on anything” attitude has also expanded her media to include whatever she can get her hands on – small clay pots, gourds, leaves and the very popular, feathers. She paints Native American images, homes, animals and flowers – some from what she sees, most from her imagination – but Christmas scenes and ornaments are her staple. She paints them year-round at her home, and together with her mom, Betty, they have the process down to a science. Betty paints the white base coat that sets the scene and adds the glitter work to frame it. The detail of skies, buildings, snow and trees looks like it could fill hours. Instead, it only takes Smith a matter of minutes.

70 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Smith’s “paint on anything” attitude has also expanded her media to include whatever she can get her hands on – small clay pots, gourds, leaves and feathers.

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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 71

Smith started painting as a hobby and soon her Christmas ornaments became the talk of friends and family.

72 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

The Persistent Artist

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“God is the one that gives me the talent, gives me the ideas and makes my eyes work,” she said. Helen, Georgia, is the closest to Alabama that a customer can find Smith’s creations, but they have shown up in stores as far away as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Lake Tahoe and Vancouver, Canada. Upscale shops and hotels, including Cesar’s Palace, have requested to feature Smith’s ornaments to their customers. Famed former Hollywood-couple Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson discovered Smith’s ornaments in one hotel and purchased every one in stock. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, visitors where given a list of “The Top Seven Things You Can Purchase in Georgia.” Smith’s ornaments were on that list. She retired in December and now with a full-time devotion to her ornaments, the sky is the limit. She is working on setting up a website and continuing to do what she enjoys most. One thing for sure is that she isn’t going to slow down. That voice is always there, pushing her to “be persistent.” “Everybody has a talent for something, just practice and make it your own. Develop it,” Smith said. “There is always something to paint.” l

For more information on Lynn Smith’s ornaments and creations, contact her at or (256) 538-5010

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June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 73

74 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

Master storyteller gets ‘schooled’ on

Chandler Mountain

Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin In 1974, Dolores Hydock was on a hunt for folklore for an in-depth paper she was researching for a college class at Yale University. That unlikely journey from New Haven, Conn., led her up a winding mountain road in northeast Alabama and clear up on the top, she found what she was looking for and some things she never dreamed she would find. As a student in American Studies, this city girl born and raised in the north, set her sights on the Deep South for a paper on Alabama folklore. Recounting her early planning efforts, she said she traveled across the state and “discovered everything from Mardi Gras to snake handling.” Alabama’s folklore was so abundant and so diverse, she faced the dilemma of having to narrow her focus. Enter Warren

Musgrove, who owned Horse Pens 40 on Chandler Mountain at the time. She had been encouraged to go and see him because of his gift for storytelling and his ability to recognize where the best folklore could be found — right where she was — on Chandler Mountain. For four months, she lived among its people, developing special relationships that would draw her back to the state after college and put her on a road that led to her life as one of Alabama’s master storytellers. On her CD, Footprint on the Sky: Memories of a Chandler Mountain Spring, Hydock vividly recounts the people and the places atop the mountain. On the CD and in person, she talks fondly of those months, especially centering around two special friends — Hazel Coffman and Dora Gilliland. She talks of their impact — just like people who make a difference in your life, people who are “not powerful but are strong; not wealthy but are generous; not famous but are loved.”

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 75

Master storyteller

Dolores on rocks at Horse Pens 40 with Dora’s quilt and Hazel’s bonnet.

Dolores Hydock is a successful actress and story performer. Her work has been featured at concerts, festivals and special events throughout the country. Her nine CDs of original stories have earned Resource Awards from Storytelling World Magazine. She began her career part-time reading stories to residents of a Birmingham retirement home. She began to tell her own stories, and she has been doing it ever since. That was 1987, and it has led to a full-time career and national notoriety. “I had no idea people would like to listen to me tell stories. It grew and grew and grew.” For more about her work and her latest projects, go to 76 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013

They are, she said, people who “work hard, live simply, love their families and make strangers feel at home.” Just like Hazel and Dora did for a college girl from up north in 1974. Hydock traveled the snaky road leading to the top of Chandler Mountain with Discover, revisiting some of the places and remembrances that helped shape the story performer and actress she is today. Her wit, charm and an innate ability to turn a phrase in any direction she wants it to go are simply part of her signature style on stage, much to the delight of audiences large and small. She is the most requested Road Scholar, a program of the Alabama Humanities Foundations that provides top-notch speakers for libraries and historical groups across the state. And she is an award winning story performer with national accolades to her credit. She has taken many an audience back in time to her Chandler Mountain spring, a time of seemingly endless learning for this Ivy Leaguer, the kind of lessons you just can’t get from books. With a twang in an accent familiar around these parts, she lets audiences know some of the lighter lessons learned there: “Sand Mountain tomatoes are the most famous, but anyone who knew tomatoes knew Chandler Mountain tomatoes were the best.” If you’re mountainfolks, it’s “on the mountain and off the mountain,” no going up or down. That spring, she stayed at the Clarence House, a place used only in the summertime for tomato growing season. It had no electricity — only a fireplace to keep her warm. There, she learned her first lesson. Those “long pointed sticks” piled behind the house were not kindling left by a thoughtful landlady, they were tomato stakes, which she learned after burning a whole stack of them her first week on the mountain. At Rogers Bros. Store, whose sign advertised “feed, seed, hardware, groceries and gas,” she learned a little more. She had a ringside seat, a crate bench by a wood burning stove where people gathered to “tell stories and a lie or two,” she says. She talks of their patience when a language barrier seemed to get in her way. “You ever warm up?,” a woman asked her. Not knowing if she was referring to the weather or her demeanor, she was rescued when Hazel Coffman sensed her panic and stepped in to save the day. “She’s asking

Dora Gilliland and Hazel Coffman

you do you ever eat leftovers, you know, warm up? She’s inviting you to dinner, honey, if you’ll eat what she has.” With an obvious debt of gratitude, Hydock says, “Hazel and Dora Gilliland took me in — helped me understand you might come to Alabama looking for folklore but if you give it half a chance, odds were really good you’d end up finding a home.” And that she did, moving to Alabama that same year after graduation. She credits Hazel with unlocking her storytelling ability in later years with an iconic image of her — one leg shorter than the other making her “tilt” when she walked. Dressed in a bonnet, galoshes and overalls, she would scatter feed through the yard for dozens of chickens, calves, cows, a dog and a one-eyed cat. “Come on babies,” Hazel would call. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t easy to get around, there are “plenty ways of doing things if you want to,” Hazel told her. “Come on babies,” she calls as they scurry toward her. “I hold this picture of her in my heart,” says Hydock. In her stories, Hydock talks about the old Chandler Mountain Community Center. It’s closed now, but it once was a thriving gathering place, especially for the women who came to quilt and visit every Tuesday and Thursday. It was there she made it over another language barrier. What is afternoon to some is strictly evening up on the mountain. “When you’re up at first light and don’t know anything after 8 when you go to bed, anything after noon is evening,” she was told. How did they learn to quilt so well? “Grow up in a house where you can see through the cracks in the floor, and you know it gets plenty cold in the wintertime.” With five or six kids in a house, “You learn to make them pretty quick.” Hazel’s best friend was Dora, who Hydock describes as having a high, funny laugh. “Everything just tickles her to death.” Dora would offer tales of her Aunt Bertie who used to tell scary stories. Dora admitted they did scare her in her early years but as she grew older, she learned not

June - July 2013 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 77

Master storyteller Dwight Rogers, whose parents owned Rogers Store, happens by while Hydock is on the mountain. He points out old school pictures of people she might know.

to be so afraid. One time, Dora told her, Aunt Bertie started one of her stories, saying a man without a head got in bed with her and Uncle Carl. A sensible Dora stopped her right there. “A man with no head may have gotten in bed where I had been, but not in bed where I was. Imagine a man with no head getting in the bed with you.” Hazel sold bonnets every year at the bluegrass and crafts festivals held at Horse Pens every fall and spring. She had the first booth next to the music stage, selling the bonnets she made. “She sold hundreds every year. Dora sold handmade quilts.” They were part of what made those festivals a featured state attraction every year. In later years, Hazel moved to the city, Gadsden, and lived there 14 years before she passed away. Dora stayed on the mountain — “canning and quilting,” Hydock says. She was 96 when she died. Those two special ladies, Hydock tells her audiences, may be people you know or you know someone just like them. “They live on in the memories of people whose lives they touched and the people who love them.” And they live on in the stories Hydock tells about a spring spent on a mountaintop and a place where she found a home. l

78 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | June - July 2013



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Odenville's western author legend Ralph Comption, Dog motorcycle passenger, Storyteller Dolores Hydock, Easonville under the Coosa and more