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Kids headed to Nashville • Wetlands Boardwalk • Smithsonian Clayton Garner • Odenville History • New Restaurants • Tour de Blue

June & July 2014

Chasing their Passion

Kayakers find adventure on Kelly Creek rapids

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Features and Articles Discover

The Essence of St. Clair

Ctheir hasing passion Kayakers riding the rapids on Kelly Creek

Page 30

Smithsonian coming to Pell City

Traveling the Backroads

Page 8

Liberty House Guitars

Clayton Garner Landing TV Gig

Andy Deason Tour de Blue

Page 42

Page 50 Page 56 Page 62

Business Review Louie’s Pickles

Restaurant boom

Wetlands Boardwalk opens Page 58

Page 22

Page 46

‘Shorty’ Goodwin

Teens Bound for Nashville Page 36

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City Market Artistic Hair Business Briefs

Page 64 Page 66 Page 70 Page 76 Page 78

June & July 2014



etro Bank is a full service state chartered financial institution with nine locations in east-central Alabama. We offer a full line of banking solutions for every need. Personal and business checking and investment accounts, programs for mortgage loans, consumer and commercial


lending and lines of credit to name a few. We have been listed consistently in the American Banking Journal as one of the nation’s top performing community banks. Metro Bank continues to build on the philosophy of



friendly, caring bankers that work to meet the needs of our communities. Our bank believes in the power of the local business. In these trying times, we want to encourage everyone to shop locally. Remember, we are never so powerful as when we work together.

Writers AND Photographers Carol Pappas Carol Pappas is editor and publisher of Discover St. Clair Magazine. A retired newspaper executive, she served as editor and publisher of several newspapers and magazines during her career. She won dozens of writing awards in features, news and commentary and was named Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist at Auburn University. After retiring, she launched her own multimedia company, Partners by Design Inc. In addition to marketing, design and web services for companies and nonprofits, Partners publishes Discover, various community magazines for chambers of commerce and Mosaic Magazine, a biannual publication of Alabama Humanities Foundation.

Leigh Pritchett

For almost 30 years, Leigh Pritchett has been involved in the publishing industry. She was employed for 11 years by The Gadsden Times, ultimately becoming Lifestyle editor. Since 1994, she has been a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in online and print venues. She holds the Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Montevallo.

Wallace Bromberg Jr. Wally was born in Birmingham. He graduated from Mountain Brook High School in 1973, and went on to Auburn University where he graduated in 1976 with his BA in History and minors in German and Education. Wally’s skills in photography blossomed during college. Upon graduation, he entered his father’s business, National Woodworks, Inc. After a 30-year career, he decided to dust off his camera skills and pursue photography full time.

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


Graham Hadley Graham Hadley is the managing editor and designer for Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine and also manages the magazine website. He has won more than 20 awards for reporting, editorial writing and graphic design. 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., and has worked as an adjunct professor of journalism at Talladega College. He currently serves on the Auburn University Journalism Advisory Council.

Elaine Miller Elaine Hobson Miller is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism from Samford University. She was the first female to cover Birmingham City Hall for the Birmingham Post-Herald, where she worked as reporter, food editor and features writer. A former editor of Birmingham Home & Garden magazine and staff writer for Birmingham magazine, she has written for a variety of local, regional and national publications. including American Profile, Woman’s World, The Dallas Morning News and The Birmingham News. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Myths, Mysteries & Legends of Alabama and Nat King Cole: Unforgettable Musician. She is a member of Alabama Media Professionals and NFPW (the National Federation of Press Women). Originally from Birmingham, she lives in a log house in the middle of the woods in Ashville. Follow her weekly blog about life with a dozen four-legged critters, life in the country and life in general at http://www.

Jerry C. Smith 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.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

From the Editor

Fierceness, beauty of rapids a lure I had heard about some rapids on Kelly Creek off and on over the past couple of years, but not too many knew of their existence. When few people know about something in St. Clair County, it’s like dangling some sort of irresistible bait in front of us here at Discover. I put on my reporter hat and reached out to kayakers I knew, but they had never ridden the rapids at Kelly Creek. Like a good neighbor in time of need, though, they were more than willing to help in the hunt, reaching out to their extended network of paddlers. And it worked. We found a group of Kelly Creek kayakers, but we had to be ready in a moment’s notice to capture it all for the magazine, they advised. So when early April’s torrents rained down, conditions shaped up just about right. And on a weekday afternoon about 2, the rain ceased, Kelly Creek had swelled, and the longawaited call came in. Our intrepid photographer, Wally Bromberg, threw his camera gear together and headed to the bridge near Brompton on U.S. 78 where the kayakers “put in.” What transpired over the next couple of hours you’ll find not only on our cover this month but spread over page after page as we all ride the rapids with them — if only in our dreams. Of course, for me, it would be a dream. The extent of my own kayaking is paddling around my slough on Logan Martin. But there’s a sense of adventure in us all — vicarious or not — and kayaking Kelly Creek’s Class 3 rapids has a lofty ranking among them. The story, photo spread and first-person account from master kayaker Ben Bellah sums up what we strive for in every magazine — to expose our readers to all the ‘discoveries’ St. Clair County has to offer. It is much like the Pell City High School student who spends her off time in a country music academy called Nashville Bound or a 10-year-old Odenville girl who is chasing her

own country music dreams on a reality TV show. It’s not much different than the museum that doubles as a home for Clayton Garner or the gripping recounts from Shorty Goodwin of being a POW in World War II. They are all adventures of discovery, finding that place within you that makes you do what you do. So just turn the page, and let’s head out on this journey of discovery together.

Carol Pappas Editor and Publisher

Discover The Essence of St. Clair

June & July 2014 • Vol. 18 •

Carol Pappas • Editor and Publisher Graham Hadley • Managing Editor and Designer Brandon Wynn • Director of Online Services Mike Callahan • Photography Wallace Bromberg Jr. • Photography Arthur Phillips • Advertising

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

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


The Smithsonian Institution

Coming to

Pell City

Images from the travelling exhibit

Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Wally Bromberg and Graham Hadley Submitted photos Pete Rich pulled back the curtain of the bright-red photomat booth and stepped outside. His signature grin that seemingly stretches from ear to ear unmistakably revealed what had just happened. He had told his story — the story of his family, of his life and of his work — to a camera lens inside the booth. And he was proud to tell it. He was prouder still that it will be shared for years to come. It was an oral history that was recorded for a statewide video produced by Alabama Public Television for the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program coming to Pell City in July. Rich was among 25 Pell City citizens who shared their story in April that will be shown on the ‘big screen’ at CEPA — The Pell City Center for Education and the Performing Arts — during a five-week exhibition called The Way We Worked. Made possible through a partnership of the Smithsonian Institution and Alabama Humanities Foundation with support from Alabama Power Foundation and Norfolk Southern Railroad, only six cities are chosen to host the traveling exhibit on its yearlong tour through the state. It is part of the national Museum on Main Street program, which travels to smaller towns and cities to provide an opportunity for their citizens to tour a Smithsonian exhibit. Pell City kicks off the exhibit tour, which will be held at CEPA July 19 through Aug. 23. The centerpiece of the exhibition is an actual Smithsonian exhibit exploring how America worked over the past 150 years. It is a 600-square-foot display of old photographs, narratives and interactive elements that help tell that story. Surrounding it will be local exhibits detailing the work and history from around St. Clair County, primarily the southern region. Artifacts and old photographs will tell the story of Avondale Mills, the building of Logan Martin Dam, the creation of Logan Martin Lake, constructing U.S. 231 and myriad other history-making events that comprise the region’s past. “We are so proud to be hosting this exhibition,” said Pam Foote, project director. “We thank the Alabama Humanities Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution for giving our citizens and our young people this rare opportunity — an opportunity they might not have otherwise — to see an actual Smithsonian exhibit.” As an added benefit, “we get to put our signature on this event with our own local exhibits. Our committee of planners is busy gathering old photographs and artifacts from all sectors of the community to transform the grand lobby of CEPA into an impressive exploration into our past.” Tour guides, or docents, will take individuals and groups on a visual journey of America and the region’s rich history of work. Free, special events will be held in conjunction with the exhibition, including an evening made possible by the Pell City Library with best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg in August. Bragg’s The Most They Ever Had, a compilation of real-life stories of America’s

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


The Smithsonian

Right: Avondale Mills, Pell City’s grandfather industry, will figure prominently in the exhibition. This is a toy truck from the Mignon Smith collection. Below: The introductory display in the exhibit cotton mills, will be the focus of his talk. Alabama’s master storyteller Dolores Hydock will present the life and work of Norman Rockwell. Alabama’s mobile training lab, a robotics display that is a tractor-trailer-truck long, will be onsite for three days to give an impressive view of how the world works now and in the future. And other events are being developed, like Denim Day, when everyone is encouraged to wear denim in remembrance of Avondale Mills, Pell City’s grandfather industry. On the movie screen in CEPA’s theatre, the oral history project will play throughout the exhibition, providing opportunities to hear the stories told firsthand not only by Pell Citians but by Alabamians from around the state. “This is truly a coming together of our whole community around our past, and the oral history project took on a life of its own,” said Deanna Lawley, who with husband, Barnett Lawley, coordinated it. “The stories were so touching, and they gave us a real glimpse into our community’s rich heritage of work.” The “Red Box” will return at exhibition time, and additional oral histories will be recorded for posterity. “It is so important for us to preserve these memories. They are the stories and events that shaped us as a community,” Lawley said. Dr. John Kvach is lead scholar on the Smithsonian project for Alabama Humanities, and he led a workshop for teachers and administrators from Pell City and St. Clair schools. Five video cameras were donated to the Pell City School System to record future oral histories, and Curriculum Coordinator Kim Williams said oral histories will now become part of the system’s curriculum from now on.


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The Smithsonian The Way We Worked ribbon cutting and grand opening will be held July 19 at 10 a.m., and the museum will be open until 5 p.m. that day. During the exhibition period, it will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Special event nights will have extended hours, and closing day, Aug. 23, will be open from 9 a.m. to noon.

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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Retired Pell City High head football coach Pete Rich (left) talks with APT’s Mike Letcher after giving oral history.

“Our teachers were so excited after Dr. Kvach’s workshop,” Williams said. There is a new enthusiasm among teachers from kindergarten all the way up to 12th-grade for incorporating oral histories in their teaching. “What a novel approach to connecting students with older generations and helping them not only learn but understand history from those who have lived it.” The exhibit is open to the public, and school tours are being scheduled as well. In addition, if a group, club, church, senior center or other organizations would like to schedule a tour, they are asked to call 205-338-1974 to book their tour. “We want this to be a region-wide event celebrating our history, and we encourage all who can to come and tour our museum on main street,” Foote said. “There will be plenty of opportunities to reminisce, to learn and to understand this thing we call history.” Organizers hope that it will be an opportunity for the future, too. Pell City does not have a museum, and discussion is now centering on this event being a springboard for the establishment of a museum for the city. “With every display, we have had our eye on the future and how elements of this exhibit can be used in a full-fledged museum,” she said. “People are getting excited, not only about the prospects of this event coming to town but what it can mean in coming years. This has been a great experience for our community, and we hope that the momentum continues. l

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Traveling the



History comes to life in its people, landmarks St. Clair’s small towns of the early 20th century mostly came in two varieties: Satellite villages based upon extensions of heavy industry in larger cities and stand-alone settlements that were small cities unto themselves. Of the former, Margaret was a classic example, and Odenville typified the latter. Margaret sprouted from St. Clair coal mining camps of Jefferson County’s DeBardeleben mineral empire, whereas Odenville was a self-sustaining community in its own right, a microcosmic version of much larger towns. Some 50 years before Birmingham existed, Odenville’s environs were settled by various pioneer families. Among them were: Hardin, Hodges, Vandegrift, Mize, Forman, Jones, Robertson, George, Watson and Newton. According to Odenville historian Joe Whitten’s book, Odenville, Alabama—A History Of Our Town, many of these people traveled in a wagon train through Georgia en route to lands in Alabama from which the last bands of Creek Indians had recently been evicted by Andrew Jackson. It was on this expedition that Peter Hardin had met and wed Ellen Vandegrift, beginning a pioneer family that would eventually put Odenville on the map. The year was 1821. Peter Hardin built a cabinet and blacksmith shop, among the first industries in an area then known as Hardin’s Shop. Besides craftwork, he sold groceries and other goods to local folks. Prices for his products and services are listed by an Odenville native, Frank Watson: Sharping one plow — 6 ¼ cents Two shoes made and put on — 50 cents Making two dozen nails — 25 cents Coffee — 15 cents per pound Bacon — 14 cents per pound Beef — 3 cents per pound (!) Whiskey — 75 cents per gallon Salt — $6.50 per sack Hogs — $5.00 per head. The disparity in prices between vital commodities speaks volumes about rural priorities in those days. In addition to his commercial involvements, Peter Hardin was an ordained Cumberland Presbyterian minister who, according to Whitten, preached the very first service in the present Liberty Church sanctuary (formerly Presbyterian, now non-denominational). It’s little wonder the town was called

Hardin’s Shop for so long. Peter and Ellen Hardin’s pioneer home is described by Whitten as being made of hand-hewn logs, with three rooms and a detached kitchen out back. There was a fireplace with stone hearth, and a stone mantel inscribed with the date 1840. The house endured for nearly 150 years before being demolished. Its carved mantel still exists, preserved by a local family, the Stepps. The Hardins were true agri-community settlers. In those days, the main local crops were cotton, wheat, corn and oats. Their son, Crowe Hardin, traveled from farm to farm with his threshing machine and later became an important figure in the town’s business development as well. Another son, J.L., built a cotton gin, soon to be joined by a second gin built by Bob Ewing.

Story by Jerry C. Smith Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr. • Submitted photos DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Traveling the

BACKROADS Former Bank of Odenville/City Hall now Fortson Museum

Odenville Comes of Age In 1874 a post office was granted to Hardin’s Shop, which became incorporated as Odenville, Ala. Whitten says no one really knows for which Oden it was named, but research continues. With the completion of Seaboard Air Line Railroad in 1905, Odenville was set to become a real economic player. The center of town was at the crossing of two section lines, on the former College Street at Beaver Creek, near the MaddoxWhitten home, which still stands. Odenville’s incorporated area was considered to be a circle from that point, of about a mile and a half diameter. Unfortunately, the town’s lots were first laid out in the old days, when things like property lines were more or less understood rather than meticulously defined, causing a few real estate disputes in more recent years. The railroad’s construction was of intense interest to Odenville folks in its own right, actually taking on a social aspect. To quote Whitten’s book: “… gathering to watch the workers and their progress was a favorite pass-time of the young ladies. In early June of 1903 there was a barbecue at the (Hardwick) tunnel. … Local churches held services at the workers’ camps, sometimes without success”. Railroad camps were populated with men from all over America and other countries, such as Cuba and Italy. A local doctor, W.F. Vandegrift, served their medical needs, both as town doctor and railroad medic. Erskine Vandegrift, in his book, Dock Vandegrift, The Life Of A Country Doctor, tells of his father’s work: “On August 23rd, 1904, came a messenger that Joe Goddard had got run over by a dinky (small


locomotive) … and was bleeding to death. … His foot had been crushed on one leg, the other leg had been crushed below the knee. “While working on the work-train dinky as a fireman, Joe had bruised a finger and saw blood, causing him to faint and fall beneath the wheels of the dinky … crushing his legs.” With the help of two doctors from Springville, Dr. Vandegrift performed the required amputations on a makeshift table on the front porch of a home. His son continues: “It was a public affair with many spectators standing on the ground beneath the porch to view a spectacle of a lifetime. … The operation (was) finished, leaving Joe at the point of death from losing a large amount of blood. The doctors could not promise the slightest hope. Nevertheless, with Joe’s constitution and the power of God Almighty, he survived.” Whitten adds that Goddard lived well into his 80s. The railroad opened all kinds of economic doors for Odenville, creating a bustling little town that soon earned its niche in St. Clair history. All kinds of new shops and stores sprang up, as well as a fine little hotel, the Cahaba. Many of these new concerns arose courtesy of Watt T. Brown, via his Odenville Land & Development Company. Odenville advanced into the 20th Century when Dr. Vandegrift installed the first telephone system. Erskine Vandegrift tells of it: “He constructed a 10-mile telephone system to accommodate his patients, to eliminate so much travel in reaching a doctor. “The telephone system consisted of series telephones having one wire conductor and the ground for return, reaching from

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

Smithsonian exhibit coming to Pell City July 19-Aug. 23. Ribbon Cutting, Opening Ceremony July 19, 10 a.m. CEPA-Pell City Center for Education and the Performing Arts

Schedule Your Group Tours Today! Schedule your church, senior citizen center, school, group or club by calling 205-338-1974. Local exhibits of photos, artifacts, video of how St. Clair County worked surrounds this national, traveling exhibit exploring how America worked over the past 150 years.

Special programs Alabama's Master Storyteller Susan Love Rast Dolores Hydock Pell City Players as key figures in Alabama Humanities Road Pell City history Scholar speakers Oral Histories Video Robotics Demonstrations

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Traveling the

BACKROADS Odenville United Methodist Church

Odenville Police Department now operates in restored Smith house near Branchville. Moody Crossroads through Branchville to Odenville. “Each party could ring any party they choose by ringing the assigned rings. There was no privacy. … Anyone along the line could eavesdrop the other. Dr. Vandegrift never made any charge for his telephone service.” The first automobile to visit Odenville was a Stanley Steamer, owned by Judge High from Ashville. Quoting Whitten’s book: “According to an eyewitness account given by Homer and Mollie Byers, Judge High came to our town on a Sunday afternoon, and naturally, quite a lot of people came to see his automobile, this marvel of modern transportation. Judge High was so caught up with the excitement his automobile was causing that he lost control of the vehicle and ran into a fence post.” Not long afterwards, Crowe Hardin acquired the town’s first car. Clyde Steed describes it in Whitten‘s book: “It had high wheels like a buggy tire. You changed gears on the outside. Him coming up the road in that thing scared everybody’s horses, and they’d run away.” Hardin’s automotive lead was soon followed by several other prominent Odenville folks, bringing their town fully into the Machine Age. The present U.S. Highway 411 was a dirt road at the time, like most others in St. Clair. First called the Montevallo Road, it was later designated as Highway 177, then AL 25, before finally being paved in the 1940s as a federal road. According to resident Paul Riddle, they didn’t prepare it and pave it in one operation but, after scraping, let it lay for two winters to harden the surface. One-time mayor John Scoggins speaks of Mr. Will Williamson, who ran the rock store which still stands at the corner of U.S. 411 and Old Springville Road. Although warned the road sweepers were coming, he stubbornly sat beside the road to watch, and was quickly covered from head to foot in a thick layer of chert dust. The Cahaba Hotel Watt T. Brown’s little hotel, the Cahaba, did a brisk business due to the railroad, as well as from St. Clair people making the long trek from Pell City via wagon or horseback to go to the


county seat in Ashville, before a second courthouse was built in Pell City. The journey was long and quite arduous because of a mountain chain separating the two cities, requiring Pell Citians to cross over near Brompton. The Cahaba also boarded high school students from distant parts of St. Clair. They usually arrived on Sunday afternoon, attended school through the week, then returned home on the Saturday morning train. By modern standards it would seem a short commute, but in those days there were only dirt roads and no rapid transportation other than trains, so it just made better sense to board through the week. Perhaps the Cahaba’s greatest attraction was its food. Carl Ware, a 95-year-old Odenville resident, says everyone ate at the hotel’s dining room at every opportunity. Salesmen and others tried to time their travels so they could have lunch or finish their day at the Cahaba. People even rode the train just to dine there. The hotel complex had a large, open meeting room at one end, used for many community functions. A Mr. Hurst traveled around the county with a projector and showed movies there every Saturday, mostly westerns, with a ticket price of 10 cents. Calvary Church also met there while building their sanctuary. Other parts of the building served as dental and medical offices, retail space, even an auto repair shop. The Cahaba Hotel was a 16-room affair, all upstairs except for a small lobby at one end. Eventually it was made into apartments, and finally demolished around 1980. Today a fine library occupies that space. One of the library’s inner divider walls is made of brick salvaged from the hotel. Town Life Odenville soon gained several blacksmiths, a few barber shops, a bank, numerous mercantile and dry goods stores, a Dodge/International Harvester dealership, a heading mill for making barrels, two millinery shops, livery stables, an oil company, saloon, both an elementary and a high school, a newspaper, a couple of dentists, and several old-congregation churches. There was a public water well with hand pump in the middle of Alabama Street and Third Avenue intersection, next to the

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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Traveling the

BACKROADS bank/post office and the hotel. Villagers and travelers used it to fill water containers, with the overflow running into a trough for watering horses. Odenville also had grist mills, both in town and on nearby Canoe Creek. With plenty of farmlands and natural resources, Odenville was all set to function as a complete rural town. John Scoggins, now 69, recalls hearing of a tragic incident involving a house Crowe Hardin was building, using a steampowered sawmill he’d set up on the property. Hardin’s son stated at breakfast one morning that he’d had a dream the night before that their steam engine would blow up that day, and didn’t want to go to work. His father laughed it off and made the boy work anyway. At about 10 a.m., the engine did explode, killing Hardin’s son. Hardin never finished that house but, being a practical man, salvaged the best of its lumber for other uses. Especially poignant in Odenville’s early history is an account of a 1910 Fourth of July celebration held for St. Clair’s Confederate veterans. According to Whitten, “Odenville tingled with activity. The park was tidied up as never before, tables were acquired and arranged in the grove, and excitement scampered like squirrels through the town.” A newspaper story relates what happened during the presentation of a Confederate battle flag which had been carefully concealed by its standard bearer since the surrender at Appomattox: “Standing beneath a canopy bedecked with stars and stripes ... St. Clair County men of the old Fifty-eighth Alabama Regiment wept as they gathered around the flag that once floated above their heads amid the carnage of battle “… At last came the moment when the Judge (John W. Inzer) carefully unwrapped the cloth that had held the flag enclosed. Hardly had the wrapper been removed … before one old soldier, whose locks had been whitened by the years since he had followed his loved flag, stepped quickly forward and, grasping tenderly the hem of the banner, raised it reverently to his lips, tears streaming down his face. ... ” Trouble On A Sunday Morning One of the town’s weekly social events was the arrival of the mail train on Sunday, but on one such morning, a singular event occurred that would leave the whole town divided, spawning a longtime feud. Joe Whitten outlines what happened: “The men of the town would gather at the post office (across from the Cahaba Hotel) on Sunday mornings to visit, catch up on the news and wait for the Postmaster to sort the mail. Sunday, July 25 of 1920, was no different in that respect; however, death brooded over the town, and it appears the town suspected there might be trouble that morning.” According to records, Dr. Cooke, who was the local banker and also kin to Lafayette Cooke who had founded Cooks Springs Resort, apparently had a long-standing dispute over a woman with Dr. Wilbanks, a local physician, and shot him in the back with a double-barreled shotgun just as Wilbanks was getting out of his car by the Post Office. Wilbanks miraculously recovered, later arriving by train to crowds of well-wishers, after a long stay at a Birmingham hospital. The Court awarded Wilbanks a judgment of $6,500 against Cooke, who soon moved away. But the matter was


U.S. 411 in Odenville hardly over. This shooting divided the entire town. Part of the populace pushed to have Odenville’s incorporation nullified, but didn’t succeed. Two buildings that burned were never replaced, several businesses went bankrupt, and the Bank of Odenville failed. With the coming of the Great Depression, Odenville shared in the same woes as every other struggling community, but several residents agree that the shooting did more to decimate the town than any other single factor. This division was further strengthened by a new feeling of “wrong side of the tracks”, as defined by Seaboard’s rail trestle, which bisected the community. Paul Riddle says most folks from either side seldom mingled with those beyond the trestle, even though you could have walked across the whole town in 15 minutes. In Present Times Today’s Odenville does not openly reflect anything other than a peaceful little town, garnished with a few ante- and post-bellum homes. There are whole new generations of pioneer descendants, and a host of émigrés who came to escape the noise, danger and unrest of big cities. The modern idiom is “bedroom community,” although Odenville still has a substantial old-family presence. There are numerous churches, a fine new high school, a new library built with major community involvement, and just enough modern retail works to make the place convenient without creating urban blight. It’s a nice little town to visit, where one can browse the Fortson Museum (check hours first), or just sit in the town center park and muse about the bustling farm community that once thrived here. Who knows? You might even run into Carl Ware, Joe Whitten, Paul Riddle or John Scoggins. If so, get comfortable, and prepare to experience the town’s heritage in great detail. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

WATT T. BROWN It’s said that at one time you could walk all the way from Ragland to Odenville without getting off Watt Brown’s land. As a mover-shaker in turn-of-the-century St. Clair County, Brown is certainly worthy of mention. Born in Talladega County in 1865, just a few months after the Civil War ended, Watt Thomas Brown was educated in Ohatchee before moving to Ragland. In 1902, he married into Ashville’s Inzer family. A consummate entrepreneur, Brown invested extensively in coal mines and other properties. He opened a bank in Ragland and helped establish their brick factory and cement plant, both of which are still in operation. In Odenville, he built several businesses, including the Bank of Odenville and Cahaba Hotel, and worked to bring a high school to Odenville which, for a while, was the only one in the county. The area around his coal works in Coal City was given a post office and renamed Wattsville. A major coal seam running through St. Clair is also named for him. However, not everyone was happy with some of Brown’s ventures, insisting that some of his acquisition methods were a bit shady. It’s said that a man who built a business place in Odenville was forced by Brown to pay rent on the sidewalk in front of his new store. St. Clair native Sharon Gant relates that her mother would not utter his name, or even the word, Wattsville, considering it an abomination, according to the Gospel. Brown served three terms as a state senator, but failed to get his way on several major projects. In 1930, he decided to go all-out and run for governor of Alabama, with a platform that included several proposals for highly beneficial public works. In Heritage of St Clair County, Edwin Tally describes him as “truly a man before the times.” However, he lost both the election and his huge fortune in one truly bad year. Watt T. Brown died in poverty about 10 years later, with little to mark his passing except a namesake coal seam and a post office in a once-prosperous but nowunincorporated community that was once in the running for an auxiliary county seat.

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014



Clayton Garner in one of his trademark outfits, completed with beads.

char·ac·ter • noun

1. The quality of being individual, typically in an interesting or unusual way. 2. An interesting or amusing individual. 3. Clayton Garner. — Online Dictionary

Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr. Clayton Garner sees things. Neither ghosts nor drug-induced revelations, his visions are of projects yet-to-be constructed. His hallucinogen is creativity, and it often keeps him awake at night. “I can see things that aren’t there,” he says. “I can see things finished before they’re started.” A former florist, a historian and storyteller, 82-yearold Garner is a true Southern original. Some people call him, “quirky,” which in the South is just a polite term for “eccentric.” What else would you call a man who saves the cuttings from his white hair, draping them over outdoor wall decor so the fox wrens will have nest material? “I can’t stand my hair going to a landfill,” he explains. But if Clayton Garner is eccentric, it’s because he chooses to be. He thrives on his eccentricity, wearing it as proudly as the homemade baubles and oversized turquoise necklaces that drape his neck when he goes out for Sunday dinner. He doesn’t care what people think of him. But like a larger-than-life character from a Tennessee Williams play, he does love the attention. “I make tacky jewelry,” he readily admits. “If I’m not going to get attention, why bother?” During his 40 years as a florist, Garner created floral arrangements for weddings and funerals. He also tore down, moved and rebuilt old houses and barns that were destined to be covered by the flood waters of a dam or eaten by vines and mildew. Now, his projects are in his own two acres of heaven in Cropwell, where he tends to his flowers and collects Garner genealogy and Avondale Mills memorabilia. He also raises purebred Nubian goats. “I’ve been raising goats for 50 years,” he says. “I showed them at the State Fair and other shows. I’m a member of the American Dairy Goat Association.” The man who sometimes wears a glass Jesus pin on a black vest doesn’t go to church, but has religious shrines all over his house. He believes in God and Jesus and miracles. He prays before a picture of Jesus he says turned from black and white to color overnight. He has a maple tree that was barren of buds one day, covered in its signature purple leaves the next. “I’ve learned to accept these things because I live with them,” he says. That’s why a metal sign at the front of his yard proclaims, “Water garden plants, Miracle Acres.” Another, an historical marker, testifies that his main house was built

The old wood-burning stove is now a place to show off treasures.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014



Garner’s property is full of artistic surprises and hidden wonders.

in 1826. Confederate soldiers mustered there, and Cherokee Indians passed it during the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma territory. The house had been empty for 12 years when he got it 39 years ago. “It had three bare light bulbs, and the electricity was still on and the furniture was still in it,” he says. Built by Caleb Capps, originally it was just a one-room cabin with no windows but three doors. “In 1844, Capps sold it to John W. Jones from Virginia,” Garner says, as he begins the first of many historical recitations on an early spring tour of his property. “Jones had 10 children so he added another room and a dog trot. Several rooms have been added through the years.” He used hired help when he first moved there in 1975, to take off the tin roof, build the porch back, to install drywall, wiring and plumbing. He put in a bath, and later tore it out and rebuilt it with marine-grade flooring and a cast-iron tub. The chimney in wife Dean’s bedroom is original, but vines were growing from its red-clay chinking when the Garners took possession. When Garner pulled out the vines, the chinking came out. With the patience he exhibits during the hours of beading, barbed-wire bending and sewing that go into his costumes and decor, he rebuilt the chimney stone by stone, replacing mud with mortar. His flair as a florist comes out in decor such as the barbed wire, dried okra pods and miniature wooden quail concoction hanging in Dean’s bedroom, and in the crosses of driftwood or wire and shells. Everywhere there are photographs: Of he and Dean, their daughter, their grandchildren and their ancestors. Early photos show a cleanshaven Garner with short hair, while in later ones he’s decked out in one of his costumes, or “outfits,” as he calls them, wearing a cowboy or farmer’s hat. And beads. Always the beads. They are draped over photo frames, deer antlers and crosses. They dangle from chandeliers and bed posts. Garner points to a small, framed Christmas ornament. He made 30 just like it while recuperating from a broken leg five years ago, cutting pineapples from an antique, crocheted bedspread and sewing beads around the edges. “I’ve been doing this bead stuff a long time,” he says. A pathway made of decorative cement tiles winds among the


Dean and Clayton Garner

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014



Garner has been raising goats for decades.

A historic marker proclaims the main house was built in 1826.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

oxalis, English dogwoods, lenten roses, jonquils, yellow Oriental irises, bamboo, dwarf buckeye, narcissus and buttercups. Where they lead over a small stone-and-concrete bridge, Clayton tells new visitors, “Go look at those kittens and see if you can run them out from under the bridge.” He can barely contain his glee as the unsuspecting take a peak. Then he pulls a string that sets a tiny plastic-and-fake-fur troll to waving its hands and dancing from side to side. Clayton points to a spindly tree with twisted branches that stick out in every direction, like something from a surrealist painting. “This is the biggest Harry Lauder walking stick tree you’ll ever see,” he says. In the midst of the shrubs and flowers stands a 15-foot stone bell tower Garner built a few years ago. One of its stones stands out because it’s black, charred from the fire it endured when Hall Hill School, in the former Avondale Mills village, burned down. He doesn’t throw anything away, and sooner or later he finds a place for everything. Half-buried earthen jugs stick out of stone and mortar walls, colorful tin fish and green cactus stand silent and motionless behind a still-life “aquarium” made of boxed-in window panes, and an iron bell post flies a faded Confederate flag. It’s one of several posts someone gave him. “People give me stuff,” he says. “I don’t refuse it. I deserve it. I give away a lot, too.” At the back of the property are two ponds, where he grows floating plants, water irises and spider lilies. “You can’t compare this place to nowhere else in this state,” he says. Bits and pieces of St. Clair and Garner history are woven into the tapestry of the 22 rooms that make up the main house, grounds and outbuildings. The spindles in his kitchen doorway came from the Mays house that used to stand beside Cropwell Baptist Church. A chestnut bed has been in his family for 200 years. “A lot of Garners and Pearsons were born in this bed,” he says. In 1979, he built an 8-foot-by-8-foot cabin playhouse for daughter, Michelle. The foundation stones came from his Grandfather Pence’s place on Will Creek near Attalla. Later, Clayton raised the cabin and dug out under it to build a wine cellar, which is stocked with empty bottles in a wine rack built into a wall. The rack is made from lightening rods out of Miss Iola Roberts’s house. “She was principal at Avondale Mills school,” he says. “She taught me. I was one of her pets.” He has always salvaged old structures to make new ones. After 20 years at his own shop in Pell City and 10 with Norton’s Florist, he operated Clayton Florist for 10 more years out of a building behind his home that he refers to as “the barn house.” Framed with 2-by-6s that came from the former Tom Tucker Horse Arena in nearby Lakeside Park, it has seals of 12 x 12-foot heart pine from the old Possum Trot Church at Riverside near Huckleberry Pond. The logs in the addition to the house were salvaged from a dilapidated barn in Easonville that had to be moved to build Logan Martin Lake. Other parts came from a two-story log house on the Watson farm in Lincoln, which originally served as a post office for the Pony Express in the town of Chachotta on Choccolocco Creek. The inside walls of the barn house are lined with the last of the lumber sawed at Snead Lumber Company in Snead, Alabama. “I have the doors to the butler’s pantry of Iola Roberts’s house, as well as its weather vanes,” Clayton says. “They are built into the barn house, too.” The house is deceptively large, with three bedrooms, a bath, a kitchen and a hallway connecting one side to the other. Two of the rooms are upstairs, on opposites of the house. Each has

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A window that came from an old cathedral in New Orleans. Garner has no shortage of hats to choose from.

its own stairway. There are photos of Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth II, because they are distant cousins, he says, and of Elvis and Larry Gatlin, because he likes Elvis and The Gatlin Brothers, a former country music group. This is where he keeps the genealogy booklets family members have given him. He can quote the name of each person in his lineage for 47 generations, all the way back to 534. “Ten of those generations were in America,” he says. “The first cotton mill in Alabama, at Piedmont, was built by my great grandfather, William Marion Pearson of Glasgow, Scotland. He lived to be 106.” His other great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Garner, who settled from Virginia, started the first Baptist Church in Alabama, he said. Asked how he knows so much about history, familial and otherwise, he attempts to explain. “I’m a nut. I know a little about everything,” he says. “Trouble is I don’t ever forget. It just stacks up. If I told all I knew. ...” His voice trails off, and he winks, hinting that he could get lots of folks around Pell City in trouble if he were to keep talking. “People tell their florist everything,” he says. He has a collection of memorabilia from Avondale Mills, including signs and photos of the children who swept the floor of the mill 12 hours a day, six days a week, for the silver dollar paid to their parents weekly. An upstairs bedroom displays several manually-operated office machines from the mill. “My mother worked there,” he says. “I went to school there. I knew everyone in the mill houses. They’re all gone now, the houses and the people.” Two hexagon-shaped, colored-glass windows in an upstairs parlor inspired him to build an addition to the barn house. “The windows came from an old cathedral in New Orleans, and they change colors as the light of the day changes,” Garner says. “The colors were sprayed on them. It’s a lost art.” He built the 19-foot rock-and-cement chimney that is connected to an old Imperial Beaver wood-burning stove that he used to cook on. Now, the stove’s oven and warming box hold more of his beaded trinkets. Some of his trinkets and costumes are seasonal, like the cape he made from a Christmas tree skirt and a fox-fur collar he found at a local thrift shop. When he wears one of his outfits, he accompanies it with a shiny, twisted, wooden walking stick, again draped with his signature beads. He also carries a tiny flask that he dramatically lifts to his lips from time to time, although it’s always empty. “I don’t dress like this all the time,” he confesses. “Only when I’m on stage.” One of his stages is the Cracker Barrel in Pell City, where he has lunch every Sunday. “I walk among the tables so everyone can see me,” he says. “The people love it.” He says he can’t take credit for all of the decor in his buildings, though. “Dean crocheted the coverlets on five of the beds in our house and the barn house,” he points out. “She made most of the curtains, including the set that she made from striped overalls denim made at Avondale Mills here in Pell City.” Come July, he and Dean will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary. His wife says he is always doing something and can hardly stand the winter because he can’t get outside to putter. “I keep this house clean, he keeps his clean,” she says, referring first to their living quarters and then to the barn house. “He goes down there and reads. Sometimes in the summer he takes a nap there because it’s so cool. He cleans it every spring.” She says he’ll get an idea for a new project and will stay awake at night figuring out how to do it. Garner says when he can’t sleep, he gets up and heats a cup of low-sodium chicken broth, a guaranteed sleeping potion. On the front porch of his main house, Garner has a stack of nine cedar boards from the old pavilion at Lakeside Park. Each is 2 inches thick and more than a foot wide. He plans to use them to build a curb for the well in his front yard. He wants to run a pipe into the well so he can draw water for his gardens. Where will he get the plans for that curb? He’s already seen them inside his head, of course. It’s just a matter of staying awake a few nights to work out the details. l

For more images from Clayton Garner’s unique world, visit 28

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Ctheir hasing passion Riding the rapids on Kelly Creek Story by Carol Pappas Photography by Wallace Bromberg Jr. Days of heavy rainfall gave way to an overcast sky, a brief clearing that signaled the go-ahead to a band of adventurous kayakers from points all around St. Clair County and beyond. Their destination? Kelly Creek, home of Class 3 rapids that beckon them whenever the water is just right. On this day, the rain-swollen rapids created the perfect run for these seasoned kayakers and in a moment’s notice, they answered the call to meet at a makeshift, roadside launch at a bridge on U.S. 78 near Brompton. It’s their “put in” spot, where kayaks are unloaded and hoisted to the edge, readying for the run. Designated drivers are part of a shuttle team that heads to the “take out” spot at the run’s watery finish line. What happens in between is nothing short of kayaker against nature, a quest to master the elements. Ben Bellah, who lives about 10 minutes away on the outer reaches of Leeds, describes Kelly Creek as a “micro gorge” with Kelly Creek Falls, a 30 to 35 foot cascading waterfall located miles downstream. After the falls, the next take out is another few miles of flat water chocked full of log jams and private land. “On the east coast, these Class 5 rapids may stand up to a standard Class 3 or 4. However, Kelly Creek Falls looks like a drop straight out of Yellowstone,” Bellah said. “Imagine cliff walls taller than a three-story house.” One by one, members of the group put in, skillfully launching their kayaks like a seal would slide down the smooth hollow of a muddy bank. First encounter is a three-drop rapid. “Once you’re in it, you don’t want to hike out,” warns Bellah.


Chris Cleveland

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Ctheir hasing passion

Ben Bellah


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

Left to right, front row, Alan McDuffie, Anthony Diggaccio, Ben Bellah, Kim Lan; Back row Chris Cleveland, Josh Thornton, Chris Durden.






None of the points along the way have names, so Bellah just describes them. There is an S run after the entrance rapid. You go through a slot of foam, and the water swirls. Here, the banks are very steep and overgrown. “There are giant boulders not too many climbers know about.” But some do, and it isn’t unusual to see them take advantage of their find. Up ahead are the railroad tracks. “When you see the tracks, the current flip-flops left to right.” Next, you’ll find play holes, where kayakers can “surf, spin around and get wet,” he says. “You can hike down there.” There is what he calls an “egg dropper” right above the first gorge drop. At the cliff rapid, you must go right or left to reach one of the best playholes. Left takes you to the best one, he adds. Left or right, split second decision-making is all a part of the run. “It’s like chess. You have to make the right move to connect the dots. You drop into a hole and then you drop into the best hole,” he said. Head right, and it’s “one small drop, then another, and the water is pushing you.” The next cliff rapid goes left or right as well. The water is curling and boiling as you slide between the rocks. The second cliff rapid is an experience. “The cliff wall curves, and the water pushes you against the wall and pushes you out.” Go .10 miles, and it drops 75 feet. It’s 300 yards to the cliff rapids, where it drops another 80-90 feet. “It’s really, really good whitewater.” In all, it’s about 17 minutes from top to top, meaning from put in to take out and back to put in. The run itself is five to 10 minutes. “I love to go fast,” he says. But not always. The scenery along the way is something to behold, worth slowing down to catch a glimpse. “Rhododendron is everywhere.” The rock face is smooth and imposing. And the flight of a heron is a thing of beauty. Bellah said he enjoys a solo trip down Kelly Creek rapids, giving him a chance to experience it all – the beauty, the adventure, the thrill. “I feel a sense of home

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Ctheir hasing passion because there is so much in that creek that nobody knows about. It replenishes my soul.” At 23, he has found his calling in the outdoors and wants to share with others the exhilaration he has experienced. He is moving to Colorado, where he will be teaching folks — children and adults — how to roll a kayak. He hopes one day to be a guide at the Grand Canyon. For him, whether it’s Kelly Creek or somewhere out west, he is just “chasing a passion.”


Kelly Creek is short, small, fun, and very close to Birmingham. The good part begins in Kerr Gap just off I20 exit 147, east of Birmingham not far from Moody. It is somewhat similar to Chitwood, but runs longer due to an upstream swamp. The swamp acts like a sponge, making flow peaks less severe. I agonized over whether to list this as a III or a IV. The vast majority of the run consists of class III’s, but there are a couple rapids that are at least III+’s and may be solid IV’s at some levels. There is a short warmup after the Hwy 78 bridge, then the class II and III begins. You pass under a railroad bridge, and the drops get gradually bigger. There are a couple easily avoided undercuts. The rapids are all drop/pool. Two of the rapids towards the end are fairly large and might be IV or IV-. It’s hard to characterize the boundary between III and IV on micro creeks. l


For more images of kayaking on Kelly Creek, see

Chris Durden


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

Images of Kelly Creek By Ben Bellah Editor’s Note: Ben Bellah is a kayaker who has a deep respect for nature and the rapids at Kelly Creek. He wrote this for Discover to share with you the images he sees as he makes another trek down the creek. Kelly Creek. Coffee and the sound of rain stifled by thoughts of sleep. Nestled between the stoic hills of Dunnavant Valley, decisions loom on my mind like the storm. Daybreak could not arise any faster. To get to Brompton, I drive from Shelby, through Jefferson, into St. Claire County on Highway 25. By the time I cross the train tracks, coffee is either gone or losing its steam. Sometimes as the winds howl down Kelly Creek Gorge, the train chases, rolling and rumbling through the fog down and around, sounding overhead. As ripples converge, the weathered granite and lichen grains stand beneath an old beaten bridge. A heron dives, up with writhing bream. The wind howls again. The water moves as a mass swirled amongst boulder stacks and sunshine in chaos. Sitting alone, sharing away the morning, with the dogs in the backyards, in a small eddy. Through the microgorge, a lonesome heron lazily, but steadily, stalks. A spook sends the lofty bird aflight. As the beast beats its wings, the sound of the water mingles into a rolling, rumbling roar. The water is still rising, wind howling as a dying tree takes its last stand. Forever pushed free by the flood, free from the pinch in a slow float, the tree floats downstream. Branches brush the right side of the bank with roots stretched diagonally to the left shore. We race. Racing time and the rush of the water.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Nashville Bound Teens headed for music career paths Story by Leigh Pritchett Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr. Madibeth performs at Workplay in Birmingham.

Many aspire to be country singers, but few have the talent to make it happen. Even fewer have the benefit of a mentor to direct them along the right path. But the goal of the Nashville Bound program is to set its participants apart by giving them a decided edge. Two young ladies with ties to St. Clair County — Abby Hodgens and Madibeth, who already has chosen a stage name — are “learning the ropes” through Nashville Bound along with the rest of the 10-member cast. Nashville Bound members — who are between the ages of 12 and 16 — are selected by audition, explained Steve Pennington, owner of Showstoppers Promotions in Birmingham. He is producer and director of Nashville Bound,


which is described as “an academy of country music.” It functions as a school to instruct participants in the facets of music entertainment, such as voice, guitar, music theory, performance technique, publicity, song composition and fashion. Professionals from Nashville teach some of the classes, said Pennington, who began the program in 2013 with his associate Ken Walker. The aim is to prepare participants for a music career or for work as producers, vocalists, backup singers, musicians and the like, Pennington said. During the year, Nashville Bound participants perform at various events, like LakeFest in Pell City, and Birmingham area venues, such as Tannehill Opry, Rogue Tavern, Tin Roof

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

Abby Hodgens plays her six-string acoustic guitar outside.

Nashville Bound and T. Wayne’s BBQ Smokehouse. In the summer, they get to appear at Rippy’s, Tootsie’s and Honky Tonk Central in Nashville, for example, Pennington continued. And Nashville Bound is producing positive results already. Three of the nine cast members from its first year have taken the “next step” in their music career. Discover magazine went behind the scenes with Abby and Madibeth during a performance one Sunday evening at Workplay in Birmingham to share their story of being Nashville bound.

Abby Hodgens performs at Workplay.

Abby Hodgens

Abby stood in the spotlight, just her and her trusty Washburn 12-string guitar. Her long curls dangled past the shoulders of her green dress. If she was nervous being alone on stage, she hid it as she belted out “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” As a “freshman” cast member, Abby sang three songs that night, the other two being “Tied Together with a Smile” and her own composition, “For You.” In between, she talked confidently to her audience. Backstage before the performance, Abby was “excited, but a little nervous.” She said it was almost like a dream coming true for her. “Never in a million years” did she imagine reaching this moment. The 10th-grader, who will be 15 in June, is the daughter of Steve and Debbie Hodgens of Pell City. Pennington remarked that he was impressed with Abby from the beginning. “She is the most complete (aspiring entertainer) to walk through the door, period.” She sings well, plays an instrument, “writes as good as Taylor Swift” and is “always prepared. She’s real dedicated to the craft,” he said. She is so dedicated that she used her spring break to write a song incorporating key changes, a technique she had recently learned to execute on her guitar. At 11, she wrote her first song and subsequently recorded it at CrownBox Studios in Birmingham, her Dad said. She performed another of her 10 compositions – “All for the Glory of You” – at a state Beta Club convention. “Since I was 8 years old and in the church choir, I’ve loved music,” Abby said. She has performed during the children’s service at her church, First Baptist in Pell City; at Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home; at Fourth Friday in downtown Pell City; and for First Priority gatherings at the high school. Singing is only one of her talents. For nine years, Abby has been dancing and is now a Junior Professionalette with Dale Serrano Dance Studio in Bluff Park. She also is a member of the Pell City High School’s dance line. An honor student in high school, she was at the top of her freshman class. She finds French a challenge and mathematics enjoyable. As a 9th-grader, she was a Navy nurse in the high school’s musical, South Pacific and was understudy for the lead. “When I’m doing music, I’m me,” Abby said. “But when I do theater, I get to be someone else.” Abby listens to Taylor Swift, Hunter Hayes and Carrie Underwood and dreams of creating her own style of music. She would like to incorporate elements of country into songs with a definite message about God and Jesus.


She wants her music to speak to people who might not otherwise listen to Christian music. Her dad said involvement in Nashville Bound has been a tremendous learning experience for Abby. “It has been fantastic for her. Abby comes out grinning ear to ear.” She gets to sing and jam with others like her, he said. At home, Abby might be found sitting in her yard while singing and playing the guitar. Or she might be in her “lucky chair” in her room, penning another song. Her room is decorated with all her current and former guitars, a mandolin she is learning to play and a watercolor piece she painted. “Guitars, to me, are like clothes are to other people,” Abby said. “I’m picky about guitars.” Her first taste of playing the guitar actually came courtesy of her sister, 10-year-old Anna. For one birthday, Anna received a pink guitar. Anna took some lessons with her guitar, then decided to learn piano. But Abby was hooked. After learning on a six-string, Abby picked up playing the 12-string guitar simply because she had heard it was difficult. She was determined to conquer it. Without hesitation, Abby said she “definitely” wants to have a music career. “I haven’t found anything else that I would be as happy doing.” After high school, she would either like to pursue a music career in Nashville or get a music degree. She said she might

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014



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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Nashville Bound like to be a music teacher or work with a music company. “I want to be in the middle of it all,” she said. Abby’s passion for music thrills her mother, who encourages her daughter to “sing from the heart. I just want her to do it for all the right reasons,” Mrs. Hodgens said. To that, Abby added, “Always, I’m singing for Jesus.”


Madibeth took the stage as the last entertainer of the evening for a reason. Pennington wanted her to do the finale. Her rendition of “Mule Skinner Blues,” in which she yodeled, created a crowd-pleasing end to the show. Being a “sophomore” in Nashville Bound, Madibeth was given more stage time and more responsibility. Wearing jeans, a lacy peach top and delicate, crocheted vest, Madibeth provided harmony for several singers and sang a duet with another before it was time for her set. In between her appearances on stage, she sat calmly in the wing, watching the show and cheering for her fellow performers. When it was her turn in the limelight, she performed Little White Church, her own composition Point of View, Blue Bayou and My Sweet Love Ain’t Around. At times, she was accompanied by as many as six musicians. During her set, she talked easily with her audience and discreetly signaled the sound technician about an issue. Her dad, Doug Bailey of Pell City, said she looked “super comfortable on stage.” Though Madibeth did not seem to have the jitters, her mom was a different story. “I’m always really nervous,” said Kristie Bailey of Oak Mountain. Bailey said he was impressed with the growth Madibeth has experienced as a performer, and Pennington noted the metamorphosis, as well. Madibeth is one of his voice students who “developed fast vocally.” He spoke of her “big, big, big voice,” adding, “She has rocketed to the forefront.” In fact, he taps her at times to be mistress of ceremonies. “She hosts many of my shows,” Pennington continued. “In one year, she just transformed” from a girl in voice class to a talented entertainer. As Madibeth’s Dad watched that night, he also reminisced. “I was just thinking and remembering back to when she was 4 or 5 years old, singing in the car.” She was sitting in her car seat, singing a Garth Brooks song … on key. At 3, she was playing nursery rhymes on a child’s piano, he said. By 10, she was singing in church and decided to take voice lessons. Then came different competitions, such as “C” Factor at Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center and the Texaco Country Showdown in Cullman, which qualified her for the Mid-South Fair in Memphis. “I’m very proud of her,” said Ms. Bailey. “She works very hard.” The 15-year-old is a 10th-grader at Oak Mountain High School, who enjoys studying French and history. For four years, she played lacrosse and now is the co-coach for the middle school team. She is also a member of the high school French Club and an award-winning equestrian who volunteers at Oak Mountain Stables. Just with Nashville Bound and lacrosse, “I’m very busy,” Madibeth said.


When she does have some leisure time, she might go on a trail ride, shopping with friends, hunting or fishing with her dad. Already, she is a prolific musician, playing a Martin sixstring guitar, a mandolin, flute and drums. She played in the middle school band, symphonic and advanced symphonic and was first chair in UAB Honor Band in eighth-grade. Now, she is learning the ukulele. “I can play maybe three songs on it,” Madibeth said. “It has more of an island-y feel. I could totally intermix ukulele in the country (music).” Though she prefers to perform classical country selections, she enjoys pop, rhythm and blues, alternative, classical and French. “I love all kinds of music.” In sixth-grade, Madibeth wrote her first song. She believes there is a definite formula for composing good ones. First, there has to be inspiration. Secondly, the song has to be written in an unusual place. A cemetery was where she and fellow Nashville Bound-er Jackson Capps co-wrote If I Could Write a Song. About the location, Madibeth explained, “It makes for an interesting story.” After high school, Madibeth wants to earn a college degree either in voice or interior design. “It would be amazing if I could be a country music star,” Madibeth said. But if that does not happen, she would perhaps like to provide backup vocals or instrumentation or work as a recording technician. Singing, though, is where her heart is. “If you love it, it’s not like work.” l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Kids Take Nashville TV

The photo of Veronica Anderson in Coldwater Studios was taken by hermother, Ashley Anderson.

Story by Leigh Pritchett Photos by Michael Callahan Veronica Anderson of Margaret has covered a lot of territory to be only 10 years old. She has been studying musical theatre, playing the piano and singing for five years, and dancing for eight years. She has performed at the Galleria, Homestead Hollow, Great Pumpkin Patch in Hayden and Moody Oktoberfest, where she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” a cappella. In each of three years, she has been “Miss Photogenic” in the Rising Stars program of the Miss Alabama Pageant. Now, the fifth-grader at Victory Christian School gets to add to her list of accomplishments a voiceover, a television show, a tune ranked on Clays Country Radio and a song on an album. Veronica – affectionately called “V” – will be featured on the reality show, “Kids Take Nashville,” said Beth Roose, who is executive producer, producer, director, writer, casting and creative director. “The cast is ages 4-14. There are 15 kids. We did select the top seven kids, which includes Veronica. Each of the cast sent in a video with a bio for the selection process.” Roose said 287 youths submitted information for consideration. The series, she said, will show cast members as they participate in branding, marketing and song-writing clinics, learn choreography and showmanship, and perform. Some of the performances, such as the ones at BBQ Caboose in Lynchburg, Tenn., are for a live television broadcast, Roose continued. “Then,” she said, “we will have some form groups, trios and


duets to record new music.” Needless to say, V was “excited” to learn she would be on the show. “I was very happy about that.” Filming for the first season was to begin at the end of April, said Ashley Anderson, V’s mother. The show has a time slot of 6 p.m. (EST) Sunday on AMG TV, beginning in September. Having seen behaviors and situations on some other reality shows involving children, “we were a little reluctant at first,” said V’s dad, Jim Anderson. “But it’s nothing like that.” In fact, Roose said, no parent or child “drama” is allowed on the show. “This is wholesome family entertainment that teaches the kids how to interact with all types of people.“ Mrs. Anderson said she sees Roose moving the children in the right direction to promote their music. “The experience on this one season has been amazing for (V),” she said. Her husband added that it is about having fun. A serious focus on a music career can come later. For V, she is simply enjoying the opportunities. “V doesn’t think any of it is a big deal,” Mrs. Anderson said. As for the voiceover, V was selected to do that for an animated Christmas feature. In March, she voiced the character of a little pig named “Patty Cake” in “It’s a Merry Christmas When Pigs Fly.” “I love doing the stuff I do,” V said. “I have so much fun.” Much is happening very rapidly for V. “It’s just been a whirlwind,” Mrs. Anderson said. To that, Anderson added, “The last two months have been pretty busy.” Sporting the red cowboy boots she “loves,” V talked about how piano, dance and voice lessons fill her week, while filming for the series keeps her busy on weekends.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Veronica Anderson and her parents Ashley and Jim Anderson.

She is set to record at least three songs for “Kids Take Nashville.” Roose said the show’s album is expected to be available through “Hero,” V’s first song for the show, was ranked 29 on Clays Country Radio,, a week in April, Mrs. Anderson said. “We’re pretty excited about it.” The recording session for “Hero” took place at Coldwater Studios in Tennessee and was V’s first time to be in such a setting. She said she found a studio to be a little overwhelming at first, but she warmed to it quickly. V’s first try was a take, her mother reported. Nonetheless, a second recording was made for good measure. Then, a third recording was done for V to lip-sync for fun while it was videotaped, Anderson said. Lisa Simpson, V’s voice teacher through Beverly’s Dance Unlimited in Clay, said V is a natural entertainer, describing her as “amazing. She is just an exceptional student. She’s a multitalented little girl.” Singing is very much a part of V’s life. “We sing in the car all the time,” said Mrs. Anderson. The two songs V most likes to sing right now are “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen” and “Dear Dumb Diary.” Actually, she said she likes all kinds of music — from Motown to Adele to Patsy Cline. “I really don’t have a favorite because it goes between a lot of types,” V said. Born in Jasper, Ind., V has lived in Alabama since she was 2 months old. At Victory Christian, she is an honor student whose favorite subject is reading. “I am a bookworm,” she confessed. Her mom said V’s extracurricular activities all are great, but education continues to be the priority. “We focus heavily in this house on schoolwork and grades,” Mrs. Anderson said. “If she keeps her grades up, Jim and I have no problems with it.”


Veronica did the voiceover for Patty Cake in It’s a Merry Christmas When Pigs Fly.

To this point, V has done exactly that. She ranks first in her class, is on the A Honor Roll and has perfect attendance. “I am proud of her for it,” Mrs. Anderson said. Although V is leading a busy life with her musical ventures and schoolwork, she finds time to devote to some special friends. “For fun, I like to play with my dogs,” she said. Yes, V would, indeed, like to have a career as a singer. But “when I grow up,” she said, “I want to be a vet.” l

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

‘Shorty’ Goodwin Story by Leigh Pritchett Photos by Michael Callahan The home of Clarence Edward Goodwin is a soft yellow, trimmed with white and cradled by blooms. Overlooking the lake, it resembles a dollhouse. In its entrance is a wall hanging that reads, “Within this house, may God’s love abide to bless all those who step inside.” Goodwin sat in the bright and cheerful sunroom fashioned by his own hands. Most people know him as “Shorty” – a nickname he got in first-grade for wearing knickers. Goodwin laughed and told a visitor, “Half my grandkids don’t even know (my real name).” Great-granddaughters Maya and Eva Webb breezed through from playing outside. Eva stopped long enough to show she had learned to twirl a baton. It is a pleasant, peaceful existence. Yet, it is far, far removed from the daily horrors Goodwin faced 70 years ago as a prisoner of war. Born in Walker County, Goodwin, who is 90, grew up in the Pinson-Chalkville area. When he was drafted at 18, the United States was involved in World War II. After finishing Army basic training in Texas, Goodwin boarded a train for Virginia, where he would be deployed overseas. On the way, he became ill and was hospitalized in Pennsylvania. Upon his release, records declaring him dead went to Washington, D.C., while the very much alive Goodwin was sent to Virginia. From there, he went first to North Africa, then Italy. Because he was “deceased,” his two basic training paychecks would be his entire monetary compensation for three years of military service. Attached to the 36th Texas Division, 142nd Infantry, he and four others were positioned at a river in the region of Naples, Italy, with the charge of preventing the Germans from advancing. “There was a river in front of us. (German) tanks came across it like it was a roadway,” Goodwin recounted. “We ran out of ammunition and everything else. We had no choice” but to surrender. Goodwin’s captors marched him 350 miles and put him into a boxcar with so many other people that they could only stand up. Goodwin was taken to Munich, Germany, and made to walk into Poland. He ended up in a POW camp working 12hour days. At night, the captives were locked up and their shoes confiscated. That was in 1943. From then until late summer 1945, he would spend time in at least four different stalags in

Long on inspiration

Germany, as well as work camps in Poland. He would turn 19 and 20 in captivity. With his own eyes, he saw unspeakable atrocities: Women raped and the men who tried to defend them being strung up on street lamps until they died; people shot at point blank as they fell on their knees, crying for mercy; ashes falling from the sky like snow — ashes from incinerated bodies. He was made to remove the bodies of starvation victims at the Dachau concentration camp. He saw Jewish people who were so thin that they were skeletons. Yet, it was an accident that he should see them and the corpses. Because he is an American, he was quickly removed from the task. “The Germans didn’t want the Americans to know that was happening,” he said. He knows the Holocaust was real. Even so, his mind could not comprehend the evil. “How can this be happening?” he wondered. “What’s next?” Those two words – “what’s next?” – described life day after day during captivity. There was little, if any, food for the POWs. They would scratch in the dirt to find worms, insects, grass – anything to eat. “There were a number (of POWs) who just willed themselves to death,” recalled Goodwin. “They just didn’t want to live.” The winters were long and the cold penetrating. “It’ll get to you in a hurry,” Goodwin said. The prisoners had only pants and shirts. There

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

Prized amongst Shorty’s medals is this star given to him by a Russian soldier after he escaped from a POW camp.


‘Shorty’ Goodwin were no coats, no glass in the windows, no heat in the buildings. The captives huddled together for warmth. Torture was frequent and heinous. Once, Goodwin was put in an underground pit that was too small for him to sit or stand. He had seen other men emerge from this punishment, stripped of their sanity by the relentless darkness, silence and solitude. He resolved to remain sane. He would play ballgames in his head, adding extra innings as needed. He would think about his mother, Katie Goodwin, and replay in his mind the different steps it took for her to prepare a meal or attend to her chores. “That’s how I kept my mind occupied,” Goodwin said. He had no idea how much time passed while he was in the pit, but later learned it was 15 days. During the months and years of captivity, thoughts of his mother were ever present with him. Many are the times he asked God to give him the chance to hug her once more. Four times, Goodwin tried to escape from camps. Each time, soldiers, dogs or Hitler Youth caught him. The fifth attempt was vastly different. Using a yardstick he found somewhere, Goodwin started measuring all sorts of objects in the camp. “Cassidy” – a man whom Goodwin took into his confidence for this mission – wrote down the figures Goodwin would tell him. The pair measured and measured for weeks. This activity became so common that the guards apparently began to see it as harmless. At one point, Goodwin was even allowed to measure the barrel of the gun a German guard was holding. The duo measured around a guard building. Goodwin discovered that, when he was behind the building, the guard could not see him or the train station about 300 feet away. One day when they were measuring around the building, Goodwin told Cassidy to run for the train when its whistle blew. The whistle sounded; the two sprinted. As they approached the back of the train, a German officer at the rear of the last car urged them in his language to hurry. He stretched out his hand to help Goodwin onto the train, and Goodwin thanked him in German. Before long, Goodwin and Cassidy came to the sinking realization that the train was headed into – not out of – Germany. They knew they had to get off, so they jumped through the train windows. Goodwin landed on a river embankment and swam away, with bullets flying past him. But Cassidy collided with a metal bridge and died instantly. For three weeks, Goodwin hid in the daytime and traveled at night. He sought Russian troops, knowing they were the only ones in the region working with the Allies. When he came upon the Russians, they were not pleased to see him, their sentiments toward the Americans having soured over issues. In fact, they wanted to send Goodwin to Siberia. Somehow, though, Goodwin convinced an officer that he wanted to fight alongside the Russians soldiers. For three weeks, he did. When the Russians finally met up with American troops in Berlin, Goodwin was able to rejoin his countrymen. He said to a Russian officer, “Let’s go home. The war’s over.” The officer replied, “For you, yes. For me, never.” Then, the officer pulled a star pin from his lapel and gave it to Goodwin, asking him to remember. Goodwin keeps the pin in a shadow box, which contains


Shorty and Bitt Goodwin the tangible reminders of his service to his country. There are medals for marksmanship, expert rifleman, North Africa campaign, German occupation, good conduct and World War II. His POW ribbon was sent to him 42 years after the fact during President Reagan’s Administration. His favorite, though, is the medal for gallantry. Tears stream down Goodwin’s face as he retells what happened on the battlefield and in the POW camps. Tears come when he speaks of asking God to let him hug his mother again. They come as he talks about how God’s hand was upon him during captivity. He thinks back to the moment when his hands were raised in surrender. Goodwin realized then that he was a man without a country, a flag, a family or friends. He was alone. It was then that he clearly heard the voice of God saying, “But I’m with you.” “A peace came over me,” Goodwin said. “I can’t explain it.” The peace was present the entire time he was a POW. “It’s still there,” Goodwin said.

Surrounded by ‘angels’

Many were the times that his life was spared or that people came into his path to help him. He is certain God put angels around him to protect him. One instance during which Goodwin felt that protection was when he stood before a firing squad. The soldier giving the commands shouted, “Ready … aim …” The word “fire” was all that stood between Goodwin and death. But rather than utter that final word, the soldier gave Goodwin the chance to go back to work. Another time was during a torturous interrogation. His

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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‘Shorty’ Goodwin German interrogator suddenly stated in English to other German soldiers in the room, “He’s a Christian. Let him go.” Still another act of divine intervention was when Goodwin experienced appendicitis. A Russian medic happened to be in the same camp as Goodwin. Even though he could not speak English, the medic indicated that he could do the surgery. The operating room was a stall from which a cow had to be removed, the scalpel a sharpened piece of metal. The string of a nearby feedbag was used for sutures. The only infection control was the 20-degree temperature outside. There was no anesthesia. Goodwin just passed out at some point during the surgery. When Goodwin awoke, he was alone in the barn. The Russian was gone. In fact, he never saw the Russian again. “I can see nothing but (God’s) hand in my life,” Goodwin said. After Goodwin’s escape from captivity, it took a month for him to return by ship to the United States. From New York, he went by train to Birmingham, arriving at 1:30 one morning. With no other means for getting home, he decided to walk. He figured he had walked over much of Europe as a POW, so he could certainly walk the 22 miles from Birmingham to Pinson. Goodwin did not know at the time the cloud of uncertainty under which his parents had been living. His parents first had received a telegram, saying their son was killed in action. Later, a Tarrant woman told them she had heard a BBC broadcast that her own son and Goodwin were taken prisoner. The Goodwins did not know which was the truth. At 7 a.m., Goodwin reached home. “That was when I put my arms around my mom that I’d been praying for so long,” Goodwin said. “She fainted.” After he was discharged from the military, Goodwin had only a week to recuperate before returning to semi-professional baseball. In a tournament during which he played for the Continental Gin team, he hit a home run and two triples. A scout saw him and Goodwin soon signed to play with the Rome Colonels in South Carolina, a farm team of the Detroit Tigers. After a year, he decided to go back to semi-pro baseball. In 1953, his team missed winning the World Series in Battle Creek, Mich., by one game. He played semi-pro until he was 62 years old. In 1947, he wed his wife Joyce, better known as “Bitt.” They now are in their 66th year of marriage, a union blessed with three children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Through the years, he has been an aircraft electrical mechanic, a plumber and an appliance repairman with his own shop. “I haven’t quit that yet,” he said. “I won’t ever retire, I don’t guess.” However, his POW experiences he kept to himself. He did not even tell his dad, Carlton Goodwin, before his death in 1976. After moving to Pell City in 1982, Goodwin felt like God was telling him to share his story. The first time he told it was at his church, First Baptist in Pell City. Since, he has spoken to many thousands in schools, churches and other groups in Alabama and during a television interview. He has shared his story about being a POW and about the peace he has through salvation in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. As a result of his sharing, two professionals at Veterans Administration Hospital in Birmingham told Goodwin they


Clarence Edward “Shorty” Goodwin

Goodwin’s mother, Katie Goodwin

wanted to experience the peace he has in his life. And they received it when they asked Jesus to come into their heart and be their Savior, he said. Goodwin now believes God allowed him to go through the POW experience so he can minister to others. If it helps someone else, if it leads someone to salvation in Jesus, then the years in captivity were worth the cost, he said. One thing he has come to understand is the importance of not dwelling on the bad that happens in life. Harboring those thoughts robs a person of joy. He also said he does not worry about tomorrow or next month or next year. Instead, he lives minute to minute. “The moment is all that we have,” he said. “I’m only assured of the moment. I’m here at the mercy of the Lord every day, every moment, every breath. When I finish my mission, He’ll call me.” l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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Andy Deason

Comedian, poet, dog lover tells his story on stage, in books

Story and photos by Carol Pappas Steele’s Andy Deason walks to a bit of a different beat. And that’s OK. He loves his six dogs, the four books of poetry he authored and a microphone. So it’s no wonder that he incorporates his passions into what he does and the way he lives his life. Deason has just released his fourth book of poetry, The Trilogy, and he is looking ahead to a fifth book — this one filled with short stories about East Lake and Roebuck, where he grew up in eastern Birmingham in the 1950s and 60s. “I have been writing all my life,” he said. “As a child, I won poetry contests. I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.” He self-published a book of poetry, but his mother didn’t like the language he used in a couple of the poems. “She gave me the look,” and that’s all it took. The book was republished without those poems and dedicated to his mother and his sister. Surrounded at home by six dogs, the first book naturally was called, The Dog Pen. When he isn’t writing, you’ll likely find him with a microphone in his hand. He is a self-described comedian who combines his poetry and his wittiness into acts performed at The Comedy Club in Birmingham, Laughing Skull in Atlanta and for libraries and other groups in the region. “It’s a clean show,” said Deason, likening it to a Red Skelton and Jonathan Winters genre. His act has a bit of a different twist. It’s accompanied by a guitarist — a humor and blues act. In December, he performed at Gip’s Place. He had been performing with guitarist Lee Gaudin but has just joined forces with blues woman Alabama Annie from Gadsden, and he said he is looking forward to that connection. “God blessed me with a sense of humor,” he said. “If I can make you think, laugh or cry, if I can do that, I’m tickled to death.” And if he can write about it, too, that’s just an added layer of icing on his cake. “This is my legacy, he said. “Long after I’m gone, these books will still be around.” l


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

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LMLPA gives great gift to Pell City

Wetlands Boardwalk

The new boardwalk overlooks designated wetlands along Logan Martin Lake.

Story by Graham Hadley Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr 58

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

The cut of a ribbon May 8, marked the completion of the LMLPA Wetlands Boardwalk along the shore of Logan Martin Lake in Pell City. The project, which is the culmination of years of planning and hard work, is a gift from the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association to the City of Pell City, said Mike Riley, LMLPA president. The boardwalk is directly adjacent to the Kiwanis Walking Track at Lakeside Park and consists of a 6-foot-wide walkway extending 70 feet out to a boardwalk platform in a T shape that is 12 feet wide and 40 feet across, complete with seating. “If you go out to the far right corner and look at 45 degrees, you will see a wood duck nest. You will already see a lot of wildlife out there,” Riley said. There is also a pole next to the walkway where they plan to put a platform for an osprey nest. The project can trace its origins back to 2007 and 2008, when Dr. Donn Brascho was LMLPA president. “He said we needed a large project for the LMLPA, and that started the process of what we wanted to do,” Riley said. “We noticed other parts of the state had wetlands projects that were part of an educational process, places where students learned about species, ecology and preservation. In 2009, we decided to build, with approval of the city, along Lakeside Park.” Before embarking on the long process to create the boardwalk, which, aside from the design, involves lengthy approvals from Alabama Power, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other local, state and federal agencies, LMLPA representatives studied and visited other wetlands projects around the region. They even had to get help from the Kiwanis Club because its amphitheater was next to the boardwalk site. That has proven to be time well spent. Many of the other boardwalks were built out of pressuretreated lumber, which is durable, but still requires considerable maintenance and upkeep. “We wanted to build for longevity — so we used composite materials. We saw other places where pressure-treated boards needed to be replaced because they were worn out from regular wear and tear,” Riley said. The composite materials are also much heavier than wood, which is important, since Logan Martin is a flood-control lake. “It is very heavy. There is no way during high water that boardwalk is going to float up,” he said. Riley said his early involvement centered on letting area residents and organizations know what they were building, where and why it was being built to help raise local support for the project. “Funding for this, a lot came from LMLPA, but we received tremendous help from other groups and events. Lakefest and St. Clair Soil and Water

Mayor Joe Funderbug cuts the ribbon.

People came from all over for the opening day ceremonies and sat in the Kiwanis Amphiteater.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


A walkway spans 70 feet between the shore and the observation deck.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

Wetlands Boardwalk Mike Riley, LMLPA president, and Justin Hogeland, board member, share a moment at ribbon cutting.

donated thousands of dollars. The boardwalk construction cost around $31,000, plus $3,000 in testing. “It was a pretty expensive proposition, but once we are finished with it — the way it was built, we are done,” Riley said. Fred Casey from Tradesman and Dick Franke from Southern Company helped out with the initial designs. “It is more of a commercial project — not a simple dock. We had (structural engineer) Bob Barnett do the design process and look at the structural analysis,” Riley said. Alabama Power, which regulates much of what can be built around the lake, thought the project was a great idea and not only approved it but waived the application fee. The city was also very helpful, especially the Parks Department and Bubba Edge in particular. Steve Powell created the “beautiful sign for the walk,” Riley said. The Wetlands Boardwalk meets Americans With Disabilities Act Standards and, in keeping with its educational purpose, has room for lots of people at one time. “We wanted to make sure it was big, ADA compliant, where someone in a wheelchair would have space to move and turn around. … It will accommodate a whole class … any educational group. “This is going to be a wonderful educational facility for the children,” he said. They have already had inquiries from Jacksonville State, which has classes on amphibians and wants to know if the university can use it for that. But the LMLPA also hopes the boardwalk will help educate everyone about the lake and the importance of maintaining it and the Coosa River. “We are heavily involved in the Water Wars and focused on the water policies for the state. We had a number of politicians here for the ribbon cutting. That really pleased me because they saw the importance of it,” Riley said. In addition to the politicians, he said the ribbon cutting had a great turnout, representing a wide cross-section of the local population and representatives from businesses, government and service organizations. Sam Huffstutler, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Pell City, blessed the event. “He is retiring, so this would be one of his final acts, and that made it special, too,” Riley said. To keep up with everything that is planned for the LMLPA Wetlands Boardwalk and any events in the area, Riley encourages people to follow them on Facebook. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


Cycling for cancer awareness through

St. Clair County Photos by Sherry Wilson What began as a way to promote prostate cancer awareness by Urology Centers of Alabama has grown into one of the largest cycling events around, raising money for free prostate-cancer screenings across Alabama. The Tour de Blue saw cyclists from around the Southeast gather at the Red Diamond Headquarters in Moody April 26, to ride their bicycles either 50, 75 or 100 miles in the awareness effort. Their trek took them through beautiful scenery in Moody, Margaret, Springville, Ashville and Odenville. The Tour de Blue bicycle ride, which is part of the Alabama Backroads Century Series, attracted more than 266 riders with proceeds from the event benefiting the Urology Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides the screenings, especially in the underserved areas of the state. Dr. Tom Moody, president of the Foundation, said Red Diamond’s campus was an ideal venue for the event, the second year it has been held there in its seven-year history. “Red Diamond has been an exceptionally generous sponsor, and we are extremely thankful to the whole organization.” Moody pointed out that prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in men in the United States. Alabama ranks third highest in the nation in prostate cancer deaths. For black men, Alabama ranks the highest. Recognizing the importance of the awareness campaign, the doctors, themselves, pedaled or volunteered for the cause. They were Doctors Eddie Bugg, Bryant Poole, Leon Hamrick, Tom Moody, Scott Tully, Jason Burrus, Rupa Kitchens, George Adams and Michael Bivins. The key is early screening. And events like Tour de Blue and a Sept. 14 half marathon at Talladega Superspeedway aid in getting the message out and raising funds for free screenings. l


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • June & July 2014


St. Clair Alabama

Business Review Louis


Pickles Authentic Philly food comes to St. Clair

64 • DISCOVER The EssenceDISCOVER Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013 of St. Clair •The Business Review

Story by Graham Hadley Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr. For much of his life Lou Consoli was a professional fisherman. His trade often took him to Alabama, which he loved, but there was one thing he said he could never find here. “A good New-York-deli-style pickle,” he said. He grew up in a traditional Italian-American family up North, but after meeting his fiancé, Alabamian Becky Pate, he saw a marketing opportunity here he could not pass up. “We said, ‘Lets see if we can open a pickle business in Alabama.’” And that’s exactly what the couple did, realizing their dream with Louie’s Pickles on U.S. 411 in Odenville. They claim on their website,, “We sell the best pickles you’ll ever eat.” And their customers agree. Business at the small storefront has been so successful, Louie’s is looking to expand, providing seating for people to come in and enjoy, not just pickles, but other classic Italian and Philly traditional favorites, including, of course, a steak sandwich. “I am from a Philly suburb. Up in the North it is easy to find a good New-York-style deli pickle, a good kosher pickle. We just grew up with that,” Lou said. “Growing up Italian, my grandmother, my aunt, my mother — they always cooked. We learned to cook the old Italian way. We made some pickle products at home — and we ended up with something like 30 flavors.” Because Southerners like so many pickled foods, like okra, Lou saw his products as a natural fit. Lou and Becky started out focusing on pickles and other specialty items, often selling pickles at vendor stalls at events like carnivals, craft shows and similar gatherings. They sold all sorts of varieties of pickles. People could even buy a pickle on a stick — a favorite with children. Once they got a taste of Lou’s products, they would return to buy more from the store or place an online order. “What we do is we set up concessions — gun shows, craft shows — anywhere there is a big event. People buy a pint or quart, then they come back and order online or drive over,” he said. But Lou introduced the people in the region to more than pickles, much, much more. “We also brought our Italian cooking, things like Philly cheesesteak, real Philly cheesesteak, and people have been asking for that. We bring in everything from Philly, it’s extremely authentic,” he said, clarifying that a traditional Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich does not have peppers in it, as it is often served in other parts of the country. Lou says the key to their continued success is that everything is authentic and everything is fresh. “We bring in real Italian bread from Philly and other products like salami from all over. All our products are fresh — always cooked fresh, no microwaving or anything processed, and it makes a difference,” he said. “Freshness is the key. When you make something fresh, and people can see you making it, it is a huge deal.”

Becky Pate and Lou Consoli with two of the helpers at Louie’s Pickles.

Lou admitted that some of their products are not as cheap as what you might find in a supermarket, but points out that there is a big difference between canned or bottled olives and ones he has ordered from Italy and personally driven hundreds of miles to pick up. “We started out as a pickle business. Now we offer a wide variety of things, including sandwiches. We have a line of hot sauces … a chicken-wing sauce which is phenomenal.” Because of his focus on freshness, Lou will sometimes buy different products based on availability, and as a result, what they have in the store, aside from pickles, varies from one day to the next. He encourages customers to keep up with those changes on Louie’s Pickles Facebook page, which also lists any store specials they may have. That is going to be even more important in the near future. Lou is shifting the layout of the store around to allow room for dine-in seating, in addition to their take-out offerings. “We are looking to add some tables and some seating so customers can sit and eat,” he said. Lou has been amazed, not only at the success of their business, but in the welcome he has received in what he calls a great example of that “famous Southern hospitality.” “Our customers are our friends,” he said, making special mention of Harvey, Lynn and Joel — three of those customers who came in at the start of the business and now help out around the store. “There are great people here — lots of customer loyalty. It’s a phenomenal group. It has never ceased to surprise me.” l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013 The Essence of St. Clair • 65 Business Review • DISCOVER

Business Review

Restaurant Boom

From franchise flagship to projects still in the works After the official ribbon cuting, Highway 55 was open for business.

Story by Graham Hadley Photos by Wallace Bromberg Jr. Contributed Photos With Highway 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries already open and doing booming business in Pell City, Zaxby’s in Moody seeing similar success, and a wide spectrum of other eating establishments set to open their doors in the next few months, residents in St. Clair County truly have a bounty before them. And not just in food offerings — the new businesses will pump more than a hundred jobs into the local economy. Highway 55 is running a full staff, as is Zaxby’s, which is already looking to increase its number of employees. Of the businesses soon to open in Pell City — Little Caesars Pizza, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts and Dairy Queen, some are either hiring already or preparing to in the coming weeks.


55 Burgers finds niche market in Pell City

When Gerd “Garrett” Anderson, Mark Nicholson and Rich Nicholson were looking for a place to open their first Highway 55 Burgers in Alabama, Pell City was an easy choice. The partners, with Mark as the store manager, are selling franchises all over Alabama, but the Pell City location for the uniquely retro-themed restaurant, which opened April 28, is their “flagship location,” Anderson said. “We looked at several different locations — location is important to any business, and this was a great location. Besides that, the people were incredibly helpful and friendly, from the mayor to the Chamber of Commerce to the courthouse. It is hard to put into words how much they helped us,” he said. And that goes for staffing too. Because the restaurant is truly unique, from its appearance to its menu, there was a lot for the new employees to take on, but according to Anderson, they

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014

were more than up to the challenge. “There really were no questions for us. It is paying off for us and the community. Being the first store in Alabama, there is a lot to be worked out, shipping and other logistics. “And we are going through a lot of training — it’s a learning curve, but we will never let our food quality slip, and we already have a surprisingly big following,” he said. Anderson says Highway 55 Burgers truly stands out: “It has a special atmosphere and energy. There is not any place like it in Alabama.” That is particularly true of their menu, which, along with some of the top-rated hamburgers in the country, also carries specialty items like frozen custard, a particular favorite of Anderson’s. “Frozen custard is phenomenally creamy. I am an ice-cream connoisseur; I have had it all over the world, and ours is amazing. ... “We go through so much custard, we have trouble keeping up with demand. It’s a huge draw,” he said. Another hallmark of the Highway 55 menu is the Big A challenge. It is a burger meal — 55 ounces of meat, 20 slices of cheese, one bun, two toppings that comes with an order of fries and a drink. If the customer can finish all of it in less than 30 minutes, they get it free. Anderson said around 20 people had stepped up to the plate for the challenge at the Pell City restaurant, and at least four had

Management at the restaurant says the staff worked hard to train for the new restaurant.

Highway 55 has a distinctly retro feel to the interior.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014


Business Review


Work has been completed and Zaxby’s is now open for business in Moody.

finished in time. Anderson and his partners are excited about the Pell City location and its success. They are selling franchises around Alabama and wanted a restaurant they could show off to anyone interested in joining the business. He says they found exactly what they are looking for in St. Clair County. To learn more about Highway 55 Burgers, check out their website: or follow them on Facebook.

Zaxby’s of Moody drawing customers from near and far

April 28 turned out to be a fortuitous day for another St. Clair restaurant. Zaxby’s of Moody opened its doors on that date as well and has been so popular they are looking at hiring more staff to keep up with customer demand. The business is owned by Tim LeBlanc, Christopher LeBlanc and Greg Handley. General Manager John Dare said the restaurant has been a success from day-one. “Business has been overwhelming. We have had amazing support from the community,” he said. Dare sees many regular faces from Moody and the surrounding areas, but he also notices many people who come in off the nearby interstate — especially during special events at Bass Pro Shops or the recent races at the Talladega Superspeedway. “We have a lot of local people come in here. I notice a lot of faces, repeat local customers, but we also get a


One of Zazby’s famous chicken plates

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014

lot of people off the interstate. I saw a lot of new people in here during the Talladega race,” he said. Dare credits much of Zaxby’s success to the location in Moody, where demand is high, and being next to the interstate. “It’s a great location. We were able to get this lot here by the interstate. The owner has two other locations in Alabama and the nearest was Trussville. People were wanting one here. There was a good business hole to fill,” Like the other new restaurants, Zaxby’s has its own business model and menu, and the staff had to train to meet those requirements. “We are happy with our current workforce, but we always need more people. We have a good team. They are really starting to come together, but we had a lot of training because Zaxby’s is different from many other local restaurants,” Dare said, adding that there are 45 people currently on staff, including managers. Dare said, so far, the local favorite menu item appears to be salads, with the Asian-themed Zensations topping the list. “We are selling lots of salads, in general, and wings,” he said. Zaxby’s of Moody maintains a Facebook page where people can get the latest updates on the restaurant.

Dairy Queen a welcome return to Pell City

Though its doors have not opened yet, Pell City residents are counting down the days until a local favorite, Dairy Queen, is ready for business. “They have just finished grading the land and are fixing to pour the foundation this week,” said Natalie Coppock, who owns the business with her brother, BJ Burcham. “We are planning on opening by Aug. 15.” That date is speculative because of possible weather delays. “It’s a 78-day build schedule. We are hoping the weather will cooperate,” she said. Coppock and her brother were originally considering an Oxford location, but local supporters drew them to Pell City. “St. Clair is a rapidly growing county. Developer Bill Ellison really pushed the project. We were looking at Oxford, but they rallied for Pell City,” she said. “Once we looked into it, we thought it would be a great option.” Dairy Queen is already hiring to meet its extensive needs. “We will be employing around 70 people. We are opening a hiring center in the Publix shopping center. There are two empty spaces in that strip past the Publix, and we are going to use one of those,” Coppock said. “Community reception has been fantastic. Everyone in Pell City we have talked to is excited. We have talked to people from Cropwell, and they are excited. People from Pell City miss their old Dairy Queen and are ready to have another one.”

Ground preparation at the new Dairy Queen

More on the way

A building on an outparcel of the Shopps of Pell City will soon house a Little Caesars Pizza and a combination Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins. Completion on that project is expected in the next month or so, depending on the weather. l

Work is progressing at what will be a Little Ceasars Pizza and a Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins shop.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014


Business Review Lilly Designs becomes City Market Story by Graham Hadley Photos by Susan Wall For the past couple of years Lilly Designs has been a mainstay of downtown Pell City, but owner Renee Lilly saw the opportunity for the business to be more than it was. So she joined forces with local artist, Susan Wall, and Design Resource and City Market was born. “Downtown Pell City needs and deserves more retail,” Lilly said. Lilly, who is an interior decorator, said in her blog,, “Part of what prompted this change is the fact that too many people come into my store and think it’s simply a showroom for my design business. While I do like to feature my style, I also have a retail business that most people aren’t really aware of.” In March, Lilly and Wall showcased the joint venture with a special event focusing on Wall’s work with an artist’s reception. They “started carrying more ‘market’-type items to reflect the wishes of the community,” she states. “We have created it more like a little city market where you can find things for your home décor, but you can also find many other items as well,” she said. They have everything you could possibly want for home décor — from furniture, upholstery to antiques, artwork and more. But they also carry specialty market items like jewelry and tableware, just to name a few. The new store also features local artists from time to time. “I’m proud of how far my store has come in the past couple of years. It’s important to shop local, and I’m committed to giving our city a great retail shop to be proud of,” Lilly said. You can check out her blog or online website, l


Design Resource and City Market in downtown Pell City.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • February & March 2014

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Business Review Artistic Hair quadruples salon size, expands offerings

Massages and facials a part of the new offerings at Artistic Hair


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014

When Dora Carter was ready to make her move in February from what started as a small, one-person salon seven years ago, there was nothing small about the move. Artistic Hair by Dora went from 500 square feet in a strip office complex in Pell City to a 2,000-square-foot, full-service salon in Cropwell on U.S. 231 South. But her guiding principle has stayed the same. “The client comes first,” she said. Take a look around, and you can’t help but notice the attention to detail of the shop, the expansiveness of the offerings and an experienced team ready to meet their clients’ needs. Artistic Hair offers hair cuts, color and styles, of course, but there is much more. Facials, massages, manicures and pedicures are all a part of the experience at Artistic Hair. “We have a great team,” she said, noting that continuing education is the standard, not the exception. Coming from Kentucky, Carter said, she was fortunate to have studied with the former Olympian hair team, and she continues her studies to this day, as does the rest of her own team. “Everyone who works here does something special,” enhancing what they have to offer their clients. She describes herself as a “big-city girl with small-town hospitality,” and she is glad to be able to serve the community. That community service comes in different ways. Not only does she contribute through owning a business, she does hair for cancer patients for free, and if someone wants to donate hair to Locks of Love, she will cut it for free. She likes giving back to the community. Settling into the new surroundings since late February, Carter has found that the planning doesn’t stop. “We are going to keep on expanding and growing,” she said. Future plans call for art shows and special programs for children. An open house is expected in July. “I have been in this for 31 years,” she said. “I am very fortunate to have a great team of artists.” On the team are Terri Barnett, Stacey Taylor, Andrea Brown and Donna Gunnells. l

The ‘team’ at Artistic Hair DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014


Business Review Business News BHC expands, earns accreditation

Birmingham Heart Clinic which operates satellite clinics at St. Vincent’s St. Clair and Northside Medical Associates, continues to be a practice on the move in the region. It has expanded with another full-time satellite clinic and has earned accreditation in nuclear cardiology and computed tomography. In answer to increased demand, it has opened a full-time clinic at Trinity Medical Center located at 880 Montclair Road in Birmingham. Doctors Andrew Brian and Jacob Townsend are providing cardiovascular care for patients at that location. BHC has four other locations, the main campus at 100 Pilot Medical Drive, Suite 300 in Trussville and three satellite clinics at Northside Medical Associates in Pell City, St. Vincent’s St. Clair in Pell City, and St. Vincent’s Blount in Oneonta. In other advancements, BHC has been granted a three-year term of accreditation in nuclear cardiology and computed tomography (CT) by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC). These accreditations acknowledge BHC’s commitment to high-quality patient care and quality diagnostic testing. IAC accreditation is a “seal of approval” that patients can rely on as an indication that the facility has been carefully critiqued on all aspects of its operations considered relevant by medical experts. To earn this accreditation, BHC underwent rigorous examinations of operational and technical components by a panel of experts. The skill of the technologist performing the examination, the type of equipment used, the background and knowledge of the interpreting physician, and quality assurance measures are all critical to ensuring quality patient studies. The IAC only grants accreditation to facilities that are found to be providing quality patient care in compliance with national standards through a comprehensive application process and detailed case-study review. The first accreditation is in nuclear cardiology, which refers to testing that assesses cardiac function and blood flow to the heart muscle. By using nuclear procedures, physicians are able to detect the early presence of cardiovascular disease and may also discover important information regarding the potential occurrence of future heart attacks. The second accreditation is in computed tomography, which includes tests such as coronary calcium scoring and coronary or vascular CT angiography. These tests produce special x-ray images allowing physicians to view threedimensional images of the heart and vessels.


New clinic for BHC opens full time at Trinity Hospital

Realty Executives has new home

Most know it as the old Gossett Hardware building at the edge of downtown Pell City on Cogswell Avenue. Today, it has a facelift and is the new home of Realty Executives, owned by Nancy Locklar. Realty Executives had been renting space in the Pell City Marketplace, but Locklar decided to buy a building and design it to meet the needs of her 10-year-old realty company. The 10-Realtor team now has a spacious headquarters with reception area, office space and conference room with the ability to grow. A mortgage lender is going to be renting office space there, and in addition, a husband-and-wife team will be specializing in commercial real estate. The entire operation, Locklar said, will be suited to serving clients in its five-county region of St. Clair, Etowah, Calhoun, Shelby and Jefferson, which includes three lakes. l

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • Business Review • June & July 2014


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Discover St. Clair June & July 2014  

Kayaking on Kelly Creek rapids, New St. Clair Business Review Section, Teens headed to Nashville, Smithsonian coming to Pell City, Clayton G...

Discover St. Clair June & July 2014  

Kayaking on Kelly Creek rapids, New St. Clair Business Review Section, Teens headed to Nashville, Smithsonian coming to Pell City, Clayton G...