Madison Living Magazine - July 2023

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Honoring Revolutionary War Veterans in North Alabama

July 2023
The First Patriots
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John Few


Bob Labbe

Gregg Parker

Erin Coggins

Joshua Berry

Maria Rakoczy

Lee Marshall

John Peck

Mary Lynne Wright

Brandy Booth

Kassidy Wilkins


Donna Counts


French Salter


Madison Living Magazine

The Madison Record 7734 Madison Blvd. Suite 115 Huntsville, AL 35806

For story ideas, call John Few at 256-763-1150 or email

To advertise, call Donna Counts at 256-714-7152.

Madison Living is published monthly by Tennessee Valley Media, Inc. A one-year subscription to Madison Living is $30.79 for 12 issues per year. Single copies are available at select locations throughout the Madison area. To subscribe, call 256-772-6677.

Copyright 2023

4 Madison Living
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Where to celebrate the 4th of July this year

MMadison is celebrating the Fourth of July in a big way with fireworks shows, a baseball game, and a pickleball tournament. Check out the list of patriotic festivities going on around town.

Toyota Field

The Trash Pandas are kicking off another homestand at Toyota Field on Tuesday, July 4 as they take on the Chattanooga Lookouts. Enjoy all the usual ballpark fare, activities, and energy with a patriotic touch.

After the game, a special fireworks show presented by SAIC will celebrate Independence Day with 3D fireworks.

Dublin Park

The annual Madison City Fourth of July fireworks display will once again be taking place at Dublin Park. The Star-Spangled Celebration hosted by Madison Parks and Recreation will be Monday, July 3 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will feature live music, inflatables, and food vendors in addition to the fireworks that begin at 9 p.m. Admission is free, and complimentary shuttle service will transport guests from the parking lot at Bob Jones High School.

Madison Parks and Recreation will also be presenting the Battle of the Paddle Pickleball tournament at Dublin Park on July 3. The tournament begins bright and early at 8 a.m. Registration costs $30 per player and the player can choose between five divisions: men, women, mixed, age 49 and under, or age 50 and above. First and secondplace prizes will be awarded in each division.


Our neighbors in Huntsville are also throwing some awesome patriotic parties.

MidCity will be celebrating the Fourth of July the whole weekend, June 30 through July 2 with fireworks, live music, a mullet and mustache contest, yoga, food, a watermelon carving contest, and more.

The Huntsville Museum of Art will mark the 4th of July with a community-free day. From 10 am to 5 pm, the public is welcome at no cost to enjoy the galleries. Live music will be provided at 2 pm by Constellation Brass band.

The Huntsville Botanical Garden will be hosting Armed Forces Appreciation Days on July 3 and July 4. Active and retired military are welcome to enjoy free admission.

Madison Living 7

Sounds of Summer • July 13 & 27 • 7-9 p.m.

Madison Arts Alliance is presenting the free concert series, “Sounds of Summer,” this month on July 13 and 27. The concert’s venue is Home Place Park at 100 Shorter St., just south of downtown streets. Sounds of Summer will open at 7 p.m. and close at 9 p.m. The next concert in the series features Calypso Vision on July 13. This group sets a pleasing yet upbeat atmosphere to bring people in the audience to a relaxed spirit of good ‘ole rock ’n’ roll.’ The music may even induce a chance to dream. Their selfdescribed ‘gumbo mix’ blends the tone of Jimmy Buffett with classic rock, grounded in alternative roots and a few hippie surprises, according to their website. Calypso Vision offers folks an escape for a while, to kick back and enjoy the songs. On July 27, the Jimmy Henderson Trio will perform. This group plays blues/ rock originals and well-known covers. Food trucks will be available at each concert.

8 Madison Living THE
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Eric Essix (July 7) and Fireball Mail bluegrass band (July 21) are the next offerings for the City Lights & Stars Concert Series 30th season at Burritt on the Mountain. Pack a picnic, dress casually, bring a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy a spectacular view of the city while listening to great music. Food trucks will be onsite with food and dessert available for purchase.

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Family Campout in the Garden • July 21-22 • 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. • Huntsville Botanical Garden •

New to camping? Don’t feel like traveling far to spend a relaxing evening outdoors? Come join the Garden campout presented by Bankston Motor Homes. There will be a hot dog dinner, s’mores to roast over the fire, a story at bedtime, and a chance to experience the Garden on a guided night hike.

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All About Birds Fun Day • Saturday, July 8 • 10 am – 2 pm • Cook Museum of Natural Science


Birds have always captured the attention and imagination of humans. At All About Birds Fun Day, you can learn more about these highflying, feathered friends! Anniston Museums and Gardens will be bringing some of their raptors to show guests the beauty of birds up close. There will be a number of hands-on stations including some presented by Huntsville Botanical Garden. Please note that guests will NOT be able to touch the birds. Schedule:

• Raptor “Meet and Greet” with Anniston Museums and Gardens: 10 am – 2 pm

• Hands-on Bird Beak Activities with Huntsville Botanical Garden: 10 am – 2 pm

• Hands-on Microscope Stations: 10 am – 2 pm

• Selfie Station: 10 am – 2 pm

• Feathered Friends Scavenger Hunt: All Day in the Exhibits

16 Madison Living


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This stellar lineup includes: Rick Carter (Rollin In The Hay, Telluride), Stan Foster (Rollin in The Hay, Phil And Foster), Donna Hall (Wet Willie), and William “Moose” Harrell (Jason Ringenberg, The Thieves, Telluride). These savvy veterans have toured the world and then some; catch them soon at a festival or theater near you, as they present the music of the great John Prine.

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Third Thursdays in downtown Madison • July 20 • 4-8 p.m. Main Street •

The Shoppes of Historic Madison have kicked off their Third Thursdays through August, from 4-8 pm, on Main Street, downtown Madison. The event is a family-friendly venue to enjoy the evening including food trucks, live music, events and activities for the kids, as well as extended shopping at all your favorite downtown stores. Here are a few highlights not to miss:

• Favorite local food trucks have all been scheduled out. Each month there will be 2to 3 main food trucks alongside 2 to 3 drinks and dessert food trucks.

• A variety of other local food vendors have been invited to attend to showcase and sell their treats.

• Musician Brandon Morris will be playing again this year.

• Inflate North Alabama will be setting up one of their bounce houses, so make sure to bring the kids.

• At 4:30 and 5 p.m. there will be silent yoga - bring a yoga mat

• Meet n Greet with Exotic Pets via Animal Traxx, will be set up on Main Street

• Flower Cart at 16 Main - pick up some live florals to brighten your home or to gift via Lemon & Lavender

• Many downtown businesses will be extending hours till 8 p.m.

• And don’t forget, Main Street Cafe and Old Black Bear are always open.

To keep up with current events in downtown Madison, check out Shoppes of Historic Madison on Facebook.

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Celebrations Bridal Event • July 30 • Noon to 4 p.m. • Von Braun Civic Center East Hall •

Modern Brides has been hosting the Celebrations Bridal Event for over 30 years. This bridal event is North Alabama’s’ largest bridal show. Over 100 vendors participate. While brides are going from booth to booth they will notice a continuous fashion show presented by Modern Brides. Brides and their attendants are entertained with a beautiful show of wedding gowns and bridesmaids gowns that will showcase the latest styles. The music and decorations set the stage for an entertaining afternoon. The floral arrangements, draping, lighting, hair styles, and makeup add a gorgeous intimate wedding feel, and are provided by the vendors that attend this event. Vendors supply hundreds of door prizes in our special prize area. Free services, jewelry, floral arrangements, cookware, and honeymoons are just a few of the prizes given away to almost every bride that attends. There is a large variety of food sampling from fabulous caterers. Jewelry, musicians, hair stylists and make up artists, photographers and video specialist, cake bakers, wedding planners, DJ’s, travel agents, florists, venues and much much more will all wow you with the beautiful displays of their work!

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WhileForbesliststheTopWealthAdvisorsinthenation,thepublication recognizedthatlocalclientsmostoftenprefertoworkwithlocalwealth advisors.Tomakethoseadvisorseasiertolocateandengage,Forbescreated itsBest-in-Statelisting.Advisorsareselectedbasedonamixofquantitativeandqualitativedata,includingdiligenceinterviews,servicemodels, compliancerecords,industryexperience,andbestpractices.Ofover39,000 nominations,Forbesselectedjust7,321wealthadvisorswholeadthenation in“successfullymanagingnearly$11trillioninassets.”

AccordingtoForbes,recognizedadvisorsare“laserfocusedonhavinga positiveimpactontheirclients’lives;theywanttoaddmeaningandhelp themlivebetterlives.”

Burnum’sprovenrecordofprovidinghigh-quality,high-impactserviceto herrosterofclientssecuredherplacealongsideastellarlistofrecommended wealthadvisorswhohaveaccumulatedyearsofindustryknowledge,understandtheuniqueneedsoftheirclients,andhaveexpertiseinmeetingthem.

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Smoke in the Outfield BBQ Festival

Aug. 4-5 • Toyota Field in Madison •

The newest barbecue festival in the Tennessee Valley is coming to Toyota Field, with the debut of the Smoke In The Outfield BBQ Festival at the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas.

The festival will bring amateur cook teams from across the region to North Alabama, with competitions taking place in a variety of categories including chicken, ribs, and pork. The event kicks off with the VIP Opening Night Celebration on Friday, August 4 at 5:30 p.m., with introductions of the cook teams and their specialties as they prepare the next day’s competitions.

Free live entertainment including a live band, face painting, balloon animals, outdoor games, and a mechanical bull will be on hand for attendees. Food and beverages will be available for purchase, including pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked turkey, and specialty drinks.

On Saturday, August 5, the festival will be from 12-5 p.m. with more live entertainment, games on the concourse, local vendors on hand, and of course, the barbecue stations where guests can sample and/or purchase their favorite foods.

All competitions will take place on Saturday, with the awards presentation set for Saturday afternoon. Guests can arrive to watch judges begin critiquing the competitors’ food beginning at 12 with the judging of chicken, then ribs at 12:30, and finally pork at 1 p.m. People’s Choice sampling will begin at 1:30 p.m. for guests that have purchased special sampling tickets.

63rd Season

26 Madison Living LOOKING AHEAD 547823-1



Popular sport continues to grow by leaps and bounds in Madison

PPickleball. The sport is as hot as a barbeque pit on a hot July afternoon.

Just the name Pickleball has brought an enormous attention to what is regarded as the hottest sport in America and North Alabama, including Huntsville and Madison, where the action is fast and furious, as well as, plentiful.

“My generation is very active as staying active is key to good life and more and more people are drawn to Pickleball,” said Chris Welch, of the local Pickleball Club, retired as a 30-year career sports reporter for the now defunct Huntsville Times newspaper and volunteer coordinator of leagues in Madison. “Madison has seemed to open its arms to the sport. We conducted a clinic for the Madison City Council and they seemed to buy into it.”

Jump into the idea with both feet is more like it as the Madison Recreation Department has been going full-bore with the sport having three indoor Pickleball courts inside the gymnasium at Dublin Memorial Park. In addition, the Dublin Memorial Park location has four dedicated outdoor courts, as well as, Pickleball

lines and portable nets on the current tennis courts creating 12 more Pickleball court. The four tennis courts located at Madison Park on Hughes Road are also lined for Pickleball.

Kory Alfred, director of the Madison Recreation Dept., added, “The City of Madison recently purchased the Hexagon property near I-565 and plan to convert the tennis courts into 12 Pickleball courts this summer. An indoor Pickleball facility is also planned and will include 12 indoor courts for play.”

For many who play the sport it’s a way to remain active and attempts to stay in good physical condition, especially those who have retired. Steve Kestler, 71, is a prime example of someone who is taking up the sport late in life, but is loving the fun of playing the sport that resembles tennis utilizing short-handle paddles and a perforated plastic ball. The former program analyst who retired eight years ago began Pickleball soon afterwards.

“I picked up a pamphlet for the UAH Continuing Education and took a class on Pickleball as I wanted to stay active,” said Kestler, who has been a basketball referee

Madison Living 29

for close to 50 years. “I played in Huntsville my first three years of Pickleball and then moved to the leagues in Madison, both indoors and outdoors play. “I always hated running or walking so thought Pickleball would be a great way to stay in shape and I love the competition. There are different levels of play and the best part of the sport is everyone can play, at any age.”

Welch, who is 67, said, “People are hungry for this game. I was a longtime tennis player and still love tennis, but Pickleball is like pick-up basketball as you go to a court and work yourself into a game. The equipment can be cheap as all you need is a couple paddles and a ball and you’re ready.”

The leagues held in Madison now include 110 memberships, but that does not include walk-in traffic. Welch helps with the league play with different times and days for play that includes different skill levels, but a solo player can be joined up with an array of squads on the courts. Welch is a Vulcan Paddles representative and has teamed up with longtime friend Greg Boyette, both of whom have become certified Pickleball instructors, to form C&G Pickleball Academy as a way to help residents become acquainted with the sport many have heard about, but don’t actually realize the aspects of

the game. The Academy hosts seven-week courses for a $60 fee. Welch said of their efforts, “We try and pair up people with others of the same playing level. I just want people to learn Pickleball the correct way.”

In Madison, the fall league for Pickleball is expected to be held on a Sept.-Oct. schedule with the winter league to kick off in January.

For players like Kestler, who is also among the 500plus member Huntsville Pickleball Club, plays the sport indoors and outdoors. It’s a great way to remain active. “I love it, as a lot of retirement age folks like myself are now playing,” said the longtime adult softball player and high school basketball referee. “You don’t have to extend yourself with every point, but it’s a great way to exercise. Plus, I love the people who play as we’re all friends and enjoy the activity together. The sport has really taken off in the last three years and it’s great for beginners can take classes to learn the game and how to play.”

The City of Opelika recently built a SportsPlex facility, which includes 12 Pickleball courts with a covering and is currently open 24 hours a day. With the influx of players taking to their paddles, the Pickleball courts have been able to be paid for in just two years. Opelika

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has plans to increase its courts for play to 36, and Welch said Pickleball players don’t mind traveling to play.

“Huntsville has 17 courts near Joe Davis Stadium along with new courts at the Sandra Moon Community Complex on Bailey Cove Road, and MidCity will soon include Pickleball courts,” added Welch.

“There are not enough courts now to meet the demand of play as we have waiting lines to play, especially during the wintertime for indoor courts.”

Huntsville now includes several locations across the city with Pickleball play and even the Monrovia Community Center has arranged time and space for energetic play of the growing sport.

Pickleball is for everyone at any age with play setup to feature singles divisions and doubles divisions as play can be just social fun or can be highly competitive.

“My experiences have shown me tennis is like checkers, while Pickleball is more like chess,” added Welch.

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Parks and Recreation in Madison expands its footprint


JJust as water, sewer, and public safety are considered essential public services, parks and recreation are equally important to the city’s quality of life, ensuring the health of its citizens and contributing to the economic vitality of our community and region.

In just two years, the City of Madison has added approximately 100 acres of space to the Parks and Recreation Department’s portfolio, setting the stage for some of the city’s largest public space projects in years. These projects will meet the demand for recreation amenities for Madison’s growing population.

“Our Parks and Recreation Department is keeping pace with the growth in the Madison area, and we are proud to offer more green space along with programs and facilities to support an active community,” said Madison’s Mayor Paul Finley.

In line with the City’s vision, Madison Visionary Partners (MVP), Madison’s community nonprofit, has committed to supporting initiatives with a parks and recreation component.

“When we look at the best way our nonprofit can be impactful, it is through garnering philanthropic support for

our public spaces,” said Melanie Thornton, MVP’s Executive Director. “Public spaces are powerful community connectors, and it is often an area where individual donors and companies are happy to contribute because they see the benefits and the value they have on our quality of life.”

With two projects under its belt, Home Place Park near downtown Madison and Kids Kingdom at Dublin Park, Thornton said MVP is well-positioned to support the city’s future parks and recreation projects.

With three major projects either in the works or on the horizon, Madison’s Parks and Recreation, led by Director Kory Alfred, is planning for this growth by developing master plans for the Madison Community Center, Sunshine Oaks Farm, and the adult sports park at Hexagon.

Currently underway is the renovation of the former Three Springs juvenile facility, which will become the Madison Community Center. The center will be a state-of-theart facility that will provide opportunities for intergenerational learning, recreation, creativity, and collaboration.

With over 34,000 square feet of space, the center will have four wings as well as an additional fitness building. One of those wings will house the new senior center. Some

34 Madison Living
Artist rendering of the renovated Kids Kingdom at Dublin Park (see update on page 37).

of the key features of the center are several multipurpose rooms, art and music program space, two ceramics studios, and woodshop.

“The community center will meet several current needs including a centralized multi-use facility, additional meeting space, and additional recreation programs that include the arts,” said Alfred. “One of our goals is to be able to also host programs for families of children with disabilities, ensuring that we are providing for all of Madison’s population.”

The plan for the surrounding acreage includes an outdoor pavilion with amphitheater seating, a community garden, play areas, and a connector trail to the Bradford Creek Greenway. It is slated to be complete by early 2025.

Just down the road, the vision for another large public space is currently being planned. Sunshine Oaks Farm sits on 40 acres off Mose Chapel Road. The city purchased the site in 2023 as part of its commitment to acquire more green space for Madison.

“The acquisition of Sunshine Oaks was a smart move. Here, you have the space to fulfill some of the amenities on Madison’s wish list that make sense for a city this size,” said

Thornton. “There is a lot of potential to really make this a destination park for families.”

And while the former horse farm is still in the design phase, the Parks and Recreation Department is planning for Sunshine Oaks to be a place for events and recreation. Because of its proximity to the Bradford Creek Greenway, walking and connector trails are also being considered.

The recently acquired Hexagon property will provide space for adult sports and recreation. It will feature 12 outdoor and 12 indoor pickleball courts, with the ability to host pickleball tournaments. The site will also feature two softball fields and two multi-use fields for soccer and lacrosse, as well as an indoor facility for adult programs.

“I’m proud of the work our team has done to take on expanding facilities and green space. Our department strives to meet the recreation needs of our community, and we’ve welcomed the opportunity to offer a variety of programs and space for our thriving city,” said Alfred.

Madison Parks and Recreation has also been upgrading its existing facilities. The renovation of Kids Kingdom at Dublin Park is near completion. Once it is finished by the end of the summer, it will be the largest inclusive play-

Madison Living 35
The renovations at Home Place were finished last year in time for summer concert series to be hosted there. Madison Mayor Paul Finley is shown above welcoming guests to the park’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

ground in Madison County.

Madison also boasts 38 neighborhood parks, which are currently being upgraded in phases. A shade pavilion was just installed at Leathertree Park, for example. Many of these parks are on the list to get new playground equipment, as well as upgraded lighting and landscaping.

Palmer Park is also undergoing renovations in phases, with opportunities to add amenities for families who enjoy sports.

Another MVP-sponsored project for Palmer Park is building a Miracle League Field. MVP is working with a community grassroots committee to raise funds for the field. Miracle League’s mission is to help kids with mental and physical disabilities experience the joy of playing base-

ball by removing barriers that prevent them from participating. This project is going to transform the experience of baseball for many families in the community.

“We are happy to be working with Kory and his team to grow the parks and recreation offerings in Madison. MVP’s knowledge in public space funding, as well as our ability to gather philanthropic support is a win for our community,” said Thornton.

With Madison’s reputation of being a family-friendly place, Parks and Recreation play a leading role in the city’s quality of life. With these and other projects in the early planning phase, Parks and Recreation is not only meeting the needs of our growing community, but it is building community as it expands its public spaces.


July 3–Independence Day

Celebration/Pickleball Tourny

July 16–Free Swim Day

• Children swim free at the Dublin Outdoor Pool

• Free hot dogs

• Icey food truck

July 22–Leathertree Park

Volunteer Day

July 28–Movie Night in Dublin Gym: Space Jam 7-9 p.m.

36 Madison Living
Artist rendering of the converted Three Springs facility to the Madison Community Center.

Kids Kingdom revitalization picks up steam as work gets back on track

JJust in time for its 25th birthday, Kids Kingdom has secured its role as Madison’s destination playground for future decades.

A collaboration among non-profit organizations, civic groups and volunteer activists has brought the vision into reality for a new version of Kids Kingdom. Madison Visionary Partners adopted the kingdom as one of its top-priority ventures. (

Originally, this popular playground was built during six days by volunteers in October 1997 on the north side of Dublin Park.

One predominant goal that volunteers and families insisted upon involves universal, inclusive enhancements to allow all children the opportunity to play, learn and grow together. Madison Disability Advocacy Board advised about the play-space to accommodate the needs of all children, especially in developing social and motor skills.

As of mid-June 2023, work was back on track after some unforeseen delays, Kory Alfred said. Alfred is the director of Madison Parks and Recreation Department.

For example, a utility meter for electricity had “to be pulled back a little in the overall plan,” Alfred said. And the Madison area had an extremely wet springtime in 2023. “Public Works would go to work and then a storm would hit, and the crews had to stop” and deal with city infrastructure, such as clogged ditches.

However, Alfred takes pride in the in-house prep that Madison Public Works has accomplished and “let us put money into the site. We saved $1,000,000 on the site work.”

The new design will incorporate all elements for slides and swings in the original plan, along with adding accessible components:

• Sensory elements -- For visual, auditory or tactile experiences. Sights, sounds and touching of surfaces, walls and

Madison Living 37

equipment will engage children. “The Sensory Dome will be available for all kids but especially children with special needs. If they feel scared, they can walk inside the dome and decompress. It’s similar (to the purpose) of the Quiet Room that we’ll have at Madison Community Center,” Alfred said.

• Expression swings – Allows an adult to swing face-toface with the child. The adult can have eye-to-eye setup to encourage emotional, adult-to-child bonding. The “primetime swings” can include a bay, while the “expression swings” can be tandem or with adaptive seating.

• Rover or car – Accommodates wheelchairs but is available for everyone.

• Wide stairways – Using low angles for easy mobility.

• Built-in level changes – Allows children to go around, through, under and over equipment.

• Rubberized ground surface – Poured-in-place rubber matting with higher safety standards (especially compared to hardwood mulch) against falls during play and easier mobility for wheelchairs. One of the most expensive components, the surfacing cost $303,195.

• Adaptive-friendly zipline – Giving thrills by innovative design from Sky Run Zip Track. The new amusement is accessible to all children. “This is one feature that I really wanted,” Alfred said. “It’s kind of cool.”

The new playground will have improved sight lines so a parent or caretaker can easily see a child with straighter vision.

The GameTime division of the award-winning Playcore company has designed the playground. GameTime manufactures components in Fort Payne.

The estimated completion for Kids Kingdom will be late July or early August 2023.

In addition, crews will finish auxiliary enhancements after the playground is complete. “We’ll install a new restroom that is family-friendly (so parents can assist their child, if necessary),” Alfred said. Fixtures will have high durability and be difficult to vandalize.

Another enhancement for the near future, new fencing will enclose Kids Kingdom. “Parking will eventually increase. We’re working with engineering for additional space and to add a circle drop-off” so parents can deliver their children easily to the playground.

Kids Kingdom is open during daytime hours and free to use. The City of Madison Parks and Recreation Department maintains the property.

Kids Kingdom’s address is 8324 Old Madison Pike at Dublin Park. For more information, email or visit

38 Madison Living



Local WWII veterans visit Normandy for 79th anniversary of D-Day

To honor.

TThat’s what 96-year-old World War II veteran Otis Branon says was the reason he journeyed over 4,000 miles to Normandy, France to celebrate the 79th Anniversary of D-Day.

Branon, who served in the Pacific Theater, was one of three local veterans to travel to Normandy through the Back to Normandy Association. The trip was organized by Honoring Veterans Legacies, a local non-profit organization co-founded by Chris Batte and Elaine Oakes. Batte traveled with the group.

“I wanted to recognize fellow soldiers–the 10,000 that died,” Branon said.” It’s kind of like our Memorial Day here or some people call it Decoration Day. You go to your mother’s and father’s grave. That’s kind of the way I felt going there. I felt like if I went over there, I’d show my respect and I thought that was the most I could do.”

Ninety-six-year-old Arthur Hullett, an Army veteran, entered the war in 1945 and served in various duties, including overseeing cooks. His motivation for going on the trip was to see Europe rebuilt.

“When the war was over, they gave us a train ride all the

way from Spain up to Belgium and into Germany,” Hullett said. “I had a chance to see the early part of the damage that had been done. When I went to Normandy before, people were driving oxcarts or anything to get around. To see it again rebuilt made me proud to be able to have helped preserve democracy. And I’m a fanatic about democracy.”

The group consisted of 11 people, including Hullett’s wife, Martha, Patterson’s two daughters, Marcia Crouch and Linda Crowell and Branon’s daughter, Tennie Smith. A nurse and nurse practitioner also traveled with the group.

While in France, the veterans attended small-town DDay celebrations. Batte, who has arranged and been on trips like this since 2016, says she prefers the small-town celebrations over the bigger ones where they are long and involve long speeches by dignitaries.

“One of our favorite ceremonies took place in a town called Brevard,” Batte said. “Rather than having dignitaries speak and so forth, school kids did it. They sang the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in English which really made an

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impact and did a symbolic dance with both the French and American flag. It really brought tears to your eyes.”

Besides the celebrations and museums, the veterans also visited school children in the Normandy area. Patterson says the kids were smart and asked intelligent questions.

“Some of their questions, I couldn’t answer,” Patterson said laughing. “I was asked what I did to end the war. That’s a broad question. I didn’t know how to answer that.”

Patterson, a Pacific Navy veteran, watched the war’s armistice signed in Tokyo Bay with binoculars from his ship. To him, going on this trip was to make a connection to the war’s other theater.

“I can tell you about walking the streets of Tokyo, but I can’t tell you about walking the streets of Berlin,” Patterson said. “I can’t return to the Pacific, but I was able to see what the war meant to the French.”

All three veterans were housed in French civilian homes where they had dinner every evening. Branon and Hullett’s housemates spoke English; however, Patterson’s host family did not. They found themselves communicating with sign language and Google translator. They simply made it work. Crouch says she wit-

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Otis Branon stops to smell the flowers.

nessed something that will forever be a sweet memory for her.

“They had the children write letters to all the veterans. Daddy was sitting at the table with Francios, the woman of the house. I thought they could go through the letters together,” Crouch said. “I was packing his suitcase in the makeshift room they had made for him but could see and hear them through a sheer curtain. Francois was reading the letters in English and Daddy was helping her with the words that she didn’t know.”

And of course, the food, including bread, cheese and wine, is a memory in itself.

“The diet was quite different from America, not I can tell you that,” Hullett said. “And I am not a big eater, but they kept me eating all the time.”

All three veterans say they cannot rave enough about how they were treated while in France. From the host families to the school children to the locals, they were treated with the utmost respect.

“Stuff like giving up chairs and places in line happen around here, but not as much. Yes, they show their respect, but will not give up everything they have if asked. And every person we met over there would,”

Madison Living 43

Batte said. “And the thing is about 98% of them weren’t alive during the war, but they have been taught.”

This is one reason Batte hopes to continue working with the Back to Normandy Association. The goal is to keep the trips going for the French economy, but also as a way to show respect to veterans from other wars and families of World War II veterans.

“Every World War II veteran, well every veteran, deserves to be treated like that,” Batte said. “They deserve to go there and experience that.”

Branon credits Batte and the Honoring Veterans Legacies volunteers for the opportunity to travel to France. Batte, though, does not take the credit. Instead, she credits God for putting her in a position to help veterans. The group witnessed some God moments on their trip, including being in the right place at the right time with medical supplies to save a lady on their plane trip over the Atlantic.

44 Madison Living
Veterans stand in front of their service era photos: Ray Wallace, Pat Patterson, Arthur Hullett and Otis Branon.
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“The lady had an allergic reaction and thankfully our nurse had overpacked medical supplies, including an Epipen and antibiotic IV’s,” Batte said. “We were told that if we had not been on the plane with those supplies, she would have died.”

Branon had his own unique moment. Batte went into a museum shop in St. Mary Dumond to purchase an original World War II jacket when she saw a jacket that looked Branon’s size. The jacket looked exactly what Branon would have worn in the war, including all the patches.

“It was amazing. He wanted 250 euros for it and Chris

was going to buy it, but the owner gave it to me,” Branon said. “He said it was his honor and that I was the first World War II veteran to come into his new museum.”

The most moving portion of the trip was the visit to the Normandy American Cemetery. Batte said she and Hullett found the grave of an Alabama soldier and read his name aloud together as a way to honor the fallen...

“The cemetery was so well kept,” Hullett said. “They are doing an excellent job taking care of that cemetery. I wish the dead could come back and see what’s going on.” Batte says these trips are often healing for the veterans.

46 Madison Living
Otis Branon with the museum owner at St. Mary Dumond who gave him a WWII jacket. A dummy paratrooper hangs from the church at Sainte-Mère-Église, commemorating the D-Day battle that was fought there. The beautiful serene view at Utah Beach is in sharp contrast to the battle carnage that lay here on June 6, 1944.
Madison Living 47
The veterans departed and returned to Huntsville International Airport with a heroes’ send-off and welcome. The veterans were treated as celebrities during their visit to the area around Normandy, France for the 79th anniversary of D-Day. Arthur Hullett posing with military service members.

For Hullett, she says seeing a healed country in France helped ease the burden of having to fight two wars, one in Europe and then the one for civil rights at home. For Branon, it meant not having his usual nightmares for the nine evenings he was there.

“I have seen lots of healing on these trips. God at work,” Batte said. “These heroes get to see that everything they sacrificed in the war turned out. France is a democracy. They are appreciated and respected. It eases some of the burden. For Otis not to have nightmares for the nights he was there, but they have returned since he has been home. That is just one reason that repeat trips for these heroes are important.”

Branon, though, does not see himself as a hero.

“I’m not a hero. The buried over there are,” Branon said. “I’m just a regular old Joe, you know?”

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Chad and Shay Lemond treasure their ‘Jewel of Downtown’


DDuring their first fall in Madison, Chad and Shay Lemond were walking downtown at the Madison Street Festival when the house at 19 Front Street caught their eye.

“Wouldn’t that be a wonderful house to live in?” Shay asked Chad. When the property came on the market, the Lemonds viewed it, but a year transpired before they bought the house.

“Downtown Madison is filled with many historic homes. At 19 Front Street stands one of the most impressive,” Madison historian John P. Rankin said. “In 1860, the land where the house was built was initially purchased by Madison Station railroad agent, Dr. William B. Dunn, from Madison’s founder, James Clemens.”

Dunn built a small, one-story house where he lived until 1888 when his niece sold the property with other lots for $1,000. In 1889, Dunn purchased adjacent lots during an estate auction for the deceased Clemens. Dunn’s ‘house’ still exists as the western back wing in the current multistory house, Rankin said.

The Front Street house is the first historic home for the Lemonds. However, Shay was renting a historic home’s apartment in Savannah, Georgia when they met, and they

have lived in vintage apartments during their tours in Europe.

“We love all the unique characteristics and charm that comes with older homes versus what you find in modernbuilt homes,” Shay said. “19 Front Street is the jewel of downtown Madison with the double balcony, curved porch and just the history that comes with the place. We immediately were drawn to the property.”

Eventually, James Edward Williams bought the house for $1,000 in 1904 and expanded it to multiple stories. He also raised ‘Dunn’s house,’ turned it to face west instead of south and moved it slightly north to allow for expansion.

Currently, the Lemonds’ house has approximately 5,000 square feet in two stories, a walk-up attic and nine fireplaces (one is functional). The first floor has the kitchen, living room, parlor, laundry room and primary bedroom/ bath. On the second floor, the Lemonds use two of four bedrooms for a game room and Shay’s office/sewing room. Chad uses an enclosed sleeping porch as his office.

The house’s exterior has traditional clapboard siding with brick chimneys. Two large wraparound porches span the house’s front. A small side porch acts as the main en-

52 Madison Living

trance to the building’s oldest section. A back porch is scheduled for rebuilding.

“We enjoy living in our home and want it to be comfortable and welcoming. I used a lot of the colors in the house from Benjamin Moore, three from the same swatch: living room, ‘Beach Glass’; owner’s suite bedroom, ‘Quiet Moments’ and bath in customized lighter adaptation of ‘Quiet Moments’; and an upstairs bathroom, ‘Healing Aloe.’ The entry foyer and upstairs halls use a soft, neutral creamy white.

“The house had been updated in 2010. I really liked the French white cabinets and a huge copper sink. I decided to get a copper hood for the stove to bring in more of an Old World feel to the room and changed the backsplash to a marble and glass tile,” Shay said. “We lived in France for three years, and I love a nod to French country in the space.”

Most rooms have handsome heart-of-pine floors.

When James Williams owned the house, he farmed cotton, raised livestock and ran a sawmill. His general mercantile store sat at Wise and Main streets. Williams owned a livery and sold farm implements.

Madison Living 53
James Williams and his wife Mattie in his at 19 Front Street, circa 1915. Courtesy of John Rankin Chad and Shay Lemond

Investing in the future, Williams started Madison Telephone Company in 1919 . . . many years before most Southern towns had telephones. “This wise and brilliant Madison resident became one of the wealthiest and most prominent men of his days in the town where he started as a sharecropper,” Rankin said.

Chad’s favorite, nostalgic features are the fireplaces. “A real link to what the original builders wanted, as far as design based on style of the wood, paint and tile in something both functional and necessary. We occasionally will find small pieces of coal outside, reminding us of what the fireplaces burned.”

Shay’s most cherished antique sits in the front parlor. “We have moved all over with the Army and have collected many things. One of our first antiques is a small Korean rice chest that now sits in the front parlor,” she said.

The family room/kitchen is Chad’s favorite place in the house “It’s where we spend most of our time. Shay designed these rooms with the intent that it would be very comfortable and homey,” Chad said.

“This may seem strange, but I love the hall guest bathroom. When we bought the house, it had goldand-red tile in the shower. “I wasn’t going to re-do the tile and wanted to really bring it out while (giv-

54 Madison Living
19 Front Street during a home tour in October 1976. The original William Dunn house, attached at the back of the home. Courtesy of John Rankin

CasualDining inMadison’s


ing a) nod to the history of the time period when the house was built,” Shay said.

Shay spent hours searching for wallpaper. She chose a William Morris paper, with designs dating back to the mid-1800s, called “Pimpernel in Brick and Olive.” “I just love the bold colors, design and how you might have found a wallpaper like this when the home was built,” Shay said.

She chose pieces in chinoiserie style, fashionable in the United States from the mid-19th century through 1920s. She found the pieces locally: black-and-gold vanity mirror, Hartlex Antiques Gallery; rosewood chest and Japanese panels, Tammy Eddie Antiques; and small, red Chinese rice chest, Madison Antiques.

For the lawn, Shay is applying her gardening knowledge to reclaim neglected spaces. However, the Lemonds reluctantly had to cut several large trees that storms were threatening to uproot.

“I have a long-term plan to develop the grounds into different garden areas,” Shay said. “I’m very influenced by Monet’s ‘Garden in Giverny’ and visited it many times when we lived in Paris. Monet planted

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The house and James Williams in a Dec. 17, 1913 issue of The Weekly Mercury. Courtesy of John Rankin
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his gardens to be painted.”

In their paintings, impressionist painters used color theory, which Monet implemented for garden plants. “I intend to try and do that with the garden here,” Shay said.

In addition, “a lovely saucer magnolia is absolutely stunning when in bloom.” Shay will add a trellis to showcase a climbing rose that’s quite old.

Originally from Otwell, Indiana, Chad moved to the Madison area in 2016 after retiring from the Army. “We moved to Madison in 2017 when Shay and my son joined me. I found work post-retirement after Shay encouraged me to look here based on what she had heard,” Chad said. He works in business development for Northrop Grumman.

“I’m from the greater Atlanta area and still have family there. Moving here put me closer to them,” Shay said. Shay is a real estate agent.

Their daughter Lily now lives in Madison after graduating from Auburn University in 2020. Their son Vaughn recently graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and still lives in Murfreesboro.

What hobbies do the Lemonds enjoy? “Owning a historic home IS a hobby in itself,” Shay said.

Madison Living 59

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The Madison Hospital Vein Center

Great care, close to home. That’s been the mission of Madison Hospital since we opened in 2012, and I’m proud to say we have earned many accolades for our care.

But keeping a growing community like ours healthy is a job that’s never finished. Over the past decade, we have not only expanded the size of the hospital – from 60 to 90 beds with more planned in the future – but have worked hard to bring new outpatient medical services to our campus.

The Madison Hospital Vein Center is a perfect example. Located on the ground floor of Physician’s Building 1, the Vein Center provides minimally-invasive treatment for:

• Varicose veins

• Restless legs

• Ankle swelling

• Burning or itching legs

• Leg pain, aching, cramping or fatigue

• Leg ulcers, open wounds or sores

Many of these conditions are caused by venous reflux disease (also known as chronic venous insufficiency). Simply

Gput, it’s when the valves inside your leg veins become damaged – due to age, obesity, multiple pregnancies, spending too much time on your feet and other factors – so blood flows backwards and pools in the legs.

Venous reflux disease is incredibly common, affecting more than 30 million people in the United States alone. Even so, residents of Madison and the surrounding communities historically had to travel to Huntsville to see a specialist for these issues.

That changed with the opening of Madison Hospital Vein Center. Staffed by cardiologist Dr. Jennifer Kiessling, vascular surgeons Dr. Burress Welborn III and Dr. Andrew W. Knott, plus an experienced team of nurses and ultrasonographers, the Vein Center has helped hundreds of patients experience lasting relief from painful, unsightly varicose veins and swollen, cramped, tired legs.

How do they do it? During your initial visit to the Vein Center, the team will perform an ultrasound scan of your legs to determine if you have venous reflux disease. If so, the center’s physicians will develop a personalized treatment plan to manage your symptoms using minimally-invasive techniques. The center is independently accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission.

If you’ve been silently suffering from leg pain, help is just around the corner. Call Madison Hospital Vein Center at (256) 817-8346 to schedule an evaluation or visit center for more information.

62 Madison Living
MADISON HOSPITAL ....................... ....................... ...


Honoring Revolutionary War veterans in North Alabama


MMany Americans reserve their celebrations of the country’s founding for one day of the year, Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, but the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) celebrate it and remember it all year round. As an organization formed of members with proven lineage to a Revolutionary War veteran, the SAR, among its many educational and community programs, devotes itself to honoring the very first American veterans. That devotion led to the identification and honoring in recent months of the oldest U.S. military veteran in the state of Alabama. The discovery was the idea of the Tennessee Valley chapter of the SAR which covers the Morgan, Madison, and Limestone County area. Member and media relations liaison of the chapter, Jess Brown, and his wife Penny, led the charge on digging through records, databases, and primary sources with the help of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and local historians to determine the oldest veteran buried in Alabama. The search, in part, utilized a database that the SAR chapter had previously established that lists all 1,220 known Revolutionary War veterans with ties to Alabama. It all started, however, with a question.

“Our veterans’ groups are quite active, and nobody’s ever asked, ‘Who was the first U.S. military veteran with an association with Alabama? Who was Alabama’s first veteran?’”, Brown recalled.

So, Brown set out to do what no one had done before. Brown and his fellow researchers, through their initial research arrived at the conclusion that the first veteran would have been a member of one of the first ten rifle companies established on June 14, 1775, by the Continental Congress. That day is recognized by the army to this day as the day of its founding. It marked a significant change from utilizing local state militias to establishing a continental army.

Brown and his fellow researchers then identified a man by the name of John Wade Keyes as the only known veteran in Alabama to have enlisted in one of those first ten rifle companies, and thus, the oldest U.S. Army veteran in Alabama. In fact, Keyes apparently wasted no time and enlisted the very month the army was founded in June 1775. Upon this discovery, the Alabama state legislature officially recognized Keyes with this honor with State Joint Resolution 91 which was sponsored by state representative Tom Butler of Madison, and a memorial ceremony was held by

64 Madison Living
Capt. Mike Rose (retired), left, a medal of honor recipient, bows at the grave of Alabama’s first military veteran, Revolutionary War patriot John Wade Keyes, and says “thank you” during a ceremony at Athens City Cemetery. Tennessee Valley SAR Color Guard
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the SAR on June 14, 2023, at Keyes’ gravesite in the Athens city cemetery.

“John Wade Keyes died here in the late 1830s and came to North Alabama with his twin boys in the early 1820s. Keyes by the end was an old guy. He was sixty-eight. The boys were in the prime of life, and they came here because they had an opportunity to get land,” Brown narrated.

Keyes’ story is unique as one of the first to enlist in the newly founded U.S. military, but his journey to Alabama actually resembles that of many Revolutionary War veterans who later came to call North Alabama home.

In fact, Madison and Madison County seem have to had one of the more significant populations of veterans in the decades after the war. Brown estimates that over onehundred of those 1,220 identified patriots statewide were associated in some way with Madison County. According to Brown, “Madison County may have actually had more patriots than any county in the state of Alabama.”

Another chapter member, Benny Hannah of Madison, agreed, “The county that actually has the most veterans associated with it is Madison County, and we have about onethird as many in both Morgan and Limestone Counties.”

Brown explained that like Keyes, these veterans likely came for the vast amounts of land being offered at no cost by the federal government in the area. “Most of them came

to Alabama in two waves. The first wave would have come down either through north Georgia or perhaps through Tennessee and settled in the northeastern corner of Alabama, Jackson, Madison, or Limestone, maybe Morgan County, and then you’ve got a later wave that [was] more likely to be Georgia. There were patriots that had been in Georgia or moved to Georgia and then migrated west for available land. It was the free land that the federal government was handing out that was attracting them,” he said.

Hannah, who coordinates cemetery restoration, has recently discovered more veterans in Madison, including John Peyton Powell, who had the distinct honor of serving with George Washington at Valley Forge and whose descendants still reside in the Madison area. Hannah believes from his recent work that there are still more patriots to be accounted for in Madison and is working to identify those gravesites and the veterans buried there.

Identifying the gravesites of Revolutionary War veterans is a large part of the SAR’s mission to make sure the service of the country’s first soldiers is never forgotten. Hannah, in particular, works hard to accomplish this mission which includes acquiring historical markers and working with the Pomeroy Foundation, a non-profit in New York designed to support the promulgation of community history, to appropriately mark and memorialize veteran gravesites.

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Hannah believes the work is vital is to preserve the nation’s history and honor the sacrifices of its pioneering soldiers, “My goal over the next few years is to locate as many of these old cemeteries as I can, clean them up, repair headstones and box tombs and commemorate their dedication to the founding of this great country with new SAR Markers and Pomeroy Historic markers. We cannot ever allow our new generations to forget our past and how we

got to where we are today.”

The chapter also makes sure the history lives through educational programs like their oratory, essay, and poster contests for area schools as well as community history lectures among many other initiatives.

Tennessee Valley Chapter President, Mark Hubbs, described the mission of the organization as threefold, “It’s really evolved over the years. So, our mission now is com-

Madison Living 69
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memorative. We commemorate those patriot veterans. It’s educational in that we teach about the Revolutionary War and the colonial era during the eighteenth century, and also it’s a patriotic organization.”

The Tennessee Valley chapter is one of the top chapters in the state and the entire nation. There are over two-hundred members across the three counties the chapter includes, and it has been recognized by the national SAR organization for its numbered and excellent activities and community involvement.

70 Madison Living
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From sister cadets to sister soldiers

FFrom the moment the youngest of the Judge family met each other, only eight months apart in age, they were inseparable.

Abby and Lilli, the youngest of five children, were both adopted to round out the Judge family– Abby from Indonesia and Lilli from China.

“They were so very different in personality, their relationship just somehow worked perfectly,” the girls’ mother, Rebel, said. “One liked Star Wars and the other liked stuffed animals, one liked butterflies and the other dinosaurs, one played with Barbie while the other had a box full of GI Joe’s.”

Today, the two girls remain inseparable. Well, at least in their choice to participate in ROTC at their respective universities. Abby, a 2022 graduate of Sparkman High School, is a cadet at the University of North Georgia and Lilli, a 2023 graduate, will be a cadet at Auburn University come August.

The girls’ father, Joe, served in the U.S. Army for 31 years, retiring as a colonel in 2009. From Thailand to Indonesia to Australia, Joe served at multiple U.S. Embas-

sies as the senior Army and Defense Attache to the ambassador. It was this service that inspired Abby to pursue a career in the Army.

“I’ve always wanted to be like my dad. I knew from the age of four that I was going to join the military,” Abby said. “Joining the military to be like him is my way of saying thank you for all he has done for me. I joined the Army to not only follow in my dad’s footsteps, but to appreciate what the Army has given me. I wouldn’t be in the United States if it wasn’t for the Army. I’m an American citizen because the Army sent my parents to Indonesia for seven years that led to my adoption.”

Abby joined the Sparkman High School JROTC program for a freshman elective course, convinced by a performance the program’s drill team did at Monrovia Middle School’s Veterans’ Day Assembly. She spent all four years of high school in the program, winning the 2019 state drill championship.

“Being in JROTC has taught me how to network,” Abby said. “It is so important to be able to hold a conversation and to make connections with people. I have met a handful

72 Madison Living

of senior military leaders and leaders in the community just by talking to them.”

Lilli says watching Abby grow into an amazing young leader during her first year in JROTC inspired her to dedicate her four years of high school to the same program.

“I can remember watching her with her drill team compete at their last drill competition and I fell in love with the discipline, precision and teamwork of her team,” Lilli said. “It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to be a part of that world, too.”

Like Abby, Lilli views her dad as a role model for joining the military. She says through Joe’s position as a professor at the Commander and General Staff College, she has been provided opportunities to hear his students’ stories and to participate in military events since a young age.

“My father’s students recently took their Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) on base, and my father invited me to take part. Since I have to take the ACFT at Auburn, it served as a beneficial experience because I was able to get the inside scoop on each athletic event,” Lilli said. “Additionally, many of the military students cheered me on and gave me support, which made me feel confident and at ease.”

The girls took different paths in the JROTC pathway. Abby participated in the drill team for four years. Lilli tried the drill team, and enjoyed it, but added JLAB (scholars’ bowl) and the athletic obstacle course, Raiders Team, to her resume. Both girls rose to the rank of Lt. Col. and battalion commander, the highest positions in the JROTC program.

“Both accomplished the task with very different styles,” Rebel said. “Abby very much set the goal to reach battalion commander her freshman year. Her extroverted personality partnered with her strategic leadership style worked for her and she was able to achieve her goal slowly but surely. Lilli is much more introverted and quieter and is very much a visionary leader who was focused on the daily climb, the journey. It was her daily drive that earned her the top spot.”

Besides the accomplishments the sisters achieved in JROTC, Rebel took pride in the

little things, including the care Abby and Lilli took with their uniforms.

“The thought of being one of only a few hundred students wearing an oftentimes ill-fitting military style uniform in a school of thousands would be enough to stop students from participating,” Rebel said. “I saw my girls work hard on Tuesday nights to prepare their uniforms perfectly and stand a little taller each Wednesday when they got ready for school.”

And then there was the mentorship the sisters showed the younger cadets.

“I watched them reach back and care for younger cadets just as others had cared for them in their first years. I saw them write notes of encouragement and make calls and cheer on those to their left and right,” Rebel said. “I saw my girls become strong and capable and willing mentors and role models. For Joe and I, that has been the most rewarding part of Abby’s and Lilli’s JROTC journey.”

That capability came in handy when the girls worked on the rigorous and stressful ROTC scholarship application. The scholarship portal opens a year before the applicant’s college semester begins and includes a 100-question survey, three essay questions, a physical fitness test and recommendation letters.

“It took me approximately three and a half months to complete and covered the three aspects of scholar, athlete and leader. I spent time training my body for the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), I collected recommendation letters that covered the three different scholarship categories, and I utilized my resume to present myself to the best of my ability through a survey and interview process,” Lilli said. “Overall, I felt that the time and effort I put into my application was well justified by how thoroughly the scholarship board was able to get to know me both through my high school achievements and my character.”

Having a year of ROTC under her belt, Abby says her favorite thing about the program is that it is getting her closer and closer to her goals.

“The Corps of Cadets produces incredible leaders that truly make an impact wherever they end up after graduation,” Abby said. “I’ve learned many things during my freshman year but the one thing that has stuck with me is to keep pushing no matter how hard things get. There are days where tasks, missions and events are hard, but I can make it through them if I keep pushing.”

Abby is majoring in strategic and security studies with an international affairs concentration and plans to be either a JAG or a military intelligence officer in the Army

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after graduation.

“I want to spend the majority of my career overseas and make my way back to my home country of Indonesia,” Abby said. “I want to reach the rank of colonel just like my dad did, but maybe I’ll stay in for a bit longer and reach general.”

Lilli will major in pre-vet through Auburn’s Animal Science program. She chose Auburn because of its extremely strong veterinarian education track, competitive ROTC program and the fact that it is the only Detective Canine Science, Innovation, Technology and Education program headquarters in the United States.

“My plan is to be a veterinarian in the Army working with K9 units, military family pets and humanitarian projects around the globe,” Lilli said.

As a military family, Joe and Rebel cannot be any prouder of their two youngest daughters. And of course, dad has offered plenty of guidance and advice.

“Joe has always made sure the girls understand what they are obligating themselves to. He has made sure that they are not doing anything simply to make us proud,” Rebel said. “He tells them daily that there are no limits to what they can do. There will be obstacles and it will not always be easy; in fact, it will be very hard at times.”

As the sisters move on to their next step in becoming

soldiers, they both recognize the impact that their JROTC instructors, Staff Sgt. Matrell Powell and Sgt. 1st Class Carrie Brown had on their futures.

“Their knowledge and advice were so important to me because I know that they have done the same things that I have done,” Abby said. “They’ve been out in the field in extreme weather conditions, they have years of service under their belts and most importantly they were once new soldiers in the Army.”

Being the bigger sister, Abby says feels the utmost pride and comfort knowing that her little sister will be serving in the Army as well.

“Lilli and I have always done the same extracurricular activities, so it is easy to relate and to bond over these activities,” Abby said. “She is much more than my little sister. She is my built-in best friend. I can’t put into words the excitement that I feel when Lilli and I will both be on active-duty.”

Little sister feels the same way.

“I feel comfort in knowing that Abby and I will never stray from each other due to our shared interests and desire to serve,” Lilli said. “I know that our similar chosen paths will allow us to further nurture our relationship and provide endless opportunities to bond, whether it be through laughter or tears for the rest of our lives.”

76 Madison Living
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Help Fill Backpacks for 6,000 Children in Foster Care

the Kids to Love Amazon Store online at or scan the QR code below.


Colored pencils


Three-ring binders

Pocket Folders

One-subject notebooks

Filler Paper



Scientific Calculators



LLast summer, a little girl came home to Davidson Farms, a backpack among her meager belongings. A piece of yarn tied to the handle of that backpack caught our eye. We recognized the yarn because our team tied it, a color-coded piece of string we use as we fill backpacks with school supplies. This girl was moving into the Farm and we had already touched her life.

We call our annual school supply drive “More than a Backpack” because that’s what it is for our kids. Backpacks are not just a means to get books and pencils to school. They often function as a suitcase when foster children are moved from home to home, and moves happen

Ink pens

a lot. They carry clothes, maybe a toothbrush.

With your help, our kids will also carry confidence with their backpacks. More than a Backpack equips children in foster care with the things they need on the first day of school. We give them new boxes of crayons, notebooks and calculators and other basic supplies so they can sit next to their classmates, ready to learn.

“More than a Backpack” is one the easiest ways to be involved with Kids to Love. You can Click, Ship & Give through our Amazon store, pick up supplies at a store and bring them to us, or host a drive. All the information you need to know is listed at

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ship & give.


Celebrate Madison returns to Toyota Field in August


TThe past year has certainly given Madison residents a lot to celebrate – a nationally recognized school district, record-low unemployment, new residents, and new businesses in the area.

The accomplishments of the last year will be festively recognized at the second annual Celebrate Madison, a reinvented State of the City address at Toyota Field. Celebrate Madison invites all Madison residents to enjoy the familyfriendly festivities.

According to Executive Director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Epling, “Celebrate Madison was born from Mayor Finley’s idea where the State of the City for Madison to include the entire community. Whether you’re a family of four, single, or just moved here, Celebrate Madison is a way for you to truly become invested in what’s happening, not only in the city today but to help you understand our past.”

The Madison Chamber of Commerce hosts Celebrate Madison with the support of a committee made up of local businesses. Additionally, sponsorship and city collaboration help make this event possible.

“For Celebrate Madison, the entire business community

comes together to celebrate the ninth largest city, the number one school district in the state, and the number one zip code to live in, in Alabama. We have a lot to celebrate,” Epling said.

The highlight of the event, the State of the City address delivered by Mayor Paul Finley, is a chance for Madison residents to stay informed about their city with the mayor’s updates on ongoing and future initiatives to improve the city.

“Celebrate Madison is an opportunity to highlight our accomplishments and showcase our impeccable quality of life in the City of Madison,” Mayor Finley said.

Epling sees it as also an opportunity to give recognition to the many people who contribute behind the scenes to making Madison a great place to live, “As a resident, I think it’s important to know what our city is doing. There are a lot of departments that work hard to maintain the quality of life in our city. To learn about it and see it come together helps instill the belief that Madison, AL is the best place to plant your roots.”

Toyota Field sets the tone for a fun and casual day. Mayor Finley praised the great atmosphere of the venue and expressed his anticipation for Celebrate Madison, “Toyota

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Several local school and community organizations will be highlighted during the Celebrate Madison event on August 17, such as this jazz ensemble from James Clemens at last year’s event.

Field serves as an ideal venue for the community at large to gather while feeling connected to their municipality and local business leaders. I look forward to celebrating with you!”

Celebrate Madison will have a variety of activities for guests of all ages. The first 300 guests can receive a free hot dog, soda, and ice cream. Guests can enjoy activities that range from face painting and lawn games to a special 21+ section. Additionally, this year’s event will feature a

Fun activities and games for the whole family will be on tap, along with special guests..

special touch – honoring a military family, sponsored by Signalink. Finally, all are welcome to enjoy a spectacular firework show at the end of the night.

Celebrate Madison will take place on August 17. The gates of Toyota Field will open to guests at 5:30 pm, an hour before the program begins at 6:30 pm. Parking is available at the stadium and guests can reserve their free tickets in advance online through the Trash Pandas’ website at www.

Madison Living 81

The Madison Chamber of Commerce held its second “Meet More Members” event at Phil Sandovals last month in partnership with Nalcom. The event included face painting for the kids and lots of members hadd a great time on Phil Sandovals patio! “We truly enjoyed networking with our families this summer,” said Chamber Executive Director Michelle Epling. The presenting sponsor was Huntsville Utilities. Supporting sponsors included Redstone Federal Credit Union, First Horizons and Two Men and a Truck Huntsville. The food sponsor was Phil Sandovals.

Recent ribbon cuttings include:

• Floor and Décor (shown right)

• Bubbles Car Wash – New Ownership

• Chillabay Dessert Bar

• Grill and Smoke BBQ

Groundbreakings indlude:

• Creekstone Academy

• Leeland Ventures – Multi-tenant building in Clift Farms

• Homewood Suites in Town Madison (shown above)

82 Madison Living Stay updated on what is to come by visiting and following our Instagram (@madisonalchamber) and Facebook (Madison Chamber of Commerce).
....................... .......................

Readying students for their future and tomorrow’s workforce

AAsk a toddler what he or she wants to be when they grow up and the response may sometimes stretch adult imaginations.

But as children progress through school and especially in their latter grades, it is important for them to begin forming realistic ideas.

Madison City Schools tries to help them on that journey through strong Career Tech Education programs.

Since Madison City Schools became a school district in 1998, it has strived to have CTE programs with meaningful learning opportunities that are relevant to current and future workforce needs.Dr. Heather Donaldson, Chief Academic Officer for Madison City Schools, said the goal remains to continue adding new curricular opportunities to help students pursue

the path that is right for them and helps meet workforce demand.

“Career Tech Education (CTE) has grown tremendously in our district over the last eight years to where we now have 32 programs that include 102 career tech courses spread across grades 6-12 taught by 52 CTE teachers,” she said. “Because of all of this, 69 percent of our students in grades 6-12 took at least one CTE course this school year.”

Those efforts will be boosted this fall with the expansion of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) teachers in our elementary schools. Thanks to support from the Board of Education and assistance from a Department of Defense Education Activity STEM grant, every Madison City elementary

Madison Living 83


school will be staffed with an art, music and STEM teacher. This will give them STEM instruction year round with the added benefit of freeing up their classroom teachers for collaborative planning time. Studies have shown that students from districts with strong arts programs scored higher overall on statewide tests in math, science and citizenship than students from districts without. The increased STEM instruction could help students earlier choose CTE pathways that better align with their interests.

New course additions to our CTE platform are driven by workforce development needs that are shared through CTE advisory committees and workforce development data. Examples of some of our newer CTE courses include PLTW Computer Science Essentials, Introduction to Careers in Healthcare, Welding, Networking, CEO, PLTW Green Architecture, Advanced Manufacturing, and Machining, Banking and Financial Services, Digital Game Development, PLTW Medical Detectives, PLTW Integrated Manufacturing, PLTW Engineering Essentials, and PLTW Digital Electronics.

As MCS has expanded its CTE courses along with enrollment increases, state and federal funding has also increased. These funds go directly to CTE classroom expan-

sion, equipment and supply purchases, and items such as robotic mannequins (for the health science classes) software, safety goggles, iMacs, software and more.

With the growth of CTE programs, MCS has also increased its industry-recognized credentials that students can pursue to better prepare them to enter the workforce. This past year, 870 industry credentials were earned by students at Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools386 by their graduating seniors alone.

These credentials were across numerous disciplines including ServSafe Manager, Certiport Information Technology, Microsoft Office Specialist, BLS Instructor With Healthcare Provider, Adobe Certified Associate (ACA photoshop) and CompTIA Strata IT Fundamentals, and more.

As we add new courses and opportunities for students, our instruction team works to ensure content alignment in elementary through 12th grade. “Our to offer a viable curriculum, innovative programs and experiences that will help students excel in any area of interest that they have,” Dr. Donaldson said.

As fast as the global economy is changing, that’s more important than ever in the development of the next generation workforce.

84 Madison Living

Here is a sample of the stories you can find every week in...



Fighter jet touches down on James Clemens High School campus

A long-awaited addition to James Clemens High School has finally landed on the school’s campus. The school’s mascot, a refurbished TF-9J fighter jet was moved last month from storage to the high school in Madison. The project was led by general congtractor The Highland Group, NOLA VanPeursem Architects and the Madison City Board of Education.

Acquired by the Madison City Board of Education in 2014, the Northrop Grumman-built Navy TF-9J Cougar fighter jet is on permanent loan from the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. Although never see-

ing combat, the jet was used as an advanced flight trainer during the Vietnam War era and flown by the Navy’s elite Blue Angels flying team. The TF-9J, initially designated as the F9F-8T, is a two-seat trainer variant of the basic F9F8 Cougar carrier-borne fighter.

Recently, skilled craftsman Randy Beavers completed the refurbishment of the aircraft. Throughout the years, junior ROTC members from James Clemens High School, shop students, and other individuals have contributed to the restoration process. All restoration efforts adhered to strict guidelines regarding paint schemes and display re-

Madison Living 85
You can
The Madison Record in newsstands across Madison or online at This story was written for the June 21, 2023 issue of The Madison Record
The refurbished TF-9J fighter jet made its way on a rainy Wednesday, June 14, to the campus of James Clemens High School.

quirements for the pedestal-mounted aircraft. This initiative was made possible thanks to a sizable grant from Northrop Grumman and community donations.

The authentic retired Navy aircraft will soon be on permanent display outside the school. On Wednesday, the fighter jet was transported to the back parking lot of James Clemens High School, escorted by the Madison Police Department.

Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols added, “The entire community – students, parents, faculty, boosters – is excited to see this project become a reality. Having a fighter jet displayed as the centerpiece of the campus not only speaks to the spirit of the James Clemens Jets but to the heritage of the rich military and defense history that so permeates this area.”

Michael Barnes, Vice President of North Alabama for The Highland Group, also commented, “We are thrilled and honored to be the chosen general contractor for this monumental project at James Clemens. As a proud North Alabama native, I am beyond excited to see our team at The Highland Group play a part in creating a lasting symbol of our community’s dedication to innovation and progress. This fighter jet will inspire generations to come, and we can’t wait to help make this dream a reality.”

For more information about The Highland Group and this project, please visit

86 Madison Living
The refurbished TF-9J fighter jet being prepared to leave storage for its new home on the campus of James Clemens. The refurbished jet was placed in storage, above, while work was being completed. Making its way up County Line Road to the school.
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