Michelle Key, Publisher
Originally from Albertville, Alabama, Michelle Key and her family moved to the Opelika-Auburn area in 2011 after her husband’s retirement from the U.S. Navy. She is a graduate of Troy University, and she joined the Observer in 2014 as an office administrator before assuming ownership of the newspaper in January 2018.
Hannah Lester, LIVE Lee Editor
Hannah Lester is an Auburn University 2019 journalism graduate who is originally from Birmingham. She started with The Observer in July 2020 and began as the Associate Editor for the LIVE Lee Magazine. She assigns, writes and edits pieces for the magazine, as well as helps to design the pages. She was named editor of LIVE Lee in July 2021.
Wil Crews, The Observer Sports Editor
Wil Crews is an Auburn University 2020 journalism graduate originally from Prattville, Alabama. He works as The Observer’s sports editor and assists in developing the weekly paper and LIVE Lee Magazine.
Kendyl Hollingsworth, Staff Reporter
Kendyl Hollingsworth is a Huntsville native and 2018 journalism graduate of Auburn University. She interned at The Observer in early 2018 before returning to north Alabama to work at two newspapers and a magazine. Following a brief hiatus to serve as a missionary, Kendyl has returned to The Observer and LIVE Lee to help tell the unique stories of people across Lee County
Robert Noles, Photographer
Robert Noles is an award-winning photojournalist who has been with The Observer for more than 10 years. Originally from Tallassee, he is a graduate of Alabama Christian College and Auburn University.Shaye Baker Sam DiChiara Emery Lay Tucker Massey Kara Mautz Natalie Salvatore DESIGN / LAYOUT Michelle Key Hannah Lester MARKETING Woody Ross Rena Smith
Christmastime is here again.
I’m writing this letter in October, and honestly, it’s a little harder to be “in the spirit of Christmas” as I write.
But I do have fun plans this year. I’m hoping my mom will come down and visit for some of the local events. We’ve talked about it ever since I moved here in 2019 but have yet to make it happen!
So, I’m hoping to show her around Opelika and Auburn when the decorations come out, when there’s lots of fun shopping and art fairs, and when we can just spend time together.
I also plan to travel to Birmingham to see “White Christmas”, “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s A Wonderful Life” at the Alabama Theatre. We also featured them in our publication (see page 23).
There’s Christmas lights galore in our area. We introduce a new columnist in this magazine — local Shaye Baker. Baker takes us on a tour around Lee County to find the best lights. And I’ll tell you that I certainly plan to check them out. Maybe I’ll drag my boyfriend along too, haha.
But, outside of twinkling lights, lots of shopping and cookies (there’s a cookie walk in December too, see page 50), there are ways to give back.
I know we have many of our community members in need. There are many organizations working to make sure people are in warm homes for Christmas, have enough to eat and that there are presents for children on Christmas morning. Habitat for Humanity, Church of the Highlands, The Food Bank of East Alabama, The Boys and Girls Club of Lee County, United Way of Lee County and more are all doing what they can to make not only Christmas, but all year long, a time of serving others.
I encourage you to get involved. Giving back is more than just a “Christmas” activity.
I know that by now, many people would pull a Bible verse out about the birth of Jesus. And while this time of year is dedicated to remembering that, I’d actually like to share some verses that took place after his death.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” - Acts 4:32-35.
If we all lived as though we had all things in common, giving to those who had need, I have a feeling that no one would go to sleep on Christmas without food and a bed.
I encourage you to use your resources and your time to give back this year. Attend the fun events in our community, yes. I hope you enjoy them, and this publication. But also remember those who don’t have the opportunities that we do.
Local HandmadeStory By Hannah Lester Photos By Kristin Morrison
Kudzu Hill Handmade followed from the shared desire that many Americans face — the desire to own their own business and work for themselves.
“We wanted the freedom that it brings to work for yourself,” said Kerry Weldon, one of the owners.
Weldon and Jeanne Moye started Kudzu Hill, and if you’ve been around Auburn or Opelika long enough, then you know their product has taken off.
“It seemed like there was a need for what we were doing, and people really responded,” Weldon said.
While the company does not have a brick-and-mortar store, its products are available in businesses around the area. Kudzu Hill also sells at local markets, flea markets and similar places.
In 2020, Kudzu Hill moved from selling only at markets to bulk products that could head into local stores.
Weldon and Moye sell soaps and candles in a variety of scents — some even locally related like the College and Magnolia candle.
“We did our research actually,” Weldon said. “We started looking into very different candle formulations, soap making, things like that.”
Out of all that research, the two chose what they felt would work for them.
“We started with what we liked,” Weldon said, which for her meant scents like cedarwood.
“… Anything that’s very earthy.”
Weldon makes the soap, while Moye, who is also Weldon’s wife, makes the candles.
“It works out really well,” Weldon said.
Right now, Weldon runs the business full time while Moye works another full-time position.
Weldon said she’s able to see how much they’ve grown since 2019 and she said she’s learned a lot. Learning how to run a business in general has been the most difficult thing since starting Kudzu Hill, she said.
“There’s not really a guidebook for it, right?” Weldon said. “So, I’ve learned a lot and I continue to learn a lot.”
On the Kudzu Hill Facebook page, the following candles are available:
- Fallen Leaves
- Christmas Hearth
- Cypress & Bayberry
- Peppermint Bark
- Night Forest
- Cedarwood Tobacco
- Ocean Shores
- Pacific Trail
- College and Magnolia
- Coffee Shop and
- Black Sea.
The candles come in $10, 8-ounce tins, or $25, 17-ounce glass. These candles are 100% soy wax and use pure essential oils, along with fragrance oils. There are also dough bowl candles available for $35.
The soaps are all natural with pure essential oils and fragrance oils, cost $9 and are available in the following scents:
- Fallen Leaves
- Christsmas Hearth
- Blue Spruce
- Rosemary Lemon Verbena
- Oat Milk
- Patchouli Rose
- Cedarwood Tobacco
- Southern Pine
- Railroad Town (Gardenia Tuberose)
- Ocean Shores
- Coffee Shop
- College and Magnolia
- Eucalyptus and
The oils used to scent the products are “free of many potentially hazardous chemicals, such as phthalates,” Weldon said. “And, we do not use chemical dyes in our candles.”
Kudzu Hill’s Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/kudzuhillhandmade but you can also find its products in local businesses such as ACE Hardware on University Drive in Auburn or Market Street Paint Shop and Boonie Hat Coffee Company on 8th Street in Opelika.
For A Good CauseStory By Hannah Lester Photos Contributed By EAMC
Grab your tuxedo from the closet and find shoes to match that dress because the fourth annual EAMC Christmas Ball is here.
The ball is a black-tie gala with music, dancing, a silent auction, live auction and more.
This year, proceeds from EAMC’s event will benefit the East Alabama Medical Center Foundation, specifically the
new level-three Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, said Susan Cowart, director of the foundation.
The ball supported the NICU last year and will do so again this year, Cowart said.
“This year, the funds will help prepare the NICU for Lee County’s projected population growth of 24% in the next ten years,” she said.
The NICU is already often at capacity, Cowart said.
There is a “12 Days of Christmas” virtual auction, room-naming sponsorships, table sponsorships and a special donation call at the ball, all of which will benefit this cause.
“The aesthetics of the evening will be soft, NICU colors of pink and blue, and the center of the pre-function area will be ... a flocked gratitude tree, that will have the number of ornaments of all of the babies that have been admitted to the NICU since it was opened,” Cowart said.
The event will take place Dec. 1, reception at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. There were still limited tickets available over a month ago, but even if all tickets are sold out, there are still ways to donate and be involved, Cowart said.
The silent auction will be held virtually so that anyone can participate. The auction will take place through Nov. 29 with over 70 items to bid on, including nice dinners, trips, adventures and more.
The live auction items include things like a dinner with Auburn Men’s Basketball coach Bruce Pearl, vintage diamond jewelry, a quail hunt and more.
You can also bid on items in the live auction, even if you won’t be attending, by contacting Susan Cowart at 334-5285923 or email@example.com.
“The tradition of the Christmas Ball, the hospital gala, kicks off the holiday season, or the Christmas season, with this wonderful [event],” Cowart said. “It’s an investment.
You will have a wonderful time, but it’s also an investment in our community.
“6.6 people move to Auburn every single day, and I hear that one to three of those people are children entering the Auburn school system. So, we’ve got families with small children that will need this. But, it’s just a reinvestment back in East Alabama Health that is growing to meet the community’s needs.
“Whether you are a family with young children or a retired family ... we’re just striving to take care of this community.”
More information available here: www. eastalabamahealth.org/ ways-to-give/eamcfoundation/events/ the-christmas-ball.
Dancing The Night AwayStory By Kara Mautz Photos Contributed By The Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center
As we approach the holiday season, we are reminded of the importance of slowing down, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life and spending much needed time with friends and family.
This year, the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University has a perfectly curated array of shows planned to ring in the holidays through music and dance.
Jonathan Osborne, director of communications and marketing for the Gogue Center, said that the center’s two main performances planned for the 2022 season are “A Very Postmodern Jukebox” by Scott Bradlee and “The Nutcracker”, presented by Variations Dance Studio.
“This year, in celebration of the holidays, we’re welcoming Scott Bradlee’s ‘Postmodern Jukebox’ back to the Woltosz Theatre,” Osborne said. “‘Postmodern Jukebox’ were featured in our inaugural season lineup, and they were a huge hit. This time around, the group will perform a selection of classic holiday hits, both old and new, in their signature retro-remixed style.”
A week later, on Dec. 9 and 10, Variations Dance Studio is set to present its annual holiday performance of “The Nutcracker” at The Woltosz Theatre.
Osborne said that while it is impossible to say what he is most excited for audiences to see this year, he is thrilled at the variety of performances scheduled for the 2022-23 season.
“Our 2022-23 season has something for everyone, it really does,” Osborne said. “From Broadway and comedy to country, chamber music and dance.”
The Gogue also offers a “Family Series,” especially tailored for young audiences.
“We also have some amazing performances included in our Family Series this season, like Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh,” coming Tuesday, Jan. 31,” Osborne said. “Tickets for all Family Series performances are only $10 each, too.”
The first event of this holiday season at the Gogue is the “Postmodern Jukebox” holiday show, scheduled for Friday, Dec. 2.
“Postmodern Jukebox” was founded in 2011, when New York City pianist Bradlee created the group out of a basement in Queens, New York, with the goal of reimagining classic songs throughout the past few decades.
“His goal was simple: to remake the pop hits of today into the classic sounds of the legends of yesterday,” the official “Postmodern Jukebox” website states. “Miley Cyrus became The Platters, Bruno Mars became Frank Sinatra, The Spice Girls became The Andrews Sisters, Guns ’n’ Roses became Bessie Smith.”
Dubbed the “Saturday Night Live” for singers, “Postmodern Jukebox” offers a unique experience of featuring guest
musicians and vocalists, such as Haley Reinhart, Shoshana Bean and Wayne Brady.
While the group is widely known for posting videos of their covers on online media platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, this will be a great opportunity to catch a one-of-a-kind show right here in Auburn.
The Gogue Center will also be showcasing “The Nutcracker”, peresented by Auburn-based Variations Dance Studio.
Per the official Variations website, “This December, experience the magic and join Clara as she travels to the Land of Sweets in ‘The Nutcracker’. This classic holiday ballet will feature the company dancers of Variations Dance Studio, alongside many community members playing hundreds of fun and exciting roles.”
Variations performs “The Nutcracker” each year, enlisting the members of its dance company to perform the key and supporting roles in the show.
Osborne said the process of choosing which acts and performers to showcase in a season at the Gogue Center is well thought out and designed to represent many different genres.
“So much goes into curating a performing arts season, a lot of thought, time and a lot of back and forth with artists and managers,” Osborne said. “All the pieces have to fit just right. But it’s not just about who or what is touring at the moment, it is much more than that.”
Osborne described the process as being similar to air traffic control, playing a game of Jenga and a jigsaw puzzle all rolled into one.
“Our executive director is very careful to select acts that we feel the community will respond to and artists who will inspire and entertain,” Osborne said. “It’s all about creating a wellrounded mix with a little something for everyone.”
It seems that they have done just that, with shows this season ranging from musicals like “Legally Blonde” and “Hairspray,” to comedians such as Jay Leno, to singers like Smokey Robinson, David Foster and Katharine McPhee and much more in between.
So, this holiday season, consider taking your family and friends to a show at the Gogue, for the perfect mix of music, dance and holiday spirit.
Tickets to holiday-specific engagements and all other performances at the Gogue Center are available online at www. goguecentertickets.auburn.edu, by telephone at 334-844-TIXS (8497) or in person at the box office, located at 910 S. College St. in Auburn.
a joyful noise
Music and art, properly expressed, give glory to God. That’s why the arts have been included in the curriculum at Trinity since our founding 45 years ago.
The Christmas TreeStory By Sam DiChiara Photos Contributed By Mims Christmas Tree Farm
Greg Mims and his son Brandon own and operate a Christmas tree business in Auburn that has, over the last three decades, established itself as a widely-beloved community mainstay.
“Mims Christmas Trees is a lot that we’ve set up in Auburn, Alabama, for the last 33 years,” Greg said. “... My dad actually did this when I was a kid. He did it in Columbus, Georgia, for probably 50 years. And when I went into the produce business when I was 24, it fit right in with what we were doing. So we started selling trees in 1989.”
Between Greg’s father’s 50 years in Columbus, starting in 1975, and Greg’s 33 years in Auburn, this family business has been providing the local community with quality Christmas trees and wreaths for 47 years — and counting.
“It’s gotten to a point now where it’s more of a community thing,” Greg said. “ … We have third-generation customers … I have customers whose grandkids are buying trees from us. It’s awesome. It’s like a social thing now. We get to see friends we haven’t seen in a year.”
Greg spoke about how his son, Brandon, is gradually taking over the business, just as Greg carried on his father’s enterprise when he set up shop in Auburn 33 years ago.
“Now my son is 33 years old and he helps me,” Greg said. “So, he’s got customers that come in and want to see nobody but him. So, he will carry this on once I retire.”
The best part about the Mims’ ongoing legacy: customers unanimously love the trees and wreaths they buy.
“I have customers that literally I’ve had for 30 years,” Greg said.
One longtime customer wrote in the business’ Facebook group, “Thank you so much for your kindness. The beauty of this tree got me through the holidays.”
Another happy customer posted an image of their tree, decorated in lights and ornaments and on display in their living room, with the caption: “We love Mims trees! Always beautiful and smells amazing.”
Many of the photos customers have posted from their homes also show how much children love Mims’ trees.
Mims Christmas Trees has kept customers coming back for 33 winters because of one, simple, reason, Greg explained.
“Because we take care of our customers,” he said. “... Our repeat business is huge.”
On top of selling high-quality trees sourced from a trusted farm in Sparta, North Carolina, every year, Mims always goes above and beyond to meet all of its clients’ needs.
“We deliver, we set up ... we’re a one stop shop,” Greg said.
Greg expressed how much he enjoys setting up a display of his trees every year in front of Dillard’s at the Auburn Mall.
“We display 500 trees that are standing in rows by size, and we have guys there to load your tree, to trim your tree,” he said. “We have guys there to put your stand on. If you need us to, we can deliver your tree. Whatever you need, we’re there
Of this massive 500-tree display, there’s no shortage of variety for potential patrons to browse and select from.
“We have anything from a 4- or 5-foot tree, up to a 14-foot tree,” Greg said. “Depending on how big of a tree you want, it could be anywhere from $40 to $400.”
With that kind of range in size and price, it’s safe to say the business has something for everyone. And these trees and wreaths aren’t just for Auburn locals. The business has attracted loyal customers from eastern and central Alabama, as well as even western Georgia.
“We have a few customers that come out from as far away as Montgomery and Columbus,” Greg said. “Mainly, we’re Lake Martin, Auburn, Opelika, Beauregard. That’s where our main clientele is.”
When asked about who all was involved in running the business, Greg expressed pride in his team.
“My son and I mostly run the business,” he said. “And we have two key people that are always there with us: Jay Smith
and Mary Whitlow. Jay’s always there during the day, and Mary Whitlow helps us on the weekends.”
Mims Christmas Trees has been making Christmastime brighter and more beautiful for people in the community since 1989. For 50 years before that, the family did the same in Columbus, Georgia.
In those 83 years, Greg said the family business has prioritized taking care of its customers, building lasting friendships with folks in the community and supplying trees and wreaths their loyal customers are proud to display in their homes.
Mims Christmas Trees Farm is located at 2100 East University Drive, Auburn, AL, 36830. It is open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. every day of the week. Greg encourages customers to come out early while trees are still available.
“There’s still a short suply,” he said. “We hope to make it to Dec. 10.”
Find out more information through Mims Christmas Trees Facebook page or by calling 3340-750-5359.
Theater at the Theatre
Imagine watching “White Christmas” or “It’s A Wonderful Life” from a historic theater built in 1927.
The Alabama Theatre is located in downtown Birmingham and has served as a movie palace for almost 100 years since opening in 1927. In 1987, it was purchased by Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. The company strives to preserve the theater, which still hosts movies and events.
“In 1998, the Theatre underwent a complete front door to back door restoration,” according to the theater’s website. “The work was done by EverGreene Studios from New York City. In eight months, the [theater] went from its look of faded grandeur to a sparkling 1927 look with all the gold leaf paint either replaced or cleaned.
“In addition to the restoration, new carpet was installed in the ladies lounge and new drapes were installed on the stage and organ chambers.”
The Lyric Theatre, down the street from the Alabama Theatre, was built in 1914 and was a vaudeville and movie theater. It underwent renovations in 2014 before reopening in 2016 for its 102nd anniversary.
“Both the Alabama and Lyric are rented to promoters who bring artists they have contracted for concerts,” said Brant Beene, president and executive director of Birmingham Landmarks, Inc. “We do not actually book or present any artists or productions directly other than movies in December, around Valentine’s Day and during the summer. In the springtime, we’re home for more than a dozen dance competitions and recitals that happen each weekend from January until June. These, too, are rentals. We occasionally rent for meetings, weddings or other special events. We’ve had politicians speak at both theaters, book tours — Fannie Flagg, Bush Sisters, Brian Kilmeade,
Prairie Woman — and religious services. Recently, we had a 300-member, joint choir from 10 churches perform and record.
“If you can think up any variety of meeting, concert, book tour or other such event, we have probably done it — after all, the Lyric is over 100 years old and the Alabama will be 100 in 2027.”
Beene, as president and executive director, is responsible for the care and preservation of the theater.
“I am involved — in some fashion or other — with all our efforts to preserve the theaters and make them enjoyable places to visit for the people in our community and state,” he said. “That means in hiring, fundraising, bringing in new business, repairs and maintenance and managing expenses. Others are directly responsible for positive results in each of those areas and must work together for the same goal. It is my task to make sure they do.
“Familiar architectural structures seem to give us reassurance and a sense of stability and place. When places that we knew as children are still around and still making us happy, it gives us a real sense of home and security.”
Beene said that often parents or grandparents bring their children by and show off the place they knew as children.
“It’s a great feeling when you can make someone happy and a very good reason to encourage people to come,” he said. “We hope people will choose an event they would like to attend and see the [theater] when it is in full use and in its full glory. I wish we were open 24 hours a day so people could just drop in for a visit, but it is impossible to do that and really not the best way to see it.”
Photos that were taken right after the theater’s opening help the team keep it historically accurate. Most furniture has been
restored. A few pieces have been replaced with custom-made counterparts.
“Imagine what it would be like if you had a 100-year-old house and you had 150 parties a year with food and drink spilled everywhere,” Beene said. “And, those parties had 1,000 to 2,000 guests, and you did this for 100 years. This would help you understand how much wear and tear there is on the bathrooms, the carpet, the glass, the lightbulbs (14,000), the plaster, the sound and light equipment, the seats, the decorative furniture and artwork, the stairs, 30 ladies’ restrooms and 15 for men. Imagine. We have to clean the house fully after each performance and then try to squeeze in deep cleans and repairs on HVAC, plumbing, paint and plaster and electrical — including all those light bulbs. It is a monster task but one we relish.”
Christmastime is one of the most popular times of the year for the theater. During parts of December, there is a different Christmas movie shown each night and some during the day.
“First, we get plenty of sleep before the series begins,” Beene joked. “Actually, it all starts in the summer when we select the movies and place them strategically on the dates we think are best. We must get permission from the film distributors who license us to show the films. That alone can take a month. We
have to schedule workers, concession menus and bartenders and work around any concerts that we have scheduled during the weeks that we show the movies. We also have to schedule security, cleanup crews, box office personnel and ushers and ticket scanners. We also have to take two or three days to decorate the theater with the giant tree and lights. Much planning, much doing, in a short time. But, after 30 years, we have it down pat. It just takes scheduling around other events. And it’s a lot of fun.”
Beene said the theater doesn’t pick the movies — the customers do, by their attendance. And many come back year after year. But that doesn’t mean the theater has access to any Christmas movie.
“Many people tell us that they plan their family gathering around our Holiday Film Festival, so we take it very seriously.
“… We try to show the films that people like the best so that we can sell more tickets and make the most people happy. Sometimes we try new ones such as ‘Die Hard’ — which is not about Christmas but happens during Christmastime. The same could be said about ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ — it’s not about Christmas either, but it is a Christmastime favorite.”
This year, the theater will host “NUTCRACKER! Magical Christmas Ballet” on Nov. 29, and the 2022 Holiday Film Series
begins Dec. 9.
Currently planned films include: “White Christmas”, “The Polar Express”, “Christmas Vacation”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “Elf”, “Home Alone”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “A Christmas Story”, “A Charlie Brown
Christmas”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “White Christmas Sing-Along” and “Die Hard”.
For the schedule, see: www.alabamatheatre.com/event/ coming-soon-2022-alabama-theatre-holiday-film-series/.
Beauty Is In The EyeStory By Natalie Salvatore Photos Contributed By Kara Newby Pottery
After Kara Newby’s husband gifted her with private pottery lessons in 2007, passion for a new craft was born. Little did Newby know that someday, she would open her very own business in a place that welcomed her graciously with open arms.
Kara Newby Pottery is a small-batch pottery business in Auburn. Newby is all about showcasing life’s everyday beauties through her many pieces.
“I love that these pieces I make with my hands become a part of someone’s home,” Newby said. “One of the most special moments to me is when I unexpectedly see a piece I made in someone’s home or being used by someone.”
Each piece of pottery she makes is unique. One aspect Newby said she loves about her pottery is that with everything she sells, she knows she is touching the lives of others in personal ways. Not only are her products meaningful, but they are also functional. She knows that someone may drink their next cup of coffee out of one of her mugs, use one of her food-serving platters for their next gathering of family and friends or display their plant in one of her planters.
“Some of my dishes can be found serving up the amazing food at Acre, and other pieces are sold as a part of the Irritable Bao community,” she said. “Several real estate agents also give my pieces as their client gifts.”
The local connections Newby makes allow her to meet people in the community that she never would have met otherwise.
Since beginning pottery lessons, combined with the tips and tricks Newby has learned via in-person and online pottery communities, Newby runs her own side business without any formal training. The business began after initially selling pieces
at Summer Night, a downtown Auburn Art show, when a fellow studio member inspired her with the idea. Over the years, she has honed her craft and received local recognition. Newby reflected on a time where her name was mentioned on a local radio station, in which the announcer referred to her as a “local artist.”
“For a long time, I felt like because I didn’t have an education or degree in art, I couldn’t really call myself an ‘artist,’ so, in that moment, when she recognized my name and labeled me an artist, it felt really special to me,” Newby said. “She legitimized me in a way.”
Newby expressed how turning a passion into a business takes everything up a notch, bringing with it possible challenges and unknown areas, such as the financial side of running a small business, as well as its necessary media components. She said that it is sometimes difficult for her to fully focus on creating her pieces, while at the same time, fully advertise her work through social media. Especially with a craft such as hers, a lot of thought, preparation and care go into a small business, and Newby said it is no short and easy feat. She shed a light on how small businesses want and appreciate each customer’s business, but sometimes need that extra bit of patience from the public to handle the demands and needs that go into everyday operations.
As other businesses struggled during the pandemic, Newby said COVID-19 was also hard on her. Not only was she helping her three children with their own classes, but she too was teaching and taking classes, as she is currently working toward earning a PhD. However, as her pottery business is on the side, the canceled art shows were not financially devastating. Additionally, she was able to continue working on her pottery from inside her home.
“Having that outlet was really good for me,” she said. “I wasn’t
reliant on a studio having to be open, so I was still able to work and create things.”
As she looks ahead to her business’s future, Newby reflects on the past and where she started.
With the community’s support, pieces she thought would never be sold have since found their spot in someone’s home, business
or in a gift bag, awaiting its recipient. As always, she will continue to strive for learning and growth.
“Sometimes, I look back at some of my first pieces, pieces that I sold in the beginning, and I think, ‘I can’t believe people paid money for that,’” Newby said. “But I also sometimes look back and think, ‘Wow, that was really a beautiful piece, and I’m so glad it has a good home here.’”
Throughout her business’s development, Newby’s pottery has evolved into a refined art that resonates with people in different ways, she explained. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
As the holiday months approach, Newby is gearing up for her work’s many showcases. Find her pottery at the Local Market in J&M and at the Holiday Art Sale at the Harris Center on Nov. 19, as well as at the Downtown Holiday Sale on Dec. 3.
Newby appreciates the pottery studios she can continue to learn from in the AuburnOpelika community and strives to remain humble throughout this entire experience.
“I am thankful for all who have helped me along the way,” she said. “I probably would not have this business if it wasn’t for them.”
Visit www.karanewbypottery.com/ to find more information, as well as a gallery of her work and social media links. One can inquire about commission requests or other questions via the contact tab found there.
Merry and Bright
David Cargill lived to make people happy.
After all, he was Santa Claus — and spreading Christmas cheer is what Santa does best.
“I don’t know what to say except he just loved doing Santa,” said Nancy Cargill, David’s wife of more than 50 years, and the occasional Mrs. Claus. “… When he got where he couldn’t do it anymore, it really hurt him. That was just his thing.”
The holiday season brings a certain magic; the lights, music, decorations, gatherings with friends and family — and, of course, Santa Claus — can transport us back to our childhoods and inspire us all to love a little more. But with David’s passing on Sept. 30, a little bit of the local Christmas magic will be missing this year.
Donning Santa’s signature suit — complete with the hat, boots and gloves — was what David looked forward to each year, all year, for more than four decades. It wasn’t about the suit, though. What mattered most was putting a smile on people’s faces, no matter their age. You might have seen him meeting children around Tiger Town, waving in parades or listening to countless Christmas wishes in shops and restaurants. (Santa was also a regular at Chappy’s Deli.)
One year, he even did a photoshoot with a brandnew Jeep for a local car dealership.
David traveled as far as Montgomery and Eufaula, volunteering to fill Santa’s boots whenever he could, but perhaps it was at Opelika’s “Christmas in a Railroad Town” event where David was most at home as Santa.
“That was his main gig,” said his granddaughter, Laura Cargill, who can be seen with David in many of his photos.
And despite having met hundreds or even thousands of people over the years, David had a gift for remembering each and every one. “He remembers everybody,” Laura said. “It didn’t matter who you were and how long ago it’s been since you’ve seen him, he’d be like, ‘Hey! … I remember you.’
“That blew people away because, you know, he saw hundreds, probably thousands of people — especially during Christmas in a Railroad Town. ... But he remembered everybody. He had a really great memory. It makes it seem magical in that way.”
After news spread of David’s passing this year, Nancy and Laura said they “could not believe” all the kind words, memories, photos and videos people shared of him. One man recounted on social media a
special experience he and his daughter once had with David as Santa in Tiger Town.
“I’ll never forget the day that I was in Tiger Town and Santa saw me and my daughter and he [stopped] and called her by her name,” he wrote. “She looked up at me with the biggest eyes and said he knows my name! It was priceless!!!”
As a former police officer in his hometown of Opelika, taking on the role of Santa Claus was a stark contrast to what David experienced each day at his full-time job of 15-plus years. And although playing Santa was technically just a part-time job, Laura said it was much more than that.
In fact, Laura has always known her “Papa” as Santa Claus.
“Papa was just Santa,” she recalled. “When I was born, he dressed as Santa because he said he wanted me to meet him as Santa Claus for the first time. … I’m like a newborn little baby, and he’s full glammed out in his Santa suit, holding me. He’s special. He really was.”
A picture of that first meeting hangs on the wall in the Cargills’ living room. In fact, a peek around David’s house reveals just how much Santa was interwoven in the threads of his life.
“Papa lived for Santa,” Laura said. “… If you go in their hallway and in their other rooms, it’s just Santa knickknacks everywhere. He loved Santa.”
More pictures of David dressed as Santa also line the walls and adorn shelves, promising to keep a little of his holiday magic in the home year-round.
When David first began playing Santa in his 30s, his family said he had to wear a fake beard to look the part. But as he got older, he
grew his own that he kept throughout the year, effectively growing into his role as Santa.
And according to Nancy, David didn’t just have one suit; he had five. One was a Victorian-style suit made by a friend, and David also wore a white suit on occasion. His family has a few pictures of him dressed in his white Santa suit with a few happy canine friends.
Although David and Santa shared many similarities, Laura said there was a certain magic that came alive in her grandfather when he would put on the suit.
“He’s the same person, but when he would get into the costume and wear the jingle bells on his wrists and have the bag, it was like he transformed into his character,” she remembered. “Even at 10, 11, 12, 13 [years old] … I’d get goosebumps. He’s just, like, magical.”
When the family would go out to eat before one of David’s “Santa gigs,” Nancy and Laura said children would watch in wonder, eyes wide and mouths open, as David would turn to them and offer a wink, or put a finger to his lips as if to say, “Shhhh, this will be our secret.”
“That happened countless times, and I’d get so jealous, but it was really sweet,” Laura said, laughing. “I learned to appreciate it. I really did.”
One time at Outback Steakhouse, a young girl was overcome with joy at the sight of Santa Claus.
“She came running and grabbed him — it was so sweet,” Nancy recalled, tears filling her eyes. “They said most of the time she was scared [of Santa Claus], but this child wasn’t. She was not scared of him. She just sat there with him.”
Some adults today even recognize David as the Santa they had
known their whole lives. David kept many of the pictures he took with those he met, with several people appearing more than once.
“There will never be another one in my heart,” wrote one woman on Facebook after his passing. “He embodied the spirit of Christmas all year long and was SO loved by so many.”
Sadly, David had to do away with his iconic Santa look when he was diagnosed with mouth cancer during the pandemic. He may have lost his signature beard and the ability to speak, but one thing he kept was his positive spirit.
“He was such a positive person,” Laura said. “I really thought he’d push through it. He was always happy, even when he was sick.”
Since Santa had become the main source of income for the Cargills, Laura set up a GoFundMe page for people to donate toward his medical expenses. The goal? Over $4,000.
Although she said she expected to raise at least a quarter of that, the GoFundMe ended up raising money past the goal, and Laura said it was “a blessing” to see just how many people were willing to offer their support.
“I mean, I knew people loved him, but God — people really loved him,” she said, still in awe. “It blew me away. … [He had] a lot of people to take care of him for a while. I was really grateful for the community for that because he deserved to rest during his last year.”
According to Laura, the donations helped David get a scooter and all his medications; it also paid for a nurse to come to his home to give him his infusions so he wouldn’t have to go out each time.
One day at the hospital during one of his last bouts with cancer, David received a welcome surprise — four other Santas came to
“It made his day,” Laura said. “He [was] so happy. I know he missed it. I mean, it was one of those things — like this last year he didn’t want to talk about it because he’d get so sad that he couldn’t do it anymore. But he’s always Santa to me. He always will be. … Christmas won’t be the same without him.”
When he wasn’t busy playing Santa, David still embodied the same jolly, giving spirit. It brought him joy to spend time with friends and family, including three children, although Laura said her Papa was also like a father to her.
With a twinkle in her eye and a smile from ear to ear, Laura recalled one of her most treasured memories with her Papa: the time he took her to a father-daughter dance when she was young.
“My dad was not in my life, and I had a daddy-daughter dance in Georgia, which is where I lived at the time, and [Papa] was in Alabama,” she said. “I wanted to go so bad because all my friends were going, but I didn’t have a dad to take me, and he drove two hours to go and take me. He wore a tux, and it was the sweetest thing ever. And then afterwards, he took me to McDonald’s and got me a Happy Meal. I was so happy.
“Papa was my dad, in a sense. Every weekend I spent with Papa. Every summer I spent with Papa. Every winter break, fall break — with Papa. So he was that, and it’s tough. It’s like literally losing my dad, and I miss him.”
Nancy and Laura remember a man who would regularly go out of his way to help others.
A man who loved attending services at Pepperell Baptist Church, and who went on many mission trips to serve those in need.
A man who loved to cook, especially for others, whose famous potato casserole — which Laura now calls “Papa’s Casserole” — has fed countless hungry friends and strangers.
A man who loved to garden everything from carrots to roses, who wouldn’t ever get mad when animals would eat his vegetables because he was just happy to feed them.
“That was him,” Laura said. “He always did everything for everybody. He just loved to make people happy. That was his thing. … He just was saving the world, just one step at a time.”
So, this year, take a moment to appreciate all that you have, and love as large as David did.
And never stop believing in the magic of the season.
Ho Ho Ho And War EagleStory By Hannah Lester Photos By Matt Austin and Contribtuted To LIVE Lee
What is the history of Aubie The Tiger?
According to Auburn University’s website, Aubie’s first iteration was as a cartoon character.
“Aubie’s existence began as a cartoon character that first appeared on the Auburn/Hardin-Simmons football program cover on Oct. 3, 1959,” the site said. “Birmingham PostHerald artist Phil Neel created the cartoon Tiger who continued to adorn Auburn program covers for 18 years.”
Aubie’s first physical appearance was in 1979 at the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament.
“Aubie proudly marched into the Birmingham-Jefferson
County Civic Center on Feb. 28, 1979, and helped lead first-year Auburn coach Sonny Smith’s team to an upset of Vanderbilt in his first appearance as a live Tiger mascot,” the site said. “The following day, Aubie returned to the arena and the Tigers surprised Georgia in the longest game in SEC tournament history, four overtimes. Before the weekend was complete, Aubie helped lead the ninth-place team in the regular season to the semifinals of the tournament.”
He has definitely changed over the years, both in appearance and demeanor.
Aubie won the UCA Mascot National Champion award in 1991, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2014, 2016 and
2021. He won the Capital One Mascot of the Year in 2014 and was inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2006. But did you know that Aubie also helps Santa Claus in November and December?
“Aubie Claus is a fun and exciting event that will allow alumni, students and friends to get an early taste of the Christmas spirit,” said Peyton Alsobrook, development officer for Auburn Advancement and Student Affairs Development. “Besides having the opportunity to get their Christmas pictures taken with their favorite Auburn Tiger, the event helps raise funds for the Aubie Program and Aubie’s quest to win his 11th UCA Mascot National Championship.”
Aubie takes pictures with children and adults, those who are Auburn fans and those who are not. There is a calendar that comes out each year, Aubie makes scheduled appearances and he often takes part in the Auburn Christmas Parade.
Rather than his normal game-day outfits, football jerseys or other apparel, Aubie is often seen in an orange and blue “Santa” suit in November and December.
“Aubie’s support team, which includes eight students, does have to put in a lot of work in preparing for the event,” Alsobrook said. “They assist with identifying a location, creating a logistics plan, scheduling sign-ups, designing a T-shirt and working with our partners at Alumni Hall to prepare their Aubie Claus Store, which is on-site for the event.”
The calendar is prepped months before, during the summer, to make sure it is ready by Christmas.
“Each year, Aubie creates a themed calendar that is sold in bookstores and on Aubie’s online store,” Alsobrook said. “The 2023 Aubie Calendar follows Aubie through the year as he looks at different job options available to him. The calendars are great stocking stuffers and are sold at Aubie Claus.”
While the Aubie Claus event has already taken place, he will still be making his appearances up until Christmas. And the calendar is available here: www.secure.touchnet.net/ C20021_ustores/web/store_main.jsp?STOREID=163.
And Aubie can actually be requested at events, here: www. auburn.edu/student_info/student_life/aubie/request.php.
“Aubie’s goal is to spread the Auburn spirit everywhere he goes,” Alsobrook said. “His jovial personality and commitment to bringing joy to the community is perfect for the holiday season. Aubie loves holidays and Christmas is one of his favorites. There are lots of opportunities to interact with the Auburn Family, and make an impact, which is Aubie’s favorite thing to do.”
Santa is an Auburn FanStory By Tucker Massey Photos By Matt Austin and Contributed To LIVE Lee
The city of Auburn’s Annual Christmas Parade is an event that many look forward to. However, this parade that so many love requires a great deal of work to make it happen.
Auburn Downtown Merchants Association Downtown Coordinator Jessica Kohn has had a part in putting this parade on for several years. She became more heavily involved after the event was handed over to the ADMA from the Auburn Chamber of Commerce almost four years ago.
Kohn said she had been a part of this parade, both in a volunteer position and in her current position, for almost eight years total.
“As far as the work that goes into it, we start around October, and our first initial steps are just putting it out there,” Kohn said. “We also put applications out there for the community to see.”
Kohn said that applicants must pay $30 to participate in the parade. This money functions as a donation to the ADMA.
Due to the excitement for this parade, Kohn said it is not unusual to cut off how many applicants the parade can accept.
“A lot of people want to be in the parade,” Kohn said. “And the parade can only be so long for what we can accommodate.”
After applicants have been accepted, Kohn said they soon begin meeting with public safety officials to go over the parade route, which is the same for each year.
The main focus of pre-parade preparation is to spread the word and let people know about it. The community enjoys this event, and the ADMA said it wants to be sure as many people as possible are able to experience it.
On the day of the event, the parade lineup is put in place a couple of hours before the parade actually starts. Kohn said that despite the large number of participants, the parade often runs very smoothly.
“It runs very smoothly just about every year because we have the same people every year that know what to expect,” Kohn said. “The
lineup just kind of happens on its own after we get our sponsors in place and the marching band in place. Everybody else just lines up after them and we go.”
Along with the community, Kohn also said that this event is something that she loves to help put on each year. She said it is a true kickoff to the holiday season.
“It’s definitely one of my favorite events to put on,” Kohn said. “It’s one of those events that I sometimes have to stop and go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I get to put on and help organize the Auburn Christmas Parade.’ It’s a favorite event among our community, and I do believe that everybody looks forward to it every year.”
Kohn said her favorite part of the parade is seeing the smiling faces lining the streets. She said she loves to look around as the parade progressed and, especially, to see the children smiling and enjoying the event.
She added that when she walks with the parade, it isn’t just children smiling and enjoying the sight. The adults in the crowd also relax and enjoy themselves while the parade marches forward.
For the community, Kohn said she believed that this parade spreads joy. She noted that people looked forward to being a part of the parade, in particular, the groups that deal with children.
She said children love being a part of the parade.
People who participate in the parade enjoy it and invite their family members to watch because it means so much to them to be involved with the event, Kohn said.
Many in the community are compelled to get involved with this parade. Whether it is Auburn University or a local group that wants a float, anyone around is welcome to apply and participate.
Another key group in getting this parade off the ground is Auburn’s public safety officials. Kohn said they are crucial in setting the route and protecting it in case -of an emergency.
Kohn expressed gratitude to all who volunteered to help put on this event. She said that many within the community do it just because they enjoy it so much.
“We appreciate everybody who is a part of the parade,” Kohn said. “Without them, I know the parade wouldn’t be what it is.”
After years of being a part of this parade, Kohn said she has developed a deep appreciation for what all it takes to put it on. She said she felt that it was a daunting task at first, but has since warmed up to the position and enjoys putting it on.
“Christmas parades are just such an old tradition that’s been around for a long time,” Kohn said. “I love that we can continue to put this on year after year.”
Baking To BuildStory By Kendyl Hollingsworth Photos Contributed By Auburn Opelika Habitat For Humanity
What do you get when you sell 30,000 cookies to a hungry community? More houses for those in need.
For nearly 30 years, the Auburn WeHelp Coalition has been partnering with Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity to kick off the holiday season with a “Cookie Walk” — a huge bake sale supporting the local Habitat’s mission to help lowincome families work toward home ownership and “pay it forward” to help others in need.
This year’s Cookie Walk will be held Saturday, Dec. 3, from 8 a.m. to noon — just in time to get a jumpstart on satisfying the annual craving for Christmas cookies, or setting aside a few for Santa. It will be held at Grace United Methodist Church, near Glenn Avenue and Dean Road in Auburn.
With rows upon rows of homemade cookies available — from
chocolate chip to snickerdoodles and everything in between — attendees will be able to pick and choose. All cookies will be $6 per pound.
The local WeHelp is a group of 12 local churches that work together to give back to the community, though plenty of others pitch in to make the event possible, said Mark Grantham, executive director of the Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity.
Members of the coalition include Auburn AME Zion, Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church of Auburn, Grace United Methodist Church, Green Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, True Deliverance Holiness Church and White Street Baptist Church.
“This is a fun way for a wide variety of churches to come
together with a common goal of providing homes for deserving families,” said Martha Henk, co-chair for the Cookie Walk. “There often aren’t that many opportunities for people from small churches and big churches, from predominately white church members or black church members, from all walks of life to work together. It is a great way to start the Christmas season in a way that helps others.”
Six churches first organized WeHelp in the 1980s, according to Event Chair Lisa Kriese-Anderson, with a goal to raise enough money for the churches to build a new Habitat for Humanity house every other year.
“Over the years, WeHelp has raised enough money to build 15 of the 73 houses through Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity,” she said.
Most of the fundraising efforts came from the Cookie Walk and blueberry sales, but as costs increased over the years, it became much harder for WeHelp to raise all the necessary funds to build a house. Today, however, the Cookie Walk remains a successful staple of a fundraiser.
According to Kriese-Anderson, planning for the Cookie Walk officially begins each year in August. The committee meets monthly, but Henk said planning ramps up as the event draws nearer.
Committee members are responsible for finding volunteers, spreading the word about the event and, most importantly,
recruiting bakers to provide the cookies — often from within their congregations.
“We need approximately 30,000 cookies,” Kriese-Anderson said. “When you break that down per church, that is about 250 dozen cookies each. … If you think about an average cookie recipe — they make five dozen cookies, so each church needs to recruit about 50 bakers to bake one batch of cookies.”
This year, however, there will be a big change: Bakers will be allowed to contribute more than just cookies. Treats like brownies, bar cookies or even Christmas candies will be up for grabs. Any cookies that get broken during setup go to the “hospitality table,” where Grantham said they will be free for attendees to try. Free coffee will be available, too.
This will be the first totally in-person Cookie Walk since 2019. Although COVID hit the following year, even a global pandemic couldn’t stop the community’s efforts to give back.
“We did continue through COVID,” Grantham said. “One year we sort of had just a drive-thru Cookie Walk at the church where cars drove around the circle, made a donation and we gave them a cookie, rather than them buying cookies. We had some custommade Habitat cookies that year, and I think we raised about $10,000 or $12,000 that particular year.”
Grantham said he counts it a blessing to have such a supportive community backing the local Habitat for Humanity, and it’s amazing to see the support come from such a wide range
of groups and individuals.
In addition, Henk said the event has become a great way to get into the giving spirit and strengthen the community.
“It is a great opportunity to use simple things like cookies in a way that is actually helping to make a home possible — so we really are feeding our souls while we feed our bodies,” she said. “We’ve all come through a challenging couple of years, and we know that many of our neighbors continue to experience hard times. It’s important to find those ways to experience joy but to also do something to help someone else.”
While the vast majority of cookies are homemade, Grantham said the event is also hoping to incorporate many more commercially-made cookies. With places like Crumbl Cookies and Insomnia Cookies already on board, he said participants can expext hundreds — or even thousands, of delicious cookies from commercial partners up for grabs.
“There are some places that are not necessarily cookie stores that have fantastic cookies out here, so we’ll have a large selection of the delicious Christmas cookies — or commerciallymade cookies — from the restaurants, bakeries and vendors all over our community,” he explained.
According to both Kriese-Anderson and Henk, there’s a certain excitement that comes from seeing everything come together and watching families pick out their favorite treats.
“The day before can be really hectic as we work to prepare the trays of cookies for Saturday morning,” Henk explained. “The coolest part is when families start to come in and you see the little kids filling their boxes with goodies, and you see people so excited about seeing their favorite cookie just ready to be selected. People who have come over the years often look for particular cookies that they’ve found before — and that’s fun. Just like people, cookies come in all shapes and sizes.”
A couple of quilts — including an intricate queen-sized one — will also be on display at the Cookie Walk and up for grabs to the winning ticketholders. The Cotton Boll Quilt Guild has been donating handmade quilts to the Cookie Walk for years, and tickets will be sold at the event with proceeds also benefiting the Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity.
“Some of the kids’ choirs from different churches will do different songs, too,” Grantham added. “We’ll have some of that local entertainment there [to provide] music.”
Santa Claus will also return to hear Christmas wishes and take photos with attendees. According to Kriese-Anderson, parents and grandparents will also be allowed to take pictures of their children or grandchildren with Santa.
Grantham said he encourages everyone to come early to the event to get the best selection of cookies.
“So much love is put into the baking of each batch of cookies,” Kriese-Anderson said. “I hope the people who attend this year’s Cookie Walk can feel that love and experience the joy of the Christmas season.”
Have your own famous Christmas goodies you’d like to share? Donate them to the cause by delivering them to Grace United Methodist Church anytime from 2 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 2.
“We really invite and open the participation to everybody, not just the churches,” Grantham said. “Anyone in the community that has their favorite cookie, and it doesn’t have to be a holiday cookie … to bake those, bring those, donate those and we will sell them in the Cookie Walk sale, and that money helps us build more Habitat for Humanity homes in Auburn.”
For more information about the Cookie Walk, or to donate online to the Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity, visit www. auburnopelikahabitat.org/annual-cookie-walk/.
Supper with SantaStory By Hannah Lester Photos Contributed By Nikki Adams
Luanne Helms said she knows what it feels like to be left out. Especially with her 23-year-old son, Jake Helms. And that is one of the reasons she created Supper with Santa.
“As the mother of Jake, who is 23 years old with autism and epilepsy, I know how important inclusion is,” she said. “Jake loves being around others.”
Supper with Santa hasn’t taken place in Lee County since 2019, due to COVID-19.
“Supper with Santa 2022 is going to be a magical night of joyful fellowship,” Luanne said. “Festivities include a delightful gluten-and dairy-free catered meal, a nacho bar, fruit and veggie displays, cookies and more.
“The children will enjoy crafts, visit with Santa and Aubie, all while Christmas carols play throughout the event. Each child will receive a small gift.”
Luanne has been planning inclusive activities for 10 years.
“We held five years of Skate with Santa until the skate center
in Auburn closed,” she said. “We’ve had Sensory Santa events, Mothers Christmas Gatherings, sometimes multiple events each year.
“These events began with my own experiences of not being able to attend regular Christmas activities, and wanting to just love on our special needs families. These events provide purposeful opportunity for families of individuals with special health care needs and disabilities to enjoy coordinated experience and fellowship in a space of acceptance.
“I want the families to enjoy a fun-filled evening that includes the whole family. Social outings are crucial for our families, offering a time to make new friends or connect with other families who may be dealing with some of the same-type situations. For me, it’s the joy of serving and loving on ‘my’ families; whether I’ve met them before or not, they become family when they join the world of special needs.”
The support of the community is a big part of the event. Luanne said there are a number of supporters this year,
including the venue, Cornerstone Church, Happy Times Food, AuburnBank, Encountered Hope, Dream Day Foundation, Balloons & Sweets, Greenlight Signs, Sunshine Pediatrics, All for Children, Dunn Psychological Services, Above & Beyond Catering, Top Notch Tidy Services, Autism Support of Alabama, Smith Group and more.
“That is my goal each and every time, to make each person feel wanted and a part of something,” she said. “We have an awesome community that has supported me over the years, and allowed us to be self-sustaining. Meaning, the Auburn-Opelika community always joins in and helps make this happen, whether it has been monetary, in kind or volunteering time or talent.”
While the event on Dec. 17 may be full for next year, Luanne plans multiple inclusive events per year. There will be more to come for families in need.
She said there will be a Choo Choo Train Party in January 2023. The date has yet to be announced. Contact Luanne for more information at 334-707-0116.
Working From The H’ArtStory By Emery Lay Photos Contributed By Pam Coxwell
For Pam Coxwell, using art as a creative outlet had always been a part of her life. It was not until more than two decades ago that Coxwell realized she could make a career out of her love for art.
“From the Heart Art” is now Coxwell’s full-time job and has been since its inception 15 years ago. While Coxwell attempted a brick-and-mortar store a couple of times, she said the art shop worked best as a website.
Through “From the Heart Art,” Coxwell travels to sell her work at various art shows. She recently participated in the Christmas Village in Birmingham, which spanned from Nov. 1 through 6.
Today, Coxwell teaches art classes, sells her art to admirers and even works with stores such as Kirkland’s and Hobby Lobby. However, she said she may not have believed you if 30 years ago you told her this is where she would be now.
Originally, Coxwell started out as a cosmetologist. After marrying her Beauregard High School sweetheart, Terry, Coxwell tried her hand at hair for a year.
“I enjoyed doing hair [and] learning how to do it,” Coxwell said. “I just didn’t enjoy doing it every day.”
For the next 10 years, Coxwell transitioned into ministry, working at Trinity Presbyterian Church and Youth for Christ.
Yet, her crafts never left her side.
“I ended up doing several things, but always did … something creative on the side,” Coxwell said. “I really don’t remember a time where I did not have some sort of craft, supply … something creative going on, no matter what season of life that I was in.”
This included her pregnancy with her youngest daughter, in 1990, in which Coxwell was confined to bed rest — or, rather, couch rest.
“My sister and my mother — to help preserve my sanity and everybody else’s — set the couch up with TV tables all the way around, with all kinds of paints and all kinds of supplies, so that I could do that,” Coxwell said. “And it was during that time that I crossed paths with some ladies in Opelika who had a business called S.L.K. Jewelry.”
Before she knew it, Coxwell was painting papers for their business. Her sister would pick up the papers and beads, bring them to the couch and return Coxwell’s finished work.
After her daughter was born, Coxwell kept painting cards so that she could stay at home with her newborn.
“I did it for a while,” Coxwell said. “But about the time that door was closing, my husband’s aunt was about to open a craft store right outside of Opelika called The Sawmiller’s Daughter,
and she talked me into painting some stuff to put in their store. And I think that’s [when] I saw that people would buy something that I made.”
Around 1995, the Coxwell family was working to send their two daughters to Trinity and needed to raise the tuition. It was during that time that Coxwell found the courage to make art her true profession after selling her work at the Syrup Soppin’ Festival in Loachapoka.
“It was a blessing to my family,” Coxwell said. “I could stay home, take care of them and do something I enjoy to help pay for their tuition to go to school there.”
For a while, Coxwell continued to work part-time jobs in ministry as she built her repertoire and to enjoy school holidays with her children. It was not until 2007 that Coxwell had the opportunity to jump into the deep end.
Thus, From the Heart Art was born.
“It took me a long time to have enough confidence to be able to even say that it’s a business,” Coxwell said. “I’ve always been kind of reluctant, I guess, to start out.”
Now, From the Heart Art has an official online presence where the business sells both resale and wholesale art across the country. Coxwell’s work is created and sold in a metal warehouse located beside her house in Opelika, which she has worked out of for the past four years.
Born in Dothan, Alabama, Coxwell spent most of her childhood summers at her grandparent’s farm in Hartford.
“In the past few years, I’ve started incorporating some of the memories … from summers spent on their farm into my artwork,” Coxwell said.
In fact, incorporating memories into her work has created some of Coxwell’s favorite pieces. One in particular came
about over five years ago.
“My brother-in-law was really sick with cancer,” Coxwell said. “I had to have some artwork turned in and I didn’t really have time to do it.”
On the cusp of a deadline, Coxwell began painting a church — a small, white one like the one her grandfather used to take her to in the country.
“My brother-in-law was a grandfather,” Coxwell said. “I don’t know, it was just bothering me. … It was just very emotional. So, I did that church in honor of both of them.”
To this day, Coxwell said that piece has remained one of her bestsellers. In fact, at one point, it had been licensed for and sold at Hobby Lobby for several years.
“It was a way of me processing what was happening in my life,” Coxwell said. “I think the majority of my artwork is that: just processing life, and it comes out on paper. I think that’s one of the most precious designs because of that.”
A primary source of inspiration for Coxwell is the Bible. She said her artwork is “faith-based” and is influenced by the sermons she hears and the studies she is in.
As a self-professed visual learner, Coxwell said she would often draw out Bible verses in order to commit them to memory. Eventually, she began incorporating Bible verses into her art pieces, writing the words around the original design.
“It felt like it was burned on my heart that that’s how I needed to do it,” Coxwell said. “I learned that if I made the artwork, it was what would draw [people] into the booth to read the words. I saw how it was a tool to get people into my booth to look closer and read the verse, whether they bought it or not.”
Oftentimes, Coxwell said she could hear them reading the
verses under their breath. Other times, Coxwell saw onlookers in tears after reading a verse that spoke with their situation.
“I know that it’s bigger than me,” Coxwell said. “It’s just a tool and how the Lord uses my hands.”
Though she did not originally begin by including verses in her art, Coxwell said she finds it hard now to send out a piece without including one.
As the new year approaches, Coxwell said that she hopes to be able to focus more on the workshops that she began in October.
During the first week of every month, Coxwell sends out recorded tutorials for the members signed up for her class. Then, the group meets virtually later in the month to discuss their completed work and get feedback from Coxwell herself.
A waitlist is open now on the website for both the Online Lettering Membership — $24 a month — and the Mixed Media Workshop — $34 a month — at www. fromtheheartart.com.
“I want to teach other women how to experience the joy that I’ve found in creativity,” Coxwell said. “And I feel like that’s my new season that I’m entering into.”
For more information, and to stay up to date on the latest From the Heart Art news, visit the company’s Facebook page at Reminders.FromtheHeart, or follow them on Instagram at PamCoxwellDesigns.
Around Town With Shaye BakerContributed By Shaye Baker
So here we are, but what are we doing here? Well, the plan is to dedicate this column to talking a little about a lot of things, all happening around town. From farmer’s markets to mental health assistance. From date ideas, to seeking out the best places to work remotely.
From introducing newcomers to the popular hotspots in the Opelika/Auburn area, to hopefully unveiling a few of the hidey hole places that have been overlooked by even the veteran residents of our quaint, little, ever-expanding twin cities. And then we’ll throw in an intimate deep dive into the life of one of our residents from time to time, to get to know the people that call this place home.
And I want to be your tour guide through it all. But that then raises the question, who am I? To answer that, I needed to do a little assessing. Self-reflection is important, because it leads to self-awareness. Selfawareness is vital to know where you are in life. And once you know where you are, you can better plan for where you want to go.
All this to say that after my little time of introspection, I’m a little bit of everything, too. I’m business casual meets good ‘ole boy. Definitely not a suit-and-tie guy, but not quite a mullet either — though if the mullet wasn’t such a commitment, I might have tried it at some point. I mean, business in the front and party in the back would be another accurate descriptor for myself.
I digress. The point is, I don’t mind dressing up, and am capable of it. But if I could wear a hoodie and jeans the rest of my life, (especially if the south-central Alabama humidity would allow it) I think I’d be pretty content doing just that.
I’m 35 years old, never married, with no kids. But I’d like to have a little family before too long. I was born and raised 35 minutes from Auburn, in Reeltown, Alabama. I attended college at Auburn University and have lived within an hour of campus my entire life. But I’ve also traveled to 35-ish states and nine countries, having spent extensive amounts of time in a couple.
I speak in a dialect of Southern that’s hard for others to understand at times. I say words like “ain’t,” and when
someone asks how I’m doing, I say “good” instead of “well.” Even though I know which one is right.
At the same time, I was the valedictorian of my class and received my degree from Auburn in Spanish and International Trade. So I speak somewhat fluent Spanish and am well versed in “redneckese”. I’ve spent a couple nights in New York City and more than my fair share of time knee-deep in an Alabama waterway.
I’m not always politically correct, but I make it a point not to offend anyone the best I can, ‘cause that’s just good raising. I’m an open book and still getting to know myself. I write poetry and I primarily talk about fishing for a living.
I’m a bit of a dichotomy. A walking contradiction at times. A good mix of a lot of things. Well-rounded, I guess you could call me, as long as you weren’t looking at my belly.
I tell you all of this to let you know that I’m a lot like a few of you and a little like a lot of you. I like good food, good fellowship and good times. I’ve lived in this area for a long time, but I’m still discovering it every day. I’m interested in a lot of the same things you are, and my hope is that you’ll enjoy spending a little time with me as we explore around town.
That’s my vision for this column. A unique slice of life, related to the Auburn/Opelika area and the people and places that make this region so special. We’ll review restaurants, tour local churches, tell stories, get to know people, lift up the little guy and seek out and simply enjoy a little good news here and there. I think we could all stand a little of that. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
Shaye Baker’s first column for LIVE Lee is found on the next page — a look at Christmas lights around our area. His column will be featured regularly in LIVE Lee.
Ever since that star first shone bright over Bethlehem, it seems like we’ve been on this constant path to obsession with little twinkling lights around Christmas time. People will scale tall buildings and battle blown bulbs, untangling knots that the finest maritime men couldn’t have tied. All to adorn a suburban home with a few strands of incandescent illumination.
But it’s not just lights. It’s tradition, nostalgia, electric Christmas spirit. Thousands of little beacons of joy, shining light into the serene night. Emitting little to no heat at all, somehow these tiny bulbs can warm our hearts from hundreds of feet away.
If this has you in the mood to pour a little cocoa and scour the neighborhood in search of a few Christmas lights, you’re in luck.
We’ve done a lot of the legwork for you and are excited to share a few of our favorite light-viewing locales around town, as well as a couple more destinations further down the road.
Scenic neighborhood drive -
You’ll think you’re on Lincoln Avenue in a scene straight out of Home Alone as you make your way through the streets of White Oaks neighborhood in Auburn. There you will see beautiful mansions trimmed with garland, ornately hung wreaths, classy white lights and magnificent Christmas trees displayed proudly in bay windows. This neighborhood boasts some of the most beautiful homes and lights around town.
Christmas in Camelot -
Like White Oaks, the neighborhood of Camelot in Opelika comes together to put Christmas on full display. The homes are again fantastically decorated with lights, wreaths and the whole kit and caboodle. But in addition, this neighborhood features oversized Christmas cards painted by Opelika High School
students. Load the family up and set out on an adventure close to home between Dec.1 and Dec. 31, nightly from 4:30 to 10 p.m.
Drive-thru Nativity Story -
If you’re a person of faith and would like to enjoy a retelling of the birth of Jesus according to the Biblical accounts found in Luke 2 and Matthew 2, you can enjoy the Drive-Thru Nativity Story off Robert Trent Jones Trail. This free, outdoor event is located at 100 Spa Loop in Opelika and runs throughout the month of December. Open day and night, listen in on your mobile device as you enjoy the stunning visual illustrations of the birth of Christ.
A roadtrip to Eclectic, Alabama -
An aptly named town to host such a spectacle, this light show in Eclectic, Alabama, features over 20,000 lights set to a wide variety of music, from Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” to “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” composed by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Simply pull into the front yard of the Nedervelt family home, adjust your radio dial and look on with amazement as the overabundance of lights sparkle and flash to tunes like “Jingle Bells”, “Joy to the World” and “Little Drummer Boy”.
Less than an hour west of Auburn University, this light show is free to the public and runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, rain or shine, every night from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. You can sprint over via I-85, or take the more scenic route down Highway 14, where you’re sure to see several more lights along the way.
East bound and down -
If you are a fan of Christmas lights at all, it’s likely you’ve heard of or been to Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens. About an hour east of Auburn University, you can experience 10 million
lights across 2,500 acres of winter wonderland. Understandably, this light show comes at a cost, and prices vary widely. But there are other, lesser known attractions in the area that are free to visit and worth a look as well.
Venturing into the scenic little downtowns of Pine Mountain and Warm Springs, Georgia, will give you the feel of a mountain getaway close to home. Take a step back in time and experience main street the way it was, as you meander down the Mayberryesque sidewalks lined with shops busting at the hinges with holiday spirit. Shop for sweets and trinkets as you enjoy all the
sights, smells and sounds of Christmas. Close enough for a day trip, or a great place to get away for the weekend, all bathed in the soft glow of Christmas cheer.
Best of the rest -
There are several other options around town for light viewing enthusiasts and people looking for something fun and free to do this holiday season. For a great online resource, look at Opelika’s Very Merry Christmas at OpelikaChristmas.com and a Happy Holidays page that can be found at wwwAOTourism.com.
Open Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Open Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Madison's Place Cafe is a soul food restaurant that believes in feeding the soul. It is the mission of Madison's Place Cafe that you leave with the expectation of coming back for more.
Opelika’s Winter WonderlandStory By Wil Crews Photos By Robert Noles
The city of Opelika is hosting its annual Christmas parade, Snopelika event and Christmas tree lighting on Friday, Dec. 2.
“Christmas in Opelika makes you feel like you live in a Hallmark movie,” said Opelika Chamber of Commerce CEO Ali Rauch. “The city has invested so much in making Opelika a Christmas destination, making it feel really special.”
Sponsored by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce and Prewett Pest Control, this year’s Christmas season kick-off event will look a little different from years past. Traditionally, the Christmas festivities in Opelika have begun with a parade on the first Saturday of December. This year, the parade will begin on Friday evening at 5:30 p.m. (with lineup beginning at 4:30 p.m.), followed by Snopelika at 6:15 p.m. at Courthouse Square and the Christmas tree lighting at 7:30 p.m.
“People love Christmas lights, so we decided to combine the events into one night,” Rauch said. “Kids should be able to get out of school and lined up … and as the parade ends, snow will begin falling and Snopelika begins. We will keep Christmas music playing throughout the night so that people can shop, grab dinner and enjoy the festivities. It will be a seamless Christmas extravaganza.”
The Christmas parade route is different this year, too, Rauch said. To get familiar with this year’s route, make sure to visit: https://www.opelikachamber.com/cultivate-community/ snopelika/. Hundreds of community members will line the streets to see over 70 parade entries. Floats with all kinds of holiday themes, as well as local marching bands, will parade through the
street as they lead the crowd to Courthouse Square for Snopelika. This Christmas season marks the fourth annual Snopelika in Opelika. The annual community event transports attendees to a winter wonderland, as artificial snow falls throughout the square.
“We live in Alabama; we don’t get snow,” Rauch said. “So, to bring in snow machines and create a winter wonderland for kids is just such an awesome start to the holiday season. Every moment of Snopelika warms my heart.”
The night’s festivities will close with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, as the OHS band leads the crowd to the corner of 9th Street and South Railroad Avenue to listen to the city council read “A Night Before Christmas” and watch as Mayor Gary Fuller flips the switch.
The aim of the entire night is to properly kick off the Christmas season and to continue making Christmas in Opelika a special time for all, Rauch explained.
“To know that we are the catalyst to help provide incredible memories for families is very rewarding,” she said. “There are people who have shared stories about how they have childhood memories of coming to the Christmas parade. So, yeah, we should continue that. We want that legacy to continue. Those memories are what make them love Opelika, and if they love Opelika, they stay in Opelika and they choose to build their family and their home here. So, it all folds together. To be able to provide those memories for families and children is very rewarding.”
For more information, follow the Opelika Chamber on Facebook or visit Opelikachamber.com.
Last year, Auburn, Opelika and Lee County all held several Christmas events. There were Christmas parades, Christmas crafts, lots of “snow,” hot chocolate and cookies. The following are photos from Christmas events in 2021. Photos By Alex Newill, Robert Noles and Contributed to LIVE Lee.
Allen Asphalt, 58
Alsobrook Law Group, 84
Arbor Springs, 27
Auburn Opelika Dental, 61
Auburn Opelika Habitat For Humanity, 49
Axe Marks The Spot, 74
Ballard Pest Management, 74
Beauregard Drugs, 22
Better Bodies Massage Institute, 47 Budget Blinds, 31
Butcher Paper BBQ, 42 C-Squared Designs, 47
Church of Christ at Cunningham Dr., 81 City of Opelika, 8
City of Smiths Station, 11
Cleaning Solutions Auburn, 66 Clear Water Solutions, 22 Closet’s By Design, 3
Day’s Hair Salon, 27
Edward Jones, 27
Foodie’s Gourmet Cafe and Bodega, 11 Glynn Smith Chevrolet-Buick-GMC, 7 Good Karma, 37
Goree’s Furniture Express, 80
Harvest Thrift, 74
Hibachi On Wheels, 11 Hilyer & Associates, CPAs, 67 Huddle House, 11
Jay & Susie Gouge Performing Arts, 60 Jeffcoat Trant Funeral Home, 66 Key Media LLC, 82
Madison’s Place Cafe, 81 Majestic Creations, 67
Market St. Paint Shop, 61 Meals Chiropractic, 42
Oline Price, Lee Co. Revenue Commissioner, 55
Opelika Chamber of Commerce, 8
Opelika Main Street, 59
Opelika Sportsplex, 54, 83
Orthopedic Clinic, 22
O Town, 81
Perception Therapy, 6 Phil Henderson Insurance Agency, 81 Ponko Chicken, 48
Price Small Engine, 40
Prime Home Health, 27
Rock & Roll Pinball, 31
S & L Auto Glass,42
Sheriff Jay Jones, 41
Southern Marksmanship, 74 Stitch Therapy, 66
Summer Village, 81
Sweet Gee’s Restaurant and Catering, 48
Talecris Plasma, 43
The Gallery, 37
The Oaks, 42
Trinity Christian School, 17
Trinity Presbyterian, 48
Ursula’s Catering, 17
Whitt’s Auto, 66