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2011 - 2012

Leading the Way:

From Arts and Education to Recreation and Business Sylacauga continues to be one of the leading communities in Alabama and the South to work and live in

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Sylacauga focused on the future 2011-2012

A product of the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce

Concept and layout by Partners by Design • Printing by Russell Printing • Additional materials printed by SWEN

INSIDE Sylacauga focused on the future

Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce

Highlighting the quality of life for one of Alabama’s most distinguished communities Inside the Chamber Page 6 B.B. Comer Library Page 12 The Arts Page 16 Native Talent: Bob Phillips Page 24 Sylacauga Marble Page 26 Health Care Page 38 Senior Behavioral Center Page 42 Outdoor Adventure Awaits Page 44 Parks and Recreation Page 50 Tourism: Visit Sylacauga Page 54 Economic Strengths Page 58 SAFE: Thriving Community Page 64 Education Leaders Page 68 About the cover: From left, MacKenzie Wilkinson, Katie Calkins and Caitlyn Emlich gaze at the beauty of “The Rose,” a sculpture housed at the B.B. Comer Memorial Library. The sculptor is Giovanni Balderi. Title Page: The “Marble City” isn’t only about industry, it is about art made with Sylacauga marble, and young people are being taught about its importance in the city’s history – and its future. Pictured with a sculpture at the B.B. Comer Memorial Library are, from left, MacKenzie Wilkinson, Logan Calkins, McKenna Harvey, Kodi Estelle, Jaxon Wheeler, Katie Calkins and Caitlyn Emlich. Cover art by Jerry Martin, with assistance from the Comer Library and Sylacauga Chamber


Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

17 W. Ft. Williams St. P.O. Box 185 Sylacauga, AL 35150 256.249.0308 Carol Emlich-Bates Executive Director Louis Zook President

President & CEO, Editor & Publisher Carol Pappas Vice President, Creative Division, Design Editor Graham Hadley Photography Jerry Martin Director,

Online Services Brandon Wynn

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Inside the Chamber

Live, Work & Play in Sylacauga

Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce By David M. Story Photos by Jerry Martin The Sylacauga Chamber’s role for the future is one of helping the city move forward to make Sylacauga a destination point for all. President Louis Zook, who also serves as chief of the Sylacauga Police Department said, “Our goal is one for continued growth, and some of the things we at the chamber have been working on are supporting our existing chamber membership and recruiting new members and encouraging economic development through the city’s growth of industry, such as the new IKO Manufacturing Plant, and including, commercially, retail development, and demographically, relocating new residents to Sylacauga.” In addition to new economic development, Zook, who has served as local police chief since 1995 and been a chamber member for 16 years, stressed that Sylacauga must continue to nurture a growing workforce to staff the job opportunities new businesses like IKO are bringing to the local community. The chamber is striving to guarantee seniors will find themselves retiring here to a vibrant, affordable community and young families and single professionals will find great schools, recreational activities and cultural events, as well 6

as stable employment opportunities, Zook said. With its “Leadership Program,” the chamber supports its existing membership by preparing business leaders in the city for active roles in community affairs. It helps develop an increased awareness of and provides a rationale for involvement in current issues, opportunities and challenges facing Sylacauga. One such example is chamber past president and Parks and Recreation Director Jim Armstrong. “In 2003-2004, I became a participant in the chamber’s Leadership Program. Being a city employee already, I immediately connected with members of the business community, where I found mentoring from fellow professionals.” Learning experiences such as this accelerate the process of building a resource of community leaders. Chamber Executive Director Carol Emlich-Bates, who took the helm of the chamber in May 2009, explained, “Leadership Sylacauga is a unique experience for participants and has an immediate, positive and long-lasting effect on both the organizations and the communities of the participants.” Graduates like Armstrong receive an in-depth view of civic and governmental leadership through face-to-face discussions with present community leaders and direct contact with the institutions that keep Sylacauga moving

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

Thanks to efforts from the city, local organizations and merchants, Sylacauga’s historic downtown district is thriving with unique shops, restaurants and other businesses.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Inside the Chamber forward, like city government, the Commercial Development Authority, the Tourism Committee, the Beautification Council, the Industrial Development Board and the Talladega Economic Development Authority. In a broader sense, Scott Hamlet, a chamber board member and local Farmers Insurance agent, said, “Becoming a chamber director has allowed me to network with other local business owners at ribbon cuttings, coffees and other chamber events, which have been venues for establishing new friendships and discovering business mentors. These individuals have helped guide me in making strategic decisions about my business. They have given me leadership opportunities and helped me grow as an individual. My positive experience with the chamber has built a strong desire in me to give back to Sylacauga, which I found to be a very welcoming community.” Emlich-Bates worked for decades in marketing, where she handled advertising, training and birthday parties for McDonald’s but sold her franchises in 1999 and became a Realtor. She was the chamber’s incoming president at the time she was asked by the board to become the new director. Since then, she has worked to ensure one of the chamber’s chief functions is acting as a liaison with key entities of the city. Both the chamber and the county work together with the Talladega Economic Development Authority, a countywide umbrella that ensures all other agencies work together productively, she said. “Specifically,” Zook added, “the chamber’s role has been to represent both the business and civic interests of our community.” Emlich-Bates stressed the chamber has fostered economic development and the growth of downtown by working to strengthen the city’s image as a progressive community of the future. “This can all be seen through the ongoing redefining of the downtown area, including loft apartments and historic preservation in new developments,” she said. Zook, who grew up in Atlanta and Birmingham and moved to the area 30 years ago to further his law enforcement career, pointed out that “examples of this investment in promoting the city’s heritage include the refurbishment of businesses that have maintained the integrity of their original architecture. This can be seen in commercial ventures such as the Bluebell warehouse, the Marble City Grill and Giovanni’s restoration in the old Picklesimer and Limbaugh auto dealership’s service bay on the 280 corridor.” Much of downtown Sylacauga has been designated an historical district, and the streetscape project has unified downtown, moving the typical city sidewalk away from its previous “hodgepodge” condition. From a cultural standpoint, the chamber is an integral part of the Marble Festival, said Emlich-Bates, who has assisted in coordinating the event with lots of advertising and marketing. The chamber holds a reception for the sculptors, helps organize a 5-K run, and provides “welcome gift bags” for the sculptors. At the Sylacauga High School Auditorium, city and county residents can attend a symphony or a play or view a recent exhibit, and there are more than 125 churches of various denominations in the county. The chamber is also represented on the board of the Isabel A. Comer Museum, which is filled with Indian artifacts and regional works of art and memorabilia from numerous celebrities from the area. 8

Carol Emlich-Bates, chamber executive director

Louis Zook, chamber president “We are fortunate to have a museum of that caliber,” says Emlich-Bates. “And, several local restaurants have joined in the ‘Year in Music’ and other cultural events. These include the Raspberry Bakery with its songwriters night, Marble City grill with its karaoke nights, and the Book Nook with its book signings, such as that for author Ann Riley, who wrote The Clearing.” The state of Alabama Tourism Department designated

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future



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Inside the Chamber 2011 has the Year of Music, kicking it off this past January at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in Birmingham. Sylacaugans have been quick to join in the celebration. “Few things,” said Emlich-Bates, “can bring out the passion, interest and devotion in people like music.” “Music provides a strong emotional experience for most. This campaign is increasing tourism to Alabama and locally to Sylacauga by showcasing a variety of music and musical events, making Sylacauga a destination point,” she said. “With this campaign, we feel it brings all Talladega County’s communities, including Sylacauga, together with the rest of the state in order to promote a common idea: ‘What do we have in our area that’s related to music?’ So, we thought this year — what a perfect opportunity to encourage downtown businesses here in Sylacauga to present our take on the ‘Year of Music.’ Music is the one thing that brings everyone together. “We all love music, and that bridges generations in a way that makes us proud to be contributing in our own small way to the celebration of Alabama’s musical heritage and the people behind it,” Emlich-Bates said. Some of these, such as local trumpeter Bob Phillips, are highlighted in the native sons exhibit at the Comer Museum. All of these events are part of what she has focused on as far as “moving the city forward with a new vision for tomorrow.” She adds, “We at the chamber want to see both downtown Sylacauga and the 280 corridor continue to grow.” As far as recreational opportunities, the community is surrounded by thousand-year-old forests, pristine mountains and small bass-filled blue lakes, some of which have an abundance of catfish and crappie as well. Newcomers to Sylacauga can golf and tennis all year and hunt in season, but the opportunities reach well beyond that — including jogging, boating, cycling, hiking, water skiing or taking in a NASCAR race at the nearby Talladega Superspeedway. And, not to be overlooked, is the Talladega National Forest and Lake Howard with their hiking, biking and Sylaward Trail enticing visitors from near and far. To accomplish a forward-thinking vision, Emlich-Bates has become involved with both the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama and the Business Council of Alabama. She spoke of a recent meeting that was “one of the better I have been to as a representative of the Sylacauga Chamber. What I brought back this time, aside from networking contacts with my counterparts, was a better idea on generating non-dues revenues for the chamber.” Zook put the emphasis on plan for the future. “We’ve put forth a strategy for both the community and the chamber. The chamber works with these other agencies to determine that collective goal and have it adhere to both the chamber’s and the community’s needs.” Hamlet agreed, saying, “The Sylacauga chamber has been and continues to be a great venue of opportunity for local business owners.” “We at the chamber believe this strategic plan we have developed is proving to be successful and in line with our new vision for the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce,” Emlich-Bates said. “Having such a plan is a valuable tool, not just for us at the chamber, but for our local industry and businesses,” Armstrong said. “Becoming a part of the chamber and par10

This sculpture in front of the municipal complex commemorates the day a “star” actually fell on Alabama when a meteor came through the roof of a house and struck Ann Elizabeth Hodges.

ticipating in that strategy allows entrepreneurs to have their message spread. “As a part of that, we at the chamber work hard, not only with our local officials, but with state officials, as well, to help with recruiting businesses, of course, but also people who are looking to relocate, which in turn helps the Sylacauga economy.” The coming year promises to be a year of progress, change and opportunity for the chamber and its members. The numerous programs and events offered by the chamber are making a make a difference in the life of Sylacauga’s business community and contributing to the implementation of the strategic planning developed by the chamber’s board of directors. “Sylacauga is no longer one of the region’s ‘best-kept secrets,’ ” Emlich-Bates said. “The word is out!”

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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By the Library Staff Photos by Jerry Martin For almost three quarters of a century, the Comer Library has meant different things to different people. The library has changed directors, staff members and buildings, but the desire to provide ‘cradle-to-the-grave’ service to the greater Sylacauga community has never diminished. Library director Dr. Shirley Spears said, “We’ve built on the historical foundation that was put into place by the Sylacauga Rotary Club, other civic organizations and the City of Sylacauga in 1936. The staff has great pride in the library’s ‘somethingfor-everyone’ logo and they strive daily to meet the educational and enrichment needs for our people.” Veteran library board member Donna Dickey expressed pride in the accomplishments of the library staff saying, “I’ve been on the board for 35 years — almost one half of its existence, and my colleague, Harry Brown, has been on the board for 49 years. “Harry and I — along with other board members — have marveled at the growth of the program as every year brought a new facet of service. It was no small feat for the library to embrace technology and to add cultural arts offerings and service to business and industry. The library board endorses the ‘something-for-everyone’ concept, and we try to help find ways to make it possible.” Several years ago the library started keeping anecdotal records of the difference it makes in the lives of others, Spears said. “We thought it would be fitting to celebrate our 75 years in the community by sharing some of those comments.” For example, the mother of a child diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome might never have known to have her son tested for a milk allergy if staff at the library had not helped her get into a chat room to talk to parents whose children had also been misdiagnosed. A senior citizen at the cash register at Dollar General called to say she wasn’t good with computers and that she “got the job” because a library staff member helped her fill out an online job application. In 2009, Comer Library received an award from Gov. Bob Riley’s Office for workforce development. Cecil Hollinquest, an English teacher and coach at Benjamin Russell High School, came by to show his new red-leather-bound master’s degree from Jacksonville State University and to say to the staff, “Thanks for your help.” He said, “Comer Library is where I found the resources and materials that I needed to complete 12

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

Library director Dr. Shirley Spears

Library bookstore

Art at the library

Celebrating 75 years of progress in Sylacauga community

The library also provides both computers and wifi Internet access. my courses!” Comer Library has helped change lives in so many ways — from helping bring in more jobs to providing technology for those without access to putting smiles on children’s faces with its programs for the young. DeeDee Mathews, director of the kindergarten program at First United Methodist Church, said, “The Summer Reading Programs – 23 offered this summer – were as much an adventure as an education for our children. We were glad to be a part of something so grand!” This small-town library reaches out and helps make a difference for thousands in parts of four economically depressed counties — free of charge. It is open seven days a week, sharing almost 100,000 books and more than 30 public-access computers. It provides hundreds of programs each year for all ages from pre-school to senior citizens. Retired school teacher Ginger Clifton said of the 14

brown bag lectures, “I didn’t dream that so much of my education and enrichment would come long after I had finished my formal education. I’ve learned about topics that I would have never known about and heard presenters who are the best of the best.” The Comer Library makes Sylacauga a better place to work and live in and is one of the best in the state and nation. Called a “beacon of light” by a preeminent national organization, Comer Library’s light shines brighter each year providing more and more services. A few years ago, the Comer Library received the prestigious National Award for Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for its extraordinary service to the community. Dr. Spears attributes Comer Library’s success to a combination of steadfast city support coupled with partnerships ranging from the national to state level down to local business, industry and community individuals. “Pairing that support with a dedicated

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

board and a caring staff is powerful,” she said. The library’s foundation and its membership have put the “frosting on the cake” by helping expand and modernize the facility, add technology and offer services from preschool learning to the BRIDGES after-school programs, summer reading program, Accelerated Reader Program, higher-educational services, adult-education and more. Whether it’s writing grants for the educational and enrichment components of the annual Sylacauga Marble Festival or visiting senior centers on a quarterly basis, Comer Library is ready to provide quality service where needed. Spears said the library had more than 75,000 visits this year and more than 30,000 cardholders in a town of less than 13,000. The economic impact of the library is tremendous. Studies have shown that for every $1 invested in a good public library, more than $7 is returned to the economy. Another user of the library, a mother from a homeschooled group, explained how important the service is: “Without our weekly visits and the extensive book collection, we couldn’t make our units on botany, biology, ancient history and geometry happen. Comer Library and its staff are critical to our efforts to educate our children.” Statistics indicate that more than 70 percent of parents with children still living at home have public library cards. There are stories after stories about what this library means to Sylacauga and surrounding communities. Mindy Grier, administrative manager for Blue Bell Creameries, explained how her company trains as many as 200 employees in single sessions at Comer Library’s Harry I. Brown Auditorium. “Our folks appreciate the comfortable facility, and the trainers from our corporate facility in Texas can’t say enough good things about the state-of-the-art technology and the knowledgeable, helpful staff.” Vanessa Green, chief business development officer at the Coosa Valley Medical Center, said, “Comer Library’s co-sponsorship of Community Links allows us to offer physicians forums to showcase our doctors and provide health information in an up-close-and-personal way.” Long-time front desk staff member Annie Leonard said, “Almost every week we get visitors from other places. They often say, ‘This is about the nicest library that I’ve seen – how does a small town do it?’ I’ve been here for 30 years, and I’m proud of our building, our books and programs, and our art and sculpture, but what makes me feel really good is helping people find what they need to make their lives better.” Spears said the library staff continues to be inspired and motivated by the stories that come from all segments of the community. “It keeps us going to hear firsthand accounts of how this small-town library reaches out and helps transform lives.” she said. Spears said the library and other public libraries across the country level the playing field for the underserved. “Libraries are the one constant for Americans. They are one of the most democratic of all public institutions, serving people regardless of their age or economic status. You can count on your library, particularly in hard times. The B.B. Comer Memorial Library is located at 314 N. Broadway Ave., in Sylacauga. For more information call 256-249-0961 or visit the website at library.

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Harmony in White Many-faceted foundation in the ARTS

The painting “Reverence” is by the Montevallo-educated Sarah Carlisle Towery, a charter member of the World Art Workshop and recipient of The Alabama Governor’s Award for the Arts. 16

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

By David Story Photos by Jerry Martin Paul Cezanne once said, “Art is a harmony parallel with nature”, and beyond its white-covered façade, Sylacauga’s public Isabel Anderson Comer Museum houses a permanent collection in harmony with both its surroundings and its community. The museum offers an enviable permanent collection of sculpture and paintings, art classes and mentoring through outreach, and an entire floor devoted to “native sons” of Alabama, such as actor and entertainer Jim Nabors and musician Bob Philips. Aside from Giuseppi Moretti’s sculptured marble pieces, “Sphere, Pyramid, and Cube,” and “Miss Alabama,” and his miniature of the “Statuette of Christ,” the museum also features the marble sculpture, “Harmony in White,” by Craigger Browne, who is very involved with the city’s Marble Festival, and the work, “Child,” by Moretti-contemporary Geneva Mercer. As for paintings, recent acquisitions are from the East Highland High School and were painted by area students. The museum also owns two paintings by prominent regional artist Sarah Towery of Alexander City. “The large rendition paintings of classic artworks came from East Highland High,” explained Director Donna Rentfrow, “and are now part of the Museum’s permanent art collection.” The school first closed in 1985. It reopened in the early 1990s as a middle school and closed again around 1998. The paintings include full-scale student reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Woman at the Piano,” Marc Chagall’s “Painting Circus,” and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” The museum’s two original works by the late Sarah Carlisle Towery are “Reverence” and “Flowers Sharing.” Towery was the impetus behind the Art Colony on Lake Martin. A respected Southern painter, Towery began her education at the University of Montevallo, and among her other honors, was a charter member of the World Art Workshop, which was organized in Mexico in 1972. In 1999, Towery was awarded The Alabama Governor’s Award for the Arts. Towery was one of six people in the United States who were recognized for contributions to the arts.

Giuseppi Moretti’s sculptured marble piece “Sphere, Pyramid, and Cube.”

Museum board member and craftsman Larry Hurr creates models from found objects for this series-in-progress: “Silver City” and “Cooper City”.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future



Most people know that the huge untitled marble abstract in front of Comer Museum and Arts Center is sculptor Bill Whetstone’s work.

According to Rentfrow, two of the museum’s art outreach program are Arc and the ArtPartners Program. “Arc Art Students participate in a wide variety of art techniques at the Comer Museum. As part of their weekly routine, they spend time together putting their creativity to work in really practical ways. “The VSA (Vision, Strength and Artistic Creativity) Arts of Alabama,” she explained, “sponsors two programs with the Arc of South Talladega. The first is the Creativity Program, in which the Arc clients create a piece of art on his or her own, to be entered in a juried art exhibition. The art exhibition takes place in Birmingham each spring and is open to anyone in the state of Alabama with any type of disability. Art pieces are chosen for the Creativity Traveling Exhibition that is shown in museums and arts 18

centers throughout the state of Alabama and ends in Montgomery at the Capitol building. A reception is given for the artists during the showing in Montgomery, and there are also cash awards and special achievement awards given to some of the artists at the juried art exhibition.” A second program is ArtPartners, in which an Arc client works on a piece of art together with a local artist. The program usually consists of approximately 70 pieces of art for auction each September at the Museum. All of the proceeds from the auction are marked for funding these programs, along with drumming sessions and drama for the Arc clients.” As for mentoring, Rentfrow said board members, such as Larry Hurr, often inspire individual students for art projects. “Computer City,” built by CACC student Robert Pearson, and the other

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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The ARTS Museum Director Donna Rentfrow, left, and Arc assistant Cheryl Meads help Steven Pittman, left, and Brian White of the Arc in an art class at the Comer Museum.

models by Larry Hurr are quite innovative, she said. “Computer City, was created by Pearson, along with Hurr’s guidance, as an art appreciation class project at Central Alabama Community College.” “I did this project for art class,” Pearson said. “I’m not artistic, but I took an old motherboard and fashioned from it some futuristic-type buildings, adding a soap bottle, which I repurposed for the base of a skyscraper. I put a spray paint cap on top of the high-rise building and then made windows with mesh, metal wiring. Thanks to Mr. Hurr’s mentoring and inspiration, I got an A!” “I did give him the materials and some pointers,” said Hurr, “and he did the work, turned it in, and got a 100.” Hurr noted that his own series of computer city projects are named after various metals. “I’d first done ‘Golden City,’ which was the beginning of my progression of models made from old junk or ‘found’ objects and put together into new 20

‘buildings’ based on wild and crazy ideas I came up with.” He adds that other models in this workin-progress include “Silver City” and “Cooper City, with their own “books,” complete with “tongue-incheek” descriptions. Rentfrow believes there is something for everyone at the Comer Museum, regardless of civic, community, educational or social background. “The mission of the Isabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts Center,” she says, “is to promote the social, cultural and historical arts in the community and to provide access to the arts and humanities through expositions, displays and lectures. “All nature is but art unknown to thee,” Rentfrow concluded, crediting her favorite quote to the English poet Alexander Pope. She pointed to the museum’s “Art in Public Spaces” program, which has displayed the work of local artists inside and outside of a number of participating establishments

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is one of the large rendition paintings of classic art works from East Highland High

in the city — placing artistic works within the “natural” setting of the businesses community. Rentfrow encourages all of Sylacauga’s citizens to take advantage of the museum’s services. “The Arc clients meet here each Tuesday,” Rentfrow said, “and experience unhampered artistic expression. I’m excited to be the new teaching artist for the program.” The Sylacauga Art Club also meets at the museum weekly, encouraging young people to keep alive their dedication and interest to art though a variety of mediums with hands-on support. She also suggested visitors take advantage of the museum’s in-house gift shop. “The work of local artists can be seen and purchased at the gift store inside the museum. Paintings, sculptures and photographs are available, as well as other items of interest. It’s time to start thinking about holiday gifts for family and friends, and nothing is better gift than an original piece of art.”

The museum offers an entire floor devoted to “native sons” of Alabama, such as the entertainer Jim Nabors, who found celebrity and fortune in Hollywood. 22

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future



Native Talent

Bob Phillips makes his mark on the music world By David Story As for native sons, just as local Jim Nabors found celebrity and fortune in Hollywood, so did Bob Phillips find his claim to fame in Nashville. Phillips played back-up trumpet for the likes of Elvis Presley and Wayne Newton. Phillips graduated from Sylacauga High school in 1954 before attending one term at Auburn University. Comer Museum Director Donna Rentfrow said, “Our jazz man Bob Phillips was our evening’s entertainment, as he so often has been, at the museum’s mid-September event. He is really good and has played with the best. We are honored to have him as part of our Native Sons’ Exhibit.” While at Auburn, Phillips was in the prestigious Auburn Knights, which by the mid-1950s was one of the most popular dance orchestras in the South. During this period, the Knights released an LP containing a cross section of the band’s style, with frequent airplay on radio in Atlanta, Birmingham and Montgomery. The Knights performed for nearly every campus dance at Auburn during the fall and winter social season. “During this period, The Knights were called upon to accompany such celebrities as June Christy, Joni James, George Jessel, Dave Gardner and the Four Freshmen, and all had glowing remarks of praise for the band,” Phillips said. “Some Knights who were my peers went on to careers with orchestras such as Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Tex Beneke, Ralph Marteri and even Lawrence Welk.” As for Phillips, the military beckoned, and he served for more than a year in Stuttgart, Germany, where he was as a trumpet player for the 7th Army Orchestra in its Jazz Show company. Phillips later attended the University of Alabama. He next headed off to Nashville, where one of the first people he met was the legendary Boots Randolph. Soon Phillips landed at Opryland, where he became affiliated with the Dixieland Band and “emceeing in a funny straw hat with a big bowtie and vest.” He also played the trumpet, and the Opryland exposure “opened other doors.” Phillips went on to play back-up trumpet on the singles, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash and “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro, as well as J.J. Cale’s second album, “Really.” Since leaving Nashville, Phillips put in some time with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s acclaimed SuperJazz Big Band, formerly UAB SuperJazz, the first performing ensemble connected with the Music Department of UAB. With SuperJazz, Phillips joined the ranks of other performers and jazz artists such as Ernie Watts, Lou Marini Jr., Lew Soloff, Chuck Redd and Andy Martin. In 2001, UAB Entertainment Records released a recording of SuperJazz featuring Ellis Marsalis. 24

Bob Phillips became famous for his music and worked with the likes of Elvis Presley and Wayne Newton.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

The Bob Phillips Band






Scott Hamlet, President of the Sylacauga Rotary Club, shown reading with Hogan Chappell.

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Sculptor Craigger Browne chiseling a work-inprogress at the Sylacauga City Shops.

Sylacauga’s past, and its future, lie in Marble By David Story Photos by Jerry Martin

Giuseppi Moretti’s “Miss Alabama”

The word “marble” is derived from the Greek word, meaning “crystalline rock” or “shining stone” and has been prized for its use in sculptures since classical times. For sculptors, such as those drawn to Sylacauga’s annual Marble Festival, marble’s waxy look gives “life” to marble sculptures of the human body. Did Michelangelo not say, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”? Just as the tradition of Ancient Rome was inundated with multicolored marble on floors and other surfaces, so is Sylacauga steeped in a history of the same stone, with its home-quarried marble on buildings and local sculptures. The significance of Sylacauga marble lies in its whiteness and its being just one of two sources for Carrarra marble, as Mayor and Mrs. Sam Wright discovered in 2008 when they walked the streets of Pietrasanta near Carrarra, Italy, talking with local sculptors. According to the Sylacauga Marble Festival Chairman Dr. Ted Spears, the future of Sylacauga’s marble industry is inextricably linked with the legacy of the local quarries, the continuation of the Marble Festival’s annual events, and the future of the 21st-century marble industry. To understand Sylacauga’s place in the tradition of marble, one must realize the Sylacauga Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Dr. Ted Spears likes the view of two marble quarries at the site of the future Observation Point.

Moretti (top left) was internationally acclaimed at the peak of Sylacauga’s celebration of the white stone. 28

marble bed is 32 miles long, 115 miles wide and 400 feet deep. That’s a lot of marble, says local carver Dale Liner, the sculptor behind the readily recognized piece, The Lily. “I think of myself as one of those, like Dr. Spears, who is trying to keep Sylacauga’s tradition of carving marble alive,” Liner said. “The older men who worked at the quarry have passed on.” Having started out as an industrial painter, Liner has extensive experience in commercial painting and historical restoration. He points to a long line of accomplished and celebrated sculptors, originating with legendary Guiseppe Moretti, the creator of Vulcan in Birmingham and his Head of Christ at the Alabama State Archives and History building in Montgomery. Others include Craigger Browne; and Francesco Galeotti; and, of course, Rino Giannini for his We Are All on the Same Boat; Giovanni Balderi for The Mask; Dale Chambliss for the Heart of Sylacauga; Dan Lawler for the Falling Star, inspired by the Hodges meteorite; and William Decatur Whetstone Jr. whose massive piece is in front of the Comer Museum. The work of some of these local and regional sculptors is evidence of the revitalization of the Sylacauga marble business and the talent it is attracting. “In early June, Dr. Ted Spears contacted me,” explained Montevallo graduate Craigger Brown, “and we began discussing my current project. We discussed Sylacauga’s history of ‘blue collar’

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Steve Stone of Alexander City asked if he could be a carver on 2nd Saturdays after reading about the marble festival in the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority’s “Currents” magazine. He says the carving events “awakened the dreamer” in him.

industry with Avondale Mills and the marble quarries. I chose to depict a stone carver emerging from the block as a symbol of that ‘working man’ upon whose backs Sylacauga was founded.” The bridge between Sylacauga’s marble past and its future lies with the yearly festival, and the Fourth Annual Marble Festival has been announced for April 10-21, 2012. “Our 2nd Saturday marble-related events keep the tradition of marble, or the ‘antiquity of stone,’ if you will, alive throughout the year,” Liner said. “These events not only support the businesses downtown by drawing visitors and consumers, but if we stop a handful of people driving through town, then they may eat at a downtown establishment or shop with a downtown retailer. It’s one way to put some nickels into as many of the pockets of as many local businesses as possible.” In 2009, the first Marble Festival was held, following a visit by the Wrights to Italy as part of the “Freedom Dream” delegation sponsored by the Alabama State Council on the Arts. It was at this time the city hosted a 19-member delegation from Pietrasanta, including artists and officials. Spears, a retired educator, says, “Sylacauga was a big winner in the cultural exchange program with Pietrasanta. The cultural exchange and the Marble Festival were the catalysts that drew attention to Sylacauga’s marble, which is as the world-famous sculptor Guiseppe Moretti called it, the “finest white marble in the world.” The city of Sylacauga has been like a rock in its support of the Marble Festival. We couldn’t do it without them.” An offspring of the Marble Festival has been 2nd Saturday gathering in downtown Sylacauga. “I basically get everything set up for the guest carvers, who always use Sylacauga marble,” Liner said. “I carve myself on alternate 2nd Saturdays. We always have a good draw to pick from as far as guest carvers, drawing on participants from the annual Marble Festival. Visitors to the 2nd Saturday events always ask questions, and for those who want to carve themselves, we provide tools. I always have extra stone and chips for carving kids’ names.” In promoting the festival year-round, Liner expounded on how the 2nd Saturday events accomplish this: “Steve Stone from Alex City came to the last Marble Festival and asked if he could be a carver on a 2nd Saturday. In the past, participants have included more than a dozen carvers and sculptors from Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Dothan, including the accomplished Craggier Browne. We’re trying to revive an industry with new possibilities for the future, so for us who participate in the annual festival and 2nd Saturday events, it’s all about being part of a commercial ‘draw’ and help out our business and industrial communities. We keep the light burning year round.” Stone enjoys assisting Liner with preparing for these Saturday gatherings. “If you asked how I became involved with sculpture,” he said, “I’d have to say it was fate. I read about the festival in the Currents magazine put out by the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority. The Marble Festival and consequently the 2nd Saturday events awakened the dreamer in me. “There was a time,” he said, “when I was earning a


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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Carver Dale Liner gets everything set up for the guest carvers, who always use Sylacauga marble, for one of the 2nd Saturday gatherings in downtown Sylacauga, an offshoot of the Marble Festival.

living by diving for mussel shells in the Tennessee River back in 1996 after breaking my foot playing softball. I couldn’t work with a cast on my leg, so I was sitting under the shade tree feeling sorry for myself when I saw an unusual rock from the creek. The rock turned out to be a soft smooth ebony slate that I could cut with my pocket knife. I carved a NativeAmerican face in that rock with my knife, and it looked pretty good. When I realized I had a knack for it, I started looking for other stones.” “Many participants, such as Steve Stone, are originally drawn in by the festival’s annual carving event,” Liner said. “They always send back photos of their completed stone, or if they are not finished, then return to finish the work started at the festival. In the future, there may be a board set up for photos of completed examples of finished works of marble by participating carvers and sculptors.” 32

Stone and Liner are not alone. Browne, too, was drawn by fate to the city’s annual marble celebration. “This all began for me about three months before this year’s Marble Festival,” he explained. “A friend of mine showed me an old article in The Alabama Business Journal about the first year of the festival. I contacted Mayor Wright’s office and was given the details and registration information. During the 10-day festival, I showed them a copy of my portfolio, and it was then we began talking about doing a piece through the Arts Council. When I heard about the Marble Festival, I jumped at the opportunity to again work in Sylacauga marble.” When it comes to the future of the marble industry, it is important to understand how marble and its component fit into industry. Construction marble is a stone that is composed of calcite, dolomite or serpentine. In construction, the dimension stone

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Giuseppi Moretti’s miniature of his sculptured marble piece “Head of Christ” trade, the term “marble” is used for any crystalline calcitic rock useful as building stone. A by-product of marble dust is combined with cement or synthetic resins to make reconstituted or cultured marble. “It is just incredible that marble dust can be found in so many household and industrial products – all of which make colorful and informative displays,” said Spears, who explained that product displays at the Sylacauga library have included those from Omya Alabama Inc. and Imerys Inc. “Alabama Marble Company has also displayed samples of its marble. The company lifts and sells stone and brings to us beautiful tiles, window sills, door thresholds and more. Dimension stone is now available, putting Sylacauga marble back on the sculpting map as Alabama Marble fills orders from across the country. Marble is important, and marble is here.” Marble is no doubt a substance that transcends the artistic into the utilitarian. But from a strictly aesthetic viewpoint, Browne, who has recently been sculpting a work-inprogress at the city shops, said, “This entire experience has been nothing but positive, and words cannot describe how wonderful everyone in Sylacauga has been. I only hope the finished sculpture in some way conveys my gratitude for this opportunity and everyone’s warm hospitality.” Browne’s dedication embodies a quote by Augustus Caesar: “I found Rome brick, I left it marble,” only in Browne’s case, his discovery of white stone will leave Sylacauga even more distinctively “marble.” Just as the Romans brought their marble from different parts of the Empire to demonstrate how powerful Rome was, so have the powers-that-be led Sylacauga marble to be brought to the nation’s Capitol, integrated into such monuments and landmarks as the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Supreme Court Building. “The 34

This delicate rose sculpture is on display at the Comer Library.

Marble City is again marketing its beautiful white marble that became world renowned over 100 years ago,” Browne said. “The carver is re-emerging, as is Sylacauga, through the stone that made it famous.” The ebb and flow of Sylacauga’s marble legacy has shaped lives, discovered hidden talents and made men’s fortune, but as the old Persian proverb says, “Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust.” The marble excavated from the local quarries has been kind to the Sylacauga community and continues to be so. It is that tradition, carved from the antiquity of the white stone, which will be remembered. From Moretti to Browne, the future of the city’s marble industry is written in its dust.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Local Medicine

Big-city care, small-town touch, close to home Melinda Morris, left, and Jennifer Ogle monitor 64-slice CT Scanner.

By Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin Step inside Coosa Valley Medical Center, and the look rivals any big-city hospital. Check out the cutting-edge technology and the comprehensive services it offers, and that big-city feel continues. But the difference lies in the delivery of care, that hometown, treat-you-like-family kind of care that sets this hospital apart from the rest. “How we deliver care, that’s what separates us from the big city,” said CEO Glenn C. Sisk. “The perception is a small-town American hospital,” but the numbers speak to the contrary. It is in the 67th percentile for volume in the state. It is the largest employer in Sylacauga, standing at 631 employees. It’s economic impact on the local economy is $133 million. Jobs created because of its existence are at the 1,145 mark. And the total labor income generated by CVMC is nearly $50 million a year. Sisk cited a long list of services — home care, hospice, 38

sleep-disorder clinic, critical-care pulmonology, full-time orthopedic care and urology — making a compelling case for CVMC as a small-town hospital with all the ‘extras’ of a big-city hospital. The hospital employs the latest technology, like a 64-slice CT scanner, digital mammography and the ability for doctors to access and view x-rays remotely. Health records are kept electronically versus the traditional paper charts. Nurses use laptops for efficient electronic record keeping, and as CVMC continues to progress within the world of technology, you’ll likely see doctors carrying computer tablets or iPads for use in electronic medical record-keeping. The futuristic thinking, planning and execution are aimed at continuing to provide CVMC’s patients the best possible care. “They are known by a name, not a room number. We work hard to be much more personal in our care while achieving the clinical outcomes they expect,” Sisk said. From “top to bottom,” Sisk noted, the hospital strives for “good clinical outcomes.”

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

Chief Operating Officer Amy Price, who also serves as chief nursing officer, agreed, adding that it is the “exceptional patient experience” that puts Coosa Valley out in front of its competitors. “It is easy to buy equipment,” she said. “What makes us different is the experience.” The patient experience is an important topic among Sisk and his management team because they recognize that it is vital in terms of success in providing quality health care to the Sylacauga community and the five-county area the hospital serves. They use the Emergency Department as the community “litmus test” in critiquing how the quality of care might be judged. In that arena, the hospital has made sizable strides. The length of stay has been dramatically reduced to half its original average — from four hours to 1.8 hours. There is even a real-time ticker available online at that provides the expected wait time for the emergency room. This wait time is defined as the average time that it takes to flow from the front door to being seen by a physician. Each physician within the emergency room has received specialized emergency room training. CVMC implemented a program in November 2009 to ensure that the specialized skill set needed in emergency-room care always would be present. The community has responded with gusto, evidenced by impressive gains in volume. Just this past year, the Emergency Department had 3,000 more patients cross its threshold than the year before — up from 28,000 to more than 31,000. Twenty eight percent of those patients came through the hospital’s new Express Care program, which operates Friday through Monday from noon to 10 p.m., providing urgent care services after hours. Average time in and out of Express Care is an astonishing 58 minutes. “Our goal is not to compete with physicians’ offices but to meet community needs,” Price said. With a new emphasis on providing weekend care, it helps fill those needs. “We have become their choice for care,” said Sisk, who noted that the end result is exactly what he and the team have been working toward. And it is rewarding to see the feedback from outlets like social media, where the community has assessed their performance with comments like, “No more driving to Birmingham.” “That comment is right on target,” said CVMC’s Chief Business Development Officer Vanessa Green. “We have put our arms around our community” to serve 62,000 people in the five-county region with top-notch labor and delivery, new doctors and specialists, outreach clinics, and awareness programs for the community. A new beginning When Coosa Valley Medical Center severed its corporate relationship with Baptist Health System in favor of an independent approach to delivering health care in 2004, Sisk said, it allowed the hospital to “focus squarely on the needs of the community.” One of those needs filled is exhibited as the new West Wing of the hospital, a $54 million investment in the community it serves. According to Coosa Valley’s CFO Janice Brown, “You don’t see a hospital like this in smaller communities. We see growth as a direct result of the facility we have.” “While the community is fortunate to have access to larger medical facilities in Birmingham, it is more privi-

Ready for next delivery

RN Beth Turner prepares birthing room leged that it can stay close to home for quality care,” Sisk said. His conclusion is easily proven by a simple visit to the labor and delivery department of the hospital, where the provisions are unrivaled, even in much larger hospitals. There is state-of-the-art technology, including a central monitoring system, oversized birthing rooms and of course, personalized attention to detail for which CVMC is quickly gaining a reputation. According to Price, “Those added touches like a guest delivery tray, a steak dinner for the new parents, designated parking, the newborn’s photo posted on the website to share with family and friends and other ‘extras’ make it a family experience,” Price said. “We are creating an experience, making it personal. We are tailoring delivery to meet the needs of that particular patient, and it is growing in demand in our community.”

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Local Medicine

Coosa Valley Medical Center Emergency Department staff work side by side with doctors. Likewise, the demand for orthopedic care is on the rise, and Coosa Valley has answered with specialists on staff and in partnership with noted orthopedic group, Dr. Larry Lemak with Lemak Sports Medicine and Orthopedics. The latest edition in response to demand is a Friday-night sports medicine clinic and Saturday-morning rehabilitation. This clinic allows football injuries to be assessed on Friday night and rehab set to begin the very next day. “We’re excited about these opportunities,” said Christy Knowles, chief of Human Resources. Green added that the full circle of services and people working together have combined to make Coosa Valley a leader in the state — from the upcoming Men’s Health Initiative to the dedicated health care board, auxiliary and chaplains, from the Hickory Street Café’s renowned cuisine and the quality health care delivered with a personal touch. They all come together in a “very special” place, she said. “We want to continue to be the heartbeat of the community. We are passionate about that.” 40

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Local Medicine

Beyond basic care for seniors The Senior Behavioral Health Center As part of Coosa Valley Medical Center’s growing services and approach to health care, the Senior Behavioral Health Center opened its doors in August 2008. Since that time, more than 900 individuals have been treated for a variety of medical issues in conjunction with a primary psychiatric diagnosis. Program Director Carmen Knox, MSW, said, “Our bodies change as we age, and so do our minds. Studies show that seniors face an increased risk of mental challenges, including clinical depression and memory impairment. But there is good news. In most cases, these conditions can be successfully treated and managed with specialized care. That’s the mission of the Senior Behavioral Health Center.” The Coosa Valley Senior Behavioral Health Center is a 15-bed psychiatric program for individuals 65 and older. It is a short-term treatment facility that focuses on evaluating and stabilizing patient conditions. Dr. Shankar Yalamanchili, “Dr. Chili” for short, is the medical director of the behavioral unit and has been since the program began. He specializes in geriatric medicine and also has opened an outpatient clinic at the Craddock Clinic, where he sees patients 18 years of age and older. In addition, the outpatient clinic provides medication management for individuals once they have been discharged. One of the questions that is always asked, according to Nurse Manager Pam Hoffmann is, “ ‘What is criteria for coming to the Senior Behavioral Health Center and who can I talk to?’ Individuals do not have to have a psychiatric diagnosis. If you have a loved one who is exhibiting behaviors that are not normal for them, behaviors such as combativeness, anger, anxiety, being withdrawn, confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, abnormal thoughts, being very depressed, having unrealistic fears, or having thoughts of suicide or even homicide, these are reasons to seek help from a behavioral health center,” Hoffmann said. “It is important to call first, though” Knox said. “We first need to determine if an individual meets criteria. There is strict criteria that has to be met before a patient can be placed on a behavioral unit. Additionally, it is always important to find out if a bed is available and if there is special assistance that needs to be addressed. Then we can be best prepared to meet any need prior to admission,” Knox said. 42

“We have a wonderful, supportive staff who is here to assist not only the individual but the family as well” “In addition to the services provided in the hospital, education and support are key for the families,” said Blakley Tidmore, inpatient therapist at the center. The Circle of Care Caregiver Support group meets on the first Monday of every month at 6 p.m. in the second-floor family room of Coosa Valley Medical Center. “Through Circle of Care, caregivers and family members can learn valuable coping skills, be encouraged and benefit from talking with other people in the group.” Nancy Dickson, Community Education coordinator, noted that Circle of Care is “open to any caregiver. It is not only for family members of patients but is open to the community as well.” Additionally, bi-monthly Lunch and Learns are sponsored through the Senior Behavioral Health Center to provide education and additional support in the community about different mental health topics. “There is a stigma,” Knox explained. “Many times, individuals and families are embarrassed by what is happening and want to avoid the current situation. It is very important for these conditions and behaviors to be addressed. Our brains are an organ, just like our kidneys, our hearts and lungs. We seek help when we have a heart problems, don’t we? The same thing applies to our brains.” Amy Price, Chief Operating Officer of Coosa Valley Medical Center agreed, saying that the programs offered there enable the hospital to offer comprehensive services. “The Senior Behavioral Health Center has been a tremendous asset, providing excellent care and outcomes for the community. It is one of the many initiatives that Coosa Valley Medical Center has taken to provide an increasing spectrum of care.” The direct line to call to refer an individual for treatment is 256-401-4070. Patients are admitted 7 days a week 24 hours a day. If you have questions concerning Circle of Care, Lunch and Learns or if you would like for someone to come to your business or agency to provide information or speak about mental health issues or concerns, please call 256-401-4674.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


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Lake Howard and the Sylaward Trail

Paul Brady from Atlanta rides the Sylaward Trail at Lake Howard.

By Loyd McIntosh Photos by Jerry Martin Outdoor enthusiasts in and around Sylacauga have for years known about Lake Howard, a 180-acre, deep-water lake nestled in the foothills of the Talladega National Forest. Often thought of as one of Sylacauga’s best-kept secrets, Lake Howard is a favorite among local hikers and anglers for its pristine scenery and abundant supply of game fish, such as bass, crappie and bream. According to Sylacauga Recreation Director Jim Armstrong, Lake Howard is a popular attraction for people looking to enjoy a quiet and relaxing afternoon on the water, leaving the hustle and bustle of daily life behind – including the noise and other distractions. There is no hunting or ATVs allowed in the park, and personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis and SeaDoos, and swimming are prohibited at the lake. And while the fish might not be record-breakers, they are big and plentiful enough to earn Lake Howard ‘diamond-in-the rough’ status. “There are some nice-sized fish in the lake. I’ve heard of some 7-pounders being caught out there,” said Armstrong. “Mr. Black, the park manager, has to run people off because the park is closing and they don’t want to leave.” While the fishing has historically been the main draw to Lake Howard, a series of advances have dramatically added to Lake Howard’s outdoor recreation possibilities, forever endangering that ‘best-kept-secret’ ranking. The most significant improvement is a 14.5-mile biking and hiking trail system that is catching the attention of cycling communities throughout the Southeast. Known as the Sylaward Trail at Lake Howard, the trail system is a project completed through a cooperative effort by the City of Sylacauga, the U.S. Forest Service and Cyclists of Greater Sylacauga – COGS for short. Largely completed by the volunteer efforts of COGS, the trail system is quickly becoming a new destination for off-road cyclists looking for new rides, offering rides for all skill levels and unmatched scenery.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Outdoor Adventure

Kayla Cooper and son 1-year-old Blair enjoy the view from the pier at lake Howard in Sylacauga.

The trail system begins less than 2 miles from heavily-traveled Alabama Highway 21, at the Lake Howard Trail Head on the Lime Trail, a 5-mile trail that begins the Sylaward Trail. After approximately a mile into the ride, cyclists can connect to the 1-mile Ridge Loop, before reconnecting to the Lime Trail, which eventually connects the 3.5-mile Bills Creek Loop. From there, it’s on to the 1-mile Cogs loop, then onto the 1.2-mile Lakeview Loop, all winding through the woods and forest on the banks of Lake Howard. Billy Beane, President of COGS and owner of Vicious Cycles in Sylacauga, said the trail was designed for all fitness and skill levels in mind and, so far, the response has been terrific. “It’s good for beginners, but the expert-types like the higher speeds and technical aspects of the trail, too,” Beane said. “It was laid out really flat and a lot of women utilize the trail because it’s an entry-level type trail.” 46

With the longleaf pine forest and lake ecosystems largely undisturbed, he said, the Sylaward Trail gives cyclists a chance to see some amazing scenery and quite a bit of wildlife up close. Additionally, the trail’s location makes it easy for other cycling groups from Georgia, Birmingham and other locales to travel to and enjoy. “The trail offers great views of two different lakes, Lake Howard and Wills Lake and their watersheds. As for wildlife, deer is common, and I’ve even seen otters running on the trail,” Beane said. “We’re really proud of the response it’s been getting from all over the cycling community.” “People have come from other states to cycle on the trail. They really do come from all over,” added Armstrong. “It rivals the cycling anywhere, and other cyclists are learning about the trail and talking about how beautiful it is out there.” Cyclists really have been coming out to the

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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The Mayor and City Council of Sylacauga Welcome You to the Marble City You are invited to our

Marble Festival & Exposition April 10-21, 2012

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Outdoor Adventure

Acres of beautiful wooded land and bike and walking trails can be found around Lake Howard.

Sylaward Trail, not just to casually ride the trail, but for organized events. For instance, the Battle at Bills Creek, an Alabama Mountain Bike Series race, brought more than 80 racers to Sylacauga in May for this inaugural off-road cycle race. COGS member Johnny Oliver said the success and beauty of the trail is largely due to the cooperation among the three groups – the city, U.S. Forest Service and COGS – as well as the countless hours volunteers put clearing the area and making the rough terrain a safe but challenging cycling trail. “We had to do a lot of root grubbing. Those roots don’t just snap off clear,” Oliver said with a laugh. “A lot of people spent a lot of hours walking it with axes pulling up roots.” But the hard work was worth the effort, Oliver said, noting that the payoff is a cycling trail that this Sylacauga native can be proud of. “The Lake is 60 feet below, and with the trail being part of Lake Howard, it kind of showcases it,” Oliver said. “During the right time of year, on 60-70 percent of the trail, anywhere you look you can see the lake from way up high, and the lake is just beautiful.” 48

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Christy Baynes, MSHA, MBA, CMC Vice President, Client Care and Education

Dee Harrell, RN President and Founder

COMPREHENSIVE, C O M PA S S I O N AT E C A R E A passion for working with seniors and a vision for what they needed to retain their independence drove a registered nurse in the health care industry to become a company president in the corporate world and provide those services to seniors and their families across the state.

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Dee Harrell, RN, founded Always There In-Home Care, Inc. 12 years ago to meet a need for elderly and disabled, helping them retain independence and live at home for as long as possible.

Baynes, MSHA, MBA, CMC, has been a geriatric care professional for more than 12 years with experience in living administration, community councils on aging, Alzheimer’s and aging research, long-term care insurance, elder care coordination, geriatric health education and caregiver support groups. She is certified in geriatric care management from the National Academy of Certified Care Managers.

“After working in hospitals with patients of all ages, I found caring for seniors to be where my heart was most satisfied,” she said. “I enjoyed listening to the life stories about their families, jobs, trials and tribulations.” She was serving as nurse manager for an adult day care center, when she realized “a real need for a quality, private-duty home care service for seniors.”

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She opened the first office in Birmingham in 1999, one in Huntsville four years ago, and another in Pell City in 2010. The company now has 350 employees, serving 15 counties in Alabama, and there are aggressive plans for expanding throughout the state. Always There provides medical and nonmedical services. “Our caregivers take care of all basic needs to help our clients remain independent. Our nurses are available when our clients need skilled care and advice,” Harrell said. “Some of our clients just need assistance for appointments or errands, while others need 24-hour supervision.” Always There is a comprehensive model of care -- providing a scope of services seniors need when they need it.

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Sylacauga Parks and Recreation

Something for Everyone Sports, skateboarding, boating, senior activities, swimming and much more

Seniors work on projects at the senior center in Sylacauga. In the photo from left to right are Anne Gray, Senior Services Director Sherry Vickers, Rebecca Phillips and Janice Carter. By Graham Hadley Photos by Jerry Martin When it comes to recreational activities, the City of Sylacauga has gone the extra mile to make sure it has something for everyone. From an outdoor BMX track and skate park to the mountain biking trail around Lake Howard to water aerobics in the city pool, residents and visitors of all ages can find exactly what they are looking for conveniently located throughout the city. Current Parks and Recreation Director Jim Armstrong credits this broad scope of offerings to two things: the vision of the first recreation director and support from the community. “It all goes way back, back to Beth Yates, the 50

first recreation director for the city. She laid all the groundwork,” he said. Because of Yates’ dedication and hard work, the city has been able to capitalize on her efforts and expand on her vision. “We have added things like the skate park, the mountain bike trail. We took things that were already there and added to them,” Armstrong said. That foundation is only half of the equation that has spelled such success for Sylacauga’s Parks and Recreation — the other half comes from the very residents who benefit from the department. “One of the things that helps here is community involvement, like when we renovated Noble Park and built the skate park. They take

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

ownership in it,” Armstrong said. And that support benefits not just the Parks and Recreation, but the entire community. “We have people from other states that come to ride our mountain bike trail because we have a mountain bike trail that is better” than many others. “But, there again, we have community people who are involved and help manage the trail,” he said. The same is true of the senior center, where many days, people are lined up at the door when the facility opens, Armstrong said. The parks, community centers and the efforts to continue what Yates started have helped garner Sylacauga national recognition for both being a great city for children to grow up in and for offering public green space. And that has become one of the cornerstones of why Sylacauga boasts such a high quality of life. “Our parks have always been there as a place for people to come together and do things. … We try to offer so much — for every person in Sylacauga, there is something for them to do,” Armstrong said. “From sports to other activities, we are the hub. We are the rod that grounds the city.”

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

Seven-yearold Creed Clardy spends time at the tennis center in Sylacauga. Parents are Bobby and Shari Clardy of Sylacauga.


Something for Everyone Just take a look at some of what the Sylacauga Parks and Recreation Department has to offer: Parks: • Nobel Park, located off Alabama 21, is Sylacauga’s largest park. It offers a playground, pavilion that is available for rental, skate park, BMX track and a quarter-mile concrete walking track. The park also features plenty of green space and areas for picnics or to just enjoy the outdoors. • Beth Wallace Yates Park is home to the city’s tennis center. It also has playground equipment, a pavilion and a sand pit for volleyball. • Central Park is another piece of green space the city has set aside. It has a large pavilion and restroom facilities. • Pinecrest Memorial Park, located off U.S. 280, features the Veterans Memorial Wall and a walking track. • Fairmont Park features a pavilion, walking track, playground area and picnic areas. • South Highland Park is another small community park. It features a pavilion and playground equipment. • Lake Howard is a full outdoor recreation area, featuring fishing, boating, hiking and mountain biking on the more than 14-mile long Sylaward Trail. Fishing is by permit only, and there are other fees, such as for launching boats, and rules regulating this unique outdoor park. For a full list of amenities and rules, check out the Sylacauga Parks website, Facilities: • The Donald Comer Jr. complex is the primary home for Sylacauga’s athletic programs and events, including Cal Ripken Jr. baseball in the spring and soccer and football in the fall. • The J. Craig Smith Community Center is the hub of they city’s parks and recreation department. It has several rooms and a gym that are used for a variety of activities and can be rented. • The Verlie B. Collins Center is another recreational center that also has meeting and activity rooms and a gymnasium. • The Maxye Veazey Senior Adult Activity Center is one of the newest additions to the Sylacauga Recreation Department. It has meeting and social areas, computer room, exercise room, and is home to many programs and activities and acts as a gathering place for senior citizens in the Sylacauga area. • The Sylacauga Municipal Pool is open to the public and offers swim lessons, water aerobics and pool parties. It also provides a place for local competitive swimmers to train. There are fees and rules associated with using the pool, and like most of the other Sylacauga recreational facilities, is available for rental.


Renee Love helps her son Justin on the climbing wall at Noble Park in Sylacauga. And Much More: While Sylacauga boasts of some of the best and most diverse recreational facilities and parks of any city in the region, the job of the Parks and Recreation Department goes way beyond operating and maintaining the physical facilities. Residents from across the region also have access to an equally diverse range of activities and programs, again, with a little something for everyone of all ages and tastes. From athletic team sports, like baseball, tennis, soccer, football and more, to specialized training such as ballroom dancing and martial arts, the Sylacauga Parks and Recreation Department is always striving to find new ways for people to get out, stay active and meet people with similar interests. Availability of these programs varies, and some are seasonal, so anyone interested in taking part needs to check regularly with the recreation department to see what programs are currently on the calendar. Likewise, the department helps organize and hosts a number of one-time events all year round, often in conjunction with other municipal entities and local organizations. For a complete listing of what the Sylacauga Parks and Recreation Department has to offer, stop by one of the recreation centers; contact the department by phone, 256249-8561; or visit its comprehensive website,

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Visit Sylacauga All the right reasons to

Community vying for tourist dollars and enticing retirees to settle in By Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Jerry Martin The average person makes four visits to a community before deciding to live there. By promoting recreation, tourism, the arts and quality of life, folks like Dr. Ted Spears and Mayor Sam Wright are doing all they can to attract that person to Sylacauga and make those four visits count. “We’re trying to make Sylacauga a destination point, not only a place to visit but a place to live,” said Spears, Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce’s Retiree/Tourism Committee. “We’re trying to attract people through improving recreational facilities like Lake Howard, through our Marble Festival and the artistic events we sponsor.” Retirees look at quality-of-life issues such as affordable housing, medical care, crime rates and whether the arts are flourishing. Many of these qualities attract tourists, too, making what seems like an odd juxtaposition of committee purposes dovetail quite nicely. So the city promotes itself in senior living and state tourism publications, on radio and television as well as the Chamber of Commerce website. It holds festivals and Crazy Daze sales, a fishing rodeo in summer and a Christmas parade in December, downtown tours and visits to an ice cream plant. Soon, an observation deck at one of the city’s marble quarries will join its not-to-be-missed list. “We have a beautiful town, and we’ve just spent $1.5 million on the beautification of Broadway Avenue, our main street through town,” said 54

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

Linda Hardy shows off merchandise at Magnolias.

Julie Smith is ready to serve customers at the Marble City Grill. Spears. “We put in new sidewalks, new traffic lights, turnof-the-century style lamp posts, and we’re trying to get the merchants to upgrade their storefronts.” Mayor Wright pointed to the city’s small-town atmosphere and its relatively low sales tax as further attractions for seniors and tourists alike. While other cities and towns around it are charging 9 and 10 percent, Sylacauga has been keeping its sales tax at 8 percent. That tax, along with the state sales tax, is waived on back-to-school items during the city’s Crazy Daze sales in early August. Senior housing is another area in which the Retiree/Tourism Committee is involved. “We’re talking about homes that would be compatible to the aging population, like patio homes without much shrubbery to trim or grass to cut,” said Spears, an enthusiastic Sylacauga booster. “We’re looking at senior apartment living, anything that would accommo-

date the growing baby-boom generation starting to retire. Every two retirees we attract has the monetary equivalent of one industrial job, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.” Recreation is a major component of the committee’s pitch to retirees and tourists. Improvements are ongoing at Lake Howard, a series of lakes that furnish water for Sylacauga. It’s full of fish, and boating and fishing are allowed. Multiple loops can combine for long or short walks and bike rides through a 14-mile trail that winds through Talladega National Forest. The trail has good level surfaces, yet enough hills, scenery and wildlife to make it interesting. The recreation department is developing parking spaces and hookups for RVs, too. Two cyclists from Atlanta call the trail the best they’ve found in their 18 years of bicycle riding. “We’ve just

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Visit Sylacauga

Downtown Sylacauga

Yoder Family Traditions specializes in Amish foods.

discovered it,” said Daniel Bryant who was riding the trail with his buddy, Paul Brady, for the second weekend in a row when interviewed. “I found it on the Internet, I just put in the terms ‘smooth’ and ‘rolling,’ and it came up. This trail is the perfect combination of everything.” Downtown walking tours, visiting sculptors and the annual Marble Festival help promote the arts in Sylacauga. The town was one of 27 across the state that took part in the Alabama Tourism Department’s June Walking Tours each Saturday in June 2011. Due to complaints about the summer heat, the 2012 tours will be held in April, according to Spears, who led the tours for his city. The Sylacauga tours start at 10 a.m. at the B.B. Comer Memorial Public Library and last about an hour. The award-winning library is the first stop on the walking tour because it houses the famous Douglass Crockwell collection of Avondale Mills paintings and four pieces 56

sculpted from local marble by visiting Italian artists during the first three marble festivals. The Crockwell paintings were commissioned by Avondale Mills for a national advertising campaign that ran in the Saturday Evening Post from October 1947 to December 1948. They were donated to the library by Stephen Felker Sr., CEO of Avondale Mills, when the company closed its Sylacauga plant in July 2006. Other stops on the tour include the Marble City Grill, Magnolias and the Yoder Family Traditions gift and craft shop. Made famous when the Alabama Tourism Department included its Chicken Quesadillas in the food brochure, “100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die,” Marble City Grill is owned by Julie and Alexander Smith. Magnolias, owned by Linda Hardy for 19 years, recently moved a few blocks down the street from its first location on Broadway Avenue. The shop features gifts, home decor and Merle Norman cosmetics. Yoder Family Traditions is a gift and

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


craft shop on North Norton Avenue started by Debe Yoder Hooley in honor of her Amish-raised parents. Debe buys Amish foods and crafts from Indiana. Another downtown attraction is the 2nd Saturday Sculpting. Held in a vacant lot near the library on the second Saturday of each month except December, each all-day event features an Alabama sculptor who has participated in one of the marble festivals. The sculptor spends the day working with marble and answering questions for curious passersby. “It’s a way to draw people downtown and to keep up the interest in our festival,” Spears says. Held every April since 2009, the Marble Festival promotes a 100-year-old industry that the Marble City has only recently begun to capitalize on. Sylacauga has the largest marble quarries in the state, and the creamy white marble mined there can be found in only one other place in the world, Italy. “We’ve had the purest white marble of anywhere in the world for hundreds of years, but we’ve done a poor job of telling people about it,” Mayor Wright said. “The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., have Sylacauga marble in them, and it’s going into the new addition to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham and the federal courthouse in Tuscaloosa. We’re trying to build up that part of our economy so we can see more new buildings putting Alabama marble in their structures.” When Wright and Spears went to their first meeting with the architects designing the Alabama Veterans Cemetery in Montevallo, they were shocked to discover that those Alabama-born-and-raised architects were clueless about the presence of marble quarries in this state. “I thought, ‘Golly, you mean our architects don’t know we have it?,’” Wright says. “So we have really tried to work hard with Auburn University and the University of Alabama in the building and architectural fields.” Wright can remember a time when he could drive to a couple of different places and see the pit where marble was quarried. Realizing many Sylacaugans have never had that experience, the Marble Festival Committee came up with the idea for an observation deck at the quarries. When the quarries were approached with the idea, Imerys executives took the ball and ran with it. “All of the marble industries here, Imerys, Omya and Alabama Marble, are very civic-minded and have really been cooperative in anything we’ve asked them to do,” Wright said. “Imerys is building Observation Point, but you’ll be able to see Omya’s operations in the background. We’re hoping it will be ready in time for our Marble Festival in 2012. The parking area will accommodate two or three school buses.” Many schools from around the state take their students on field trips to the Blue Bell Creamery to see how ice cream is made. When Observation Point is completed they can see where marble comes from, too. “It will be great also for the citizens of Sylacauga who have never seen either of our marble quarries,” Wright says. “The Point is conveniently located just a few blocks off U.S. 280, and we’ll have a sign on the highway directing people to it.”


On the Move Building on Sylacauga’s Economic Strengths

Canadian manufacturer IKO is investing tens of millions of dollars in a new facility in Sylacauga. 58

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

By Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin


Despite the challenges of an economic downturn and a recession, Talladega County — especially its southern end — is weathering the storm and officials are actually seeing a brighter future on the horizon. “We have quite a bit going on here in Sylacauga,” said Calvin Miller, executive director of the Talladega County Economic Development Authority, as he outlined a flurry of new industry construction and existing industry expansions. Canadian shingle manufacturer IKO is investing $63 million in a new facility in Sylacauga and is expected to provide 50 to 75 jobs by early 2012. While construction is going on, the company is already shipping shingles to Sylacauga to be stored and shipped from the city as it expands its operation southward from Canada. Two key factors made Sylacauga IKO’s choice, Miller said. The company needed dual rail service, and it uses calcium carbonate as a raw material. IKO filled both needs, locating across from the marble quarry where calcium carbonate is plentiful and rail service is available. Across town, Nemak is on the move with a $17.5 million new capital investment, mostly in equipment to handle increased business in its role in the automobile industry. An aluminum foundry for engine blocks for Nissan, Hyundai, Chrysler and Ford, the company is seeing added business from Chrysler and Ford. By the numbers, it means adding 100 employees over the previous year and increasing production of 400,000 engine block units to 750,000 units per year. Another $45 million to $50 million will be invested in Nemak’s customer-owned tooling facilities. Hocking International in the former Magnitech building will add an additional 20,000 square feet plus additional equipment, and the employment roster could go up from five to 10 employees. Neighboring Childersburg’s Nippon Oil is investing $4.8 million in an expansion to accommodate its bottling of oil in quart and gallon sizes, adding another five jobs to its 28 employees, some of whom live in Sylacauga. Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


On the Move | Economic Strengths Blue Bell Creameries

With Honda to the north going back to full production, it, too, has an effect on Sylacauga. About 200 Honda associates live in the city. And Fleetwood Metals, a Sylacauga industry that makes parts for Honda, is seeing benefits of Honda’s activity. With Honda’s increased production, it should mean full production numbers for Fleetwood as well. On the offensive Long before that shovel of dirt is turned for a groundbreaking, or an industry cuts the ribbon on an expansion, economic development officials are busy laying a strong 60

foundation on which to build. An aggressive spec-building program continues to reap benefits. A fifth spec building, a 60,000-square-foot facility made possible through a collaborative effort between the City of Sylacauga, Utilities Board, Alabama Municipal Electric Authority, EDA and Sylacauga Industrial Development Board, is attracting attention from prospective industries, Miller said. “To attract industry to the area, you generally get a lot more looks if you have an available building than if you have a raw site. It reduces development time, you profit earlier, and it reduces the cost of construction. It’s less than

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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On the Move | Economic Strengths

An existing building EDA is marketing


Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

Calvin Miller, EDA director

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new construction.” He pointed to Fleetwood Metal as a spec-building success story. The company not only located in Sylacauga, it has expanded more than once. Of the five buildings countywide — three in Sylacauga; two in Talladega — the county has seen capital investments in the tens of millions of dollars and the provision of 250 new jobs. Activity has picked up of late, Miller said, and the area is seeing a lot of attention from Japanese auto suppliers at its spec buildings and sites to serve Toyota. And officials are strongly marketing Sylacauga’s calcium carbonate deposit, working with companies who use it in their products. They are concentrating on companies to which Syalcauga’s businesses, like Omya and Imerys, are shipping the product the farthest. “It’s more effective marketing,” Miller explained. The EDA’s marketing strategy doesn’t stop there. Calling it a “familiarization tour,” Miller said his agency hosted key economic development players in the state to see what Talladega County has to offer. The guest list included Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, Power South, Alabama Power, Alabama Development Office, Norfolk Southern Railroad, CSX Railway and Alabama Industrial Development Training. “We invited companies and agencies involved in economic development recruiting, but they don’t have sites,” Miller said. The purpose was to take them all over Talladega County to show available sites, a tour that began and ended at Farmlinks, an impressive golf destination point that draws from all over the country. On the tour, they saw the Childersburg Industrial Park, which has met the necessary requirements to be designated an EDPA Advantage Site, Sylacauga Industrial Park, available buildings, spec buildings, 160 acres in Lincoln fronting I-20 and the Talladega Airport. Looking to the immediate future, Miller said economic development “looks better today. Activity is picking up. The largest manufacturer is back at full production, and that causes everybody to do better. I’m more optimistic than I was this time a year ago.”

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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The SAFE staff

SAFE helping Sylacaugans thrive as a community

By Amanda Pritchard Photos by Jerry Martin

Naming of Sylacauga as one of the 100 best communities in the country to live for children for five years in a row has a driving force behind the momentum: Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement. It also drives a series of programs and projects that benefit Sylacauga and Talladega County families. Started in 1996, SAFE operates on a mission that, “All families have the right to thrive. Families can be adaptive, solve problems, have a sense of identity, be self-sufficient and maintain a sense of hope for the future; these goals can be accomplished with necessary support and basic resource provision to foster resilient families.” Leading the force to implement these programs is Executive Director Margaret Morton. Before putting each initiative into place, Morton and the SAFE staff identify the strengths, challenges and goals by taking a case-management approach. After that, they move forward accordingly. Through varied classes and programs, SAFE works hard at fulfilling its purpose to “provide meaningful opportunities for families, to contribute to the growth of our community, to serve others and to promote community cohesion.” Classes such as Child Resiliency Interactive Bonding (CRIB), which promotes parent-child bonding while discouraging child abuse and neglect, are ways SAFE takes a holistic approach in helping families. Other examples include Even Start, a comprehensive family literacy program that targets families communitywide, whose children range from ages 3 to 5, and Home Instruction Program for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, known as HIPPY, which is a home-visitation program that strengthens the family unit by enhancing school readiness and empowering parents to improve their quality of life. 64

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

SAFE staff member Taylor Logan looks on with pride at the Sylacauga Grows sign.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


A Thriving Community

Instructor Wendy Wilson gives Jasmine Wright tips on conducting a successful job search.

One of SAFE’s new transportation vans Community needs are met with services like Sylacauga’s Public On-Time Transportation or SPOT, through which citizens can call 256-249-9085 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for transportation. Another proud accomplishment is a community garden called Sylacauga GROWS. Fall planting is under way to grow onions, turnips and collard greens, along with lettuce. Certain church groups such as Christ Point, which has a 40-foot plot, have committed to growing turnips, with all the produce going to the community for outreach purposes. There has been help along the way. Volunteers from United Way helped construct the greenhouse. An important component of Sylacauga GROWS is the school garden project. This is a five-school countywide project involving Indian Valley, Graham, Salter, Fayetteville and Sycamore. Sylacauga Grows has been incorporated with the Get Healthy Talladega County initiative. Morton credits community members Bill Roberts, Claude Williams, Kristie Wallace, Jim Jones and Taylor Logan as instrumental in putting this effort together. A building was donated to Sylacauga Grows by Penny Moore in honor of her family member, and this building proudly displays a sign as you enter naming it Penny’s Place. Assessing the area’s true need for food, a plan of action was put into place for this community garden in March 2009, and Sylacauga Grows has evolved and continues to thrive into a program other communities want to emulate. Grateful to the Sylacauga Housing Authority for providing the three-and-a-half acres on which SAFE resides, 66

Margaret Morton, SAFE executive director

Morton noted, “They believe in what we do.” SAFE has brought in upwards of $12 million from outside of the area through grants, contributions and donations over the course of the past 14 years. Operating as an empowerment program, SAFE is all about economic and workforce development as well as job creation. “If we don’t start early, we’re already behind,” said an inspired Morton. And that focus continues in a variety of areas. The job access reverse commute program gives community members the opportunity to have complimentary transportation to work or on-the-job training and school. “We want our citizens to have the capability to become economically self-sufficient. That’s what we’re striving to accomplish,” Morton said. With community as the backbone of SAFE’s existence, another key initiative brought to the area is Get Healthy Talladega County. This is “a countywide initiative created by a cross-section of health care, business and education professionals seeking to improve the quality of life in their county,” according to the initiative’s website at The site is full of local, regional, state and federal resource information for a healthy mind, body and spirit. Ensuring accountability in all of its programs, SAFE monitors and tracks its results. “We know if people are gaining from the programs provided here,” Morton said. “We are all about knowledge and changing attitudes.” The successes can be underscored through the track record of programs like Even Start, where 50 percent of

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

adults enrolled in the class received their GED last year. Most programs at SAFE are free, with the after school programs and public transportation costing a minimal fee. On average, SAFE sees 2,000 individuals per year, with a sizable return on investment. “The money leveraged to do these programs involves services plus value and equals two times the investment,” she said. “SAFE is about lives.” Bringing learning-based projects to Sylacauga, SAFE leads the way in civic responsibility, making Sylacauga an ideal place to live and raise a family, Morton noted. Whether you’re an adult student in the Reality Work Center, enrolled in the ability skills training program or a younger student looking for guidance, SAFE has a vision to “provide meaningful opportunities for families, to contribute to the growth of our community, to improve quality of life and to promote the safety and well-being of children and families in Talladega County, Alabama.” Partnering with Central Alabama Community College, SAFE is extending adults the chance to obtain an education through academic skill development. Through its youth development opportunities SAFE is working to enhance the quality of life for the community along with creating a sound body, mind and spirit for each individual it serves. Accomplishing its mission “to invest in our children is to invest in the future,” SAFE is making the impossible possible by strengthening family ties within Sylacauga. It has aligned with the juvenile court program and partnered with schools as well as District Judge Ryan Rumsey to develop the Turning Point program. The only program of its kind in the county, Turning Point “teaches concrete identification, prevention and intervention strategies to parents of strong-willed or out-of-control youths and provides support and intervention to those youths who have been identified through referrals from juvenile courts, local school systems and county facilitation teams.” It’s all about identifying needs of the community and developing programs to meet them. Its motto, “Helping make a difference in our community” seems a daily occurrence at SAFE, whose staff is eager to assist those who walk through its doors. Proud of the hard work put in every day at SAFE, Morton said, “Everything that’s done here is about the community.”

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Sylacauga schools teaching students to be

Leaders of Tomorrow

Pinecrest fourth-grade teacher Pam Roberts assists 9-year-old Morgan Hall during a lesson with the Promethean board and the student response system hand-held clicker.

By Amanda Pritchard Photos by Jerry Martin Sylacauga city schools are known as “the small system that dreams big,” and those dreams have led to success throughout the school system. In today’s age, technology is at the top of the list for advancing students’ learning capabilities, and the Sylacauga School System is in the midst of putting top-quality computers into each school. By outfitting Indian Valley, Pinecrest, Nichols-Lawson and the high school with the latest technology, teachers are able to convey lesson plans more effectively through the use of a Promethean board. Instead of using old school projectors with transparencies, the Promethean board is an interactive 68

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

learning tool that allows teachers to access an online learning community to better serve their students. “This is a big step forward. We’re very excited about it,” said Mike Robinson, District Technology Coordinator for Sylacauga city schools. Improvements to the school system have received statewide attention. With such programs as Carol Sprayberry’s Teach Tech, junior and senior high school students have the ability to teach the elementary school students computer safety, keyboarding and other standards in the wireless laptop labs. This project has been featured at the Alabama Education Technology Conference. Updates in technology are being implemented district wide. Server and program upgrades along with major hardware changes are providing Sylacauga schools with the most up-to-date ways to perform their jobs. “This network is the backbone of our technology,” noted Robinson. School officials are looking forward to future projects, such as the kindergartners at Indian Valley Elementary getting laptops as well as Nichols-Lawson updating all its classrooms with projector and document cameras. Sylacauga Superintendent Renee Riggins and Robinson both agree they are looking forward to seeing improvements to the high school. In the construction phase, Sylacauga High School will have a 55,000square-foot addition, including 31 classrooms complete with networked projectors, speakers with teacher microphones and handheld Epads. The expansion will also include two new computer labs, one distancelearning lab and a library similar to one on a college campus. “We want it to be an interactive teamwork environment,” Robinson said. Another project school system officials said they were thrilled to launch was the Sylacauga High School Digital Network. This is a live streaming of events in Sylacauga. The network was started last January when a father in Iraq couldn’t attend his kindergartner’s graduation. Even though he was not able to be there, he was a part of the event through the SHS Digital Network. These advances in technology were made possible due to the Sylacauga City Schools Foundation providing $100,000 to the school system to be used specifically for technology. As much as technology is important, Riggins and the faculty of Sylacauga Schools agree they have to not only nourish these student’s minds, but their bodies as well. With programs like Fruited Valley and Pine Crest Orchard at the elementary schools, students are learning about fruits and vegetables and what they need to keep them going all day long. “The second-graders at Indian Valley have started the Way Program,” Riggins said. “It’s a total wellness program where these students are taught to cultivate land so they can plant collard greens.” Joining forces to ensure the success of these initiatives, Riggins is thankful for the city that provided the dirt for the program. “It’s a hands-on program where students are learning about the growth process,” she said. As achievement continues throughout the year, students are not the only ones who receive report cards. Each year Sylacauga City Schools is measured through the Adequate Yearly Progress program. When


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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


Leaders of Tomorrow you log onto the school system’s website, www., you’ll see the statement, “Sylacauga City Schools Meets AYP,” which is a huge accomplishment. “This means we have met our annual accountability goals, which is something that really makes us so proud,” Riggins said. AYP is an annual measure of objectives in reading and math with additional academic indicators being attendance rate and graduation rate. Sylacauga city schools were also voted one out of 200 schools to receive the USDA Healthier Silver Award. With all the accolades Sylacauga city schools are earning, the education system is not without its challenges. With proration and cuts being made constantly, Riggins gets creative when it comes to making sure the students receive a quality education. Through fun fundraisers, the efforts of the Parent Teacher Organization and federal funds, the school system is able to continue on its mission “to produce graduates of superior academic and social development which enables them to achieve to the fullest extent of their potential in all of their endeavors.” “We’re very appreciative of the city government and for the Sylacauga City Schools Foundation,” Riggins said. Beyond cuts, other challenges face Sylacauga Schools, but officials are finding ways to meet those challenges. It’s a different world for educators in how they handle disciplinary actions and hot topics in school such as bullying. “We try to be proactive,” Riggins said. Developing a team of faculty, staff and students, she has enlisted professional development trainer Joe Cole to create a “safe place.” Sylacauga city schools are accomplishing goals not only by conquering these and other issues, but by excelling academically as well. Co-Future Business Leaders of America advisors Sean Stevens and Tyler Laye led their students to the title of Alabama’s Most Outstanding FBLA chapter. “We took 32 students to the national conference where five students placed in four events, including first national place winner in public speaking, Maya Williams,” Stevens said. “We’re proud of our students and what they’ve been able to accomplish.” The administration has made strides as well under the leadership of Riggins, who has been at the helm since 2009. She began her career as a classroom teacher and worked her way into the top post. “I give praise to this school system. We have a great central office staff that works together. It’s a team effort,” she said. Riggins and Robinson say they are looking forward to what’s on the horizon for Sylacauga schools. “We can’t wait to see the new façade of the high school,” Riggins said. With new gyms under construction at the elementary schools, the school system is also looking at projects such as 70

Renee Riggins, Sylacauga schools superintendent a new stadium, refurbishing the track and upgrading other sporting venues. Enjoying being a part of a small system in a small town, Riggins said, “The school system itself is like a big family and the community itself is tight knit.” She added, “When we’re at away football games, our crowd is larger than their home crowd.” Complimenting other community entities, like Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement, Sylacauga City Schools Foundation and special city events such as Marble City Jazz Night, Riggins and Robinson credit their work as helping Sylacauga become an ideal place to live. Locally, regionally or nationally, Sylacauga city schools are making their mark and achieving their goals by operating on the belief statement that “education is the most important responsibility of any society.” If you’re new to the community or want to find out more about Sylacauga City Schools, visit www.

Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future

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Sylacauga Magazine 2011 • Focused on the Future


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Sylacauga Magazine Focus on the Future 2011  
Sylacauga Magazine Focus on the Future 2011  

The Magazine for the Sylacauga, Alabama, Chamber of Commerce