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Cullman County

Nick Lee faces debilitating disorder with the bravery of an Eagle Scout Soup’s on ... which means Patti is cooking and singing in the kitchen Cullman’s Mike Ragsdale brands a road and a lifestyle

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Hide a Winchester ... or help Christmas Love S anta brought me a good lesson in giving one Christmas many years ago. My brother and I each got a cool Mattel Winchester under the tree. I was curious – and secretly hopeful – when I found a third toy rifle hidden in the back branches. Dad said Santa left it for me to give someone. I thought about Willie, a kid my age whose family, even to my young eye, had more children than money. The half-mile walk to Willie’s gave me time to think. After having a great time playing with him, I decided while walking home that it was my best Christmas ever. Shifting sleigh gears for a moment ...

Last year, with help from many of you, Cullman’s Christmas Love collected $25,000 and brightened the holidays for 195 kids in 100 families across the county. The youngsters got toys, of course, but also a full set of clothes, shoes, a coat, school supplies and such. Plus their families got a bag of food and box of household items. Javon Daniel, Nancy Bryant and others are preparing for this year’s waves of need, and they sure could use some help. Ornaments with information about families in need will soon hang at Christmas Love trees at Cullman Caring For Kids, all Premier Banks, Merle Norman, WKUL, Billy Ray Taylor

Auto Sales, Mitch Smith Chevrolet and Eckenrod Ford. If you’re so inclined, get an ornament and go shopping for a child. Email call Javon or Nancy (christmasloveinc@hotmail.com) and offer to sponsor a child or family. Or simply write a tax-deductible check to Christmas Love Inc., P.O. Box 1172, Cullman, 35056. Even better yet, get your kids or grandkids involved in giving. It might prove to be their best Christmas yet.

David Moore Publisher/editor

Contributors Deb Laslie, owner of Deb’s Bookstore, loves southern authors. In this issue she reviews books by Billy Coffey and Jeff High writing about the South in two rather different veins. “Two Southern authors. Two small towns that couldn’t be more different,”she says. “Two books you do not want to miss. Trust me on this.” Tony Glover, Cullman County Extension coordinator, writes about bluebird nesting boxes in this issue. Speaking of bird nests, he and his wife, Celina, feel the empty nest syndrome these days. Their daughter, Julia Auburn Glover, recently flew the coop and went to college. Care to guess where she went? Advertising/art director Sheila McAnear created 80 percent of the ads you see in this issue, including the three car dealerships. No elf at the North Pole has more magic in his or her box of workstation tools. Give her an idea. Challenge her. Then, with an artist like Sheila, simply stand back and see what she creates. 6


Many know Steve Maze for his history stories in Good Life (enjoy a new one in this issue). Many know him from “Yesterday’s Memories,” which he published 1996-2008. He was a reserve deputy for Cullman County Sheriff Wendell Roden druing1980-86, which you might not know unless you were acting up ... Former teacher Jane-Ann Heitmueller has the luxury of writing when she wants to. Or, as she puts it, she has an aversion to deadlines. In the fall 2014 issue of Good Life she wrote a well-received piece on the old Stiefelmeyer camp on the Mulberry. This issue she’s back with “Paw” and “Maw.”

Good Life publisher/editor David Moore recently attended his first Oktoberfest in Cullman. Maybe you saw him ... tired looking guy with a smile on his mug. He had a blast, but he also came away with a tremendous appreciation of those who work so hard to make this Cullman tradition happen. Thanks.

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10 Good Fun

The rodeo is back; Memphis Belle coming

16 Good People

Nick Lee is fighting his debilitating disorder for himself, has hopes of inspiring others

20 Good Reads

Southerners: from the ordinary to cursed

23 Good Cooking

Soup’s on! Patti Hancock loves a bowl for winter ... and loves singing as she cooks

28 Good ‘n’ Green

Helped a bluebird today? Well, you can

30 The glass room

Like a room with a view? Wait until you see the lake house Peter Kuhn built

38 Good Eats

A few unusual turns led Matt Heim to become All Steak owner and chef

41 Arnold Lumber

During the Great Depression, one man worked for nothing; another didn’t forget

On the cover: Rebuilt after a tornado in 1995, Normal Industrial and Collegiate Institute in Joppa stands whitely in a falling snow last February.

43 Paw and Maw

This page: Alcohol burns off in 20 seconds of blue flames as Bacardi 151 cascades down a stack of wine glasses and into a martini glass. Julius Valentine at All Steak concocts the drink for private parties using Bacardi, Captain Morgan spiced rum, Blue Curacao Midori and pineapple juice. Photos by David Moore.

55 The faces of Santa

David F. Moore Publisher/editor 256-293-0888 david.goodlifemagazine@gmail.com Sheila T. McAnear Advertising/art Director 256-640-3973 sheila.goodlifemagazine@gmail.com

A former coach recalls his grandparents and the stuggles and blessings of the day

47 Branding a beach

Mike Ragsdale talks about his 30A logo and the mindset that comes with it Barbara Yost shares some of the Santas in the collection her father started

58 Out ’n’ About

Oktoberfest brings out people eager for fun and sharing their heritage

Vol. 3 No.2 Copyright 2015 Published quarterly MoMc Publishing LLC P.O. Box 28, Arab, Al 35016 www.good-life-magazine.net

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The rodeo

It’s stampeding back to Cullman L

ook for some rootin’tootin’ action out of the gates. After a year out to pasture, the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office is bringing the rodeo back to town. That, says Sheriff Matt Gentry, is good for all kids, especially those with disabilities. The rodeo will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11-12, at the Cullman County Agriculture and Trade Center on U.S. 31 North. Advance tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for children 6-18 and are available at the sheriff’s office, Jack’s Western Wear and all locations of Traditions Bank. Tickets at the door will be $12 for adults, $10 for children 6-18; children 5 and younger will be admitted free. Proceeds from the rodeo – dedicated to the late deputy Jimmy Arrington, who helped start it 17 years ago – will benefit safety and D.A.R.E. training at schools across the county and special projects of the sheriff’s office. Top talent in the 2015 Professional Cowboy Association season will compete in bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding, cowboy tie-down roping, cowgirl breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding and team roping. Rodeo clowns will keep you laughing between events. Kids 6 and under can join the Little Cowpoke Gold Rush to look for prizes in a hay pile. Ladies can enter an “envelope scramble,” and each night’s winner gets a $250 pair of diamond earrings or diamond 10

The rodeo is a production of the 4L and Diamond S Rodeo Co. Photos provided. necklace, compliments of Gold Rush Jewelers.


n Dec. 10, some 700 children and adults with disabilities will be bussed in from across the county for a special rodeo, hayride, souvenirs and a picnic lunch. “Our main goal in the rodeo is to bring something back to help kids,” Gentry says. “The special needs part of it is very important to us. It gives us an opportunity to interact with kids with special needs and offer something back to the community.” Sponsors for the special needs event include Action Resources, Austin Hinds Motors, Bill Smith GMC, Mitch Smith Chevrolet, Atrion Medical Supply, Payroll Services, Golden Flake, Chickfil-A, Colburn Construction and Temple Baptist Church.


Christmas calendar’s stuffed like a stocking • Nov. 14 – Christmas Open House The holiday shopping season kicks off with Christmas in Cullman Open House Weekend. Cullman stores will offer sales all day Saturday; some will be open Sunday afternoon. Shop ’til you drop and cry, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” For a list of participation merchants, visit: www. christmasincullman.org • Nov. 14 – Free gift wrapping A part of Christmas Open House, get free gift-wrapping 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce. Offer is limited to five gifts and purchases from chamber members. Also get pictures made with Buddy the Elf, who can deliver your letters to Santa. Christmas videos will play all day for kids. • Dec. 1 – Register for a Santa call How cool is it to get a call from Santa Claus on Dec. 22? North Pole cool, that’s how cool. Starting Tuesday, signup your child for a free call. Offer limited to the first 100 people to register with Cullman Parks and Recreation at the civic center. • Dec. 3 – Christmas Extravaganza The free Wallace State Music Department Christmas Concert will feature bands and choral groups ringing in the season with lots of tunes. It starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Betty Leeth Haynes Theatre. • Dec. 4-5 – Christmas Arts and Crafts Show Shop among 75 vendors at Cullman Civic Center offering handmade birdhouses, outdoor items, jewelry, scarves, home décor, toys, woodworking and more. The free show will be 9a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and 9a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. • Dec. 4-23 – Lights at Sportsman Lake Park Thousands of folks drive through the annual Winter Wonderland Christmas light display at Sportsman Lake Park … but they don’t all come at once. Admission is $5 per vehicle. Visit with Santa. Take a horse and carriage ride for

$4 per person or hop the park train for $3. Lights will be on, unless it’s raining, 5-9 p.m. most weeknights and 5-10 p.m. weekends. The park will be closed for a few weeknights, so you might want to call before you go: 256-734-3052. • Dec. 5 – Santa’s Workshop Santa’s Workshop is part of the monthly Farm Kid’s Club at the North Alabama Agriplex Heritage Center. From 9-10:30 a.m. Saturday kids 5 and up, accompanied by a parent or grandparent, can make evergreen wreaths and other holiday crafts to take home or give as gifts. Located across from the Cullman Bowling Alley, the event is sponsored by First South Farm Credit. Cost: $5 per child, $10 per family; adults free. Required pre-registration can be done by calling: 256-297-1044; or e-mailing cullmanag@gmail.com. • Dec. 5 – Cullman County Christmas parade The Hanceville Civitans’ Cullman County Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m. Saturday at College Drive on U.S. 31 and ends at the Hanceville Fire Department station. Along with high school bands, the parade will include Civitan essay contest winners, antique vehicles, horses, pageant winners and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus riding in the town’s first fire truck with clients from the Margaret Jean Jones Center. Mayor Kenneth Nail will be the grand marshal. Food trucks and Santa will be at the fire station after the parade. Get parade registration at local banks, city hall and via email at: Walls747234@bellsouth.net; online at: www.cityofhanceville.net. For more information: 256-352-9830. • Dec. 11-12 – “Charlie Brown Christmas” The Wallace State Theatre Department will bring Charlie Brown and his crew alive on the stage of the Burrow Center Recital Hall for the pleasure of all Christmas lovers. Performances are at 7 p.m.; $10 adults, $5 for children 12 and under.

Good Fun

• Dec. 12 – Good Hope parade, park fun Good Hope’s fourth annual Christmas parade starts at 2 p.m. Saturday, running from the high school along Ala. 69 to city hall. Christmas in the Park will be held afterwards … and before. One change this year is that vendors are invited to set up at 9 a.m. in the ball fields along with inflatables for kids to play on. After the parade, Christmas in the Park runs until 5 p.m. Enjoy vendors, games and a free meal sponsored by local businesses, to all who come. Vendors can set up for free but should first register with city hall. For registration or more information about either event, call: 256-739-3757; or visit www.goodhopeal.com or the town’s Facebook page. • Dec. 12 – Christmas in Cullman Sponsored by the Cullman Downtown Merchant’s Association, the traditional parade starts at 6 p.m. Friday from Busy Bee and goes up First Avenue to Festhalle. Afterward, organized by Cullman Parks and Recreation, the official lighting of the Christmas tree will be held at Depot Park. Get a photo made with Santa. Run crazy in the machinegenerated snow. Music and drama skits will be performed. Local businesses will stay open late with special deals for that day only. See who’s participating at: www. christmasincullman.org. • Dec. 12 – Good Hope Christmas Concert The Good Hope High School free concerts, which outgrew its gym, moved to Wallace State’s Betty Leeth Haynes Theatre. GHS band director Ty Parker’s show incorporates all 130 band members – including dance line, majorettes and color guard – with a Christmas stage and a light show synchronized with the music. Concerts will be at 5 and 7 p.m., Saturday. Donations to Cullman’s Christmas Love – $2,000 last year – will be appreciated.

• Nov. 7 – Veterans Day Celebration Among this year’s special guests and displays are Brigadier Gen. Bob Stewart, at left, the first Army astronaut, the World War II B-17, above, used in the movie “Memphis Belle,” and Linda Morgan, widow of the famous bomber’s pilot. As much as anything, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and thank veterans and “wounded warriors.” Organized for the first time by the Elks Lodge, the day-long program is divided with morning activities at

Sportsman Lake Park and afternoon events at Cullman Regional Airport. Following opening ceremonies at 9 a.m. and a ride-in by the Sons of Liberty, Stewart will speak. Twice wounded flying Huey helicopters in Vietnam, he and a fellow Columbia crewman in 1984 tested NASA’s new manned maneuvering units and became the first astronauts to perform untethered space walks from the space shuttle. There also will be displays of military vehicles, missiles and gear,

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artillery firings, displays from the Space and Rocket Center, a brass concert and a free meal for veterans and their spouses by Johnny’s BBQ. Activities at the airport start at 11a.m. Food vendors will be there. In addition to interviews with Linda Morgan and Cullman WWII bomber pilot Julian Campbell, you can explore the Memphis Belle on the ground or buy a ride in a Huey. A Stearman trainer and a Russian trainer will give aerial demonstrations along with Skydive Alabama.

• Through Dec. 3 – Fleeting Pleasures Japanese woodblock prints are called ukiyo-e, literally meaning pictures of the floating or fleeting world. You can see 27 of these works in the exhibit “Fleeting Pleasures: Japanese Woodblock Prints” on loan from the Georgia Museum of Art to the Evelyn Burrow Museum at Wallace State Community College. The paper prints provide nuanced insights into Japanese culture 400 years ago while depicting landscapes, cityscapes and scenes of domestic life intended to emphasize the impermanence and fleeting beauty of the world around.

concert is at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Burrow Center Recital Hall.

• Nov. 10 – Veterans Day Concert Patriotic tunes will fill the air as the Wallace State Community Music Department presents its free Veterans Day concert. Veterans in the audience will be recognized. The

• Nov. 20 – Kids and parents When was the last time you spent some fun, quality time with your son or daughter? From 7-10:30 p.m. Friday is your chance at the father/son or mother/daughter night

• Nov. 19 – Free independent film “Imba Means Sing” is the story of an 8-year-old Ugandan boy, his family’s hopes and dreams riding on his young shoulders, who gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with the Grammy-nominated African Children’s Choir. The free film, part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, will be shown at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the Burrow Center recital hall at Wallace State Community College. A Q&A session will be held with the filmmaker after the screening.

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sponsored by Cullman Parks and Rec at the wellness and aquatic center. The guys get to race, play capture the flag and dodge ball and have a building contest and more. The girls will have a pajama party, makeovers, dance contests and other activities. The $30 cost includes snacks. Register beforehand at the Cullman Civic Center. • Nov. 20-21 – VBB Annual Craft Show Start your Christmas shopping at the Vinemont Band Boosters’ annual craft show at the Cullman Civic Center. Sixty-plus vendors will offer handmade jewelry, children’s and women’s clothing, UA/AU items, woodworking, metal art, candles, inspirational framed art and much more. Win a door prize or buy a ticket for drawing for $1,000 at noon Saturday. Hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free; boosters will sell concessions.

• Nov. 25 –Good Hope Thanksgiving Meal The town of Good Hope continues its free, pre-thanksgiving meal at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the Good Hope High School lunchroom, served until food runs out … which should take a little while. City officials, volunteers, school and area clubs and businesses served 250 people the first year, six or seven years ago, and that grew to 1,500 people last year. “Everything for our community is free,” says Mayor Jerry Bartlett. “This is not just for needy people, it’s for everyone in our community or anywhere else.” • Dec. 1 – Art After Hours Network, enjoy games, prizes, live music and a silent auction of local art at this fourth annual event of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, 5-7:30 p.m. Tuesday at TP Country Club. Deadline is Nov. 20 for artists’ submissions for auction. Any media

is acceptable, pending approval. Sale proceeds are split between artists and Cullman Caring for Kids. Cost to attend, which includes heavy hors d’oeuvres, is $15 for chamber members, $20 for others. Bring a toy or canned food item to donate. Reservations are required: 256-734-0454; or info@ cullmanchamber.org. • Dec. 7-Feb 29 – Kayaking clinics Cullman Parks and Recreation is holding kayaking clinics at the wellness and aquatic center from 7-9 p.m. Mondays. Use the indoor pool to learn and practice river rolls and other whitewater skills with a CP&R instructor, certified by the American Canoe Association. Bring your own boat and the cost is $5; use a CP&R boat and the cost is $10. • Dec. 12 – Christmas Festival and Market The third annual outdoor festival is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church,

which is hosting the event in conjunction with Christ Lutheran. Patterned after outdoor European Christmas markets and growing annually, the event will have 40-plus vendors offering unique gifts. Get pictures with an Old World Santa and Mrs. Claus. Candy Cane Lane Kids’ play area returns with games, carousel rides, and Bucking Blitzen. Food trucks will be on hand with great food and baked goods. Enjoy live music from school choirs to jazz bands and up-andcoming local talent. Deadline for reserving a $25 vendor space is Nov. 20. For more information, call: 256-734-0344.

• Dec. 15 – Magical Grassical Christmas Enjoy a holiday concert with the DePue Brothers Band as part of the Community Concert Association’s 2015-16 series.

The four violinist brothers – each a classical virtuoso – and others in the group will lend their uniquely blended bluegrass style to your favorite Christmas music. Playing together for over 25 years, they were named “Musical Family of America” in 1989 by a presidential decree, and return to Cullman County by popular demand. The show starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Betty Leeth Haynes Theatre at Wallace State. Tickets at the door are $30. For more information or to order, call: Kathy Scruggs, 256-339-4447; Lavell Thrasher, 256-590-6637; or visit: www. cullmancommunityconcert association.com.

Good People

5questions Story and photo by David Moore


espite his doctor’s orders in August, Nick Lee’s wheelchair sits at home, mostly unused. It’s nice, as far as wheelchairs go, but he wills himself to leave it parked until absolutely necessary, a point in time that’s inevitable. In 2004, at age 13, he was diagnosed with Friedreich ataxia, a debilitating, lifeshortening, degenerative disorder caused by a mutant gene that afflicts roughly one in 50,000 people in the U.S. Inherited from two carrier parents, FA limits the production of the protein frataxin, curtails the energy production of cells and causes nerve tissue in the spinal cord to degenerate. Now 24, Nick’s gait is off kilter – but it beats wheelchair confinement. And he’ll take the victory, albeit temporary. He was told he’d be confined to a wheelchair at age 18 and could be dead at 21. “I beat the odds. I am still going,” he says during an interview sometimes interrupted by emotions. “I really want to show people that they never need to give up on their dreams.” The comment is a glimpse into the man, though it doesn’t scratch the surface of what Nick deals with physically and emotionally, or what’s to come. Red flags began to appear about 12 years ago as Deborah, his mom, watched him play baseball and basketball. Nick was growing clumsy as his peers’ dexterity improved. She and his dad, John, had him tested. Afterward, during consultation, Nick was asked to wait outside the doctor’s office. Nothing was said afterward except that the family would take a beach vacation in a few months. “I found out about the Friedreich ataxia when the doctor called the house one afternoon and I answered the phone,” Nick says. “He said I needed to talk to my mom. I started asking questions. I started putting two and two together.” 16


Nick Lee

He’s got a debilitating disorder, but don’t just look at the cover, he says, read the book Nick learned that the doctor had encouraged the family to vacation together before he got worse. So the Lees went to the beach that coming summer. “They basically told me everything before we went,” Nick says. “It was around Christmastime. That was a horrible year.” Nick understands his parents’ reluctance to level with him. “They love me. I love them,” he says. “I don’t know all they went through, but it’s got to be hard if one of your kids has something life threatening, life changing. It’s got to be hard to say, ‘Hey, you are going to be in a wheelchair. You can’t do this and that down the road.’” But understanding his parents’ situation is easier than understanding his own. “My twin sister is good. My brother is good. I am the odd one that got it,” Nick says, incomprehension but no malice in his voice. The FA stayed at bay until shortly after the April 2011 tornadoes. It asserted itself over the next year like a growing storm cell. “I could not go around without holding on to somebody,” Nick says. “Everything went down hill.” And the questions persisted: “Why me? What did I do to deserve what I got?” Nick found no satisfying answers. But he’s not giving up on life …


How scary was it learning that Friedreich ataxia will be a degenerating, life-long affliction? It’s hard to wrap your head around it at first, but after my family and friends found out what I had, they really became a big support group that keeps me going. That’s all I can do … keep going. When I found out, the doctor didn’t really know much about it. That’s how rare this is. I’ve researched it online. It’s hard knowing that most people, 10-15 years after they are diagnosed, are confined

to a wheelchair. After that you just start going down hill. The life expectancy after being diagnosed is around 20 to 30 years. The more I found out, the more I got scared. I … it’s hard to talk about. But I was about to give up on Scouting and a bunch of things. My scoutmasters, David Schwaiger and Phillip Presto, told me to suck it up and go forward. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would be able to make it through this, but they told me I could.


What did the Scouts and others do that helps you deal with Friedreich ataxia, helps with your mindset? People kept pushing me, telling me to never give up. I kept saying, “I can’t do it.” But David and Phillip and basically everyone in my Scouting group pushed me. Because of them, I went rock climbing and rappelling at Hurricane Creek Park. I went backpacking in Bankhead. Our longest hike was 6-10 miles. We camped over the weekend. We went whitewater rafting on the Ocoee and Nantahala. That was the most challenging. I don’t know how to swim. I don’t stick my feet in the water if I can’t see the bottom. I was petrified at first, but I had more fun by the end of it. If I got the opportunity, I would do it again. Lori Andrews and a bunch of other teachers at school pushed me – Barbara Hendrix, a special education aide, Angela Stansberry, Danna Puttman. I wanted to give up because of everything that was going on, but they were a big inspiration. Every time I wanted to give up or did bad on a test or homework, they always made sure I did the best I could. Before I had FA I was an altar server and was always trying to help out around church. Everybody there, really, is a big supporter. I don’t know why, but they seem to like me.

Snapshot: Nicholas ‘Nick’ Lee

Age: Born in 1990 at a Birmingham hospital; grew up in Cullman and lives with his parents on Second Avenue SE. Family: Parents, Debra and John Lee; she works in the gift shop at Ava Maria Grotto; he does deliveries for the Jimmy Hale Mission in Hanceville. Older brother Charles works at Wisco Industries; he and wife Jene live in West Point with their two children. Catherine, Nick’s twin, is younger by one minute and a nursing assistant at The Folsom Center; she has a son. Education: Graduated from Cullman High School in 2012. Employment: Works as cashier and customer service associate at Lowe’s Home Improvement in Cullman. Activities: Eagle Scout with Troop 321; former altar boy and active at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.



me different. I would love to be treated normal one day, but that won’t ever happen.


How would you counsel someone who’s going through a major medical, emotional or financial ordeal? What would you say that might help someone make a good life out of a bad situation?

For his Eagle Scout community service project in 2008, Nick Lee drummed up a donation of materials from Smith Lake Hardware then organized a work party with volunteers from Troop 321 to build a gazebo for the St. Boniface Retreat on the St. Bernard campus. Working in this provided photo are, from left, Christopher Presto, Nick, Vicente Sweeney, Scoutmaster Phillip Presto and Jonathan Presto. Friends that have helped me the most are Andrew Dutton, Ryan Whisenhunt, Dion Taylor, Antonio Sipollari, Seth McDonald and Sabrina, who doesn’t like to give out her last name. Ryan has been a close friend since high school. He’s a volunteer firefighter for Gold Ridge. Deon came around later. They are 911 dispatchers for Cullman EMS. When I need them, they are willing to come and hang out or just talk. When Ryan and Dion are at work and I need someone to talk to, I can call Sabrina. She’ll be there. All of that goes a long way. It really does. Everybody has helped, but they are the main ones. I can call them and not feel like I’m being a burden. A good friend is good to have. I’m not saying others won’t help. They will, too. But I don’t want to call everybody and burden them.


Speaking from your experience, how could we – as individuals, as a society – improve how we treat and react to people with disabilities? 18


The one thing that hurts me the most … I’m single. I am trying to find someone to date and have a relationship with. You talk to someone and say, “Let’s meet up. But, just to let you know, I am disabled. I can’t walk great.” People tend to judge the cover before they read the book. People don’t give people a chance. They give up on people too easily. “Oh you’re handicapped. You’re disabled. You’re not going to be able to do this or that.” How do you know if you don’t give someone a chance? I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to find someone when you are disabled. Dating is stressful anyway. But when you are in a relationship with someone with a disability, that’s more strain on what is already there. Everybody just thinks it’s too hard to do it. Hey. I know what ... give everybody a good laugh. Put this in there … “For a good time call Nick: 256-297-1503.” No, really. People judge about things. I would rather someone come up and ask what is wrong than assume and treat

There is someone I know that is going through a lot of emotional, financial stress. She doesn’t have a disability, but she’s stressed out and doesn’t know where to turn or what to do. In a way, she and I are in the same boat. When she needs someone to listen to her or give her words of encouragement, I try to be there to help out. I would do anything for her. When I needed someone to cry with, she was there for me. She’s the only person I have helped out so far, but I am willing to help anyone. After I graduated, I didn’t have to work. I still don’t have to. I could stay at home and do nothing. I did that for a year and a half, but 300 channels on Direct TV only lasts for a day. Then you have to get up and do something. I decided to go out and look for a job. I got one at Lowe’s. Working at Lowe’s keeps me active instead of sitting at home doing nothing. It’s like exercise for me, physically, mentally and emotionally. The store managers and co-workers know I have a disability and are willing to help, but they don’t treat me like I have a disease. They let me go out and try to do things. I appreciate Lowe’s and everyone there. They’ve been great to me. Getting a job has been an eye-opener. If you sit around and do nothing, all you are doing is making yourself think about negative things. That’s no good. That’s why I tell myself to never give up, to keep going. I have a co-worker who has a messed-up hand and lost his leg. He still goes to work. He doesn’t complain. He just goes with it. That is a motivational thing to me, to make me not want to give up. He has accepted what he has. I see kids and other people in wheelchairs and things, and they don’t let it affect them, but you know it’s got to. If you don’t quit, and you stay strong

for people with disabilities, someone might look at you and say. “He’s got it worse than me, and he’s not quitting.” I want to be that motivation for other people. If I don’t give up, why should anybody else give up? Add this … I know what I have has put a financial strain and emotional burden on my family. They want to help me out, but financially they can’t always do that. They want the best for me. What parents don’t? My aunt used to live in this house. When we moved in last year, my parents had to redo the bathroom to make it handicap accessible. They are building a ramp on the back of the house because of me. It’s costing like $1,500. Money is tight these days. I’m not one of those people that likes asking for help. The things my parents have done, they didn’t have to do, but they had to do … if that makes sense. Being normal has its burdens on parents, but being handicapped gives them a lot more responsibility. There are people worse then me. I am blessed. I have a house to live in and food on the table and a great support system from family and friends. So, I would tell another person facing some ordeal, “Don’t give up on your dreams.” When I found out what I had, I could have given up, dropped out of Boy Scouts, quit doing anything. But I chose to move forward, to prove – not just to myself but to everybody – that I am going to make the best life that I can with what I have. I am not going to give up on something that is a small bump in the road. When people start seeing that it’s going to get hard with life, they tend to give up. Insuring our friends and neighbors since 1943

They don’t want to stick around. They don’t give themselves the chance to wait and see if something will actually work.


What are a few things most people don’t know about Nick Lee? Soon after I found out I had Friedreich ataxia, I went to Walmart with my mom and was walking around waiting for her. I noticed a cop following me. When I started to leave, he said, “Come here!” I thought he thought I was shoplifting, but he said someone called and reported I was drunk. He made me stand in front of his cop car outside. That was a shock to me. Now we are great friends. We laugh about it whenever we see each other. People also might not realize I’m a big weather fanatic. Before my disease got bad, I was storm chasing during the tornadoes in 2011. I love that. I have a Facebook page – Cullman County Weather. I started it before I got my job because I was bored and wanted something to do. I have 11,000-plus followers. I update it daily and have people who help me out. When we have severe weather we put that up, too. I have people depending on it. Doing this makes me feel normal … if that makes sense. The community has given me a lot, so I decided to give something back to the community. Most people don’t know I do that. They are reading the book, not looking at the cover. I am not doing what I do to be famous or anything. I just want people to know to never give up on their dreams and to keep fighting.

Good Life Magazine

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Good Reads

Witch or otherwise, ‘Curse’ is tale of vengeance, darkness

Newest Watervalley novel grapples with big questions

Coffey sits himself down by the fire and spins one heck of a yarn. I was captured from the first sentence and left breathless at the end. Alvaretta Graves Some said God had is an old widow who gone out of this holler, lives on the mountain. never to return. Others Many call her a witch; others whisper she’s say even in the blackest insane. dark a light will burn, Everyone agrees and there it will gather the vengeance and build and drive Alvaretta swore at that darkness away. her husband’s death hovers over them You ask me which it is all. That vengeance now, I can’t say. All awakens when I’ll tell you is this ain’t teenagers stumble no place to be lost in, upon Alvaretta’s cabin, incurring her curse. friend. Not a year ago, Now a sickness but especially not now. moves through Crow Hollow. And the people of the hollow are left to confront not only the darkness that lives on the mountain, but the darkness that lives within themselves. – Deb Laslie

has finally arrived! “The Splendor of Ordinary Days” adds to the joy that reading these books brings me. After a rocky start as Watervalley’s only doctor, Luke Bradford has decided to stay in town, … Over time, honoring the three-year disillusionment takes the commitment he made light out of men, gives to pay off his medical school debts. them a dry soul. . . . It’s The curmudgeonly always by a thousand publisher of the cuts. A half-truth, an local newspaper, unspoken word, an Luther Whitmore, returned from overlooked injustice; they Vietnam a changed float by us like falling man. He fenced in leaves. We ignore them, beautiful Moon Lake become blind to them. But and provokes the we don’t forget them, and townspeople with his incendiary paper. as the years pass, we lose Luke struggles sight of the splendor of to understand ordinary days. Luther’s past and

In “The Curse of Crow Hollow,” author Billy



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Good Cooking

Making soup and singing with Patti

Story and photos by David Moore


f you read Patti Hancock’s soup recipes thinking to warm up your winter table, you won’t find any mention of adding a few bars of music to the pot. The recipes don’t call for a dash of ditty or blending in a fullblown song. But, just so you know, when Patti is making one of her soups – or cooking anything for that matter – she always sings. Daughter of Dorothy and the late Frank Hancock, Patti grew up in Cullman with three sisters and two brothers. “Mother had to feed a bunch of us, so we ate a lot of gravy and biscuits, which happen to be my favorite foods,” she laughs. “Mother made us learn how to cook.” She also sang to them and taught them to sing. Like a scene from a musical, mother and daughters sang in the kitchen as they cooked and cleaned up. “I don’t remember us never “I have always loved cooking,” says Patti Hancock, who as a child was by her singing,” Patti says. “We would all mother’s side in the kitchen. “I had to watch her make biscuits. I finally got sing and harmonize.” to where they wouldn’t break your toe if you dropped them.” No biscuits Her script to family musical would here, but what follows are some of her delicious soup recipes … seem to call for a life of cooking or music. In a way, it sort of did. fter the military life, Patti lived in Guntersville and After graduating from Cullman High School in 1976, where she played flute in the band, Patti went to Jacksonville has taught at the middle school there 19 years. For most of that she’s taught ancient history. Ever creative, she has no State University on a music scholarship. She played in the Marching Southerners there but earned her degree in history problem working a few songs into her lesson plans. She’s even played flute for her students. and English. Later she earned a master’s from Jax State in She continues teaching at Guntersville Middle School library science. even though she returned to Cullman four years ago. She A military wife for years, she once decorated cakes as a brought her love of music and cooking with her. caterer in Washington State. (Yes, she sang there, too.)

Soup’s on!




Chicken Pot Pie Soup 4 Tbsp. butter ¼ c. finely chopped onion 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 1 tsp. salt ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper 1/3 c. all-purpose flour 3 cups 1-percent milk 1 c. half and half 3 tsp. Better-Than-Bouillion chicken base 2-3 c. cooked chicken, shredded or diced 2 c. diced, cooked potato 1 ½ c. mixed vegetables, cooked In a large pot, melt butter and sauté onions until soft over mediumhigh heat. Add garlic clove, salt and pepper. Stir and sauté for about a minute. Add flour and stir for about three minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Gradually whisk in milk and half and half, making sure to whisk out lumps. Add chicken base and continue to whisk until the liquid comes to a simmer and thickens. Stir in chicken and vegetables. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot with pie crust sticks. Makes 4-5 servings. Pie Crust Sticks 1 pie crust Preheat oven to 400. Place pie crust on a lightly floured work surface. Cut into sticks or cracker-shaped pieces. A fluted pastry OR pizza wheel works great for this. Transfer sticks to a parchment-lined or Silpat cookie sheet. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely.

Patti plays flute in the Cullman Community Band. Her brothers have passed away, but she’s also continued something she started in 1994 with her sisters – recording songs they sing. Their current project is a CD of Christmas songs, expected out in time for Christmas 2016. Blending their voices with Patti’s are sisters Vicki Shaw of Indianapolis; Holly McLeod, who moved back to Cullman from Florida, and, with 24


husband Neal, recently opened Kernel Kullman Gourmet Popcorn and More in the Warehouse District; and lifelong Cullman resident Pam Bryant. Yep. They sing when they get together in a kitchen, too. “We don’t even realize we’re doing it,” Patti says. “And I thank mother for that.” Patti doesn’t cook regularly for herself these days, but she does enjoy finding recipes on Pinterest to play

with. And she still loves cooking for others. Her son, Matt, who lives in Pensacola, is always eager for her to cook when he comes home. She’s been known to cook an old-fashioned chocolate pie in appreciation for her brother-in-law Pat Bryant bringing her fresh veggies. And just out of love, she wants to cook up something special this winter for Lavell and Jackie Thrasher …

Easy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Croutons Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten 3 Tbsp. good olive oil 3 c. yellow onions, chopped (2 onions) 1 Tbsp. minced garlic (3 cloves) 4 c. chicken stock, preferably homemade 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano Large pinch of saffron threads Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper ½ c. orzo ½ c. heavy cream Grilled cheese croutons

Bring a medium pot of water and 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over mediumlow heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Stir in the chicken stock, tomatoes, saffron, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15

minutes. At this point, add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for seven minutes. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) At the end of the above 15 minutes simmer for the soup, drain orzo and add it to the soup. Stir in the cream; return the soup to a simmer, and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently. Serve hot with grilled cheese croûtons scattered on top. Makes 4-6 servings.

to order – is French onion. Not that it needs it, but she’s been tweaking this and that on her recipe for several years. “Mother never went by recipes,” Patti says. “She’d just add a little bit of this and a little bit of that and go from there. I change every single recipe I use. I cannot go by a particular one, either. I have to taste and add to it.” And, no doubt, sing while she’s

cooking it, too. Which raises the question … What does a flutist who teaches ancient history sing in the kitchen? It might be a musical or even jingle from a commercial. But know she sings. And so should anyone who aspires to cook well. “Yes, they should,” Patti insists. “It makes the task go faster and you’re just happy.” Good Life Magazine

Grilled Cheese Croutons 4 slices country white bread 2 Tbsp. butter, melted 4 oz. Gruyére cheese, grated Heat a panini* grill. Place the four slices of bread on a cutting board and brush lightly with the melted butter, being sure to butter the corners. Turn the slices over and pile Gruyére on two of the slices. Place the remaining two slices of bread on top of the Gruyére. Grill the sandwiches on the grill for about five minutes, until nicely browned. Place on a cutting board and allow to rest for one minute. Cut into 1-inch cubes. * I used my George Foreman grill. You can also grill these in a skillet on the stove.

Julia Child’s complex recipe for boeuf bourguignon. “If I see something really complicated and want to try it, I will do it,” Patti says.

Patti loves making soups.

“I make a big batch and freeze them in Ziploc bags,” she says. “I eat more soup in the winter than anything else.” By far, her favorite to make – or



French Onion Soup (Very time-consuming but so worth it!) ½ stick butter (not margarine) 3 lbs. sweet onions, thinly sliced 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 thyme sprigs 2 bay leaves 1 c. red wine ¼ cup all-purpose flour 8-10 c. hot stock (I use half chicken and half beef) Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 1 baguette*, cut into cubes and toasted Gruyére cheese Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated Melt butter slowly. Add onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. Cook VERY SLOWLY over low heat until onions are caramelized. They will turn from white to brown. This took me almost two hours, stirring constantly. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Add red wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the wine evaporates and onions are dry. Add flour and cook for about 10 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Add stock and stir until all is mixed well. Taste for seasoning. The stock will be salty so don’t add salt until this point and only if you need to. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Top with baguette cubes and lots of Gruyére and a small sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. Place under broiler until cheese melts. Indulge. * French onion soup normally has one piece of a baguette on top of the soup but I like the croutons better. I think it’s easier to eat that way. Homemade Cheese Crackers (pictured on page 25) 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded 1 c. all-purpose flour 4 Tbsp. butter, softened (not margarine) 1 tsp. salt 3-4 Tbsp. ice water Preheat oven to 375 and line cookie sheets with parchment or a Silpat. Mix together cheese, half the salt, and butter. Add flour and mix until 26


dough looks like clumps. With mixer or food processor, begin adding ice water and mix till soft dough forms. (In a food processor, pulse after adding water. Divide dough in two; form each in a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/8” thickness. Cut into 1” squares. (A pastry or pizza wheel works great for this.)

Transfer to parchment or a Silpat. Make a hole in the center of each with a toothpick; sprinkle with the rest of the salt. Bake 7-10 minutes or till they are puffed and the edges begin to brown. Cool before eating. These are best eaten right away but they can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days. They will gradually lose their crispness. Makes about 100 crackers.

Soothing and Simple Thai Broth 6 c. chicken stock 1 (14-oz) can full-fat coconut milk 4-inch piece of ginger, cut into thin slices, or 2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger 3 garlic cloves, smashed Pinch or two red chili flakes Salt or fish sauce (Nam Pla) Options for more flavor … 1 stalk lemongrass cut in half (1-2 tsp. of the tubed lemongrass found in the

produce section with the herbs) or the juice and zest of one large lemon.* 2 tsp. Thai red curry paste. (I only had green and it was fine). Place the stock, coconut milk, ginger, garlic, and red chili flakes (plus lemongrass and/or curry paste, if using) in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the broth for 10 minutes. Salt broth or add fish sauce

to taste. Remove the solids. Serve with a slice of lime, chopped cilantro, and/or sliced green onions, if desired. I added cooked shredded chicken. You could also serve it over rice noodles for a full meal. This is really good for when you’re coming down with a cold. *If using the lemon instead of the lemongrass, cook the lemon in the broth after juicing and zesting.

Chicken Noodle Soup 1-2* lb. chicken breasts or tenders, cut into small cubes 1 onion, chopped 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 3 carrots, chopped 3 stalks celery, chopped 1 Tbsp. olive oil 2* quarts chicken stock (I use Better Than Bouillon) 2 sprigs fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried 3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped, or 1½ tsp. dried 2 bay leaves

1-2* bags egg noodles, cooked and drained according to package directions 1 Parmigiano Reggiano rind (optional) – remove before eating Salt and pepper to taste In a Dutch oven, heat oil. Sauté onion, carrots and celery until almost tender. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add chicken, stock and herbs. Simmer for about an hour. Add cooked egg noodles. Taste for

seasoning and add salt and pepper. Enjoy. Freezes well. This is my own recipe, but I had a hard time writing this down formally. I never make it the same way twice. I usually put the cheese rind in all my soups. * Number of servings will depend on how much chicken, stock and noodles you include. If you use two pounds of chicken and two bags of noodles, you’ll need to adjust the amount of broth and possibly the salt and pepper. November | DECEMBER | JANUARY


Blue skies smilin’ at me Nothin’ but blue skies do I see Bluebirds singin’ a song Nothin’ but bluebirds all day long.

– “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin

Good ’n’ Green

Bird photographer Allan Block shot the Eastern Bluebird above. For more of his work, visit: www.feathertailedstories.blogspot.com. Rachael Dawsey, below, shows off one of the nesting houses her father, Dr. Bill Peinhardt, built for the North Alabama Agriplex Heritage Center.

Give bluebirds in your yard a hand ... or a box Story by Tony Glover


udging from his lyrics to “Blue Skies,” Irving Berlin enjoyed watching and hearing the magnificent Eastern Bluebird. The Eastern Bluebird is an annual sign of spring and one of the most beautiful year-round nesting songbirds in our part of the world. Sadly, however, their numbers have been declining since Berlin penned his famous song in 1926. Many factors contribute to their decline, but the one you can positively impact is increasing the availability of nesting sites. To this end, volunteers have developed “bluebird nest box trails.” In Cullman, Dr. Bill Peinhardt and his daughter Rachel Dawsey have put up boxes and encouraged others to do so for a long time. And Cecil Cook maintains about a dozen nest boxes around Heritage Park. About 90 percent of his boxes house bluebirds annually. 28


If you want to help, this winter is the time to build nesting boxes.


or full instructions on building bluebird boxes, visit the Alabama Cooperative Extension System website: www.aces. edu and search for Eastern Bluebirds. Briefly, you want to use untreated pine, cedar, cypress or exterior plywood. The entry hole should be exactly 1½ inch. Don’t make a perch; it will tend to draw sparrows. Pine and plywood must be painted to resist decay but only paint the outside. Use light color paints such as gray, white or tan in sunny areas and darker colors (browns or greens) if they will be mounted in the shade. Mount boxes 4-6 feet high on wooden posts, private utility poles, tree trunks or a metal posts. (Metal is harder for predators to climb.) It is best to get new nest boxes out in late winter. For a trail, space them 50-300 feet apart where you can easily see them and monitor them for maintenance. Nearby trees and shrubs will provide perches for adult birds to use when feeding and for young to use when practicing to fly. Bluebirds are great insect predators but they also eat berries and fruit, so you might plant a variety of plants nearby for food. If enough people would build nesting boxes, perhaps by the 100-year anniversary of Berlin’s famous song bluebirds will be as populous as they were when he wrote it in 1926.

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Let the outside pour in

As the outside pours into their glass room, Peter Kuhn gets a little loving poured on him from daughters Makenna, 14, and Morgan, 10.


a lot atop a 50-foot bluff overlooking a deep, privately quiet, arm of Smith Lake. Imagine building a lake house there, both modern and country comfortable with many windows so you can enjoy the view. No, wait. Not many windows. Imagine building the house with a large, open room, with three walls that are nothing but glass, the main one 46 feet long, the sides 20 feet deep, all stretching 10 feet from a polished concrete floor to an exposed wooden beam ceiling, allowing the stunning view outside to pour in like light itself. That’s the house that Peter Kuhn built.

Peter and crew have been in the house only a few months and furnishings are still minimal – just enough for weekend parties and escapes. Christopher Architecture and Interiors, who designed the house, is planning to stage it for an extensive photo shoot. Afterward, Peter says, he’ll buy the furniture.

Story and photos by David Moore


rom South Africa to gumball machines, it was a long trip for Peter Kuhn to that special house that lets the outside pour in from atop the bluff on the lake. The trip started in Durban on the South African coast, where Peter pretty much played tennis full time from age 13. “My mom wanted me to be a famous tennis player,” he says from an Adirondack chair by the stone fire pit outside his house as evening quietly settles over the lake. During his second year of nationally mandatory military service, Peter was offered a tennis scholarship to the University of South Alabama. Within 32


a few weeks of stepping off the plane in Mobile, the 20-year-old was sold on living in the USA. “It was an amazing place,” he says. “The people, the culture, the vibrancy of the country, the infrastructure … The convenience of everything was eye-opening.” He earned a degree in international marketing, but the tennis was still the draw. His second year on the Association of Tennis Professionals Professional Tennis Tour, Peter sustained a slight injury during qualifications for the US Open in 1996. About to marry, he decided on another career route. “My dad was en entrepreneur and owned his own business,” he says. “I was inclined to do the same.” Living in Birmingham, his first

business venture gave him something to chew on … placing gumball machines in restaurant lobbies. He eventually owned 30 machines, making weekly rounds to split the change with the restaurant managers. He needed something more substantial. A California company doing early internet work caught his attention. Its model was to sign up doctors for a listing website where users typed in a zip code and their medical needs and got names of appropriate specialists. “The company was running out of money, but I was impressed with their technology,” he says. “I said I would work on commission.” Getting $300 out of doctors was hard work, he laughs, but it got him thinking bigger. The company started

The house has 4,700-square feet of living space, including 920 in the glass room. Besides being open to company, the kitchen is open to world. It’s a bit like outdoor cooking with granite counter tops. “It’s a sort of fun house style,” Peter says. Makenna and Morgan, absorbed here with a telescope, readily agree.



The slough to the right, above, ends in what’s known as Cocktail Cove. Peter likes boating, sports in the yard and grilling steaks – two large decks offer extensive outside living areas – but he doesn’t consider himself an outdoors person. “When it comes to sleeping I like AC and no mosquitoes,” he laughs. He gets more than that in the en suite master bedr00m, below, with its balcony and heated concrete floor. The house has 4.5 baths and four upstairs bedrooms plus two sets of bunks in the hallway.



building $30,000 websites for hospitals. Starting in Huntsville, Peter sold websites to 40 hospitals in the first 18 months.


ast-forward 18 years, and the company is very different. Peter is CEO of Influence Health, headquartered on the 15th floor of Galleria Towers in Riverchase. About 400 employees work there and in offices in Atlanta, Madison, Wis., Jackson, Miss., Santa Barbara, Calif. Briefly, the company’s sophisticated and interactive software platforms provide tools that allow healthcare marketers and clinicians to better personalize online experiences for patients outside of the hospital and encourage preventative care. Improving care for at-risk patients and bottom lines for hospitals while running a national company comes with a certain level of stress. “We decided about 2005 that we needed a place to get way from work and pass time with the family on weekends,” Peter says. He and his wife came across Smith Lake and got in touch with Realtor Justin Dyar. “He was great,” Peter says. “The third place he showed us we bought.” It was a lake house in Arley. The Kuhns and their two girls visited every weekend, spring, summer and fall. Friends joined them for good times. Cruising in their boat, they came across the bluff site on Coon Creek. The attraction was much stronger than simply echoing Peter’s surname. It was his favorite part of the lake and only 60 minutes from home, closer than the house in Arley. So, working with Justin again, Peter bought 38 acres in 2012. He sold two lots to close friends and began planning his house.

Peter engaged Chris Reebals of Christopher

Architecture and Interiors in Birmingham. Good Life Magazine readers saw another of Chris’s creations in the summer 2014 issue, a stunning lake home belonging to Melissa and Kevin Dodge. “It’s a beautiful house,” Peter agrees. “Chris is very creative.” Chris came out and walked Peter’s home site. He took ideas Peter and his wife had, such as their desire for a modern farmhouse style and an open floor plan. They also showed him photos they’d come across of a stunning house with a glass room on a bluff in Hawaii. Wilkes Construction Company in Springfield November | DECEMBER | JANUARY


The 38-acre tract Peter bought has 2,200 feet of waterfront. For now, his favorite seat in the house is actually down at the fire pit. That could change once the house is furnished, but he won’t be able to hear the owls from inside.

started moving dirt in summer 2014. Peter often drove up from Riverchase – he lives five minutes from his office – to check on progress. He made it a special point to be there when the walls of the glass room were installed. The house was completed this past June, and Peter and the girls began using it … and loving it. Weekend house parties of 20 or more include couples with children. It’s a great place for the girls and their friends to run wild. The yard has space for football, soccer and baseball. Hide and seek is a big attraction. Then there’s the fire pit. And even if you stay indoors, you can still enjoy the outdoors from the glass room. “They love it here,” Peter says of the girls, noting that one of the few house rules is a ban on computers. “We take their devices away from them for the weekend. They are actually fine with that, but they have to go through detox for a little while.” Weaning Dad off his electronic tethers is a bit more difficult. Work is demanding. “By Saturday afternoon I have usually unplugged,” says Peter, relaxing by the fire pit. “Usually I’m back at it on Sunday evening, but it’s so quiet here. It’s a great place to get perfectly away.” Good Life Magazine

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Good Eats

All Steak

Fun in the barn and a wreck led Matt Heim to continue the tradition

Story and photos by David Moore


ince his childhood, All Steak Restaurant owner Matt Heim has had a strong interest in food. But he was cooking up business before he ever thought about becoming a chef. That idea came only after a motorcycle crash during college landed him in his first commercial kitchen. As kids, Matt and his older brother, Will, would pretend they ran businesses. “We had an old barn behind the house,” he says. “That’s where we played businesses if we were not playing war or hunting. That was our office. That’s where we hatched up all our business schemes. We used time cards from dad’s poultry business.” Matt’s entrepreneurship DNA goes back at least to his grandfather Gus 38


Five years ago Matt Heim married the former Taran Bagwell of Hanceville, a former caterer and, he says, a great baker. She’s now part owner and her fabulous desserts are often served in the restaurant. Matt’s son, Austin, a senior at Cullman High, plays baseball and is a pilot.

King, who started a poultry processing business. After marrying Gus’ daughter, Jamie, Matt’s dad, Bill, ran the plant in Decatur. His long, hard hours inspired Matt’s work ethic and something else. “When I was 10 or 12,” he says, “I decided I wanted to retire by 50.” Matt’s mom, an educator, also loved to cook, which piqued Matt’s interest. At Thanksgiving and other big meals, he obsessively set the table with ringed napkins and precisely placed forks. Matt was also a great taste-tester, but cooking professionally never entered his mind. He was more interested in the lawn care business he started.


rom Decatur’s Austin High in 1993, Matt went to Auburn. A friend and roommate who worked at Cracker Barrel there owned a motorcycle that

Matt borrowed and promptly totaled. “I shouldn’t even be alive,” he says. “But I told my friend if he’d get me a job at Cracker Barrel, I’d give him my paycheck until I paid it off.” Ninety-five hundred dollars later the debt was paid … and Matt had fallen in love with cooking. Impressed with his drive and talent, Cracker Barrel invited Matt into its management program. There he met Ron Magruder, CEO of Cracker Barrel, who urged him to pursue a career as a chef and wrote him a recommendation to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. “It’s the best culinary school you can go to,” Matt says. “At the time there were 140 master chefs in the world, and 62 instructed at CIA.” After graduating from CIA in 1999, he worked for several years as

Jimmy Reeves of Arab plays and sings background music at All Steak on Friday nights. Julius Valentine, beverage and service manager, can mix some fancy drinks, below, in the bar. Right, if you think beef tenderloin served with blue cheese potato salad and asparagus is good ... you’d be right.

a line cook then sous chef. Married, he returned to Auburn as executive chef for four years or so at Terra Cotta then opened J. Williams there, the first restaurant in which he owned a part.


t was 2006 when his accountant asked Matt if he wanted to buy a restaurant in Cullman, The All Steak. “Yeah, right,” he replied. But to Matt’s amazement he struck a deal with owner Charlie Dobson, and the Cullman mainstay he already loved entered the Heim era. For some years Matt maintained the upscale status quo with white

tablecloths on the top two floors of Cullman Savings Bank. His biggest changes came in 2014, moving to the corner of Third Avenue and Fourth Street, a ground-floor building with old exposed brick, high industrial ceilings, polished concrete floors and cool art – a combination that works with jeans or dress-up. You also can order food from the full bar in the back. You can still get a classic breakfast in the morning, a meat and three for lunch. For dinner, great steaks – including the signature hamburger steak – prime rib, fresh seafood and famous orange rolls

remain unchanged. Matt doesn’t know who “invented” the orange rolls, but he says 20 people have credited their grandmother for cooking up the recipe.


alk of cooking stirs up comments about the term “chef,” once used sparingly like a rare spice. “I think the word is greatly over-used these days,” Matt says. “Do I think I’m a chef? Yes, I do. When I graduated was I? No, I think I had a base, but a piece of paper doesn’t make you a great cook.” Being a chef, he says, is a state of mind. “Everyone can learn to braise, poach, November | DECEMBER | JANUARY


All Steak: a brief history

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• 1934 – Millard Buchmann started All Steak in Pulaski, Tenn. All-steak hamburgers were the rage, and local lore says that’s what Millard planned, but he ran out of money and could not afford a sign big enough to include the word “hamburgers,” so all it said was “All Steak.” • 1938 – Millard moved All Steak to part of a building where Bennett’s Home Supply is now on U.S. 31 in Cullman. Joe Shelton and Al Gasser became partners. • 1939 – All Steak moved across the alley into the former Werner’s Café, and Millard and Al sold out to Joe. • 1946 – Joe Shelton sold All Steak to Lucille and Ewing Wallace. They rebuilt in the same location after a fire in 1946. • 1977 – Lucille sold the restaurant to Paula and Charlie Dodson. Charlie started washing dishes there in 1958. • 1998 – The Dodsons moved All Steak to the top floors of Cullman Savings Bank. • 2006 – Charlie sold The All Steak to Matt Heim. • 2014 – Matt moved All Steak to its present location. sauté, julienne … the technical skills. But to be a chef you have to have a mental Rolodex,” Matt says. Some TV “chefs” have to be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak. On the other hand, Matt continues, Cullman native Frank Stitt – owner of Highlands Bar and Grill and other top Birmingham restaurants and is a 2011 inductee into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage” – is a “hell of a chef” who brings to the table a world of travel, experience and influences. True chefs, Matt says, have their internal Rolodexes filled with culinary experience. Cooks, however, need a recipe. Another level of cook also earns Matt’s praise. “Restaurant line cooks who do it and get it done on Friday and Saturday night and put out good quality food ... I have a great respect for them,” he says.


raining as a chef has not kept evolution out of Matt’s job description. Formerly cooking full time, he now stays mostly busy 40-60 hours a week with business papers and telephones. That was compounded when he and Will started Heim Brothers Safety and First Aid Solutions, servicing industrial emergency kits and selling items ranging from gloves and hard hats to defibrillators. There is no correlation with restaurants. “I guess it ties back to our days of playing business in the barn,” Matt says. He misses cooking. Sometimes he thinks about that old goal of retiring at 50. Ten years off, it won’t happen on schedule and probably not at all. “I could never retire,” Matt says. “I would be bored to death. “If I could step away by 50, I’d probably be a cook somewhere, cut back to 20 hours a week and not worry about the managerial and PR side of a restaurant – just cook and do what I would like to. Then again,” he grins, “I’ve often thought I could just hunt and fish every day, too …”

Good Life Magazine

Thomas Elton Spruiel Sr., left, sports a broken arm, circa 1945. Henry Charles Arnold, above, died in 1937 before the Great Depression ended. To fulfill a dream of his, his widow donated a block of land on Arnold Street for Cullman County Hospital, predecessor of today’s Cullman Regional Medical Center.

Story by Steve A. Maze


He worked for nothing ... And Henry Arnold didn’t forget

n 1932, Henry C. Arnold was the owner of Arnold Lumber Co. in Cullman, but he had a problem. North Alabama and the rest of the nation were firmly entrenched in the Great Depression. Boards were stacked all over his lumberyard with no one to sell them to. Some of the lumber had been on the yard so long it was beginning to rot. Henry had tried to keep enough work for all his employees, but there simply wasn’t enough to go around. One day, Henry decided to break the bad news to his hired help as he

ate breakfast with them. Worried looks came over the men’s faces as he explained the situation. The employees, who had been earning $2 a day in wages, would now only earn $1 per day. Even at that rate, Henry would not be able to keep all of them on the payroll. Two of the men left rather than take a cut in pay. Henry also told the men he was unable to keep on the payroll that he would provide room and board if they wanted to hang on until times got better. “I’ll divide what I’ve got to eat with you if you decide to stay,” Henry said. One loyal worker who did stay was Elton Spruiel. Even though he was one

of the few who were going to earn $1 per day, he told Henry to hold back his pay so some of the married men with children could continue to work and support their families. “I’ll pay you as soon as I get the money,” Henry promised. “I know you will,” Elton replied. “Just feed me and give me a place to sleep.” Elton lived in an 8x16-foot shanty on the lumberyard as he continued to work harder than ever – for free. Henry occasionally gave him a little money for clothes, but there was never a paycheck on Friday. One day Elton was busting up stove wood when a stranger walked



onto the yard. He spoke with Henry and explained the situation he and his family were in. The man had been laid off from an Indiana diesel factory, and his family was without a place to stay or anything to eat. The man was so desperate that he offered to work for fifty-cents per day. “The law requires me to pay all hands the minimum of $1 a day,” Henry replied, “but I can’t even afford that.” Elton overheard the conversation and decided to speak with his boss. Though it meant delaying his pay even longer, Elton asked Henry to hire the man so he could feed his family. Henry was touched by Elton’s act of compassion and gave the man a job. Orders at the lumberyard began picking up after President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933. Later that year, Henry approached Elton with some good news. “Business has been better lately, and I’ve got the money I owe you,” he said with a smile. At $1 per day, the back pay came out to more than $280. Elton Spruiel had worked for over a year with no wages in order to help those in worse shape than he was. Elton moved to Arab in 1949 where he opened his own sawmill/lumberyard. It was very successful and remained open until the 1960s. He passed away in 1999 at the age of 90.

Good Life Magazine

Taken about 1947-1950 from above the train depot, this aerial photo shows Arnold Lumber Co. between First and Second Avenue. Photos this page and previous page provided by the Cullman County Museum.

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Perhaps they appeared to be mismatched at first glimpse, but they’re ‘Home Now,’ still together

Remembering Paw and Maw Howard

walking to school through the woods, afraid she would get lost on the mile-long trek. Paw remedied the problem by notching the trees on the path with his trusty pocketknife so his little girl would have a visual guide to the schoolhouse t first glimpse, the couple seemed exact physical each day. opposites. He was over six feet tall and raw boned with a Though you wouldn’t consider shock of thick, black hair and the them nomads, the Howard family high, angular cheekbones of his rarely stayed settled in one place Cherokee ancestry. She had to stand very long. It was a continuous on her toes to reach a height of five struggle for Paw to feed and shelter feet, was petite, with wispy, brown his growing brood. hair and a pallid complexion. For several years, he worked for This couple, George Thomas the L&N Railroad, clearing land Howard and Pearl Parker, were and building tracks in the Pell City only 17 and 13 when they married and Leeds area. They were thankful in 1903. They were my maternal to be allowed to live in one of the grandparents. L&N’s tiny, crudely constructed Personality-wise the couple also section houses, but the family shared a remarkable difference. Paw enjoyed few comforts in what was was gregarious and had a triggernot much more than a broken-down quick, fiery temper. Maw was a cabin. quiet soul, easing about her daily “I remember Maw nailing chores slowly and tediously. newspaper on the walls during The personalities of their three winter to keep out the wind and children – Pauline, Rufus and Radah rain,” Radah said. “And there was – were a true combination of their the Christmas morning I woke parents. A fourth child, Gordie, up shivering with snow covering lived only two years. my bed. Sometimes it was hard to As for many folks of the scavenge enough wood alongside emerging 20th century, times were the tracks to keep the fire going in difficult for the young family. the rickety, potbellied heater so we Though they had little formal could be warm and Maw could cook education, Paw and Maw made sure George and Pearl Howard, the little food we had.” their children attended school. Paw and Maw to family members As a youngster, Radah feared fter several years of hard labor, George hurt his back, and L&N let him go. EDITOR’S NOTE: Ray Heitmueller spent 42 years in the field In time, he became a sharecropper for a farmer in the of education as a teacher and coach. Today, he and Jane-Ann, northern part of Cullman County. He received a portion of his wife, live in Vinemont at Mulberry Farm on land settled food and a dilapidated shack as payment for helping plant, by his great grandfather, Henry Heitmueller. It was on this tend and gather corn, potatoes and beans during the growing property that both Grossmama and Grosspapa Heitmueller season. and eventually Paw and Maw Howard made their homes. Story by Jane-Ann Heitmueller As recalled by Ray Heitmueller





behind him, it seemed his drudgery had finally begun to ease.


Ray, center, in 1945 at his fifth birthday, with Paw, Maw, Grossmama, Grosspapa Before long, due to his injured back, Paw found that he wasn’t able to fill the quota required by the landowner, and they were sadly forced to pile their few belongings in a small wagon and move on once again. Though the years were hard, they loved each other and their children and felt there was no choice but to endure their meager existence while seeking a better life. As the children reached adulthood, Rufus was shipped off to war and Polly and Radah both married and began their families. George and Pearl eventually rented a small house nestled in a grove of tall pine trees in the Vinemont area owned by my paternal grandparents, Grosspapa and Grossmama Heitmueller. That summer and spring, 44


Paw, with the help of his two mules, Kate and Ader, raised corn, potatoes and cotton on the property. He was happy to finally realize his dream of having a cow to provide fresh milk and butter. There was even the added extravagance of an icebox to keep it all cool. Over time, Paw became the proud owner of a horse and buggy he and Maw drove to church and the yearly decoration at Ebenezer Cemetery, the same cemetery where they’re now buried. Paw also took great pride in his battery-operated radio. He couldn’t wait to lean back in his sturdy cane chair, light up his hand-carved pipe and listen to “The Lone Ranger” each evening after supper. With so many years of hard work

aw, as usual, quietly went about her daily chores, feeling free at this point of their long journey to steal a few moments for herself. I vividly recall her sitting by the fire in her worn, brown rocker at the end of the day patching Paw’s overalls and humming “Amazing Grace.” If I looked closely, I could detect a tiny bulge in her lower lip. That, and the small, silver spittoon by her side were the only indications of her one indulgence … a dip of snuff. I could see the small “County Gentleman” tobacco sack tied around her neck and knew it contained the few treasured coins she had saved and stored there. For as long as I knew her, only once did I glimpse Maw’s real strength of character. It was then the practice for circuit preachers to make their rounds to churches that didn’t have fulltime ministers. The members of the congregation were expected to open their homes and feed the visiting preacher once or twice a month. Maw gladly accommodated Paw’s wishes to host the preacher several times in a row, but she soon grew weary of doing all the housework such hospitality required.


was spending the night with them one Saturday when I couldn’t help overhearing their heated conversation. “Maw, what are you fixin’ the preacher for dinner tomorrow?” “Mr. Howard, I ain’t doing nothin’ no more.” I imagined her defiantly spitting a long, brown stream toward the spittoon. “What do you mean?” “Well, Mr. Howard, I have to get up before daybreak, catch and kill a fat chicken. I have to start a fire in the stove, boil the chicken it in a pot, pick off the feathers, cut it up and fry it. Then I have to bake bread and fix everything else to go with the meal, plus a dessert. “After all that you expect me to go to church, come home to a clean house, smile sweetly and serve the preacher.

Who do you think cleans it all up while you two men sit out there under the Maple tree talkin’ and laughin’ in the nice cool breeze? “In case you didn’t know it, my dear husband, I have to do it all over again for supper. And that, Mr. Howard, is why I am not gonna’ do it again!” Hiding behind the bedroom door I listened with my hand over my mouth, trying desperately to stifle my laughter. The only response I heard coming from Paw was his rapidly retreating footsteps and the front door quietly closing. He knew when Pearl had had enough.


hough I was only 15, I immediately sensed the shock in my mother’s voice that frigid January afternoon in 1955 when she answered the frantically ringing telephone. “Mama, what’s wrong?” I asked. “It’s Paw. He’s had a heart attack. Hurry, we have to go over there to help.” Since there was no telephone in their house, Maw had rushed to the neighbors and had them call for help. The ambulance was there when we arrived. The attendants found Paw stretched out on the old metal bed clutching his chest. Maw frantically paced back and forth in the dimly lit bedroom, crying and wringing her hands. Paw was correct when he told the drivers it was too late for help. “This is it, boys, no need to take me to the hospital,” were Paw’s last words. He was only 68 years old. After the funeral, we moved Maw into the two-room,

An unknown friend stands at left with Paw and Maw’s children, Rufus, Pauline “Polly” and Radah, Ray's mother



block rental house in our yard. I’d go down after supper and spend the night on her couch so she’d have some company and wouldn’t be afraid when it grew dark outside. Though comfortable, Maw was lonesome for Paw and was never really pleased with her living arrangements. In a few months, she decided to move to town and live with Polly and Clifford and their three little girls. She could help Polly care for the children and visit with the ladies who came to get their hair and nails done at Polly’s beauty shop.


olly and Clifford prepared a cozy nook in the attic so Maw could be comfortable and have some privacy. The girls helped their grandmother hang frilly organdy curtains at the windows. Maw carefully spread her cherished pink and white, wedding ring pattern quilt at the foot of the bed. She then lovingly tucked her few personal items in the old metal trunk at the foot of her bed – the same trunk she had brought to her marriage as a young teenager more than 50 years earlier. Placing her family Bible on the nightstand, Pearl finally felt the contentment she had been seeking since Paw’s death. True to her nature, Maw eased away as quietly as she had lived. One afternoon, while washing the lunch dishes at Polly’s sink, she simply slid to the floor and died of a massive stroke. I feel sure she found Paw eagerly awaiting her at Heaven’s gate.

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Good Life Magazine

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Mike Ragsdale brands a beach (and espouses a way of living and thinking that fits it just fine)


nderstand that 30A is not just a highway number on a Florida Panhandle signpost. It’s not just a 20-mile stretch of asphalt through a vacation Mecca of powdered sugar beaches, aquamarine gulf waters, a menagerie of bars from funky to upscale, enough restaurants to satisfy foodies of all tastes, architecturally stunning multi-million dollar coastal developments, a string of rare coastal dune lakes and 25,000 acres of protected wild lands, home to alligators, black bears, ospreys and bald eagles. No, 30A is not just a place that 3.5 million people annually target for vacations. It is a way of life, a balmy state of mind. And Mike Ragsdale has rolled that lifestyle into a hot, 30A logo –lower left on the map above – that is showing up on beach gear, beer bottles, mugs and bags of coffee, real estate firms, restaurants, internet radio and bumper stickers from the Gulf Coast to his hometown of Cullman and on to the far ends of the earth. Branding on steroids. That’s what Mike’s done, what 30A has become. On another front, you could say that 30A is shorthand code for his approach to living, every bit a philosophy as much as a lifestyle. Welcome to 30A. Welcome to Mike’s world, a world he’s eager to share with one and all ...



Story and photos by David Moore


mind. “It’s a lot of money to spend on something that doesn’t exist.” He put up a low-maintenance website hoping to build exposure and value to 30A.com, thinking he might flip it for a little profit. He was shocked when two developers bid up the price to $85,000. “Suddenly,” he laughs, “I didn’t think it was so crazy.” Sale of the URL never materialized, but realizing 30A had real potential

subsequent design downloading on his computer. “Holy cow!” he thought. “Angela’s going to kill me. It looks like an 8-yearold did this.” Then he recognized the brilliance behind the simplicity of color and the kindergarten sun, a feeling of beach, family and nostalgia rolled into one. “It captured all of that in one line without saying anything,” Mike beams like his logo sun. “And, it’s fun.” The blue circle came later, then the idea of putting out free stickers on counters in local stores. “They started flying off shelves,” Mike says.

ike Ragsdale embodies the term entrepreneur. A 1987 graduate of Cullman High School, he attended Auburn University as a freshman, and then earned a degree in communication and a master's in advertising and public Relations from Alabama. In 1995 he and two Cullman buddies got $150,000 in seed money from America Online and grew their company, Hecklers Online, into an innovative, interactive entertainment site and multimillion dollar enterprise. “It’s a double edgedsword when you hit your eanwhile, first business out of the 30A.com launched an park,” says Mike, 46. The ever-expanding line of homer created illusions of products, selling clothing the Midas touch. and gear for the beach, “I’ve since had several bar and pets. businesses that flopped,” The 30A Facebook he says with an easy page boasts a whopping beach bum grin. 360,000 likes. The In 2005, when he webcast radio station moved his wife, Angela, Mike started carries beach and four children to the music and, like the 30A Mike Ragsdale is comfortable in the skin of your basic beach bum, shore of Choctawhatchee website, upbeat news. even if he is the quintessential entrepreneur. Bay in Santa Rosa Beach, “That has a halo Mike wanted to start a effect,” he says of the positive content. “At the blog, a localized version end of the day it makes you feel happy. It of the Drudge Report with South Walton Mike beefed up his website with helps that guy in Atlanta who hates his job anecdotes and links. information on area hot spots and other A branding guy at heart, Mike interesting tidbits. In turn, that picked up and his commute but does it for his family and for those five to ten days a year he sought a short, memorable URL, or web advertising. gets to bring them to the beach. address. “It had enough traction to do full “He can listen to 30A in his car, and He thought about OBX, a logo/ time,” Mike says. “It didn’t have to be we try to keep him happy when he’s stuck brand made famous by North Carolina’s a hobby. I poured everything I had back on the freeway. That’s our team’s job – to Outer Banks, of Jimmy Buffet’s A1A, into the company.“ remind that guy there is a place he can of legendary Route 66 and other That included investing in the look forward to coming.” catchphrases evoking places and development of a 30A app and It’s all working to bolster a spirit of lifestyles. Why not do the same with sponsoring and promoting charity events. belonging to 30A as a place, as a lifestyle. 30A, the thread of pavement that links Mike feared someone would Jimmy Buffet, Mike says, is the scenic communities and burgeoning eventually develop a logo for South immensely successful because he development along Walton County’s Walton, maybe an obnoxious shark connects with the fantasy held by millions beaches? sporting sunglasses. of people to retire to a beach, flop in a Mike learned that a Texas company “That would suck, but it would be hammock and drink margaritas. owned “30A” in a portfolio of thousands devoured,” he says. “We are a small subset of that fantasy, of potential URLs it randomly acquired He envisioned using a hippy-style the Gulf Coast fantasy,” Mike says. “We years ago. “30A” as a logo, the “0” being a sun, are where small-town America meets the “To them, 30A was just a random and took his idea to Terry Slaughter, a beach … Mayberry meets the beach. series of digits,” he says. Birmingham friend and “world-class, “It’s nostalgia for the way we want to He bought the URL for $1,100, mad genius” graphic designer. live. Where I know the guy in the grocery while secretly wondering if he’d lost his He remembers seeing Terry’s




What started as a semi-hobby with few anchors on his time has taken a quantum leap as Mike’s 30A company and brand gained traction he couldn’t ignore. With a few investors on board, he jumped this year from zero employees to a dozen full-time and 18 part-time people. He opened an office and warehouse to handle not only shipping of 30A clothes and gear but printing the artwork on it, too. Above, he checks in with summer intern Jordyn Knott in the office “board room.” Furthering the 30A retail presence, in November 2014 Mike opened his first of four shops along the coast, the one below at Gulf Place. On the wall is a photo of Truman, Mike’s ex-British military Land Rover, now the 30A mascot.



Walls of high-rise condos in Panama City line the horizon east of the 30A beach above. A few older high-rises are located along 30A, but most developments here are designed on a human level and are comparatively low key, such as WaterSound, below. store. Where the bartender has my drink sitting there when I come in. It’s the “Cheers” fantasy, and we want to be part of that.”


ess fantasy than actual goal, Mike’s philosophy is to make life extraordinary. No point in settling for less. As an example, in September 2011 he, Angela and their two youngest kids embarked on an eight-month trip around the world, dodging tourist beats and living weeks at a time in areas of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The kids home-schooled. “It changes you forever,” Mike says of such a trek. “It is difficult to sit still knowing what all is out there. It is difficult to travel for just a few days or even a few weeks. It’s not fair to where you are going.” Another example of extraordinary living is the Ragsdales’ move to Santa Rosa Beach. He says it breaks his heart for couples to work all year to save enough money to come to the beach for a week, only to catch five days of rain. “But we live here,” Mike says. “We get to go out and have wine on the beach anytime we want.” Starting a career? Not so fast. First, he says, move to where you want to live. “You will figure out a way to make a living. The longer you wait, the deeper your roots grow into the soil,” he says. Don’t buy the unfortunate illusion that if you work 50


Mike has visited more than 40 countries, many of them during an eight-month trip around the world with his wife, Angela, and their two youngest children, Holly and Carlton. Starting out in 2011, one of their stops was 6,473-foot Untersberg Mountain , above, situated in the area of the Alps where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. A highlight of the trip, Mike says, was having his mom, Barbara Ragsdale, at left, come from Cullman to join them in Eastern Europe. Angela is pictured at lower left at Alcázar of Seville, a royal palace in Seville, Spain. Below, she, Holly and Carlton explore Chand Baori, a stunning well in India. Reminiscent of an M.C. Escher drawing, the walls of the well are like an inverted pyramid and lined with 3,500 zig-zagging, symmetrical steps.

Initially, 30A branded a destination. These days, Mike says, it’s more about returning to a simpler time and state of mind. A father and daughter biking past Western Lake, a dune lake on 30A near WaterColor, is a sample of some of the nostalgia the area is coming to represent. And the feeling of a sunset on the beach can warm someone in Minnesota during the winter. hard for 40 years you can retire to where and how you want to live. Assuming you live that long, Mike says, you might find you don’t have resources to move, or you have so many other commitments it’s “virtually impossible to go experience the nirvana of retirement.” Go now.


orld travel and beach access notwithstanding, 30A’s aura of “Mayberry meets the beach” is a major draw for Mike, a nostalgic sense of community that he traces back to his hometown. Cullman was a place where he could ride his bike, become an Eagle Scout and make lifelong friends. His dad, Larry Ragsdale, managed the Cullman Power Board warehouse. His mom, Barbara, was active in Mike and his siblings’ activities at school, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Cub Scouts. “When you are part of a community, those things go along with it,” he says. When son Carlton was in high school, Mike helped him start the Cullman Life website, which carried extensive listings 52


of local events. Larry and Barbara pitched in and kept up the site for a while after Carlton left for college. As much as the gulf, white sands and blue skies, it’s that sense of nostalgia that also draws vacationers back to 30A. “People living in metropolitan areas often miss that sense of community they

long for,” Mike says. “Here, they can walk to the wine bar. They can meet their grocer. Their kids can run around on the lawn, ride their bikes.” Welcome to 30A. Welcome to Mike’s world, a world he’s eager to share with one and all.

Good Life Magazine

• Alys Beach for the stunning architecture. “In 20 years it will be one of the most talked about towns on the planet,” says Mike, left.

• Seaside, below, where it all began. “The birthplace of new urbanism is the heart of scenic highway 30A.”

Going to 30A? Visit Mike’s Top 10 As the founder of 30A.com, the source of info for all things good and fun on and near the beaches of South Walton, Mike Ragsdale offers his top 10 places to visit there. Along with his commentary, in no particular order on these two pages, his top choices are … • Red Bar, below, in Grayton Beach. “It’s a bohemian beach shack with great food and great music.”

• Eden Gardens State Park, above. “Ancient oak trees by the bay make for an unexpected secret spot just north of Seaside.” • Choctawhatchee Bay. “It’s a largely untapped resource with Destin Pass to the West and the Choctawhatchee River to the east. The bay is filled with families of dolphins and pristine bayous and canals that can only be accessed by water. Excellent fishing and ecotour destination.”

• Deer Lake State Park, a hidden emerald. “This unvisited gulf front park requires a short hike, but it’s worth the extra effort.” It’s reached by a long boardwalk, below.

• Rosemary Beach on the east end of 30A in Walton County. “It has incredible architecture inspired by other great planned cities like St. Augustine and Charleston as well as the French West Indies. Shops, restaurants and parks make for wonderful afternoon strolls.” In the provided photo above is the beach home of Cheri and Ronny Apel of Cullman. • Point Washington State Forest. “Forty percent of South Walton is protected habitat, and 15,000 of those acres are in this forest. Deer, black bears, bald eagles and ospreys are just a few of the animals you might see in this pristine forest.” That’s Mike's old Land Rover in the photo at left. • The 30A stores. “Have an ice-cold 30A beer, hang out, check out our complete line of 30A gear. Sounds like an ad, but I’ll take it!” Note: the inside of the 30A bottle caps depict either a shark, crab or hook for playing a variation on rock, paper, scissors: shark eats crab; crab snaps hook; hook catches shark.

• Restaurants. “Per capita, 30A is home to an incredibly disproportionate number of world-class restaurants. Rattling off a few that come to mind … (in the provided photo above) Stinky’s Fish Camp, With a name like that, it better be good; Great Southern Café in Seaside; The Bay at the U.S. 331 bridge; Local Catch; Bud and Ally’s Pizza Bar; Edward’s in Rosemary Beach and many more. 54


Some of the many faces of

Santa Story and photos by David Moore


“I love anything blue,” Barbara laughs. “Even Santa.” So she has pottery Santas. The two darker ones come from Rowe Potter Works in Wisconsin. The light-colored Santa is from Vermont, while a friend gave her the big hand-made Santa. The Santa at the right is a candle holder. Above is a more familiar American Santa from her father’s collection of international Clauses.

anta has many faces. After all, he’s not just a jolly old elf – he’s also magical. Barbara Yost is familiar with hundreds and hundreds of Santa’s faces. For starts, her father, the late Raymond Yost, collected some 1,500 Santa figurines. A festively uniformed army, they stood in ranks on shelves and cabinets throughout his house year round. Furthermore, Barbara, who has November | DECEMBER | JANUARY


lived in Raymond’s house – the house she grew up in – since 2000, inherited several hundred of his Santas plus has hundreds of others she collected herself. Not surprisingly, she loves Christmas. And while she does pack away the Santas annually – she has to have room for her other collections plus decorating for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving – her Christmas tree remains up all year, standing unlit in the front corner of her living room until its season to shine arrives. “I don’t use this room every day anyway,” Barbara says from a sofa near the tree. “Besides, I couldn’t move the tree with all of the ornaments on it.” “My daughters want to take it down, but they wouldn’t pack it right. I think they’re upset with me, but after three years they have decided they are going to have to live with the tree.”

Many of the Santas he collected over the decades came from his store. Some he bought while trolling through yard sales, others he ordered from Memories of Santa and similar collectibles clubs, or, in the case of his Norman Rockwell Santas, from art dealers. Besides Santas, Raymond also amassed collections of 6,000 baskets, 1,500 souvenirs of cities, states and countries, 750 bells, 250 souvenir spoons, 250 coffee cups and 20 scrapbooks containing 10,000 photos of his collections and travels.


Barbara wears her father’s Christmas hat, which of course has a Santa on it. Below is the year-round tree in her living room


hen the Christmas tree is lit, the ornaments reflect more than light. It’s spangled with bits of her life. She collected many of them while traveling – from a festive Christmas shrimp she found in Fairhope to ornaments she bought from across Europe while visiting her grandson in Germany. “Everywhere I go, I get an ornament,” Barbara says. Others are gifts, such as the one her granddaughter got for her while living in Africa. Barbara is an artisan who loves to make and collect miniatures, and some of the ornaments are model toys she constructed. One was made from an old family quilt. Among the Santas she inherited from her father was one she made for him about 17 years ago. It was 1933 when Raymond moved to Cullman and opened Yost’s 5, 10 & 25¢ Store. During his 30-plus years in business he was 56


active in the community. Among his contributions, he served as president of the Cullman Kiwanis Club in 1943 and, that same year, as the first president of the chamber of commerce.

arbara, the only child of Raymond and Gladys Yost, apparently inherited the collecting gene. “I have a lot of collections, too, but I don’t go to the extreme Daddy did,” she says. A 1958 graduate of Cullman High School, she attended Auburn, later moved to Decatur and raised four daughters and, in 1998, earned an interior design certificate from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. In 2000, five years after her mother died, she returned to Cullman and the house she grew up in, but she continues to work in Decatur at Shumake Furniture. Raymond died in 2002. He was a lively 95. “Dad went to Kiwanis that Monday, the senior center on Wednesday, the hospital on Thursday and died that Saturday,” she says. “That’s exactly what he would have wanted. He couldn’t have been in a nursing home. He was entirely too active.” Truth be known – and St. Nicholas keeps up with such things – Raymond also would have wanted Barbara to keep alive at least parts of his vast collections … especially some of the many faces of Santa. Good Life Magazine

Most of these old Santas came from Yost’s 5, 10 & 25¢ Store. The one in the center is from the first Christmas of Barbara’s daughter, now Kelli Loveless. The Santa’s below are limited editions of Norman Rockwell pieces: : “Santa’s Workshop,” “ Checking It Twice” and “Christmas Dream.”

A fan of collecting and making miniatures, Barbra made the small Santa at the far left for her father 17 years ago. She used sheep fur for hair and beard. The Santa in the miniature scene is about six inches tall. Barbara made some of the toys under the tree and the Christmas rug.

Out ’n’ About If you were out ‘n’ about Oct. 7, you might well have attended the opening of the 2015 Cullman Oktoberfest and seen the Miss Oktoberfest parade from the Cullman County Museum over to the Festhalle. There, West Point High School senior Tess Hembree was crowned with flowers as the 2015 Miss Oktoberfest. The 2014 burgermeister, Dr. Vicki Hawsey Karolewics placed the medallion of the honorary mayor’s office around the neck of Nicole Vance, this year’s burgermeister. The real mayor, Max Townson, joined with Larry Rowelette – bearded like the real Col. Cullman – Oktoberfest board chairman Elaine Fuller and the rest of crowd in singing the national anthem, accompanied by Terry Cavanagh and the Alpine Express. Afterward, there was much dancing, including some hopping moves by Emma Blackmon, age 2, above. 58


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Cullman Good Life Magazine - Winter 2015  

Cullman Good Life Magazine - Winter 2015