The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 days ago

Alabama police officer stands at attention in downpour to honor funeral procession of WWII vet

(WPMI Mobile)

When World War II veteran Robert Lee Serling was laid to rest on Monday, an Alabama police officer paid what he felt was the proper respect to one of the few black soldiers who fought in the Pacific. Serling passed away June 5 at the age of 100.

Mt. Vernon police officer Newman Brazier stood at attention in a driving rain as Serling’s funeral procession made its way into the Alabama Veterans Cemetery in Spanish Fort.

The gesture was not something Brazier had to think twice about as he crossed jurisdictions for the opportunity to honor Serling.

“It was automatic when I heard he passed,” he told NBC15 News in Mobile.

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Asked what he felt driving over to meet the procession, Brazier shared that it was important to him to do something to draw attention to Serling’s legacy.

“I felt that he would want to be acknowledged,” he explained. “I felt that being from a small town like Mt. Vernon that he could do what he did and pass and nobody would realize it and not respect it. It was my point to let everybody know that was in that area that he was there, that he was passing through even if it was for the last time.”

Eddie Irby, Jr., president and founder of the 92nd Division Buffalo Soldiers organization, said that Brazier’s act did not go unnoticed among those attending the ceremony.

“He was just standing there at attention when we passed by,” Irby remarked. “Everybody…said something about it when we got up there. They said, ‘Man, did you see that cop up there soaking wet, standing at attention?’ It took an effect on those guys. Especially those veterans to see somebody doing that. What an honor.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

3 days ago

Hobby Lobby founder donates $20 million to Church of the Highlands’ Highlands College

(Highlands College/TurnerBatson)

On Wednesday, Birmingham’s Highlands College announced Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green and the Green family donated $20 million, which will fund the institution’s first of two residence halls.

Highlands College, a Bible college founded by the Church of the Highlands in 2011, is a self-described “biblical higher education institution” that prepares students who are led into full-time Christian ministry through a rigorous four-pillar program of academic instruction, hands-on training, character formation and spiritual development, according to a release accompanying the announcement.

The contribution from Green will allow Highlands College to construct the residence hall debt-free to fulfill a mission to offer a four-year program within a few years with a strategic plan of 1,000 students by 2029 and a “vision” for all students to graduate debt-free.

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“Our family sees this gift as an investment paying dividends as each graduate fulfills their calling,” said Green. “Highlands College is like no other. It is a community of believers, leaders, and learners who develop the whole person in spirit, mind, and body.”

“We envision Highlands College as a world-class facility for training servant leaders of character and competence, and the gift invested by the Green family goes a long way toward fulfilling our vision,” said Chris Hodges, chancellor of Highlands College. “We are so grateful for their confidence in our mission and the impact Highlands College can have in our world.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

3 days ago

Full Moon Bar-B-Que launches 2nd annual statewide ‘Backpack Blessings’ children’s initiative

(Full Moon Bar-B-Q/Contributed)

Full Moon Bar-B-Que has opened nominations for a child to receive a “Backpack Blessing,” which is an annual, statewide initiative that provides food, supplies and hope to the children of Alabama through anonymous nominations.

Full Moon BBQ will be accepting nominations through an online nomination form, and will close the process Wednesday, July 27.

During this second year of the campaign, 50 recipients will be selected to receive a “Backpack Blessing,” valued at over $200, just in time for the upcoming school year beginning early August. Each Under Armour backpack will be filled with a $25 Walmart gift card, a $25 Full Moon BBQ gift card, folders, paper, a coloring book, crayons, washable markers, pens, mechanical pencils, hand sanitizer and Full Moon BBQ swag items.

Joe Maluff, co-owner of Full Moon BBQ, says the restaurant decided to launch the assistance program after witnessing the hardships that were placed upon families due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We started ‘Backpack Blessings’ during the COVID-19 pandemic last year and served a wide range of children across the state of Alabama,” states Maluff. “I have children of my own, and my heart immediately went out to the children and families of Alabama who were struggling with the sudden changes due to the pandemic. Our team at Full Moon BBQ knew there was a need that we could meet in the lives of students by providing a warm meal and a backpack filled with school supplies.”

To nominate a deserving child in the state of Alabama, individuals may visit the online entry form and complete the nomination with detailed information explaining why the nominee is deserving of a “Backpack Blessing.” Submissions will remain anonymous by request. Fifty winners will be selected, and Full Moon BBQ will ship each backpack to the winner’s residence.

For many families, Full Moon BBQ says, this hits close to home.

“We all know a family who is in need of something to lift their spirits,” states David Maluff, co-owner of Full Moon BBQ. “Seeing your child’s needs met can do just that. We are hoping these backpacks set the tone for each child’s upcoming school year. Not only will this backpack provide tools for success but most importantly, confidence. Every child should feel secure in who they are and know their needs are being met.”

For more information about the Fall 2021 “Backpack Blessings” initiative, Full Moon Bar-B-Que can be reached via website at www.fullmoonbbq.com or contact Krista Conlin at Krista@kcprojects.net.

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News

5 days ago

UNA celebrates Year of the UNA Woman 150 years after admitting first female

(University of North Alabama/YouTube)

The University of North Alabama is celebrating 150 years of admitting women on their campus with the Year of the UNA Woman, which kicked off on June 1 with a website and the launch of UNA Magazine, produced entirely by women.

Over the course of the next 14 months, the UNA Magazine will feature a large variety of articles detailing the history of women on campus, as well as highlight upcoming events celebrating the Year of the UNA Woman.

Women like Ann Berry, who graduated from UNA in 1978 and was appointed in March as the 34th Secretary of the United States Senate; the first African-American and the eighth woman to serve in that role.

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“It is wonderful for UNA to celebrate 150 years of admitting women to the University,” Berry said. “Our successes as women represent a powerful array of accomplishments, and we must remain committed to opening doors for others. I’m proud to be a product of one of the best universities in the state of Alabama.”

The University of North Alabama was originally named the State Normal School at Florence when it opened its doors to women in 1872, making Alabama’s oldest four-year university the first state-supported co-educational institution in the southeast. The university is proud to
observe this sesquicentennial, 150 years later, with the Year of the UNA Woman.

A task force of over two dozen campus and community members are responsible for not only planning the many celebratory events in honor of the sesquicentennial, but they are also putting together a hardcover book and producing podcasts to commemorate the milestone anniversary.

“This is an exciting and important anniversary for the University of North Alabama,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bibbee and Michelle Eubanks, co-chairs of the Year of the UNA Woman Task Force appointed by Dr. Ken Kitts, UNA president. “Women have long been trailblazers at the institution, and we will celebrate their contributions throughout UNA’s history in the months ahead. This sesquicentennial is an opportunity for the University to firmly and unequivocally take its place in Alabama and the region for its progressive and inclusive history.”

Sara Watkins is a contributing writing for Yellowhammer Multimedia. You can follow her on Instagram at @saralwatkins

6 days ago

Birmingham Mineral Railroad Signs Project points the way to Magic City history

(Mark Kelly/Alabama NewsCenter)

“This was a massive system,” James Lowery declared. “It provided an efficient, accessible, reliable means of linking the mines and quarries around Birmingham to the furnaces and the furnaces to the factories.”

Lowery was speaking of the Birmingham Mineral Railroad (BMRR), by far the largest of the internal network of rail lines that transported the raw materials – iron ore, coal, and limestone, as well as coke, the coal by-product that was critical to the steelmaking process – that fueled Birmingham’s early emergence as a manufacturing center. Built and operated by the Louisville & Nashville (L&N) Railroad, the line known locally as the Birmingham Mineral grew to be a network of mainlines, sidings and spurs that covered more than 300 rail miles in seven central Alabama counties: Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb, Tuscaloosa, Blount, Etowah and a corner of Walker.

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“Really, it was Birmingham’s first economic development,” said Lowery. “You don’t build a major industrial center on wooden wagon traffic. There was a need for an efficient way to move materials from the mines and quarries to the blast furnaces that turned those ingredients into pig iron and other products. Without the Mineral Railroad, Birmingham could not have thrived the way it did.”

Increasing public awareness of the critical role the BMRR played in the development of Birmingham and the surrounding region is something of a mission for Lowery. He is the volunteer coordinator and driving force behind the BMRR Signs Project, an initiative of the Leeds-based Mid-South Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. An ongoing project that began in 2015, the program to date has placed a total of 175 signs at locations along the former route of the railroad.

James Lowery talks about the Birmingham Mineral Railroad Signs Project from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“A lot of people don’t know the significance of the BMRR, or that they can still see parts of it,” Lowery said. “People drive, walk, and bicycle every day in areas where the BMRR ran without ever being aware of it. The purpose of the sign project is to increase the public’s knowledge of a very important part of Birmingham’s history.”

The first tracks for the BMRR were laid in 1884, in what is now Red Mountain Park. That was the South Branch, with the North Branch completed in 1887 (the directional designations referred to the orientation of the branches relative to Red Mountain). From its junction with the South and North Alabama Railroad near what became the city of Homewood, the South Branch ran southwest to Bessemer. There, it met the North Branch, which ran from near Grace’s Gap, near present-day Spaulding-Ishkooda Road, through what is now the southwestern area of Birmingham and the city of Lipscomb.

Additional branches were added over the years, and when the final additions to the BMRR were completed in 1912, the railroad’s 31 major branches accounted for 253 miles of mainline track – a total equal to the distance from Birmingham to Mobile. The L&N invested a total of more than $6 million – about $170 million in current dollars – in building out and maintaining the Birmingham Mineral.

In addition to hauling materials and products to keep Birmingham’s industrial capacity at peak output, the BMRR transported local mail and provided “express” parcel delivery long before the days of FedEx and UPS. It also ran a passenger service and contributed further to the area’s economy by transporting fruits and vegetables, livestock, lumber, manufactured products and other locally produced commodities to market. A report issued by the Railroad Commission of Alabama in 1891 listed among the products transported by the BMRR: “… iron and steel rails and nails … cement, brick, and lime … agricultural implements … fertilizers … household goods and furniture … wines, liquors, and beers.”

“It was a huge moneymaker for the L&N,” Lowery said. “But it also provided a lot of services to local communities that people couldn’t get anywhere else.”

Though the gradual dismantling of the BMRR began during the 1930s, portions of it operated until 1988. The L&N, long a leading Southern-based railroad, ultimately became part of the CSX Transportation system. As decades passed and Birmingham’s economy shifted away from iron and steel, public awareness of the Birmingham Mineral waned.

On a recent summer morning, Lowery stood near the main entrance of Birmingham’s Vulcan Trail. This is the spot where the Red Gap Branch of the BMRR, completed in 1890, crossed to the northern slope of Red Mountain to serve the Valley View and Lone Pine mines before re-crossing to the southern slope over what is now Green Springs Highway in Homewood.

The Vulcan Trail follows a portion of the actual roadbed of the BMRR’s Red Gap Branch. The branch started in Irondale, where it connected to the Gate City Branch and the Gate City Extension to Trussville. It served the mines at Ruffner Mountain, Irondale, the Eastwood area of Birmingham, and, roughly parallel to present-day Montclair Road, to what became the English Village area of Mountain Brook.

At its western end, in what is now west Homewood, the Red Gap Branch connected to the South and North Alabama Railroad. After running less than a mile on that common track, the BMRR switched to the South Branch, which ran to Bessemer (and, via another branch, a few miles farther southwest). The total distance for all those branches, from northeast of Trussville to southwest of Bessemer, was more than 40 miles, serving 89 named mines – “a mine every quarter-to-half-mile,” Lowery pointed out.

On this day, assorted walkers and joggers plied the trail in both directions. A group of about 15 school-aged children, accompanied by three adult chaperones, made their way along the railroad’s former path in pairs and clusters. For Lowery, that’s ample evidence that the BMRR Signs Project is worthwhile.

“Birmingham has a rich history, and the Mineral Railroad was a big part of it,” he said. “Awareness of that is important to the entire community, because it cut across all socio-economic areas in Jefferson County. Our signs are in every city council and county commission district, which shows how many people it touched.

“The BMRR contributed a lot to what Birmingham is today, so we’re pleased to be able to help make sure everyone is aware of that.”

For more information on the Birmingham Mineral Railroad, including sign locations, visit Bham-MMR.com or follow the project on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

Airbnb names most hospitable host in Alabama

(Glamping Silver Bullet A/C Wifi Ev Charger Farm/Airbnb)

Airbnb has announced Rachel from Fairhope as their number one most hospitable host in all of Alabama. Rachel hosts three listings on Airbnb: “Silver Sail Airstream,” “Glamping Silver Bullet” and “Sanitized Fairfield Farm Cottage.”

Airbnb highlighted the number one most hospitable hosts in all 50 states in a recently publicized report.

The criteria for such a high honor are as follows:

Each host must have received a 5-star rating in 100% of their reviews in the categories of Cleanliness, Check-in and Communication.

Each host must have had a minimum of 100 reviews.

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If more than one host in each state fit the above criteria, the tiebreaker went to whomever had the most reviews.

Rachel from Fairhope received over 300 reviews, each one with a 5-star rating in hospitality and safety, the most critical of categories. Many other Alabama hosts achieved this feat as well, but Rachel had the most reviews.

Based on her own travels, Rachel said she and her husband believe the key to good hospitality lies in the details. Guests can expect to find thoughtful touches when visiting their properties, such as small toiletry items in the bathrooms or light meals and late-night snacks. The homemade blueberry muffins with blueberries from a local farm that Rachel leaves for her guests have become quite the hit among travelers.

“It has been incredibly fun and exciting to meet and host so many amazing people on our farm and so far we have loved every single one of them,” said Rachel.

Sara Watkins is a contributing writing for Yellowhammer Multimedia. You can follow her on Instagram at @saralwatkins

7 days ago

Ozark mural of Alabama Crimson Tide football star Wilbur Jackson nears completion

(Julie Davis/Alabama NewsCenter)

Few people get to see their portrait painted 26 feet tall on the hometown square.

Wilbur Jackson could, but he hasn’t.

Fifty years after he became the first Black football player for the Alabama Crimson Tide, the former college and Super Bowl champion is being celebrated in Ozark. An 86-foot-long mural is nearing completion, but the modest hometown hero is holding off taking a gaze at his giant self.

“A lot of people I know have seen it and they seem to be more excited than I am, and I’m happy for that,” he said, noting that he will eventually get around to taking a gander.

Artist Wes Hardin has been toiling for six weeks on the salute to Jackson. The mural is the pet project of Ozark Mayor Mark Blankenship, who Jackson said sidestepped him by seeking go-ahead permission from Jackson’s daughter, Emily. He said Blankenship knew the star college and NFL running back is no fan of being made larger than life.

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“He knows what my answer would be,” Jackson said with a chuckle. “I could go without it, but they said, ‘It isn’t being given to you – you earned it.’”

The mural is on the side of a building that housed Ozark’s first theater. Blankenship said it is the largest, most visible site for visitors driving from U.S. Highway 231 into the old downtown square. It is the first of four murals that will salute heroes of Ozark, which has 14,000 residents and was founded in 1871.

“I had been thinking about a mural of Wilbur for years but was never really in the position to put it together until I was elected mayor,” said Blankenship, a former Dale County Commission chairman who was elected mayor last year.

Hardin has been painting murals since 1978 in towns across the nation, including many cities in Alabama. Gov. Kay Ivey in 2019 dedicated his huge building-side portraits of Hank Williams and the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks in Union Springs, where Hardin has painted three other murals reflecting local history.

Blankenship approached Hardin about painting the Ozark mural, presenting a Powergrams magazine portrait of Jackson taken two years ago by Alabama Power photographer Phil Free.

“We couldn’t get around using that portrait,” Hardin said. “It’s just the perfect image. As soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it.”

Hardin said he charges by the square foot according to the style a city wants for a mural. A simple, small mural can be done quickly and cheaply, as far as artwork goes. But the $45,838 price tag for the Jackson mural represents the top of the line, because of its size and photo realism technique. Once the cost was established and donors lined up, Ozark officials had to decide what they wanted the Jackson mural to convey.

“This artwork has evolved,” said Hardin, 61, who exclusively paints contract murals. “It was almost completely different in the beginning. But it was always about celebrating Wilbur Jackson.”

In early June, Hardin brought his Birmingham-made Rustgo steel platform that hand-cranks up to 28 feet high and began preparing the surface of the defunct House of Hats building. He replaced broken bricks as well as mortar between bricks, then used a rubberized sealant to make it a proper canvas.

Because of frequent rain and heat, Hardin has often been able to work only half-days in Ozark. Painting by himself nearly every day, he used regular paint rollers, switched from soft to hard bristle brushes as needed, and applied about 45 gallons of art-quality paint to nearly finish the Jackson portrait. Only fine detailed touches remain, which Hardin said most passersby would never notice needed completing.

People often drop by to watch Hardin paint and ask questions of the artist. Some have told him stories about growing up watching movies at the old theater. A high school classmate of Jackson’s brought grandchildren to show where Blacks entered to reach a balcony separate from whites to watch movies during the years of segregation.

“I enjoy people telling me stories about the subject of a mural or the building I paint it on,” Hardin said. “A lot of people enjoy watching the progress of the painting, so you don’t want to finish too quickly.”

Hardin said the Jackson mural, which includes a likeness of legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant, as well as No. 80 running behind two Tide blockers, could still look good in 20 years. He said it will need to be inspected within 10 years, when a coating of UV-blocking paint may be added to make it last longer.

Photographer Free has had photographs shown in exhibits, magazines, online and on billboards, but the Jackson mural is the biggest, most permanent representation of his distinguished career.

“I think the artwork is a fabulous tribute to Wilbur Jackson’s story, which is a strong one that must be remembered, and I am honored that they chose one of the portraits that I did of Wilbur to use as a reference for it,” he said. Free’s photo is in the September 2019 issue of Powergrams that was also highlighted on Alabama NewsCenter.

“Wes Hardin’s murals are well-known throughout the Wiregrass area, and I encourage everyone to make a point to go see as many as they can,” Free said. “For me as a photographer, portraits that are not just renderings, but that also symbolize part of the lives of the subject are the most rewarding. I love to tell stories with images.”

Hardin tries to be democratic about his artwork, charging everyone the same price for the same square footage. He doesn’t know the details of Jackson’s exploits on the field, where he set records at every level for yardage gained carrying the ball. Hardin is more admiring of Jackson’s efforts in breaking ground for future Black athletes, and his reputation as a family man, entrepreneur and friendly sports legend.

“I’m hoping to meet Mr. Jackson,” he said. “But I understand he is a modest man who values his privacy. I hope he will be pleased with the mural.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Talladega’s Red Door Kitchen delivers community care by the cooler-full

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

The white lid softly and snugly shuts on a cardinal-red cooler before it is lifted off the long table it has been sharing with identical coolers, walked through a red door and hoisted into the bed of a dark gray pickup. It will bounce around a bit as it travels the streets of Talladega, and the next time it’s opened, it will yield dual treasures: a hot, nutritious meal and the promise of an equally warm visit with a friend.

It’s not just any colorful cooler; it’s a Red Door Kitchen cooler, an essential tool in this nonprofit’s mission to feed the hungry, a mission it’s been fulfilling since 1985. That year, leaders from a few area churches opened the “red door” at the organization’s first location and invited anyone to come in and get a bowl of soup and a sandwich, no charge and no questions.

In 1995, Red Door Kitchen (RDK) expanded its services, creating a “meals on wheels” ministry to aid the homebound hungry in the community. Today, about 50 loyal volunteer drivers arrive every weekday morning, each grabbing one of the red coolers packed tight with meals and setting off on their routes, delivering lunch plates and a few minutes of fellowship to about 80 people, including many older people. For those receiving the meals, both gifts are of value, said Pat Miller, who has volunteered with RDK for years.

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“They need the meal, but what we also bring them is the chance to talk to someone, to interact, to share some news,” she said. “Sometimes, these people just don’t get to see a lot of other people, and I know they get lonely.”

Miller knows that isolation and hunger are both harmful, and that she and other RDK volunteers provide relief on both counts. It’s why she has a noticeable spring in her step as she and her husband, Frank, walk out of the organization’s signature red door and leave to check on “their people.”

The Red Door Kitchen delivers hot meals and warm visits from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Opening the door wide

It’s the organization’s second location, which it moved to in 1996, that really opened the door to serve more people in the community. Once a barbecue restaurant, the building’s commercial kitchen and food-specific storage spaces meant RDK could begin offering more than just soup and sandwiches. Through the years, the organization has made improvements to the structure, and recent grants have paved the way for RDK to broaden its reach.

Billy Sparkman, president of the RDK board of directors, said that’s the whole point. “We’re here because there’s a need – and the need is increasing – and everyone on the RDK team knows we have to try to meet it,” he said. “To do that … we need resources; we need our wonderful volunteers.”

Back inside the red door, even with the last cooler of food gone, a tantalizing mix of aromas from the day’s menu – smoky ham, slow-simmered greens and sweet potatoes – still perfumes the empty dining room.

Pre-pandemic, some folks would have been walking in to enjoy a plate of cook Shonee Smith’s comfort-food classics. She joined the RDK team in 2018, not long after retiring from the nearby Honda auto plant.

“This is a good place and a good ministry,” she said. “It’s been a blessing for me to be here, doing this. I’ve seen people in their worst situations. I’ve seen people in their best situations.”

But even before COVID-19 shut down the dining room, delivering meals was a focal point for RDK.

“When we started with the deliveries, we dropped off almost 16,000 meals,” Sparkman said. “Last year, that number rose to 20,851. The program has really evolved.”

RDK finds the people it helps through another local organization, First Family Services. The majority are older people, but not all are in financial difficulty; anyone who can’t fix a meal or get food for themselves can get on the delivery meal list.

A Red Door day

Every day begins the same way: Smith and her husband, Johnny, arrive 5:30-6 a.m. They set to work opening cans, chopping fresh ingredients, preheating ovens and making chicken and rice casserole, pork chops, green beans, spaghetti, sautéed squash, pinto beans, creamed corn and more.

The Smiths are RDK’s only regular staff; once they’re done cooking, the volunteer brigade takes over. On a typical day, a group of retired women shows up to help the Smiths transfer food from pots and pans into takeout boxes. Another volunteer, the route director, puts out the coolers and then more volunteers fill them up with meals. Drivers file in for the next hour or so to pick up coolers for those on their delivery list. And it all starts again early the next morning.

The simple, straightforward process belies the scope and significance of RDK’s impact. “The drivers can be the only person that the homebound see or talk to all day,” Sparkman said. Conversation and smiles are key elements of RDK’s service. But sometimes, the drivers encounter serious threats. When an elderly lady dropped a cup and cut herself badly, it was her RDK delivery driver who administered first aid and got her additional medical attention.

In another instance, a driver saved a life. “A volunteer couple knocked on a door and there was no answer, but they could hear the man’s little dog really yappin’,” Sparkman recalled. “They got the manager to open up his place and found him unconscious on the floor. They were able to get an ambulance there to help.”

Drivers get to know the meal recipients on their routes and might notice a mental decline or other health issue. “They become advocates for these people, and some of them don’t have anyone else for that,” Shonee Smith said.

COVID-19 was an obvious risk for folks on the delivery list and many of the volunteers over age 65, so RDK put precautions in place, such as having drivers set meals at the door, knock and back away. With masks in place, some volunteers and those they serve still felt comfortable with a little socially distanced social time. But others did not, especially in the beginning. Sparkman is happy to report that, as COVID-19 news continues to improve, the camaraderie is coming back.

Cycle of support

Sparkman praised the strong, consistent support the organization gets from the community. “The city of Talladega supports us. We get so many food donations from churches, groups, schools and even the post office here doing food drives,” he said. “We recently had a company drop off 1,000 pounds of food. It’s such a diverse array of people helping us help others.”

The support is important, but RDK volunteers are “integral,” Sparkman said. Most seem to get as much as they give.

“I enjoy seeing the people we serve,” Miller said. “We get to know them, and they’re all so sweet and appreciative. I really look forward to seeing them every week.”

Some RDK volunteers reap additional benefits. The Burton Center, a local clinic for intellectual disabilities, brings clients to assist with meal deliveries as often as four days a week. Running the route helps the clients learn directions, remember numbers and names, and hone their people skills. “It’s a great activity and outlet for our patients,” said D’ante Wright, who works with the center. “It’s also really rewarding for them to help someone else.”

In a circle of connection and compassion that’s continuing to grow, RDK is providing more than physical sustenance.

“The relationships are what really count,” Shonee Smith said. “Our volunteers are amazing at that. Taking the time to talk and listen, to help with things, like getting something off a top shelf or from under a bed, that we might think are minor. They treat the people we care for like family, and that can make a dramatic change in these folks’ lives.”

This story is part of a series about nonprofits aided by the Alabama Power Foundation, based on the foundation’s 2020 Annual Report, “At the Point of Change.” Read a story about The King’s Canvas.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

USA Archaeology Museum to hold grand reopening

(University of South Alabama/Contributed)

After more than one year of closure due to COVID-19, the University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum on the main campus in the Alfred and Lucile Delchamps Archaeology Building will reopen its doors to the general public starting Tuesday, July 13, 2021.

The regular museum hours will be scheduled from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, and there will be guided tours when available included with free admission. There will also be a sale in the gift shop to celebrate the grand reopening.

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“We are excited beyond words to reopen and invite the campus community and the public to campus to tour the USA Archaeology Museum” said Jen Knutson, the new education curator. “This is not only an academic resource for students, faculty and staff but we aim to inspire awe and generate curiosity about archaeology and to make history meaningful today.”

The two-story facility features space for archaeology research and teaching along with the museum and gift shop. The museum includes prehistory and history exhibits, as well as a temporary exhibit space. The grounds also include plants historically significant and native to Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

The USA Archaeology Museum will also feature an in-person community day from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on July 24. The University Campus Appreciation Day will be held later this month for students, faculty and staff.

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

2 weeks ago

A catalyst for community development: Selma’s Arsenal Place

(Arsenal Place/Contributed)

A renovated building is helping change lives in Selma and Alabama’s Black Belt.

Since its creation in 2014 as Selma’s first business incubator, the nonprofit Arsenal Place has worked to help startup businesses get off the ground and running.

Now, the organization has expanded its presence and impact in a newly renovated, historic building, thanks to support from multiple partners, including United Way of Selma & Dallas County and the Alabama Power Foundation.

The restored building, at 22 Church St., is overflowing with potential and opportunity after extensive renovations that include new plumbing and electrical systems, new windows, and rollup doors. Most of the work and supplies were provided by local businesses and contractors.

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The new home for Arsenal Place is also serving as a clearinghouse for other community organizations and initiatives – many linked to the Children’s Policy Council of Dallas County (CPCDC), which recently updated its name to Dallas County Children’s System of Services.

Among the programs that have moved in and are using the space: CPCDC’s Fatherhood Initiative, which aims to promote responsible and present fathers; an adult workforce development program; the Compass juvenile diversion program; and a teen pregnancy prevention program.

Bob Armstrong has been a Dallas County District Court judge since 2005 and is CPCDC chairman. He said CPCDC programs have made a positive impact in the county, helping significantly reduce juvenile crime as well as the number of young people being sent directly to prison. But even with all the programs’ achievements, Armstrong saw a need to bring them physically closer together to reduce obstacles for the people they serve, such as finding transportation to multiple locations. That’s how the idea of partnering with Arsenal Place developed. And it has worked seamlessly, he said.

Under the partnership agreement, CPCDC makes modest rent payments to Arsenal Place, which helps cover Arsenal Place’s maintenance and other expenses for the building.

The result: Arsenal Place has become a hub for positive change. Since the building opened, the community has seen tangible benefits from “CPC at Arsenal Place” programs. With a core value of “focusing on solutions, not problems,” the initiative, to date, has chalked up some impressive numbers, with 224 people from Dallas County and the Black Belt region directly benefiting. That number is projected to double in the upcoming fall season.

Here’s a breakdown of the support provided those 224 individuals:

  • 141 people, ages 16 and up, participated in workforce development programs. As a result, 66 of those found employment through programs at Arsenal Place.
  • 94 people completed soft-skills training that included job readiness and parenting programs.
  • 32 families, consisting of 64 individuals, were served through the African American Families Program. Each family received evidence-based programming to improve family dynamics, communication skills and school attendance.
  • 25 people received work certificates that show they’ve completed training to work in construction, food service and other fields.
  • 19 youths, age 18 and younger, were able to avoid juvenile prison by completing the “Risks and Decisions” counseling program and contributing more than 1,000 hours toward community cleanups through the Serve Selma community service program.
  • 12 people were awarded their high school diplomas, with 11 more in the process.
  • Nine people have completed, or are in the process of completing, their credentials as CDL drivers.

Plans have been announced to further expand Arsenal Place, with a fully operating second floor. The expansion would allow the facility to accommodate more programs that are cohesive with the current tenants.

“It’s really incredible to witness faith become sight,” Armstrong said. “This is a place where people can find hope, and hope is a powerful thing.”

To learn more about Arsenal Place, visit www.arsenalplace.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Rosedale Memorial Scholarship awarded to honor 2011 tornado victims

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

This year marked the 10-year commemoration of the 2011 tornado that devastated portions of Tuscaloosa and claimed the lives of many, including nine residents of the Rosedale Apartments community, a multifamily public housing development on the southwestern end of the city.

To honor those victims, the Alabama Power Foundation provided $2,500 for a scholarship to support a student resident of the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority. This year’s recipient is Takayla Burton, a Rosedale resident and graduate of Paul Bryant High School. She will attend the University of Alabama in the fall and plans to major in business administration.

The Tuscaloosa Housing Authority selected Burton based on her academic achievements. Alabama Power Western Division Vice President Mark Crews, joined by representatives from the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority and Burton’s family, presented her with the scholarship June 21.

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“We are committed to supporting educational advancement, as well as providing opportunities that enhance diversity and equity in our communities,” Crews said.

“We want to ensure that all students in the communities we serve have the resources they need to succeed. I am excited to present Takayla with this scholarship because it is a part of our continued commitment to rebuild and enhance the Rosedale community.”

The 2011 tornado destroyed 124 units in Rosedale Apartments. Alabama Power worked closely with the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority to provide relief to Rosedale residents.

“The Tuscaloosa Housing Authority is proud of our continued partnership with Alabama Power to empower the families we serve,” said housing authority Executive Director Chris Hall. “This scholarship opportunity is just the latest example of their generosity and steadfast commitment. Takayla is very deserving of this opportunity, and we couldn’t be happier for her and her family.”

Burton and her family expressed gratitude for the scholarship and spoke with company representatives about her plans for the future.

“I want to be an entrepreneur. My major is going to be business; I want to have my own,” Burton said. “I like fashion design, so that’s why I want to be an entrepreneur.

“I’m excited about the scholarship,” Burton said. “It helps. … It’s going to help extremely.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

This city is leading the renaissance of Alabama’s Black Belt

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Livingston may not be the largest city in Alabama’s Black Belt, but that is not stopping the people who live and work there from enthusiastically leading a growing chorus of voices devoted to growing rural Alabama.

“When you have all of the oars going in the same direction, it’s better on everybody,” said Livingston Mayor Tom Tartt. “I can remember a time when Livingston didn’t want something to happen in York or Sumter County didn’t want something to happen in Marengo County because they’re all territorial. We all finally figured out that if it happens in York, it’s going to help us. If it happens in Livingston, it’s going to help the people in York. I’m exceedingly proud.”

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Welcome to Livingston, Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Livingston is located on the Sucharnochee River in west-central Alabama, about halfway between Tuscaloosa and Meridian, Mississippi, along interstate highways 20 and 59. Founded in 1835, the city is named after Edward Livingston, a statesman and jurist. About 3,500 people live there, many of whom join the city’s largest employer, the University of West Alabama (UWA), in elevating the region as a hub of economic growth and workforce development.

“One of the things we’ve really been promoting is the idea of regionalism,” said Tina Naremore Jones, vice president of the Division of Economic and Workforce Development at UWA. “You have a much stronger voice if you work for a region, especially if you’re talking about rural communities. You can leverage your resources better. You can show that you have a larger workforce. You have better capacity that way.”

City and county leaders ramped up those team efforts in 2017 with the creation of the Sumter County Economic Development Leadership Academy, a group of elected officials and leaders from businesses and community organizations tasked with taking an honest look at Sumter County’s future. Their discussions led to the creation in 2018 of the Sumter County Renaissance, a framework to provide economic impetus in Sumter County for job and population growth, new investment, renewed and sustained economic vitality, improved quality of life for all citizens and full participation in the global economy.

“We have a wonderful team,” said Allison Brantley, director of Economic Development at UWA. “We all want Livingston to grow and see its potential. We want the same for Sumter County. In order for it to reach its potential, to keep our students here when they graduate, to bring back those young professionals who’ve moved off, we know we have to work together.”

Bearing fruit

The enhanced focus on regional cooperation quickly began bearing fruit. In October 2019, Enviva announced it would invest $175 million to construct a wood-pellet production plant in Sumter County. Located at the Port of Epes Industrial Park near Livingston, the plant is expected to create a minimum of 85 full-time jobs and generate an estimated 180 additional jobs in logging, transportation and local services in the region, once the plant begins operating in 2023.

“We are privileged to have been invited by the people of Alabama to invest in a remarkable community like Epes,” said Enviva Chairman and CEO John Keppler at the 2019 announcement. “With its thriving forest resources, great local workforce and favorable transportation logistics, we look forward to the opportunity to grow sustainably in west Alabama for decades to come.”

Enviva joins a growing list of timber-focused businesses in the region, including Alabama Pellets and Two Rivers Lumber Co. in nearby Marengo County. Sidney Freeman, executive director of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, said landing these and other businesses happened in large part because of the region’s focus on workforce development.

“Workforce development is a priority, especially with new industry coming in,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to have able bodies available to do the work if we’re going to have these industries here.”

Workforce development efforts got a big boost in 2019, thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Delta Regional Authority. The grant funded a UWA initiative known as LINCS: Leveraging Interconnected Networks for Change and Sustainability, designed to develop a regional workforce based on industry-recognized standards and increase the advanced manufacturing skills sets and employment in the region’s 10 underserved counties.

“If you’re going to recruit industry of any kind, the first thing they’re going to ask you is, if you have a workforce, and you have to prove it,” Jones said. “You can’t have economic development without showing workforce and developing that workforce. That can be from kindergarten all the way through those people who need to reenter the workforce.”

Jones said one of the first priorities of LINCS was the creation of Skills On Wheels, a set of mobile flex classrooms equipped with computers and broadband that can be used for education and employee training. Skills on Wheels eliminates access barriers commonly found in rural areas.

“In a place where you may not have the digital access and the broadband access to do some of this training, we take it to them,” Jones said. “We recently had a local industry who was having AIDT come and do training on their site and they weren’t really sure about some of their internet connections, so they called us. We trotted out the mobile unit. Their employees had a wonderful experience.”

‘Team Broadband’

Everyone involved in growing Livingston and Sumter County agrees the greatest challenge is access to high-speed internet. Sumter County Commission Chairman Marcus Campbell said broadband access is the fuel the region needs to ignite growth.

“It is a must-have,” Campbell said. “Anytime you look at recruiting industry, you look at your school systems, you look at telemedicine – all of those things that you need in order to go forward – broadband is up there. A lot of times our young at heart – our seniors – don’t have that transportation to get to that specialist they need. With broadband, that senior that lives in Whitfield can be talking to their cardiologist at UAB. That farmer – if that tractor breaks down and they’re trying to plant or gather crops, if they need to get a specific part right away, they can just pull out their phone or device and order the part right away.”

Broadband currently exists in parts of Livingston and areas of Sumter County, but Campbell said the region will prosper when broadband is expanded to all parts of Sumter County and the Black Belt. To accelerate that process, Campbell said a team of government and business leaders is busy laying the foundation necessary for high-speed internet providers to expand broadband access.

“We’re working to make sure we have everything in place so that when the connectivity can happen, we already have the road map,” Campbell said. “I can’t thank Alabama Power enough for their dedication to this particular area. Industry will be pouring in because of that connectivity and we will be vibrant and strong. ‘Team Broadband’ has laid the foundation.”

Education also benefits from the team focus on broadband. UWA created University Charter School (UCS) in 2018 as part of an effort to provide new, higher-quality public education options for students and families. JJ Wedgeworth of UCS said students are thriving thanks to the relationships developed with community and business leaders.

“We’re supporting one another,” Wedgeworth said. “We’re hearing what their needs are in terms of a workforce and they’re providing us with opportunities for students, relationships and scholarships. It’s great.”

Freeman said the region’s intentional efforts to improve career education are improving quality of life for families and helping her and others recruit business.

“We’re very proud of our education system,” Freeman said. “If you have a company that is looking to relocate here, their wife has got to love it here. Their husband has got to love it here. They’ve got to have a great education system for their children, too. It’s really important to have those things so that your community is attractive.”

Deep roots

Beyond the curb appeal of the region’s economic and workforce development efforts lies a thread that binds business with pleasure and culture with success.

“Sumter County is a great place to live, work and play. I had the great opportunity to go abroad, live in other countries and bounce an object that weighed 7 to 9 pounds,” said Campbell, who played professional basketball in Spain, France, New Zealand, Iran and Qatar. “It is just awesome to be here. Sumter County is not just a retirement place. It is a place where you can come and enjoy yourself.”

Among the amenities is 54-acre Lake LU on the UWA campus that provides facilities for fishing, boating, hiking and birdwatching, as well as Jaycee Neighborhood Park that offers baseball and softball fields, areas for picnics, a swimming pool, tennis courts and playground equipment.

“You’ve got all of the recreational amenities here,” said Tartt. “If you want to do something outside in this part of the state, you can do it 11 months out of the year. It’s a lot of positives.”

Among the tourist attractions are a 160-year-old covered bridge and the city’s 164-year-old bored well famous for its salty, alkaline water. The area is rich in fossils, including mosasaur bones from dinosaurs made famous in “Jurassic Park.”

“We are probably one of the best areas for fossil hunting,” Jones said. “Encouraging our young people to discover where they live and be proud of their backyard is important.”

Jones said newcomers are often surprised at how much they come to love the region’s quality of life.

“It’s kind of like peeling an onion,” Jones said. “I think they are amazed at the deepness of the layers of it. They come here and they are attracted for certain reasons and then they discover a whole new level of reasons to stay. That’s what you see when you come to west Alabama and Alabama’s Black Belt – it is a place where you can discover almost anything.”

Livingston is deeply rooted in rural living at its best, beyond the rich soil that gives the region its name.

“If you think what’s special about small-town America, we embody that,” Tartt said. “Neighbors know their neighbors. We take care of each other. It’s a very safe community and a great place to work and raise your family. We’d love to see you here.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Katie Britt talks about her faith with Michael Yaffee — ‘Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life’

(Katie Britt/Contributed)

Katie Britt, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, spoke with Huntsville radio host Michael Yaffee on Thursday about her faith, her family and what has driven her to run for public office.

Britt recounted to the host of WVNN’s “The Yaffee Program” the powerful story of her family’s survival during the Tuscaloosa tornado and the aftermath that led to a milestone in her walk as a Christian.

Much of what happened on that day in April 2011 has helped grow her faith and inspired her decision to seek public office.

“[R]ealizing that sometimes as adults, we lose that faith – we think of it abstractly,” she explained. “Have the faith of a child. God is actually with you. He will walk with you.”

She continued, “We know what is at stake for our country. We know what is at stake for our state. And we know our children are worth fighting for. God calls you to do hard things. And this is a hard thing. But it’s worth it, and we are ready for the fight. And I know that I am the right person for the job at the right time to do the right thing for our state and our nation.”

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She later talked about growing up in the Wiregrass, and how she worked her way to her present position as a candidate, with stints as special assistant to the president of the University of Alabama, practicing law in the state, serving as chief of staff to U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and most recently as a champion of jobs, small businesses and rural Alabama as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.

Britt then emphasized that trials in life are what ultimately lead to spiritual growth.

“I think people so quickly, they read a resume … [but] a resume is the high points in your life,” she explained. “What really defines you are the valleys. What really defines you is getting knocked down and figuring out how in the world to pick yourself back up. What really defines you are the character and the values that are instilled in you at a young age, and I am blessed that while I may not have come from the ‘right’ zip code and my parents may not have had fancy jobs, I had the parents and grandparents and family that said the thing most important in life is Christ. Jesus Christ is the most important thing in life, and that should be the foundation that everything else comes around. Then your family. And freedom. And your work ethic.”

Britt continued, “I’ll never forget my grandfather telling me … ‘Don’t ever let anyone intimidate you because you’re from Enterprise, Alabama.’ He said, ‘You keep your head down and you work hard.’ That’s what he said. He said, ‘It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, it doesn’t matter your zip code. What matters is your work ethic, your character, and your integrity.’ And Yaffee, that is what I have carried with me my entire life. And making sure that when you hit those valleys, Yaffee, you get back up and you go figure out how to actually get things done. I think that’s what people are seeing on the campaign trail. They’re seeing someone that doesn’t just talk about all the problems that we have in the world – which, by the way, we could stay on your whole show and we could take up all of the time talking about [those] issues. They want someone who not only is passionate about those and is going to fight for them, but (also) is actually going to create solutions and make their lives better. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

RELATED: 5 questions with Katie Britt — Immigration, court packing, rural Alabama and more

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

2 weeks ago

Nation’s largest hotel developers liking what they see in Huntsville

(Ray Garner/YHN)

The continued and aggressive growth of the Von Braun Center as an entertainment venue and a destination for conferences in downtown Huntsville is drawing the attention, and investment dollars, from commercial real estate developers.

Huntsville leaders have established a target of 1,300 downtown rooms that can be part of the community’s efforts to bid for larger conferences and events at the VBC. Tourism officials say those organizers typically want 1,000 or more rooms in close proximity that can be reserved for an event.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in downtown Huntsville from hotel developers because we’re one of the top business and tourist destinations in the southeast,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “As the pandemic recedes and concerts, conventions and sporting events return, that will drive more hotel stays as visitors experience all we have to offer in downtown dining and entertainment.”

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The current inventory of rooms in downtown Huntsville is 665. The number of rooms under construction or announced is 600. The new hotels represent some of the largest chains in the nation – Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Hampton Inn & Suites.

AC Hotel by Marriott: This 120-room hotel is located adjacent to the Von Braun Center and overlooks Big Spring Park. The hotel is the former site of the Huntsville Hilton Hotel that was razed to make room for this six-floor project in addition to the CityCenter project, which is currently under construction and includes commercial and residential space and an accompanying parking deck.

Hampton Inn & Suites is also adding hotel rooms in close proximity to the VBC at the corner of Monroe and Clinton Avenue, directly across from the Mars Music Hall and a new restaurant in the VBC, Rhythm on Monroe. The hotel will have 150 rooms on seven floors and will include a rooftop bar. Opening is scheduled later this year.

In addition to the AC Hotel, Marriott is adding to its presence near the VBC with its Autograph Collection. This six-floor hotel and parking deck will be located adjacent to the VBC and Big Spring Park. That garage is being reconfigured to accommodate the Autograph and will provide parking for the hotel as well as the Hampton Inn & Suites on the north side of the garage. The $40 million Autograph will feature 187 rooms, two full-service restaurants and a rooftop bar. This property will also include conference/banquet space to complement the VBC’s offerings and is expected to be opened in 2022.

Closer to the Madison County Courthouse Square in downtown Huntsville is another hotel – Curio by Hilton. The developers leveled a dilapidated building one block from the square and three blocks from the VBC. The $30 million boutique hotel is located on Jefferson Street and will have 117 rooms, a restaurant and a rooftop bar. Curio is also expected to be open later this year.

The tallest hotel project currently under development is the Hyatt House. This hotel is set for Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue and will be located in a surface parking lot across from the federal courthouse which will be vacated when a new federal courthouse is built at a location just south of downtown. The nine-story Hyatt House will have 145 rooms, restaurant, meeting space and a rooftop bar.

“From a destination marketing perspective, we’re excited to see new hotel properties currently under construction, as well as announced, in downtown Huntsville,” said Judy Ryals, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The Von Braun Center’s recent and planned expansions and upgrades combined with new and existing hotel rooms within walking distance of the facility will enable the Rocket City to host more, and larger conferences, meetings, trade shows and special events. With all the growth and additional lodging options soon to be available, our tagline: we’ve got space, is quite fitting.”

Ray Garner is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News.

3 weeks ago

Hubbard’s Off Main is a main dining destination in this Alabama city

(Hubbard's Off Main/Contributed)

Food brings people together, no question about that. And creating a gathering place for conversation and fellowship, as well as good food, was one of the reasons behind Hubbard’s Off Main in historic downtown Oxford. That’s because the restaurant’s owner, Charlotte Hubbard, is one of her city’s most steadfast champions.

Hubbard has been on Oxford’s City Council since 2012, but she’s been involved in her community for most of her life. She’s a retired educator from Oxford City Schools, and before she was a restaurant owner, she owned an antiques store. Hubbard has been instrumental in Oxford’s $3 million revitalization and preservation of its historic downtown. Oxford became a designated Main Street community in 2014. She proudly touts the popular Saturday Main Street Market – with music and makers and food trucks and growers – that draws people from in town and beyond.

Lots of these people also come to Oxford to eat at Hubbard’s Off Main.

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The restaurant grew to be more than Hubbard originally envisioned. “I just wanted to do soup and salads, and we ended up doing more Southern country-type foods,” she says. “We found out, you have to find out, who your customers are going to be, who’s going to come. … You have to find out what those customers want and start doing that.”

What they wanted were familiar foods, and the food at Hubbard’s is that; it’s also delicious and made with locally sourced ingredients. Produce comes from Watts Farms down the road in Munford, Hubbard says. They buy from Forestwood Farm and Evans Meats & Seafood in Birmingham. They get pecans from a farmer with an orchard on County Line Road and honey from Eastaboga Bee Co. Their coffee vendor, Southern Girl Coffee Co., is across the street, and they get olive oil and gourmet ingredients from The Main Olive around the corner. “We buy locally as much as we can,” Hubbard says.

In the kitchen, chef Jordan Smith uses these fresh, local finds to create a varied and savory menu for restaurant dining and a thriving catering business. Smith is young (26) but she creates dishes with the knowledge and confidence of a cook with decades more experience.

“The biggest compliment I think I’ve ever gotten is when people tell me that I cook like their grandma,” Smith says. “That really gets you because everybody loves their grandma’s cooking and that just really brings you back home. That’s what I like to do for people … give them that experience that they may not get from their grandma anymore.”

That translates to homemade pimento cheese, crab cakes with a house remoulade, and their own take on shrimp and grits made with a Cajun cream sauce and polenta. There’s a burger; catfish or shrimp po’ boys; fish and chips made with fresh grouper; an Oxfordian salad with feta, berries and roasted pecans atop fresh greens; a hand-cut 12-ounce ribeye and an 8-ounce filet; and chicken Marsala. You’ll also find country cooking like chopped steak, fried chicken and catfish as well as meatloaf. Do not miss the award-winning collards.

Hubbard’s Off Main wins fans for its Low Country goodness from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

One of the most popular dishes at Hubbard’s, the Low Country Chicken, garnered the restaurant regional fame when it made the state tourism department’s list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama. In this dish, a tender chicken breast is topped with a Carolina-inspired sauce of sweet corn, bacon, fresh tomatoes and cream. It is delicious.

All these dishes are simply, yet thoughtfully, made to order. “It’s Southern comfort food,” says Smith, who especially loves to cook vegetables. “I like to taste the food. I like to keep it simple. So, you add just a little herbs and garlic to something, and you can really taste the freshness of, say, a simple squash … I don’t like to overpower the food, for sure. … I want people to know they’re getting something really fresh.”

Hubbard’s features a full-service bar with craft cocktails like Main Street Lemonade spiked with Jim Beam bourbon and fizzy with ginger ale, and an Alabama Slammer made with Tito’s vodka, amaretto and Southern Comfort. There’s a nice selection of wines and local and regional craft beers, too.

The restaurant itself, with its textured century-old brick walls and glossy heart pine floors, is nearly as much of a draw as the food. It’s a beautiful and unique space with character. It invites you to linger.

“I think people are looking for places to gather,” Hubbard says. “It’s hard to gather at a chain or a place that’s not really inviting because they’re … turning a lot of tables.”

The main dining room at Hubbard’s Off Main used to be a clothing store. The historic building was originally a wood-frame structure built in 1885. In 1901, the wooden building was replaced with a brick masonry building by Thad Gwin, who owned and operated the clothing store. Hubbard renovated the interior and exterior in 2015.

Today, the large storefront windows shine lots of light into a main dining room decorated with vintage photos and furnished with an eclectic assortment of antiques, including small and communal dining tables, pianos, a sofa in a cozy waiting area, copper and wooden bowls on the tables and various other interesting pieces. Many of the items came from the antiques store Hubbard used to own. Her favorite piece is an old icebox that she bought more than a decade ago when she was campaigning for her first term on the City Council. It was sitting under a woman’s carport. Now it’s tucked into a short hallway that leads to two private dining spaces – one a small jewel-box of a room with glass windows that offer airy privacy and the other, a long, narrow room, anchored by a beautiful carved wooden bar, where Hubbard started her restaurant eight years ago.

The current main dining space was once home to her brother-in-law’s music store and a performing arts center. Oxford is a place where history matters, so there’s music here still. Local bands perform on Friday and Saturday nights on a small stage near the front door. On Thursdays, there’s music in the round, with local musicians performing their own work, Hubbard says.

She and her staff recently added an outdoor seating area – Hubbard’s Out Back – to offer more options for socially distanced dining. She says she used money from the CARES Act to make it happen and help keep her business busy and moving forward.

Hubbard’s has become a hub in this tightly knit town. During the early days of the pandemic, the community helped Hubbard keep her business going with curbside pick-up and to-go orders. “Luckily, we were … six years open, and so we had established that customer base that … came every week – or two or three times a week.” Hubbard’s, in turn, helped its community by providing meals for the city’s elderly residents and the homeless who, at the time, couldn’t get into shelters where they usually go for food.

There’s a feeling of community inside the restaurant, too.

Smith says: “Although I may be known as the chef and the leader here, you can’t do this without a really awesome team backing you up and willing to work hard and be dependable. And we have a really good team here – from front of house to the small crew in the back. And I just, I couldn’t do it without them. And Charlotte, too. … I look up to her so much. She’s the hardest working person I’ve ever seen. She really cares about this place.”

Smith means the restaurant, of course, but the town, too.

Hubbard, ever the advocate for Oxford, says she sees new signs of progress every day and welcomes all of it. She lives in a loft above her restaurant and has a perfect view of what’s happening downtown. “I think the downtown area is going to be really popular,” she says. “We have a couple of people who are working on buildings now to come downtown with restaurants.”

There soon will be another restaurant next door to Hubbard’s Off Main. In the meantime, she welcomes the food trucks that come for the nearby Saturday market.

Hubbard sees all this as an opportunity for cooperation rather than competition. A cluster of restaurants will draw business for everybody. The progress, she says, is exciting – and  great for her city.


Hubbard’s Off Main

16 Choccolocco St.

Oxford, Alabama 36203

256-403-0258

https://www.hubbardsoxford.com

 

Hours

Lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day except Monday.

Dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

‘Lonely cloud’ bigger than Milky Way found in a galaxy ‘no-man’s land’ by UAH physics team

(European Space Agency/XMM-Newton)

A scientifically mysterious, isolated cloud bigger than the Milky Way has been found by a research team at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) in a “no-man’s land” for galaxies.

The so-called orphan or lonely cloud is full of hot gas with temperatures of 10,000-10,000,000 degrees Kelvin (K) and a total mass 10 billion times the mass of the sun. That makes it larger than the mass of small galaxies.

The cloud was discovered in Abell 1367 by a group led by Dr. Ming Sun, an associate professor of physics at UAH, which is a part of the University of Alabama System. Also called the Leo Cluster, A1367 contains around 70 galaxies and is located around 300 million light years from Earth.

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The research paper was led by Dr. Ming’s UAH postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Chong Ge, and the second author is also his postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Rongxin Luo. Dr. Sun is third author and the corresponding author. Also included on the paper is Tim Edge, who now works at Dynetics Inc.

The cloud was found using the European Space Agency (ESA) X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton), Europe’s flagship X-ray telescope. The cloud was also observed with the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope/Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (VLT/MUSE) and Japan’s flagship optical telescope, Subaru. An image of the cloud is on the ESA site.

“This is an exciting and also a surprising discovery. It demonstrates that new surprises are always out there in astronomy, as the oldest of the natural sciences.” Dr. Sun says. “Apparently, ESA agrees as our discovery was selected as an ESA image release, which has been very selective.”

XMM took the X-ray image of the cloud and the optical images were taken by VLT/MUSE and Subaru. Except for the Subaru images, Dr. Sun is the principal investigator for the XMM and VLT/MUSE data.

“The cloud was serendipitously discovered in our XMM data,” says Dr. Sun. “The optical data come from our VLT/MUSE data and confirm the cloud is located in the cluster.”

The cloud was discovered in a cluster of galaxies where thousands of galaxies are bound together with tenuous hot gas with temperatures of about 100,000,000 K existing between them, says Dr. Sun.

“However, the cloud is not associated with any galaxy and is in a ‘no-galaxy’s land,’” he says, adding that the cloud most likely originated from a large, unknown galaxy in the cluster.

“The gas in the cloud is removed by ram pressure of the hot gas in the cluster, when the host galaxy is soaring in the hot gas with a velocity of 1,000-2,000 kilometers per second.”

That’s about 50 times faster than the orbital speed of Earth around the sun. That level of force at work can rip the interstellar medium out of a galaxy, and in this case the researchers found that the temperature of the cloud is consistent with having originated from a galaxy.

“It is like when your hairs and clothes are flying backward when you are running forward against a strong headwind,” Dr. Sun says. “Once removed from the host galaxy, the cloud is initially cold and is evaporating in the host intracluster medium, like ice melting in the summer.”

Yet it is estimated that this massive, mysterious cloud has survived for hundreds of millions of years after removal from its host galaxy.

“This surprising longevity is poorly understood but may have something to do with the magnetic field in the cloud,” Dr. Sun says.

The field may act to hold the cloud together by suppressing unstable forces that would otherwise cause it to dissipate, the scientists think.

With future study, Dr, Ming says that the lonely cloud and others that are yet to be discovered could help scientists better understand stripped interstellar mediums at great distances from their galaxies, as well as the effects of turbulence and heat conduction.

“As the first isolated cloud glowing in both the H-alpha spectral line and X-rays in a cluster of galaxies, it shows that the gas removed from galaxies can create clumps in the intracluster medium, and these clumps can be discovered with wide-field optical survey data in the future.”

(Courtesy of UAH)

3 weeks ago

Alabama’s National Carbon Capture Center successfully tests carbon-reduction technology for concrete production

(Ike Pigott/Alabama NewsCenter)

A pioneering technology that can permanently store carbon dioxide (CO2) in concrete blocks has gone through successful testing at the Alabama-based National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC).

CarbonBuilt and the NCCC, located next to Alabama Power’s Plant Gaston in Wilsonville, announced the completion of the multiweek test of carbon utilization and concrete production technology. The test successfully injected COfrom the flue gas streams of the NCCC’s natural gas testing system and Plant Gaston’s coal-fired generating unit into more than 5,000 concrete blocks, where the carbon is now “stored for good,” according to a news release.

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Alabama Power’s parent company, Southern Company, manages and operates the NCCC for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Officials with California-based CarbonBuilt said the company’s Reversa process includes innovations to the concrete mix design and the curing process. It is based on technology developed at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering that received the prestigious 2021 NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

“The Reversa formulation significantly reduces consumption of cement while enabling the increased and more flexible use of waste materials like fly ash or slag,” the news release said. “During the curing process, dilute CO2 from flue gas streams is directly injected into and permanently sequestered within the concrete, with no requirement for carbon capture or purification.”

Teams from CarbonBuilt, the NCCC, UCLA and Childersburg-based Blair Block worked to test the Reversa technology under a range of conditions. The testing was successful across all metrics.

“Our approach offers utilities and other industrial plants a pathway for beneficial reuse of CO2 emissions,” said Rahul Shendure, CarbonBuilt CEO. “At the same time, we offer concrete producers a way to increase operating margins significantly while reducing overall carbon emissions from production by more than 50%. This winning combination could unlock gigaton-level emissions reductions in the coming years.”

“Helping advance technologies toward commercialization is the core of our mission,” said John Northington, NCCC director and director of net-zero technologies for Southern Company. “It is exciting to work with CarbonBuilt and UCLA to test and evaluate their concrete production technology. Utilizing carbon dioxide to produce essential products like concrete will be an important solution as the world moves to reduce overall carbon emissions.”

The NCCC is the nation’s primary carbon capture research center and operates under the auspices of the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The NCCC is a neutral research facility working to accelerate the commercialization of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-based power plants and to promote carbon utilization and direct-air capture innovations.

“DOE’s Carbon Utilization Program, which is implemented by NETL, supported development of the X-Prize winning technology through cooperative agreements,” said Joe Stoffa, NETL Carbon Utilization Technology manager. “More broadly, DOE’s Carbon Utilization Program supports the development of technologies to transform CO2 into valuable products in an efficient, economical and environmentally friendly manner.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Deaf and hard of hearing high schoolers learn about cybersecurity at UAH GenCyber Camp

(Michael Kulick/Contributed)

Fifteen deaf and hard of hearing high school students from at least nine states are learning about cybersecurity and computer technologies this week during the fifth annual GenCyber Camp for deaf and hard of hearing students at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System.

“Due to the increase in cybersecurity threats, there’s been a rapidly growing demand for specialists with the background in cybersecurity skills,” says Steven Forney, a research associate at UAH’s Systems Management and Production Center who is helping conduct the camp and who is deaf himself.

The camp, being held by UAH’s Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education (CCRE), has attracted campers from states including New York, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.

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“This camp comes with the resources and skills that can help the deaf and hard of hearing students to become more familiar with different kinds of tools and systems and provide them the ability to perform various cybersecurity tasks with the right soft skills and mindset,” Forney says.

“Students will learn about online safety, cybersecurity careers, cryptography and more,” says Jesse Hairston, CCRE assistant director. “This year our focus is on digital forensics and programming microcontrollers.”

GenCyber is funded through a grant from the National Security Agency.

“We partner closely with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf Regional STEM Center and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind to bring in students from across the country and make GenCyber a memorable experience for these campers,” Hairston says. “Our partnership with the FBI gives our campers experience with real-world tools as they learn about cybersecurity careers and online safety.”

(Courtesy of UAH)

4 weeks ago

Why you should visit Abbeville, Alabama at least once

(Kelly Kazek/Contributed)

One of Alabama’s coolest small towns might be the state’s best hidden gem.

It’s pretty hard to stumble upon Abbeville. There’s no interstate exit for the small, southeast Alabama town. Most people won’t pass through it going to their Gulf vacation. Most won’t go through it going to cities like Birmingham and Atlanta.

But that’s a shame because Abbeville has so much to offer. From the sweet, retro downtown (more about that in a minute) to the lush nature surrounding it (Abbeville is named after dogwoods, after all), you’re in for a treat if you visit the Henry County town.

There are plenty of reasons to take a trip to Abbeville, but we narrowed it down to three.

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Let’s get to traveling.

  1. It has one of the coolest downtowns anywhere.

Jimmy Rane, founder and CEO of Great Southern Wood Preserving, has lived in Abbeville for a long time.

“I’ve lived here all my life and my mother’s family has been here more than 200 years,” he told AL.com in 2017. “It’s a very important place.”

It’s so important to him, in fact, that he’s majorly invested his money in the town. The headquarters of his business is in Abbeville, and he fixed up a Standard Oil gas station as another office space for the company. But he’s also invested throughout downtown, as well.

Rane has had vintage neon signs for Ford Motor Co., Rexall Drugs and Buster Brown Shoes, among others, placed around the downtown area. It makes it look like a 1950s movie – and photos don’t begin to do it justice. It looks nostalgic, and cool, and definitely unlike any other downtown you may have seen. It’s worth a visit just to see what Rane has done with the downtown.

  1. You’ll want to listen to ghost stories at Huggin’ Molly’s

Generations of Abbeville children have heard the ghost tale of Huggin’ Molly.

The story goes as follows: A tall woman in a hat appears to children out at night, hugs them tightly and then screams in their ears. (She doesn’t harm them, just hollers.) There are many theories about the origin of the tale. Some say Molly was a grieving ghost who had lost a child and just wanted to hug a kid. Others say that Molly was a former professor who was just trying to keep the town’s youngest citizens safe. Regardless, it’s the ultimate story for parents to tell their kids to ensure they won’t wander outside in the dark.

And Rane, who grew up hearing the tale, has honored Molly by opening a restaurant in her name downtown. When you walk into Huggin’ Molly’s (129 Kirkland St.), you get the same retro vibe you get from walking downtown.

Huggin’ Molly’s has an old-fashioned soda fountain where you can order sweet treats like malts and ice cream floats. It has a menu filled with burgers, sandwiches, daily plate specials and tasty desserts. It’s Molly’s Fingers chicken finger dish is on the list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.

Molly’s Fingers at Huggin’ Molly’s one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama from Alabama Power Foundation on Vimeo.

And there’s more. The restaurant is filled with vintage antiques and 1950s music plays on a loop, truly giving you a retro throwback.

  1. The town is full of history

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Abbeville. The town was settled in 1822 and is full of history.

One place you’ll want to check out while in town is the Bethune-Kennedy House (300 Kirkland St.). It’s the county’s oldest building and has a dual front-door design, which isn’t common after you leave the Gulf Coast.

The house was threatened to be demolished in the 1970s, but some people in town rallied to save it, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama. In 1976, it was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. Two years later, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, the house is owned by the Abbeville Chamber of Commerce and is sometimes used for events.

Abbeville was briefly the home of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. Although she was born in Tuskegee, her family lived in Abbeville for a few years. There is a historical marker in front of the home, located at Alabama Highway 10, about a mile away from the U.S. Highway 431 intersection, according to Encyclopedia of Alabama.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Alabama, Hyundai have huge week in Marvel Cinematic Universe

(Hyundai/Contributed)

Last week was a big one for Alabama in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The fictional Alabama town of Haven Hills was the setting for a key moment in the MCU’s Disney+ series “Loki” in which the title character played by Tom Hiddleston confronts a female variant of himself. Unfortunately for Haven Hills, a massive hurricane is set to destroy the beach town in the year 2050, in which the time-traveling scene is set.

The outcome for another Alabama tie with the MCU is more optimistic.

A series of commercials featuring MCU characters and the Alabama-built Hyundai Tucson SUV was released last week.

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MCU Disney+ characters Loki (Hiddleston), the former Falcon and new Captain America (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) make cameos in commercials reminiscent of scenes from their Disney+ series “Loki,” “The Falcon and Winter Soldier” and “WandaVision,” respectively. Later this summer, Hyundai and Marvel Studios will release an additional collaboration inspired by “What If…?,” Marvel Studios’ first animated series coming to Disney+.

In the released spots, each character asks a rhetorical, thought-provoking question, in keeping with Hyundai’s ongoing “Question Everything” advertising campaign promoting the Tucson.

“The Marvel Cinematic Universe has captivated audiences and it’s an incredible opportunity to utilize their characters and storylines with custom creative for the all-new Tucson,” said Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer for Hyundai Motor America. “This promotional partnership elevates our biggest launch campaign ever, which showcases how we questioned every detail and assumption when developing the 2022 Tucson – resulting in our most innovative and technologically advanced vehicle to date.”

It’s the latest extension of a “creative integration” campaign between Hundai and Disney announced earlier this month in which the 2022 Tucson is being featured in Disney-owned properties like ABC’s “The Bachelorette” and “black-ish” and ESPN’s “SportsCenter” in addition to the Disney+ MCU tie-ins.

“We were dedicated to creating custom content calibrated to the precise needs of Hyundai,” said Mindy Hamilton, senior vice president of partnership marketing at the Walt Disney Co. “We scripted, produced and managed creative for all three spots – a point of differentiation in the marketplace. The result is a sophisticated, compelling creative campaign that we’re incredibly proud of and believe will resonate with Marvel fans.”

The Tucson is produced at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) plant in Montgomery.

“The marketing campaign for the all-new Tucson is already creating a lot of buzz on our production floor and team members are beaming with pride because the Tucson and the soon-to-be-released Santa Cruz sport adventure vehicle will make a big impression on their respective car buying-segments,” Robert Burns, vice president of Human Resources and Administration at HMMA, told Alabama NewsCenter earlier this month.

HMMA started production of the Santa Cruz June 22.

In addition to the Tucson and the Santa Cruz, HMMA produces the Sonata and Elantra sedans and the Santa Fe SUV.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

How Milo’s sweet tea became a phenomenon

(Milo's Tea/Contributed)

Alison Pierce was 11 when she tried her first sips of Milo’s Famous Tea. Now the brand director at the Bessemer-based beverage company, she plans to serve Milo’s tea at her upcoming wedding.

The drink has built a devoted following since the first glasses were sold 75 years ago in Milo and Bea Carlton’s original sandwich shop on Birmingham’s Norwood neighborhood.  People even share Milo’s-related photos on social media using the tags @DrinkMilos or #Milosmonents.

The level of fanaticism goes far beyond filling a refrigerator with gallon jugs of tea. Take, for example, the guy who painted his new refrigerator to look like a jug of Milo’s tea. Others have decorated birthday and wedding cakes with replicas of the red-and-white logo.

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“There are people with Milo’s tattoos,” Pierce says. “A guy made a boat out of Milo’s boxes, entered it in a race, and won. I love the passion of our fans. We’ve even created a page on our website where consumers can share their stories.”

What’s not to love about Milo’s sweet tea? It’s made only with a proprietary blend of black teas, water, and sugar. Its ingredient list doesn’t read like a chemistry textbook. And most important of all, it tastes like tea, not tannin-tinted water.

“We make it just like somebody does in their kitchen,” Pierce says. “Our kettle’s just a lot bigger.”

In addition to sweet and unsweet versions, the sweet-tea lineup includes zero calorie, decaffeinated, and extra-sweet. Milo’s also makes lemonade, and an Arnold Palmer-style blend of tea and lemonade. The company plans to unveil additional flavors this fall.

All come in gallon and 20-ounce bottles, and the sweet tea also is sold in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles.

When he opened the restaurant in 1946, Milo served his tea unadulterated, leaving sugar bowls on the table for customers who preferred it sweet.

But post-war sugar rationing inspired him to rethink his approach. He figured he could do more with less by adding sugar to hot fresh-steeped tea, and serve it pre-sweetened.

It didn’t take long for his sweet tea to become as famous locally as Milo’s special sauce and the extra hunk of beef he added to his hamburgers.

After taking over the business, Carlton’s son, Ronnie, noticed that some people came just for the tea, like Pierce’s mother, Renee. As an occasional treat, she would stop by Milo’s after work and order large teas—no ice—before driving them 45 minutes to the family’s home in Oneonta.

“We weren’t a rich family so any kind of fast food was exciting, but especially getting Milo’s tea,” Pierce recalls. “It was a treat for us.”

The first gallon jug of Milo’s tea was sold in 1982 at the Piggly Wiggly grocery in Homewood. Twenty years later, the Carlton family spun off Milo’s Tea Company after selling the restaurant portion of the franchise.

Ronnie’s daughter, Tricia Wallmark, now runs the booming company. Milo’s Famous Tea is sold by more than 31,000 retailers in 45 states, as well as via national giants Amazon, Target, and Walmart.

Adding to its allure, Milo’s Tea is a company with a conscience. It’s earned a platinum certification as a “Zero Waste Manufacturer,” meaning it recycles at least 99 percent of the waste it produces. The company donates one percent of its profits to organizations and communities.

“We really try to stay true to the values of Milo Carlton,” Pierce says. “We’re people first. There’s a lot of love put into our product.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

1 month ago

Miss Fancy the elephant returns triumphant to Birmingham’s Avondale Park

(Donna Cope/Alabama Power)

Miss Fancy has returned to her old stomping grounds at Avondale Park in Birmingham.

For about 20 years, the huge elephant reigned supreme at the Avondale Zoo, the city’s first large public zoo. It closed in 1934.

It’s been about eight years since a bronze statue of Miss Fancy, affectionately known as Little Miss Fancy, was “spirited away” after a drunk driver damaged the piece, said Avondale resident Leslie Smukler. After that, the statue’s whereabouts were largely unknown until Smukler investigated and learned the damaged piece was being housed at Legion field, in a storage room.

During the past two months, Birmingham sculptor Mike Chiarito has repaired and retrofitted the beloved statue into a fully operational fountain. Miss Fancy is again the master of her domain, perched atop her new platform at the western edge of Avondale Park.

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Miss Fancy takes rightful place back in Birmingham’s Avondale Park from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

On Saturday, June 19, at 5 p.m., Smukler and Chiarito will host a neighborhood celebration as an official “welcome home” to the 200-pound. statue. Those attending will enjoy balloons and treats, as well as a trivia contest with Miss Fancy T-shirts and books as prizes.

For the party, Chiarito invites everyone to bring a jug of water to start the fountain’s system and allow the elephant statue to spray water from its trunk: “I thought it would be neat to have people come out, after the fountain is ready to be turned on, and have them contribute a little bit of water into the fountain so they can have a part in the whole process.”

A plaque in Miss Fancy’s honor will adorn the statue. Smukler noted that it’s a long-awaited celebration: Indeed, it’s been about 84 years since Miss Fancy roamed the park.

From humble beginnings to ‘Fancy’ life

It was around 1913 or 1914 when residents began to talk about building a zoo in Avondale Park, according to “The History of Avondale.” Many stories have circulated about the zoo’s humble beginnings, but the most popular version is that the struggling Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus came to town and its train car was stranded. When that news reached the Birmingham Advertising Club, Browne wrote, its members knew that an elephant was the perfect means to gather a crowd.

A mammoth of flesh and blood was rarely seen in the South. Residents were thrilled to hear that an Indian elephant could be seen in their fair city – if only they could raise the money. So obsessed were the city’s youngsters, Avondale resident Irene Latham wrote in “Meet Miss Fancy,” that eager children held a penny drive. Certainly, the popular Lincoln “wheat pennies” first minted in 1909 were among the 50,000 collected by youngsters. Miss Fancy’s total cost was $2,000.

Thus, the huge mammal found a home at the fledgling Avondale Zoo. For about 20 years – from 1914 to 1934 – the huge elephant was the queen of the zoo.

Queen of the Avondale Zoo

In 1914, the city of Birmingham budgeted $500 for an elephant house. While Miss Fancy was the most popular animal, “The History of Avondale” noted that other exotic species lived at the zoo. There was no charge to enter. Miss Fancy had a happy career at the zoo, with visitors often supplying treats, such as peanuts. Under careful supervision by her zoo caretakers, up to seven youngsters at a time rode on Miss Fancy’s back.

The elephant liked to frolic outside the zoo. Smukler, a licensed massage therapist who has lived in Avondale for 15 years, said that long-time neighbors remember Miss Fancy looking in windows.

“Miss Fancy tossed hay at visitors with her hose-pipe trunk. … Her ears flap-flapped as she and her tail swish-swished as she strolled down neighborhood streets …,” Latham wrote.

In 1931, the elephant escaped from her holding pen and ran through trees on Red Mountain until she was finally caught at Overlook Road.

It’s likely that alcohol fueled some misadventures. In October 2012, “Alabama Heritage” magazine published a story that noted the sale of alcohol was illegal for most of the years Miss Fancy was in Birmingham. The zoo worker John Todd, who cared for the elephant, persuaded city officials to “give him bottles of confiscated illegal liquor to medicate Miss Fancy.”

It’s thought that these bouts of drinking led to Miss Fancy escaping about 12 times. In a comical account in the “History of Avondale,” longtime resident Ollie Powers said that Miss Fancy’s trainer took her to Cannon’s Coal Yard for weighing.

“On one such trip with the huge elephant, they had reached the area of the tennis courts when a red patrol car pulled up and noticed that John was walking unsteadily,” Browne recorded. “In those days, police drove red patrol cars. The police were very familiar with John and the elephant he escorted around. The officers arrested John and put him in the back seat of the patrol car, but then they faced a real dilemma. What could they do with Miss Fancy? They tried – but unsuccessfully – to get the elephant to move, but Miss Fancy only responded to comments from her trainer, so she just refused to budge an inch. Finally, the policeman had to get John out of the patrol car so that he could take Miss Fancy back to her home.”

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, the city of Birmingham could no longer afford Miss Fancy’s food and care. She daily ate an elephant-sized amount of food: up to 170 pounds of hay and up to 5 gallons of grain. She guzzled as much as 110 gallons of water.

With a lack of funds, the zoo continued its decline. In October 1934, the city sold Miss Fancy and several other animals – six monkeys, a bear, a llama and a cow – to Cole Brothers-Clyde Beatty Circus. The city received only $500 for Miss Fancy, one-fourth the original amount paid.

According to “Alabama Heritage,” Miss Fancy toured for two years with the circus. In April 1939, she was sold to the Buffalo Zoo in New York. She lived to be 83.

Not everyone is aware of Miss Fancy, but her legend lives on at Avondale Brewing Co., where her image is used on trucks, labels and T-shirts.

From Avondale resident to community activist

For a long while, after the damaged statue had been removed, Smukler pondered the statue’s disappearance. An admitted elephant lover who calls herself a “do-it-yourselfer,” Smukler was determined to solve the mystery.

“I started asking my friend Claire Parker, who is on the board of Friends of Avondale Park, what had happened to the elephant,” said Smukler, who formerly lived in Los Angeles. “One day last fall, she called and said, ‘I know where she is.’ Someone mentioned the statue was in a storeroom at Legion Field.’ My idea was, if it wasn’t that bad, we could fix it.”

Smukler started a GoFundMe fundraising account to restore Miss Fancy to her original glory. She is friends with Chiarito, a resident of the Forest Park neighborhood in Avondale, and immediately thought of him for the project. Chiarito estimated the entire project – soldering and repair of the elephant’s metalwork, retrofitting as a fountain and building a platform – would cost about $7,000.

“In two weeks, we got everything from $5 to $1,000,” Smukler said. “I care about the community; there is real community here. This is a community project.

“It was in the middle of COVID and was kind of a cool thing to cheer people up,” Smukler said. “I’m flabbergasted by the response. It tells everybody we love her. It’s just been fun at a time when things definitely were not fun.”

Adding artistry to electrical skills

As an artist who sculpts in stone – and one of few in Birmingham who works with bronze and brass – Chiarito had the metal-working abilities to restore the statue. Chiarito is a Renaissance man, of sorts: He also knows the skilled trades very well after working five years under a master plumber, electrician and heating and air specialist.

First, he carefully transported the damaged statue from Legion Field to his workroom in Avondale.

“I got really excited about the process of bringing her back,” said Chiarito, who saw the possibilities of using his engineering and creative skills. “It’s exciting because Little Miss Fancy has been and will remain an icon for Avondale Park. When she’s out here, in her place and  working as a fountain, when kids come by and see Little Miss Fancy … it draws excitement and just imagination.”

It was a different task for Chiarito, who is well-known for his marble sculptures. While working on Miss Fancy, he also was completing a commissioned piece: a botanical-type sculpture that is the centerpiece of a Birmingham couple’s backyard garden. Chiarito made the one-hour drive from Birmingham to Sylacauga – home of some of the world’s finest marble – to select a slab to create his latest verdant statue.

To start the process of converting Little Miss Fancy into a fountain, Chiarito began by making a concrete base for the elephant. He then formed a concrete basin to catch the water, which will recycle the water into a pump that pushes the water out of the statue. The water travels into the basin, funnels into a hole, then pumps into the leg of the statue, where a port is located. The water then shoots from the tusk of the statue.

Using weather-resistant steel, Chiarito fashioned a platform that resembles a circus stand for the elephant. The stand contains the pump’s electrical apparatus. Chiarito bolted the statue to the stand.

“All you have to do is hit a switch, and she’ll be pumping water,” Chiarito said, with a smile. He’s excited to bring the elephant to “life,” when the fountain is flowing. “It’s going to be a sight to see.”

In the long term, the statue will hold many benefits for those who visit Avondale Park, he said.

“Kids are going to do better in school, even,” Chiarito said. “Art in itself helps communities, individuals – it helps things that most people wouldn’t even imagine would be helpful. It’s because it makes you think about what we’re capable of, what we can do individually, in groups, creatively and effectively for society, and for parks, and just togetherness in general.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Read about the plans for Urban Supply, Birmingham’s newest entertainment district

(Urban Supply/Contributed)

A Birmingham-based redevelopment firm is taking its next step toward creating a community gathering spot for fitness, fun, and food in the Magic City’s Parkside District.

Orchestra Partners is beginning to lease spaces in the first phase of the Urban Supply buildout, which will combine offices, retail, and a pedestrian area near the 19-acre Railroad Park, Regions Field, and Good People brewery.

Urban Supply centers on “The Aisle,” an alleyway between First and Second avenues south that is converting to pedestrian use, says Phil Amthor, a development associate at Orchestra Partners.

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It will be lined with shops, places to eat and drink including food trucks, and weekend markets featuring artisans and farmers. Electrical hookups will eliminate the need for the mobile food dispensaries to rely on noisy generators.

Flexibility is the cornerstone of the development, Amthor says. But the emphasis will be on local entrepreneurs.

“We can make really small spaces for vendors who just sell crafts on weekends, or large spaces for restaurants and folks who want a bigger footprint,” he says. “It’s really a business opportunity for anybody in food, beverage, entertainment, and retail.”

The first phase is between 14th and 13th streets. Work on the next phase, which will extend The Aisle to 12th Street, is expected to begin by fall. Projected completion date is the summer of 2022, Amthor says.

The Aisle also will join a planned downtown urban trail system that will run into the city center from the Sloss Furnaces National Landmark. Urban Supply will anchor the west end.

Orchestra Partners held several events during the spring to introduce the nascent Urban Supply development, including a recurring event called Grub on the Lot that featured vendors and food trucks.

The area was all but a dead zone before Railroad Park opened in the fall of 2010. Good People also moved its brewery there that year, and opened its popular taproom the next year. Regions Park, which opened in 2013, brought the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball team—and fans—back downtown.

Restaurants and other venues have followed. More than 1,000 residential units have been built in Parkside in the last couple of years, with hundreds more in the works. Now it’s one the city’s hottest areas for development.

Urban Supply links Birmingham’s past with its future, creating new uses for old buildings, Amthor says.

“We’re transforming these historic buildings, updating them, and creating a platform for our local entrepreneurial community,” Amthor says. “We’re creating a living room for the Parkside District.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

1 month ago

Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrates phase one improvements in Kingston

(Michael Sznajderman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Live HealthSmart Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham initiative, celebrated phase one improvements in the Kingston community at Stockham Park. These improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve the community’s infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant street ramps, trees and flowers in Stockham Park, painted murals, new bus shelters, improved lighting in hard-to-see areas, and more.

“Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. “To help achieve these aims, we started by making community improvements. This was especially evident in the built environment. We’re excited to show everyone what has been accomplished.”

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To reenergize the community and encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama – in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston – knew sidewalks in Kingston needed to be either repaved or built from scratch. To contribute toward this initiative, Kirkpatrick Concrete donated all the concrete used to make these improvements.

Other partners that contributed to the accomplishments in Kingston include O’Neal SteelCoca-Cola United, the city of BirminghamAlabama PowerSteward MachineBirmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAXGoodwyn Mills CawoodBlank Space BhamNAFCOBirmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

“It has been a great and rewarding experience working with the city of Birmingham and Alabama corporations to accomplish the built environment improvements in Kingston,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., director of the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center. “I believe these strong partnerships between academia and industry are built to last forever.”

Food deserts: A mobile solution

While each community’s needs are unique, a consistent issue Live HealthSmart Alabama has found in underserved areas is that these neighborhoods fall within areas that either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where one-third of residents live more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. Using this definition and census tracts, the USDA estimates that roughly 19 million people (or 6.2 percent of the U.S. population) live in a food desert.

To bring healthy and affordable food to Birmingham residents, Live HealthSmart Alabama introduced its new Mobile Market at the Kingston ribbon-cutting – which will run in partnership with Promoting Empowerment and Enrichment Resources (P.E.E.R.) and East Lake Market. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with their demonstration areas (Kingston, East Lake, Bush Hills and Titusville). Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT or Double-Up Bucks.

“Currently, Alabama has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation,” said Mona Fouad. “The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move our state out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings. To do this, community members have to have access to healthy food options and the tools to be successful. The Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market helps to provide that.”

In addition to its weekly route, the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market will also host monthly evening events in June and July where community members can shop and watch chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club conduct a demonstration using food pulled directly from the market.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, UAB President Ray L. Watts, Myla Calhoun of Alabama Power and other UAB and community leaders also attended the event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)