The Wire

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


    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


    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


    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.

21 hours ago

Alabama couple turns racist graffiti message into opportunity to respond to hate with love

(J. Miller, J. Anderson/Facebook, YHN)

Jeremy and Gina Miller, an interracial husband-and-wife real estate team in the Birmingham metro area, were shocked on Wednesday to discover a racial slur painted on one of their “For Sale” signs at a local property.

ABC 33/40 reported that “NO N***R” was painted on the Local Realty sign in large white letters.

However, the Millers are responding to this hateful incident purely with love, guided by their faith, according to The Trussville Tribune.

“I think that God has been preparing Gina and me for a long time, in ways that we never would have expected, to touch a lot of people,” Jeremy told the newspaper.


The Millers, who live in Clay, will not be pressing charges on the individual responsible for the racist graffiti, whose identity is at this time unknown.

“We would love to know who did it because if we find them, we will show them mercy,” Jeremy advised. “I don’t think anything good comes from pressing charges. That’s not the message here.”

The couple hopes to use the incident to unite their community and lift others up.

“We just got a message on Facebook yesterday about how God spoke to him through my post and our response,” Jeremy told The Trussville Tribune. “It encouraged him to see us responding through love and not through retaliation.”

“When something like this occurs, you can love back instead. We want to unite people,” he added.

Jeremy also wants people to know the racist incident is not representative of their community.

“This is not indicative of the people in this area,” he emphasized. “It happens everywhere and they don’t always say it to your face.”

Perhaps the toughest part of the incident personally for the Millers has been trying to tell their children what happened.

“Having to explain to them what happened with the sign has been a little frustrating,” Gina noted.

The Millers are also using this incident as a learning opportunity.

“We tell [our children] all the time, hurt people, hurt people,” Jeremy explained. “I tell them that even adults do mean things sometimes. When you’re angry, you’re not nice to other people… We want to respond in love when maybe that person hasn’t received such things.”

Jeremy stressed a constant message of love.

“It (racism) is not dead and it probably won’t die for a very, very long time, but we as a culture and society have to keep perpetuating the message of loving one another,” he remarked. “If someone’s hurting and they lash out at you, you don’t have to respond negatively.”

The defaced sign has been replaced with a fresh one that includes both Jeremy and Gina’s headshots.

Read more here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Huntsville celebrates Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, looks to create next ‘giant leap’ — ‘Alabama is clearly in the lead, and we’re going to stay there’

(Gov. Ivey/Twitter)

HUNTSVILLE — A sea of people packed out the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on Tuesday evening to celebrate the Rocket City’s past, present and future leadership in the space industry.

Among the crowd at the Apollo 11 50th anniversary dinner were famed astronauts and local and state officials.

However, with a scaled-down Saturn V rocket replica standing immediately beside the stage and the famed full-size replica Saturn V looming over the building, it was the behind-the-scenes work of scientists, techs and engineers that drew special praise throughout the evening.

Many of these unsung individuals were in attendance, and the enormous crowd gave them a resounding standing ovation for their innovation and dedication during the Space Race in the 1960s that made it possible for Apollo 11 to experience a perfect launch on July 16, 1969, and then land on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969.


Fifty years to the day from that launch, which was powered by the Huntsville-built Saturn V, all three of Dr. Wernher von Braun’s children were in attendance on Tuesday. He, of course, led the team of innovators in Huntsville that made Apollo 11 possible.

Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO of the Space and Rocket Center and 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, served as the master of ceremonies for the evening.

She called Tuesday “the best day” of her life, thanking all of the individuals who made the momentous anniversary possible.

Following her opening remarks was Hal Brewer, co-founder and president of Huntsville’s INTUITIVE Research and Technology, who explained that he grew up in the Rocket City during the 1960s.

“I will certainly never forget watching the television in 1969 as the United States became the first country to land on the Moon,” he said. “I’ll never forget the awe, the excitement and the many questions I had surrounding that day. Those many questions — the one that grew in my mind was, ‘How? How had we been able to accomplish the unthinkable?’ Behind those famous first steps there was a group of engineers, technicians and scientists that designed, developed and tested the Saturn V rocket that launched into space. … This 300-foot engineering marvel sent man traveling at [almost] 25,000 miles per hour to the Moon, 240,000 miles away, and safely back.”

In later comments, Barnhart recounted that people were dancing in the streets of Huntsville after Apollo 11 successfully completed its mission in 1969.

Speaking of the Space Launch System (SLS), which is under development at Marshall Space Flight Center and slated to be NASA’s most powerful rocket ever, Barnhart quipped that Huntsville will be dancing again when its innovation powers Americans back to the surface of the Moon as part of the Artemis program.

Jody Singer (an Alabamian, 2019 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact and the first female to ever lead Marshall Space Flight Center) took to the stage and reinforced this. In fact, on the side of the stage opposite from the replica Saturn V towered a model version of the SLS.

Singer advised that SLS will allow for “the next giant leap” in human space exploration.

“From launch to landing, it’s coming through Huntsville, Alabama,” she emphasized, after sharing that Apollo 11 inspired her to pursue a career in the space industry.

“So just like Apollo inspired a generation, we will inspire the next generation through the Artemis program,” Singer added.

Not only will Artemis put the first woman on the surface of the Moon and help establish a sustainable American lunar presence, but the Alabama-driven program will also open the door for the first human trip to Mars — and beyond.

“I am confident, that in 50 years from now, we’ll be talking all about Space Launch System, what has happened in Huntsville [with Artemis] and how we’re [still] going forward… with the same awe that we hold today for Apollo 11 and the pride that we’re celebrating tonight,” she concluded.

Dr. Margrit von Braun, daughter of the space legend, is herself an environmental engineer who has dedicated her life to scientific pursuits. She delivered an impassioned address to the crowd on Tuesday, talking about journeying from “dreams to reality.”

Referencing Barnhart’s earlier comments, von Braun concluded her speech by saying, “Get your dancing slippers ready.”

‘We are celebrating the American spirit’

Governor Kay Ivey delivered an energetic keynote speech at the dinner on Tuesday, also touting Alabama’s historic role in Apollo 11’s success while emphasizing that the best is yet to come.

Speaking of the tumultuous time in American history in which the Space Race unfolded, Ivey took the crowd “down memory lane,” reminiscing on how many people doubted that President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to send man to the Moon within a decade could be accomplished.

“Now ladies and gentlemen,” Ivey continued in trademark fashion. “We are here tonight to celebrate that accomplishment and the significant role that Alabama has played in making this dream a reality.”

“As we have often done, Alabamians responded [to the challenge] by doing what we do best,” she explained. “We put our heads together, and we began working for a cause that is bigger than ourselves. So, as we celebrate this 50th anniversary of the Moon launch, we are celebrating the American spirit — and we are also celebrating the importance of collaboration.”

Speaking of the team of innovators led by Dr. von Braun, Ivey praised the development of Saturn V in Huntsville.

“It’s a good reminder that Americans — Alabamians — can accomplish just about anything when we put our mind to it,” Ivey stressed.

She said this type of “ingenuity and greatness of the people of our state” is fittingly celebrated as Alabama commemorates its bicentennial.

The governor added, “And just as we recognize the richness of our past, we must always be looking forward to new opportunities and new challenges. President Trump has issued his own challenge for us to return to the Moon and then eventually on to Mars.”

“While the possibility of going to Mars might seem unachievable to some people, remember: at one point in time so did landing on the Moon,” Ivey continued. “It’s good to know that Alabama and Alabamians will once again be at the launchpad for this new space frontier.”

This reflected sentiments Ivey recently expressed to Yellowhammer News in an exclusive interview.

She expressed optimism that the resurgence in national prioritization of human space exploration under the Trump administration will mean bright days for Alabama, highlighting how private and public entities in the state are at the forefront of various space initiatives.

“You’ve got ULA (United Launch Alliance) that’s building their new Vulcan [Centaur] rocket, and Marshall Space Flight Center is leading NASA’s effort [with SLS],” she said. “So, I think Alabama is clearly in the lead — and we’re going to stay there.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Watch: CEO of Alabama rocket maker reflects on Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary

(ULA/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

While United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno now sits at the summit of the space industry, spearheading the manufacturing juggernaut that makes rockets in Decatur, his journey began a half-century ago with one thing: a child’s dream.

In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Bruno discussed the path he took to get to this point, with his life story singing out as an encapsulation of the “American Dream.”

It all started with the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, with Bruno reflecting on the 50th anniversary of him being a little boy in rural California and being fixated to the TV, watching the landing starry-eyed at a neighbor’s ranch, as if it were yesterday.

“It was magical,” he told Fox News. “The neighbors had the biggest TV set, so we were all there – all the kids were there, all the adults were there. Everybody just held their breath, it was the most exciting thing to be participating in.”


The landing’s anniversary is on Saturday, July 20.

However, the majesty of that moment was even surpassed by the launch a few days earlier on July 16, Bruno said.

“It was the most incredible thing that I had ever seen – the power, the complexity,” he emphasized. “I thought that it was the most ultimate scientific marvel when I saw that thing go – I still think that, all these years later.”

Inspired by the historic mission, it was not long before Bruno was building his own makeshift rockets, a precursor to his storied career.

“Maybe the following summer, I was still obsessed with rockets, that’s when I built my first one,” he explained.

Using 80-year-old dynamite and old wrought iron bars he found at the back of his family’s farm, an eight-year-old Bruno set about assembling the dangerous projectiles.

Bruno quipped, “I am proud to tell you that some of my rockets made it some of the way off the ground before detonating and I lived to tell the story!”

A former general manager of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Bruno became CEO of ULA in 2014. Now, the work done by Bruno and his company on a daily basis in North Alabama is helping pave the way for the next generation of space fanatics and rocket scientists, one dream at a time.

ULA is integrally involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which will take American astronauts back into space on missions launched from U.S. soil via ULA’s Atlas V rocket rather than a previously used Russian-made spacecraft.

“Human spaceflight can inspire the public and inspire scientists in a way that no other activity can, and humans can do things in space relative to research and relative to coping with surprises and discoveries that robotic exploration cannot,” Bruno stressed. “And it means so much to us to have human spaceflight [launch] from American soil. Returning Americans to space — I cannot begin to tell you what that means to myself and my team.”

Watch here or below:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 days ago

Lake Jordan’s Dixie Art Colony offered inspiration and haven for artists in ’30s and ’40s

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Martha Moon Kracke remembers them as a bunch of friends having fun painting what they saw while roaming the rural countryside around Lake Jordan. But those men and women were actually shaping history and would become leaders of the Southeastern art world.

It has been 71 years since Kracke traveled with her dad, Florala self-taught artist Carlos “Shiney” Moon, to visit the Dixie Art Colony (DAC) on Lake Jordan. But her memories of those visits with that eclectic band of artists are as vivid as if they happened yesterday.


“Daddy and I were so close, and we liked all the same things,” said Kracke, who spent time at the DAC as a 13-year-old. “To be at a place where he liked to be with all of his friends was important to me. It was a very special place where these people gathered to paint, carry on and play jokes on each other.”

Two area artists, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Warree Carmichael LeBron, founded the colony, the first of its kind in Alabama and one of the first in the Southeast, in 1933.

The idea came from Fitzpatrick, who had returned from World War I with scars on his face from shrapnel wounds and on his heart after seeing many of his comrades killed in combat.

“When he got back home, Kelly said all he wanted to do for the rest of his life was what he loved, and that was painting and teaching,” said Mark Harris, founder of the Dixie Art Colony Foundation.

Fitzpatrick, LeBron and the other artists met for the first time at a Boy Scouts camp on Lake Martin and then in various homes for the next few years. They finally settled in 1937 on what they called their “semi-permanent” home, a site owned by LeBron’s mother, Sallie B. Carmichael, at Nobles Ferry in Deatsville on Lake Jordan.

The colony was a rustic, quiet spot where artists from across Alabama met for short stays, mostly during the summer, to pursue their passion for painting and hone their skills. Along with a central lodge that housed their studio and kitchen, there were several small, one-room cabins used as sleeping quarters for the men and a dormitory for the women.

The lodge, dormitory and cabins were powered by electricity. But otherwise, conditions were primitive, with outdoor showers and an outhouse, and no running water, except in the kitchen.

“It was a kind of escape from the workaday world of the 1930s and 1940s,” said Sally LeBron Holland, who grew up visiting the colony with her mother and grandmother, LeBron and Carmichael.

Holland said it was “awesome to see those free spirits” at work.

“Every day, the artists would pile into cars and drive out into the countryside and the little community of Deatsville,” Holland said. “They would be dropped off in different places and would paint the world around them. In the evenings, they would display what they had painted outside in the yard on a wooden wall with an overhanging tin roof, and Kelly would critique their work. It was a wonderful experience.”

The artists mostly created watercolor paintings of rural scenes and landscapes, including farms, barnyards, cottonfields and old country stores, Harris said. Their works were created outdoors and were referred to as plein air, or open-air, paintings.

“It was very informal,” Harris said. “They would put their finished paintings on the walls of the studio and hang them from the rafters.”

There were several instructors over the years, including Fitzpatrick, Moon and Genevieve Southerland, an artist from Mobile. They worked with the artists individually, offering feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Art was the focus. But the artists also loved to play and pull pranks, like throwing rocks on the roof of the lodge to rouse Fitzpatrick from sleep. Because they were not together at Christmastime, they celebrated the holiday with a Yuletide costume party on July 4.

The artists continued to meet at the Nobles Ferry site until 1948, when Carmichael became ill and could no longer serve as the colony’s “hostess.” After the demise of the colony at Nobles Ferry, they met on the Alabama Gulf Coast near Bayou La Batre and Coden through 1953. LeBron tried to revive the DAC and opened her Rockford home in Coosa County to the artists for several years during the late 1950s.

Documents show that 142 artists visited the DAC at one time or another from 1933 to 1948, Harris said. Although most of them were considered “Sunday painters,” many left a real legacy.

“These artists really became movers and shakers in the art world, not just in Alabama but throughout the Southeast,” Harris said. “Many became educators on both the primary and secondary levels, while others were instrumental in starting the Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile and Jackson, Mississippi, museums.”

Fitzpatrick, who helped found the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Alabama Art League, was, of course, among the most notable of the group. Another standout colonist was Frank Applebee, who founded the art department at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), and acquired the pieces that became the core collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn.

True love, as well as friendship, blossomed at the colony. Two prominent portrait painters, Karl Wolfe and Mildred Nungester, met at the DAC and later married.

A rotating exhibit of many of the original pieces created by the artists and other memorabilia from those years can be seen at the Dixie Art Colony Museum and Gallery in downtown Wetumpka. Visitors can also step back in time by touring the old colony site at Nobles Ferry (now owned by Chrys and Robert Bowden) and see where the artists wielded their paintbrushes.

Kracke and Holland agree that the colony was almost like another world.

“Nothing was like the Dixie and nothing will ever be like the Dixie,” Kracke said. “It’s a time long gone. It was an experience like no other at the time, and I will never have an experience like it again.”

For more information about the DAC Foundation and its programs, visit

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 days ago

In a storm’s wake, a service focus emerged


Like many children, Eugenie Sellier’s mom warned her to eat the food on her plate because there were kids in the world who were starving. And like most kids, she knew that meant she better finish her dinner.

Growing up in Pass Christian, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Sellier realized there were people who went without enough food. But the issue did not affect her directly, so it was not a real concern. Until her senior year of high school in 2005.


“When Hurricane Katrina hit, it completely changed my perspective,” said Sellier. In the weeks following the storm, she and her family received critical help from first responders, including Salvation Army volunteers who delivered hot meals every day. “Seeing how everyone was willing to help out during a disaster made me want to go into a public service career.”

Sellier’s path to public service proved an uneven road. She entered the University of South Alabama in 2006 to study physical therapy before switching majors two more times. When one of her roommates suggested she take a communications class, Sellier agreed. “I got hooked on print journalism, and loved it.”

After graduating in 2011 with a double major in journalism and French in the College of Arts and Sciences, Sellier continued her college job working in retail until a friend, a fellow South alumna, mentioned an opening for a child nutrition coordinator at the Bay Area Food Bank, now called Feeding the Gulf Coast.

Without any experience in child nutrition and limited scope of the organization’s programs, Sellier was skeptical about interviewing for the position. However, after being offered the job, she readily accepted and hit the ground running.

During her first year as child nutrition coordinator, Sellier spent much of her time traveling to rural communities in Alabama, learning as much as she could about the needs of hungry children in those areas. The experience became a pivotal moment in her career. “Growing up, you never think about the kid next door or the kid you go to school with being hungry,” said Sellier. “It was a turning point for me as to what’s going on in our local communities.”

At the end of that year, Sellier entered South’s master of public administration program to further her career in public service. Although she admits it was difficult at times to juggle working full-time and attending classes at night, Sellier believes she benefitted from the process.

“It was very helpful to be working and going through the program simultaneously,” Sellier said. “A lot of the skills I learned I could relate directly to work. I was able to bring up questions from my job in class for real-time solutions.”

One professor in particular made a significant impression on Sellier. On the first day of her class, Sellier was terrified of Dr. Jaclyn Bunch, assistant professor of political science. “Because of that, I didn’t forget anything she taught me,” laughed Sellier. Bunch went on to sponsor the Public Administration Club, a student organization Sellier co-founded. Their relationship eventually transformed into one of mentorship, and Bunch continues to communicate regularly with Sellier to follow her career progression.

“Eugenie made a tremendous impact on the classroom experience,” said Bunch. “She is a consummate professional, an enthusiastic scholar and an impactful leader. Our program is honored to count her among our alumni.”

After receiving her MPA in December 2016, Sellier was promoted to Alabama child nutrition manager at Feeding the Gulf Coast.  Two years later, she became the director of child nutrition programs, overseeing the operation and administration of four child hunger relief programs serving more than 20,000 children at 250 feeding locations in the Gulf Coast region.

Sellier credits the education she received at South for learning the skills necessary to thrive in her current position, specifically what she learned in her MPA program. “From human resources, to budgeting, to interpreting data, what I learned in the program allowed me to move ahead in my career more quickly,” said Sellier.

She doesn’t try to predict where her career will ultimately lead, but Sellier knows she is finally on the right trajectory. “I never thought I would be where I am today five years ago,” Sellier said. “I enjoy mentoring the younger staff, and I would like to continue managing and leading programs in public service.”

Wherever her career path leads, it’s a good bet that Sellier will continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

(Courtesy of University of South Alabama)

5 days ago

The Sunflower Field draws thousands to small Alabama town

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

If you see an unusual number of cars on Highway 14 in Autaugaville in July, especially several with out-of-state plates, there’s a good chance they’re headed to The Sunflower Field.

“There was a lady that come yesterday from Tampa, Florida,” said Todd Sheridan, owner of The Sunflower Field. “She said, ‘I’ve read so much about it, I just had to come for myself.’”


Sheridan’s farm has become a tourist destination in July thanks to the 500,000 sunflowers he plants on 25 acres. This year he split the plantings by two weeks so that the blooms would be spread out over the entire month of July.

“The most difficult thing is to get them to come up out of the ground,” Sheridan said. “Once you get them up, it’s not too difficult.”

The Sunflower Field brings thousands of smiles to Autaugaville from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

This is Sheridan’s fifth year planting sunflowers, but only his fourth year making them available for public viewing and picking.

“It got started growing grain for a company that was going to crush oil out of it,” Sheridan said. “They were on a major highway so I knew there was going to be people wanting to take pictures, so I left some gates open, and then some guy took a picture and sent it to a news station, and some guy comes down and takes a video, and one thing led to another, and here we are. It’s turned into an event.”

Sheridan said he’s had to quit his job for a month each summer to focus full time on the sunflowers.

“I don’t know if I’ve been able to take it all in yet,” Sheridan said. “Every year it gets more and more, but that’s OK. We’re enjoying it.”

The farm is located at 3301 Highway 14 W. in Autaugaville. It is open from daylight until dark daily as long as the blooms last. No pets are allowed. Professional photographers are welcome, but there is a $20 per session charge for use of the field.

Sunflower blooms are available for purchase. Individual flowers are $1 each, or you can purchase a souvenir bucket for $10 to take home as many flowers as you can fit in the bucket. Flowers in grow bags are also available for purchase at $3 each, 2 for $5 or 5 for $10.

For more information, contact them on Facebook at The Sunflower Field.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

Sunrise Baking is an Alabama Maker giving rise to healthier desserts

(Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

Sunrise Baking Company (Hoover)

The Maker: Millie Drum

Millie Drum’s family is like others who grew up on classic desserts but have moved to a healthier diet.

Drum always had a knack for baking but had to make adjustments as she and her family wanted a balance of good and good for you.

“We’ve tried to eat healthy for a long time, but it didn’t really carry over into the desserts and baked goods,” she said.


Once she figured it out, she didn’t think it was right to keep it to herself.

“As I did more of that, I wanted to just make it available to other people,” she said.

Drum started Sunrise Baking Co. last year with a dream of helping others make the transition her family made to desserts with organic, fresh and gluten-free ingredients.

Sunrise Baking Company is an Alabama Maker of healthy desserts from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“Sunrise is my favorite time of the day,” Drum said of the name. “I’ve always been a morning person and I just love that peace and quiet of the morning.”

After noticing a lack of stores having paleo, grain-free bread, Drum felt she could offer it. Her muffins are the most requested items now, along with granola and cookies.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I first started, but not only are people interested in eating healthy for fitness and nutrition, but a lot of people have to eat that way because of food allergies,” Drum said.

Drum is always trying new recipes with paleo, gluten-free and vegan ingredients. She likes showing others that eating healthy can taste good.

“I would love to see Sunrise Baking expand and be available to more people … and in grocery stores,” Drum said.

Sunrise Baking Co.

The product:  Healthy takes on baked goods and granola.

Take home: Cinnamon Almond Granola ($10).

Sunrise Baking can be found online and on Facebook and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Jasper goes green with new trees as part of historic city center revitalization

(Cierra Juett/Alabama NewsCenter)

By Cierra Juett

Good Roots are being planted in Jasper. The historic downtown is being revitalized and beautified with the help of new trees, as part of plans to attract new businesses and people to the area.

Over the years, Jasper’s downtown business district suffered a downturn as businesses relocated to the surrounding highways.

In response, nonprofits such as Jasper Main Street, downtown Jasper’s revitalization organization, implemented a plan to enliven the downtown area of the 132-year-old city. That plan is now paying off, with new commercial activity drawing people to the city’s historic core.


As part of the plan, which launched June 1, 2015, the city established an entertainment district, among other initiatives. To date, 23 new businesses have located downtown, creating over 100 jobs and generating over $5 million in economic activity, said Mike Putman, Executive Director of Jasper Main Street.

Contributing to the success are trees, planted with the support of  Good Roots grants. An initiative of the Alabama Power Foundation, Good Roots helps pay for trees to be planted in communities across Alabama by nonprofits, schools, counties and municipalities. Within the last year, Walker County has been awarded eight Good Roots grants, with four supporting downtown Jasper.  Others in the area that have benefited from Good Roots grants are the Beacon House, Jasper City Schools and Bevill State Community College.

One element of the downtown project is redevelopment of the streetscape. “The streetscape project has been going on for the last five years: redoing the streets, sidewalks and planting trees,” said Britton Lightsey, manager of Alabama Power’s Jasper business office and a member of the Jasper Economic Vitality Committee. Lightsey said the project continues to expand as resources become available.

And folks are taking notice, Lightsey said, based on a recent survey given to Jasper residents and people who live outside the city, “There were over 1,100 surveys completed, and over 82 percent of people who took the survey said downtown Jasper was improving or making progress.” He said information gathered through the survey will be used to develop an updated plan, designed to continue the progress over the next five years.

The current progress in the downtown area has positively impacted its newest business, Thairapy Salon and Spa. “We were just excited about all of the new businesses and all the new work that was being put into downtown Jasper,” said Cindy Madison, the salon’s co-owner. Madison says their business has increased since their opening in March, attracting at least five new clients a week.

And coming this fall is Libby’s This and That! Libby Grimmett, co-owner of Thairapy Salon and Spa, will be bringing antiques, handcrafted items and seasonal supplies to downtown Jasper.

Yet another sign that, along with the new trees, downtown Jasper is growing and sprouting new life.

Applications are now available through the Alabama Power Foundation for the next round of Good Roots grants. The deadline to apply is July 31. For more information, go to Click “Grants” and then “Good Roots Grants.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

Storybook Farm uses equine therapy to help heal emotional and physical disabilities

(Storybook Farm/Contributed)

Finding a way to reach children with emotional, intellectual and physical disabilities requires a special talent, as each individual child responds differently to different methods.

But few approaches are as fascinating as the equine-assisted therapies offered by Storybook Farm.


The name, Storybook Farm, combines two of the passions of its founder, Dena Little: literature and horses. Little sold her successful bakery in Atlanta and moved her family to a 9-acre spread in Opelika in 2001. An English major and avid reader, she found the pastoral beauty of this part of Alabama inspirational, storybook-like. She sensed the magic in the countryside. “I wasn’t intending to start Storybook when I moved here. I just wanted a smaller community to raise my family. I came down here for a visit and just fell in love with the area.”

So, she moved her family, bought a trio of horses and made a home.

About a year later, while reading the magazine Practical Horseman, Little found herself intrigued by using horses in therapy for children. The therapeutic benefits of interacting with horses have been touted all the way back to classical times. As early as the 17th century, therapeutic riding was prescribed for gout, neurological disorders and low morale. With this in mind, it wasn’t long before Little put her passion for horses and literature together to create Storybook Farm.

In 2002, Storybook Farm opened with a barn, six stalls, three riders, 10 volunteers and three horses – Willy Wonka, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. At the time, the whole experiment felt like a short story. Turns out, it was only the prologue to a much bigger effort. “We grew exponentially fast, Little said. “I had to make a decision whether I wanted to do this full time and commit. I felt like the Lord was leading me in this direction.”

Storybook grew so fast, Little had to sell the initial farm and move to what is now a 51-acre expanse with room to grow. And grow it has continued to do.

They began with a house and a 12-stall barn but have since added a three-stall barn, two riding areas and a horticultural area called the Secret Garden. The next addition? A 2-acre canine area called the Fox and Hound Playground.

At Fox and Hound, children will have six canine friends to entertain them, with names like Ann and Dan (from “Where the Red Fern Grows”), Professor Henry Higgins (from “Pygmalion”), Velvet Brown (from “National Velvet”) and Mr. Banks and Admiral Boone (from “Mary Poppins”).

The dogs will be part of a reading program in which kids read to the dogs. “There’s so much research that tells us that reading out loud is so beneficial, Little said. “And when you’re reading to the nonjudging dog, it’s a whole lot easier than reading for a teacher or your peers or something like that.”

For Tina Ledbetter’s daughter, Channing, it was all about the horse. Channing has a seizure disorder that caused her to develop more slowly than peers. Ledbetter searched high and low for an appropriate activity for Channing – something that would make the youngster feel more confident and accomplished. They tried dance, gymnastics, soccer – you name it – to no avail.

Then, Channing met Mrs. Potts, one of the horses at Storybook. “I thought, ‘This is something that is hers, that she can feel good about, Ledbetter said of horseback riding. “It’s an extracurricular activity that will build her self esteem and also help her build strength.”

Little understands. “Everyone’s equal on the back of a horse, she said. “It doesn’t matter what has brought you to Storybook. Now with three full-time staffers and scores of volunteers from Auburn University,Storybook serves some 1,500 children a year. Children with more than 140 different diagnoses have benefited from the therapeutic horse farm.

Moreover, all these children have enjoyed the experience free of charge. Thanks to the farm’s fundraising efforts and to organizations like the Alabama Power Foundation, the farm is able to serve its guests.

“Nothing is ever charged to any family, group, whatever, whoever is here, Little said. “We just want to be here to serve and be a hopeful place for families.

After so much searching, Tina Ledbetter has found a therapy that’s finally helping her daughter. In fact, Channing is so enthralled with her horse, Mrs. Potts, that she keeps a picture of the gentle, dark bay mare, by her bed. The other day Channing Ledbetter was able to ride the horse for the first time. Her mother will tell you it was a magical experience. Like something right out of a storybook.

For more information on the Alabama Power Foundation and its annual report, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Family friendly pub and coffee shop pays tribute to Weiss Lake and Dam

(Justin Averette/Alabama NewsCenter)

Growing up near Tampa, Florida, Matt Edwards spent most of his time either on the baseball diamond or at the family-friendly pub his coach owned and operated.

“It was just the place to go. We went on Friday nights and after games. It was just a place to hang out, play cards, throw darts and listen to music. It was just the cornerstone of our little town,” Edwards said. “The back door was always open to us. It has a lot of meaning for me.”

So, it made sense that when Edwards decided to open his own eatery in Centre, Alabama, he would draw inspiration from his boyhood stomping ground.

That’s exactly what he has done with F.C. Weiss Pub & Eatery and neighboring Dammed Good Coffee Company.


“For years some of my friends and I wanted to do a pub. There really was nothing here like this at the time,” Edwards said, who also runs an insurance business with his wife, Beverly.

But it was football – not baseball – that ultimately led Edwards to open the eatery. He traveled to Tampa to see Alabama play Clemson in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship. While there, he had to make a detour to his coach’s establishment, where photos of his team’s 1983 Dixie Major World Series championship still are on display.

“What I love is going back to my hometown of Brooksville, Florida, and going to the Red Mule Pub and saying, ‘Here we are’ … I was skinny once,” Edwards said with a big laugh. “We went back to the pub, and all my friends were like, ‘You’ve got to do this.’”

That was January 2017. By that September, Weiss Pub & Eatery had opened on the corner of Main and Coosa streets in an 1882 building that has served many uses over the decades, including a dress shop and dentist office.

Today, the walls and floor have been stripped to their original brick and hardwood. The space is decorated with images of its namesake, Weiss Lake and Dam.

“To me that’s the biggest draw for Centre – the lake,” Edwards said. “We’re all about the water and the lake.”

The tables are shadow boxes filled with local high school sports memorabilia, shrines to Alabama, Auburn and Georgia athletics and tributes to local military members and first responders. There are also old photos of the Weiss Lake Ski Club, fishing and people out on the water.

After announcing plans to open, Edwards asked the community to donate the items to give the place some hometown flair.

“We wanted to capture some of the essence of Centre,” Edwards said. “It’s a hometown, family-friendly pub. It’s bring your teams in after a game. I wanted to make sure we distinguished it from not being a bar.”

Tables, just to the front and slight right of the bar, are filled with shadow boxes with tributes to sports memorabilia and military and first responders. (Justin Averette)

Edwards has some restaurant experience, including working from sunrise to late at night at a diner he and his wife ran in Florida. The couple relocated to Centre about 14 years ago when they bought the insurance agency.

“We had a little diner, my wife and I did, that was open six o’clock in the morning until 11 at night and closed two days a year,” Edwards said.

The Weiss eatery serves gourmet sandwiches, wraps, paninis, salads and soups with a full-service bar with craft beer. The coffee shop has several hot and cold brews and pastries.

The eatery is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. The coffee shop is open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Matt White is general manager of 12 employees.

“Basically, what we do is really good gourmet sandwiches – if you like Reubens, Cubans, French dip,” White said. “That’s really our specialty and a lot of soups and salads. What we get away from is what everyone else does.”

That said, at least two other restaurants have opened, Decks and Docks and Jake’s on the Lake, with lake themes since Edwards went into business.

“I think what we did was jumpstart some other folks. I had two very good friends of mine say now I’m going to do this,” Edwards said.

Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce‘s Executive Director Thereasa Hulgan said Weiss Lake is the county’s No. 1 attraction.

“All three restaurants have great food and a big variety of choices. The growth on and around Weiss Lake is providing services needed for visitors as well as locals,” Hulgan said. “The F.C. Weiss Pub and Eatery is a fabulous venue. Its memorabilia of the history of Weiss Lake and the community makes it a true attraction. It’s a place where locals go to enjoy the company, and everybody knows your name.”

Edwards credits his staff for their hard work. Soon after the restaurant opened, Edwards, a Gulf War veteran, was deployed with the Army National Guard for nine months at Fort McClellan.

“We had been opened for two months and then I got orders. I was gone for nine months. I’m doing a lot, but the staff runs the show,” he said.

A second F.C. Weiss Pub & Eatery is under construction in downtown Fort Payne and is expected to open by the end of the year.

For more information, visit F.C. Weiss Pub & Eatery and Dammed Good Coffee Shop on Facebook.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Gibson Distilling is an Alabama Maker barreling bourbon and bottling moonshine in the Wiregrass

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Gibson Distilling Inc. (Headland)

The Makers: Lloyd and Kay Keel

Gibson Distilling in Headland is out to make drinking Alabama-made whiskey not only tasty and fun, but downright patriotic.

The distilling company recently released its latest offering – an unaged corn whiskey made with red, white and blue corn – just in time for the Fourth of July.

It joins a pretty robust product line for a small distillery in a small Alabama town.


It’s all a surprise to owners Lloyd and Kay Keel, who are amazed and thankful at how fast the business is growing.

The products are sold under the George Gibson label. “George” is Lloyd’s first name and “Gibson” comes from a local man who may have known a thing or two about moonshining. The new red, white and blue whiskey carries a George Keel label, after Lloyd, the master distiller.

Gibson Distilling Company is an Alabama moonshine maker with a flair for flavors from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

For Keel, making whiskey is something he has … uh … experimented with since the 1970s. He studied the process and had a lot of trial and error before he felt like he had something others would want to buy. He got a federal permit in 2014 and started making and barreling his first bourbon.

“It’s like a chemistry set,” he said. “You get to go out and experiment and do different things.”

He had to wait two years for it to age before he could start bottling and selling that first batch.

When he did, it was more popular than he expected. After a few calculations, he realized he was going to sell out of the bourbon and rye whiskeys before his next batches would age out.

“It’s a little difficult to forecast your demand” two years out, he said.

That’s when Keel focused on vodka, gin and flavored moonshines.

“Those have been a really good business decision,” Keel said. “We’re selling a lot of the flavored products now. People just love our vodka and we have our gin and we sell a lot of gin, too.”

The flavored moonshines now make up a large part of Gibson Distilling’s business. They offer Southern favorites like peach, blackberry, blueberry and apple pie along with an unusual offering of coffee-flavored moonshine.

Gibson Distilling uses Headland Roasting Company’s Southern Pecan and Jamaican Me Crazy coffees for its coffee-flavored moonshine. While most who visit Gibson Distilling’s tasting room are hesitant to try it, those who do end up buying a bottle to carry home, Keel said.

Keel said he has freedom to try new flavors.

“I’m always back there in the back tinkering,” he said. “We’re a small distillery. I can afford to play a little bit and if I make a bad batch, well, we will just use it as fire starter.”

While the distillery may be small, it is growing.

“We’ve had to get really busy and start producing more and more,” Keel said. “We just got two new 1,600-gallon fermenters that we will try to bring online fall of this year.”

They are also adding about 4,000 square feet to the distillery.

Keel said his bourbon is made with 80 percent corn, 12 percent rye and 8 percent barley. The flavor is “just the way I like it,” Keel said, but said others have compared the flavor profile to Weller bourbon.

The rye whiskey is made with 90 percent rye and 10 percent barley.

The new red, white and blue label is made with 50 percent white corn, 25 percent Butchers Apron red corn and 25 percent Hopi Blue corn.

“We find that those work better for us than the yellow corn,” Keel said. “They’re much more smooth when you actually have a finished product than the yellow corn. It costs a little more, but, hey, I like it better.”

While Keel is “tinkering” in the back at the distillery, his wife and co-owner, Kay, is running the tasting room and handling sales out front.

“Kay is my official taster,” Lloyd said.

The company is marketing through the state’s ABC Stores from Montgomery south to the Florida line and from Andalusia east to the Georgia line. It can also be found in some restaurants, bars and independent liquor stores.

For now, that’s about as much as Gibson Distilling can manage.

“It’s just moving forward at a pace that it’s been a little challenging to keep up with,” Keel said.

Gibson Distilling Inc.

The product: Bourbon, rye and corn whiskeys, gin, vodka, flavored moonshines.

Take home: A George Gibson bourbon, a George Gibson Blueberry Moonshine and a George Keel Red, White and Blue limited-edition corn whiskey (prices vary).

Gibson Distilling can be found online and on Facebook and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Tuskegee Airman: America not perfect but it was, still is worth fighting for – ‘God’ was ‘my co-pilot’

(Richard Nixon Foundation/Twitter)

Harry Stewart, a Tuskegee Airman who served in WWII, was born on Independence Day 95-years ago. As he celebrates the birth of both himself and our nation, he says that despite America’s past and present imperfections, he would re-enlist today if he could.

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Stewart explained that he graduated from Alabama’s Tuskegee Army Flying School (the advanced step after basic aviation at Tuskegee Institute) on June 27, 1944.

“My journey to the flight line started in my high-school library in the New York City borough of Queens. I came across a magazine article about the first all-black flying combat unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron. I decided right then that when I turned 18 the squadron was where I wanted to serve,” he wrote.

And serve he did, catching a train from New York City down to Alabama as soon as he was eligible.


Stewart reminisced about the train ride, and the culture shock of segregation. However, he was undeterred in his determination to serve his country.

“When the train crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, the conductor came by and pointed at me: ‘Move to the colored car.’ It was disconcerting, but I saw it as an unavoidable hurdle to earning my wings. I swallowed hard and kept going,” Stewart advised.

When he arrived at Tuskegee Army Airfield, he felt a tremendous sense of pride in seeing all of the planes and military emblems.

“You felt you were part of something big, something magnificent. You weren’t just learning to fly; you were serving your country, and you were going to fight,” Stewart emphasized.

Stewart would go on to fly 43 combat missions at the control of a P-51 Mustang with the 332nd Fighter Group, known as the Red Tails, under the command of the legendary Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Stewart would eventually retire as an Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism, Stewart wrote, “I was thankful that my country had given me the opportunity to fly and fight, and all these years later I am proud that I contributed to the cause.”

“We called it winning the Double V, victory against totalitarianism abroad and institutional racism at home,” he continued.

“July 4 is my birthday, but I celebrate my country’s birthday too,” Stewart concluded. “America was not perfect in the 1940s and is not perfect today, yet I fought for it then and would do so again.”

Stewart is the subject of a newly released biography entitled, “Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airman’s Firsthand Account of World War II.” He has been interviewed frequently recently leading up to the book’s publication.

For example, speaking with The Mercury News, Stewart shared some of his most emotional memories from battle and said that patriotism transcends race.

He also credited God with getting him through the war.

“Somebody was with me. I guess it was God as my co-pilot,” he said.

RELATED: Red Tail Scholarship Foundation honors legacy of Tuskegee Airmen

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Alabama constitutions on display in Huntsville for Independence Day

(Huntsville Museum of Art/Jeff White)

As the nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day on Thursday and over a long weekend, those in north Alabama can experience a special exhibit at the Huntsville Museum of Art.

Entitled “We the People: Alabama’s Defining Documents,” the exhibition was specially curated and designed by staff from the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

The exhibit features all six of Alabama’s constitutions, along with the 1861 ordinance of secession which declared the state’s separation from the Union on the eve of the Civil War.

This marks the first time these historic records have been displayed together outside of Montgomery, where they are normally housed at the Department of Archives and History.


Additionally, this is the first public display of any of the documents since they recently underwent extensive conservation work by the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts.

The choice of the Rocket City for this special exhibit is certainly not by accident.

In the summer of 1819, 44 delegates met in Huntsville to draft Alabama’s first constitution, the defining document that provided the framework for the state’s government and soon made Alabama the 22nd of the United States.

Now, 200 years later, the Constitution of 1819 is returning to the city.

The exhibit opened on June 30 and will run through August 11.

“These state constitutions are rarely displayed in public, and it’s even more unusual for them to come all the way from Montgomery where they usually are kept at the state archives building. So, we hope that the residents of north Alabama will take opportunity of the exhibit here at the Huntsville Museum of Art,” Steve Murray, Department of Archives director, told WHNT.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Watch: Elated Alabama dad reacts to belated Father’s Day gift

(CBS This Morning/Twitter, YHN)

The inspirational story of one son’s belated Father’s Day gift to his Alabama dad is gaining national adoration.

CBS “This Morning” on Tuesday reported on Diantae Thomas, 25, moving his dad, Lester, to tears.

video explained that Lester’s truck had broken down, so his son saved up money for months to buy him a used Ford F-150 as a replacement, even fixing the purchase up himself to make improvements.

In an emotional moment, the video shows Diantae surprising his dad with the gift.


Seeing the vehicle at first, Lester asked, “That’s your truck, boy?”

“It’s yours,” the son responded with a smile.

Reacting with an initial mixture of disbelief and excitement, the overjoyed father after a few seconds jumps into his son’s arms.


Lester called Diantae “a great son.”

Exemplifying the power of giving, Diantae said that moment his dad jumped into his arms was priceless.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Watch: Incredible ‘Ode to Alabama Small Towns’ shows what makes the state a ‘Sweet Home’

(This Is Alabama/YouTube)

Outsiders might not understand the culture or way of life in rural Alabama. However, a new video is showing why Alabamians should be proud of its small towns and everything that comes along with living in one.

This Is Alabama on Friday released a video presented by Alfa Insurance entitled, “An Ode to Alabama Small Towns.”

“We’re not hick,” the video begins. “We’re not country. We’re not bumpkins. Or yokels. Or quaint. But you can call us small town.”


Showing off some of Alabama’s iconic towns and the hardworking people that drive them, the approximately two-minute, 45-second video explains why being from a Yellowhammer State small town is a badge of honor.

“We’re not complicated. Or big-city-slick,” the video emphasizes. “We don’t need noise and bustle and bright lights. We’re small town. And that’s good enough for us.”


Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Trump administration staffer from Alabama takes break from ‘fancy office in DC’ to become a Marine

(Jalen Drummond/Facebook)

One Yellowhammer State native and alumnus of the University of Alabama has set an amazing example of patriotism for his fellow Americans this Independence Day.

Jalen Drummond, who was born and raised in Randolph County and previously interned for Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03), the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and former Senator Luther Strange (R-AL), has been working as an advisor to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson in Washington, D.C. since last year.

Yellowhammer News in September wrote about Drummond facing racial abuse from the “tolerant left” after he proudly served as a summer White House intern for President Donald Trump.

Now, Drummond has exemplified the true meaning of public service once again, going above and beyond to do more for our country.


In a recent Facebook post, Drummond shared a powerful life update, beginning, “I have lived an incredibly blessed life – receiving opportunities that many around the world would kill for. I have been taught by some of the best professors in the country and received an incredible opportunity to go work for the Trump Administration following my graduation from college.”

“I have always appreciated the service of our men and women in uniform. Because of their selfless sacrifice, I am able to live in comfort and privilege,” he continued. “For awhile now, I have felt incredibly guilty that I wasn’t doing enough to give back to my country, a nation that has given so much to me.”

Drummond lamented, “While I was sitting in my fancy office in DC, socializing with political elites, and living it up with my friends on the weekends, others were suffering and serving.”

This selfless frame of mind led Drummond to make an incredible leap of faith, he said.

“So back in January, I made a decision to enlist in the United States Marine Corps,” he explained. “I walked into Secretary Ben Carson’s office and asked for military leave and without hesitation he offered his full support.”

From there, Drummond outlined that in February, he “shipped off to boot camp in the middle of the night,” only telling his immediate family members and four close friends what he was doing.

The journey from February until now was not easy.

“These past months have been beyond challenging. I have been tested mentally, physically, and spiritually,” Drummond emphasized. “Honestly, there were many days where I didn’t think I would even make it.”

Yet, the leap of faith and all of his hard work has paid off.

As of Friday, Drummond wrote that he is “officially America’s newest United States Marine.”

This new member of the Marine Corps seems set to keep making his home state proud.

Read his post below:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Northeast Alabama cotton crops destroyed by hail — ‘Know God will provide for us’

(N. McMichen/Twitter, YHN)

Cotton crops in parts of Alabama were destroyed by hail on Thursday, however one Cherokee County farmer says faith will help local farmers move forward undeterred.

ABC 33/40 reported that “golf ball sized hail” devastated some cotton crops in the northeast portion of the Yellowhammer State, and the totality of the damage is still being assessed. Insurance adjusters will reportedly be out surveying the damage on Monday.

Nick McMichen, an active member of the Alabama Farmers Federation, is a sixth generation farmer in Cherokee County. He told ABC 33/40 that he had never seen this kind of extensive hail in his community before Thursday.

While McMichen also has more assessment to do, he said that 250 acres of his cotton crop were a complete loss. Apparently significant damage to an additional thousand acres will be evaluated further, but he is estimating $250,000 in losses at the moment.


The loss came exactly a week ahead of July 4, which normally marks the half way point for the cotton crop, as harvest occurs in October and November.

This type of uncontrollable loss, for farmers, is just part of the hard work of providing for America — and the world.

“It’s farming, anything can happen. We prepare for the worst,” McMichen remarked.

He explained that other farmers in the area are facing the same cotton losses. However, they all are aware that it is part of the business, and the lifestyle, that they selflessly dedicated themselves to.

“The farmer is the eternal optimist,” McMichen emphasized. “We take an event like this and know God will provide for us. We won’t let this get us down.”

One option for northeast Alabama farmers is to plant soybeans to replace the lost cotton crop in an attempt to recoup some of their financial losses.

The McMichen family made headlines in recent years for breaking the state soybean yield record. He has also won honors from regional and national trade groups, including being recognized with the 2018 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Southeast states.

Watch ABC 33/40’s report here or below:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Automatic Seafood & Oysters is fresh, vibrant addition to Birmingham’s dining scene

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

It’s easy to think of Automatic Seafood & Oysters as a singular kind of place: It looks and feels like nothing else in Birmingham, and the menu is filled with adventurous approaches to familiar (and perhaps unfamiliar) foods.

But what really makes it special are a few important partnerships: between local and regional suppliers and the kitchen, between the servers and the customers in the dining rooms, and between the husband and wife team who put it all together.

Adam Evans and Suzanne Humphries Evans work side by side – he with acclaimed kitchen skills and her with design expertise and warm hospitality – to celebrate clean, fresh flavors with friendly, gracious service in a space that is hip, modern and respectful of the past.


Automatic Seafood & Oysters opened in April in a 1940s warehouse that once was the home of the Automatic Sprinkler Co. But the buzz about its chef-owner began long before that.

Adam spent time in the kitchens of some of America’s most celebrated restaurants, from La Petite Grocery in New Orleans to Craft in New York City. Before moving back to his home state, Adam was the executive chef at Ford Fry’s The Optimist in Atlanta when the restaurant was named Esquire’s Restaurant of the Year and made Bon Appetit’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants.

He then helped Jonathan Waxman open Brezza Cucina, also in Atlanta. However, Adam’s appreciation for fresh food goes back to his childhood in Muscle Shoals, where he helped his grandfather with the family’s vegetable garden and cooked those vegetables with his mother and grandmother.

Automatic specializes in fish, although there are salads and turf-based dishes, too, like arugula with Alabama strawberries and pickled wild onions, or hanger steak with Sea Island red peas and ramp butter. There are chilled dishes like smoked mackerel with rye bread toast or octopus with yogurt, harissa and herb salad.

The shellfish and finfish are sourced primarily from the Gulf of Mexico, but Adam pulls from other coastlines, too. Most of what’s on the menu is familiar, but the combinations or preparation might be a surprise.

Consider roasted scallops with oxtail marmalade or snapper crudo with pickled ginger, crispy skin and lime, or duck fat-poached swordfish with sunchokes and pancetta vinaigrette. Some of the fishes are unusual – things like fresh-caught sardines and seasonal bycatch like hake, which Adam prepares blackened with blue crab, watercress, potato puree and green garlic butter.

“What the Gulf of Mexico has to offer is way beyond snapper and grouper,” Adam says. “There are a lot of different species that aren’t maybe common to see but are equally as delicious. It’s especially important for me to try and utilize the bycatch products, the things that they’re not targeting when they’re fishing for snapper and grouper (but) that they’re pulling in. … It’s a great opportunity for me to highlight different species from the Gulf that you don’t normally see on restaurant menus.”

The long, sleek oyster bar at Automatic is a focal point in the restaurant; as many as eight different kinds of oysters are piled high on ice. You’ll likely find Mo Boykins there. He started at Automatic as a dishwasher but told Adam he wanted to do more. Now he’s the restaurant’s main oyster shucker, as entertaining and engaging as Jose Medina Camacho and his team of friendly bartenders nearby who are creating craft cocktails like Springtime in Mexico with Lunazul blanco tequila, Vida mezcal, Herbsaint, cucumber, mint and lime.

“It’s really cool to … have people like Mo who can come in and make a difference,” Adam says. “When someone does the job they’re supposed to do, and then they ask, ‘What else I can do?’ it kind of speaks to the person, and so I’m really proud to have someone like that on the team.”

Automatic’s team is not just in the restaurant. Adam is committed to supporting farmers of all kinds – from oyster farmers in the Gulf to traditional growers closer to home. He’s says he’s delighted with the product he’s getting from regional oyster farms like Alabama’s Murder Point and Point aux Pins and with local farmers markets like the one at Pepper Place.

“We work with a lot of local farms within a couple hours radius of Birmingham and work with a lot of fishermen and boats coming out of the Gulf and Panama City and Port St. Joe. Down on the Alabama coast is a company that will call me when the fish hit the docks, and I can pick out fish (with) the guy who’s looking at what they’re unloading.

“There’s a local guy in Birmingham who is a commercial spear fisherman. So he’s been going to the Gulf for years. … I just recently received some fish that he harvested, and it’s really interesting to see the quality that he’s bringing. It’s unlike the other fish that I get because of … the way he’s harvesting it. You really see the difference.”

These fish – snapper and grouper; triggerfish and amberjack; cobia; and the invasive, nonnative lionfish – are listed as “spear-caught” on the menu and often are used in a raw preparation “so people can get a sense of the quality that they’re eating,” Adam says.

The 39-year-old chef has wanted to own a restaurant in Birmingham since he read “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table” cookbook.

“I remember reading Frank’s book and thinking, ‘This guy’s from Cullman. He’s a great chef; he’s been around. I want to do the same thing.’ I’ve always thought about coming here and doing this, and it just became time. I met Suzanne in Atlanta, and we shared similar paths; she had been in New York and I had been in New York, and she moved to Atlanta and I had moved to Atlanta. We both had goals to move back to our home state … (but also) to go out in the world and experience different cities and things and bring that knowledge back here and do something a little different.”

Suzanne, co-owner and project designer of the restaurant, is in the dining room most every night. It’s a different kind of role for her, but she says it’s the best job she’s ever had: “And I wouldn’t even call it a job. It’s really a pleasure every night to have a restaurant full of friends and family and a lot of folks that we’ve never met before.”

She was introduced to Adam one evening when dining at The Optimist, where he was executive chef. She has a master’s of Fine Arts in Interior Design from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C. Her background in residential, corporate and commercial design includes work with Miles Redd and Ralph Lauren in New York City and Suzanne Kasler and Smith Hanes Studio in Atlanta.

When Adam showed the Birmingham restaurant space to Suzanne, it was a windowless warehouse filled with remnants of a dance club. But it had no neighbors on either side or upstairs, so there was room for a patio, a bocce court and room to grow. She says, “It really felt like something that would give us the opportunity to, over time, create this vision that we had formulated together.”

As far as design, she says, “We took a lot of cues from the structure itself and the time frame in which it was built. We took the 1950 Americana aesthetic and applied it as well. We wanted to create a space that felt classic but not in a re-creation … just maybe like it had been here for a while.”

She created a chic, vintage Palm Beach vibe in the private dining space with bold, vibrant wallpaper and matching drapes from Catherine Martin (a set designer and costumer who won an Oscar for “The Great Gatsby”). “It’s over-the-top. It’s theatrical. … When I saw it, it was an immediate, no-questions-asked decision:  We’ve got to use this. It’s perfect. It’s fun.”

She worked with local artisan Grant Trick of Design Industry on the restaurant’s booths and barstools with sleek, reflective channel upholstery. “We looked at antique wooden speedboats. We looked at classic cars. We looked at advertisements of fishing and boating and leisure from that time period” for the channeling and color combinations, she says.

The restaurant feels somewhat coastal, although it’s hard to figure which coast. That’s on purpose.

“We want you to sit in here, eat the freshest piece of fish possible and feel like you’re near water where that fish might have been caught earlier that morning, even though we’re … hundreds of miles from the coast. We wanted to create the feeling that water was somewhere nearby and not any particular body of water. … Maybe we’re in Florida … or on the Gulf Coast of Alabama or Louisiana. Or maybe we’re in the Hamptons.” It depends upon what you’re eating, she says. It’s all about realizing “the freshness of the dish that Adam goes to great pains to get to this landlocked city.”

The idea behind every detail, she says, is to “highlight and support what Adam is putting out of the kitchen. That’s our goal: never to take away, but it’s always to support and tell the story of his food in ways that he can’t because he’s back there cooking it.”

Adam and Suzanne will celebrate their first wedding anniversary soon, and Automatic has been a huge part of the whole of their married life. They’ve worked on the restaurant for the past two years, and they share an immense appreciation for each other.

Suzanne had never worked in restaurants, Adam points out. “And she has stepped up and has been there for every service and been there for every guest. … It’s amazing to have her out there (while) I’m in the kitchen. It’s really comforting for me. … It’s been great.”

Suzanne puts it this way: “I’m proud of him. I’m proud that we are able to do this every day, that he gets to do what he loves. I know it’s really his story and I’m lucky enough to be a part of it. … He’s so talented, but he’s so humble; that’s a wonderful combination in a human being. And so, if I can help to … tell that story and share it, then I’m happy to.”

“It’s a good time to open a restaurant in Birmingham,” Adam says. “There’s a lot of national attention.

“With Frank (Stitt) doing what he’s done over the past 30 years, he’s made it possible for me to open a restaurant at this kind of level. We’re just trying to provide really good food and a great experience and do it in a little bit of a casual atmosphere but with the food and drink and service still elevated and attentive and detail-oriented.

“Birmingham has been great. It’s really amazing to see the support and the response to something that we work so hard on,” Adam says. “That’s the whole reason we do this, right? To have people come in and to have them enjoy it and have a good experience.”

“I think the biggest compliment that we have received is from a guest who wrote back to let us know that she felt at home,” Suzanne adds. “I think that the feeling of comfort and satisfaction on all levels and being taken care of in a way that you do, in fact, feel at home, is something we strive for every night.”

Automatic Seafood & Oysters

2824 5th Ave. S.

Birmingham, Alabama 35233 (in the Lakeview neighborhood)


Open every day for dinner

Sunday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m.

Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Tuscaloosa tornado survivor Vickie Edwards finally has a new home

(Danielle Kimbrough/Alabama NewsCenter)

Donna O’Connor was working late one night at Alabama Power’s Western Division headquarters in Tuscaloosa and noticed that Vickie Edwards, one of the building’s cleaning crew, was distraught.

“We could tell she was visibly upset, so we all went to the hallway where she started telling us her story, not for us to feel sorry for her, but it was a day that she just needed to talk,” said O’Connor, a member of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and a corporate real estate specialist.

Edwards and her husband, Sam, along with their daughter and granddaughters, were victims of the huge tornado that struck Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011. She and her daughter, Arielle, were home with the children and had taken shelter in the bathroom. Edwards leaned against the sink while her daughter and granddaughters were in the bathtub.


Edwards was calling her son to check on his safety when the tornado ripped out the walls around them. The roaring winds lifted the tub with her daughter and granddaughters, then lifted Edwards into the air and dropped them nearly 20 feet, she said. Afterward, help arrived and rushed those who could be found to the hospital.

Tuscaloosa’s Vickie Edwards talks about the life-changing events of April 27, 2011 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Because of the widespread destruction and casualties, Edwards spent hours on a gurney in the hospital hallway before she was moved into a room. When she woke up, she immediately asked where her family was. Edwards told a nurse her youngest granddaughter’s name, Aneyah, to see if she could find her. The nurse called out for the girl and Aneyah answered with a loud “Huh?” confirming her identity. The moment brought Edwards to tears.

Edwards and Aneyah survived with severe injuries, while Edwards’ oldest granddaughter, Makayla, who was found later that day, died.

Additionally, Edwards’ daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury that day and later died on June 1, 2011.

On the day of the tornado, Edwards’ husband was in Ohio, desperately trying to find a way home.

Habitat volunteers make a home for Tuscaloosa tornado survivor Vickie Edwards from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

After hearing Edwards’ story, O’Connor said the Lord put it in her mind to tell her about Habitat for Humanity and to help her apply for a house. O’Connor and Kelly Atchley, a marketing representative for Alabama Power, worked with Habitat and the Edwards family so they could receive a new, fully furnished house.

“It’s really rewarding to be out here to work with the Edwards family,” Atchley said. “They’re such a kind family to work with and we can’t wait for them to move into their house.” Atchley wanted to be sure the family had exactly what they wanted, and what Edwards wanted more than anything was to have a front porch to sit on. When the Edwardses drove by to check the status of the house, the workers and volunteers were working on their porch.

That day was bittersweet for the Edwards family. It was Sam’s birthday, but also the anniversary of their daughter’s death.

“Today I’m thinking about my daughter and my grandbaby. This is for them,” Edwards said. “Us being able to do something and having beautiful, loving, caring people, people you never met coming together.

“God said people come in your life each season, each reason, whether for a short or long time, they’re there,” she said. Ellen Potts, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa, was touched by the family’s tragic story, and how wonderful and positive they have remained through it all. She knew immediately she wanted and needed to help them.

On June 1, members of the Alabama Power Service Organization Western Division helped with the construction and painting of the Edwards’ home, which is expected to be ready by the end of the month.

“I never imagined I would own my own home, so this is life-changing for us,” Edwards said. “I have met beautiful people like Donna, people from Alabama Power, people from Carolina, the young university students, and believe me, from the bottom of my heart, I love them.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Wild Honey Flower Truck is Birmingham’s florist on wheels

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Wild Honey Flower Truck is a florist that can put the pedal to the metal. Or is that petal? Or maybe even peddle?

Actually, all three apply.

The baby blue 1963 Ford pickup truck is a pop-up florist able to travel to farmers markets, street festivals and any number of corporate events and public gatherings.


It’s an idea that bloomed when Kelsey Sizemore and her husband, Josh, saw similar flower operations outside of Alabama.

“We had seen a couple of similar businesses in other cities and we thought it was something that Birmingham would really love,” Kelsey Sizemore said.

If you’re going to have a flower truck, it has to start with the truck.

“We started by looking at trucks on Craigslist and eBay,” Sizemore said. “We decided on the kind of truck that we liked.”

Wild Honey Flower Truck is blooming in Birmingham from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

When they found a potential truck in Ohio, Sizemore sent her father-in-law to check it out. When it earned a thumbs-up, they had the truck towed to Birmingham.

“We started the process of really transforming the truck into something that could house the flowers,” she said.

That meant a paint job, building out the back to carry flower vases and adding an awning.

Next came procuring flowers by working with wholesalers, flower markets and other dealers.

With the truck ready and outfitted with flowers, the only decision was where to go to sell them.

“We just sought out the places that we really like to go,” Sizemore said.

That could mean being outside of the Pizitz building one day and in Woodlawn the next.

You can also find Wild Honey Food Truck at the West Homewood Farmer’s Market every Tuesday night this summer.

The warmer weather and opening of seasonal markets and festivals has made for a busy time for Wild Honey Flower Truck, which started sales in November.

“This is our first spring and summer season,” Sizemore said. “We’re really figuring it out as we go. We’re trying to have the truck out every weekend.”

The truck tends to draw a crowd and creates many opportunities for selfies. Sizemore has grown used to the reactions.

“I think they’re pretty surprised,” she said. “Most people want to take pictures with the truck. They ask a lot of questions about the truck and how old it is. I think it’s a very Instagram-able business, so people really like that. They can make a bouquet and take a picture with it and it helps us spread the word, too.”

One area of growth the Sizemores see is corporate events. Businesses like having the truck show up and then the bosses buy flowers for employees. She would like to see that side of the business continue to grow.

Meanwhile, you never know when a florist may come rolling up in Birmingham.

Wild Honey Flower Truck can be found online, on Facebook and on Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Ford squashes shotgun portion of south Alabama dealership’s ‘God, guns and glory’ July 4 deal

(Chatom Ford/Facebook)

Ford Motor Company has shut down Chatom Ford’s Independence Day deal, although the dealership has already instituted a replacement.

After news went viral that the Washington County car dealership was including a Bible, 12-gauge shotgun and an American flag for every new, certified pre-owned or pre-owned vehicle purchased through July 31, Ford reportedly stepped in, seemingly not wanting its brand associated with support of the Second Amendment.

The Facebook video originally promoting the deal has been taken offline. A Facebook post from the dealership on Wednesday afternoon explained their predicament and thanked supporters.

“We were running a promotion celebrating this country’s independence,” the post read. “[Ford Motor Company] manufacture(s) the products we are franchised to sell, so we are complying with their request. We appreciate everyone’s support. All the phone calls and messages were so greatly appreciated. We will fulfill all commitments we made to our customers.”


“Ford Motor Company wasn’t aware or involved in this promotion,” Ford spokesman Mark Truby told The Washington Post. He added that the dealership had promised to “stop talking about it as God, guns and glory.”

Now, a similar deal is being promoted on the dealership’s Facebook page. The offering of a shotgun has been replaced with a $200 gift certificate, while the Bible and flag remain included.


To be clear, the dealership was not just handing out shotguns. A legal, responsible process using authorized firearms dealers and proper background checks was being utilized.

“Obviously, we’re not just running around willy-nilly and giving everybody a shotgun,” Koby Palmer, the dealership’s sales manager, said.

Palmer advised that besides Ford’s reaction to the deal, the dealership had received an overwhelmingly positive response and vehicle sales had increased, too.

He emphasized that the deal reflected the values of the rural south Alabama community which Chatom Ford proudly calls home.

“They love their faith, they love their country, and they love to hunt,” Palmer explained.

The sales manager also noted that they were not trying to alienate anyone.

“This is something just to promote our little community and things they hold dear to their heart,” Palmer added. “We love everybody regardless of race, creed and religion, and we want everybody to come in and let us love on them a little bit.”

On Thursday, Chatom Ford made the first sale based on the new deal.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Central Alabama trucker finalist in national talent search — ‘Singing is … a connection to the spiritual realm’

(Jason Henley/YouTube)

Jason Henley of Chilton County was recently named one of three finalists in the Overdrive-Red Eye Radio Trucker Talent Search, an annual contest that highlights talented truck drivers across America who love to sing.

Henley, a truck driver for Indigo Fluids, lives in Jemison. The biography information he submitted to the competition said he has been trucking for 15 years.

For his entry, Henley performed an original song about life as a trucker entitled “Nebraska Drop N Hook.”



“The rules were either a cover or original with no studio processing or supporting band,” Henley told WBRC. “I actually pulled over and recorded it the morning the submission was due, on April 22nd, at the I-20/59 rest area.”

On August 23, Henley will compete live for the contest’s grand prize at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas against the other two finalists, Taylor Barker and Ken Freeman.

“My favorite part about singing is bringing people together. Singing is a therapy and a connection to the spiritual realm for me,” Henley wrote in his submission.

Music is also a family affair for Henley.

“My wife, her mother-in-law and I — as well as a host of longtime friends — are a part of the musical community in central Alabama,” he outlined. “We open our home up to host musical events as well as practice for my band. We have about 20 acres and are currently working on building a stage in the field and creating a boutique private music venue. We’d eventually like to make it into a regular festival a couple times a year, as well as doing other work such as weddings and photography.”

The first-place winner will receive a full professional recording session in Nashville.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Heroic Tuscaloosa tow truck driver receives Carnegie medal after rescuing baby from burning car


A Tuscaloosa tow truck operator who bravely rescued a baby from a burning car last July has been awarded the Carnegie Hero Medal.

According to the Tuscaloosa News, André Harris was one of 18 recipients of the prestigious honor, which is given to civilians who risk their lives while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

While Harris gave God all of the credit when he made the rescue, he was the one recognized on the national stage late last year — and now again — for his incredible act of heroism.


Yellowhammer News previously highlighted Harris’ bravery, and his inspiring testimony, after his now-famous act of courage.

Harris, who also works as a meter reader for the city of Tuscaloosa’s water department, has consistently said God put him in the position to save the baby that night.

He explained that Northport firefighters had closed off a road while fighting a house fire, causing Harris to take a different route and drive up to the crash site. He has emphasized that he is not a hero.

“Heroes are the ones who make it possible for us to do this interview here safely. The soldiers who go off to fight,” he told the Tuscaloosa News. “I just did what any other American would have done, especially somebody who has kids themselves.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Goats in the back: Irondale PD goes viral over ‘Old Town Road’ remix

(Irondale PD/Facebook)

The Irondale Police Department has gone viral after turning a bizarre call into a music video, remixing the popular song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X.

Posted on Tuesday, the video was captioned, “What do you do when you respond to a call about loose goats? You make a video!”

The viral sensation already has 80,000 views as of 3:00 p.m. CST on Wednesday.



Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn