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.

10 hours ago

Amazon selects book on ‘Mockingbird’ author Harper Lee as best nonfiction work of 2019

(Amazon/Twitter)

The book editors at Amazon.com identified “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee” as the best nonfiction book published in 2019.

The book is from first-time author Casey Cep. The first seven stops on Cep’s book tour were in various Alabama locations.

Goodreads.com describes “Furious Hours” as: “The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer, and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.”

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The book details the story of Alabama Rev. Willie Maxwell, who was accused of five murders before he was shot by a vigilante during the funeral of his last victim. Harper Lee was interested in the case at the time and reported on it with the intent to eventually publish a book.

Lee never published her work on the case, which “Furious Hours” investigates thoroughly.

The Amazon selection continues a good run of publicity for the Knopf published book. Terrance Finley, CEO of Alabama-based bookseller Books-A-Million, made “Furious Hours” his President’s Pick earlier this year.

The book spent a month on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

Additionally, Furious Hours is a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, and was listed by Time as one of the must-read books of 2019.

You can buy a signed first edition from Alabama Booksmith here, or a regular edition here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

1 day ago

Shaun Alexander’s moving message to Tua Tagovailoa speaks to all of us

(Shaun Alexander/Twitter)

He will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Alabama Crimson Tide football history, yet he came and went in a flash.

A long weekend has reminded us how fleeting joy can be — after all, “2nd and 26” was just 20 months ago. Yet, it seems that Tua Tagovailoa would be around longer. Can you believe that he was the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback for less than two seasons? Barring a return to the Capstone for his senior season (Tua is still expected to turn pro next spring despite the hip injury suffered days ago), Tua will never play another down of football for the Tide.

How many times have we heard it? You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.

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Over the last few days, college football fans across America have been appreciating Tua, not only for his football talents, but for his decency, faith and kindness. Oh, Tua has had plenty of reasons to be cocky: He owns the school record for career touchdown passes (85) and the school record for most touchdowns accounted for (94). He has thrown 31 touchdown passes this season and he’s ranked third on the school’s all-time total passing yardage list. Yet Tua Tagovailoa, a mere 21-years-old, remains humble, as he now recovers from his second surgery of the season.

We are more alike than we are different, and I have a feeling that, like me, you don’t want it to end. Regardless of which team you root for, college football was better with Tua taking snaps each and every football season. His pinpoint passing, his team leadership and his positive attitude made us all feel better, and after “2nd and 26,” you knew that when Tua was about to take the snap, you couldn’t take your eyes off the game.

In the days following Tua’s most recent injury, I have been reminded that this young man will go down in Crimson Tide history as one of the most loved Bama men ever: Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Jay Barker, Gene Stallings, Shaun Alexander, Jalen Hurts, Ken Stabler, Coach Bryant, Nick Saban, Mark Ingram, Amari Cooper, Lee Roy Jordan, Harry Gilmer, Ozzie Newsome, John Hannah, Derrick Henry, Demeco Ryans, Bobby Humphrey, Derrick Thomas, Julio Jones — the list goes on. And I’m here to tell you that you can now add Tua Tagovailoa to the list, as he’s a leading candidate to be ranked in the top-five of favorite Bama players ever.

As a new week is now upon us, it’s time to encourage healing rather than blame coaches — and we can all learn from a Bama football legend who has put it all in context.

Former Crimson Tide running back Shaun Alexander, who has faced pain in his own life (he and his wife Valerie lost their 70-day-old daughter Torah in May of 2017), is sending positive thoughts Tua’s way. While Shaun’s faith has helped him deal with his own setback, the 2005 NFL MVP has sent his own message to Tua via Twitter, and it’s a heartfelt message that speaks for all of us.

Shaun said, “My confidence in life is not about my gifts, abilities, awards or accomplishments. My confidence comes from my faith in Jesus. His plan is perfect. Every part of the plan is PERFECT. Love you, Tuaman. Walk through this like you was built to. Finish the Game. A legend is being made.”

It doesn’t get any better than that, my friend! From one legend to another, Shaun Alexander has reminded us all that life is about more than football, motivating Tua while speaking from the heart.

When great things come into our lives, we want more — and I have to be honest, I want more of Tua Tagovailoa. Could Tua decide to return for his senior season? Yes, he could, but I have a feeling that we will see Tua in the NFL next fall. Until then, let’s heed Shaun Alexander’s advice. One of the greatest players in Crimson Tide football history is likely finished playing college football. Let’s remember the southpaw gunslinger as a better person than he is a football player. For that, we are all grateful.

RELATED: Shaun Alexander on life, love and loss — ‘We will see her again, worshiping God together’

Rick Karle is a 24-time Emmy winning broadcaster and a special sports contributor to Yellowhammer News. He is also the host of the Huts and Nuts podcast.

2 days ago

Tua Tagovailoa scheduled for hip surgery on Monday — ‘God always has a plan’

(Tua Tagovailoa/Instagram)

University of Alabama star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is now set to have hip surgery on Monday, with “a full recovery” still projected.

Dr. Lyle Cain, the Crimson Tide’s team orthopedic surgeon from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Clinic at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, released a statement Sunday evening with the update.

“For the past 24 hours our medical team has consulted with multiple orthopedic experts across the country, who specialize in hip injuries and surgeries,” Cain outlined. “Based on that research, Tua is being flown to Houston tonight to be evaluated and is scheduled to have hip surgery Monday.”

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“As previously stated, we anticipate a full recovery. The main focus has been, and will remain, on Tua, his family, and making sure we are providing them the best medical care possible,” he concluded.

This comes after Cain on Saturday stated, “Tua Tagovailoa sustained a right hip dislocation that was immediately reduced at the stadium. He is undergoing further testing to determine the best course of treatment. He is expected to make a full recovery but will miss the remainder of the season.”

Tagovailoa has been at St. Vincent’s since being airlifted there from Starkville, MS — the location of the Tide’s contest against Mississippi State in which he was injured near the end of the first half.

Pictures have been posted to social media on Sunday showing teammates visiting Tagovailoa in the hospital.

Tagovailoa retweeted former Bama running back Shaun Alexander, who said, “My confidence in life is not in my gifts, abilities, awards or accomplishments. My confidence comes from my faith in Jesus. His plan is perfect. Every part of the plan is PERFECT. Love you Tuaman. Walk through this like you was built to. Finish the Game. A legend is being made.”

With a nod to his Hawaiian roots, Tagovailoa posted a picture on Instagram showing himself smiling while surrounded by teammates.

“OHANA means FAMILY, and FAMILY means no one gets left behind,” he said in the caption.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by TAGOVAILOA🇦🇸🇼🇸 (@tuamaann_) on

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Sherry Webb is an Alabama Bright Light at First Light Women’s Shelter

Sherry Webb, director of Social Services at First Light Women's Shelter in Birmingham

n 1983, in the basement of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Birmingham, a group of humanitarians began to take in homeless women and children.

Now two blocks away, First Light Women’s Shelter offers emergency shelter for homeless women and families 24 hours a day. It also offers individualized case management, group sessions, life skills, movie and art therapy, and four permanent and one transitional housing programs.

But the offering that most delights Sherry Webb, director of Social Services, is this: First Light is a place of acceptance where guests can regain dignity, find hope and practice independence.

“First Light’s mission is to provide shelter to homeless women living with children,” Webb said. “We are unique because it is the only 24-hour emergency shelter in the city that takes in women and children any time of the day or night.”

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First Light takes in families that can have boys up to age 18, which makes it different from other shelters. The staff at First Light works hard to keep families together, regardless of what they’re going through.

“We see families from all walks of life. We see families who are fleeing domestic violence. We’ve seen families who’ve gotten evicted or had a family member pass away,” Webb said. “One thing that is unique about First Light is that everyone who walks in the door sees a social worker. They also receive any medical services that may be needed.”

First Light provides programs such as Forever HomesProject Healthy Minds, Bible studies, meals and social services. The stay can be a day, a week or months. The average stay is about 45 days.

“We have so many great success stories of people whose lives were turned around,” Webb said. “Everyone that comes here is in some sort of crisis situation. We had a mother from Georgia with her three children, two of which were teenagers. We were able to move them into another family program where she ended up getting a nursing degree and even wound up purchasing a home. Those are our biggest success stories. When we see someone come off the streets and end up in a home, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Webb, who has worked at First Light since 2001, has seen many families come in one shape and leave in another. It never gets old.

“One thing that makes my heart smile is to see a woman who walks in the shelter and works with our social workers to get them to a place where they are functioning in society,” she said. “To see them go from being unstable to someone living their best life, that’s what makes my heart smile.”

For more information, visit www.firstlightshelter.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at karimshamsibasha@gmail.com.

3 days ago

Local ‘elves’ bring Christmas cheer to Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital

(Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

Angels are among us, in the form of volunteers.

Such is the case at Children’s of Alabama, where more than 50 “elves” from across Greater Birmingham met on Nov. 10, busily running to and fro to decorate Christmas trees on the hospital’s mezzanine and first floor. It’s all for the annual Children’s of Alabama tree display, a major fundraiser that helps the hospital buy equipment.

For volunteers Prissy Daly, Tammy and Jordan Reece, Cindy DeArman, Melissa Springfield, and Laurie and Haley Heath, the effort was a labor of love. The project was courtesy of the Magic City Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO).

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Children’s of Alabama hospital gets Christmas tree cheer from Alabama Power volunteers from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Young patients, their families, hospital staff and visitors are in awe of Alabama Power’s “Santa Claus Tree,” the “Pop of Color” tree and a tree trimmed with elegant, rust-colored ornaments. Through their work, last year they helped contribute $30,000 to the hospital through bids for trees during the fundraiser.

The team pours their hearts, time and money into the project. Magic City APSO members Daly and Reece, Alabama Power retiree and Corporate Energizer member DeArman and Springfield consider the event the official start of the holidays.

Daly calls the project a chance to share the Christmas spirit. The team invests many hours of work and planning months before they hit the floor at Children’s.

“We shop all year at thrift stores and sales for the best deals,” said Daly, administrative assistant for Environmental Compliance at Alabama Power.

This year’s decorations included gifts bequeathed by a friend of Springfield’s, whose mother had insisted that she wanted her elegant decorations to benefit Children’s. For several years, Springfield worked at Connections, an APSO-sponsored gift shop that benefited charitable endeavors in Birmingham.

Children’s Community Development Coordinator Shelly McCarty said, “At Children’s of Alabama, we get community partners to decorate trees. We are so thankful to Alabama Power for decorating three trees this year. The trees are auctioned off to raise money for the hospital through our Children’s Ball. The trees will stay here until right before Thanksgiving, then be delivered all throughout Birmingham, spreading Christmas cheer.”

Most team members arrived around 9 a.m. Sunday, carrying ornaments and lights. Taking only a lunch break at Children’s Harbor auditorium, the group was absorbed in the task to make the trees as lovely as possible, to bring in high bids for Children’s.

“It’s always a fun time,” said Daly, a longtime Magic City APSO member. “There’s lots of in-house traffic that goes by. It’s a very upbeat, happy and positive time.”

Reece, who is 2019 secretary of Magic City APSO, and her 16-year-old daughter, Jordan, enjoyed the time together. During their three-hour decorating stint, she noticed her daughter’s dance teacher working on trees with another volunteer group. Reece is ensuring that her daughter, also a Magic City APSO member, learns the joy and value of helping the community.

“We got to meet some of the children who came by in the wagons,” said Reece, executive secretary for Environmental Compliance at Alabama Power. “There were extra toys for decorating, and we handed out some of the toys to the kids. It was a lot of fun.”

Daly is thankful for the many volunteer opportunities afforded by APSO and Energizers.

“I’m very, very blessed to do this through APSO,” Daly said. “Our Magic City APSO Chapter does so much for so many groups all year. This really speaks to our hearts.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

After two combat tours, University of South Alabama student PAVEs way forward for other veterans

Zack Aggen, a second-year University of South Alabama medical student, tutors and mentors a half-dozen undergraduates as part of a national program called Peer Advisors for Veteran Education. “It’s hard to open up to people who aren’t service connected in some way,” he said. (Mike Kittrell)

“Everybody reacts to trauma differently,” said Zack Aggen. He reacts by helping.

Aggen knows a lot about trauma. As a U.S. Army medic during two combat tours in Iraq, he saw terrible wounds, heard horrifying screams of pain and worked desperately to save the lives of the fellow soldiers who had become, in his word, “family.”

Aggen also remembers a quieter but still agonizing trauma: feeling “lost and hopeless” as he transitioned from the structured intensity of his military career to a baffling civilian life where none of the skills he’d learned seemed of any use.

“When I first got back,” he said, “I went from putting in chest tubes and bandaging amputations to the only job I could find, which was as a patient care tech at St. Vincent’s hospital in Birmingham. I went from saving people’s lives to changing bedpans.”

Now a second-year medical student at the University of South Alabama, Aggen managed to find his way to a future he envisioned on his hardest days. A little guidance from someone who had been where he’d been would have made it a lot easier.

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So that’s what he now provides. He tutors and mentors a half-dozen undergraduates as part of a national program called Peer Advisors for Veteran Education. PAVE, which began as a pilot program in 2012, operates out of the University of Michigan. It now has 46 partner campuses. In September 2019, the University of South Alabama became the first campus in Alabama.

Joshua Missouri, South’s coordinator of veterans affairs (and a Navy veteran himself), runs South’s PAVE program. The University has about 350 students who are veterans or service members. When Missouri proposed that South sign on with PAVE, he said, “We got institutional support almost immediately. We got funding. That shows the commitment from the university to serve veterans.”

PAVE is a low-key, all-volunteer program. Aggen is one of a half-dozen or so peer advisers at South. They’re military veterans who have already experienced at least a year or two of campus life. They’re trained to support incoming veterans who are just starting college.

Aggen tutors in math and science, listens if the undergrads want to talk, gives them tips about campus services and outside organizations that might be a good fit and even recommends babysitters and local schools. Whatever they need.

As a medical student, he’s paired with undergraduates in health fields. Two-thirds are women. To them, he represents someone who understands. Even now, 11 years after leaving the Army, “There are very few people I will talk to things about,” he said. “Mostly it’s other service members. It’s hard to open up to people who aren’t service connected in some way.”

He makes sure to check in regularly. “The thing I’m really sensitive to is veteran suicides. I’ve had several friends who have killed themselves. And so being another advocate for guys who may be struggling, that’s what’s important to me.”

Aggen spent four and a half years with the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, which was based in Germany during his service. In 2004-05 and 2006-07, he was deployed to Iraq. In 2007, as part of the increase in troop strength known as “the surge,” his battalion suffered the most combat deaths of any Europe-based U.S. military brigade in Iraq.

After he left the Army in 2008, he lived down the street from a police station in Birmingham. “Every time their siren would kick off, it would make a sound like an incoming mortar,” he said. “I would freeze. It went on for a year before I finally got used to it.”

He started college that year at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and graduated in 2011 with a degree in molecular biology. He had already taken a couple of college classes while in the service. He squeezed the rest into three years because GI Bill education benefits end after 36 months.

At UAB, he met the woman who became his wife. Dr. Ashlen Aggen is now a family medicine physician in Bayou La Batre, a half-hour south of the USA campus. The Aggens have three children, boys who are 11 and 5, and a 1-year-old girl.

After Ashlen’s graduation from UAB, South accepted her into medical school and, later, residency. Zack took advantage of an Alabama program that fast-tracks high school teaching certificates for holders of college math or science degrees. He taught for seven years, supporting his wife through her medical training.

Then it was his turn. Aggen, now 34, finally has an opportunity to fulfill a promise he made to himself during his medic days to learn everything he can about medicine. He and his wife would like to work together to meet the medical needs of an underserved community like Bayou La Batre. They haven’t figured out all the details.

“She does family medicine, so she can do the cradle-to-the-grave care,” Zack said. “So things that I might do are obstetrics or general surgery or something else that’s needed out there. I don’t know yet, really.”

Meanwhile, he’s helping with the PAVE program, organizing rural healthcare initiatives, carrying out the duties associated with being president of his class, coaching a special needs baseball team, and helping care for his three kids.

“I’m just one of those people who can’t take his foot off the gas,” he said.

And what keeps him from crashing and burning, like too many other combat veterans? “The honest answer is my wife. She met me when I was still recovering from that experience and chose to stay with me even though I was a mess. She’s still supporting me as I get through my medical training. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

Most veterans don’t have an Ashlen. Most who go to college don’t fit in with students just out of high school.

Missouri, South’s veterans’ affairs coordinator gives an example: People fresh out of the military tend to speak directly, even bluntly, “They mean well,” he said. “But it’s not interpreted that way sometimes. So they need help with those soft skills.”

And when they need help with academic skills, Aggen said, “It’s tough to sit there and be tutored by some 19-year-old kid with no life experiences. It’s hard to relate.

“But if you’ve got this gruffer, tatted-up old dude who happens to be good at whatever you’re struggling at, it helps. Then it’s like, I don’t feel so different.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

1 week ago

10 fun family Thanksgiving tradition ideas

(Pixabay, YHN)

This year my mom and I got started talking about traditions. You know, what activities do we want to pass down from generation to generation, especially since there are grandbabies runnin’ around now!

We chatted about all the standards: painting/carving pumpkins at Halloween, baking cookies/gingerbread houses at Christmas and present wrapping parties throughout the year for birthdays, etc.

But we soon realized that other than a day full of cooking, we were coming up dry with a fun tradition for Thanksgiving. Aside from curling up to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (which is a tradition I will always cherish), we decided we needed to remedy this clear unfairness to such an important holiday.

It seems pretty unfortunate that the only time most people gather and converse about God’s many blessings is around the dining room table once a year on Thanksgiving. It would be nice if there was a way we could remind ourselves daily what we have to be grateful for and what our family members are grateful for as well. So, I’ve scoured the minds of my much smarter friends to help us all out this year.

I present to you 10 fun family Thanksgiving tradition ideas:

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(1) Create a thankfulness countdown – For each day in the month of Thanksgiving, talk as a family about something or someone you are thankful for. There are several ways you can display the results of your thankfulness chats. You could cut out turkey shapes and allow children to write a new item to be thankful for each day on a feather. You could use a chalkboard displayed prominently for all family members to see throughout the day. You could even use a journal to keep as family treasure forever. No matter how you preserve the fruits of these chats, I promise it will change your whole perspective and get you more excited than ever to spend an entire month focused on all your many blessings!

(2) Save to give! – For the entire month, pick up a few extra items each time you go grocery shopping. Blankets, warm coats and clothes are nice to have on hand as well. Reach out to local shelters, women’s’ groups and churches to see what needs they may have for the upcoming holiday. Make it a priority to give back in whatever way you feel called. Thanksgiving is a reminder of all the many blessings we have been gifted, and a perfect opportunity to give back to those in deepest need of our love and kindness.

Another way you can give back is to serve in the weeks leading up (and even on Thanksgiving Day), at your local shelter. These individuals are often without any other means of providing a meal to their families and investing in their lives is something you will be very grateful you made time to do. Often, having the ability to give back is one of our greatest blessings.

(3) Create love baskets – Before the insanity of the season truly kicks in, take a few moments to create Love Baskets for your closest family and friends. Consider baking some cookies with your children and gathering some hot cocoa supplies. You can purchase inexpensive baskets and wrapping supplies at your local dollar store. Put little baskets together to take and drop off at your loved ones’ houses. Share with them that you want to make it a point each year to remind those you love just how much you love them. Trust me, this tradition will swiftly become one that all of your friends and family look forward to year after year!

(4) Host a family game night – Who says you can only be thankful and fun on a few nights each year? Put together a night of fun-filled with games and story-telling. Invite your friends and family to participate. Trade off with hosting duties. Throw in an extra level of fun by having a theme. Making time for each other is one of the most important parts of the holiday season.

(5) Start a Friendsgiving supper club with friends – When I think about Thanksgiving, all that comes to mind (food-wise) is a giant turkey, tons of fluffy dressing and canned cranberry sauce (the form of canned cranberry sauce is emblazoned in my brain forever, y’all). Since you know you will be enjoying all the spoils of a pilgrim-approved meal later in November, spend the rest of the month gathering with friends each week to share taco night, noodle night, Italian night, BBQ bonanza, etc. This is such a fun way to make sure and spend time loving on your friends and also saving the Thanksgiving approved nosh for later!

(6) Family affirmation craft – Instead of lurking in the corner attempting to avoid the political conversations we all know are bound to fill the halls of our homes this year, be intentional about changing the topic of conversation! Take the talk back inward and chat about all the many ways you are grateful for one another.

Here’s how to get it going: Every November, give each family member a card for every other family member. (So if there are 10 family members total, give each family member nine cards).

Write each family member’s name on the back of their respective card. Then, ask each family member to write something nice, something they love or something they are grateful for about each of the other family members on their respective cards. (They could also choose to include a quote or story about the family member, too.)

Select an “organizer” who will collect all of the cards and add them to a binder ring for each family member. Do this for a few years in a row and each family member will have tons of uplifting messages, quotes, and encouraging words of love to reflect upon.

I love this concept because it reminds us daily of why we love each other, why we are grateful to God for giving us one another and how we should live in gratitude all year long.

(7) Create a family recipe Book – Take some time to sit down the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to reach out to you family members requesting them to bring their favorite recipes to Thanksgiving dinner. Once collected, put them all together and make copies to create a treasure for each family. You can create recipe books in almost all online photo hubs such as Shutterfly, Snapfish, even Walgreens will print a photo book for you in under an hour. These will become unique memory books worthy of passing down for generations to come!

(8) Personalize your place settings – Rather than the simple name card, consider crafting a special welcome for your thanksgiving dinner guests. Using the same card idea, jot down personality traits, encouraging words or quotes to include as well. The more personal you make your loved ones feel, the more deeply those memories will last with them forever.

(9) Set up a simple craft table for children – One of the more stressful parts of holiday entertaining is what to do with all the little ones running around. Planning ahead saves the day! Using an inexpensive card table, lay out a paper tablecloth with crayons. You can also pick up very inexpensive crafts at Hobby Lobby or Michaels throughout the season (Heads up: both stores dramatically mark down their products the closer to the day, but stock is always better the further out you prepare …). Set up a station to control the frustration! There’s you a catchy new motto. By providing them a “home,” children will feel welcomed and entertained for hours giving you time to socialize without the stress.

(10) Get outside! – One of my favorite traditions from childhood is playing a game of whiffle ball with the whole family as soon as everyone woke up from their “turkey nap,” as my grandmother called it. We would block out an entire afternoon of fun by picking teams, setting the rules and involving even the tiniest of family members in the fun. To take it up a notch, we even started crafting team uniforms. Make this day all about gathering in love to celebrate the gift of a family to treasure and memories worth making together.

1 week ago

Former Bama star Jalen Hurts befriends bullied boy — ‘It meant the world to me’

(ESPN/Twitter)

Former University of Alabama star quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to be an exemplary role model.

This past weekend, Hurts’ current team — the University of Oklahoma Sooners — hosted 12-year-old Rayden Overbay as their special guest.

Overbay, who has autism, Type 2 diabetes and is deaf in one ear, went viral recently — but not for a good reason. The boy made national headlines after being assaulted by bullies in two separate incidents, each recorded on video.

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Hurts heard about Overbay’s story, and the Heisman contender spent time with him after the Sooners’ game against Iowa State on Saturday in the locker room.

In a video posted by ESPN, Hurts can be seen signing a football for the boy before telling him that he and his teammates are behind him.

Hurts also told OU Daily how important the experience was to him.

The quarterback said Overbay inspires him.

“I mean honestly, Rayden is an inspiration to me,” Hurts said. “I told him he was a soldier for just how he handled himself. It meant the world to me honestly to meet him. That whole meeting was great for me, and he has a friend in me.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Veteran helped by Alabama deputies could reconnect with son

(Morgan County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)

JASPER, ALA. (AP) — A social media post about a veteran wearing an oxygen mask while walking down a road may help connect the man to his estranged son.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post that the Gulf War veteran attempted to walk about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Walker County to Huntsville for an appointment Wednesday because his car wasn’t working.

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A Walker County deputy worked with other deputies to transport him to and from his appointment at the VA. News reports identify him as Gerald Baldwin.

The post has more than 150,000 shares. Baldwin’s son Lance in Pennsylvania saw the story and recognized his father. He told news outlets Sunday that the two hadn’t spoken in about five years. He now plans to reach out to his father.

(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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Editor’s note — The aforementioned Facebook post is as follows:

1 week ago

Final resting places for Alabama veterans

Todd Newkirk looks over the graves at Alabama National. The cemetery was built about a decade ago to provide a central location to serve the Birmingham metro area and beyond. (Jim Plott/Alabama Living)

Like soldiers at attention, battalions of white markers stretch out across the fields in perfect formation.

Below them are soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. They are compatriots linked by more than common soil. Some died in service; many others survived the decades before finally falling to old age. All sacrificed.

Alabama has four cemeteries dedicated to the men and women who have worn American military uniforms. They are shrines and places of reflection to the people who fought at places like Chateau-Thierry, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Incheon, Saigon, Baghdad and Kabul.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs oversees Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo and Fort Mitchell National Cemetery near Phenix City. The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs manages cemeteries under the same VA regulations in Spanish Fort and Mobile, although the one in Mobile is at capacity and open only to surviving spouses.

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Burials and headstones at all the cemeteries are free for the veteran, spouse and dependent children. That includes in-ground casket or cremation burials or in a columbarium for urns containing cremated remains.

“Everything from the gate to the headstone is free. That saves a family anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 at a minimum,” said Todd Newkirk, assistant director at Fort Mitchell and interim director at Alabama National.

Newkirk, scanning the pristine grounds of Alabama National, believes there is a more plausible explanation why service members choose to call a veterans cemetery their final resting place.

“You are among your brothers and sisters at arms,” Newkirk said. “You are a veteran, and this is a place that honors veterans 24/7. And as long as there is a United States of America, this place is going to be taken care of. People are going to be here every day, all day, taking care of the cemetery.”

Reminders of sacrifice

Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Bourland was the first active-duty serviceman to be buried at Alabama National, which was dedicated in 2008. The Birmingham native, who flew helicopter missions in Iraq, died in February 2010 when the hotel where he was staying during a humanitarian mission in Haiti collapsed during an earthquake. Bourland was survived by his wife and two sons, then ages 3 and 1.

“Our daughter-in-law was the one that made the decision whether he would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery (near Washington, D.C.) or here,” said Bourland’s mother, Adrienne Bourland. “I am very glad she made the choice for him to come back to Alabama. It has allowed us be involved in the ceremonies and the activities.”

Adrienne Bourland and her husband live in St. Clair County and are members of a volunteer support staff that helps conduct special ceremonies at the cemetery on veterans and memorial holidays. Kenneth Bourland’s family has moved back to the Birmingham area from Florida, where they were living at the time of his death.

Alabama cemetery headstones, carved from Sylacauga marble, include a person’s name, rank, branch of service, date of birth and death, and a symbol of religion.

“The last two or three spaces are for an optional inscription that the next of kin is able to select,” Newkirk said. “They can put whatever they want on those lines as long as it is appropriate.”

‘I see America here’

Fort Mitchell National was established 31 years ago at the urging of U.S. Rep. Bill Nichols and state Sen. Joseph Smith of Phenix City, both of whom contended that Alabama deserved a national cemetery. Their argument was fortified by Fort Benning, Georgia, being just across the Chattahoochee River from Alabama.

“Joseph Smith was actually the first person buried here,” Newkirk said. “He actually died before it opened, and his wife had him disinterred (from another cemetery) and reinterred here.”

Alabama National and Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery were created in 2008 and 2012, respectively, to meet the burial needs of World War II and Korean War veterans.

All three cemeteries adjoin historical grounds. Alabama National is adjacent to American Village, an educational facility that contains replicas of historical structures. Fort Mitchell National Cemetery abuts a replica of the early American outpost and link to the Federal Road that opened Alabama to settlers. The Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery is near Fort Blakely, which was the site of the largest Civil War battle in Alabama.

Each cemetery conducts commemorative ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and many volunteers lay wreaths on the headstones at Christmas. Those ceremonies are generally conducted by support committees, veteran groups and Scouts.

Newkirk, however, said he can’t help but reflect on the sacrifices of those entombed every time he drives in the cemetery entrance.

“This is the best job I ever had in my life,” he said. “I did 21 years active duty in the Air Force and 15 years as a civilian in the Army, and so it is special to me. I see America here. I see my brother and sisters. It’s just an honor to be here.”

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Alabama Power honors military service members

(Alabama NewsCenter)

It’s an honor to serve, and every year the men and women who answer that call are honored for their service to their country.

The Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) recently recognized military veterans who have made an impact both in their military careers as well as their business careers. These Veterans of Influence include CEOs, attorneys and professionals who have a strong record of innovation and outstanding performance in their work and are actively involved in the community.

Alabama Power Accounting Services Manager Charlie Cook was one of the 24 Veterans of Influence this year. Cook joined the U.S. Army and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also served in the Alabama National Guard while working for Alabama Power.

Cook said the most impactful lesson he learned in the military that has translated to his career at Alabama Power was the idea that “anyone is capable of achieving anything, provided they are given the appropriate training, motivation, encouragement, feedback and recognition for their dedication, hard work and accomplishments.”

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“The leadership training I received and opportunities that were afforded to me formed the foundation of my leadership traits,” he added.

Alabama Power, Balch & Bingham LLP, Changing Spaces Moving Inc., Lightfoot, Franklin & White, StateServ/Hospicelink and Teksouth were named Veteran Friendly Employers by the BBJ.

Alabama Power honored its own military veterans, reservists, active duty service members and military spouses at a luncheon Nov. 4 in Birmingham, while other events were held at locations across the company.

Senior Vice President of Employee Services and Labor Relations Jeff Peoples hosted a panel discussion of employees who have served in the military. The panel discussed lessons learned from their time of service and how their experiences apply to their work at Alabama Power.

Tyea Pettway, chemical technician at E.C. Gaston Steam Plant and U.S. Army National Guard member, and other panelists highlighted the adaptability and flexibility taught in the military as well as the emphasis on diversity.

“The military builds you up to be leaders,” added Scott Wilson, a mechanic at E.C. Gaston Steam Plant and U.S. Marine Corpsveteran. “You learn to do what needs to be done with who’s around you, regardless of race or gender. You’re all focused on one goal.”

When asked what Veterans Day meant to them, the panelists agreed it gave them an opportunity to show their gratitude.

“It gives us an opportunity to thank everyone for all the support, prayers and letters reminding us that someone has our back,” said Brandon Sinquefield, lead lineman and veteran of the U.S. Marines. “Veterans Day is just as much an appreciation for the families of veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made too.”

Birmingham’s annual National Veterans Day Parade takes place at 1:30 p.m. Monday, starting downtown at Richard Arrington Boulevard and First Avenue South.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

The Waverly Local in Alabama is worth the drive for fresh, flavorful food

(Brooke Echols/Alabama Living)

Driving into Waverly, Alabama – population 185, give or take – harkens to a slower, simpler time, with its tiny post office and historic homes along the main thoroughfare that’s still a two-lane street (thankfully, U.S. Highway 280 was routed around the town).

Careful, or you’ll drive right by the Waverly Local, the Southern-cuisine eatery opened by executive chef Christian Watson and Andy Anderson, a partner in the company that makes Wickles Pickles. Watson and Anderson revived an old commercial space that was originally the home of one of the state’s first Ford dealerships.

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Over the years, the space housed two restaurants – Peyton’s Place and then the Yellowhammer Cafe. When that restaurant closed, it sat vacant for five years, but Anderson, who lives across the street, kept his eye on the building. When the timing was right, the childhood friends decided to open their own restaurant.

It needed a good cleaning and some repairs, but they took care not to compromise the building’s historic integrity. The result is an atmosphere that is understated, but clean and comfortable. The booths and banquettes are custom-made, and the copper tables, bar and host stand are handmade by a local metalworks artisan. The floors were cleaned and sealed, but the remaining imperfections add character.

“We really just wanted to accentuate what was already here, not mask it and cover it up, but kind of revitalize it,” Watson says.

Inspiration

It was the rich history of the building that inspired Watson to start reading old cookbooks, some dating to the late 19th century. These cookbooks featured foods that were clean and real, and recipes that were simple and Southern – which is exactly what Watson and Anderson wanted their restaurant to be.

“You’ll never see microgreens or coconut foam here,” Watson says.

The menu is small, by design. Watson’s focus is on the execution of the cooking.

“This isn’t a fine dining restaurant, but we serve fine dining food. Our service is fine-dining style without the pretentiousness. We’re Waverly; there’s no pretentiousness here,” Watson said, with a laugh.

Before going to culinary school, Watson lived and worked on a farm for three years, an experience that gave him a deep appreciation for small farming operations and fresh, healthy food. He uses as much locally sourced food as possible, preferring to buy from local farmers and purveyors to keep money in the community while still using quality ingredients. The eggs, dairy products and most of the vegetables are locally produced, and Waverly only serves domestic Gulf seafood (except for a smoked salmon BLT at Sunday brunch, which is wild Alaskan).

“The food we put on the plate is what we’d feed our family,” Watson says. “It’s clean. No antibiotics, no growth hormones, organic as much as we possibly can.”

The menu is seasonal and is updated frequently to reflect the availability of the local and regional products. A mainstay is the best-selling ribeye, served with horseradish cream; coming in at a close second is the daily Gulf offering (barrelfish, on a recent day), served over caramelized mushrooms, peas, potatoes and asparagus with an orange rum vinaigrette.

The menu isn’t all upscale entrees. The tasty burger is a double stack, served with all the trimmings and an herb mayo – and the necessary Wickles Pickles.

The bar menu is seasonal as well. Watson and manager Spencer Bradley collaborate on the specialty cocktails and wine lists.

In the beginning, the restaurant was dinner service only; Sunday brunch was added earlier this year. In late July, they added Saturday lunch.

“We’ve done things at our own pace and our own comfort level, so we do it right and we don’t compromise our integrity,” Watson says.


The Waverly Local

1465 Patrick St. Waverly, Alabama 36879
334-539-6077

Hours:
4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday;
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday;
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday for brunch.

www.thewaverlylocal.com

Visit The Waverly Local on Facebook for specials and live musical lineups.

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

UAH alumna’s gap year program becomes dream career

Raeshaun Jones’ (’18, BA, Psychology) gap year was supposed to be a much-needed break from rigorous academic work. But, after hearing about the unique research opportunities being conducted at the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s (UAH) Psychology Department, Jones made a spur-of-the-moment decision to enroll in the academic program rather than setting off for gap year activities.

The Hartselle, AL, native earned her first undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa). Although Jones’ minor was in psychology, she never considered it a career choice until she heard about the innovative research being conducted at UAH. She remembers close friends boasting about how great UAH was for them.

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“My academic interests continued to flourish after working in the UAH Lifelong Learning Laboratory directed by Dr. Jodi Price,” said Jones. “Dr. Price helped me to discover the physical and mental aspects of psychological problems that interested me the most.”

At UAH, Jones said genuine concern for students shown by the professors in the Psychology department changed her academic outlook. “I grew as a person and was able to fully understand my career path. Instead of attending medical school, I applied to the university’s graduate Psychology program. It is the best decision I ever made.”

Jones’ number one priority as a human factors analyst on the Redstone Arsenal is to make sure the human-machine interaction (communication and interaction) work together seamlessly.

“Working in the helicopter division, I am tasked with analyzing helicopters and humans that fly the aircraft. In addition, my tasks include reviewing tests that have been conducted, researching new ideas being implemented in the field, and even thinking of ways to better the experience of pilots throughout flights,” she added.

Jones said the most exciting part of her job is being able to help people. “The pilots are very appreciative of us listening to what they want, and figuring out a way to implement it quickly. Knowing that what I do directly helps the pilots is exhilarating and inspires me to be more innovative.”

Now a UAH graduate student, Jones sums up in two words the value of her education: unlimited potential.

“UAH prepared me well for my current position as a human factors analyst,” said Jones. “I use the academic knowledge I learned from UAH on a daily basis at work. I never expected to use strategic decision making from perception, development, and cognition on the job. But I use the information as a starting point and tailor it to the issue at hand in order to come up with relevant suggestions to fix, or at least mitigate, current or future problems.

“This position requires me to work in tandem with engineers from many disciplines. Going to UAH, an institution that has an international reputation for educating engineers has prepared me for this position even more.”

Jones said her favorite UAH experience will always be attending the Psychonomic Society’s 58th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

“It was the first conference of my academic career through research in the UAH Lifelong Learning Laboratory. People from all over the world attended the conference,” said Jones. “I presented a poster, and it was there I fell for the culture of the psychology community.”

Her advice to anyone seeking a career in the Liberal Arts — specifically psychology is to simply: “do not limit yourself.”

“There is so much to do in the field of psychology,” said Jones. “Find aspects of the field that excite you, and then find a career that utilizes those aspects. When you find a job that doesn’t feel like work, then you know you have found something special.”

In spring 2020, Jones will graduate from UAH with a Master of Arts in Psychology, with an Industrial and Organizational Psychology Specialization.

(Courtesy of University of Alabama in Huntsville)

1 week ago

Alabama Power’s Washington County CoGen celebrates two decades

(Mike Kittrell/Powergrams)

A triple play in baseball is rare and sure to be replayed on ESPN.

While they won’t make SportsCenter highlights, just as rare are the triple-qualified journeymen who work at the Washington County Cogeneration power plant 40 miles north of Mobile – the first in Alabama Power history to be qualified simultaneously as mechanics, electrical and instrumentation employees and plant operators.

That exclusive milestone is being recognized in 2019 as the plant celebrates its 20-year anniversary.

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“We’re responsible for all aspects of the plant,” said Jim Eubanks, one of the original journeymen when the cogen plant opened in 1999 who is still on the job. “I enjoy being able to do all three classifications and being able to work outside the control room. We are a small group and great team of people that work really well together.”

Another milestone is the unusual nature of the plant – a “combined-cycle” facility using both steam and natural gas to make electricity for all customers, and steam exclusively for Olin Corp., an international leader in the production of chemicals and one of Southern Company’s largest customers. The Alabama Power plant is onsite at Olin.

Olin’s $700 million factory was built in 1952 on the banks of the Tombigbee River, just west of U.S. Highway 43 in southwest Washington County. It employs 300 people and uses the chlor-alkali process to make bleach, chlorine, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen and caustic soda for a variety of industrial uses, including the pulp and paper industry, textiles, vinyl, food processing, soap and cleaning products.

“Good neighbors are a treasure beyond measure,” said Olin Plant Manager Ken Corley. “With aligned cultures and core principles of safety, reliability and exceptional customer service, Olin deeply appreciates and values our strong collaboration with Alabama Power.”

The history of the cogen plant dates back to the mid-1990s, when Alabama Power’s Marketing department thought outside the box to offer steam to several major industrial customers, one of which was Olin. Many chemical-making industries use high-pressure steam for internal functions.

The APC cogen unit was designed by Southern Company Services Engineering and built by Southern Company construction. It was the first combined-cycle plant in Southern’s retail fleet. In the plant, natural gas ignites burners that compress air, turning turbine blades of one generator. Exhaust flows through the heat recovery steam generator, producing steam that turns another generator. Some steam is siphoned off and sent to Olin for its industrial processes.

The cogen plant employs 26 workers, including 14 journeymen, an Operations and Maintenance manager, operations team leader, instrumentation and control specialist, chemical technician, engineer; power generation analyst, and six shared employees.

“Through the years, the staff has dealt with everything from alligators to hurricanes,” said Danny Bolerjack, manager of Operations and Maintenance. “The unit has demonstrated high reliability as personnel focus on the main purpose of the plant: providing steam to one of Southern Company’s biggest industrial customers.”

Alabama Power has two other cogeneration plants, in Theodore and Lowndes County west of Montgomery.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Athletics receives sensory-inclusive certification from KultureCity

(KultureCity/Contributed)

The University of Alabama Department of Athletics has partnered with KultureCity to make Bryant-Denny Stadium sensory inclusive. This new initiative will promote a more accessible and positive experience for guests and fans with sensory needs at the stadium.

“Obtaining this certification is something that was very important to us,” said Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Byrne. “We want all of our fans to have the best experience possible, and we thank everyone at KultureCity for educating and equipping us with the tools needed.”

The certification process included sensory awareness training provided to staff at the University of Alabama by leading medical professionals to provide tools on how to better serve guests with sensory needs.

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“To know that you soon will be able to see families attend a football game, a true community binding experience, with their loved ones who have a sensory challenge and who were not able to previously attend, is truly a heartwarming moment,” said Dr. Julian Maha, co-founder of KultureCity. “Our communities are what shape our lives and to know that Alabama Athletics is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone, no matter their ability, is included in their community is amazing.”

Sensory bags equipped with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads will also be available to guests at Bryant-Denny Stadium with sensory needs who may feel overwhelmed by the environment. Three areas have been designated as check-out locations for the sensory bags, which will be staffed by members of the University of Alabama Autism Clinic. Bags can be checked out by leaving an ID at the following locations:

  • Lower level (ground floor): Near the first aid room behind Section K
  • Upper level (concourse): Near Section SS-10
  • Upper level (concourse): Near Section NN-11

Sensory sensitivities or challenges with sensory regulation are often experienced by people with autism, dementia, PTSD and other similar conditions. One of the major barriers for these individuals is sensitivity to overstimulation and noise, which is an enormous part of the environment in sporting venues. With its new certification, Bryant-Denny Stadium is now better prepared to assist guests with sensory sensitivities in having a more comfortable experience when in attendance.

Prior to attending an event, fans can download the free KultureCity App to view what sensory features are available and where they can access them. The App also features a Social Story that will provide a preview of what to expect while enjoying an event at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

For fans needing assistance in-venue, please call 205-348-5620.

KultureCity is a leading nonprofit recognized nationwide for using its resources to revolutionize and effect change in the community for those with sensory needs. Since the program’s inception, KultureCity has created more than 350 sensory-inclusive venues in four countries, including special events such as the NFL Pro-Bowl, NFL Super Bowl and MLB All Star Weekend.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels gearing up for final show of 2019

(S. Chambers/YHN)

On Saturday, the sky above Pensacola will be filled with loud jets streaking by. Thousands of people are expected to attend the culmination of the 2019 demonstration season for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

After countless shows across the United States, this one is special. Not only does it mark the end of the season, but three pilots will leave the team following the Saturday show at NAS Pensacola: The “Boss” Capt. Eric Doyle, lead solo pilot Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Hempler and U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Jeff Mullins will say goodbye.

The pilots will return to the Navy fleet and Mullins to service in the Marine Corps.

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Yellowhammer News spoke with Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Hempler on Thursday about what the homecoming airshow means to him.

Hempler said being able to perform a show in the hometown of Naval Aviation is very special. He added that he will miss his time one the team, including his famous sneak pass maneuver, where he streaks over the unsuspecting crowd and a minimum altitude. When asked what he most looks forward to following the season, Hempler said smoking some meat on the grill and watching college football.

Capt. Eric Doyle said being a pilot with the Blue Angels was a dream come true and he will forever miss his time on the demonstration team. Doyle went on to say the show will be like any homecoming, where the pilots get to see friends, fans and former Blue Angel pilots, adding it is a great opportunity to celebrate the Blue Angels.

After performing a rigorous schedule each weekend, the Blue Angeles will take a few weeks off before reporting to training for the 2020 season at NAF El Centro in California.

The 2019 homecoming airshow is open to the public and is free of charge. The show takes place at NAS Pensacola. Gates open at 8:00 a.m. and ends around 3:30 p.m. The Blue Angels are scheduled to fly at 2:00 p.m. For more information click here.

Scott Chambers is a news anchor for Yellowhammer News Network and Gulf State News Network

2 weeks ago

Pursell Farms: This family-owned business showcases the best of ‘Alabama The Beautiful’

David Pursell’s family business has undergone significant transformation over the years.

It began as a fertilizer company started by his great-grandfather in the early 20th-century and now stands as the premier golf and vacation destination in the state of Alabama.

One thing has remained constant for the Pursell family, and that is the land they call home. It has been their family farm, a headquarters for the fertilizer business and now it is the property onto which the Pursells welcome visitors from all over the United States and the world.

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Pursell, who currently serves as CEO of Pursell Farms, lives on the property with his wife, Ellen. From their house, they are able to stay involved in every detail of the business and also enjoy the natural beauty of the farm by simply looking out of any window.

That view is one of which Pursell never tires.

“It’s an amazing view and I realize that I am super blessed to be able to live out here but also to live in Alabama and live in this country,” he said. “We take it for granted, but it’s an amazing privilege to live here. I try to remember that every day.”

A world-renowned destination

For him, “here” means the 3,200 acres on which Pursell Farms sits in Sylacauga, Alabama. This includes FarmLinks golf course, an 81-room inn, three restaurants and a wedding venue which holds up to 350 people.

In its 16th year, FarmLinks was voted once again the number one golf course in Alabama by Golf Week. And the wedding venue has a fairy tale quality about it. Visitors are struck by the seeming perfection of the scenery and grounds, with nary a blade of grass out of place.

One of the newest additions to the property is the Orvis shooting grounds.

Pursell Farms’ collaboration with the acclaimed outfitter and sporting company is a testament to the family’s reputation nationally among those in the sports and hospitality industries.

When Orvis wanted to add a shooting facility in the southeast – their biggest market – there was one place they had in mind.

“They called us,” recollected Pursell.

So, he went up to New York to meet the Perkins family, who owns Orvis, and to tour one of their facilities. Then the Perkins came down to Alabama.

“We drew up the contract on the back of a napkin,” Pursell said. “It wasn’t hours or days or weeks or months dealing with lawyers. It was just two family-owned companies saying, ‘This is what we are going to do, and this is how we are going to do it.’”

A true family business

The kind of agility that comes with being a family-run business traces its origins back more than 115 years.

Pursell’s great-grandfather, DeWitt Alexander Parker, founded Sylacauga Fertilizer Company in 1904. When he died in 1930, Pursell’s grandfather, Howard Arrington Parker, took over and ran it until the early 1960s.

As a result of some matchmaking by the great Alabama actor and entertainer, Jim Nabors, David Pursell’s father, Jimmy Pursell, married his wife Chris and joined the family business under Howard Parker’s tutelage.

RELATED: Matchmaking by actor Jim Nabors led to life on Pursell Farms

The extent to which the business was a family enterprise was impressed upon David Pursell at an early age.

“It’s been all these different generations of people,” he noted. “Again, about the land. The fertilizer business. There were a lot of cows involved always. And the mealtime conversations I just remember about the company. Even though I was young when I was coming up in the business, I actually was not sheltered from really anything about the fertilizer business itself. So, I learned a lot just around the dinner table.”

His first job was working in the family business as a 12-year old shoveling cottonseed in the warehouse. He has been at it ever since.

“All through high school I worked in the family fertilizer plant here in Sylacauga,” he remembered. “Went to Auburn, came back every summer, worked on the family farm here. Or doing something with the family business. So, when I get out of Auburn in December of 1980 it was never even a thought of going to work anywhere else. This was something I knew. It was in my blood, but it was a passion because I knew so much about it. It was kind of like ‘Hey, this is my family heritage.’”

Not only did he decide to enter the family business, but he also got married and moved out to live on the farm for the first time. That is where he and Ellen began raising what would ultimately become a family with six children.

During that time, Pursell and his family came to really know the land through time spent on it and with the help of a couple of four-wheelers they owned.

“At one time we didn’t even have a TV set,” he said. “We would just kind of takeoff and go on these adventures and we would spend hours and hours and hours just going around the farm – what is now Pursell Farms that nobody ever got a chance to see.”

RELATED: Enjoy the breathtaking view from atop Pursell Farms

Something his creative mind did see on those jaunts was the potential of the land and what it could become – what it has become today.

“Although I was in my early twenties, I didn’t have the means to do squat, so it was just kind of something I stored,” he remarked. “I guess you could say I stored it up in my heart. It was an amazing time to really get to know the land before it ever got transformed into the purposes that we used it for over the years or certainly what it is now.”

The evolution of the family business and Pursell Farms has been substantial during the four decades Pursell has lived on his family’s land.

“We had this great run in the fertilizer business for probably about 85 years,” the Pursell Farms CEO explained. “And then we started getting involved in more technological advancements. We got involved in controlled release fertilizers.”

In the 1950s, the company developed a brand-name called Sta-Green. It was his father’s “brainchild,” according to Pursell.

Under this brand, they entered the consumer lawn and garden market for the first time in addition to marketing to ornamental nursery growers, golf courses and their traditional agricultural customer base.

“Rocket fuel” added to the business

Then the company made a monumental discovery that would change its course, and that of the entire industry.

It developed the POLYON fertilizer technology.

“Amazing technology,” described Pursell. “It was kind of like rocket fuel compared to kerosene. We’re from Sylacauga, Alabama. I can’t overemphasize that more. We were competing against public companies that were operating in foreign countries and whatever, and we were just Sylacauga. We only had one plant and it was right here in downtown Sylacauga.”

The company developed and patented the technology to manufacture a coating for application to any type of fertilizer product. The thicker the coating, the longer the product would last. They developed different grades for different uses. Certain grades were developed for agriculture, others for tasks as sensitive as fertilizing golf course greens. The release technology allowed it to last anywhere from six weeks to one-and-a-half years. Nothing like this had ever been done before.

The structure of the company changed, as well, in 1997 when the consumer fertilizer segment was sold off. Taylor Pursell, David’s brother, went with the new company to serve as its CEO. David Pursell also recalled it being a time when his father, Jimmy, was beginning to remove himself from the day-to-day operation of the business.

“So, this was really my baby to run with,” David Pursell said. “It was an exciting time, but it was also kind of scary when you think about it because we had a lot riding on it. At the time, we had very little sales. We were still trying to kind of figure out how we were going to put this company together. Our main goal was to take this rocket fuel, this POLYON technology and figure out how are we going to get this fertilizer technology applied to every golf course in North America.”

What they needed was a customer base who understood the product. Not an easy task given the complexity of the product and its use.

“You can’t just make a flyer on it and them get it,” explained Pursell.

Another challenge was the fact that the product sat at a higher price point than most on the market.

“We knew that if our potential customers, our prospective customers, if we could convince them and tell them the story and have them understand it that we couldn’t come up with a reason why they couldn’t buy it because it’s just a matter of getting the point across to them,” said Pursell.

He and his company came up with an innovative sales and marketing strategy: They brought their customers to Sylacauga.

The company moved its headquarters from downtown Sylacauga to the family property outside of town and onto the land that is now Pursell Farms.

RELATED: How did Renaissance art (and a pool table Ronald Reagan played on) get to Sylacauga?

It was through the creation and implementation of a “visitation strategy” that the Pursells invited prospective customers to the farm to “state the case” for the use of their unique fertilizer product.

After the company headquarters was constructed, they then built accommodations to host their customers. The experience consisted of a two-night trip of education and fellowship for 20 people at a time. The Pursells did this twice a week for 42 weeks out of the year.

“We were trying to put our best foot forward with people that we didn’t know,” Pursell outlined. “You have one chance to make a first impression, so to speak. So we wanted to kind of showcase the family, the family business, eventually we would get to the product. What we knew was that we needed to build a relationship with these people, first, before we would get them to buy anything from us.”

Even with all of the information that was exchanged about the product, Pursell believes the focus was really on one aspect of each growing relationship.

“Essentially, it’s building trust,” he declared. “The trust was built over this three-day period of time.”

He credits their ability to build the requisite trust as a result of southern hospitality mixed with the introduction of the technology.

“Everything we did, nobody else was doing at the time,” he noted.

When Pursell felt the need to take their sales to an entirely new level, he tapped into the vision he had held for the land all those years.

In 2001, they began construction of FarmLinks. By 2003, with the golf course complete, their customers could understand the product even better by seeing it in what he termed “a real laboratory.”

With the beauty of the property, “it’s a pretty easy sell when you get people here,” he observed.

“Even if somebody wanted to copy it, it would be pretty hard for them to do it just because it was a huge investment on our part,” Pursell explained. “And it was something, as I look in my rear view mirror, you can pat yourself on the back and say, ‘Yeah, it worked out great’ but we didn’t know that at the time it was going to work out as good as it did.”

He calculates they have hosted more than 10,000 golf course superintendents on the property and still meets some in his own travels around the country who remember everything about their trip.

“Weaponizing” southern hospitality

In 2005, they began to attract suitors for the fertilizer business, which subsequently sold the following year.

“The farm was never going to be for sale,” he said. “This was just a marketing tool that we used to build the business up. Then we had this nice earnings pattern. The business was growing.”

However, he had a feeling it was time to sell the company even though they were 102 years old.

Having spent some time working with the acquiring company, Pursell began to contemplate how his family could forge its way into the hospitality business.

Now, Pursell Farms is a preeminent destination, and the core of its business is marketing southern hospitality.

As Pursell likes to say, their family has built a business by “weaponizing” southern hospitality.

Harkening back to the years spent hosting potential customers of their fertilizer business, Pursell knows they have been in the business of southern hospitality for a long time.

One of the reasons they are so adept at delivering southern hospitality is because they live on the property.

“My wife calls it living above the storefront,” noted Pursell. “We are always going to be the worst critics.”

He says it matters more to them because it is a family-owned business. And their involvement has only increased with some of his children and their spouses having assumed active roles.

“Everything we do is a reflection on the family,” he explained. “The family is our brand now. We don’t have a fertilizer product, per se. So, we want to do things well – excellently – and we love hosting people.”

Their love of hosting people has translated into a heightened degree of satisfaction among their guests.

Pursell Farms possesses an extraordinarily high 97% TripAdvisor rating. This means 97% of the people who provided a rating could not have rated Pursell Farms any higher.

“We’ve always been about the land”

Margaret Mitchell once wrote that land “is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything.”

For David Pursell and his family, it has amounted to much and has served as a central point in their lives. It has bound together generations of his family. It has brought thousands of people from a countless number of places to them, and it has permitted their involvement in life’s worthwhile pursuits.

As he modestly concluded, “We’ve always been about the land.”

The Yellowhammer Legacy Series tells the stories of the people and places that make Alabama beautiful. Join us throughout the year in exploring different parts of the state to discover lasting contributions to Alabama’s extraordinary culture.

Listen to David Pursells’ entire conversation with Yellowhammer:

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

2 weeks ago

Watch: Galu Tagovailoa reaffirms faith with Church of the Highlands’ Chris Hodges

(Galu Tagovailoa/Contributed)

While it’s a huge weekend coming up for the Crimson Tide football team and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, it’s already been a huge week for Tua’s father.

Galu Tagovailoa told me that he reaffirmed his faith just a few days ago by taking part in the Church of the Highlands’ “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus” series.

Pastor Chris Hodges welcomed Galu, his wife (Diane) and other family members as Hodges helped make Sunday special for the Tagovailoa family and others by holding baptisms.

I appreciate Galu for allowing me to post this video (which was originally posted on Instagram by Tua), and I hope that he has a great week.

Watch below or here:

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Galu’s next stop: Bryant-Denny Stadium to watch a little football game!

RELATED: Watch: Tua Tagovailoa’s parents pray for their son in reaction to the Bama QB starting on Saturday

Rick Karle is a 24-time Emmy winning broadcaster and a special sports contributor to Yellowhammer News. He is also the host of the Huts and Nuts podcast.

2 weeks ago

Yellowhammer Legacy Series: How did Renaissance art (and a pool table Ronald Reagan played on) get to Sylacauga?

(YHN)

There is only one piece of Renaissance art in Sylacauga – and maybe all of Alabama.

Watch to find out how it got there:

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This is just one of the many fascinating stories we heard when we sat down with Pursell Farms co-founder and CEO David Pursell as part of Yellowhammer’s Legacy Series. He shared with us the remarkable history behind his family’s business and the land he now calls home.

RELATED: Yellowhammer Legacy Series: Enjoy the breathtaking view from atop Pursell Farms

On November 7, Yellowhammer will publish a full-length feature on how Pursell Farms became an Alabama treasure.

The Yellowhammer Legacy Series tells the stories of the people and places that make Alabama beautiful. Join us throughout the year in exploring different parts of the state to discover lasting contributions to Alabama’s extraordinary culture.

2 weeks ago

Yellowhammer Legacy Series: Enjoy the breathtaking view from atop Pursell Farms

The natural beauty of Pursell Farms is striking to anyone who visits. For owner David Pursell, there is one part of the property that is particularly special.

Watch to enjoy the breathtaking view from that spot and hear David explain what makes it so unique:

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As part of Yellowhammer’s Legacy Series, the Pursell Farms CEO shared with us the remarkable history behind his family’s business and the land he now calls home.

On November 7, Yellowhammer will publish a full-length feature on how Pursell Farms became an Alabama treasure.

RELATED: Yellowhammer Legacy Series: Matchmaking by actor Jim Nabors led to life on Pursell Farms

The Yellowhammer Legacy Series tells the stories of the people and places that make Alabama beautiful. Join us throughout the year in exploring different parts of the state to discover lasting contributions to Alabama’s extraordinary culture.

2 weeks ago

Yellowhammer Legacy Series: Matchmaking by actor Jim Nabors led to life on Pursell Farms

As part of Yellowhammer’s Legacy Series, we sat down with Pursell Farms co-founder and CEO David Pursell. He shared with us the remarkable history behind his family’s business and the land he now calls home.

Along the way, we heard some fascinating stories.

Listen to David Pursell explain how world-famous actor and Alabama native Jim Nabors played matchmaker to David’s parents under some extenuating circumstances:

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On Thursday, November 7, Yellowhammer will publish a full-length feature on how Pursell Farms became an Alabama treasure.

The Yellowhammer Legacy Series tells the stories of the people and places that make Alabama beautiful. Join us throughout the year in exploring different parts of the state to discover lasting contributions to Alabama’s extraordinary culture.

2 weeks ago

Birmingham woman lives with, helps others fight epilepsy

(S. Franklin/Contributed)

Sara Franklin’s world turned upside down on the night of Aug. 25, 2018, when she experienced her first seizure. Now she has turned what began as a scary experience into an opportunity to help others facing similar situations.

“My husband woke in the middle of the night to find me convulsing, and I wasn’t responding. He didn’t know what to do, so he called 911,” said Franklin. “When I woke up about 15 minutes later, there were firemen in my room, and I didn’t remember anything.”

Franklin was rushed to a hospital after suffering a tonic clonic, more commonly known as grand mal seizure. She visited a neurologist several weeks later to undergo a series of tests but no cause for the seizure was immediately uncovered.

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Sara Franklin leads Epilepsy Foundation of Alabama to educate, guide others from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“That was a blessing because cancer and tumors can sometimes bring on seizures,” Franklin said. “But it was also a setback to life as I knew it because state law forbids anyone to drive for six months after a seizure. I was a new mom with a 6-month-old baby and was determined not to let anyone around me down, whether it was my husband, my baby, my boss or even my extended family and friends.”

Franklin experienced several partial seizures in November, which prolonged the ban on driving. The logistics of relying on family and friends to get her to work, and organizing childcare for her infant son, became an increasing challenge. Franklin decided to step away from work until doctors could diagnose her condition and find ways to deal with it.

In April, just weeks before Franklin would be allowed to drive, the family hit another wall.

Franklin’s husband, Drew, began suffering from excruciating headaches and numbness in his arm and face. After six emergency room visits and two stays in intensive care, it was determined that he had a life-threatening brain infection. Although Drew fully recovered thanks to antibiotics, the situation took a toll on Sara, causing another partial seizure.

Meanwhile, Sara was diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition that affects more than 54,000 people in Alabama, and she began receiving medication.

“The doctor thought the stress of my husband’s illness and the stress and lack of sleep that goes with having a new baby brought on my seizures,” Sara said.

About that time, Sara, who had been scouring the internet for information about her condition, saw a posting for the position of executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Alabama. She was hired after being recommended by the board chairman. Sara went to work in September. This organization, in coordination with the Epilepsy Foundation of America, works to provide treatment, support and resources; fund research and training for specialists; and educate the public about epilepsy and seizure first aid.

“I couldn’t believe that what I once saw as a tragedy has turned into an opportunity to walk with others and encourage them through their own journeys of epilepsy,” Franklin said. “My heart goes out to them. I want to walk alongside them as they seek to end seizures in their lives.”

Nearly two months later, Sara is heading up the foundation’s Walk to End Epilepsy on Nov. 2 – its biggest fundraiser of the year. The Birmingham walk will mobilize people from across the state to affect change through care, advocacy, research and education. More than 400 people are expected to take part in the walk at Railroad Park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 people will have a seizure during their life, and one in 26 will be diagnosed with epilepsy. More people have epilepsy than Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, combined. But epilepsy receives one-tenth of the research funding of those other disorders.

“We are excited to hold the walk in Birmingham to further engage and mobilize the community to be a part of the fight to end epilepsy,” Sara said. “This annual event strengthens the current efforts of the foundation and generates funding to help families living with epilepsy and seizures.”

Along with the walk, there will be a face-painting station, music provided by DJ WellDunn and a booth where walkers can suit up in purple to show their support of people with epilepsy.

Sara is thrilled she has been seizure-free for six months and been given the go-ahead to get behind the wheel.

“This has been such a challenging year,” Sara said. “None of us are guaranteed a life without health scares. I’m thankful for my family, friends and church family who have helped me navigate through this journey, and the medical professionals who are helping keep my seizures under control.”

To sign up for the walk or for more information, visit WalktoEndEpilepsy.org/birmingham.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham elevates bar food

(Brittany Dunn/Alabama NewsCenter)

Invariably, whenever someone mentions Back Forty Beer Company at the Sloss Docks in Birmingham the talk turns to food.

That’s because an award-winning chef with a fine dining background helms this open kitchen (next to the open brewing production) and is turning out dishes that are delicious and inventive, seasonal and locally sourced and perhaps more than you’d expect.

Owner and CEO Douglas Brown says the full restaurant is one thing that sets Back Forty Beer apart from other great breweries in the Magic City. That was part of the plan from the very beginning, and executive chef Russ Bodner has led the restaurant since before Back Forty Birmingham opened in summer 2018.

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Bodner, a St. Louis native who studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, worked in the kitchen of the Michelin-starred, haute Greek restaurant Anthos with celebrity chef Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia. He was the sous chef with James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft at Taste in St. Louis. Bodner honed his unique blend of fine Southern comfort food and exciting global influences on Lake Martin at SpringHouse (with acclaimed chef and Hot and Hot Fish Club alum Rob McDaniel – a five-time James Beard “Best Chef: South” semi-finalist) and then at Kowaliga as executive chef.

Back Forty Beer Co. Birmingham gives food the same attention as the brews from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“Our goal here,” Bodner says, “is to provide not just regular brewery fare but to have a restaurant that brews beer or a brewery that has a restaurant.”

Either way you look at it, it’s working.

Chef Bodner has created an impressive yet casual farm-to-table menu that is more than just pub food. Most everything here is made from scratch – the pickles, the mustards, the sausages and sauces. Bodner relies upon local growers like BDA Farm near Tuscaloosa and Ireland Farm for his seasonal produce. He visits farmers markets for smaller, specific quantities, and he turns to locally owned Evans for most of his meats and Gulf seafood.

“We try to take my fine dining experiences that I’ve had, whether it was in New York or at Lake Martin at SpringHouse, and take that same approach to the food here.”

So you’ll find a beet salad that’s colorful with mustard greens and radishes, or local butternut squash soup topped with pickled golden raisins and homemade crème fraiche. Pan-seared jumbo scallops might come with caramelized bok choy, local sweet peppers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and radishes in a homemade dashi broth. The Niman Ranch pork porterhouse is paired with sweet potato hash, Benton’s ham, peppers and onions. Pastas are homemade, and Bodner is excited about the Asian noodle bowls and ramens guests can enjoy during the cooler months.

It’s comfort food, Bodner says, “but done in a really nicely presented way and using the best ingredients that we can.”

That approach gets you wings that are confit-cooked and perfectly spiced, whether you choose the mild Naked Pig sauce or Puck’s smoky-sweet heat.

Thin-crust pizzas are popular and range from a simple margherita with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, to a bright, flavor bomb of a pie topped with pancetta and broccolini, mozzarella, garlic, fennel pollen, Calabrian chilies, chili crunch and preserved lemon.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Alabama Power volunteers go to bat for bats

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Bats across the state of Alabama will soon have new digs thanks to Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) volunteers.

APSO chapters spent part of last week building and painting bat houses that will be installed in wooded areas. Some will also go up near Alabama Power lakes and rivers. The work was part of Southern Company’s Week of Service.

“We put them together and painted them and are going to decorate them,” said Tammy Reece, with the Magic City APSO chapter and executive secretary in Environmental Affairs. “Some will go to a Girl Scouts troop for them to install and some will go to our reservoirs and walking trails, and some will go to backyards and homes.”

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Alabama Power volunteers build bat houses to help protect state’s bats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

APSO volunteers built more than 50 bat houses, learning about bats and their habitats in the process.

“This was a very interesting and fun project to volunteer with and everyone learned a lot about bats, too,” said Brooke Goff, a community relations specialist in the Southeast Division.

The project is one of several ways Alabama Power works to protect bats and their habitats, including support of the “Bats to the Future Fund.”

The fund works to combat white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has led to significant bat population loss.

While there is no cure yet, research is being done for treatment and prevention through the fund, established by the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent company, is among the supporters of the fund.

The Bats for the Future Fund has awarded 10 grants in its first two years, totaling 2.5 million. The next round of grants will be announced in January 2020.

Alabama Power also supports the annual Bat Blitz, when biologists, researchers and bat lovers across the Southeast converge to survey Alabama bat populations and check for white-nose syndrome.

Bats are voracious bug eaters and serve as natural controls on insect populations. Their eating habits help reduce insect damage to forests and crops, and in some parts of the world bats are important plant pollinators.

There are 15 bat species in Alabama. Three species – the gray bat, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat – are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)