4 months ago

Virus robbed me of bidding farewell to great friend

While I and my family have been blessed during the COVID-19 pandemic with basically no ill effects, the virus robbed me of the chance to say farewell to one of the people most influential in my career covering the outdoors in Alabama.

Robert Lee Rivenbark of Fairhope did not succumb to the coronavirus. He lost his battle with prostate cancer recently after a long struggle. He was 76.

Because of the virus restrictions, I was only able to visit over the telephone before he passed away.

Rivenbark fits in what I call my curmudgeon category. He could be short and to the point, and our last phone call started in typical fashion. When his wife, Charlotte, handed him the phone and told him it was me, no “How are you doing” or any such formalities ensued. The first sentence out of his mouth was, “Whadda you want?”

However, he always tried to help with what I wanted. When I first moved to lower Alabama to take the job as Outdoors Editor at the Mobile Press-Register in 1992, a friend of mine insisted I look up Lee when I got to town.

Boy, I’m glad I did. Lee was a man of the outdoors, from the intricate machinations of Mobile Bay to the haunts of the wary white-tailed deer.

In fact, we hit it off so well that before I got my family moved down, I rented a garage apartment on the Rivenbark compound on Mobile Bay at the south end of Fairhope, where the Rivenbark family had been since 1966.

It was a small apartment, but it had a great view of the Rivenbark pier and water beneath the pier light. Obviously, the pier light attracted bait fish and subsequently speckled trout and redfish. From my vantage point in the apartment, I could take a pair of binoculars and look at the pier. If I could see fish activity under the light, I would grab a rod and reel and head down to catch a few fish for the next night’s meal. If the water was calm, I’d roll over and go to sleep.

I don’t remember how many times Lee retold that story to illustrate how “sorry” I was, but it always ended in a big laugh.

Lee was the first to admit that he was not a hook-and-line angler. He much preferred a cast net and could throw a “silver dollar” every time. He tried to teach me but finally gave up when I got to the butterbean stage.

If mullet tried to swim past the Rivenbark pier when Lee was there with his cast net, the fish didn’t stand a chance.

Despite his reluctance, one day he agreed to go with me on a little fishing trip to the Grand Hotel jetties. I was dragging a plastic grub across the bottom, hoping to locate a few flounder. I caught a flatfish and cast right back into the same spot and hooked up again. I got Lee to cast in that spot and he hooked a fish. If our baits landed in an area about the size of a washtub, we ended up with a fish. We caught a dozen before the spot ran dry.

Lee, known as Uncle Lee to my daughters, had knowledge of Mobile Bay was extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to be on his jubilee hotline.

For those who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, a jubilee happens when the bottom-dwelling fish and creatures in the bay end up on the shoreline.

Jubilees occur during the summer when patches of water with low dissolved oxygen form in the bay. With the right conditions, that oxygen-depleted water moves to shore, mainly Baldwin County’s Eastern Shore, pushing those fish and marine creatures ahead of it.

It usually happens in the wee hours of the morning, and a jubilee could include everything from flounder to shrimp to crabs to eels.

If I got a call at 4 a.m. and I heard “Rivenbark, Fairhope Pier,” I knew to jump up, grab my wading shoes, gig and light and meet him for the bonanza that is a jubilee.

Jubilees were always fickle experiences. Sometimes it would be only shrimp. At other times it was mostly flounder. At times it was everything, with blue crabs crawling out on piers and pilings to flounder stacked on top of each other trying to find oxygen.

When a thundershower moved through in the afternoon and the wind was blowing gently out of the east, Lee would tell me to expect a phone call.

But you never knew what you were going to get or whether it was going to materialize. One night we were all set for a big jubilee with everything falling into place. Just as the flounder got near gigging range, a huge wake from a ship heading down Mobile Ship Channel crashed ashore, and the jubilee vanished right before our eyes.

So many memories come to mind when I think about Lee, including the time we tried to go fishing in the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast. Tried is the key word here. We set out from Fly Creek Marina in Fairhope aboard Dr. Larry Ennis’ catamaran sailing vessel for an extended adventure. By the time we got south of Biloxi, Mississippi, we got bad news. Not one but two tropical systems were forming in the Gulf of Mexico. We turned the boat around but could only make it back to Pascagoula before we abandoned ship and called for someone to pick us up.

When it came to hunting, Lee had never really taken up the turkey hunting sickness because he was too busy taking advantage of the bounty of Mobile Bay during the spring.

But deer hunting was his main outdoor passion. He hunted deer from Colorado to Conecuh County and everywhere in between. Of course, most of his deer came from Alabama, and he was a meticulous record-keeper.

“He kept a record of all the crabs and mullet he caught off the pier and every deer he shot,” said younger brother John Rivenbark.

Lee was absolutely the luckiest deer hunter I have ever known. He could break all the rules and still be successful. He could be smoking a cigarette and the biggest buck in the woods would step out in front of him.

He had told me before the season started that all he wanted to do was kill his 400th deer. He only needed three to reach that milestone.

It was a struggle early in the season with the effect of chemotherapy on his body and the weather. Our mutual friend from Mississippi set up a hunt for Lee in Texas, but his health wouldn’t cooperate. I tried to set up a hunt for him at Bent Creek Lodge in Jachin, Alabama, but he wasn’t up to the trip.

With his brothers and friends like Ken Jansen, Judson Pizzotti and Gary Wolfe helping him along the way last season, Lee managed to accomplish his goal.

He bagged his 400th deer, a doe, with his twin brother, Arch, and family friend Carl Enfinger in tow.

Lee ended his deer-hunting career with 402 reduced to bag.

He asked me, after he knew this would likely be his last deer season, if I wanted one of his deer rifles or any of his mounts after he was gone.

I told him he should give those to family members, but I did have one request. He had a stainless steel rod, sharpened on one end with the small rope attached to the other. It was his custom flounder gig that allowed him to slide the gigged flounder down the rod and onto the string so he didn’t have to stop during a jubilee.

“Lee, all I want is your flounder gig if that’s alright,” I said.

“That’s all you want?” he said with curious look.

“Yep,” I said, “because every time I stick a flounder I’ll think of you.”

I hope to rekindle those memories of my great friend real soon.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

3 hours ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.

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Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

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

5 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.

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Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

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

5 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.

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“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”

Watch:

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

6 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.

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Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

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

6 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.

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“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

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