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Franklin County experiences growth, change, success in 2019

As a new year begins, most people make plans of the future while thinking back on the past. Here at the Franklin County Times, we have seen all the 2019 year had to offer. As the community prepares for what 2020 will hold, take a look back on some of the top stories that defined 2019.

Although it is impossible for to include everything that happened in Franklin County over the past year, this summary paints a clear picture of the top news of 2019.

JANUARY

Vina robotics teams place in top 10

Vina elementary and middle school robotics students participated in a VEX Robot competition Jan. 12. Both Devilbots teams placed in the top 10 out of 19 teams that day.

The elementary team received fifth place, and the middle school team received ninth place.

This was Vina’s first VEX competition since the program was started in 2019.

Shelton family to purchase Franklin County Newspapers, Inc.

An agreement has been reached in principle for sale of operating assets of Franklin County Newspapers Inc. by its owner Boone Newspapers Inc. The sale is expected to close in February 2019.

The buyer will be the Shelton family in Decatur. The family owns TN Valley Media Inc. (TVM) and publishes other newspapers in the region, including the Times Daily in Florence, Shoals Courier Journal, Decatur Daily, Moulton Advertiser, Madison Weekly, Advertiser-Gleam in Guntersville and TNValleyStuff.com. TVM also owns a digital agency Reach 256 and 110 billboard faces with TVM Outdoor and operates the Redstone Rocket on Redstone Arsenal under contract with the US Army.

Cancer survivor starts support group in county

Unless they have been through it, no one really knows what goes through a person’s mind when they are diagnosed with something as life altering as cancer. Beth Rhea understands that all too well, as a cancer survivor herself, which is why she has started a support group for women with cancer called Stronger. “I originally wanted to do a breast cancer support group but have decided that I will open it up to cancer of all kinds while putting emphasis on breast cancer, as that is what I have experienced,” she said. Rhea was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. It was discovered early, and her treatment involved a few surgeries.

FEBRUARY

Southern Homes celebrates milestone with 75,000th house

Feb. 5 marked a record-setting day for Southern Homes in Russellville. The facility’s 275 team members gathered together to celebrate the construction of their 75,000th

house.

Those who had a hand in the home’s construction added their signatures to a framed board that will be presented to the new home owners, Richard and Paula Hill. “This incredible milestone wouldn’t be possible without the hard work our team members put in every day,” said Clayton Russellville general manager David Brewer.

U.S. Navy Band plans Tharptown concert as part of nationwide tour

The United States Navy is coming to Russellville, one of 18 cities in nine states to host a performance by the United States Navy Band during its 2019 tour – one of the signature outreach programs of the U.S. Navy. The United States Navy Band Sea Chanters performance is scheduled for March 16 at 7 p.m. at Tharptown High School gymnasium.

Senior chief musician Adam Grimm explained the U.S. Navy Band sends its ensembles – six distinct groups in all – to different regions of the country. Within each region, Grimm said the Navy look to string together concerts “so that we can perform a different city or town each day and have time to bus to the next concert,” Grimm said. “It’s quite a jigsaw puzzle, but when all is said and done, we’re able to reach parts of our country that don’t often get to have face-to-face interactions with sailors.”

Belgreen receives innovative playground

Belgreen High School has become a leader in innovative classroom and physical education technology for the state of Alabama by being the first school in the state to acquire a Lü Interactive Playground System.

Lü is an immersive system that incorporates sound, lights and projections to create physical activities with an educational focus. “The objective of this is to really get kids engaged at a higher level,” said Joseph Sylve, head of USA business affairs for Lü. “You’ll see there are opportunities for them to learn and reinforce what they’re seeing in the classroom.”

G&S Upholstery opens in Red Bay

Greg Dabbs is bringing more than 30 years of upholstery experience to Red Bay through his and his wife Shelia’s new upholstery business, G&S Dabbs Upholstery. Dabbs took his first job at an upholstery plant in Amory, Miss., in 1982. After that he opened his own business in Clearwater, Fla. He then moved back to Amory, where he opened another upholstery business that he has now given to his son.

Community Spirit Bank opens Belgreen High School Bulldog Branch

After a few months of preparation, the student-led Bulldog Branch of Community Spirit Bank is officially open on the Belgreen High School campus. A grand opening and ribbon cutting celebrated the new branch Feb. 19, with CSB and school officials in attendance.

“This is a student-led branch, and it is a 100 percent private partnership with the school. Community Spirit is proud to invest in this opportunity to teach students more about financial literacy, on-the-job training and real-world scenarios,” said bank President and CEO Brad Bolton as he welcomed guests to the Tuesday ceremony. “We know this project is something we will be proud of for years to come.”

MARCH

Phil Campbell starts little free library

Literacy is being celebrated and encouraged in the Phil Campbell community with the development of a Little Free Library that will be placed in Memorial Park.

March 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. there will be a ribbon cutting revealing the library, which was started by Phil Campbell Elementary School librarian Andrea Hogan. The library is a small structure fashioned after a house that will hold books for the community to enjoy for free.

Community members are encouraged to take a book from it to read and also put books back in the library for others to use.

Grand jury indicts for murder

Jerry Mills, of Phil Campbell, was recently indicted by a grand jury for murder. At the beginning of January, Mills was arrested and charged with murder while he was on an appeals bond for a prior manslaughter conviction in Franklin County. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call that morning that reported a shooting in Phil Campbell.

According to the FCSO, upon arrival, deputies found Jason Floyd Baker inside the home suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the head. Responding deputies encountered Mills upon arrival at the scene and determined he had placed the 911 call.

Grand jury indicts one for bestiality

A Franklin County grand jury indicted Russell Joseph Meyers, of Phil Campbell, for two counts of possession of obscene matter and four counts of bestiality during the grand jury’s most recent session. Meyers was arrested in 2015 and charged with the four counts of bestiality with his dog after a witness reported the act. His bond was set at $6,000.

According to district attorney Joey Rushing, authorities recently received the phone report back on Meyers and discovered he was in possession of child pornography, which is how the two counts of possession of obscene matter came about. The possession charges are felonies, and the bestiality charges are misdemeanors.

RES wins literacy championship

Literacy is on the rise at Russellville Elementary, and the school was recently recognized for the progress it has made. March 20 representatives from Imagine Learning visited RES and presented Principal Kristie Ezzell with a trophy recognizing the school for being the 2019 Alabama Literacy Cup Champions – along with a check for a $250 Amazon gift card to be used for the school.

“This has been the best birthday ever,” said Ezzell. “Thank you for all of the hard work you have been doing, and keep it up.”

APRIL

Franklin woman appears on Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune is a popular TV game show for many, but while some are content to watch from their living rooms, others dream of spinning and solving for themselves. Among those “Wheel Watchers” to take their puzzle-solving skills to the next level is Lynette Horton of Red Bay, who will appear as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune April 5. A graduate of the University of North Alabama, Horton is a homemaker who is married with three children and one grandchild. She said she has been a Wheel of Fortune fan for decades, with memories of her children sitting in front of the television and watching the Wheel spin as babies.

“I was surprised to be selected – shocked – but so excited,” said Horton, daughter of David and Peggy Tiffin, whose family owns Tiffin Supply Company. “I’ve always loved Wheel of Fortune.”

Wednesday crash kills local man

A one-vehicle crash at 5:50 a.m. April 10 has claimed the life of a Russellville man, according to a report by Alabama state troopers.

Larry M. Wade, 46, was killed when the 2000 Toyota Tundra he was driving left the roadway in a curve and overturned. Troopers said Wade was pronounced dead at the scene.

The crash occurred on County Road 60, 4.5 miles north of Russellville.

Sibley Oil celebrates century in business

Sibley Oil Company has been in operation in Franklin County and the surrounding areas for 100 years. The company recently celebrated this milestone with an anniversary dinner at Doe’s Eat Place in downtown Russellville.

Sibley Oil has six locations in Franklin County and the surrounding areas, including the Legacy Chevron on Highway 43.

Franklin student places second in state beef cook-off

Anna Gunderman of Phil Campbell won second place in the senior north division of the Alabama Junior & Senior High School Beef Cook-Off April 6 at Carver High School in Montgomery.

Gunderman is a student at Phil Campbell High School and placed with her dish, Low Carb Mexican Stuffed Bell Peppers. Gunderman got the opportunity to continue to the state level after a first-place finish at the county competition, hosted for the first time in many years by the Franklin County Junior Cattlemen.

Bicentennial tree commemorates fallen soldiers

Countless soldiers have fallen in the line of duty, but one battle stands out in history and in Franklin County: the Battle of Meuse-Argonne. It took place in 1918 during World War I and is known as the largest in U.S. military history and deadliest in American history. A total of 21 men from Franklin County gave their lives during this battle.

In 1919 the president of France gave the state of Alabama 10 trees from the forest where the battle took place, to recognize their service. Franklin County received one of those trees, and it was planted in downtown Russellville at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Lawrence Street. The ceremonial tree planting was held April 23, 1919.

Now, 200 years later, during the state of Alabama’s bicentennial and the City of Russellville’s bicentennial – and just following last year’s celebration of Franklin County’s bicentennial –another ceremonial tree is honoring this history.

Green appeals manslaughter conviction

Jason Green, Russellville, has officially filed an appeal for his case that went to trial in February. He filed his oral notice of appeal March 14 and his official written appeal March 21. Green is to remain in custody pending the appeal. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for manslaughter Feb. 25 after a jury found him guilty of manslaughter, possession of marijuana second degree and possession of drug paraphernalia. The jury’s manslaughter decision was based on evidence that Green was a concurrent cause or the cause of death by aiding and abetting his girlfriend Shay Nicole Ledlow’s death.

Ledlow was found dead from a gunshot wound to her mouth in 2011, and was Green was arrested on the scene.

Career Technical training pays off for Vina student

A Vina High School student is celebrating a career tech accomplishment after putting

his skills to the test in state competition.

Nash Humphres, a Vina High School junior, attended the Alabama Skills USA State Championships in Birmingham in mid-April and brought home the first medal in the cabinetmaking contest for Franklin County in the tenure of current instructor Todd Johnson.

The three-day event consists of a contest orientation the night before the actual competition, where students take a written SkillsUSA Knowledge test and have five minutes to look over the blueprints of the project they will build the next day. For the contest, students are each given a work area and enough raw materials to construct the cabinet or furniture piece using the blueprints provided, hand and power tools from their respective schools and power equipment such as table saws, band saws and pocket hole machines to construct the piece in eight hours.

MAY

Council, family recognize life-saving firefighters

Two Russellville firefighters were honored at the May 6 Russellville City Council meeting, Lt. Johnathan Pace and Shane Mansell, for their life-saving heroics in April. As Fire Chief Joe Mansell explained, April 22 Lt. Johnathan Pace and firefighter Shane Mansell responded to a call about a fully-involved structure fire with someone potentially inside. The call came in at 5:41 p.m.; by 5:43 p.m., Pace and Mansell were on the scene.

“Time is of the importance. The decisions Lt. Pace made on the scene when they got there – they were able to locate the lady in the living room, get her out and save her life,” said Chief Mansell.

Maggie J’s celebrates re-opening

Maggie J’s Boutique and Gifts held its grand re-opening May 3-4 with door prizes, giveaways, discounts and refreshments. The boutique is located in the same shopping center as before on Highway 43; it just moved a few doors down where Ava’s China and Gifts was formerly located.

Owner Kristi Wilbanks said a wider selection is offered now in the boutique, including china and a bridal registry and gifts. Clothing, home goods and baby items make up the rest of the store, and right now there are graduation, Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation gifts.

FCSO cracks down on drug cases

Recent arrests have brought two people suspected of drug crimes in Franklin County into custody. April 30 Darius Freeman of Florence was arrested at 705 Lombardy Street in Florence by the United States Marshal Service Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force, along with Franklin County Sheriff’s Office investigators and Alabama State Drug Task Force Officers.

The arrest was a result of an extensive drug trafficking investigation conducted by the FCSO and the Alabama Region E Drug Enforcement Task Force, involving heroin. According to the FCSO, the investigation resulted in arrest warrants for Freeman on the alleged offenses of distribution of heroin and trafficking heroin – offenses that occurred in Franklin County.

In a separate case, May 6 Shamon Stutts of Russellville was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies after an investigation into attempted smuggling of illegal drugs into the Franklin County Jail. Sheriff’s office staff intercepted illegal narcotics Stutts allegedly

attempted to pass to inmates who were incarcerated in the facility.

Historian returns to Russellville library

In honor of ongoing state bicentennial celebrations, historian and collector Jim Phillips returned for another presentation at the Russellville Public Library May 15. This presentation was “Alabama: The Early Years.” In the past he has shared about Antebellum Alabama and lost treasures of the South.

“This is one of our adult series that we love having,” said library board member Lela Ray. “It’s really the last one before summer starts.”

Chromebooks improve RHS classrooms

The Northwest Alabama Resource Conservation and Development Council recently awarded Russellville High School $10,320.51 that has been put toward advancing technology at the school. RHS Principal Jason Goodwin said the money went toward purchasing more Chromebooks that will help various departments with ACT preparation and other programs. The school was able to purchase 50 Chromebooks with the grant money.

Memorial garden, scholarship honor deceased fourth-grader

At 2 p.m. May 22, Phil Campbell Elementary School held a special ceremony to dedicate the Sylas Hardin Memorial Garden, located at the front of the school, and to acknowledge the first two recipients of the scholarship fund in his name: Brianna Palmer and Brent Gonzalez of Phil Campbell High School. Members of the Hardin family attended, as well as Mike Norton of Leisure Creations Furniture, which donated the bench for the memorial garden.

Sylas Hardin, of Spruce Pine, was a fourth-grader at Phil Campbell Elementary School when he passed away Dec. 17, 2018. He was 10 years old.

First-grade students at West Elementary meet high school pen pals

May 15 was an exciting day at West Elementary – the culmination of an ongoing project between high school students and their much-younger fellow students.

It all started when a student mentioned pen pals in class at Russellville High School, and it turned out some of the other students didn’t know what pen pals are.

JUNE

Red Bay police retire K-9 Unix

The City of Red Bay and the Red Bay Police Department held a reception at Red Bay City Hall Monday to honor German Shepherd K-9 Unix – born April 4, 2006, in Hungary – and his handler, Lt. Scottie Belue, on the occasion of Unix’s retirement. In order to qualify to a be a police dog, Unix first had to undergo rigorous training and certifications. He graduated from the K-9 Police Academy in September 2010.

Roxy welcomes Crimson Tide broadcaster

Someone looking for a good, inspirational program might just want to go to the Historic Roxy Theatre Saturday. Alabama Crimson Tide Sports Network broadcaster Chris Stewart will be presenting the story of his amazing recovery from a stroke.

A little more than a year ago, the 47-year-old suffered a stroke in the middle of the night. His wife Christy found him unresponsive in bed about 5 a.m., and he was rushed to St. Vincent’s.

After CAT scans, doctors located a blockage in an artery to Stewart’s brain. They immediately sent him to Brookwood Hospital.

The Way We Were: Local historians bring past to life for bicentennial

“You’ve got to preserve history every way you can, and you’ve got to tell it. That’s why we do what we do.” Chris Ozbirn is chairperson of the Russellville Bicentennial Committee, whose members share her passion for preserving the past. They conceived The Way We Were, a monthly series of history demonstrations, exhibits and portrayals designed to inspire people interest in the history of Russellville and Franklin County. Saturday will be the second in the series, with additional programs scheduled throughout the summer: July 13, Aug. 10 and Sept. 14.

“Each event is different; we have different people and different time periods,” Ozbirn explained. “And we’re working our way up to the big grand finale, Nov. 21. We’re wanting to show how people lived during this time, and not only how they lived – how they worked, entertained, every aspect of history that we can get out there.

Sheriff updates on human skull discovery

“We personally don’t have any missing person reports that match that criteria.” That’s one of the primary points Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver takes from the forensic report recently completed on the human skull discovered last month in Franklin County.

A human skull was discovered and reported June 9 at Horseshoe Bend Campground in Vina by hikers exploring the area. The skull, which was mostly intact, was recovered by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office the next morning.

The FCSO worked with a university professor from Tennessee who is a forensic skeletal recovery and analysis specialist to try to identify the human remains. After the analysis, the skull was determined to be from a white male between 18-50 years old, with the time of death between two and seven years ago.

Oliver said that’s pretty vague, but it’s what authorities have to go on as of right now. Because the skull was discovered in a flood zone, it will be difficult to determine from where it might have washed into Franklin County, given the skull does not appear to be connected to any open Franklin County cases.

NW-SCC signs 19 students into inaugural FAME class

Northwest-Shoals Community College hosted its inaugural Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education Signing Day June 13 on the Shoals Campus, as 19 students were sponsored by 12 local business and industry sponsors.

The FAME Advanced Manufacturing Technician program at NW-SCC is a pathway to a challenging and well-paying career as a multi-skilled technician. Students attend classes two full days per week – 16-20 hours per week – while working three full days a week, 24-plus hours, with a sponsoring company. Over two years, students can earn as much as $33,500, which – with planning – can cover all of a student’s education expenses.

RCS places second at TARC

It was a close second for Russellville City Schools when the rocketry program’s Team 2 – or Team Tigers – landed in second place at the Team America Rocketry Challenge National Competition.

Russellville boasted two of the 100 teams that made it to nationals last month out of hundreds across the country attempting to qualify. Program sponsor Gabe Willis said it was a competitive time for the teams. “It’s not just about winning for them, but it’s something they can figure out,” Willis said. “They’re really focused and honed in on the engineering side of the challenge.”

Russellville’s Team 1, the Bears, and Team 2 Tigers both qualified in the first round of launches. Team 1 came in 14th place.

In honor of their placement, RHS Team 2 received a $15,000 prize and an invitation to participate in NASA’s Student Launch program. Team 1 brought home the esteemed Lockheed Martin Best Rocket Craftsmanship Award, which came with a prize of $500.

Tale as old as time: RHS junior stars in ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Avery Guinn, a rising junior at Russellville High School, is currently starring in the Gingerbread Players’ production of the musical Beauty and the Beast at the Shoals Theater.

Guinn plays the role of the Beast, a prince who is cursed because of his uncaring attitude. It’s a tale as old as time: The Beast imprisons the beautiful bookworm Belle, played by Janie Clasgens, who teaches him to be courteous and respectful. In the meantime, the two fall in love, transforming the Beats back into a prince.

“My friend Anna, who plays Babette in the show, told me about auditions the night before,” recalled Guinn. “I thought it would be good for me to have some audition experience for future shows. I decided to audition for the Beast because of how fun it would be to bring that character life. There is a lot of freedom for creativity when playing a character like that.”

JULY

RHS plans new career tech building

With a high-demand for career-tech jobs in Franklin County, Russellville High School is working to meet the needs of its community and students with a new Career Tech building. Russellville already has a successful career tech program, with approximately 60 percent of students taking a career tech course, but Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes said he wants to make sure those students have adequate work space.

Russellville native Maleia Gist travels world for college credit

While some might be relaxing by the pool or working at a summer job, Maleia Gist from Russellville joined more than 700 other Belmont University students who participated in one of 45 faculty-led Maymester and Summer Study Abroad programs.

Gist spent time in Belmont’s Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands program for college credit this summer.

RPL hosts book launch event for local picture book author

July 27 at 1 p.m., local author John Cantrell held a book launch at the Russellville Public Library to promote his first book, “Kids on Patrol,” a picture book about bullying. The story follows main character Jimmy Clofton and his friends as they have to deal with a bully and shows how they work together to try to improve the situation.

Bullied himself as a child, Cantrell is now a full-time police officer for the Littleville Police Department. He grew up in Vina and lives in Belgreen. He is married to Regina Cantrell. Their children, second-grader Xander and kindergartener Freya, also attended the event.

Russellville elementary students participate in world record rocket launch

July 16 the U.S. Space & Rocket Center marked the 50th anniversary of the July 16, 1969, launch that put the first men on the moon. In homage to the milestone anniversary, the rocket center planned a special record-breaking event – and with Russellville’s historic success in student rocketry programs, Russellville City Schools

decided to get in on the action.

The Saturn V rocket, designed in Huntsville, was used to make the 1969 moon launch possible. It took place at Cape Kennedy and included the Apollo 11 crew: Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Lander Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins.

To commemorate their achievement, 5,000 model rockets were launched together at 8:32 a.m. at the Space and Rocket Center July 16, breaking a Guinness World Record. This launch shattered the previous world record of 4,231 model rockets, which were launched at Teylingen College in the Netherlands as part of a European Space Science Convention in 2018.

FCSO nabs one for trafficking

Authorities took one into custody earlier this month on charges of possession and drug trafficking. As the FCSO reported July 18, investigators with the Franklin County and Marion County sheriff’s offices, who are assigned to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Region E Drug Task Force, took Marcos A. Lagos into custody in the City of Russellville July 13.

Lagos, according to the report, was under investigation for drug trafficking, and evidence was found that he was traveling to Russellville to distribute a large amount of crystal methamphetamine.

Agents took Lagos into custody at the Legacy Chevron service station on U.S. Highway 43 in Russellville at approximately 3:30 p.m.

Investigators said Lagos had in his possession approximately 12.65 ounces of crystal methamphetamine as well as 3 grams of cocaine in powder form.

AUGUST

RCS finalizes parks, rec takeover

Aug. 6, the Russellville Parks and Recreation Department officially moved under the Russellville City Schools umbrella. Officials said the transition has been smooth, and operations are in full swing.

The Russellville City Schools Board of Education hired 11 new employees at a special called meeting Aug. 7. Of the seven full-time employees who previously worked in the Parks and Recreation Department when it was operated by the city, four employees were hired back, and one employee retired.

Phil Campbell alum publishes book

Phil Campbell graduate Jennifer Dison Hallmark said she remembers, as a young person, sitting in the corner of a utility closet so she could be alone with a small notebook and a pen to write stories. Nowadays, she is author of Firefly Southern Fiction’s “Jessie’s Hope.”

Hallmark stopped writing after graduating from high school, but she said she rediscovered the pastime when her father suddenly passed away in 1991. She said she began writing again as a coping mechanism, but this time she stuck with it.

Hallmark began attending writers’ conferences and joining groups to write short stories, which was how “Jessie’s Hope” was born. She said the novel originally began as a short story built from three prompts: faded overalls, a dusty baseball cap and a wedding dress designer.

AT&T employees protest unfair labor practices

The rain fell and winds blew as workers braved the elements holding “honk if you’re for

workers” and “AT&T unfair” signs at the corner of North Jackson Avenue and West Limestone Street in Russellville.

More than 20,000 AT&T telecommunications workers across nine states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – began protesting Friday after the Communication Workers of America filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board against AT&T for unfair labor practices by management during negotiations of a new contract.

“We entered these negotiations prepared to bargain in good faith with AT&T to address our members’ concerns and to work together to find solutions,” said CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt. “Our talks have stalled because it has become clear that AT&T has not sent negotiators who have the power to make decisions so we can move forward toward a new contract.”

Franklin County sophomore works to earn spot at 2020 Olympics

At a young age, son of a USAA International Shotgun coach, Camron Burks was drawn to shooting sports. Now at age 16, Burks has earned a spot on the 2020 International National Junior Team and is two events away from earning a trip to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“That’s the chance of a lifetime for anyone, and for someone his age, it’s really impressive,” said Camron’s father, Tim Burks.

Camron earned a contract to join the national junior team at the end of July in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he shot the highest score of the event with a 116/125.

Studio X-Treme students win big at Junior Olympics

When the girls of Studio X-Treme traveled to Greensboro, N.C., last week to compete in the AAU Junior Olympics, they did not know what to expect. Now these same girls return with four first-place medals and six top-five finishes.

“We went in expecting nothing because we had never done this event, and it was something new, so then we were very shocked, surprised and grateful for what the girls did win,” said Studio X-Treme owner Heather Davis.

SEPTEMBER

Tharptown Band participates in first marching competition

The Tharptown High School band, Pride of Wildcat Country, participated in the Northwest Alabama Marching Classic at Russellville High School Sep. 28 – one of 29 bands that participated. The band is in its sixth year – second year for the color guard. Saturday’s event was the group’s first marching competition.

Drum major Joshua Lopez, a sophomore, was rated a one, a designation that indicates a score between 85-100 for the “superior” designation. The rest of the band was rated a two, 70-85 out of 100, a rating which is considered “excellent.”

Franklin Homes opens retail facility

After serving as one of the leading manufacturers in Russellville for 50 years, Franklin Homes is beginning its 50th year in business by opening its first retail facility. Franklin Homes officially began selling to the public this month, and retail lot manager Jeannie Waldrep said the facility is already off to a great start with its first order already placed.

“We’ve always had interest in people trying to buy directly from us,” Waldrep said. “We already had people stopping in, but we were just never able to sell to the public because we were just a manufacturing facility.”

Red Bay hosts R

When Red Bay first began its band in 1939, bands in Franklin County were hard to come by, with some students transferring from Russellville for the chance to play. Fast forward 80 years, and 42 band alums joined the 35 current members for a halftime performance Sept. 27.

“It’s good to help us remember where we came from,” said band Director Mark Gajewski. “It’s good to give those people a chance to give it one more go around.” Berry said of the 42 alumni signed up to perform at halftime, at least four currently have children in the band.

Berry said in organizing the event, she was surprised how many people came forward who she did not know were previous band members. “It’s just amazing to me all of the people who were involved in making Red Bay’s band over the years,” Berry said.

Marching 100 celebrates 75 years ‘Forever Golden’

Russellville band director Jeremy Willis said although organizing a halftime show only takes a few months, this year’s show is one he has been thinking about for three years as the Marching Hundred celebrates its 75th anniversary.

This year’s theme, Forever Golden, includes “Ecstasy of Gold,” “Gold” by Imagine Dragons, “Monobina” from the movie “Gold,” “Plain Gold Ring,” “24 Karat” and “House of Gold.”

“We have this saying, ‘Forever Golden,’ which basically means that if you go to school at Russellville or you’re one of us, you’re one of us for life,” Willis said. “So we really wanted to play off of that and tie it into the school and school spirit.”

Good Shepherd makes plans for new, larger church building

Since the current building for Good Shepherd Catholic Church was built in 1991, a lot has changed. The 175-seat building that once felt spacious has become cramped and claustrophobic as the four Sunday masses begin to host more than 1,000 people every weekend – sometimes boasting 3,000 in attendance. “It’s nice, but it’s insufficient,” said Vincent Bresowar, pastor at Good Shepherd.

The new building will sit on almost eight acres of land to the south of the current building and will hold 500 people. The current church building will be used as a parish hall once the new building is complete.

Brewowar said he does not know how many masses will be held, but there will still be multiple masses to host at least one service in English and one service in Spanish.

The project is expected to cost $2 million, with funds coming from private donors, fundraising and food sales.

OCTOBER

Red Bay breaks top 15 at FFA nationals

When Red Bay’s FFA String Band set out for the national competition, the student musicians had one goal in mind: making it into the top 15. After countless hours of practice, they accomplished that goal. The group of six arrived in Indianapolis Oct. 28 for the National FFA competition, where they competed in the talent portion. Of the 42 acts that performed, Red Bay’s group – which consists of seniors Myah Jackson, Bailey Bolton and Codey Cleveland, sophomores Aiden Quinn and Cody Wilemon and freshman Jaycee Vinson – was one of four group acts.

Last year, Red Bay barely missed breaking the top 15 with a ranking of 16. Members said this year they worked hard to address judges’ concerns to try to advance in the competition.

The group performed Oct. 29 in front of a panel of judges and was named in the top 15 the next day.

Golden Clips offers simulated work environment

Cosmetology students are used to helping with school theater makeup and prom looks for friends, but this year Russellville High School’s cosmetology department is opening its doors to the public for students to gain real-world experience.

In a studio called Golden Clips, the public can come receive a variety of services performed by Russellville students – for a fraction of the cost of a typical salon.

“We aren’t wanting to take business from local salons or anything but to give our students the chance to see what it is like working in a real salon,” explained Russellville Career Technical director Natalie Bendall.

The on-campus salon experience will be similar to what students would encounter in a typical salon. Students will perform services based on what level of education they have attained, with introductory students performing basic services and advanced students cutting and styling hair.

All services will be performed by students and supervised by cosmetology instructor Lisa Keeton.

SPAN celebrates 20 years of serving Franklin County

The Special Program for Achieving Network of Franklin County celebrated 20 years of service with a luncheon at the A.W. Todd Center to reminisce on all of the years dedicated and students helped.

The Franklin County SPAN program began Oct. 4, 1999, when several community leaders saw the need to have this program in the area. Since then, SPAN has an 80 percent success rate and has helped about 1,300 students and their families.

“A lot of the times, when we get them, they just need a pat on the back and a little encouragement to be successful,” said program coordinator Remona Roberson.

Roberson said SPAN usually serves about 15 students at any given time, who stay in the program for an average of six months. These are students who are referred by the school systems or through the court system.

The goal of the program is to help at-risk youth who might need additional help to be successful through education and counseling.

Sheriff warns of latest scam calls in Franklin County

It is always important to be aware of scams, but now residents of Franklin County have a new scam to be aware of as citizens have reported scam phone calls from people using numbers for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s department shared reports Oct. 15 of someone calling claiming to be with the FCSO and threatening people to give their personal information and bank information.

Local teenager restores cemetery to former glory

While many 16-year-olds spend their free time watching television or hanging out with friends, Zakery Colburn dedicated a year of his life to earning his Eagle Scout rank by restoring the Old East Cemetery in Russellville.

“The cemetery had been forgotten for years and years,” said Franklin County Archives director Chris Ozbirn. “People drove by for years and years and didn’t even know it was there.”

The project began when Colburn noticed the cemetery near his house and thought it would be a good idea for a project for his Eagle badge.

What he originally expected to be a month-long project, however, turned out to be a bigger undertaking than he first imagined, taking more than a year to complete.

The majority of the cemetery was overgrown, and headstones had broken off from years of neglect.

Mars Hill Russellville campus faces closure

When parents arrived at Mars Hill Pre-School in Russellville one afternoon to pick up their children, they were surprised to find a letter presented to them by the president of the school saying the Russellville campus would be closing in December. The letter said the closure was because of financial reasons, and the Florence and Muscle Shoals locations would continue to operate.

One parent said she was frantic and in shock because even the Russellville administrators said it was a shock to them.

Originally a meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon to allow parents a chance to ask Mars Hill President Nathan Guy questions, but the meeting was cancelled after parents received a letter over the weekend informing them their concerns were heard, and the school would remain open through May.

The Russellville campus, which has been open on Lawrence Street since 2006, has about 50 children enrolled. The school has eight full-time employees and six part-time employees.

NOVEMBER

Vina High School cheer squad wins big at first-ever competition

Despite being a small school, Vina High School’s cheerleading squad took on big opponents for its first-ever competition. The Red Devils placed second at the Alabama South Regionals and received a bid to the national competition in Orlando in February.

This was the first year for the Red Devils to compete – something head coach Brittany Pannell said she has been trying to get the squad to do for years. After becoming a co-ed squad this year, Pannell said that was enough to encourage the team to attend its first competition.

In their first competition, the Red Devils came in second place to a 6A school.

More than 200 people attend 200th birthday party

It is not every day there is a chance to commemorate a 200th birthday, so residents of Franklin County packed the A.W. Todd Center Thursday night to celebrate the state of Alabama, Franklin County and Russellville city turning 200 years old.

More than 200 people attended the event and indulged in an old-fashioned meal of smoked chicken, pinto beans, turnip greens, potato salad, cornbread and fried pies before cutting into a birthday cake made to look like the historic Roxy Theater. Bicentennial Committee Chair Chris Ozbirn said her favorite part of the cake was all of the detail – from the KGB signs on the windows to the cigarette butt in the trash can out front.

In addition to enjoying the old-fashioned food, several in attendance dressed to represent different time periods, with a few attendees even dressing as Confederate and Union soldiers.

Speakers for the night were Russellville Mayor David Grissom, Franklin County Probate Judge Barry Moore and State Rep. Jamie Kiel.

Velcro Pygmies pack Russellville High School

After several months of planning, Cindy Coan’s Event Planning class packed

Russellville High School’s gym for students to enjoy an educational experience disguised as a rock concert.

The Velcro Pygmies headlined the show, singing rock favorites for a packed gym to jam out to. Students experienced everything from crazy ’80s fashion to having glitter poured on the crowd as the band performed “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”

In addition to the Velcro Pygmies, the show also featured Russellville High School students Maggie Franks and Avery Guinn living out their rockstar dream.

Franks performed “I love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” while Guinn performed “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “You Give Love a Bad Name.”

WES students return after fire cleanup

After an early morning fire in November temporarily closed West Elementary School, students returned to a normal routine – with a few changes, as to be expected.

An early morning fire in November forced West Elementary School to close its doors after the fire destroyed the computer lab and filled the majority of the school with smoke and soot.

Russellville Fire Chief Joe Mansell said the fire began around 1:30 a.m. with the school fire alarms notifying 911. Within 20 minutes, Mansell said the fire was contained.

Students returned to school one week later with one grade returning at a time after the school was thoroughly cleaned. Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes said repairing the computer lab will probably be a 6-month project, so students will use Chrome carts and mobile devices to build computer skills until repairs are completed.

DECEMBER

Aviation program gets off ground with first student flights

When Phil Campbell High School began its aviation program in August, instructors and administrators were still ironing out what the program would include and what students would be able to accomplish. A few months later, the program is ready for its first students to take flight. The aviation program boasts 27 students, with five of those pursuing the program to the flight level of training in a real plane.

“Whenever you start a new program, it never goes the way you thought it would be,” said instructor Jason Evans. “Our plans were by 2020 to have students who wanted to make a career out of it in the air. That vision is now coming to real life, so it’s an exciting time for all of us.”

RHS students leave state drama competition victorious

Six students from Russellville High School traveled to Troy University for the State Trumbauer Festival and returned with superior ratings in their categories – and one student placed second in the state.

Nicholas McSpadden and Avery Guinn both competed in Solo Male Musical Theatre Dramatic category. Maggie Franks and Madeline Cooper competed in Solo Female Musical Theatre Comedic. Amelia Camacho competed in Solo Female Musical Dramatic, and Grace McDermitt competed in Solo Contemporary Female Comedic. Guinn also competed in Solo Male Contemporary Dramatic.

Red Bay High School begins phase one of construction

After months of planning, Red Bay High School is getting phase one of a two-part project underway.

Butler Construction, the company the Franklin County Board of Education contracted for phase one, arrived at the school at the end of November. Construction officially began

Dec. 2 with a 210-day contract for the project to be completed.

To prepare for construction, the school altered bus drop-off and pick-up. Red Bay High School Principal Lance Mitchell said the main thing the school has had to work around with construction is a loss of some student and bus parking.

Mitchell said despite having to move some things around during the school year to accommodate construction, he is “excited to see the progress and excited to see some updated buildings and updated resources for our students.”

Military son surprises family with holiday homecoming

It seemed like a normal day for Russellville Elementary teacher Monica Farris, even when a co-worker presented her with a special Christmas present – a picture of her son, Lance Cpl. Stephen Farris of the United States Marine Corps. After opening the picture, screams of joy filled the air and tears began to flow as she saw her son walking through the cafeteria toward her.

Stephen was not expected to be home from his deployment in Okinawa, Japan, until the spring, when his younger brother will graduate from high school. He said he knew when he left before Mother’s Day that the holidays would be hard for his family, not having him at home for the first time. “When I left in May, I told my family I didn’t expect to be able to be back for Christmas,” he said.

After talking to recruiters to see if he would be able to work the holidays in the recruiter’s office in Florence, he said he spent several months planning his return home and the surprise his family would receive.

Equestrian park flourishes under new direction

After the Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park closed in June, a lot of unknowns plagued its future as the park, previously owned by the Town of Hodges, went up for sale. Nowadays, the re-opened park is back to its former glory under a new name and new management.

Bo Williams purchased the park in September with his brother Tim after growing up with a love of horses and traveling to different areas of the country to ride. When Williams received the deed in mid-September, the park opened its doors to the public under the name, Hodges Equestrian Park.

Since reopening, he said the park’s operations have begun to return to normal, with people visiting from all across the U.S. Williams said since opening, he is receiving calls daily from people all across the country enquiring about a visit to the park.

City of Red Bay hosts tree lighting

Community members packed Bay Tree Park Dec. 1 for an evening of holiday cheer in a winter wonderland as Red Bay celebrated its inaugural Christmas tree lighting.

The evening included performances by the Red Bay children’s choir, community choir and Red Bay High School Marching Band.

Excitement filled the air as attendees counted down the seconds until a giant on/off switch was flipped to initiate the Christmas season and light a tree that filled the front of Bay Tree Park.