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2020: Year in Review

The majority of people would likely agree 2020 was one for the record books. Franklin County, among the nation and the world, experienced a global pandemic as well as a major push for equality and social justice and voted in an election year that was like no other.

This year traditions were broken, but new traditions were made. Loved ones were lost, and new little ones were welcomed.

Although most people are praying 2021 brings a better year, take a look back with the Franklin County Times at the whirlwind year that was 2020.

JANUARY

Town of Phil Campbell pursues HGTV show

During the month of January, the citizens of Phil Campbell joined together in hopes the small town would be featured on the new HGTV show “Home Town Takeover.” The hosts of the show, Ben and Erin Napier, travel to small hometowns in need of a makeovers and help bring new life. Video footage was recorded all over town, and citizens joined together one morning in the park to send a special message to the television hosts. Although Phil Campbell did not end up being selected for the show, it was a memory the town will always share.

Thieves raid rescue squad

The Franklin County Rescue Squad experienced a burglary Jan. 11 as $7,000 worth of equipment was stolen. Among the items stolen were six fire and rescue squad badges, fire and rescue squad shirts and numerous pieces of equipment. The thieves also stole two weed eaters, three chainsaws, first aid supplies and various rescue equipment.

FC Schools faces lawsuit claiming racial discrimination

In January the Franklin County Schools system had a lawsuit filed against it for “relief from discrimination.” Parent Brandi Gholston alleged that her son endured racial harassment during his time as a student at Phil Campbell High School. The lawsuit was filed against the FCS Board of Education and two administrators. This lawsuit is still being settled.

FCSO arrests 55 in year-long narcotics investigation

There were 55 arrests made in a year-long investigation to take drug offenders off the street. Those who were arrested were placed in the Franklin County Jail with 80 different grand jury indictments being filed. The agencies that collaborated on this effort were the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, Franklin County district attorney’s office, Russellville Police, Red Bay Police, the State Bureau of Investigation, Region E Drug Task Force, Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole, K9 Unit, Enforcement Division, Gulf Coast Fugitive Task Force, Alabama State Fire Marshal’s office, Marion County Sheriff, Colbert County Sheriff, Morgan County Sheriff, Lauderdale County Sheriff and Colbert County Drug Task Force.

FEBRUARY

Russellville welcomes Carson, Ivey as part of multi-city tour

Russellville’s Clayton Homes received two special visitors in February: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey toured the plant as part of HUD’s Driving Affordable Housing Across America multi-city tour. Clayton Homes officials spoke with both Carson and Ivey about the work they are doing. Carson spoke to the plant workers about his plans to make affordable housing available to all Americans, which focused largely on plants like Clayton Homes.

Russellville City Schools announces plans to purchase Mars Hill campus

During this year, Russellville City Schools acquired the former Mars Hill Pre-School building for it pre-kindergarten classes. The building has now been renamed the RCS Early Childhood Education Center. The building can hold six classrooms of Pre-K students.

Russellville High NHS hosts record-breaking blood drive

Every year Russellville High School hosts the largest one-day blood drive in the state, and this year was no different, as RHS broke the record for the most pints collected in one day. The goal was to collect 400 pints to break the record, and RHS ended up collecting 459. RHS broke the record for the largest blood drive in one day in Alabama and came in second in the Southeast, with only one school in Georgia having a larger turnout.

MARCH

State of Emergency temporarily closes schools

Schools closed their doors for the first time in March as the coronavirus began to emerge. The initial closing was only expected to last two weeks, including a scheduled spring break. This closure would end up marking the last time student were in face-to-face instruction before ending the school year moving exclusively to virtual and social distancing.

State postpones run-off election

As the coronavirus began to spread, the state made the decision to postpone the run-off election. The run-off election, originally scheduled for March 31, was postponed until July 14. The run-off election included the election of large state offices, such as Senate seat, but also local races – in Franklin County, the election of Franklin County revenue commissioner.

Virus closes courthouse, leads to local state of emergency

With the virus becoming more prevalent, the Franklin County Courthouse was closed following an emergency meeting. At this point, the state had just declared a state of emergency, and Franklin County followed. The plan was to keep the courthouse closed for two weeks to give the virus a chance to subside. The courthouse ended up being closed until the end of May.

ADPH confirms coronavirus case in FC

At the end of March, the Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed the first official case of COVID-19 in Franklin County. The first case occurred in Phil Campbell, and citizens were faced with the realization that what was once on the other side of the world was now at their door.

APRIL

Red Bay bank president videoconferences with Trump

Red Bay Community Spirit Bank President, CEO and senior lender Brad Bolton received the honor of representing nearly 5,000 community banks in a virtual meeting with President Donald Trump to discuss the Paycheck Protection Program. Bolton, vice chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America, and ICBA Chairman Noah Wilcox noted the importance of community banks in their comments to the president.

Bicentennial Committee receives state award

The Franklin County Bicentennial Committee spent 2019 hard at work for the county’s bicentennial activities and end-of-year celebration. The committee received the Alabama Bicentennial Commendation Award for the history series, The Way We Were. This award recognizes communities and organizations for the hard work they put into organizing events to celebrate history in Alabama.

RCS lights up campus for 2020 seniors

The year came with many cancellations, including the end of all spring sports and productions. To honor their seniors, several Russellville High School groups turned on their lights at 8:20 p.m. – 2020, in military time – to honor the class of 2020. These lights included the baseball stadium, football stadium and high school auditorium. Community members were also encouraged to turn on their lights at this time to honor seniors.

Russellville targets city drainage issues

The increased rain levels in 2019 gave Russellville lots of issues, and in April the Russellville City Council set out to solve some of these issues caused by flooding. The main drainage issues drawing complaints were in Hester Heights and on Filmore Street. After hearing about the reported problems, the council voted to hire Brad Williams Civil Group to do a study concerning flooding in those areas.

MAY

Franklin County goat turns viral sensation

When Ashley Robinson and Mandy McGrath adopted their baby goat Toupe, they had no idea that less than 12 weeks after adopting him the baby goat would turn into a viral sensation. One day during a trip to McDonalds in early March, McGrath took a picture of Toupe, also known as “Baby Goat,” biting on her drink straw and shared it to Facebook as her cover photo. Before long, Toupe was featured on Reddit and in XXL Magazine.

Terrace Manor hosts parade for residents

When precautions because of COVID-19 closed off those in nursing homes from the world, Terrace Manor decided to host a parade for residents. Residents lined one side of the street, socially distanced, as family members and city officials drove by. For many of the residents, it was their first chance to see family members since the pandemic began.

Northwest-Shoals honors 102 in drive-through pinning ceremony

Every year Northwest-Shoals Community College hosts a pinning ceremony for nursing students, but because of the pandemic, the pinning ceremony moved to a drive-through format for 2020. Students decorated their cars, and family members cheered with signs.

JUNE

Joining for Jagger: Community comes together in support as RHS student passes away

The Russellville community said goodbye to one of their own as Russellville senior Jagger Mills died a few weeks before graduation. In his honor, Russellville students and community members joined together for a prayer ceremony. Mills had been battling severe aplastic anemia since Aug. 10, 2018.

FC Chamber cancels 2020 Watermelon Festival

Franklin County is the home of the Watermelon Festival, but this year the coronavirus cancelled the annual tradition. The planning originally continued in hopes that numbers would be decreasing, but as time for the Watermelon Festival neared, it became more apparent that the number of positive cases was not dropping anytime soon, and the decision to cancel the festival was made.

City approves new manager for airport

The Russellville Municipal Airport came under new management in June when the Russellville City Council approved a five-year contract with Explore Aviation for $51,191.51 per year, the same amount as with previous company, Blue Diamond Aviation. The council agreed to immediately terminate its contract with Blue Diamond, which was not set to end until December 2020. Blue Diamond owner Harry Mattox said he was looking at retiring and wanted to work with the new owners to ensure the airport was in good hands.

Russellville High School holds graduation exercises for 2020 class

Typically a graduation is an expected occurrence, but for a long time there were questions about whether the class of 2020 would get to have graduation ceremonies. With social distancing procedures in place and mask requirements, seniors were finally able to have their graduations. Students were placed in chairs spread across their football fields to ensure social distancing, and several precautions were taken to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Russellville native works toward setting Guinness World Record

During the pandemic and social distancing, Russellville native Siran Winston spent his time working to break a world record. Winston, a Harlem Globetrotter, spent extensive time in the gym working on his basketball skills and received national attention for a video of him shooting consecutive half-court shots. After that, Winston’s goal became breaking the world record for the most consecutive half-court shots made and the most three-pointers made in an hour.

JULY

Russellville community comes together for unity rally

After injustice against African-Americans and police brutality caught national headlines, people from across Franklin County came together for a unity rally. More than 100 people came together to talk, reflect and find common ground. This came following protests across the nation over George Floyd’s death.

Yogi’s returns to Spruce Pine mountain

Yogi’s returned to Spruce Pine Mountain on Highway 43 in July in the exact location it originally opened in 2004. The previous building underwent a complete remodel and was equipped with a grab-and-go deli, a full line of soft drinks and a cook making all of the convenience store favorites.

AUGUST

PCHS Aviation licenses first pilot

The first pilot to make it through the aviation program at Phil Campbell High School earned his license in August. Rilan Garrison received his pilot license before moving to Auburn to study to become a pilot. The achievement came one year after PCHS began its aviation program, and in 2021 more students will be able to receive their pilot’s licenses with more students reaching the age requirement.

Vina mayor hangs hat after 20 years in top spot

As the August municipal election took place, Vina Mayor D.W. Franklin decided not to run for re-election after serving 20 years as mayor. Franklin accomplished plenty in his 20 years as mayor and said he cannot help but look back fondly over how much he has seen the town change. Michael Moomaw took over for Franklin after being elected to the position of mayor.

Russellville receives Norris property for future library

A new library for Russellville is one step closer to reality, as the Norris family donated property to the city to build a library in memory of the Norris family and all their contributions to the city. The property lies directly behind city hall, at the intersection of Lauderdale Street and Coffee Avenue. The city will have five years to build a new library on the property, with an option for an additional five-year extension depending on funding.

Russellville receives funding to build largest splash pad in state

After 12 years of working to build a splash pad in Russellville, money from Pilgrim’s Pride makes that dream one step closer to reality. In August Pilgrim’s Pride donated $309,000, the complete cost of the splash pad. The splash pad is planned to be the largest in the state, able to accommodate 175 children at once. The future home of the splash pad is still unknown.

SEPTEMBER

WES teacher goes viral over song to students

West Elementary School teacher Sarah Hester gathered national attention after a song she wrote for her students on their first day of school went viral. She wrote “Happy Eyes” to address the fear a student might feel because of having to wear a mask. The video was featured on Good News Movement and the Today Show.

Stand up, be counted

In September the deadline for the 2020 Census came closer, and local agencies began to host events making their final pushes for numbers across the county.

RC&D Council funds local projects

Nine projects throughout Franklin County were completed this year with funding from the Northwest Alabama RC&D in partnership with the Alabama legislature. About $50,000 in funding was distributed in Franklin County to help with various projects related to education for Vina High School, Phil Campbell High School, Tharptown Elementary School, Russellville High School, Franklin County Schools, Liberty Learning Foundation and the Franklin County Extension Program.

OCTOBER

Russellville High School prepares for new construction

In October Russellville City Schools officially began working on its latest project, a large addition to the high school. The groundbreaking took place in early October, and the new building is anticipated to open late 2021 or early 2022. The two-story building will house the main office, special education, EL Department and new science facilities.

Ribbon cutting ceremony unveils RCS Early Childhood Center

Although Russellville City Schools opened the doors of the new Early Childhood Center when school began in August, the school system had an open house in October for city and state officials. The open house allowed officials to tour the facility and discuss future plans for it while students were not in session because of online learning.

Tharptown mobile unit catches fire

A fire broke out in the mobile unit that houses the Tharptown after-school program, known as TRACKS, and the gifted class in October. Officials said the fire appeared to be electrical in nature, centered around an air conditioning unit on the side of the building. There was minimal damage to materials inside the unit, and no one was in the building when the fire occurred. Tharptown elementary and high school students switched to remote learning the day after the fire to keep as many people away from the scene as possible while authorities did their investigation.

Junior League of Shoals adds little library in Russellville

City Lake Park in Russellville received a “little library” for students to be able to take a book to read for free courtesy of Junior League of the Shoals. JLS has set up a little library in a central location in each of the counties it serves: Franklin, Colbert and Lauderdale. The little library includes books for all ages in English and Spanish to encourage literacy.

NOVEMBER

Staffing issues force RB, Tharptown to go remote

Red Bay and Tharptown were not able to escape troubles of quarantining associated with COVID-19 in November. Both schools were forced to temporarily move to remote learning when school employee quarantines forced an issue with staffing. Both schools continued virtual learning for almost two weeks before temporarily returning to school before Thanksgiving break.

Moss rises to principal at Tharptown, Scott moves to West Elementary

Tharptown High School Assistant Principal Bart Moss moved up to the position of principal in November when former principal Ann Scott moved to the principal position at West Elementary School. Scott replaced former WES principal Deanna Hollimon.

County faces Christmas cancellations

Several county Christmas celebrations were canceled this year because of the pandemic. As numbers began to rise in Franklin County, Russellville, Phil Campbell and Vina all cancelled their Christmas festivities. The only city in Franklin County to host a parade this year was Red Bay.

DECEMBER

Vina to add new gas station, convenience store

Mountain Express Convenience Store and Gas Station is returning to Vina, and in December construction began, with citizens coming out for the official groundbreaking. More than 50 people were present for the groundbreaking, with several local leaders in attendance, including State Rep. Jamie Kiel, Vina city council members and members of the Franklin County Commission. Mountain Express will be built near the previous location on Highway 19, which was destroyed in a fire in early 2019. Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2021, with the store opening in the spring.

Garden Club hosts first Christmas tree lighting

The Cultura Garden Club hosted the first Christmas tree lighting in Russellville following the annual Every Light a Prayer for Peace ceremony. The tree is planted across the street from the Franklin County Courthouse at the Byars Building. Once the tree was lit, children and adults met for pictures with Santa.

Vina, Red Bay receive grants for community development

Two Franklin County communities are about to see improvements in infrastructure after receiving CDBG grants. Vina will receive $348,650 to install a new boost pump at a water storage tank to improve water flow and pressure, and Red Bay will receive $445,000 to improve sewer lines in the southeast part of the city. Both towns still have to go through the bidding process for the projects, but they hope to begin work on the projects in early summer.

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