The Beltone Company has been around for a good while, since 1940, to be exact, and has always been on the cutting edge of hearing instrument science. In Alabama and Mississippi, the Hames and Hendon families have been blessed to open and maintain more than 20 Beltone hearing centers, one of the most recent additions being located at 22923 Hwy 72 E in Athens.

Hal Hames is an audioprosthologist, (someone who is a trained expert in matching the right device to the ear and life of a customer,) his daughter Michelle is a Dr. of Audiology, and his wife, Linda, daughter Lesley Hendon, and son-in-law Jake Hendon all work together to make the Beltone Audiology facilities the premier hearing instrument science centers in the Southeast. Together they have decades of experience in the hearing industry.

I asked Lesley and Dr. Michelle why, if I am in need of hearing help, should I come to them? They both answered quickly, “Customer care.” Any Beltone customer gets free lifetime customer care, known as Bel Care, which includes evaluation, cleaning, any adjustments, anything except batteries. Customers also have access to trained techs at each facility. I became aware of the care and respect given to clients, especially when it comes to making someone comfortable with everything involved in using a hearing science instrument, from the testing process to being fitted, not only physically, but with finding the right “fit,” technologically speaking. More on that follows below. During the testing process, the patient’s response to all manner of sounds which occur in nature is noted, and not just a flat, artificial tone as was the case in days gone by. Sounds include everything from birds to crowds, and the patient’s family gets the opportunity to hear the loss being experienced by their loved one, fostering better understanding and hopefully more “patience with the patient.”

Another reason to choose Beltone is both their longevity in the market and the quality of their products. Beltone started in Chicago over 70 years ago with a friend successfully helping a friend, and remained family owned at the corporate level until 15 years ago. “They are not the oldest, but are one of the longest standing,” said Lesley. Beltone has continued to lead the way, both with technological advances and with educating their clients.

It used to be that “hearing aids” were noticeable, bulky, had feed back, (how well I remember my dad turning his up and down constantly,) couldn’t handle any moisture, and the range of hearing was often both distorted and limited. Several types of hearing situations used to be most challenging, such as restaurants, being outdoors, talking on the phone, or watching TV without annoying those watching with you because you had the volume turned up too high. Now there is what is known as the TRUE technology, a genuine breakthrough.

The Beltone TRUE series features multiple directional microphones, the ability for the microphones to change modes, a feedback eraser, wind noise reduction system, and a number of wireless accessories. The personal wireless network system makes it possible to link to the TV, your cell phone, and other audio sources, and also has a remote control that will adjust the hearing aids and the accesories. Now the rest of your family can listen to a program with the volume at a comfortable level for them, and the wireless device will adjust yours accordingly. In addition, Beltone TRUE has the best anti-whistling system in the business. It features a number of models, some of which are barely visible.

For clients who have need of a hearing aid that fits behind the ear, there is the TURN system. It has the ability to suppress certain unpleasant or overly loud sounds. Additionally, it helps with hearing conversations rather than background noises like refrigerators or fans. It also features a “telecoil,” for use with telephone conversations.

Regarding education as it applies to defining hearing loss, I learned some things to look out for. You may be experiencing hearing loss if:

People seem to mumble more frequently
You experience ringing in your ears
You often ask people to repeat themselves
Your family complains that you play the radio or TV too loudly
You no longer hear normal household sounds like a dripping faucet or a doorbell
You have difficulty understanding conversations in crowds, groups, or one on on
Phone conversations become increasingly difficult, as is hearing when someone’s back is turned toward you
You speak too loudly

If these are your concerns, then Josh Moody, H.I.S. (Hearing Instrument Specialist) and Madison Weatherbee, PSS (Patient Care Coordinator) will be more than able to assist you. Call the Athens office at 256-867-4200 to schedule an appointment.

Beltone Athens
22923 Highway 72 E , Suite A
Athens, AL 35613

SportsFit, the large and lovely fitness facility located in Athens at 22423 US Hwy 72, (just east of the Publix Shopping Center,) is announcing its fall lineup of activities, contests, classes and fundraisers.

The list of amenities for SportsFit members is extensive and growing all the time. SportsFit is open 24/7, with members having unlimited secure electronic access. There is free tanning, a hot tub, a dry sauna in the men’s and women’s locker rooms, a swimming pool, exercise class room, state of the art equipment, and most importantly, a friendly staff. In addition, there is free on site day care during the following hours: Mon-Fri, 8 am-noon, Mon-Thur, 4pm-8pm, Fri, 4pm-6pm, and Sat, 8am-10:30 am.

Caleb Pope is the facility director, and between all the instructors and trainers, there are more than 20 years of combined experience from which members can draw. For a small fee, members can pay for a one on one session with certified personal trainer and Aerobics Director, 31 year old Erin Chambless. She can also provide nutritional coaching as well as set up a personalized exercise program for SportsFit clients. Erin has a real passion for helping people take back their shape as well as their health, and knows firsthand how tough it can be to lose the weight gained during pregnancy. “I love to help people get healthy, and this job also makes it possible for me to spend more time with my kids.” She is also in training to run her first half marathon, and her excitement is contagious.

Speaking of contagious, I got to chat with 66 year old Marcia Hemphill, who takes between 6 and 7 classes a week! Fitness was a part of her life for a long time, but like so many, running a business slowly took over, and she put on 60 lbs. She has dropped the weight, kept it off, and especially loves the Aqua classes.

If you are interested in getting fit in a group setting, the exercise class schedule offers classes which vary from Spin Cycling to Zumba. Zumba, the lively Latin dance based cardio work out, is one of SportsFit’s most popular classes. In addition, you can choose from Yoga, Kickboxing, Muscleworks, Step Circuit, Dance Fusion, Armed and Dangerous, and Guts & Butts. Classes are included in the cost of membership, which, by the way, involves no long term commitment. A new feature is that there are class-only memberships, and non members can pay for individual classes if they choose. Free three day passes are available, and if members have family or guests temporarily staying with them, there are special rates for them, too.

Erin gave me a more detailed description of how the classes are divided by intensity. High intensity classes are Kickboxing, Zumba, and the full hour Step Class. Medium intensity classes are Zumba Gold, (which Erin told me was added in July, and has been a monster hit,) Step Circuit, Spin Cycling and Muscle Works. Low impact classes are done in the water, and are described below.

SportsFit has an accessible pool certified through both the American with Disabilities Act and Arthritis Foundation, and it shares the pool with the Encore Rehabilitation facility located next door. To insure maximum comfort for all users, the pool is kept scrupulously clean, maintained at a constant 91F, and has a manned lift that can place those who must enter the pool from their wheelchair into it safely.

The Aqua classes are quite popular amongst those who suffer with arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation has specially designed classes that are low impact, but nevertheless most effective in making it possible for arthritis sufferers to get a great workout. Each class teacher must be certified by the Foundation before they can teach. Aqua classes are not just confined to those who are working to overcome arthritis, however. Those diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other related diseases can benefit from the Aqua Arthritis classes. For those who just plain love the water and how it feels to exercise in it, there is a class called Aqua Dance Fusion, as well as the Aqua Challenge. Some members use the Aqua Zumba class to learn the Zumba steps before they graduate to either Zumba or Zumba Gold.

SportsFit always gets involved in the fight against Breast Cancer during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month. There are specially marked elliptical and treadmill machines which are decorated in pink, and formatted so that for each mile walked on either machine is recorded, and 25 cents for each mile walked is donated to breast cancer research. If you are not planning on using the machines, SportsFit is also officially authorized to take donations. Both the Athens SportsFit facility,(as well as the one in Decatur,) participate annually in raising money to find a cure for the diabolical disease that affects 1 in 8 American women.

Everyone knows that the college football season in Alabama is a time of fierce rivalry between Alabama and Auburn. So, why not get in better shape during the season instead of spending it on the couch? To that end, SportsFit is sponsoring the Alabama Auburn Cardio Challenge beginning in November. This challenge will allow team members to earn miles on the treadmills, elliptical machines, bikes, and even through the spin cycle class. The team with the most miles logged wins the challenge, and gets put in the drawing for a prize. Hey, you could kill several birds with one stone: come to the facility during game time, get on a treadmill, watch the game, root for your team, and get in shape for the holidays!

Whatever your level of fitness or desire for it, remember this: SportsFit is the place where “Xtreme dedication brings extraordinary results.”

Address: 22423 US Hwy 72, Athens AL 35611
Hours: Open 24/7
Phone: 256-233-3994
Facebook: sportsfit athens decatur
Jonathan Henderson, SportsFit Regional Director, Caleb Pope, Athens Facility Director

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By Ali Elizabeth Turner

Art On The Square

Art On The Square Arts League is a non-profit art organization created by a dedicated group of volunteers over seven years ago. Its purpose is to support artists, promote art education, and bring cultural events to Athens and Limestone County, Alabama.

The nonprofit all-volunteer group understands that creative arts drive the cultural success of a community. The Art On The Square Arts League seeks to establish a locally vibrant arts center and hub from which art can be easily accessed for the entire community. The group regularly provides this community with the art education, events and experiences that will assist in promoting Athens as a place that is deeply appreciative toward and reflective of the arts. The Art On The Square Arts League has worked to bring superb quality and creativity to all of their events. Their upcoming fine arts festival encompasses many successful collaborations with community anchors like Athens State University, T.R.A.I.L.,( a youth service organization in Limestone County), The City of Athens, Limestone County, Redstone Federal Credit Union and more.

Art On The SquareOn September 8, 2012, from 10 am ‘til 4pm, approximately 60 juried fine artists will sell their works under the trees around The Limestone County Courthouse in Athens, AL. This marks the seventh consecutive year that the Art On The Square Arts League has brought the festival to downtown Athens. The competition showcases some of the highest quality art from the region, and thousands of people attend the annual September event. A Budding Artists’ Tent allows young artists from this community to sell their own work during the show. Families bring their children to enjoy the all-art, always free of charge KidsZone, and to participate in a number of various art activities. They can choose to enjoy painting, mosaics, puppet making, and throwing on the clay wheel.

All members of the Art On The Square board agree to the importance of children growing up in a community that invests in cultural and artistic happenings. In planning and preparing their extensive projects, Art On The Square further expresses their mission and impacts young peoples’ character by training teen volunteers who work with younger students at various art camps and at the fine arts festival. Art On The Square’s current work reaches over two thousand children in North Alabama each year. At the festival everyone is invited to participate in creating a public art project that is ultimately presented to the community for display.

Local musical groups, dancers and renowned guest musicians including The Alabama Blues Project Advanced Band and Microwave Dave & The Nukes will perform this year. On September 7, Art On the Square Arts League, in conjunction with Athens State University Livingston Concert Committee, will present The Alabama Blues Project Advanced Band who will perform an educational program for hundreds of school students in Athens and Limestone County. They will perform at 9:30 a.m. Friday Sept. 7, in Athens State University Carter Gymnasium, and at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 8, on the Square. Both performances are free and open to the public. A heavy rain location has been reserved for the festival at the Athens State University Carter Gymnasium.

The Alabama Blues Project was founded in 1995 by such famous blues musicians as the late Willie King. Mr. King was born to Mississippi sharecroppers, and even after attaining award-winning acclaim as a world-renowned bluesmen, he continued to live in his trailer in Old Memphis, AL, and work in local social activism. He said he wanted to “help children rise up.” He forged relationships with area youth through an education program established by blues enthusiasts Rick Asherson and Debbie Bond, who moved from England to Tuscaloosa, AL in order to study the blues and establish the award-winning after-school program. With King’s influence, they established the nonprofit Alabama Blues Project. The Advanced Band members are the program’s most elite and gifted student musicians.

In addition this year, Kudzu Chronicles, Writing Southern Style at Art On The Square, will bring another dimension to the fine arts downtown event. The writers’ festival will be held from 9:30am-2pm at the Athens State University Center for Lifelong Learning, and admission is free. Registration is required and can be completed by calling 256-233-8260 .

We need to get the word out that we are here and that we have been here, and that AOTS intends to bring the arts fully to the whole community via collaborative and conscientious strategic planning and promotion of artists, art education and art events in Athens and Limestone County.
By Diane Lehr, AOTS President

When Leigh Sutton, one of several women who make up the Sugar Mama’s “Sweet Treats Team,” met me at the door of the bakery for this interview, I knew in an instant why she is known at the shop as the “Peanut Butter Queen.” The smell of freshly baked peanut butter cookies was nearly irresistible, made worse by the fact that it was supper time and I was hungry. It was, however, clearly a pleasant torture.

I reluctantly turned down her offer of one of the warm cookies, and chose a mini-cupcake that was sugar free. I know myself well enough to I realize that I “can’t eat just one,” and managed to stop at two. No harm, no foul.

Leigh, who is one of the co-owners, is the daughter of Sugar Mama’s owner Stephanie Sutton, and they come from several generations of bakers. Denise Bolen had worked for the previous owners as well as the bakery at Wal-Mart for 10 years. April Patten, who works nearby used to come by the shop and try her hand at making roses. It was through April that Stephanie came out from Huntsville to check out the shop, and Sugar Mama’s Sweet Treats was born in the Fall of 2010.

Leigh, a young mother who is heading toward a business degree and works on the weekends, has made peanut butter cookies a best seller. She tells of how much she loves to watch her mother “free hand” cake decorations, (i.e., just look at a picture and replicate it with frosting,) and the Sutton women use recipes that have been handed down for generations. Another of Sugar Mama’s most popular items is the cake truffle, a small flavored cake that is coated with frosting that makes it look just like a truffle. I know from a bridal shower I attended how yummy they are, and just recently Sugar Mama’s added new flavors to their cake truffle line up. Among them are Oreo cheesecake, orange Creamsicle, butter pecan, and hazelnut.

As we were discussing illustrations for the article, Leigh showed me a picture of a “popcorn cake.” When I first looked at it, I didn’t realize it was a cake and wondered why she was showing it to me. She laughed and told me that the “popcorn” is made out of cut up marshmallows, rolled around to shape them into “popped kernels,” and then slightly airbrushed, using yellow food coloring! Like so many bakers these days, Leigh is addicted to the TV program Cake Boss, and as a result of watching “the Boss,” has gotten so she can do some serious piping, which apparently “ain’t easy.” She agrees with me that Cake Boss has taken cake decorating to a whole new level and has forced bakers all over America to “bake outside the box.”

Leigh says she “likes to experiment with stuff,” and soon will be offering cake truffles that will look like bumblebees. Sugar Mama’s has also recently added pies to their venue. Great Grandma Sutton’s pecan pie is legendary, as are her cheese straws, and during the holidays there will be a number of seasonally flavored items from which to choose. Those flavors include pumpkin, Christmas mint and eggnog, with cake pops (cake truffles put on a popsicle stick) decorated to look like snowmen.

Custom work and being innovative is absolutely necessary if a cake shop is going to make it these days, and Leigh says they are “willing to try anything at least once.” A Tennessee fan had her snowman cake pops decorated with an orange jersey and the Tennessee T. Of course, Alabama and Auburn cakes are on display, and the same kind of “snowmen” are available for your favorite team.

Because Great grandmother Sutton lived through the Depression, some of her best and tastiest fare is known as “Depression cake.” I am wanting to try some, as anyone who can make a delicious dessert when times are tough and there is not much to choose from by way of ingredients, makes me curious. Depression cake, as it turns out, is also great for people with allergies. “We can work around just about any food allergy, and have some gluten free and sugar free recipes as well,” says Leigh. Recently they made some sugar free cupcakes for an event held at the Riviera gym.

“We also understand that there’s a recession on,” says Leigh, “and we try to work with people so they can get what they want at an affordable price.” Come and see what’s been cooked up at Sugar Mama’s, located on Hwy 31 in Athens, and I dare you to “eat just one.”

Sugar Mama’s Sweet Treats
616 Hwy 31, Suite D, Athens, AL, 35611
Phone: 256-233-5217
Hours: Mon-Fri 10 am-5pm, Sat 10am-2pm and facebook
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

In June of 1967, Jerry Swanson was a sixteen year old farm boy who had all his limbs and his whole life out in front of him. Then the unthinkable happened, and he lost his leg in a bush hog accident while working on his uncle’s farm. His left leg was completely mangled, and had to be amputated above the knee. That same October, by the time Jerry was seventeen, he was walking in his calling and mission: “To get amputees up and back to daily living.” Today at the age of 62, he has six clinics in two states, nearly 30 employees, and has a special desire to reach out with personalized long-term care to all amputees in the Valley, including the veterans who have recently lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His career started in Memphis at a firm named Snell’s Limbs and Braces, where he apprenticed and learned the trade, no small task while learning how to handle being an amputee himself. “This was back in the day when prostheses were still mostly made out of wood and lacquer,” he told me, although his was one of the early “legs” made out of plastic. While at Snell’s he received his certification in prosthetics, and took college courses as part of his training. He studied at Northwestern University in Chicago, as well as NYU. While in Chicago he learned how to make prostheses for upper and lower leg amputees, and while in New York he studied production for upper extremity prostheses.

He spent 10 years in Memphis, has been here for 35 years, and because what he does is his “passion and calling,” he has no plans for quitting any time soon. As is the case with any truly successful health care practice, he has surrounded himself with people who are both compassionate and competent, and everyone made me feel most welcome. I found it both interesting and comforting to know that he made sure that he has an amputee on staff in each of the clinics. “We can look at someone who has just lost a limb or limbs and say, ‘we know what you are going through,’” and it’s true. For example, at the Huntsville office one of the certified licensed prosthetists by the name of Eric Andrews is what is known as a “bi-lateral below the knee amputee.” In other words, Eric lost both of his legs, and has turned his calamity around into a successful career.

I had the chance to watch different ones in various stages of familiarity with their prostheses “take their limb out for a spin,” and all of them greeted me with a smile. “Every person, job, surgery is different,” Jerry told me, “and we do not want any amputee to get anything other than personal, individualized care.” To that end, he makes sure that each patient comes in every three months, no matter how long ago they became an amputee. “It’s very important,” he said, and told me horror stories of people whose limb loss has been complicated further by ill fitting or poorly functioning prostheses.

One woman named Lorie Clotfelter first came to Jerry when she was 18, having gotten too old for the Shriner’s Hospital program for child amputees. A mowing accident took her leg below the knee, and she has been seeing Jerry for 35 years. It is apparent that she is part of the family, and she has gotten great care for decades now.

Jerry told me further that what he does is an art. “Anyone can make a prosthetic limb, but not everyone can make it fit. By “fitting,” he means far more than getting the correct physical measurements, or making sure it’s comfortable. The entire field has gotten so sophisticated that it is almost as though The Six Million Dollar Man/Woman is no longer a sci-fi TV program. That type of what used to be considered “futuristic” prosthesis is part of a science called “symbionics,” and it uses both electronics as well as hydraulics. This is the type Jerry uses, and he programmed the microchip that sees to it that the alignment, range of motion, swing, and any other part of the artificial limb is working in harmony with the body. A symbionic solution is not for everyone, and the whole staff is involved making sure patients are fully comfortable with their product, that it fits their age and lifestyle.

I asked him, God forbid, if I should ever lose a limb, why should I come to Alabama Orthotics and Prosthetics? He answered simply, “Because we try harder,” and I believe they do.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

My entrance into the 21st century re: the use of facebook, twitter and even understanding the full potential of having an online version of Athens Now has been a painfully slow one, that is, until Teddy Wolcott came into my life. Teddy, at 71 years young and who describes herself as “older than dirt,” is in my view, the “engineer” of what I have come to call “The Little Search Engine That Could.” More on that later.

Teddy and her brothers are the children of artists, and possess minds which work like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They’ve been “at it” (i.e. involved with everything that pertains to computers,) a long time, and Teddy totally got my attention when she told me she could build a website from scratch in 12 hours. My ultra-professional response was, “Whoa.” I had been told that our original Athens Now site was going to cost several thousand dollars to renovate, and a common complaint when it comes to website building is how long it takes for a web designer to finish the project. It can also be very difficult to explain what it is that you want, and if you decide to go with a web building kit, the chances are quite good that someone, after observing how you are floundering about, will borrow Dr. Phil’s line and ask, “How’s that workin’ out for you?” In our case, it wasn’t. We were stuck, and the day Teddy called, God smiled on the whole crew at Athens Now.

So it is with total pleasure and gratitude that I announce the “birth” of our new website, WWW.AthensNowAl.Com. It is beautiful, user friendly, linked to everything, and even has a button that lets you read the whole paper while “turning” the pages, much like amazon’s Kindle. It also did not cost me my yet-to-be-born grandchildren to build, for which I am thankful! In a word, the work was exquisite, the price fair, and I am a highly satisfied customer.

Teddy also has her own online “paper,” called WWW.AthensShopLocal.Com, and we are linked to each other, having seen the value of entering into a joint venture relationship. She also is the owner of WWW.TruWebHost.Com, is the manager of more than 100 sites nationwide, and owns her own server. With the launch of the Athens Now website, Athens business owners can get even more traction through the use of what is known as “Search Engine Optimization.”

Because some of our readers are not interested in the Internet and how it can be a powerful marketing tool, I will keep this brief. “Search Engine Optimization,” (or SEO,) is a term that refers to how outfits like Google and Yahoo use and position your Internet ad or entry. The object of the Internet marketing game is to get listed as closely to the top of the Google, Yahoo, Bing or other page as possible, because that is where most folks go to find you. The way to “win” is through the use of what are called “key words.” Key words are a mathematically formulated list of how often certain words show up in your work. The more often the key words show up, the higher up on the Google, etc, list you go. Is your head swimming yet? If it is, that’s why you need Teddy. She “gets” this stuff like you and I can say our ABCs.

Speaking of ABCs, that is the last of Teddy’s projects I would like to talk about. Athens Business Connection is a newly formed business cooperative that is patterned somewhat after BNI, (Business Networking International,)the world’s largest business networking and referral organization. ABC meets every other Tuesday at the HG Asian Bistro on Hwy 72 near S. Jefferson, right next to Taco Bell. The time is 11:30 am til 1pm, and I have both thoroughly enjoyed the contacts I have made, the challenging personal growth I have experienced, and the business I have garnered. Who do I have to thank for getting me into this? God and Teddy, in that order. To contact Teddy Wolcott for your advertising or web building and management needs, or for more information about Athens Business Connection, please call 256-729-0916, “like” her on facebook, or email her at Smartbird@Hughes.Net. You’ll be glad you did!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

It has been nearly a year since I walked up to Mayor Marks at an event that was being held at the Veterans’ Museum, and asked if he would be interested in doing an interview twice a month for Athens Now. My idea was to publish something that would resemble the comfortableness of the “Fireside Chats” that were started by FDR during the roughest economic time in our country, and made legendary by Ronald Reagan during the same type of era in the ‘80s.

He liked the idea, we began to meet at his office every two weeks on Monday mornings, and I quickly became a woman who is genuinely thankful that he is our mayor. I have found him to have a shepherd’s heart for Athens, he possesses a vision for our city, and decades of quantifiable experience that have only served to sharpen his leadership skills. He also has the energy of a man decades younger than he is, and he spends that energy freely on us. Lastly, he is not afraid to admit his need for God’s help and wisdom for the job, and is not ashamed to pray for it out loud.

So, without any further personal reflection on my observations about the man, I will get to the meat of this article and let you decide if you think it’s a good idea to re-elect him in August.

I asked him what he wanted people to know about Athens in general, and his job in particular. “What we have been blessed with as citizens of Athens is a truly great community,” he said, “and it is a privilege to serve them.” In addition, he told me that Athens “is the fastest growing city in Northern Alabama, and I hear statements from ‘newbies’ to our town all the time about how beautiful and safe it is, how people holler at you when you go in and out the door.”

He continued, “What people need to understand is that the City of Athens has to be run like a large corporation; it is a big business, with budgets in the millions that need to be spent wisely and accounted for with integrity.” To that end, the books are open to anyone who wants to wade through them, of course with the request that the full context of accounts and expenditures be understood and acknowledged.

“Our job is to provide good government and services, and I always have the same five basic areas of concern that must all be addressed if I am going to do my job.” They are:

  • Public Safety-“That is the most important. If the town isn’t safe, the rest doesn’t matter.” These days that also includes having in place a social media service that is “timely, true, and accurate.”
  • Jobs and Economic Development- “People need to be able to support their families, and several businesses have come to Athens in the last year, with more on the way.”
  • Education- “If our kids are going to live well and be productive, we must be vigilant about giving them a quality education. After all, they’re the ones who will be running this town after we’re gone.”
  • Recreation-“Our city needs to be a place where people not only work hard, but have the opportunity to play well, and to have safe, affordable things to do with their families.”
  • Quality of Life-“My goal is to make Athens so attractive that even if kids move away from this city for years, they’ll come back and settle here because it is home.”

I asked him about what has been accomplished on his “watch,” and the things about which he is the most pleased are the new fire stations and the influx of new industries. “We have also been able to put money into paving Lindsay Lane, have been awarded a grant to pave Lucas Ferry Road, Sanderfer Road, and Nuclear Plant Road, which is an evacuation route for Brown’s Ferry.”

What are his concerns and challenges? “First of all, that the community comes together. The natural disasters we have recently faced made us stronger than we had been for many years, but that needs to continue. And my charge as Mayor is to build a team that can give great service.” The other thing he mentioned to me with his usual sense of humor is the importance of tracking revenue streams. “Huntsville is creeping westward, and I don’t want to wake up one day surrounded.” He added, “We need to be proactive about protecting the interests of the City of Athens.” And finally he told me, “I’ll do this job to the best of my ability as long as I am supposed to. I am asking the people of Athens to get out and vote for the candidate of their choice on August 28th. I would like you to consider me to be your candidate for Mayor so we can make Athens the best place in Alabama to grow up, live and work in, and then retire here.” By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Back in 2009, while driving down Hwy 72 W near Dupree Worthey Road, I noticed a sign and some furniture pieces displayed outdoors that caused me to turn straight into the driveway of Nina’s Place Home Furnishings. Why? Because they had the unmistakable look of the substantive, artfully hand crafted, wood, metal, leather, stoneware and travertine home furnishings and décor that I had come to love so dearly while living and working with my husband at an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico.

I was most definitely on a sentimental journey, and my joy has only increased since then by getting to know “Nina,” (whose real name is Melinda Freeman,) and learning of her heart to help, her spirit of adventure, and her tea cup Chihuahuas, Kitty and Kali, whom, she says, “are part of the store.”

Melinda, (who picked up from her brother the nickname “Nina” when they were still small kids,) has done everything from helping to manage her family’s electronics brokerage business, to living for several years in Guadalajara, Mexico, to being involved with supporting international adoptions. She did what so many Athens Now customers have done: defy conventional wisdom and start a business in the middle of a recession, and the result is a place where it is not at all uncommon to have someone walk in for the first time and say, “This is just what I have been looking for!” Her love of rustic home furnishings goes back to her childhood in California, and she loves to think of it as “furniture with a soul.”

The furniture comes from Puebla, Guadalajara, and all over Mexico. “Some of the reclaimed and primitive pieces are actually made in people’s living rooms,” she told me. People, I might add, that she has come to know personally. The artisans who work with copper and travertine, (a type of stone whose composition is somewhat similar to limestone) have been at it for years, and the excellent level of craftsmanship has remained unchanged.

Melinda is a big fan of radio talk show host Dave Ramsey, who has helped many families become debt free through common sense, biblically based financial strategies, and Nina’s Place is happily “in the black.” “We do not operate in a negative cash flow,” she says, and as a result, she has an uncommon level of flexibility when it comes to selecting the pieces that fill Nina’s Place. She also is able to steer clear of the usual level of price mark up in which many furniture dealers things that make all the hard work involved in selecting and importing furniture so worth it is the joy she feels when someone finally sees the thing that they had lost hope of ever finding in a chain store or anywhere else. She also has helped give several local interior designers their start by employing them in the store, and loves it when they come back “home” with a client who is genuinely delighted in what is available.

Nina’s Place makes a point of carrying the work of several local artisans, and does cross promoting of their work with other outlets. Melinda, as do I, believes that “there is enough to go around.” In addition, due to the fact that her “passion is antiquing,” she has a real knack for finding treasures here in the South where so many regions have been picked over. Recently she found a rustic mantle that had come from a cabin in Kentucky, and once again, a couple who wanted something out of the ordinary was thrilled when they saw it. Nina’s Place carries excellent quality unfinished furniture, and will custom finish pieces to suit the client’s exact needs. They also specialize in painting furniture with the current interior color trends for which Mexican décor is so well known, and “if you bring in the paint, (and the piece you purchased has an unfinished surface,) there is no charge for painting or distressing it,” she added. Someone who was going through an intense time of personal crisis distressed her own piece of furniture, and found it positively therapeutic! Hmmm, a new take on “anger management?!” Nina’s Place has a hope and a vision for their future in the Athens area. The business is doing well, they are planning on having classes on refinishing furniture and other teaching venues, are passionate about giving back to the community, and the hard work is paying off. Come to Nina’s and enjoy the fruit of their labors, and explore a home furnishing store where their motto is, “We don’t carry a brand, we make it by hand.”
by Ali Elizabeth Turner

Terri Dunn, owner of Shoe Gallery, and her husband, Dr. Jimmy Dunn at the entrance to the new location of Shoe Gallery II on Marion Street.

It has been a dream of Terri Dunn’s to have her charming boutique shoe store be located on the Courthouse Square. For much longer than anyone anticipated, the storefront located at 109 S. Marion Street in Athens has been undergoing painstaking renovation, and the effort, while quite intense, is going to be fully worth it.

Wayne Kuykendall, the owner of the building and the visionary behind its renovation, has paid scrupulous attention to every detail of the project, and many times when I have been doing Saturday deliveries of Athens Now I have seen him “knee deep” in the work. For those who know Wayne, who is a lifelong resident of Athens, it is no surprise that he knows so much about the building and is totally committed to its restoration. He told me a bit of its history. It has been everything from an alley way to a restaurant to a sewing store. The reason it is so long and narrow is that it originally was the space between two buildings, but the “shotgun” shape is perfect for a boutique. The rough brick walls give a warm, homey feel, and the unusually high ceilings give the place a sense of space and light. The tile work at the threshold is accurate to the period, as well as the overhead lighting and the opaque tile work that makes up the transom. The original floors were too far gone to use, but Wayne found some old ones from another building, had them refinished, and they are beautiful. Only a few details remain on the “punch list,” as well as the final inspection, and then the process of moving from the current store, located at 1207 East Forrest Street, Suite G, can begin.

Before that can happen, however, Terri and her husband, Dr. Jimmy Dunn are going to be counselors at church camp, something they have done for years since their own kids were small. Once the move to the new location begins, there will be an “everythingmust- go” moving sale and both stores will be open for business until the transition is completed. Lots of work, to be sure, and the results will be wonderful, both for shoe lovers as well as people interested in the revitalization and restoration of the Courthouse Square.

So, whether you shop at the current location, or wait until the new one opens, what can you expect to find at the Shoe Gallery? For openers, service extraordinaire from Terri and her team. I have always been treated like a queen, as has anyone I have sent there to shop. Once I purchased a pair of shoes that turned out to be defective. Not only did I get my money cheerfully refunded, but Terri took my shoes to the market and spoke with the representative to make sure the problem with the shoe’s construction was remedied.

As far as actual shoes are concerned, Shoe Gallery carries such well known lines as Clark’s, Merrell, Vaneli, Pierre Dumas, (one of my favorites,) Nicole, and Jambu, an “eco-shoe” whose sales line is “be you with Jambu.” There are sandals, dressy evening shoes, boots, comfy-butnot- dumpy, and the new ultra light running shoes that are “all the rage.” When Terri can get great deals, she passes on the savings to the customers, and I personally have loved a pair of Nicole black patent leather flats that in New York go for $300, but are much less at Shoe Gallery.

Lovely, elegant, practical, and kicky purses are available, with a new line called Papaya being one of Terri’s current favorites. There are also some lovely scarves. The store also specializes in custom jewelry, including bracelets, earrings and necklaces. One line, called Priti, is made by a woman named Michele Smith who lives near Birmingham. Michele is very selective regarding her choice of stones, and she uses components from estate sales and other venues to craft her unique creations. She will do custom work, and if, for example, you purchase a necklace that is not quite the right length, she will adjust it for you. Shoe Gallery carries invitations, watches, umbrellas, note cards, stationery, journals and planners. One other service that Terri offers is ordering items for a customer from one of her many catalogues. No one can stock everything, so she is happy to show customers what’s available and get it for them.

I do believe the new location of Shoe Gallery II will prove to be one of the most beautiful shops on the Square, and thank Wayne, Terri and Jimmy for having a vision and then seeing it through. Can’t wait til the Grand Opening!
by Ali Elizabeth Turner

Much has changed in the life of LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist) Wendy Couch since I last interviewed her. She is now happily married, and on July 1st had an open house at her practice’s new location just off the Square at 109 Marion Street in Athens, having moved from her previous location in the Lambert Law Firm building on Market Street. There was a great turnout, with “lots of tours and socializing.”

Indeed the new location is ideal. It is roomy, serene, has potential for expansion of services, and as soon as I put this paper “to bed,” I am going to make an appointment for a much needed massage. I am truly overdue!

For those of you who don’t know Wendy, I can say from experience that her knowledge of both massage and massage-related health issues, compassion and level of professionalism have been a blessing to me both professionally as a publisher, and personally as a woman who tends to store her tension between her shoulders. I have needed her skilled hands to “unravel those ropes,” and she has amply delivered.

Wendy is a native of Madison, and after 12 years returned to the area in 2010. She opened her first practice in Athens just after the tornadoes hit in April, 2011, and says “the people in Athens have been wonderful to me.” There are several things I have found endearing about this young woman in the time that we have been each other’s clients. First is of hands.” Wendy, as is the case with many of us in Athens, sees her work as both a profession as well as a ministry, and I always enjoy her fellowship.

Second is that her rates are more than reasonable, and she is worth every penny. While she and I are both convinced of the truth of the biblical maxim which says that the “laborer is worthy of their hire,” she has a heart for people who normally would dismiss the idea of getting massage due to cost. She regularly has promotions, and clients need only to call to inquire. Wendy also offers full body scrubs, masks, and ionic footbaths, and uses only the purest of ingredients in her practice.

She received her degree from Madison School of Massage in 2006, and is licensed to practice several types of massage, including deep tissue, trigger point and Swedish. She also practices medical massage and is trained in pain management. Prior to her working in North Alabama, she was on the Army base located at Ft. Riley, Kansas, and used her expertise in pain management to help our soldiers, for which I am deeply grateful. Wendy, congratulations on your “new digs,” and we trust that your practice in Athens will only continue to grow and thrive!