By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Mayor Ronnie and I met on Wednesday due to the wild and wooly-coat weather, both of us scrambling to get caught up. As always, the mayor made me laugh with a tale of some kind of recent caper, and all of it played into us deciding on this article as the launch for the Enjoy The Ride series. The book is written by Steve Gilliand, whom Mayor Ronnie had heard speak at a national mayor’s conference, and its subtitle is: The True Joy Of Life Is In The Trip!

The “caper” had to do with the fact that there are thankfully a number of department heads who know how to find humor in almost any situation; the mayor had called one who actually had the authority to meet his unusual request and said, “Please flood the streets so we can make ice for everyone to slide on.” The reply? “Mr. Mayor, I’ll get around to it in July.” In addition, our City Attorney valiantly tried to slide down Marion Street, which is also known to old-timers as “Ice Pick Hill,” but unfortunately there wasn’t enough ice to get much traction. With all kidding aside, Mayor Ronnie shook his head in gratitude and said, “We’ve got guys out in 6 degree weather taking care of power outages.” The utilities guys are an important part of our team of first responders, and they are the best.

In spite of the weather, the week had started out with one of the mayor’s favorite celebration days of the year — Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. “It is always a great day,” he said. “The kids’ essays were good, and this year we had artwork, too. Raven Warner won the essay contest, again. There was the parade to the Event Center, and church at Sweet Home, which is always wonderful. It’s one of my favorite days because of the chance to fellowship, and it builds the community,” the mayor said.

Before we talked about Steve Gilliam’s book, we touched on the recent announcement of the new Toyota plant, and how it kicks up the need to plan well for future growth. Mayor Ronnie will be addressing that challenge on January 31 at the State of the City address to be held at the ASU Ballroom. The topic is “200 Years of Classic. Southern. Character,” and the question, as it relates to quality of life, is one of balance: How do we maintain the historical essence of our city and what makes it so special, and prepare well for the soon-oncoming population explosion?

Well, keeping a sense of humor is certainly a part of it, which is why Gilliam’s book is so timely. “Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance,” is the opening statement in the book, and the author is unknown. He also says, “Your life’s work can be found where God’s plan intersects with your passion.” It is not at all uncommon for authors to make bookmarks as part of their give-away promotional bundles, and Gilliam’s is one of the best I’ve seen. He takes every letter of the alphabet and assigns a word that functions as “The ABCs to enjoy the ride.” They are: appreciate, believe, care, dream, encourage, forgive, give, help, imagine, joke, kindle, listen, mentor, nurture, observe, pray, quality, read, sympathize, trust, understand, value, walk, x-pect, yearn, and zealous.” I could tell that it was time to buckle up, as this was going to be quite the ride as we travel through this book.

It was also time to pray, as the mayor had a meeting, and so we did. Then once again, Ronnie had to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Mayor Ronnie and the City Hall crew “rolled” back into the office on January 2, and the prevailing theme amongst the staff is that 2018 is going to be “an awesome year.” Holly Hollman, Communications Director and Grant Specialist for the City of Athens, sat in with us for a bit; together we took a look back at 2017 and a big look forward to the year ahead. It is the 200th birthday of Limestone County, which will be celebrated in February, as well as the City of Athens, which will be celebrated in November. Between now and then, we will have many occasions and opportunities to “party hearty” with regard to our amazing abode here in North Alabama.

The brief look back at 2017 was about enjoying what got finished, including being in the black by a million dollars, as well as what got started. The remodeled Limestone County Courthouse held its first session of court on January 3, 2017, and the colored lighting system, as well as the carols being played on the sound system during this past holiday, made the season on the Square even more festive. The new Athens High School is coming along well, and ground has been broken on the Athens Bible School building on Hwy 31. It is the 75th year for the Bible School, and the building will be beautiful. The Scout House renovation project is moving right along, and the Chamber of Commerce is going to get new digs in their same location on Beaty Street. Approval was also granted to build a new Parks and Recreation Center. Construction of sidewalks, repair of streets, and the razing of condemned properties “kept on rollin’.” We also gave thanks for the guys who were out in this frigid weather climbing poles and making sure the power got back on quickly.

On a personal note, Mayor Ronnie says he feels like he is “almost 100%” recovered from his recent intestinal surgery, and is grateful that the growths in question were benign. Having lost several family members to cancer, the unveiling of this year’s Relay For Life T-shirt, which has incorporated our bicentennial into the logo, meant a great deal to him. The shirts go on sale soon, and were designed by Holly Hollman and Kelly Cain.

For the first quarter of 2018, there is a major event occurring every month. January 15 is Martin Luther King’s birthday as well as the Essay Contest, and please remember that Monday, January 8 is the deadline to get your entries in. For more information, see the flyer on page 24. On January 31, Mayor Ronnie gives the State of the City address. More details on that to come.

February will be the month that Limestone County celebrates its 200th birthday as “the County that is older than the State.” Their party will be held at the Limestone County Event Center beginning at 5:30 p.m. For more information, you can call Michelle Williamson at 256-233-6400, or visit the Limestone County Bicentennial page on Facebook.

Poke Sallet Follies will be in March, and the theme is “The Book of Athens.” It will be under the capable leadership of City Councilman Frank Travis, and will highlight our 200-year journey as Athenians. The annual Boy Scouts of America Breakfast will be in April.

We moved on to a happy subject that the mayor couldn’t really discuss, and by that I mean the fact that there are a number of industrial and retail corporations courting us, and as always, the details must remain under wraps until the ink is dry. If these entities decide that Athens is the “match made in Heaven,” the result could not only be a few thousand jobs but, according to the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, could conservatively mean that by 2040, we’ll experience at least a 30% growth in our city/county population, and most likely more. Growing pains are no laughing matter, and one of the things that Mayor Ronnie spends a lot of energy on is planning for growth. “We need to pull smart people to plan well,” he said. Everything has to be considered: water, sanitation, power, streets, public safety, infrastructure in general, and quality of life specifically. We have seen examples in our area of what happens when there is explosive growth without a cohesive plan; so right now, this is what keeps him “up at night,” as the saying goes.

The only thing that remained for us to do was pray, mostly for wisdom and strength to meet the challenges of 2018 as well as thank God for our abundant blessings, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Mayor Ronnie came into the office dressed for the interview he was due to film for the promotional spot on our area’s sport fishing areas to be produced later this year by Fishing University. It has been amazing to see how quickly he has bounced back from his surgery, and he was focused on all the heartwarming things going on in Athens to celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The Mayor asked me, “Have you ever heard John Malone and the Athens High School Choir?” I nodded enthusiastically in the affirmative, and he was so excited that the choir was going to be singing at Athens State University. The Christmas Parade had been the previous Thursday, as had been the lighting of the tree as well as the new Courthouse lights. Brian Patterson, who is our Limestone County Revenue Commissioner, put together a float called “Alice In A Winter Wonderland.” It was so stunning that it won the best float award in both the Athens as well as Ardmore parades. The Lincoln-Bridgeforth Christmas event started by the late Jimmy Gill was due to be a great success, too, and Holly Hollman goes into more detail in her column on page………

Mayor Ronnie called Holly in to the office to tell us about what’s going on with the kids in the Mayor’s Youth Commission. They were in the middle of a project where they were split into two groups: one went to High Cotton Arts to paint on canvasses, and the rest went to the water treatment plant to learn about how a municipal water facility is run. But don’t worry, once they come back from Christmas break, the groups will switch. By the way, the stats are in: Athens has the 5th purest water in the entire state of Alabama!

The Youth Commission is an idea whose time has indeed come, and other cities in Alabama are looking to Athens to help them start their own group. The League of Municipalities Leadership Institute had just been held at Ross Bridge in Birmingham. Montevallo and Alabaster were present and are on board with their own Commissions, and Decatur has become very interested in starting one as well. Sippin’ Cider had been successful, and part of the reason was that there were six kids from our Commission helping to serve.

Our bi-centennial celebration preparations are moving along, and Councilman Frank Travis is heading up Poke Sallet, which will be a stage production that tells the story of our wonderful town. The County’s birthday is in February of 2018, and the City’s is in November.

Athens Fire Chief Brian Thornton came in to talk about the annual Shopping With A Firefighter event. Every year for the past 19 years, school counselors have given the Fire Department the names of families who could use a boost at Christmas time. They are then paired with a Firefighter who goes with them to shop. It is not at all uncommon for kids to want to use their “treat money” to buy groceries for their family or something special for a parent or sibling, and the event is greatly loved by all who participate.

Mayor Ronnie closed our time with the happy reminder that we ended up with a million dollars more in revenue than expenses, and promised that we would go into more detail next time we get together. Then, even though he was a bit hoarse, he broke into his own rendition of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year,” and Holly and I said, “Give it up, Mr. Mayor,” which he has apparently been told before. He came back with, “We about to bust into a great new year!” Then we prayed, and it was time for the last time in 2017 for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
It was Mayor Ronnie’s first day back at work after surgery, and I had to admit I was a bit worried that he would hit the ground runnin’ like he always does and try to do too much, too soon. However, he is an adult and knows his own limits. So, laying my well-intentioned misgivings aside, it was time to hear about all the progress being made with regard to our most famous blighted property, none other than the former site of the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant.

The mayor started our time together with celebrating the fact that over 300 condemned properties, which had formerly been havens for hustlers and drugs, had been legally torn down after due process. “And, almost 90% of the demolition costs have been paid by the property owners,” he said. He went on to tell about a time around 5 years ago when he was taken by some legal and land development professionals from our area out to Pilgrim’s Progress, and who bluntly said to him,

“This is the most blighted piece of property in our county.” Mayor Ronnie knew it was time to get going with solving what was going to be a complex problem, and “got after it.” The City of Athens had to track down the Point of Contact for Pilgrim’s Pride, and finally found him in South America because the company had been sold to a foreign corporation.

From that point on, Mayor Ronnie would begin each conversation he had with the Pilgrim’s Pride folks with the phrase, “You need to write this off and donate it to the City of Athens,” setting forth the hope that they could see the benefit in being immortalized as the “Patrons of the Park.” They weren’t having it.

In 2014, Mayor Ronnie was selected by Design Alabama to make a presentation regarding the challenges of dealing with an abandoned, blighted commercial property, which in turn caught the attention of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Their involvement helped put our “Pilgrim’s Plight” on the map, and other cities in Alabama, as well other states, who were facing a similar problem, reached out to Mayor Ronnie for coaching.

The mayor put together an offer to purchase the property for $500, 000, and at first, Pilgrim’s Pride wasn’t having that, either. However, after nearly five years of negotiations, we now have an agreement for a purchase price of $550,000. “It has been a long process, a good process, and we have a great opportunity for a development,” he said. He then added, “I think this is going to be one of the best projects we have ever done.” It will cost another $500,000 for demolition and to bring every aspect of the property back to a place where one can “sow and mow.“

So, what are the plans for “sowing and mowing”? Well, we have private investors who are interested in developing the area in part for multi-use applications, including shops, high-end residential units, restaurants, and more. If it goes through, it will be our own version of Bridge Street, and it will help us to fend off our neighbors’ endeavors to absorb us. Pilgrim’s Pride has the potential to be one of the best gifts we can give ourselves as we prepare for the future.

I asked the mayor, “Do you think we are growing well?” I certainly know what it’s like to see developments spring up quickly, which result in fostering chaos. He thought for a moment and said, “I really do think we are.”

The next day Mayor Ronnie would get his surgical staples removed, and I grimaced as we began to pray. Then it was time for Ronnie to roll, and I resisted the temptation to remind him that “Slow and steady wins the race.” The man was clearly happy to be back in the saddle, even if he was going to have to ease into it, and most grateful for all the support sent his way by the folks of our city.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted a few days before Mayor Ronnie had surgery, and he is recovering well.

“Well,” said Mayor Ronnie, “In a few days I am finally going to have a battle scar.” It’s typical for him to look for the humor in most things, so we exchanged chuckles with quips such as “spilling your guts” or “You’re getting drawn and quartered.” But when it comes to dealing with unwelcome growths, it’s just best to “git ‘er dun.” A while back he had gone in for a routine exam, and the doc said that the next step was going to have to be a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy showed a 3”-4” tumor that needed to come out immediately, and the surgery was scheduled to be done at Athens-Limestone Hospital. “Thank God they found this, and thank God I am going to be good as new. The doctors say that I am going to need about 2-3 weeks recovery time, and my 1944 Chevy body is going to be back on the road.” The mayor said that there was no indication beforehand that the tumor was cancerous, and mentioned again the importance of self-care, a topic that understandably was on his mind on a number of fronts. “Us guys are just the worst in the world about this kind of stuff,” he said.

Continuing on the subject of care, Mayor Ronnie said, “The City of Athens is in good hands, and so am I.” He explained that the department heads will continue to be in charge of their respective teams, and that Annette Barnes Threet will be fielding messages. Mayor Ronnie smiled and said, “I only live 5 blocks away. They know where to find me if they need me.” City Council will continue to function as usual, and everyone is determined to let the mayor fully rest while he recovers.
Mayor Ronnie had just been at a strategic planning conference for North Alabama which had been held at Redstone Arsenal. “Our area has grown 15.9%. There are new industries courting us, and new retail projects to be located out by the interstate,” he said. Mayor Ronnie had also just attended a waste water conference and said, “You’ll get stopped up if you don’t take care of yourself, and that goes for the city.”

The mayor also mentioned that it had just been decided to have City Councilman Frank Travis be the director for the 2018 Poke Sallet Follies, which will coincide with our bi-centennial celebration. “It’s a huge job, and we are glad he is willing and able to take it on.” For several years, Poke Sallet was directed by the late Jackie Greenhaw, who passed away in June, and those are some tough shoes to fill. Frank certainly has the experience and will do a beautiful job.

It was time to pray, and pray we did. I was struck with just how dependent we all are upon the grace of God for everything, and how fragile life is. But, the mayor was confident, as was I, that all would be well, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll before he got rolled on in to the operating room to “git ‘er dun.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Mayor Ronnie was not going to be available for our usual meeting, so he asked Amy Golden, Customer Relations Manager for the City of Athens and Athens Arts League president, to fill in for him and bring us up to speed with regard to the Scout Music House. A little background—The Scout House, which is located on the corner of Washington and East Streets in historic Athens was built by the W.P.A., or Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression; the need for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is never greater than during a national crisis. The charming building, complete with a stone fireplace, bay windows, and hardwood floors had many uses throughout the years. Amy’s mother’s Brownie troop met there, some folks claim it was where they got their first kiss, and until a few years ago, it was used for office space by the Athens City Schools.

One day, Amy, City of Athens Communications Specialist Holly Hollman, and Athens Arts League Program Chair Diane Lehr were brainstorming about a good use for the building, which was also at times referred to as “Little Red,” and came up with the idea of a Music House. The Athens Arts League and High Cotton Arts Center have been busy and successful working towards solidifying the rightful place of creativity and the development of artistic presence in our community, but there was no comparable venue for music. The Scout House seemed like the perfect place, and it was also a wonderful re-purposing project. “The Arts League felt compelled to offer music,” Amy said simply.

Amy told me, “The response of the community has been phenomenal, which highlights the community’s awareness of the need for this type of project.” There have been private donations of just a few dollars on up to generous corporate ones, most recently the $30,000 gift from the Steelcase Foundation, and a $40,000 grant from the DEKKO Foundation. In addition, a handicapped entrance has been built. Lowe’s has been greatly involved with landscaping and materials, and as usual I am concerned that I am leaving someone out who has stepped up and given. My apologies in advance! The Athens Arts League is a 501 3C not-for-profit organization, and all donations are tax deductable.

Amy continued, “The music world has changed so much over the years, and it has become a business. Our hope is that the Scout Music House will become both a state of the art music production center, as well as a place where students can learn the business side of music.” They will also be holding concerts there, and the target age is elementary school age kids through high school. Our school system has been solidly behind this project, and understands the importance of music in education and cognitive development.

“We want the Scout Music House to be a safe haven where kids can go and hone their talent, and achieve their dreams,” said Amy as we concluded our time together. And then it was time for Amy to roll, but not before she said, “You know, someone probably has the old W.P.A. bronze plaque that used to be on the building sitting in their den, or has an idea where it might be.” If that’s you, and you want to part with it for a worthy cause, you can give her a call at 256-262-1525.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Mayor Ronnie came bursting in the door with his trademark high level of Monday morning energy, and whipped out his notes from the sermon he had heard on Sunday entitled, “Sideways Thinking.” It had to do with thinking outside of the box, and gaining positive results as a reward. For example, did you know that it was a seasoned airline pilot who came up with the concept of making wheels a built-in part of luggage? It’s something we take for granted, and the pilot’s idea ended up having a true ripple effect.

In the mayor’s case, an idea was given to him by Bass Fishing Hall of Famer Bill Huntley that is going to have a literal ripple effect in the form of a friendly invasion from an outfit known as Fishing University. In December, the film crew and celebrities Charlie Ingram and Ray Brazier from the nationally televised program will be coming to Athens.

The City, Tourism and the Limestone County Commission have gone in together to put up the $7500 it takes to accommodate the team; in exchange, we will have a 90-second spot that shows what fishing is like, as well as highlighting a number of family-friendly tourism attractions around Athens that will be broadcast on the show. That spot will be shown over 30 times in 2018, which is perfect, given the up-and-coming bi-centennial celebration of our city as well as our state.
Fishing University has been around for over 30 years and has been nominated for an Emmy. It is the second-longest running outdoor show of its kind anywhere, and is seen in 51 countries in addition to all 50 states. It airs eight times a week, and has a viewership of over 63 million viewers. It is shown on the Outdoor Channel, the Sportsman Channel, and the World Fishing Network.

In addition, one of the best things that Fishing University does is visit a local high school to discuss not only fishing itself as a career, but to showcase various jobs in the outdoor and fishing-based tourism industries. Bass fishing in our area is a big deal—Calhoun’s fishing team is highly ranked nationally, and there are high schools who are involved in the sport as well. Besides making a presentation to high school students, the crew stays around to answer questions regarding everything from biology, animal husbandry, fish and wildlife, communications, filming, resort management, and more. Then the school which is selected for their visit is filmed and featured in its own two minute segment on the show.

Mayor Ronnie said, “This is going to be a great opportunity for our whole area, and I am really excited they chose us. I am glad that Bill came into my office and said, ‘Hey, I got an idea.’” It might not be as revolutionary as putting wheels on luggage, but it is still something to celebrate. It was time for us to pray, so we did, and then it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
The subtitle of this 3rd chapter in Steve Gilliland’s book called, Hide Your Goat, is “The Wisdom To Discern Where You Are Heading,” a poignant reference to the fact that as soon as we finished this interview, Mayor Marks was off to the beginning of the 5th year of the Mayor’s Youth Commission.

We took a moment to reflect how quickly the time had passed, and how hard it was to believe that some of the original kids were now in grad school. Interestingly, later in the day at the grocery store, I ran into one of my favorite kids from the first year. He said he’d been thinking about calling up Holly Hollman, who has helped the mayor since the beginning, to ask if he could come and speak to this year’s group. The young man wanted them to know how much the Mayor’s Youth Commission had affected his life for the good, and I told him I thought that would mean a great deal to Mayor Ronnie, Holly, and any others who had been a part of that inaugural endeavor.

Back at City Hall, Mayor Ronnie chuckled as he told me what it had been like to be grilled by a bunch of Cub Scouts, specifically Cubs from Pack # 236 who meet at Isom’s Chapel Methodist Church. They asked him all kinds of things such as, “Are you going to build an aquatic center?” Or, there was, “How do you deal with procrastination?” He had wondered if that question had been coached, and he noticed that some of the boys had actual notebooks full of questions and raised their hands incessantly. However, the question that meant the most to the mayor was, “What are you the most proud of?” He told them, “It’s not City Hall, or anything you can see; it’s impacting the lives of young people. When you see young people have an understanding of good government and how it works, helping them to understand that a city is a business that needs to be run well, and teach them how to work together and serve others, that is something to be proud of.”

The Mayor’s Youth Commission was the first of its kind amongst the Alabama State League of Municipalities, an organization of the 660 cities and towns and mayors that comprise Alabama the Beautiful. Mayor Ronnie is the president of the division for North Alabama, and just recently found out that other cities had started up their own Youth Commissions. Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar, Montevallo Mayor Hollie Campbell Cost, and Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon have followed Mayor Ronnie’s example, and now the League of Municipalities wants him to teach all the rest of the Mayors in the state how to do the same. The League’s request was the perfect answer for the Cub Scout’s question: “What are you most proud of?”

Then we took some time to talk about several hurting folks in our dear town. “So many are fighting cancers and other diseases,” he said. So, we prayed, asked for “the wisdom to discern where you are heading,” and then it was time for Ronnie to roll….to the Youth Commission.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Mayor Ronnie came into the office with a lot of concerns squarely on his shoulders. “Six million people out of power in Florida,” he said, as he put down his stuff. “When we had the big tornado in 1974, I was in grad school, and still in the National Guard. We had a lot of work to do,” he said, remembering how big the job was to clean up after a storm. We talked about the rest of the natural disasters that had come our way, some seemingly back to back. Ice storms, floods, tornadoes, all of them had hit Alabama, and he said, “There is hard physical labor ahead in putting peoples’ lives back together.” Mayor Ronnie let me know that just the day before, the decision had been made to cancel the ANGA (America’s Natural Gas Alliance) conference scheduled to start September 11 at Leak City. The reason was to free up approximately 300 beds for people fleeing Florida, if they needed a place to land. As much as I know thatthe decision to do so will increase the work load for the Gas Department when they are able to re-schedule, as well as for the potential attendees to do the same, I was so glad that our city and county leadership had made the move to help in any way we can.

At that point, meaning as of Monday morning September 11, we were not completely out of the “Irma woods” ourselves. Blair Davis, the new manager of the electric department called in to let the mayor know that he had just met with his staff, and that they were ready for what could be described as “Irma’s last gasp.” The City of Athens hasa reciprocating agreement with other areas and states when there is a natural disaster, and the mayor said, “We’ve been in need, and people have helped us. We stand ready to help, and we’ll send whoever we can spare after we get through this.”

We took a moment to reflect on the 16th anniversary of 9/11, and while we did so, President Trump was speaking on the same issue. We talked about where we were when we heard about the planes going in to the Twin Towers, and how everything had changed as a result of that act. Mayor Ronnie then found a quote from the book we have been discussing as a series, Herd Your Goat, by Ron Gilliand. “Life’s experiences will either make you bitter or better.” How true. We can either become contracted, fearful and bitter, or we can go on as individuals, a city, and a country to step up for our finest hour.

Mayor Ronnie talked about the contrasts of the weekend. One the one hand, the 9/11 Heroes’ Run was the biggest yet, with approximately 330 runners, a fitting tribute to our soldiers as well as those who perished on 9/11. There was also a Marine Drill Team who ran in cadence for the entire race. On the same day, Big Spring Park was “overrun” with super heroes. It has become a grand show of force for some of our bravest warriors, kids who are facing down the “villains” of childhood cancer and other potentially terminal diseases. How hard it was to compare that determination exhibited by adults and kids alike to fight and live well, versus the inner turmoil that caused a young man to end his life by throwing himself in the path of an oncoming train; it was one of the things that was clearly weighing on the mayor.

So, it was a time to take a moment, a breath, and pray; so we did for longer than usual. Then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
The day was wild enough that we were going to have to do our interview in two parts. Madame Jocelyne Papelard-Brescia, (the French woman who has spent her life caring for the graves of over 5,000 WWII American soldiers who died in France,) was going to visit the Vets’ Museum at 10 am on Monday. Mayor Ronnie was going to be a part of the ceremony honoring her, and then wanted to include that event in his comments for this column. Those details will follow below, and Yvonne Dempsey also wrote about the event in this edition of All Things Soldier on page 4. By way of background, Evan Thornton had contacted the Mayor regarding Joceylne’s visit to our area. Evan had been over to visit the grave of his grandfather, had met her there in France, and knew it would be a blessing for Athens to hear her story.

When I arrived the first time at City Hall, the Mayor was on the phone with City Councilman Chris Seibert, and they were discussing the recent award given to Emma Tarokh. Emma is a 5th grader at Athens Intermediate, and was just chosen as the Alabama State Games Female Athlete of the Year. “She was not just chosen for her soccer playing,” he said, “but her attitude, team spirit, effort, and motivation.” Mayor Ronnie and Chris hammered out a plan to honor Emma at Monday night’s City Council Meeting, and her dear grin said it all as the Councilmen applauded her.

We moved on to other things. First was any update on Pilgrim’s Pride. “We are still waiting to hear from ADEM regarding the second test, the underground one,” the Mayor said. Additionally, he mentioned that other cities who are dealing with blighted properties have reached out to him for moral support. “It is a complicated process,” he said. He also said that, “We are sad to see that K-Mart is closing. It’s been there a long time. Time will tell what happens with that property, but there has been some interest expressed in it, and I am glad about that.”

Mayor Ronnie then moved to one of his favorite topics, the budget. “We’ll do a whole column on that soon,” he said, “but for today people need to know we are moving forward to finish by the October deadline. Electric was finished earlier this summer, and we are working on police, fire, gas, water, and water treatment right now.”

It was time for the Mayor to get to the Vets’ Museum to meet Mme. Jocelyne, so we prayed and set a time to meet “back at the ranch.” When he came back, he said that “She broke down and cried. She had no idea we were going to do this. I gave her a key to the city and made her an honorary citizen of Athens. Everyone there gave her a standing ovation.” He went on to tell me that he really wished the kids from the Mayor’s Youth Commission would have been able to attend in order to gain an appreciation for what the U.S. did to liberate France. “It was a moving, wonderful experience, and she was overwhelmed by Southern hospitality,” he said with the right kind of pride. It indeed had been a grand day in our grand town, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll, again.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner