9-2-2016 2-53-43 PMIt had been another whirlwind week and weekend for the Mayor. On Saturday, he had been to several events, all of which were important, and the fact that there is more good stuff going on than he could ever possibly attend is proof positive that Athens is indeed a blessed town.

We talked about the fact that we are coming up on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and how that day changed everything forever for the United States of America. “There are ways I think we are more vulnerable today than we were then,” he said, and I agree. We are in the middle of the most vicious election cycle that either of us has ever remembered, and it appears that either way it goes, we are going to be polarized. It is going to be the job of whomever is elected to re-forge a genuine unity, and while that may not be possible on a national scale any time soon, there is proof that it is definitely occurring in our fair city.

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On Saturday, August 27th, Athenians of every color came together for an event called “Unity in the Community.” It was organized by Jan Matthews, and featured as the keynote a Christian hip hop artist by the name of Canton Jones out of Atlanta.

Mr. Jones’ message was as refreshing as it was timeless, and the Mayor said the music was powerful. Mayor Ronnie stood at the back of the room and took it all in as a private citizen rather than an attending public official, soaking up every word. Canton’s message was simple: take responsibility for your own actions, forgive no matter what has been done to you, and get up and do something to make the world around you a better place to live.

I thought about the huge difference it makes when you are motivated to change things out of forgiveness rather than grievance. It’s not that grievances don’t occur; we are indeed promised that offenses will come, but a state of permanent grievance pales in power to accomplish anything when compared to the power of forgiveness. We took a few minutes to go to www.cantonjones.net and see his 5-minute video on forgiveness.

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Canton made a long list of offenses that had been committed against him, and it was detailed. He then realized that the chances of anyone coming to him to repent were getting slimmer by the day, so he just decided to forgive, because the burden of unforgiveness was too great to bear, and it made him dependent upon others for his worth. Then he decided to forgive himself, which wasn’t so easy, either. He tore up his list and decided to walk in his purpose.

At the end of Canton’s message, he invited people up to the front of the Limestone County Event Center to what was essentially an altar call, with one of the purposes being to cross a specific line in the sand: choosing to do everything possible to build unity in the community. Mayor Ronnie said that at least 100 people, including himself, went forward, and it was moving. “It starts with each one, and needs to be everyone,” he said.

We then marveled that the Mayor’s Youth Commission is now going to begin its 5th year. “Some of those kids from the first years have graduated from college,” he said, and he still hears from them. He likes to think that the MYC is involved in “making butterflies.” He talked about how churches, service groups and businesses have come together in a way that was not seen when he was a boy here, and all of it to build Athens.

So, we spent a good part of our prayer time thanking God for what he has done, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

8-19-2016 9-43-46 AMIt is the beginning of the school year, and it is another opportunity for teachers, students, parents, grandparents, friends and businesses to “build our blueberries.” What in the world does that mean? The title of this edition of Ronnie comes from a story known as “the blueberry story” told in a book entitled, Schools Cannot Do It Alone, by Jamie Vollmer. The subtitle is Building Public Support for America’s Public Schools. I sat for a few minutes in the Mayor’s office and read it.

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The “blueberry story” is a humbling tale told by Mr. Vollmer, wherein he endeavored to simplistically suggest to a group of teachers that adopting a standard business model for today’s schools is the answer to all their “production” problems. By way of context, Mr. Vollmer produces ice cream, and a teacher challenged him for using the analogy of the quality of blueberries shipped to the ice cream factory that ultimately will go into Mr. Vollmer’s product. The exchange went something like this:

“Mr. Vollmer, when….you see…those blueberries do not meet your triple A standards, what do you do?”

“I send them back.”

“That’s right! You send them back. We can never send back the blueberries our suppliers send us. We take them big, small, rich, poor, hungry, abused, confident, curious, homeless, frightened, rude, creative, violent, and brilliant. We take them of every race, religion, and ethnic background. We take them with head lice, ADHD, and advanced asthma. We take them with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, English as their second language, and who knows how much lead in their veins. We take them all, Mr. Vollmer! Every one! And that’s why it’s not a business. It’s school.”

To his credit, Jamie Vollmer has learned much since that exchange, and Ronnie has heard him speak. He has also spoken with Jamie briefly, and highly recommends the book for anyone in the private sector who wants to be a “triple A blueberry builder.”

After I read the “blueberry story,” Mayor Ronnie said, “Here’s what we have. On one hand, there is a kid named Ryan who got a 35 on his ACT and would have liked to have done better, and on the other, we have kids for whom school is the best part of the day. So the question is, ‘How do we build our blueberries?’”

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We discussed the fact that from some quarters, teachers are being asked to be the parents, provide apprenticeships, and essentially function as the cook, the counselor, and the coach. They are spread thin, and, as the book title reiterates, “Schools can’t do it alone.” We need to “build our blueberries” if we want to leave our town in good shape after we are long gone.

We talked some about the role of businesses as Partners in Education, and he said, “I am so glad they are involved.” However, what he wanted to convey the most is “how much we appreciate our teachers.” He has been in the classroom, and so have I, but it was a long time ago, and it was not with the kinds of challenges our teachers are facing today.

“I am especially thankful for the role the Dr. Sisk and Dr. Holladay and the School Boards have had with the new Career Technical Center,” he said. “They are creating an atmosphere for success.” He also talked about the fact that the year was fresh, and the students are excited. “I feel good about our schools,” he said.

We both know that there is always room to improve them, and to that end we prayed. Then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

8-5-2016 11-58-44 AMIf you were at Jimmy Gill Park on Saturday, July 30th, you would know that the answer is a resounding yes! That is, as long as there are other things going on behind the scenes for the purpose of bringing the community together in strength. The Mayor, Raven Warner, who is on the Mayor’s Youth Commission, and who is just finishing up her summer working at the new City Hall, and I sat in his office while it was raining “cats and bats” outside. We talked about the summer, everything from the windows getting broken at Trinity, to the Youth Commission donating money from the Dekko Foundation for window repair, to Youth Commission plans for next year, as well as celebrating the success of the NAACP Limestone Youth Council Community Unity/ Leadership Day event. Both Ronnie and Raven had participated, and their smiles as well as enthusiasm spoke volumes.

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“Four to five years ago we didn’t have anything like the Youth groups, let alone an all day event,” Ronnie said. “Training up leaders was something that was pretty much done in churches, which is good, and now we have several community organizations stepping up to do the job, too. We have ours, the Chamber of Commerce has one, and there are others.” He waxed philosophical for a moment. “We change America right here,” he said, as he pointed to the table where the three of us were sitting. “We go to church, talk a good game about being Christian, and we go back the next week and we keep talking about it, but it is in the community that it happens. The worst thing we can do is stop talking, and not do anything.”

Raven listened politely, and like most teens these days, multi-tasked by listening to him while looking for a video on her phone that captured what happened in Jimmy Gill Park. It is from that video that the still shot shown here as an illustration was taken. It showed police men in uniform, black folks, white folks, and kids all line dancing together during the festivities. As my father used to say, “They were cutting a rug.” Raven said, “The whole community was together, something you don’t usually see.” She was elsewhere on the site and didn’t get a chance to participate, but felt that it was the best part of the day. There were other good things as well. Raven worked a booth where school supplies were being donated and dropped off. There was a booth where people could register to vote. There was a place where you could get your photo ID taken, and one of Raven’s favorite things that happened was that an elderly woman in a wheelchair got her ID card. Raven also made a new friend named Jordan, who had just moved here. Raven plays sax, and it looks like Jordan is going to join her this fall as part of the Athens High School Band.

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The police were there for the day, as were firemen and other first responders. There were presentations on health and nutrition, representatives from Athens and Limestone Schools were present, and more. They had to call it early due to the rain, but no one’s spirits were dampened. I had Raven imagine for a bit what she would do if she were Mayor and had every resource at her disposal. She talked about bringing in more things for kids to do so they didn’t have to go to Madison. “It would cost a lot of money, I know,” she said shyly. She added that she would like to see all community music related events for kids. She then headed back up to her post in the front office of City Hall.

Mayor Ronnie came back into his office, and finished up our time by saying, “We gotta keep doing things like this. It’s just too important.” As we always do, we prayed for our town, and then it was time for Ronnie, and me, to roll on out into the much needed downpour that was deluging the marvelous city of Athens, Alabama.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

7-16-2016 10-24-48 AMWe met a week ago—not in our usual time slot– and it was the morning after the horrific assassinations of police officers in Dallas. What could we say? Of course the Mayor’s attention was focused on our own community, both the citizens and those who protect them, and as many times as we have talked about public safety in past “Ronnies”, it was abundantly clear that what had just happened in Dallas “raised the bar to a new low-ness.” We were pretty much stunned. I let him know that I planned on interviewing Chief Johnson, (see Publisher’s Point on page 3) and writing about our city’s determination to respond rather than react.

We met in the board room due to the fact that the street repair project outside his office on Hobbs was nearly loud enough to keep one from hearing one’s own thinking, and with his trademark Marks Mayoral humor, he looked at me as he poured us coffee and said, “Did you know that people complain when there are potholes to be filled, and people complain when we fill them?” I laughed.
Certainly our nation had been dealt a blow, and thankfully our city works diligently on all fronts to prevent the same kind of thing from happening here. However, there are no guarantees, other than the firm conviction that good is stronger than evil, and ultimately good will triumph, if we just bother to apply it.

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But then, he asked, “Have you heard what the kids have done?” For a moment I tensed up, because I was concerned that there had been more vandalism at Pincham-Lincoln or elsewhere. “No sir,” I said. “They have decided to donate money to getting the windows repaired,” he said. I lit up with a smile, and waited for him to tell me more. He explained that the students from this past school year’s Mayor’s Youth Commission had decided to keep $500 in a fund in order to meet possible needs of incoming students who would join the Commission in the fall. Upon hearing about Trinity being essentially attacked, they were outraged, and expressed their dismay in a letter that was published in the News-Courier. I had never thought about this before, but it hurt them to think that other people in the community would possibly lump them into the despicable designation of being “kids these days” by virtue of the fact that they were teen agers, and not because of who they were as people.

It seems we have a lot of that going on in our culture, i.e., judging people by label rather than their lives, but in the case of the youth of Athens, Alabama, they fought back with sweetness that manifested itself in financial sacrifice.

Mayor Ronnie asked me if I could go to Trinity the same morning at 10 for an impromptu ceremony where representatives from the Youth Commission would present a check to representatives from the Athens Limestone Community Association. The ALCA has been the energy behind rebuilding Trinity/Pincham-Lincoln/Ft. Henderson. Others in attendance included the Mayor, Chief Johnson, and people who just loved Athens and wanted to help. The check was to go toward fulfilling the insurance deductible so the replacement of the windows could be expedited. I changed some things in my schedule, went to the presentation, and had the privilege of taking the picture of the event.

So, what was the sweetness? It was the attitude of the kids, and how they stepped up. It was the people who refused to be turned back from re-building Trinity. It was the watchful eye of our Mayor and our Police Chief; it was getting to pray and sing with Carolyn Williams as we stood in the kitchen of the room which had been dedicated to the late Jimmy Gill, and watched out for broken glass. It was being a part of a community in a state of discomfort that was being converted into something strong and good. And then, it was time for Ronnie, and the rest of us, to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

7-1-2016 3-09-08 PMFor the July 1st Ronnie column, the Mayor set up a meeting with Dr. Tom Sisk, who heads up the Limestone County schools. We met in Dr. Sisk’s office, and were treated to a preview of a new video that has been produced to promote the Career Technical Center. Honestly, the production was so good, that it made me wish I was back in high school and could enroll in not just one, but many of their programs, and Mayor Marks was equally enthusiastic.

Mayor Ronnie happened to notice that Dr. Sisk had a copy of The Little Engine That Could on the credenza in the office, and, as the man who dons his own Dr. Seuss hat to read Horton Hears A Who to primary school kids, Mayor Marks jumped up, whipped out his phone, took a picture of the book cover, and requested that we use it to illustrate this edition’s column.

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“You know,” he said, as he returned back to the conference table, “This perfectly illustrates what is happening at the Career Technical Center.” Dr. Sisk smiled, and the two of them concluded, “Limestone County Career Technical Center is not the Little Engine That Could, it is the Little Engine That Will.” I added that it could also be referred to as The Little Engine That Does.

So, why is what is going on at CTC so special? It is what has been made available to the kids, and the way it was developed, improved, and upgraded. Dr. Sisk went to “the captains of industry” in our area and beyond, and asked, “What do you need from our kids?” They responded with a number of things that went way beyond competency and literacy, but also included attitudes, general ethics, and work habits. There are now 23 career paths that can be taken, with two more in the offing, and which will be unveiled in October. They range in scope from health science to fire fighting to computer assisted design to robotics to culinary arts to auto and diesel mechanic certification.

“Certified diesel mechanics were one of the biggest needs that local industry leaders told us they needed,” said Dr. Tom. Another thing I found impressive about the promotional video as well as the literature that Dr. Tom asked me to take with him was that industry leaders indicated what they were willing to pay these kids when they graduated. This ranged from entry level positions to what they could expect if they made their chosen field a permanent one, and let’s just say, it’s more than I make!! Right now the CTC is undergoing extensive remodeling and renovation, and with over 500 students graduating this past spring, it is forecast that next year there will be 1,000.

Mayor Marks and Dr. Sisk are also very glad that the former stigma that was long attached to a “voc-tech” track as being for “just blue collar workers” is fading away at warp speed, and thankfully so. No longer does anyone feel that the only people who are truly educated are those who have finished university, and the CTC is living proof of that.

Mayor Marks finished our time by telling Dr. Sisk that he “had never seen the energy level in this office as high as it is,” and he thanked “Doc” for all his hard work. Then, as is always the case, it was time for Ronnie, and this time, Tom, to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

6-18-2016 12-14-31 PMWhen I met with Mayor Ronnie this week, the murders in Orlando had happened the day before, and we were both sobered by it. We talked about all the possibilities, reasonable and otherwise, that one might consider as a response to that situation in Orlando; everything from open carry, to stricter gun laws, to jihad, to ISIS, to concealed carry, to the encroachment of Sharia law upon our nation, as well the temptation of anyone in any position to surrender to fear, which is the whole point of jihad. For every mayor, whether their city is large or small, their number one concern is public safety, and these are not easy times for anyone who has been given the sacred charge of protecting.

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We talked about the fact that the most important thing that people can do is learn to live confidently in a state of situational awareness. It simply means that even in a place as safe as Athens, day or night, the skill, the gut, the mindset has to be that wherever you are, you continually pay attention to your surroundings, and if you see something, say something. You do not take unnecessary risks, and you do all you can to be citizen who “keeps watch, and keeps safe.”

We talked about leadership, as well as a concept set forth in a recent Rotarian magazine entitled, “Best In A Supporting Role.” That concept calls for the coining of a new term, and that is “followership.” The idea is that we spend so much time learning about how to be a good leader, and we should. But there is an equal, and perhaps even greater, level of skill involved in being a good follower. It is not being like a sheep, having no opinion, being a “yes man,” a slave, or a sycophant. It is developing the understanding that you still lead by following if you do it right. You are the one who ultimately makes the desired outcome possible, and really, in so many ways, leadership and followership “flow and go,” and are interchangeable.

To quote the article’s author, Steve Almond, “The hallmarks of the effective follower are precisely this: an ability to check your ego at the door, to remain positive and self-motivated even if you’re not setting the agenda.” True leadership demands a checking of one’s ego, and so does true followership.

There was something in the article that especially spoke to Mayor Ronnie, and it was this: “Good followers have to be committed to the mission of the group, and they have to be competent in their given role…Good followers have to be able to work independently and maintain their ethical standards.”

“We need, now more than ever, to be committed to the ‘mission’ that is Athens. We are in an election season, and we have great opportunities to get in new leaders in new positions.” He went on to reiterate his mantra, which is, “It ain’t-a me, it’s a we.”

We then prayed intensely for our town and its mission, for our country and its leaders, for our families and our friends. Then, it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

6-6-2016 12-53-47 PMWe met a day late, due to the Memorial Day Weekend. We both attended the fine program put on by the Vets’ Museum which was held at the Limestone County Event Center, complete with an address by Lt. General David Mann, a 21 gun salute, and the playing of Taps. “It was the biggest crowd we have ever had,” he said, and we were both glad we were there. The flags of the US and the State of Alabama had been appropriately flown at half-staff at City Hall, as well as throughout our area, and the flags displayed along Hwy 31 made us both proud of our town for making Memorial Day about more than kicking off the summer cook-out and vacation season.

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He told me about the thrill he personally felt regarding various accomplishments by local students, from the awarding of a $180,000 scholarship to the Naval Academy to a graduating senior from Athens High School, to a 9th grader successfully negotiating with DEKKO to get the full $67,000 requested in a grant proposal she had helped craft. DEKKO had counter offered with $20,000, and as a result of all she had learned as a budding entrepreneur, she had the full requested amount in five minutes!

He told me about a move to get more teachers certified to teach AP (Advance Placement) classes, because we have more public high school students who qualify for college level work in a number of subjects than we have teachers to teach them. Mayor Ronnie also mentioned that on July 23rd, there will be a Senior Fun Day held at the Senior Center. There will be a “day at the beach” theme, with skits, karaoke, therapy dogs, and food. He was especially glad that the event would be local, rather than have to send our celebrating seniors elsewhere.

He moved on to other things that had particularly inspired him over the weekend, and what stood out the most was a sermon preached on Sunday morning re: “Distractions.” He essentially preached it again to me, and as they say, “we had church.” The topic was the many forms of distraction that rob us of our purpose on this earth. The most obvious are all the opportunities we have to get distracted through tweeting, Facebooking, emailing, texting, binge watching, phone calls, and procrastinating ad nauseam, but he told me that realizing that fear can be a distraction was something that really got his attention.

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“I’m not talking about ‘ISIS’ kind of fear; that’s legitimate,” he said, “I am talking about the distracting, internal fear that shuts down your dreams. For a recent high school graduate, if you are not dreaming big enough to be a bit nervous, you’re not dreaming big enough.” I thought to myself, “I graduated from high school 45 years ago, and I still allow myself to get distracted and not dream big enough. I need to pay attention, here.”

He went on. “There is a fear to fight through until you reach your goal, and fear that is clean. Clean fear will make you choose the right people to be around, who share your dreams and values with so you don’t get pulled down and pulled away.” He added, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help; that’s a distracting fear, and one of the ways to fight fear is to give to others. It gets your focus off yourself.”

We could have stayed all day, but he finished his sermon with “Don’t be ‘feared’ into not dreaming, and not holding to your faith.” We then prayed, and it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

5-20-2016 2-52-38 PMEarlier this week, Mayor Ronnie and several City Hall staff members had the opportunity to attend the annual Alabama League of Municipalities conference, and this year it was held in Huntsville. As a bit of background, there are 460 towns and cities in our state, and 449 of them belong to the League. Over 900 people were present, and there were exhibits, breakout sessions, superb speeches, and even a guy who did an impersonation of Barney Fife.

Mayor Ronnie is almost always “fired up” when he comes in for our interviews, but today he was positively soaring. One of the best speakers from the conference was a fellow by the name of Jim Hunt, who is with the National League of Municipalities. Jim is going to be coming out with a book soon, and I do believe what Mr. Hunt has to say, and how it has inspired our Mayor, will end up being a rich series.

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Mr. Hunt gave a presentation which served in part as the title of this Ronnie. He talked about making sure your city had ZING! What is ZING? It is all the “astonishing, striking, surprising, brilliant, stunning, impressive, overwhelming, staggering, sensational” things that can be used by visitors and residents alike to describe your city. We have so many, but one honor that was granted to Athens this year is that we are #1 in all of Alabama for industrial recruitment. That is especially encouraging when we are surrounded by the exact opposite elsewhere.

The League of Municipalities serves as a support system for cities and towns so that they might become their best “selves.” They do so in a number of ways. “They have an excellent legal staff that is available to us all the time,” said Mayor Ronnie. They also have a similar staff that helps with the ins and outs of finance and regulations. Ronnie also said that he was grateful for the legal and financial staff that we have right here serving the City of Athens. There is also an outstanding League staff down in Montgomery that has been of help to us. Our Mayor serves on several League committees, and has been asked once again to serve this year. They include the executive, legislative, and finance committees, and it’s something he enjoys greatly. “During the year, we come up with proposals to make legislative statements,” he said, and is experience in Montgomery years ago has been most helpful.

One of the roles of the League is to function as a watchdog with regard to Federal and State programs, mandates and programs, whether good or bad, and to “get the word out” to League members so they can protect and/or strengthen their respective towns and cities, and respond well to what comes down the pike.

Another League role is to give top notch leadership training to city employees so they can be better at running the city. The League sponsored opportunities at the conference to make PSAs, or Public Service Announcements. Mayor Ronnie did one on texting and driving, and another on bullying. Those will be aired soon, so watch for social media and the Communications Office to announce the venue and broadcast times.

What else “brings the ZING?” “Attitude,” he told me as he showed me the slide that gave a simple command: “Focus on your city’s potential instead of its limitations.” I especially liked the use of the word “limitations” as opposed to “problems.” Even that is a more positive way of approaching what can be done to empower neighborhoods to bring their own ZING, to cause light to triumph over darkness.

Mr. Hunt also asked a powerful question, actually, two of them: What is your brand? What do you want people to remember? Our brand is Classic. Southern. Character. We possess all three in abundance, and speaking for self as someone who has only been here for 16 years, we also exude life and all its possibilities. I love Athens so deeply because it is Ama-ZING, and I want people to remember our history and all the progress we have made on so many fronts. There’s much to do, and much that has been done.

Our time “zinged” by, and was over. Mayor Ronnie’s heart was full, we made our next appointment, we prayed, and then, once again it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

5-6-2016 10-43-14 AMWednesday, May 04, 2016, the staff of City Hall and all the Departments that are going to “live” there began the process of invading the newly completed City Hall, and wrestling with the “giants” that always come out of hiding while in the process of moving. Some staff members had begun to move in stages last week, and it will take awhile for the “punch list” to be completed. There is a window here that has a streak, some tile there that needs to be straightened, a staffer that was locked out of their office, landscaping to be finished, and organization to be completed, but the move is going smoothly. Bottom line, the place is going to be a real blessing for the citizens of Athens, and will beautify our already beautiful city.

We sat at a small conference table in the Mayor’s office that had boxes and other proofs of the task at hand covering part of it. “Wow, what a wonderful weekend we had,” said Mayor Ronnie, and it was true. On Friday night the weather was fixin’ to misbehave, and Singing on the Square was moved to the Limestone County Event Center. It was a solid success. One of the performers was West Limestone’s Lillian Glanton, who had competed in Hollywood during the 2016 (and last) season of American Idol. She was accompanied by the Elk River Boys. Also appearing were Wade Oliver and the Good O Boys.

On Saturday, our town was hoppin’. Cars and Bikes on the Square brought hundreds of visitors, and over 700 cars, trucks, hot rods, classics, antiques, and restored vehicles were parked all around the Square. Previously I had gotten to sit in a 1955 Porsche convertible that made me feel like Grace Kelly. Tom Schuman and so many more worked hard to bring a great event to Athens.

For the second year in a row, Friendship Methodist Church hosted the Keep Athens Limestone Beautiful Earth Day celebration, due largely to the fact that the event has outgrown Big Spring Park. Lynne Hart, director of KALB, estimates that at least 1200 people attended, and I think she’s right. Rachel Clark and I had a Juice Plus Tower Garden demo table, and I lost track of the people who stopped by our table. There were demonstrations, drawings, the most beautiful owl I have ever seen, animals to pet, food, Jim Swanner and his horse, Rosie, homemade soaps, Girl Scouts, essential oils, and more. As always, there was a huge crew of volunteers who happily made it all happen, because they want to be good stewards of what we have been given.

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“There is a group that doesn’t get enough mention for the hard work they do,” said Mayor Ronnie, “and that’s the Beautification Board.” He went on to tell me that they are the ones responsible for all the flower and plant containers around the Square. “They do a wonderful job,” he said. He had gone to thank Myrna Burgreen and Wanda Hightower as they were switching out the spring flowers and planting the lantana for summer. “The lantana oftentimes lasts all the way through the Storytelling Festival,” he said. He also mentioned how the youth from T.R.A.I.L. do litter patrol around the Square and keep it clean. “Anybody how knows me knows I hate litter,” the Mayor said with a laugh, and I am right there with him.

Lastly, we talked about the fact that in addition to all the good and beautiful things that happened this weekend, one of his less pleasant jobs was stopping by El Mercadito on Jefferson, to visit the owners after the place had been hit by lightning, and badly damaged. It is going to be a tough row to hoe for them to rebuild, and they were the first we prayed for. We also took time to thank God for all that makes Athens continually beautiful, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

4-15-2016 5-16-18 PMRecently the Alabama Fire College training trailer was at Leak City, and in the pouring rain, the Mayor, Holly Hollman, acting Athens Fire Chief Brian Thornton, AFD Driver Ryan Kiser, and some other members of our “fierce fire-fighting force” congregated around and in the soot-lined trailer. Mayor Marks had wanted me to see some of what our FD guys go through to learn to protect us well.
I was the only one who had never been in it, and got a personal tour. “Don’t touch anything,” Ryan said, not that I could break anything, but if I had, I would have emerged looking like a chimneysweep. The trailer is two-story, and has rooms that can simulate a kitchen fire, a second floor fire, and the most dangerous, a basement fire. “It can get up to 800 degrees in here,” he said. He showed me how high the flames could shoot, and explained that the reason a basement fire is the most dangerous is because there is only one way in or out.

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Back under the cover of the breezeway, and out of the rain, I learned even more from Brian Thornton. “Firefighting has become a science, and things have changed greatly since the ‘70s. When I got started, we would go practice on a condemned house, but those days are over,” he said. “This way, we can better protect our firefighters while they are in training. Back in the day, some guys lost their lives during the training process,” he added. There are new guidelines for live fire training, with more built-in safety measures. With the use of the controlled fires started in the trailer, they can kill the flames quickly, with a dead man switch, if need be.

4-15-2016 5-16-47 PM“Things have also changed a lot in the last 5 years because of the way houses are being constructed now, which is also very different from the ‘70s,” he said. I replied, “How so?” “Fires are hotter and faster. It used to be that a house could flash (become engulfed) in 5 minutes. Now it only takes a minute.” He explained that this has to do with the combination of more metals and plastics used, “and they (houses) are just lighter.” The idea is akin to the flash caused by tinder when you are building a campfire. Its purpose is to flame up quickly, with the purpose of igniting larger pieces of wood.

Ryan is the one who operates the trailer, and he travels all over Alabama with it when the need for training arises. He has been fighting fires since 2001, and has been a part of our force here in Athens for five years. He is what is known as a “Grade 8 Driver,” which in and of itself is a dangerous job, getting a fire service vehicle through traffic and to the fire quickly without causing an accident in the process. He also operates the pump and aerial, and knows everything about every aspect of what comes out of a fire hose.

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As a side note, more than 26,000 students have graduated from Alabama Fire College, and they have come from 48 states as well as 6 foreign countries. Our mayor is understandably proud of the Athens Fire Department and the positive impact they are having in the U.S. and abroad. “As we have talked about many times,” he said, “public safety is the number one concern for any city, and any mayor. We want our firefighters to know how much we appreciate them.” It was time again for us to go back out into the rain, and “roll” on to what was next in our day, but not before he reminded me that there will be a dinner on June 3rd to honor “our fierce firefighters.” For more information, go to the Together We Stand Facebook page.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner