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Was that a turtle I heard?

 

 

For, lo, the winter is past,

The rain is over and gone;

The Flowers appear on the earth;

The Time of the singing of birds is come,

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land

Song of Solomon, 2:11-12

OK, I know it’s a turtledove and the dove got lost in translation, but I’m a King James Version guy. It sounds better. (Besides, as my Sunday school teacher, Miss Kling Dacy, told us after she read the verse, “If God wanted to give turtles a voice, he could.”  So there.)

But I’m not here to write about turtles, or doves, or Miss Kling (though one day I probably will). I’m here to write about spring in the South.

I love Southern springs — especially early spring, when those first flowers push up to remind us of things past. Ride around town and see paper narcissus and jonquils scattered about in vacant lots where once there were homes and people. Venture into the countryside and catch the outline of a long-gone house defined by daffodils where, years ago, a farm wife put out bulbs to add a bit of beauty to her life. Wisteria fills the air with perfume. And forsythia (or “switch bushes” as they were called in families where the parents knew nothing of Dr. Spock or “positive encouragement,” except to say that “if you do that again I’m positive I’m gonna cut one of them and lay some encouragement on you.”)

But don’t get too used to it. February thaws often lead to March freezes.  “Thunder in February, frost in April,” my Mother used to say.

Spring in the South can also make a liar out of you, as it did me once, long ago. It had been one of those wonderful late February days, bulbs were blooming, buds were budding, the earth was squishy under your feet, and the air was full of damp delights. And my friend Jim was in Iowa.

Now Jim was from Georgia, so I figured it was my Christian duty to call him up, remind him of how things were down here, needle him a little, so I did.

His wife came on the phone.

“Let me speak to Jim.”

“He can’t come right now. Our gutters froze over, one has already come down, and he is up on a ladder trying to save the others. And it’s 10 degrees. Can I have him call you back?”

Now I could have told her “No, just tell him that it is over 60 here, birds are singing, and kids are already playing baseball.” Or I could have said, “Sure, tell him to call when he gets down.” And when he did I could have described, in detail, the dandy day he missed by being up there.

But friends don’t do that to friends. In cases like this, friends lie. Which was what I did. “No,” I replied, “just tell him that we are in the middle of an ice storm and I wanted to see if things were as bad in the North.”

There was no reason to remind Jim what a Southern spring was like. Anyone who has lived through one remembers, and can’t wait for another. And a few years later Jim took a job in Mississippi – which he knew was the right decision, he told me, when the feeling returned to his fingers and toes.

And he is in the South still, just like me. And I bet, right now, he is listening out for that turtle.

Just like me.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

Five facts you might not know about Social Security

Most people know at least something about Social Security. For decades, Social Security has been providing valuable information and tools to help you build financial security. Here’s your opportunity to find out a little more, with some lesser-known facts about Social Security.
1. Social Security pays benefits to children.
Social Security pays benefits to unmarried children whose parents are deceased, disabled, or retired. See Benefits for Children at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf for the specific requirements.
2. Social Security can pay benefits to parents.
Most people know that when a worker dies, we can pay benefits to surviving spouses and children. What you may not know is that under certain circumstances, we can pay benefits to a surviving parent. Read our Fact Sheet Parent’s Benefits, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10036.pdf, for the details.
3. Widows’ and widowers’ payments can continue if remarriage occurs after age 60.
Remarriage ends survivor’s benefits when it occurs before age 60, but benefits can continue for marriages after age 60.
4. If a spouse draws reduced retirement benefits before starting spouse’s benefits (his or her spouse is younger), the spouse will not receive 50 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.
Your full spouse’s benefit could be up to 50 percent of your spouse’s full retirement age amount if you are full retirement age when you take it. If you qualify for your own retirement benefit and a spouse’s benefit, we always pay your own benefit first. (For example, you are eligible for $400 from your own retirement and $150 as a spouse for a total of $550.) The reduction rates for retirement and spouses benefits are different. If your spouse is younger, you cannot receive benefits unless he or she is receiving benefits (except for divorced spouses). If you took your reduced retirement first while waiting for your spouse to reach retirement age, when you add spouse’s benefits later, your own retirement portion remains reduced which causes the total retirement and spouses benefit together to total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/quickcalc/spouse.html.
5. If your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, you will never receive more in benefits than the spouse received.
If the deceased worker started receiving retirement benefits before their full retirement age, the maximum survivors benefit is limited to what the worker would receive if they were still alive. See www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/survivors/survivorchartred.html for a chart.

Social Security helps secure your financial future by providing the facts you need to make life’s important decisions.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at kylle.mckinney@ssa.gov.

Having a pet teaches a child empathy, responsibility

“When you discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy – something that truly matters – you care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” – Jean Bolen, M.D., psychiatrist and author

In January, we talked about the contributions pets make to our lives. However, this great reward comes with great responsibility. The cuteness of a new puppy or a kitten wears off soon and gets replaced with a sense of “another burden” to deal with. That’s why there are so many dogs and cats that are left in the shelter –– or worst-case scenario, just tossed out on some farmland.

Before starting with a pet, please research what you are getting into. Taking a few months to learn about different pet’s characteristics, the cost of healthcare and how they will fit into your lifestyle is worth every minute of your time. Visit your local shelter several times to meet with the many amazing creatures there.

Talk to the people who work there. They are passionate and dedicated pet people who can help you find a pet to fit your lifestyle. You don’t want a high-energy working breed if you’re too busy to play with them for hours every day!

I strongly believe that all children should grow up with pets.

Having a dog and a cat in the house may prevent pet allergies in later years. A pet can teach a child to be empathic, responsible, confident, have self-esteem and increase their verbal skills.

If you want a pet for your child, it is important to remember that it’s likely you will be the one who will do all the work. But by demonstrating excellent care for the pet, we can teach our children how to become a patient, responsible, kind and generous person.

I interviewed three people associated with the veterinary profession. I asked what was the earliest age they remember having their own pet, and how did they reconcile between the new cute cuddliness and the tedium of feeding and watering them, cleaning their poop, playing and walking them. Surprisingly, I got three different perspectives.

For Jana, it was the rescue mentality. She was only 6. It started with a high-strung “weiner” dog, difficult and unruly! The family would have given the dog away unless she stepped in. Even at that tender age, her “protector” instinct kicked in, she “grew up” and took responsibility to care for this dog. Now, Jana is studying to be a veterinarian.

Next, it was Morwena. When asked about this issue, she simply said, “If I eat, they eat.” So, she was driven by some inner ethics, which was very noble.

Then I asked Amber. She had her first pet horse when she was 12 years old. Her parents taught her the value of responsibility. She was not allowed to ride her horse until he was fed, brushed and the stall cleaned. She was taught that fun comes after you take care of things that need to be taken care of. She learned at a very young age that privileges are earned!

In the May issue, we will talk about vaccines and preventable diseases for dogs and cats.ν

This column appears every other month. If you have a pet-related question of general interest, write to Dr. G at P.O. Box 687, Geraldine, AL 35974.

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works part time at Grant Animal Clinic and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative.

MMI’s 175 years of history

America’s oldest military junior college marches into its third century of educating future leaders

The entire Marion Military Institute Corps of Cadets, faculty and staff celebrates “Marion Made Day” on October 4, 2017 in honor of college founder Colonel J.T. Murfee.

By Alvin Benn

Marion Military Institute is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year with numerous events planned to commemorate one of America’s most historic educational facilities.

It will never rival West Point or Annapolis because of its size, but it has left indelible marks as MMI continues into its third century of excellence during times of war and peace.

MMI is America’s oldest military junior college with an origin dating back to 1842 — two decades after Alabama became a state. That’s quite a pedigree to promote.

Universities across America are rightly proud of what they have accomplished through the years, but MMI has its own reasons for such a lengthy existence.

In addition to its academic achievements, it’s also known for military programs that have educated hundreds of future generals and admirals to help protect America. The list of MMI graduates is extensive, with every branch of the military represented. Many have paid the supreme price in defense of their country.

But there is no military obligation in attending MMI; about 40 percent of the cadets are not pursuing a military career. The civilian track students come to MMI to gain peer leadership experience, earn an associate’s degree, prepare to transfer to a four-year university as a junior, and/or compete as a student-athlete on one of the school’s nine National Junior College Athletic Association teams.

The school offers the opportunity to live a disciplined lifestyle while gaining practical experience in leadership and organizational management.

Members of the 1921 MMI “Navy Class” were preparing to transfer to the U.S. Naval Academy; the Marion pipeline to the five U.S. Service Academies continues to this day as a one-year MMI program.

Future once in doubt

MMI has had loyal graduate support throughout its long history, but its existence appeared in danger at one point.

That happened two decades ago when a majority of MMI trustees voted to move the school to Fort McClellan in Anniston, where the facility was in the process of being closed by the Army.

The federal government had offered the east Alabama site as a new location, but a two-thirds vote was required. It fell one vote short on the 18-member board.

What made the situation doubly hard to swallow was the fact that the proposed move to Fort McClellan was orchestrated by Thomas Adams, MMI’s president at the time.

A storm of controversy followed Adams’ recommendation that MMI be moved from Marion, and that eventually led to his resignation as president shortly after he suggested it. He refused to back down from his recommendation to leave Perry County, insisting the school was in too remote a location.

The uproar at MMI was not unexpected and Adams’ idea backfired. He officially tendered his resignation to the chairman of the MMI Board of Trustees on Aug. 9, 1999. It was accepted “with great reluctance.”

The controversy slowly subsided, but it took a few years to ease the unrest just as the state of Alabama entered the picture with a merger idea that helped save MMI.

In 2006 the Alabama Legislature placed the school under the auspices of the Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education.

MMI cadets from around the country learn to work together in a peer leadership environment.

That move turned out to be an educational shot in the arm that was badly needed. MMI is now officially known as “The Military College of Alabama.”

As part of the transition from private to public institution, MMI phased out its high school program, one that had attracted thousands of students through the years. The last high school class graduated in 2009 from MMI’s prep-school that had dated back to 1887.

New leadership

Marion’s population and businesses have dwindled in past decades – a distressing development for local leaders who have watched the shrinkage grow before their eyes.

Retired drug store owner Roy Barnett, 80, can remember when Marion had three pharmacies surrounded by other thriving businesses.

Judson College, an all-female college located only a few blocks from MMI, has helped make Marion educational bookends. That’s why Barnett named his business “College City Drugs.”

“MMI is what’s driven our economy for many years, but our downtown district has gone through some bad times and it’s not good,” Barnett says.

New leadership at MMI couldn’t have come at a better time, especially with the hiring of retired Marine Col. David Mollahan as the school’s 16th president.

A Marine aviator with 4,100 flight hours under his belt, including hundreds of hours on combat missions, Mollahan liked what he saw the first time he got a glimpse of the MMI campus.

“It had really impressive, stately-looking facilities that you’d think of in the South,” says Mollahan, an Oregon native, after he completed an interview process.

A nuclear engineer as well as a military helicopter pilot, Mollahan has thoroughly enjoyed the past nine years since he took command of MMI. At the moment, he’s busy stepping up efforts to bring more cadets into the fold.

“We’re getting the word out about who we are as well as the unique things we have available that they aren’t going to find anywhere else, especially in leadership and character development,” Mollahan says.

What concerns him today are “myths” perpetrated by detractors. He’s been working hard to dispel them as he moves toward completion of his first decade at the helm.

“Some claim we’re not much more than a boarding school for troubled students and that half of our students aren’t going to class.”

MMI has had fluctuating enrollments for years, with highs in the 600-800 range at times, but that was due to MMI’s prep school involvement. Without a high school now, enrollment has dropped into the mid-450 range, and Mollahan is confident that is what was needed.

“This is a special place with opportunities for students to come here,” he says. “What we do here is develop young people of high character with fundamental leadership skills.”

Mollahan says MMI’s in-state tuition is about $16,000 a year, with out-of-state student tuition listed at about $22,000. He said the school’s annual budget is in the $13 million range, with support from Alabama’s Educational Trust Fund — one of the benefits of being under the

MMI cadets are put to the test on their new, military-grade obstacle course that teaches them physical and mental endurance.

state’s financial wing.

Looking forward

If special thanks are in order at Alabama’s “new” MMI, it belongs to Dean Mooty Jr., who spent five years at the school encompassing high school and junior college before moving on to the University of Alabama. Mooty, who grew up in Marion and created a prominent law firm in Montgomery, not only devotes much of his free time to MMI, but he’s also chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees.

Celebrations have begun on the MMI campus and smiles abound as Mollahan, his staff and cadets take part in events to honor Alabama’s unique one-of-a-kind facility.

Mollahan and parents of cadets took part in the official kickoff event in September when he delivered a speech, followed by the cutting of a “birthday cake” at a packed gymnasium.

He used a number attached to the celebration that also included a “cresting ceremony,” signifying the official welcoming of young men and women into MMI’s Corps of Cadets.

“Today we mark 175 years of history, 175 years full of momentous events, 175 years of ups and downs, 175 years behind us, 175 years ahead,” the president said in his address.

O’Neal Holmes, director of MMI’s alumni and community affairs programs, said a time capsule will be buried in April as part of acknowledging a milestone event in the school’s history.

Storm spotters keep Alabamians safe during severe weather

Night shot with big thunderstorm at the starry sky.

By Aaron Tanner

Alabama experiences all modes of severe weather every year. Despite advances in Doppler radar technology that allows more extended warning lead times, radar usually cannot see what is happening on the ground.

That’s where the SKYWARN Storm Spotter program comes in. Volunteers of various backgrounds, including first responders, law enforcement and business owners, help the National Weather Service verify real-time conditions when deciding to issue or continue a warning.

“Our SKYWARN spotters are like our eyes in the field,” says Todd Barron, Warning Coordinator Meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Huntsville.

Storm spotters are different from storm chasers in that a spotter stays in one location, while a chaser travels to a storm. Barron says that storm spotters are preferred over storm chasers in Alabama due to various issues, including the hills and trees limiting views, heavy rain that often obscures tornadoes and the fast motion of storms. “It is dangerous to storm chase, especially if you are not a well trained professional.”

Those interested in becoming a storm spotter receive training from a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, either in person or online. Volunteers learn to appropriately identify and report severe weather, such as finding rotation in a wall cloud or adequately measuring the size of hail, along with safety tips while in the field. “We want the spotters to know what they are looking at when watching for severe weather,” Barron says.

One of many ham radios across Alabama that allow spotters to communicate with the National Weather Service.

After completing the class, graduates receive a certificate certifying them as spotters, and their name is put into a database if they choose to do so.

A report from a trained spotter is taken more seriously when deciding to issue or continue a warning, versus a report from someone not adequately trained. The reports are especially important in rural areas, since those spotters may be the only ones able to accurately verify a report for that particular area, especially if a storm is moving into a more densely populated area.

SKYWARN spotters also help emergency managers. Phyllis Little, director for the Cullman County Emergency Management Agency (CCEMA), is especially grateful for the storm spotters in her county who receive proper training. Because the agency cannot be everywhere during severe weather, they rely on information from storm spotters to know where to send resources. “These are volunteers who have a vested interest in serving our community,” Little says.

In March of 2017, the CCEMA sponsored a class in the town of Colony that was well attended by different people of all ages. Little says those attending help their community stay safe, thanks to their proper training. “Many will never call in a report, but they do have the knowledge to recognize conditions that may signal a severe weather event.”

Left to right, Rex Free of Lawrence County, Jonathan O’Rear of Madison County and Ed Weatherford of Lawrence County are some of the many storm spotters scattered across the state of Alabama that who help the National Weather Service during severe weather.

Spotters in the field

Rex Free of Lawrence County is one of many certified spotters in Alabama who received proper training. His interest in storm spotting comes from the tornadothat killed 13 people in his county during the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974. “I saw a lot of destruction that traumatized me,” says Free, who owns an audio-visual company.

In 1989, Free met Ed Weatherford, president of the Bankhead Amateur Radio Club in Moulton at the time. He suggested Free help him with ham radio and storm spotting. Weatherford is the Deputy 911 Director for Lawrence County.

In March 2012, Free and Weatherford met Jonathan O’Rear, who lives in Madison County, through the National Weather Service. Like Free and Weatherford, O’Rear experienced severe weather first hand, when a tornado tore through his neighborhood in Florence in 1989. He also had an interest in CB and ham radio.

Though there are several methods of communicating severe weather reports to the National Weather Service, such as by telephone, social media and internet chat, ham radio is still widely used by storm spotters. When cell phone towers and power lines are heavily damaged, ham radios still operate because the FCC allocates a portion of the radio bandwidth to amateur radio. “When all else fails, there is amateur radio,” says Weatherford. “It is viable in any emergency.”

Although many spotters in Alabama have a ham radio license, it’s not a requirement  to be a storm spotter.

Free, O’Rear, and Weatherford are part of Huntsville’s National Weather Service’s ham radio program. When a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch is issued, a liaison at the Weather Service formally activates the spotters.

Storm spotters and ham radio operators were put to the test during the historic tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011. On that day, Free and Weatherford received reports over ham radio of significant damage and injuries from a powerful tornado that hit the Lawrence County community of Mount Hope. Emergency responders had difficulty reaching the victims due to the heavy rain and debris scattered across the affected areas.

Free remembers feeling helpless after hearing about the devastation. Conditions were so bad that Weatherford relinquished control of the SKYWARN network to another ham radio operator located outside the county. “It was a terrifying, deadly event and will always be imprinted in my memory,” says Weatherford, who drove to Mount Hope to give damage reports to the county emergency management agency after the storm.

Despite being an unpaid position, the danger involved and experiencing first-hand the worst of Mother Nature, storm spotters enjoy giving back to their communities by helping the National Weather Service and emergency managers.

But there’s also a sense of community among the ham radio operators. “There is a big camaraderie amongst each other,” Free says.