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Alabama Snapshots: Graduates

Erin Brock, Foley High School graduation 2012. SUBMITTED BY Brenda Brock, Summerdale.

Kynleigh Wood kindergarten graduation. SUBMITTED BY June Wood, Holly Pond.

Ian Adair, Tonya Anderson and Kenray Anderson.SUBMITTED BY Ya’den Anderson, Millbrook.

Buddy’s pre-school graduation. SUBMITTED BY Kennith and Elaine McIntyre, Jackson.

Ashley Hanks, Geneva County High School class of 2017. SUBMITTED BY Denise Hanks, Hartford.

First cousins Ieshia Miller and Skyler Twitty, graduating from Hanceville High School. SUBMITTED BY Carol Twitty, Cullman.

Anna Nelson, mathematics education teacher. SUBMITTED BY Faye Nelson, Andalusia.

Submit Your Images! June Theme: “Family Reunions” Deadline for July: May 31. Submit photos online: or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.

Church is legacy of Greek community and its namesake

Domed towers majestically flank the brick, limestone and marble cathedral-like Grecian worship center that is Daphne, Alabama’s Malbis Memorial Church. Located on Alabama Highway 181, the church was built on the request of area Grecian immigrant and leader Jason Malbis. It was dedicated Jan. 3, 1965.

By Emmett Burnett

Malbis Memorial Church is often discovered accidentally while driving somewhere else. Commanding Alabama Highway 181 in Daphne is a Greek cathedral-like fortress, flanked with brick stone towers, braced in Corinthian columns, centered under a domed roof.

Somewhere else is now here.

“Here,” is the centerpiece of the Malbis Plantation, cornerstone of Baldwin County’s small but industrious Greek community, and legacy of the community and church’s namesake, Jason Malbis.

On a trip to Athens, shortly before his death, the Grecian forefather instructed followers to build his church in Malbis. And oh boy, did they.

Formally the “Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of the Presentation of Theotoko,” the church has surprised and delighted visitors since day one with good reason. It is spiritual, reverent and eye popping.

“First timers can’t believe what they are seeing,” notes Nafseka Malbis, caretaker, tour guide and descendant of founder Jason Malbis. “For me, there is no one favorite item. Everything is special.”

The interior is detailed with hand-rendered frescos – paintings that adorn virtually every space. Art depicts the life of Christ chronicled from the Testaments. More than 150 paintings tell stories, including Christ before the High Priest, the Sermon on the Mount, Moses receiving the 10 Commandments, religious heroes and other Bible scenes.

“It is like art comes to life and speaks to you,” adds George Kalasountas, frequent visitor and fan. “Many have told me upon leaving the sanctuary, they’ve never seen anything like it and they are correct.”

Kalasountas, who came from Greece in 1956 and today is vice president of the Malbis Memorial Foundation, adds, “We have many Greek Orthodox Churches, but this is the cream of the crop. It is simply beautiful.”

The fresco murals took three master artists flown in from Greece nine months to complete. The rotunda features a portrait of God, the Almighty surrounded by 12 murals of disciples and religious leaders. Artist Spyros Tzouvaras hand painted the portraits from scaffolding 75 feet above the floor. He lay on his back, applying paint and brush strokes to the ceiling, rendering the images. It took him three months.

Hand carved figures were brought from Greece and assembled in the church. The bishop’s throne, pulpit and other features are carved in white marble extracted from the same Grecian mines that supplied the Parthenon millenniums earlier.

On the outside above massive oak doors are mosaics created with thousands of tiles about one-inch square. Above the middle door is a portrait of Jesus. Above him are images of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; all are a composite of mosaic tiles. Each tiny piece was prepared in Italy, shipped to Malbis, and installed on site.

Rising 75 feet above the church floor, the dome interior of the church features the Pantocrator – A fresco of the Almighty and depictions of disciples, prophets and evangelists. The paintings were hand rendered to the ceiling by Grecian artists on scaffolding.

Outside, the left tower contains a bell system: 49 bell tone generators that at full volume can be heard six miles away. It is a call to worship, a reminder of Grecian heritage, and the legacy of an immigrant who dreamed of a new world in Baldwin County.

Jason Malbis was born Antonios Markopoulos in Doumena, Greece. But in his 40s, he moved to America for a new life. Joined by friend William Papageorge, the two searched Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Mississippi before buying 120 acres in Baldwin County for $5 an acre.

Others followed and more land was added to become The Malbis Plantation, established in 1906. “We had a bakery, power plant, bank, timber company, hotel, and farms,” Kalasountas recalls. “It was a self-sufficient. We all had jobs to do. We all had a place in the community.”

But they did not have a church – yet.

‘It is my desire that you build a church’

In the early 1940s Jason Malbis visited Athens, Greece, but could not return due to World War II disruptions. He became sick and died in Athens, July 22, 1942, but not before sending a letter to beloved Grecians of Baldwin County: “It is my desire that you build a church.”

By 1960, the Greek settlement of about 60 – mostly farmers, tradesmen and working people – spearheaded a fundraising drive of $1 million. Adjusted for inflation, that is more than $7 million today.

Groundbreaking was held in 1960, and Malbis Memorial Church was dedicated on Jan. 3, 1965. If you were Greek you were there. And on that day everybody was Greek.

“People came from everywhere,” Kalasountas says. “The line to get in went around the building and people were in tears upon leaving.”

A New York Times October 1965 review noted, “The church is unique in the United States. A visitor’s first reaction upon entering the building is one of awe. It is like being inside a rainbow.”

Amazingly, this grand cathedral is financed mainly by love and donations. The Malbis church has never held a formal congregation but conducts regularly scheduled worship services. The building is also open to the public from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Through the years, concerns were raised about next door Daphne – Baldwin County’s largest city – continuing to expand, and possibly encroaching on Malbis. “I think we are OK,” Kalasountas says. “Daphne is a good place, but we are doing just fine here in Malbis, too.”

Though Jason Malbis never saw the church that bears his name, his remains are interred in a crypt inside. But you can feel his spirit saying, “Build my church.” Outside, adjacent to the church, 100 Grecian graves answer, “Mission accomplished.”

The sanctuary, as seen from the balcony. The white marble of the Iconostasis at the front is made from hand-carved marble from the same Grecian quarries that supplied the ancient Parthenon.

Hospitals key to quality rural health care

The gleaming new Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama in Wedowee, 14 miles up the road from Roanoke, opened in November. Tanner Health System of Carrollton, Ga., was managing the old Wedowee Hospital and was willing to provide funds for equipping a new hospital, if county residents could provide construction funding. Eighty-six percent of the voters in Randolph County approved a tax to build a new hospital.

While rural hospitals face numerous financial challenges, hope is not lost. Many areas in Alabama are finding partnerships and tax revenue to maintain their level of health care

By M.J. Ellington

When people in rural Randolph County faced the prospect of life without a nearby hospital or else raising taxes, voters in Roanoke, Wedowee and surrounding areas approved a 1 percent sales tax increase in 2015. Two years later, people in the small East Alabama county celebrated the opening of shiny new Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama. Tanner Medical Services, a Georgia not-for-profit hospital management company, operates the facility.

Randolph’s vote came following the 2011 closing of Randolph County Hospital in Roanoke and the pending loss of nearby Wedowee Hospital, both due to financial problems and aging structures. The county is hardly alone with its hospital financial challenges.

Part of the reason rural Alabama hospitals face such challenges is because the state has not expanded Medicaid, said Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a semi-retired Brewton pediatrician and past president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. “People think Medicaid is a welfare program; it is so much more,” she says. “If people just knew, it affects all of us.”

Now 76, Raulerson said at age 39, she came “kicking and screaming” to Brewton with her nephrologist husband who was recruited out of the University of Florida to open the first dialysis program between Mobile and Dothan.

She had planned to spend the rest of her life teaching at the University of Florida’s medical school, but once she got used to life in a town of 5,400 people, she realized it provides a good quality of life and a great place for children to grow up. Having access to good health care nearby is an important factor, but Raulerson said this year, she is concerned.

“For the first time, our hospital is in the red,” Raulerson says. “There are so many people who are uninsured, who cannot pay. Insurance and Medicare have lower payments to rural hospitals. Expanded Medicaid would help with this.”

A ‘trifecta of challenges’

Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama Hospital Association executive director and former state health officer, said rural hospitals face a “trifecta of challenges” as they seek to shore up financially ailing hospitals. Those challenges include:

• Alabama’s decision not to expand Medicaid left a large number of people without health coverage to pay for needed care.

• Federal Medicare and payments to health providers are lower for small hospitals than the biggest hospitals, based on a federal formula that mandates larger reimbursements for the largest hospitals. The federal wage index that helps determine how much health providers get paid in every state lists Alabama at the bottom.

• Alabama is the only state in the country that does not pay any of the state’s matching share required to bring in federal revenue for Medicaid programs. Of every dollar spent on the program, the federal government pays 70 cents while Alabama’s share to bring in the federal funds is 30 cents. But unlike other states, Alabama’s share comes from a voluntary tax hospitals pay to tap the federal revenue.

Hospital Association figures show that 86 percent of rural hospitals are operating in the red as compared to 69 percent of all hospitals having a negative operating margin, says Rosemary Blackmon, vice president of communications. Hospitals with other sources of revenue, such as taxes or other services, may be able to shore up the bottom line.

“Right now, when a rural hospital is in trouble, a county tries to rally by raising taxes,” Williamson says. “What if that money went to Medicaid? We could bring in 10 times as much federal revenue. It probably would have been cheaper.”

The emergency department at Wedowee Hospital closed in November with the opening of the new Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama.

But rural counties like Randolph have done a remarkable job working to save rural hospitals, Williamson says. In recent years, several other small Alabama cities faced with losing their local hospital found partnerships and tax revenue to help pay for new facilities.

The impact of hospitals on the life of rural communities helps cities and counties keep them viable. Blackmon said the annual payroll of rural hospitals is $552 million, and 44 percent of total employment in rural counties can be attributed to health care.

Pell City in St. Clair County and Clanton in Chilton County established partnerships with St. Vincent’s Health Care to open new, smaller hospitals in their towns. Williamson said Haleyville in Winston County wants a local tax to help with operating costs at Lakeland Community Hospital.

Three other rural hospitals – John Paul Jones Hospital in Camden, Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Demopolis and J.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital in Greenville – became part of the UAB Health System in February. UAB’s financial and managerial expertise, hospital compliance training and clinical resources are part of the package.

In March, the state Legislature approved a bill to create a resource center housed at UAB to provide support for nonprofit, rural, public hospitals in the state that are facing economic pressures. It would assist these hospitals in areas including purchasing and supply chain, strategic planning, insurance and cost reporting, coding, recruitment and compliance.

While the bill passed, it has not been funded. The UAB Health System will work to determine interim funding prior to the 2019 legislative session to start providing support to eligible hospitals.

Hospitals that can backfill with taxes or other sources of revenue have more ways to supplement the income they get through Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement.

Rural areas need new ideas

In rural areas, the population tends to be older, poorer and less likely to have insurance to pay for hospital and other health care costs. One wrinkle in the uninsured population is that Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance companies negotiate the rates they will pay for a patient’s care. People without insurance coverage pay the highest rate because there is no company that is negotiating rates on their behalf. As a result, uninsured people in rural areas may not seek medical care until a problem is harder to deal with, and when they do, the cost for their care may be higher than what people with insurance pay.

Ready access to good health care becomes everyone’s problem when the local hospital and healthcare delivery system are at risk, a point at which rural communities should approach the issue with new ideas, says Dale Quinney, longtime executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association.

Quinney says when the healthcare delivery system begins to fail, particularly if the future of the local hospital is uncertain, it’s time to get creative with solutions. “Without a hospital, the economic base fails,” he says.

He wants a greater role for allied health professionals, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, and telehealth that enables doctors at remote locations to visit patients in rural areas using computer and electronic devices. He’d like to see more hospitals have a small number of inpatient beds and the ability to have alternate ways to generate operating revenue.

Quinney is excited about the possibilities of “telehealth carts” that help patients in rural areas consult with doctors in other cities using electronic and computer technology.

Michael Smith directs the telehealth cart program at the Alabama Department of Public Health. Smith said the department expects to have telehealth cart programs available at 60 county health department offices around the state this year.ν

M.J. Ellington is a Montgomery freelance journalist whose longtime health and state government reporting and editing career included the Montgomery Advertiser, The Decatur Daily, Florence Times-Daily and The Anniston Star. Contact her at

The Randolph County Hospital in Roanoke closed in 2011, due to financial problems and an aging facility.

Medal of Honor winner saved by a tiger

Opelika native and retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins received the nation’s highest military award in 2014. Photo by John Oliver

By Miriam Davis

The tiger saved us,” says Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins (U.S. Army, Retired) matter-of-factly. “The North Vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of it than they were of us.”

Adkins, 84, is speaking of the aftermath of the Battle of A Shau when, in 1966, he and other survivors evaded the enemy after a team of 17 American Special Forces and about 400 of their South Vietnamese allies were attacked and overrun by a North Vietnamese division of 16,000 troops. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Adkins the Medal of Honor for his actions during that battle. Adkins and co-author (and Alabama Living gardening columnist) Katie Jackson tell his story in their forthcoming book, A Tiger Among Us.

“I was just doing my job,” insists Adkins. “It was my training. … When you’re picked out to be one of the elite, you try to live up to that.”

Adkins’ job was as a Special Forces intelligence sergeant. After being drafted into the Army in 1956, he found being a clerk-typist “not for me.” Special Forces was a challenge both physically and mentally.  But, says Adkins, “I had too much pride to quit.”

In 1965, then-Sergeant First Class Adkins was sent to the A Shau valley to advise South Vietnamese forces and to impede infiltration of the North Vietnamese into the south. The valley, which runs along Vietnam’s border with Cambodia and Laos, became part of the trail along which the North Vietnamese brought provisions and troops down into the south and as such was, as Adkins describes it in his book, “a hotbed of activity.”

“I can tell you that none of us were happy to be in that camp,” Adkins says in A Tiger Among Us. Sitting in that valley, “about thirty miles from another friendly camp …. [w]e were like fish in a barrel.”

Risking his life

Adkins’ team had been warned that an attack was imminent, and the Battle of A Shau began about 4 a.m. on March 9, 1966, with a deafening North Vietnamese artillery and mortar barrage. Adkins ran to take his position in a mortar pit from which he and his crew fired illumination and high-explosive rounds.

Wounded 18 times, Adkins repeatedly risked his life during the battle. He was blown out of his mortar pit three times by direct hits from enemy mortars and lost several entire mortar crews. But he continued manning his position until the mortar pit was finally destroyed by RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). Disregarding enemy mortar and sniper fire, Adkins also rescued American and Vietnamese wounded and transported them to safety, and then – again under direct fire –  loaded them onto evacuation helicopters. When a load of desperately needed supplies was inadvertently dropped into a mine field, Adkins rushed into the mine field to retrieve it.

After 38 hours of intense fighting – hungry, thirsty, and exhausted – the Americans were ordered to evacuate. In the chaos of the withdrawal, Adkins went back to rescue a badly wounded comrade. When they returned to the evacuation point, the helicopters had already gone.

Though Adkins was nominated for the Medal of Honor shortly after the battle, he didn’t receive it until nearly 50 years later. collection of bennie adkins

Which is where the tiger came in.

Adkins and a small group of survivors had no choice but to evade the North Vietnamese in the dense jungle until they could be rescued. On their second night, Adkins and his men could hear enemy soldiers searching for them. They also heard another sound – something big rustling in the undergrowth nearby. Then Adkins heard a low growl and saw eyes glowing in the dark – a tiger, drawn by the smell of blood covering the wounded survivors.  The war had given tigers a taste for humans.

The North Vietnamese heard the tiger, too, for they hastily pulled back, allowing Adkins and the other survivors to slip away. They were picked up by helicopter the next day.

Shortly after the battle, Adkins was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Nothing happened at the time. But in 2014, Adkins received a phone call from President Obama informing him that he was to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor.

“Super humbling,” is how Adkins describes it. “I’m very humbled to be one of the few living soldiers to wear this medal.”  He now speaks all over the county trying to inspire in people a love of country and the desire to be a good citizen.

“And an appreciation of the military,” adds Adkins’ co-author Katie Jackson. She points out that less than 1% of the population has served in the military and that “the general population doesn’t understand the military.”

Left, the cover of “A Tiger Among Us,” published by Da Capo Press this month and available at Below, Katie Lamar Jackson, who co-authored the book.

Adkins and Jackson, an adjunct instructor in Auburn’s School of Communication and Journalism, worked on the book for three years. This involved tracking down and interviewing the five other survivors of the battle. “All of them have a deep admiration and respect for Bennie,” says Jackson. “Even years later, they all say he’s amazing. … He was the one who really did things that were superhuman.”

Any money made from A Tiger Among Us will go to the Bennie Adkins Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships for Special Forces enlisted personnel transitioning from the service. “One of the reasons this is so important to Bennie,” says Jackson, “is because he knows what it’s like to move from the military to the civilian world, and it’s not easy.”

Last year the foundation awarded the first scholarships; 25 will be awarded this year.

All of this was made possible by the 400-pound Indochinese tiger that saved Bennie Adkins all those years ago.

“That tiger was my friend,” chuckles Adkins.

Ivey signs Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act

High-speed internet is no longer just a luxury for our rural areas. It is a necessity to help rural residents conduct business, to expand education opportunities, to create avenues for remote health care and to spur economic development.

During this legislative session, the Alabama Rural Electric Association (AREA), which publishes Alabama Living magazine, and its member cooperatives championed the bill known as SB149, or the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act. The legislation will encourage private investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas.

In late March, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law.

“This common sense legislation will help us attract new broadband to areas that need it most, especially in rural Alabama,” Ivey said.

The bill, which is just a first step in a long process to bring internet to rural areas, was sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Donnie Chesteen.

The act creates a grant program to be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Individual grants may be awarded for up to 20 percent of the project costs to telecommunications companies, cable companies and electric cooperatives.

Alabama will be further helped by a pilot program, grants and loans from the federal government. Congress, through an effort led by Congressman Robert Aderholt, included in the omnibus spending bill a $600 million pilot program that will enable applicants to finance a project by combining loans and grants to provide broadband to eligible rural and tribal areas.

Ivey’s office estimates that more than 842,000 Alabamians are without access to a wired connection capable of 25 megabits per second download speeds. One million have access to only a single wired provider, and another 276,000 don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.

Electric cooperatives hear updates at 2018 Annual Meeting












Gov. Kay Ivey was the opening speaker for the 71st Annual Meeting of the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives in April. Ivey spoke to delegates from Alabama’s 22 electric cooperatives about the progress her administration has made since she was sworn into office a year ago, and laid out her platform for the next four years if she is elected. Allison Flowers, right, of Prattville, and Alabama’s representative to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Youth Leadership Council, spoke to the delegates about her YLC experience and thanked them for their support. She is a member of Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, and was given a $250 check from Regions Bank to further her education. Delegates heard updates from the heads of several state associations and agencies, including information on the court system, the 2020 Census, upcoming elections, tax reform and issues affecting farmers and agriculture.

A healing place

An aerial view of Storybook Farm near Opelika, which recently added 26 acres of pine timber forest. The new acreage will allow the farm to expand its programming to include more time with the horses and additional agricultural outlets.

By Lindsay Miles Penny

It all began while folding laundry.

Storybook Farm Director Dena Little was completing household chores while thumbing through Practical Horseman when she came across a story about a horse therapy farm in Virginia.

Little, who grew up caring for and competing on horses, had taken a hiatus from farm life as she ran a bakery in Atlanta and cared for her two small children. It was 2002, and she had just sold her bakery and moved her young family to a small farm in Auburn. She yearned to get back to her roots and share her love of horses with her children.

That’s when the article struck a chord.

Little immediately got in contact with the owner of the horse therapy farm in Virginia. Soon after, she gained certification for her farm to provide equine-assisted therapy for children needing support, and Storybook Farm was born.

“I really had no idea the impact that Storybook would have, or its longevity, and I didn’t realize the need for programming like this,” Little says. “When Storybook opened, we quickly had a waitlist. I felt the Lord was leading me down this path to utilize my background with horses and to translate that to helping families that are facing crises and uncertain futures. Getting to walk alongside these families has become my distinct honor.”

Children from age 2 to young adulthood who face obstacles such as autism, cerebral palsy, cognitive delays, sensory integration issues and bereavement situations come to Storybook Farm for horseback riding and weekly lesson plans, including games and activities. They learn how to care for animals and develop social skills by interacting with farm volunteers. Horseback riding also provides physical benefits such as improvements to balance, motor skills, muscle strength and coordination.

Personal attention

More than 250 Auburn University students a week volunteer at Storybook Farm — greeting children and families, securing riding helmets, leading and walking alongside riders, exploring and learning in the Secret Garden, helping with lesson plans, cleaning stables, repairing fences and other chores.

An English literature major in college, Little wanted to create a whimsical, real-life fairytale for every child. Willy Wonka, Mrs. Potts, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are just a few of the horses to come through the farm. Driving up to the farm and looking out over the lush, rolling acres immediately transports anyone into a storybook.

“We started with three children, and will have about 1,500 this year alone,” Little says. “We don’t turn anyone away. We always make it work. One of the greatest compliments a family has ever given me is a parent saying, ‘I feel like our child is the only one who rides at Storybook.’ That’s what I want it to be. I wanted it to be so personal and special for everyone who comes to the farm. Many of the children we see and serve at Storybook have ambulatory issues, and they’ve never had that mobility and that freedom to just be one of the kids. To be one of the kids and not be set apart by the condition that brought you to Storybook is so important to me.”

Not only are the children and families impacted by Storybook Farm, but the effect the farm has on volunteers is evident. With more than 300 volunteers each week from Auburn University and the community, the people at the farm are committed to carrying out the farm’s mission. 

“I started out as a volunteer not really knowing anything about children with disabilities or horses,” says Andrew Skinner, executive communications director. “I’d originally started coming out to the farm with a friend. At the time, I wasn’t doing much with my life. I remember painting a fence, and looking around seeing all the kids riding horses and smiling, and looking back at that now, I realize it was what I needed in my life at the time and that it was a little pat from God.”

Skinner quickly became part of the Storybook Farm staff, and hopes to instill an attitude of service with current and future volunteers.

“Our goal is to give these kids a chance to just be a kid,” said Skinner.

Families are referred to the farm by counselors, pediatricians and therapists, and most commonly, by word of mouth from other families.

Gardens as therapy

A newer addition to Storybook Farm is the Secret Garden. Located in the middle of the farm, the garden provides a wealth of activities to help farm goers improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills and socialization.

An aerial view of Storybook Farm near Opelika, which recently added 26 acres of pine timber forest. The new acreage will allow the farm to expand its programming to include more time with the horses and additional agricultural outlets.

The horticultural programming the Secret Garden provides allows those with physical limitations an opportunity to strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance and endurance. The garden also teaches children about nutrition, caring for plants and the importance of a healthy diet.

Partnerships with Auburn University and Mobile Studio, a company that specializes in creating outdoor spaces, allowed the garden to be created with maximum accessibility in mind.

The bounty harvested from the garden is given back to the community and shared with food insecure families.

The services provided at Storybook Farm, which is served by Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative, are free to families, thanks to funding through corporate sponsors, grants and fundraisers.

“Our biggest fundraiser is our Kentucky Derby Dinner and Auction,” Little says. “It’s grown from less than 100 people to hopefully over 500 people this year. People come dressed in their Kentucky Derby best, eat and enjoy a really fun event.”

The Kentucky Derby Dinner and Auction will be May 5. Tickets are available at

For more information on Storybook Farm’s services or volunteer opportunities, call 334-444-5966 or or visit

Already a fishing legend at 23

In 2015, 23-year-old Jordan Lee of Grant became the youngest competitor on the top-tier Bass Angler Sportsman Society Elite Series. So far, he’s only fished four Bassmaster Classics, the world championship of professional fishing, but has already won two of them. In 2017, he became one of the youngest champions at 25 when he won his first Classic. In March 2018, he became only the third man in history to win back-to-back Classics in the 48-year history of the event with his victory at Lake Hartwell, S.C. – John Felsher

How does it feel to join the ranks of legendary bass anglers like Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam to win back-to-back Bassmaster Classics at such a young age?

In my wildest dreams, I never thought I was going to win the 2018 Classic. It really is overwhelming. I’ve never won a Bassmaster Open event. I’ve never won an Elite Series event. I guess there’s just something about this tournament for me. I didn’t have a game plan for Hartwell. I didn’t have one magical spot. I knew that with the warm weather, docks were going to be a player. I saw tons of big bass suspending under every dock. It was just amazing to see that.

How did you first get interested in fishing?

I got interested in fishing through friends at small lakes and ponds. At the age of 10 was the most memorable. That’s when I caught the fishing bug, when I started fishing my grandfather’s pond in my hometown of Cullman. I remember that day vividly as I was pulling out 4- and 5-pound bass with my first rod and reel. I knew at that moment that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

Years later, my parents saw a growing passion and bought me an aluminum boat to fish local tournaments on Lake Catoma. Fast forward 10 years and my dreams began unfolding one tournament at a time. Fishing on the Auburn University Team was a life-changing, growing experience that opened the doors to my future in fishing.

How did you get started in professional fishing and work your way up to competing in the biggest event in the sport?

I started fishing local tournaments throughout high school. Then I began fishing for the Auburn University bass fishing team. I qualified for my first Bassmaster Classic through the Carhartt College Program. After college, I fished the Bassmaster Opens for one season and then qualified for the Elite Series.

You and your older brother, Matt Jordan, compete directly against each other on the tournament trail. What’s the competition like between yourself and your brother?

I get this question a lot, There are 108 more anglers, so the competition is equal among all of us. It’s not just me against him.

As a young competitor fishing against some former champions and other legendary anglers, how do you prepare yourself to compete against all those other great, experienced anglers?

It’s just me against the fish. I don’t worry about other anglers and their experience versus mine.

How did winning your first Classic in 2017 at such a young age change your life in the months that followed?

The amount of exposure has changed. With that the workload and travel has increased. I also feel like I am well known wherever I go now.

Did you personally change in any way after winning a Classic?

No. I stay levelheaded throughout the ups and downs. Stay humble, always.

What was the strangest or most unexpected thing to happen to you as a result of your winning the Classic?

I’m amazed by the amount of people who know who I am. I’ve had people from Germany who are big fans waiting for me at the boat ramp one day after I finished fishing.

After winning two Classics back to back, what’s next on your life goals or bucket list?

I want to win the Angler of the Year title. I also want to win an Elite Series tournament and enjoy spending time with my wife-to-be and our dogs.

What advice would you give to young anglers now looking at you and your success who would like to become professional bass anglers and perhaps compete in a Bassmaster Classic in coming years?

Just focus on fishing. The sponsors will come. Stay in school! College programs are a great way to work your way up and help your skill level increase.

Besides fishing, what other things do you like to do?

I enjoy playing golf, traveling and watching professional basketball and college football.

Stacy’s is the place for fresh cooked fare

Demopolis eatery draws locals as well as visitors

Stacy’s Café is in historic downtown Demopolis.

Story and Photo by Emmett Burnett

In a park across the street from Stacy’s Café, a stone marker notes the 1919 chicken auction that funded construction of nearby Rooster Bridge. Coincidentally, today’s special at Stacy’s is fried chicken. It, too, is monumental. The entire menu is.

Occupying the ground floor of 123 W. Washington St. in Demopolis, Stacy’s Cafe seats about 115 and does so often.

“I loved this place from the first visit,” says frequent fan and Marengo County attorney Abisola A. Samuel, recalling her first encounter.

“On a friend’s recommendation, I visited, ordered something with rice and gravy, and was amazed. It tasted just like home cooking. I remember saying ‘wow, who is this lady?’”

Stacy’s steak plate is a customer favorite.

This lady is Faunsdale, Alabama’s Stacy Averette Pearson, wife, mother, U.S. Air Force veteran, and owner of the namesake café with a Demopolis and ever-expanding statewide following. Many restaurateurs start out dreaming of being in the food service field. Stacy did not.

“My experience was basically working in fast food places during college and later as a waitress at the Faunsdale Bar and Grill,” she recalls, while checking menus for today’s customers. “My intentions were to attend college and study science.”

After graduating from Demopolis High School in 1984, the future restaurateur enrolled in Livingston University. But she left college in 1987 to join the Air Force and served a three-and-a-half year hitch, working as a computer programmer.

In 1991, Stacy returned home. As a waitress at the Faunsdale Bar and Grill, she learned a lesson in projecting the daily business of running a restaurant: “You can’t,” she says. “The only one thing in the restaurant business you can predict every day is every day is unpredictable.”

Recognizing her culinary talents, family members encouraged Stacy to take a bold step, which sent life in a new direction.

Stacy Averette Pearson, seated, owner of Stacy’s Cafe, takes a break outside her restaurant. Standing behind her are servers, from left: Cailin Bamberb, Andrea Reynolds and Heather Ward.

In March 1999, the waitress bought the diner-bar that employed her, changing the name to Faunsdale Café. She still owns it, 14 miles from Demopolis. But she sought more, wanting to venture into catering from a larger restaurant. She wanted Demopolis.

On Sept. 26, 2017, she took a new culinary plunge, opening Stacy’s Café. “I knew the town would support me because many from Demopolis visited our Faunsdale location,” she recalls. “But many were apprehensive about it being off Demopolis’s main highway. We are in downtown. If you want to eat here you have to find us.” Not a problem.

“If I am in Demopolis I am at Stacy’s,” says attorney Samuel. “The food here is the best, bar none. Not sure I can pick a favorite dish, but one would be the grilled chicken Greek salad.”

In addition to the previously referenced monumental chicken, entree options include steaks (ribeye and hamburger), catfish plates, oyster platters, po’ boys, seafood gumbo, and red beans and rice. Side dishes of greens, mashed potatoes, okra, fried green tomatoes, and vegetables accentuate the menu. And may we have a serious discussion about cornbread?

Stacy’s cornbread comes in varieties – regular, Mexican, and a new entry chocked with crawfish. You heard me, crawfish. “Her crawfish cornbread and crawfish bisque are delicious,” smiles husband Eddie Pearson, offering a testimonial about his wife’s latest project, a crustacean creation.

He adds, “Everybody loves it.” Which is good because there is much to love. Cornbread is served slab size.

Such innovations are sparked by original thought. New dishes are the result of experimentation. “I come up with an idea, then do research, cook it at home, and serve to my family,” Stacy says. “After tweaking and re-testing, it may premiere at the restaurant.”

  She credits success to a simple concept: “Everything we serve is homemade, hand prepared, and cooked fresh.” It takes work.

Though open for lunch at 11, staff arrives by 8:30. There is no time to dilly-dally. “Demopolis is a 12 o’clock eating town,” Stacy says. “We don’t have one particularly busy day.” But when church lets out on Sunday, as the old saying goes, Katie bar the door. But typically every day is brisk and preparation starts early.

“Our salads are from hand cut leaf lettuce, not bagged,” Stacy says. “Burger patties are hand-patted and fries hand carved. Catfish is locally raised.” Gravy on mashed potatoes or rice has never seen a can nor spent the night in a package.

The menu changes daily with specials. Customers frequently call inquiring about shrimp and wild rice casserole or when seafood gumbo will again grace the menu. Other items are everyday fixtures, including burgers, salads, chicken fingers and salad varieties such as ham, bacon, and popcorn shrimp.

Worth The Drive: Stacey’s Cafe from AREA on Vimeo.

123 W. Washington St.
Demopolis, AL 36732
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m
Menu updates are available on the restaurant’s Facebook page – or by asking anyone in Demopolis.


Gardening hacks: Ways to make gardening easy, economical and eco-friendly

Recycle or up cycle in the garden. Here is a pair of boots hanging from iron rebar. Boots contain plants of wild strawberrys.

Gardening hacks — or creative ways to save time and money in the garden — can be fun and often effective shortcuts for many gardening chores. If used correctly, garden hacks can also help us create more eco-friendly gardens, especially if we concentrate on the three Rs of sustainability: recycling, reusing and repurposing.


Many items that we might throw in the trash or send to our local recycling center can be useful tools in the garden. Here are a few ways to turn trash into garden treasure.

Yogurt cups and other small plastic cartons make great seed-starting containers. Emptied milk, water, soda and juice containers can be used as plant covers, plant collars and as mini greenhouses or terrariums. Those with handles are perfect for use as watering and dusting devices or as scoops for potting soil and birdseed.

Old newspapers and cardboard can be laid in garden beds to control weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

Empty wine bottles can be filled with water, then pushed upside down into a pot to slowly irrigate container plants. They are also a great source for garden art and ornamentation — think bottle trees or a garden bed bordered with upturned bottles.


Lots of things can be reused in the garden — old boots can become planters and old pallets can become tool racks — but there are few things as valuable to a garden as kitchen waste. Yes, it makes great compost, but here are a few other uses for it, too.

Eggshell halves make cute, biodegradable seed-starting containers and can be crushed and sprinkled around plants to keep away slugs and add calcium to the soil.

Banana peels, which are high in potassium and other plant nutrients, can be added to compost or chopped or dried and added to garden soil as a slow-release fertilizer. They can also help ward off aphids.

Used coffee grounds can be sprinkled around plants to tamp down fungal diseases, provide a slow-release source of nitrogen to plants and improve soil texture. (A word of caution: coffee is acidic, so used grounds are not recommended for plants that require more alkaline conditions.)


Many of the household products we use every day in the home are also useful in the garden to control pests, add nutrients to the soil and in other ways.  Here are a few examples. 

Baking soda can help fight fungal problems on flowers and shrubs and can help sweeten the taste of tomatoes.

Concoctions of vinegar, baking soda, dish soaps, vegetable oils and other products can be used in place of stronger chemicals to remove and thwart a variety of pests.

Mixtures made of ingredients such as hot peppers, garlic and water can be misted on to plants to deter aphids, and jar caps filled with beer can trap and kill slugs, snails and some flying insects.

These are just a few of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of gardening hacks that make gardening easier, cheaper, sustainable and more fun. Additional details for these and other ideas are available in gardening publications, online and through local garden experts (one great book of ideas is 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden by Shawna Coronado). Do a little poking around to find ones that suit your needs.

A word of caution, though: not all hacks are effective or safe, so if you have questions or concerns, seek advice from your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener organizations or other professional gardening sources, especially before applying any potentially toxic or unsafe products to your garden.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at