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Understanding spouses’ benefits

Marriage is a cultural institution that exists all over the world. Having a partner means sharing many things, including a home and other property. Understanding how your future retirement might affect your spouse is important. When you’re planning for your fun and vibrant golden years, here are a few things to remember:

If a spouse accepts 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 spouse’s 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 on at

On the other hand, if your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, your survivor benefit will be reduced, but may be higher than what your spouse received.

If the deceased worker started receiving reduced retirement benefits before their full retirement age, a special rule called the retirement insurance benefit limit may apply to the surviving spouse. The retirement insurance benefit limit is the maximum survivor benefit you may receive. Generally, the limit is the higher of:

• The reduced monthly retirement benefit to which the deceased spouse would have been entitled if they had lived, or

• 82.5 percent of the unreduced deceased spouse’s monthly benefit if they had started receiving benefits at their full retirement age (rather than choosing to receive a reduced retirement benefit early).

Knowing how your finances affect your spouse’s can help both of you avoid future impacts on your incomes. When it comes to information, we have over 80 years of experience. Access a wealth of useful information as well as our benefits planners at

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

Help your dog with chronic skin allergies

“Scratch a dog and you’ll find a permanent job.” – Franklin P. Jones, humorist

One of the top reasons pets come to the vet is for allergies. Most of the allergies in young to middle-aged dogs are like eczema in humans. It is also called atopic dermatitis. We think this is hereditary, as some breeds like Goldens and Pitbulls are more prone to atopic allergy. The chronic allergy cases can be frustrating and difficult. Here is a plan we tend to follow in these cases.

1. Identify the cause:

This can be done by blood testing at your vet’s office or by skin-prick test at veterinary-dermatologist’s office. A common finding is flea allergy. The best bet against flea bites is keeping your dog on flea medications. I know flea/tick medications are not cheap, so in case of limited finances, try at least three months at a time, twice a year in fall and spring, instead of the random month here and there. Regular vacuuming is a very effective flea control. Please avoid toxic flea bombs and flea spray.

2. Food sensitivity:

Sorting this one out is a challenging task. The concept is simple: eliminate the offending agent. However, it is not that simple! Some folks feel going grain-free or using a novel protein diet helps their pets.

However, for a proper elimination-diet to work, the priority has to be very strict vigilance over ALL food and treats so that no unwanted proteins get in the dog’s system. Because sticking to this strict diet is difficult, I do not recommend this as the first line of treatment.

3. For stubborn cases, consider cooking for your dog.

The idea is to have the best ingredients possible in your dog’s food, as you are in charge of all the food sources. In my opinion, there is nothing like a home cooked meal under proper guidance. Talk to your vet about coming up with a recipe.

One website to check out is, based on the book by Dr. Donald R. Strombeck, a professor emeritus at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine. It’s an excellent free resource. Both of our dogs have been on home cooked food for many years now and their annual blood work looks great!

4. Eliminate possible indoor toxins like plugins, spray perfume, scented candles, etc.

This, of course, includes smoking! There are many resources on the web about indoor air pollution in a common household. Use outdoor pesticides cautiously.

5. Avoid using harsh chemicals on the skin unless absolutely necessary.

I don’t like frequent shampooing unless the skin is excessively oily; I prefer not to strip away the key oils from the skin. If the skin smells due to overpopulation of bacteria and yeast, medicated shampoo can be used but let’s concentrate on supporting the skin so that bacteria and yeast do not have a chance to overgrow.

6. Talk to your vet about running some blood work like basic chemistry and thyroid level.

Skin allergies are sometimes difficult to sort out. Standard treatment choices include steroids, newer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds like apoqueal, and allergy desensitization injections. Work with your inspired veterinarian to find a workable solution for your pet.

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.

Local electric co-ops team up to serve Air Force bases

Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex aren’t actually in the service areas for the state’s electric cooperatives, yet the federal government’s decision to privatize some of the services at military bases and posts brought an opportunity for Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and Dixie Electric Cooperative to team together to support these Montgomery area installations. 

“We own and operate the electrical distribution systems at Maxwell and Gunter,” says Julie Young, CAEC’s vice president, business and administrative services, of the joint arrangement. Although Alabama Power owns the substations that feed the base locations, the co-ops take over from that point.

The bid process for the contract was quite lengthy – beginning in 1999 and culminating in 2004 with a 50-year contract. “After the five-year period, we won the bid,” Young says.

At the time, she says, other branches of the service had already outsourced these services. “We knew a few co-ops across the country that had gotten involved in the bid process.”

Central Alabama Electric Cooperative’s Joe Wright and Stan White at work at Maxwell AFB.

Because of size considerations, Central Alabama and Dixie formed Cooperative Utility Services, LLC to strengthen their bid and their ability to serve the bases. “It made sense for us to join hands and do this together,” Young says. The CEOs and two board members from each co-op form the six-person board that oversees the LLC, and the tasks are divided between the co-ops.

“We’ve been thrilled to have this contract,” Young says.

“When the opportunity came about, we knew it was something we needed to do for the benefit of both our membership and the community,” says Gary Harrison, Dixie’s president and CEO.

“We were excited about the opportunity to work with Maxwell/Gunter AFB because it is such an integral part of the River Region,” Harrison adds. “We realized how important it was to help improve the infrastructure of the facility while working to keep costs down for our military.”

‘War Eagle’ plane awarded Purple Heart

By Mark Stephenson

The 908th Airlift Wing at Maxwell Air Force Base is the only reserve unit in the state of Alabama. The C-130 is the aircraft the wing operates. “Due to the extraordinary design, the C-130 remains in production after more than 60 years. More than 60 air forces around the world operate this versatile aircraft,” says Lt. Col (Ret.) Jerry Lobb.

According to Lt. Col. Steve “Stretch” Catchings, aircraft commander, a C-130 (tail number 85-0040) known as ‘War Eagle’ took a hit from a rocket propelled Grenade (RPG) while on take off from an airbase in Mosul, Iraq in 2005. With the number 2 engine shut down, the plane continued to another airstrip where it landed safely with 55 passengers and underwent field repairs. It was flown back to Qatar before returning to Maxwell AFB. The fire damage was still visible. ‘War Eagle’ was awarded the Purple Heart for the damage it sustained.

With 31 years and more than 12,000 hours of service, ‘War Eagle’ was retired in 2017 and the Auburn flag was transported to its replacement C-130 (tail number 91-9142) in a Transfer of Heritage ceremony by Auburn University’s Air Force ROTC detachment. C-130, tail number 42, is now known as ‘War Eagle.’

100 Years of Service

Alabama base educates the Air Force, boosts state economy

A BT-13 undergoing an engine overhaul in a Gunter Field hangar, c. 1943.

By Minnie Lamberth

“Engine and Aircraft Repair Depot #3” hardly has the prestigious ring you’d expect of a 100-year-old military installation that educates the most esteemed members of the U.S. Air Force and pumps about a billion dollars into the Alabama economy every year.

Yet that was the first official designation given in 1918 to the future Maxwell Air Force Base.

Notably, eight years earlier, Orville and Wilbur Wright had come to Montgomery to establish the first civilian flying school on an abandoned cotton plantation outside the city limits. Though the Wright brothers’ school lasted only a few months – because of the distance to obtain their repair parts as well as unseasonably high winds that year – the heritage of flight had found a firm landing. And this same site was chosen a few years later for a new military mission.

“Almost a year after the U.S. entry into World War I, the Air Service decided to establish some air fields and maintenance depots that would provide pilots for combat in the war,” says Dr. Robert Kane, Air University director of history.

Atmore native 2nd Lt. William C. Maxwell.
photos Courtesy of the Air University History Office, Maxwell Air Force Base

The Montgomery-based depot, one of three in the nation, was established on April 4, 1918, at the location of the former flying school to repair aircraft for Air Service air fields in the southeastern U.S.

The depot continued to exist at a smaller scale after the war’s end and could have been closed. Fortunately, the 1920s brought a change in mission – conducting photo reconnaissance for the Army. The 22nd Observation Squadron and the 4th Photographic Section were assigned here, and the former depot was soon renamed Maxwell Field, to honor an Atmore native, 2nd Lt. William C. Maxwell.

Moving forward in flight

In these early days of flight, Maxwell was also involved in other firsts, including a 1925 experiment to test to the feasibility of delivering mail by air. “A pilot and an aircraft of the 22nd Observation Squadron was used on a trial run that eventually led to establishing airmail routes between the Southeast and the Great Lake, United States,” Kane says.

As another example, in 1929, when severe flooding affected the southern parts of the state, Maxwell pilots and personnel loaded planes with supplies for victims and also took photographs to assist in relief efforts.

“The operation was the first large-scale use of military aircraft in the continental United States for domestic relief operations,” Kane says.

An American flight cadet getting into the cockpit of a Maxwell AT-6 Texan in 1942. As apparently there is no one in the back seat, this cadet is probably getting ready to “solo,” the final flight in which the cadet flies without an instructor to show he has learned how to fly.

In the 1930s, the Air Corps Tactical School – the Air Corps’ first organization to provide professional military education – was relocated to the field. Faculty and students also worked on air power doctrine development that would be put to use during World War II.

Wartime turned Maxwell’s mission to flight training for American and Allied pilots. Then, as post-war planning began for a separate air force, military leaders envisioned the educational needs that would put Maxwell at the center of the branch’s leadership and doctrine development.

“In 1946, Air University came to Maxwell, and that is our current mission – professional and continuing education for airmen,” Kane says. Known as the intellectual and leadership development center of the Air Force, Maxwell’s main organization has immeasurable impact.

“The Air University reaches virtually every airman – officer, enlisted, civilian, Reserve, and Guard – in some way or another, whether it is attending one of our accredited 10-month colleges or for one of our shorter courses,” says Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, AU commander and president.

“Nearly every single officer and a preponderance of our enlisted corps will drive through the gates of Maxwell or Gunter at some point in their career.”

An educational mission

The educational portfolio is expansive. Air University offers accredited associate, master’s, and doctoral degrees through the Community College of the Air Force, Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, and the Air Force Institute of Technology located in Dayton, Ohio. Programs such as the Officer Training School and ROTC programs are responsible for commissioning 85 percent of new officers.

An assortment of textbooks used at the Air Corps Tactical School. Academics at the school included the study of air tactics and strategy, ground tactics, and command and logistics. By 1939, the Department of Air Tactics and Strategy had become the most dominant division of the school as it presented and explored current and emerging airpower doctrine.

“Through our resident and distance learning programs, Air University educates over 180,000 Total Force Airmen, sister service, and international military students every year,” Cotton says.

“Our curriculum is constantly evolving to ensure we adapt to emerging threats and meet the intent of our national strategic goals,” Cotton adds. “Air University educates, trains and challenges today’s warriors so they’re prepared to lead in tomorrow’s conflicts, hand-in-hand with our joint and coalition warfighters, on every battlefield, whether it’s in air, space, or cyberspace.” Air power doctrine development and aerospace-related research are also major functions.

While Air University is the major organization at Maxwell, the 42nd Air Base Wing provides installation support for all entities on the base as well as the Gunter Annex. Among them, the Air Force Reserve Command’s 908th Airlift Wing is the flying unit located at Maxwell. Gunter Annex is home to most of the Air Force’s enlisted professional military and specialized education programs and also hosts the entities that oversee the Air Force’s information technology capabilities.

Engine and Aircraft Repair Depot #3, renamed Maxwell Field in the 1920s

The 42nd Air Base Wing serves more than 10,500 military personnel, civilians, contractors, and students annually and supports over 22,800 family members and over 52,600 military retirees in Alabama’s River Region, according to Kane. In addition, the Maxwell-Gunter complex combined military and civilian payroll totals over $707.2 million, and the base has an average fiscal economic impact of around $1 billion.

Co-ops come together to respond to hurricanes

By Allison Law

A lineman from Cherokee EC uses a bucket truck to do line work on equipment damaged by Hurricane Michael in the Wiregrass EC service territory. (Photo by Melissa Gaines, Wiregrass EC)

When Hurricane Michael was still brewing in the Gulf, Alabama’s rural electric cooperatives were watching carefully, and a massive plan of recovery was already taking shape long before the Category 4 storm made landfall.  

From the very beginning of the rural electrification program in the 1930s, electric cooperatives have relied on other cooperatives to assist in times of disasters. But it requires a delicate balance: Storms are difficult to predict, and in the case of Michael, co-ops in the southern part of Alabama were willing to commit to sending crews to help others restore power, but had to make sure the crews weren’t needed by their own co-op first. 

As the storm neared the coast and its path became more clear, the South Alabama, Pea River and Wiregrass co-ops requested aid, and the Alabama Rural Electric Association began coordinating the requests for help and the crews from sister co-ops that would respond once the storm had passed.

The storm slammed into the Florida coast and cut a swath hundreds of miles wide through the panhandle, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia. Its devastating winds uprooted trees, damaged homes and buildings and took out power to nearly 26,000 homes and businesses served by Alabama co-ops.

Michael moved on, and while residents were left to clean up the aftermath, the co-ops went right to work to help restore power.

Crew members from Baldwin EMC gather for a safety briefing before heading out to restore power in the Wiregrass.

South Alabama EC was able to handle its own outages, so Alabama crews went to Pea River, headquartered in Ozark, and Wiregrass, with its main office in Hartford. Crews came from many Alabama co-ops: Baldwin, Black Warrior, Central Alabama, Cherokee, Clarke-Washington, Coosa Valley, Covington, Cullman, Dixie, Joe Wheeler, Marshall-DeKalb, North Alabama, Sand Mountain, South Alabama, Southern Pine, Tallapoosa River and Tombigbee. 

For these responders, the days are long and the work is physically very hard. But helping others is just the cooperative way.

 “Alabama’s cooperatives are always willing to help our fellow co-ops when there is a need,” says AREA president and CEO Fred Braswell. 

Taking care of our own

The host co-ops – the ones that requested the help – have a difficult task in the wake of any storm. They have to help coordinate the visiting crews, and show the crews where the damage is. The host co-op also helps handle the logistics of housing and feeding the crews; at the same time, the employees are often dealing with issues in their own homes and neighborhoods, which may have been damaged or have no power. 

For Hurricane Michael, the National Peanut Festival fairgrounds in Dothan opened its facilities to house the visiting crews, and its staff helped Jeff Whatley of AREA and Jason Saunders of Covington EC take care of the men.

The days were tiring for everyone involved, but the co-op family really is like a family, Whatley says.

Shower units for the co-op crews at the National Peanut Festival camp, provided by the Alabama Baptist State Convention.

“The morale is strong, it’s good,” he said while the crews were still there, “because we are still in Alabama. It is all Alabama crews working. These guys know each other from schools, and they’re seeing people they haven’t seen in years, who they know from past storms.”

Linemen are the most visible personnel during storm restoration, but they’re not the only ones working. In addition to the nearly 200 linemen who responded after Hurricane Michael, Alabama’s co-ops sent a handful of materials management staff, right-of-way crews, engineering staff and mechanics to help. And AREA sent three of its safety staff to the southeast Alabama co-ops to help coordinate the response.

The right-of-way crews are an integral part of the power restoration process. They operate specialty equipment that can move and remove debris, which makes the job of restoring power much faster and safer. 

And the communities that were hit hard were giving back, too. At the Peanut Festival camp, a local church volunteered to wash the linemen’s clothes; a mobile clothes washing station was provided by the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Local restaurants prepared meals. And families of Wiregrass EC linemen helped Whatley do laundry as well. 

“Everything about this storm is Alabama, 100 percent.” Whatley says.

Helping others

The hurricane season for Alabama was quiet until September. Hurricane Michael came on the heels of Hurricane Florence, which made landfall near Wilmington, N.C., on Sept. 14.

Outage numbers in co-op areas in North Carolina alone topped 300,000 after the storm came ashore.

A crew from Marshall-DeKalb EC prepares to erect a power pole in the storm-ravaged Wiregrass EC service territory.
Photo by Melissa Gaines, Wiregrass EC

Rural electric cooperatives in several states, including Alabama, sent crews to both North and South Carolina to help restore power there. 

 Alabama’s co-ops were eager to help sister co-ops even in another state.

“The response was overwhelming,” says Eric Turner, safety specialist with AREA. “A few crews didn’t get to go, but the ones who did were eager, ready to help out and do whatever they needed to do to make people’s lives a little bit better,” Turner says.

Alabama co-ops sent 102 men in 68 trucks to seven co-ops in North Carolina.

More Photos

Line workers from Wiregrass EC prepare a new pole to replace a broken one. (Photo by Melissa Gaines, Wiregrass EC)
Crews from Marshall-DeKalb EC raise a new power pole to restore electricity to an area in the Wiregrass EC service territory. (Photo by Melissa Gaines, Wiregrass EC)
A crew from South Alabama EC sets a new power pole in an area hit hard by Hurricane Michael. (Photo by Michael Kelley)
Before sunrise, co-op personnel are preparing for their workday, when they will work long hours to help restore power. (Photo by Michael Kelley)
A crew member from Cherokee EC works to clear trees and debris in the Wiregrass EC area. (Photo by Melissa Gaines, Wiregrass EC)


Jerky’s No Joke

Once a pioneer staple, jerky is now a popular nutritional snack

Slicing jerky by hand at Eufaula’s Hickory Hollow Jerky Company are, from left, Jacob Laing, Kyle Bartkiewicz, Grant Tyler, and Miles Redding.

By Jennifer Kornegay

While several national brands use humorous commercials to promote their products, jerky is no joke; it’s big business. Jerky is essentially dried meat; the removal of water and usually, addition of salt, preserves it, extending its shelf life. Even though no one knows when the first jerky appeared, most sources believe it has been made and consumed on a large scale for more than 500 years, originating with the Incas in South America as early as the 1500s and traveling up to the culture and customs of North America’s indigenous peoples.

When Europeans came to the New World, they discovered what Native Americans (of both continents) had long known: jerky’s value as a highly nutritious food that was lightweight, didn’t take up much space, wouldn’t spoil and was therefore perfect for long journeys. It traveled West with pioneers; it gave cowboys energy for wrangling; and it has sustained U.S. soldiers as a part of military rations.

Get Some! Visit Gulf Coast House of Jerky at The Wharf in Orange Beach or order its products online at Order Hickory Hollow Jerky at or find it in convenience stores throughout south Alabama.

The jerky from centuries ago was made from whatever meat was around and most often, seasoned with only salt. Through the decades, it has changed to meet increasing consumer demand for a wider range of seasonings to create diverse flavors, and it’s no longer limited to just a few forms of meat.

Today, what was once an important form of sustenance has evolved into a favorite snack as readily available as the nearest convenience store. It’s become so sought-after, there are now stores selling nothing but jerky. And there are a few of them in Alabama, including Gulf Coast House of Jerky in Orange Beach, owned by Johnny Wiggins and his wife Phyllis. When he was first introduced to the jerky store idea, he wasn’t even a fan of the treat. “It was the business model and how well these stores were doing that sold me,” he said. “We’ve been very successful with lots of repeat clientele.”

He opened in 2015 and has already had to move to a bigger space and is considering a second store in Chattanooga. He’s surfing the swelling wave of jerky popularity, which itself is being fed by our snack-obsessed society. But even diehard snackers are becoming increasingly health conscious now, and according to Wiggins, his jerky is still a great fit.

“Many jerkies have loads of chemicals in them to preserve them, but not ours,” Wiggins said. His jerkies are not made at the store, but at the parent company’s facility in California. “Everyone is so concerned about health out there, and we are finding more and more health-conscious customers here too,” he said.

His products have no nitrates, MSG or artificial colors and are low sodium, using only natural pineapple juice sugar to help maintain freshness. “We are putting out some of the healthiest jerky around.”

After one bite, they wanted more

But you don’t have to rely on the West Coast to create a good-for-you jerky. Russ Robbins is also doing it in Eufaula at his Hickory Hollow Jerky company, founded in 2008. “All jerky is high in protein, low in fat, so that’s good,” he said. “And our jerkies don’t contain any artificial flavors or chemicals, no MSG, no sodium nitrate. We are all natural.”

Johnny and Phyllis Wiggins enjoy greeting visitors to their Gulf Coast House of Jerky at The Wharf in Orange Beach.

Hickory Hollow has also enjoyed success, and it came pretty quickly. It was Robbins’ family and friends begging for his homemade jerky that spurred the fulltime minister at Eufaula’s First Baptist Church to go commercial. “I’ve always loved jerky and started making it in Boy Scouts and experimented with different spices,” he said. “Those first few batches were not very good.”

But he finally found the right recipe, and he’d make it to take on youth mission trips and to give it out as gifts. Once people had a bite, they wanted more. “I realized there was a market for it, and with three kids in college, I liked the idea of extra income,” he said. His first month in business he sold 250 bags of jerky; by 2017, that number climbed to 53,381 bags. And 2018 sales are up by about 10 percent.

Being healthy is not enough to propel a food item to the heights jerky has hit. It also must taste good. For jerky, that means strong, concentrated flavor with a chewy, yet not stringy, texture. Judging by the sales figures at both House of Jerky and Hickory Hollow, theirs has this aspect in the bag too.

At Gulf Coast House of Jerky, there’s something for everyone (pet jerky treats, even vegan jerky) but the real appeal is the exotic, with jerky offerings running the gamut of edible animals including jerky made from pythons, snapping turtles, camels, wild boars, Mako sharks, trout, elk, buffalo, salmon and tuna. “It’s so different, and people really like the diversity and of course, the flavors,” Wiggins said. His store also has classic beef jerky, but not just any beef will do. It’s made from three different cuts of grass-fed beef: brisket, top round and tri-tip.

Hickory Hollow stays more traditional with its original version, a hickory smoked, black pepper beef jerky that is by far its best seller. It also offers five other beef jerky varieties: Teriyaki, Hot Shot (spicy), Sweet Heat BBQ, Jamaican Jerk and Macho Nacho, which incorporates notes of jalapenos and cheese.

And it’s all about the right ingredients for Robbins too, plus a time-tested method. “We don’t cut corners and use American beef, and all of our jerky is all hand-sliced with knives, not on equipment,” Robbins said. Hickory Hollow cuts about 1,000 pounds of meat a week, and after it’s sliced, it gets marinated for 10 to 12 hours and then goes into dehydrators for 9 to 12 hours before being bagged to distribute.

For both Wiggins and Robbins, relishing the smiles their jerky puts on others’ faces is as satisfying as anything they sell. “We want to please our customers and try to make the whole experience in the store fun for them,” Wiggins said. Robbins agreed. “I love the taste, but I believe whatever you do, do it heartily unto the Lord, so I strive to do this well and love that others get benefit from it,” he said.

The King of Crowns

South Alabama attorney’s pageant coaching inspires another TV series


Bill Alverson, an Andalusia attorney and nationally recognized pageant coach and reality TV star, has a new show – Netflix’s “Insatiable.”

By Stephanie Snodgrass

One day, Andalusia’s Bill Alverson is just an attorney whose accidental hobby as a pageant coach is just something he loves to do.

The next, a seven-page feature in The New York Times chronicling his pageant coaching story of Miss America wins crowns Alverson as the Pageant King. Before you know it, there’s a front row seat into his world on TLC’s “Coach Charming” and the CBS network buys his life rights.

And today, it’s a scripted show on Netflix – “Insatiable” – which has been picked up for a second season.

An accidental hobby

Alverson is a Dothan native and Auburn University graduate who earned his law degree from The University of Alabama. He began practicing in Andalusia in the early 1990s, specializing in family law and criminal defense.

He did not make a practiced entrance into the pageant coaching world. Instead, he discovered the talent when prompted by his church choir director nearly two decades ago to help a local teen. Soon, word spread.

Over the years, Alverson honed his craft, making his way into the Miss Alabama Pageant system. When three of his clients earned back-to-back Miss Alabama titles, he transitioned to the national stage. Today, his client list now includes at least three Miss America winners and scores of local, regional and national title holders.

“I feel that it’s our job to inspire those in front of us,” Alverson says. “When I look back on things, I can say that it’s been amazingly unbelievable. I never envisioned I’d be on a reality show, that I would have a TV show based on my life. Me? This small-town Alabama guy, who’d have thought it?”

But that’s exactly what happened. In 2014, Alverson’s rise as much-sought-after pageant coach landed him in The New York Times.

“I could not have planned it,” he says of the trajectory. “When I’ve done a lot of things to self-direct myself to create things, it has not been as successful. I do really well guiding others.

“I knew my path to go to law school and to become an attorney,” he says. “As an old-school Southerner, I guess when you have this dream, it takes a lot of faith.

“How I ended up on TV, it was completely out my spectrum,” he says. “I met one person, who met one person who got an article written – seven pages in The New York Times. Angelina Jolie and Donald Trump haven’t even had that. Who else gets that? Me. Strange right?”

That “unknown” factor played in Alverson’s favor. When the publication decided to accompany the written piece with a short video, Alverson was contacted by movie producers and directors all asking the same question: How does someone from Alabama wind up as a pageant coach?

Alverson’s quick wit, sharp tongue and all-honesty approach, which can be seen in the clip “Pageant King of Alabama” on YouTube, were all the markings needed for good television.

It just kind of happened

From there, the TLC show “Coach Charming” was born.

“Literally within 60 to 90 days after the article came out, I was signed by an agency and working with a production company for a non-scripted reality show,” Alverson says. “There is no way – and even as much as I like to create things to happen – could I have ever created a situation like that to happen.”

The TLC shows highlighted Alverson’s lawyerly approach to the clients he coaches, working on interview responses and perfecting their overall look and performance. It also gave insight into Alverson’s family life and how while practicing law with his son, William, he managed to juggle the demands of a second career.

“The fun thing about (‘Coach Charming’) was I got to do it with my family,” Alverson says. “What a lot of people don’t know is that while that show was happening, we were simultaneously working on ‘Insatiable.’ It was crazy.”

His newest project marks the first time a person has simultaneously achieved a scripted and non-scripted show, Alverson says.

Written by Lauren Gussis of “Dexter”and “Once Upon a Time” fame, the Netflix original series features Disney star Debby Ryan and Alyssa Milano, with Dallas Roberts filling the role based on Alverson’s experiences. It is the tale of a bullied teenager who – with the help of a disgraced attorney turned pageant coach who soon realizes he’s over his head – turns to pageants to exact her revenge. The “darkly comedic” 13-episode series debuted Aug. 10 and has been picked up for a second season.

Dallas Roberts and Debby Ryan star in “Insatiable”

“It’s just fun,” Alverson says of the show and its creation process. “I get to do a cameo in the first episode. I did a few lines, but I think only one made it in. It was very surreal to sit on the set with all these famous people with a chair that said ‘Insatiable’ on the back and know this is my story.”

In its early stages, the show received strong criticism that it “fat-shamed” young women and was detrimental to their self-confidence. One woman led a petition for the show’s cancellation.

It wasn’t a surprise to Alverson.

“The woman is an international spokesperson on this issue and basically saw an opportunity,” he says. “After the show was released, her petition essentially died because it falsely represented the show, and in fact, the show does the exact opposite.

“The show is satire and is off-cuff humor, but it does show the negative effects of many different types of bullying and the results of being a victim of bullying,” he said. “It’s a comedy, but the show’s design is to evoke conversation, which clearly it has.”

His Hollywood moment

Since 2014, Alverson has traversed the strange path to Hollywood. Again, the word “surreal” comes to mind, he says.

“I coach differently,” Alverson says. “I get why people say pageants are shallow and superficial. One of my lines in the (TLC) show was, ‘Life is a pageant.’

“It was true then, and it’s true today. It is. Everywhere you go. If it’s not, why are you dressing your kid cute for picture day? It’s how it affects you and what you do with it.”

Alverson described himself as “very lucky and very fortunate” to have met people who are successful and credits his journey with those meetings.

“We all have ideas of what we would love for our life to be,” he says. “As a child, I wanted to be an ambassador. I remember watching TV and visualizing myself in it. Little did I know that one day, that would become true.

“When I coach, I tell my clients to be prepared for the unexpected, but also be prepared to move in any circumstances and direction you’re in,” he says. “That’s what I’ve tried to do – be prepared for what comes my way and be thankful for it all.”

So, what’s next on Alverson’s to-do list?

“My grandfather told me he always wanted to learn something new every day,” Alverson says. “If other opportunities present themselves to be on TV, I’m all for it. I want to travel more. I’m always intrigued with people. I want to spend more time with my grandchildren.

“I’m a big Romans 8:28 guy – ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,’” he says. “I’m not a celebrity. I’ve been to Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I’ve seen superstars, people who’ve been famous all my life. It was fun, but I hope – at the end of it all – I want to have made a difference when it counted the most.

“Because you know, the thing is, it could all be gone tomorrow,” he says. “So, don’t get lost in who you really are. I am still the guy who likes to ski on Gantt Lake, who goes to Walmart. But today, I’m planning on going to a premiere for a TV show.”

Nuts about Nuts


Nuts are some of the world’s most versatile foods, and they’re good for you too, so go nuts!


We use the word “nuts” as a blanket term to refer to a group of edible items that are actually not all the same thing. Take a container of mixed nuts: Peanuts are legumes (in the same family as many beans); cashews are the seeds of a drupe (which include stone fruits like peaches) and so are almonds and pecans; hazelnuts are true tree nuts.

     These are fun facts to impress your friends with at parties (while snacking on a handful of the above), but no matter how “nuts” break down botanically, they get lumped together thanks to their common traits, characteristics that make them versatile, extremely tasty and for many, almost addictive. (When was the last time you ate a single cashew?)

     They’ve got their own species-specific tastes but their shared buttery, rich flavors and crunchy-that-turns-to-creamy textures make them a popular stand-alone treat and a workhorse ingredient for a wide array of dishes. Nuts are found in myriad recipes — both savory and sweet — and almost always hold their own with other big, bold tastes.

     And they’re healthy. Each has its own nutrition numbers, but they’re all good sources of protein and fiber and have been linked to staving off several different categories of chronic disease. And while they are high in fat, it’s mostly monounsaturated fat and omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fat, aka the “good” fats.

     Since nuts boast so many positive attributes, it’s no wonder we got so many reader recipes chock full of them. Try a few. Or try them all. You’d be nuts not to at least try one.

Cook of the Month:

Carolyn Shears, Tallapoosa River EC

Carolyn Shears began experimenting with baking early; when she was still a child, her mom would get her the ingredients she needed for anything she wanted to try. “Then, she’d cut me loose in the kitchen,” Shears says. “Sometimes what I made was good; sometimes it wasn’t, but that’s how you learn.” That education has kept going, and she put it to delicious use with her Bundle of Nuts cookies, a recipe she’s adapted from one she got in high school. “I’ve continued to modify it through the years,” she says. She makes the cookies often, as they’re favorites of both her husband and grandchildren, and she often makes them different ways for both groups. “My husband likes chocolate chips in them, and then sometimes I do different add-ins. Cranberries and hazelnuts are a great combo,” she says. She encourages others to mix whatever nuts and whatever else they like into the versatile dough. “Making them yours is what makes them so yummy.”

Bundle of Nuts Cookies

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose biscuit mix
  • 2/3 cup pecans, walnuts, peanuts, almonds or hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries or chocolate chips

Blend sugar and butter. Add eggs, vanilla and milk; stir until mixed. Add biscuit mix. Blend well. Mix in desired nut and toppings. Divide dough if you want half one nut and half another. Cook’s choice. Roll out and cut in shapes or drop by spoonful on a well-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Yield: about 3 dozen. Remove from pan while hot and place on a cooling rack.

BBQ Pecans

  • 2 tablespoons margarine, melted
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon catsup
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 4 cups pecan halves
  • Salt (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients; stir in pecans and mix well. Spread pecans and mix well. Spread pecans evenly in a shallow baking pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with salt.

Ann Fossett, North Alabama EC

Spiced Pecans

  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 4 cups pecan halves

Beat egg whites and water. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, nuts and spices. Dip pecan halves in egg mix, then in the spice mixture. Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 275 degrees for 30 minutes.

Barbara Walker, Coosa Valley EC


  • 2 cups raw peanuts
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar

Combine ingredients; cook until water is almost gone, stirring constantly. Remove nuts from heat and spread on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 325-335 degrees. The peanuts will turn a light pink and will be crusted with sugar.

Lexie Turnipseed, Dixie EC

Nutty Cereal Crunch

  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 cups cornflakes
  • 1 cup salted peanuts
  • 1 cup salted cashews
  • 1/2 cup almonds (sliced) or macadamia nuts

In a large Dutch oven or large saucepan, melt butter; stir in brown sugar and cinnamon until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Combine cornflakes and nuts; add to sugar mixture and stir to coat. Spread onto two greased baking sheets. Cool; break into chunks. Yield: 10 cups.

Peggy Key, North Alabama EC

Ann’s Star Clusters

  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 5 cups roasted Alabama peanuts

Melt Crisco; add chocolate and melt slowly, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter; blend well. Stir in Alabama roasted peanuts and drop by tablespoons onto waxed paper lined cookie sheets. Chill until firm. Store in refrigerator until needed. Yield: 40 to 50 clusters.

Ann Varnum, Wiregrass EC

Southern Pecan Pie

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup pecans chopped
  • 19-inch pie shell, unbaked
  • Mix first five ingredients together and pour into pie shell. Put chopped pecans on top. Bake at 350 degrees until set, approximately 45 minutes.

Marlene Dekok, Baldwin EMC

Praline Pecans

  • 3½ cups pecan halves
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan. Cover large cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Set aside. Spread pecans in single layer in prepared baking pan. Combine corn syrup, brown sugar and butter in a 2 cup glass measuring cup or small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave 30 seconds to 1 minute more or until boiling rapidly. Stir in vanilla and baking soda until well blended. Drizzle evenly over pecans; stir with wooden spoon until evenly coated. Bake in the oven 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes of baking with a wooden spoon. Immediately transfer mixture to the prepared baking sheet, spreading pecans evenly over foil with a lightly greased spatula. Cool completely. Break pecans apart with wooden spoon. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks. Makes about 5 cups.

Beverly Hanson, Tombigbee EC

Sweet and Nutty Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

  • 1 loaf stale Italian bread
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla flavoring
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Maple Whiskey Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup

Cut bread into cubes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk in eggs, combine sugar, add milk, syrup and vanilla flavoring. After it all has been mixed together, pour mixture over bread, stirring carefully. Take a handful of walnuts and raisins and drop into bowl, stirring gently. Pour mixture into a greased baking dish and top with remaining walnuts and raisins. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 365 degrees.

Make maple whiskey sauce. In a medium saucepan on low heat, add sugar, melted butter and egg, stirring lightly. Add whiskey. Stir sauce as it gets hot, then add in vanilla flavoring and maple syrup. After bread pudding has been removed from oven, gently pour whiskey sauce on top. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sharlene Parker, Baldwin EMC

Cranberry Walnut Feta Pinwheels

  • 18-ounce cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup chives, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
  • 1/4-1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 4 flour tortillas (10-inch)

Place cream cheese in a small bowl and beat until fluffy. Add in remaining ingredients (except tortillas) and mix well. Spread the mixture evenly over the 4 tortillas. Roll each tortilla in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Cut into slices and serve.

Mary Rich, Sand Mountain

Butter Pecan Bars

  • 1 box butter pecan cake mix
  • 2 sticks margarine, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 18-ounce block cream cheese, softened
  • 11-pound box confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine cake mix, 1 stick margarine and 1 slightly beaten egg. Press into a greased and floured 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add the other stick of softened margarine, the other two eggs and the confectioners’ sugar. Mix well. Pour over cake mix layer. Top with pecans. Bake for one hour. Cool and cut into squares.

Jane Kendrick, Coosa Valley EC

Peanut Brittle I Can Eat

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of light white corn syrup
  • 1 3/4 cup of dry roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda

Stir sugar and syrup in 2-quart microwaveable dish. Put in a 1,000-watt microwave and heat for 5 minutes. Bowl and mixture will get very hot. Then stir in peanuts and microwave for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Stir mixture again and microwave for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and quickly stir in margarine (stir about 15 times.) Then add vanilla and quickly stir (about 15 times.) Add baking soda and quickly stir (about 15 times or less, do not over stir.) Quickly pour onto lightly buttered cookie pan. Gently shake and tilt pan to spread out the mixture. Allow to cool. Twist pan to loosen peanut brittle, flip over and crack into pieces with a large metal spoon. Allow microwave bowl to cool before soaking in the sink. It is amazing how easy it will clean up after you let it soak.

Melanie Henry, Franklin EC

Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, cream the butter, vanilla extract and brown sugar together. Beat in eggs. Add oats. Mix well. Stir in the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Add the pecans and cranberries. Mix until combined. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly brown. Remove from oven a bit earlier for chewy/soft cookies. Cool on a rack. Yields: 24 cookies.

Robin O’Sullivan, Wiregrass EC

Send us your recipes for a chance to win!

November’s prize pack winner is Beverly Hanson of Tombigbee EC!

Themes and Deadlines

  • January: Protein-packed | Nov 8
  • February: Pasta | Dec 3
  • March: Instant Pot | Jan 13

Ways to submit: Online:    Email:

Mail: Recipes, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124

Cook of the Month winners will receive $50 and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year. One gift basket winner will be drawn monthly at random and each name will be entered only once. Items in basket may vary each month. To be eligible, submissions must include a name, phone number, mailing address and co-op name. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.

Houseplants are perfect winter companions

Winter is coming, a time when the doldrums can set in and when plant lovers often find themselves in need of an indoor gardening project. I know just the “project”: adopt a houseplant!

Not only can houseplants help us get a winter gardening fix, they also provide many other benefits including improving indoor air quality and our immune systems, absorbing noise and enhancing our general sense of well-being and even our productivity.

Whether you already have adopted some houseplants or are considering becoming a first-time houseplant owner, now is a perfect time to get — or give — them, and here are a few hints to make them — and you — happier this winter.

Prune dead leaves from plants when you bring them in for the winter. Photo by Katie Jackson

Begin by making sure the plants, especially those that resided outside or in a plant nursery all summer, are free of any diseases or creatures, such as spiders, lizards, frogs and other critters that may have taken up residence in their leaves, stems or potting medium. Simply cleaning plant foliage with a damp sponge or cloth (using water or a dilute mixture of water and a gentle dish soap) helps remove problem pests and also dust and dirt that can reduce a plant’s ability to absorb light through its foliage.

If you find specific insect or disease problems on your plants, a mild pesticidal soap may be in order, though choose one that targets your particular pest problem. Removing dead leaves or stems from the plants or from the potting medium’s surface will also help reduce or eliminate pest problems.

Next, carefully select a location in your house or office where the plants will reside. Sun-loving plants usually need a spot with bright, though preferably indirect, light, such as a room with a south-facing window. Shade-preferring plants might do better in rooms with east- or west-facing windows. If you don’t have access to natural light, consider investing in a grow-light.

Be prepared to move plants around in a room or in the house throughout the season to take advantage of ever-changing angles of the winter sun, and try to turn the pots occasionally so each side of the plant gets access to whatever light source you’re using.

Proper temperature is also important for houseplants, which typically need an ambient temperature of 65-75 degrees F during the day and not lower than 50 degrees F at night. Keep plants away from direct hot or cold air sources, such as heating vents or cold windowpanes, too.

The biggest obstacle most of us face when trying to keep houseplants healthy is moisture — it’s a problem of both too much and too little. Typically, heat in our homes is dry, which can be tough on plants, especially those that crave humid conditions. Placing houseplants in rooms where you regularly create a bit of humidity, such as a bathroom, laundry area or kitchen, can help. You can also use a humidifier, place plants above (though not in) a tray of water or cluster plants together so they share the moisture that their leaves naturally produce and respire.

While they need moisture, most plants typically need less water during the winter when many species would naturally go dormant, plus too much moisture in a potting medium can kill plants by promoting diseases and root rot issues. While water needs vary among plant species, most should only be watered when the potting medium an inch or two below the surface, not on the surface, becomes dry.

Keep an eye on your plants throughout the growing season for signs of health issues or pests and snip off leggy or dying branches, stems, leaves and flowers as needed. However, don’t do extensive pruning, repotting or fertilizing during the winter. Save all of those chores for the spring when the plants begin to wake up from their long winter naps and are ready to put on new growth.

Finding houseplants that truly fit your lifestyle and indoor growing conditions may take some trial and error, and, yes, you may lose a few before you perfect your houseplant skills. But if you do a little research about plants before you bring them home, you’ll be able to keep your gardening soul and these gardening soulmates happy throughout the winter and for years to come.

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