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In this periodic feature, we highlight books either about Alabama people or events, or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to Due to the volume of submissions, we are unable to feature all the books we receive.

100 Things to Do in Alabama Before You Die, by Mary Johns Wilson, Reedy Press, $18 (travel) This guidebook provides a bucket list that celebrates the top ways to connect with the entire state. From the state’s natural scenic wonders to its favorite eateries and dishes, the book notes many of the historic sites and interesting attractions that make Alabama unique.

The Slave Who Went to Congress, by Frye Gaillard and Marti Rosner, NewSouth Books, $18.95 (young readers) In 1870 Benjamin Turner, who spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave, was elected to the U.S. Congress, the first African American from Alabama to earn that distinction. The authors use Turner’s own words to craft the story of a man who was on a lifetime quest for education and freedom.  

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: A Memoir of Learning to Believe You’re Gonna Be Okay, by Sean Dietrich, Zondervan Books, $24.99 (Southern memoir) The “Sean of the South” author remembers his father, who was his childhood hero yet took his own life when Dietrich was only 12. The book is the story of what happens after the unthinkable, and the journey we all must make in finding the courage to stop the cycles of the past. 

Sweet Mystery: A Book of Remembering, by Judith Hillman Paterson, first published in 1996 and reissued by The University of Alabama Press, $24.95 (Southern memoir) Paterson was just 9 in 1946 when her mother died of alcoholism and mental illness at the age of 31. Set largely in Montgomery, the author shares the memories of her mother, set against a backdrop of relatives troubled almost as much by Southern conflicts over race and class as by the fallout from a family history of drinking, denial and mental illness. 

Roy, ‘Rocky’ and Red Ryder; Hoppy, Durango and Mo(o)re, by Dr. Jim Vickrey, Dorrance Publishing, $26 (film history) A movie-based memoir about the waning days of the B-Western movie era from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s, and the lessons learned by the author and his peers as they rode together on Saturdays with their cinematic cowboy heroes. The author grew up and lives in Montgomery. 

The Founding of Alabama: Background and Formative Period in the Great Bend and Madison County, by Frances Cabaniss Roberts, The University of Alabama Press, $49.95 (Alabama history) The 1956 dissertation by the author, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama’s history department, is a classic text that continues to be cited by Southern historians. This text, edited and introduced by Thomas Reidy, offers one of the earliest accountings of the antebellum Southern middle class.

Whereville, AL

Identify and place this Alabama landmark and you could win $25! Winner is chosen at random from all correct entries. Multiple entries from the same person will be disqualified. Send your answer by March 9 with your name, address and the name of your rural electric cooperative. The winner and answer will be announced in the April issue.

Submit by email:, or by mail: Whereville, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124.

Contribute your own photo for an upcoming issue! Send a photo of an interesting or unusual landmark in Alabama, which must be accessible to the public. A reader whose photo is chosen will also win $25. 

February’s Answer

This rock, located at the Little River Canyon National Preserve near Fort Payne, has also been known as the Needle Eye Rock due to the slot in its base. The preserve’s National Park Service website offers an unverified story about its history: Several decades ago, a road crew constructing the original scenic drive refused to blast away the rock formation, despite plans that called for its removal. The crew built the road around it instead. (Photo by Carolyn Garrison)

The randomly drawn correct guess winner is Martha Kirby of Sand Mountain EC.

March Spotlight

Need help starting (or sticking to) a new exercise routine?

If you’ve struggled in the new year to create an exercise or workout routine for yourself or your family, try these ideas from HealthMed Inc.:

Find something you can stick with. If you dread trying to run, try something else. There are countless ways to exercise, including: weight training, at-home workouts, swimming, walking groups, bicycling and group classes (such as Zumba or spin cycle). Local gyms and YMCAs often give free or discounted trials.

Schedule it and plan it out. Starting to exercise requires intentional planning, so take your workout clothes with you to work each day or carve out time on the family’s calendar each week for exercise.

Start small. Know that establishing a new routine is more important than the amount of time you can exercise, or the weight you can lift. Give your body time to adjust to the new demands you’re asking of it.

Archives announces Food for Thought schedule

The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) has announced the 2020 schedule for its popular Alabama history lunchtime lecture series, Food for Thought. The free lectures are held the third Thursday of every month at 12 p.m. in the Archives’ auditorium in Montgomery. 

This year’s lineup, in part: Paul M. Pruitt Jr., “Julia Tutwiler’s Life of Service,” March 19; Erin Stewart Mauldin, “Gone with the Land: The Environmental History of the Civil War in Alabama,” April 16; Andrew Frank, “Food in the Native South and the Curious Case of Coontie,” May 21; and James R. Hansen, “Dear Neil Armstrong”: Alabamians’ Letters to the First Man on the Moon, June 18.

For the full schedule and more information, visit or call 334-242-4364.

Take us along!

Thanks to those who’ve sent photos of their travels with a copy of Alabama Living! Send us a photo of yourself with a copy of your favorite magazine on your travels and you might win $25 if your photo is published! We’ll draw one winner each month. Send your photo and information to:

Winner: Barbara P. Rugg

Barbara P. Rugg of Daleville submitted this photo while vacationing in Budapest, Hungary. She’s outside the Danubius Hotel Astoria City Center.  Barbara is a member of Pea River Electric Cooperative.  

Jay Goodwin of Wetumpka, a member of Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, took his copy to Little Cayman Beach Resort on Little Cayman Island.

Meredith and James Dixon of Dothan, members of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative, took their magazine aboard a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard the Regal Princess.

Find the hidden dingbat

Last month’s hidden heart dingbat must have been easy to find, as more than 1,000 readers sent in correct guesses. The red heart adorned the sweater of the girl in the “streaker” illustration for Hardy Jackson’s column on streakers on Page 50. Several readers pointed out that the girl was holding a drink in her hand, and Jewel McCormick of Pioneer EC noted, “I’m surprised she did not drop it.” 

Poet Eleanor Madigan, 85, of Dothan gave us a chuckle:

   Enjoying the sudden pleasant weather,

   She wore the heart on her white sweater.

   When suddenly appeared a streaker

   Sporting nothing but his sneaker,

   Acting like a blimey fool

   By showing off the family jewel. 

Nancy Barrentine of Wiregrass EC said she didn’t find the dingbat, but her 9-year-old granddaughter, Katie Adams, found it in one pass. Rheba Chaney of Valley Head always looks for the dingbat from back to front, which made this month’s heart easy to find. At least one reader (we’ll just give her first name, Sue, to protect her privacy) said she definitely remembered the days of streaking because “I was one of them who just had to try it. I always believed you should try things while you can, so you can laugh about it when you can’t.”

Several readers incorrectly guessed the heart was in an advertisement for license plates, but remember: It will never be hidden in an ad. It also won’t be on Pages 1-8. Congratulations to Diane Melton of Montgomery, a member of Dixie EC, our March winner. This month we’re hiding a pair of garden shears. Good luck!

Deadline for submitting your answer is March 9.

By email:

By mail: Find the Dingbat, Alabama Living, P.O. Box Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124

New website has resources for safer schools

A new website,, provides one-stop access to federal school safety resources, programs and recommendations to help create a safe and supportive learning environment for students.

The website is for K-12 administrators, educators, parents and law enforcement to prepare for and address various threats related to safety, security and support in schools. The site is one of the key recommendations from the Federal Commission on School Safety, which was established after the school shootings in Parkland, Fla., in March 2018.

The site has access to free information, guidance, best practices and tools that make school safety initiatives more actionable in schools. Topics covered include bullying, mental health, threat assessment and reporting, emergency planning and more.

Letter to the editor

Streakers and Ray Stevens

Let’s all go streaking!  This month’s red “heart” is located on page 50 of the February 2020 Alabama Living on the front of the lady’s sweater in Hardy Jackson’s article about the streakers!  Hardy should have made mention of Ray Stevens’ “streaking” song (“Oh yes, they call him the streak!”)  I was 9 years old in 1974 and vividly remember having a T-shirt (as did several of my friends) that said “Keep On Streaking.” And I also vividly remember a police officer commenting about my shirt that if anyone actually tried it, they’d receive a hefty $500 fine!  Ha!

Enjoyed the article and thanks for the memories!

Amy & Jason Winningham, Decatur

No regrets

I am indeed one of the “boys and girls of February ’74” at AU.

 Along with many of my friends who also participated in that harmless frolicking, I believe we have all lived up to your description of responsible, caring, and devoted adults for the many years that have passed since that period of unexplainable frivolity.

 My BSME ’78 has always been utilized and shared with the best of intentions, as with friends I’ve followed through the years. 

Thank you so much for taking me back to those memories and for doing so in a such a light, inquisitive, and understanding way!  I might not have made the same decisions in the following days, weeks, or months but neither do I regret those choices in the environment that prevailed those few “special” days.  Instead I believe those days to be one of the important events of my transition as a professional.

Write on!

Mike McBride, Silverhill

Email us at:

Write us at: Letters to the editor, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124

Brag about your hometown

Tell us why your hometown is special or unique. We’re looking for stories, no more than 200 words, about Alabama’s towns and small cities (no urban or suburban areas). Email your story to Allison Law,, or mail it to her attention, Alabama Living magazine, 340 Technacenter Drive, Montgomery, AL 36117. Please include your name and contact information. Deadline is March 13, 2020.

The stone that built a city

Sylacauga prepares to celebrate its famous marble

From the quarries where the marble White as the Paros gleams waiting till thy sculptor’s chisel, wake to like thy poet’s dream. – Julia Tutwiler, “Alabama” state song

By Jim Plott

Sylacauga is home to three marble quarries. Photo courtesy of Sylacauga Magic of Marble Festival

It may be Sylacauga’s second most famous rock, but considering the city’s most famous rock came from outer space, being number two isn’t too shabby.

Sylacauga marble, the city’s second most famous rock, has been on the scene a lot longer than the 8.5-pound meteorite that fell out of sky on Nov. 30, 1954. That rock punctured the roof of a house and landed on 31-year Ann Hodges while she was dozing on her couch, leaving her with bruises. 

 And, Sylacauga marble also has a festival in its honor. 

For more than a decade, the Sylacauga Magic of Marble Festival has been attracting artisans from primarily the U.S., Europe and Asia who spend two weeks crafting Sylacauga marble into pieces of art. 

“We provide the marble, the tools and the work area and it is their job to bring a design that they can complete,” says Dr. Ted Spears, festival founder and chairman. 

Ruth Beaumont Cook, standing beside a marble bust of Mercury, devoted nine years of research and writing to produce her book, “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story.” Photo by Jumpier Plott

“It is truly amazing the things they can produce in two weeks.”

While not your typical arts and crafts festival, visitors can visit the tents at Blue Bell Park while the sculptors work. Tours are conducted at the three area marble quarries (Imerys, Omya and Sylacauga Marble) and the B.B. Comer Memorial Library, which houses a collection of marble sculptures. Some marble pieces are also sold at the library. 

(As a side trip, visitors can take a free self-guided tour of the Blue Bell Creameries plant which is adjacent to the festival. Tours are best done between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. The plant also has a country store.)

The festival arose out of a cultural exchange with Pietrasanta, Italy, which is near the Carrara quarries where Michelangelo obtained marble for his masterpiece of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ, or “Pieta.”

“We invited the mayor of Pietrasantra to Sylacauga and he brought along a dance troupe and a soprano opera singer to perform,” Spears says. “It was so successful that we, along with the support of the state Arts Council, decided to do something on an annual basis.”  

Chronicling the marble industry

To coincide with this year’s festival, which is March 31 through April 11, NewSouth Books of Montgomery in December released “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story.” Written by historical author Ruth Beaumont Cook, the book chronicles the multiple ebbs and flows of the city’s marble industry and weaves in tales of the people whose lives were influenced by Sylacauga marble, or “Sylacauga white” as some people call it.  

Native Americans first discovered the marble, but it was Edward Gantt, a surgeon in the army of Gen. Andrew Jackson, who commercialized it. Cook said Gantt most likely encountered the marble while troops were garrisoned at Ft. Williams near Sylacauga in preparation for the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. When the area was opened for settlement in the 1830s, Gantt returned and founded Gantt’s Quarry. Others established quarries along the 33-mile-long, 2-mile-wide and 400-foot deep marble vein that extends just southwest of Sylacauga nearly to the city of Talladega. 

Dr. Ted Spears, the founder and chairman of the Sylacauga Magic of Marble Festival, stands with a rotating sculpture depicting Ulysses on one side and Penelope on the other. The sculpture was carved by Italian sculptor Reno Maggi during a previous festival. Photo by Jim Plott

Cook says that in the early 1900s, Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who created Birmingham’s Vulcan statue, reportedly discovered Sylacauga marble when he saw a Bible crafted from it in the Birmingham office of Republic Steel executive John H. Adams. He had Adams take him to Sylacauga and a love affair between Moretti and Sylacauga marble was born. 

His carving, “The Head of Christ,” was one of his first pieces carved from Sylacauga marble and it accompanied him along with the Vulcan to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 where both were put on display.  

“It is said that he carried that piece with him wherever he went,” Cook said of the carving, which is now on display at the state Archives and History in Montgomery.

Moretti established a quarry in the area where he ran a commercial operation and continued to sculpt. However, a series of consequences resulted in Moretti leaving the quarry and Alabama in the 1920s.

Sylacauga marble can be found all over the world. In Washington D.C. alone, it has been used in some form in the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and U.S. Supreme Court building, in addition to the state Capitol and the state Archives in Montgomery.

Cook said the translucence and strength are what have made Sylacauga marble popular through the ages. 

“Moretti and others have said there are only two other places in the world that have this pure crystalline marble like Sylacauga, and that is the Island of Paros off the coast of Greece and the other is Carrara (in Italy),” Cook says. 

Cook says that long before Moretti, Alabama educator Julia Tutwiler made that same comparison and thought enough of the stone to pen a verse to it in what is now the state song, “Alabama.”

 Spears said the face of Sylacauga marble began changing in the 1960s when it became more valued crushed rather than in solid form. Although that didn’t go over well at first with many locals, it became a saving grace when the city’s top private employer, Avondale Mills, shut down in the early 2000s. 

Moretti’s “The Head of Christ” was one of his first and favorite sculptures from Sylacauga marble. It is on display at the state Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. Photo by Jim Plott

“Marble has been a boon to us,” Spears says. “Five out of the last six industries that have located in Sylacauga have come here because of the marble. It has saved us.”

And if you doubt that you have ever been exposed to Sylacauga marble, you might want to recalculate that thought. 

“Crushed marble is used in everything,” Spears said. “It’s calcium carbonate and it’s used in fertilizers, fiberglass, medicines, toothpaste, chewing gum and even that loaf of bread you buy at the store.”

If the marble festival runs its course, the marble won’t be to blame. Geologists estimate that at the current rate of extraction, there is still enough marble around Sylacauga to last 200 to 250 years. 

As to the city’s most famous rock, the Hodge meteorite, it is not totally ignored. In fact, on the grounds of the Sylacauga municipal complex, there is a monument to it – sculpted from marble.

Part of the massive columns for the U.S. Supreme Court building, which were quarried at Moretti-Hannah Marble company in Sylacauga. Photo courtesy of NewSouth Books
A tall obelisk shaped monument signed “e. Gantt” in Pine Hill Cemetery in Auburn. Dr. Edward Gantt was one of the first to recognize the potential of Sylacauga marble in the 19th century. Photo courtesy of NewSouth Books.
Giovanni Balderi’s “The Mask,” carved during the 2010 Magic of Marble Festival. Photo courtesy of NewSouth Books

Destruction before creation

Gifted sculptor transforms world-famous marble in his home state

By Jim Plott

In December, Craigger Browne began work on a statue honoring Mortimer Jordan, a commander in Alabama’s storied Rainbow Division and who lost his life in World War I.  Photo by Jim Plott

Craigger Browne’s search for quality marble took him a continent away. Little did he know at the time that it was waiting for him almost in his own backyard. 

The Alabama sculptor, whose carving resume is spread all over the state, took up sculpting while in art school in France. He continued it near Carrara, Italy, home to both the oldest stone studios and marble quarries in the world. Even when returning home to Birmingham, Carrara was his marble of choice. 

“I sort of laugh that I spent almost four years working there in Italy, and then going back and forth from Birmingham to Italy to get marble,” Browne says. “All that time I had no idea that I grew up 45 minutes north and went to college (at Montevallo) just west of the only other source of this beautiful pure white marble.”

Since his introduction to Sylacauga marble, Browne, 52, has become a mainstay in Sylacauga, and maintains an outdoor studio just a block from the city’s main thoroughfare.

His presence is evident. Just up the street at the city Municipal Complex is his “Sylacauga Emerging” monument, a tribute to the city’s storied marble industry which through new uses helped keep the city from ruin once a major industry closed.  

And across the street at the B.B. Comer Memorial Library is his “Once Upon a Time” statue series, which depicts former Mayor Curtis Liles, an education advocate, reading to children.   

His statue at Helen Keller’s childhood home, Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, pays tribute to Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan, while he also did a piece to commemorate Monroeville native Nell Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Currently, Browne is metamorphosizing a 24,000-pound block of marble into a tribute to Alabama physician and war hero Mortimer Jordan.

 “I tell people that the sculpting process is destruction before creation,” Browne says. “As opposed to starting with nothing and building up, what you are doing is already there and you are just uncovering it.”

The Jordan statue is being done as part of Alabama’s Bicentennial celebration, for which Browne has done several projects. Jordan’s statue will be placed at Mortimer Jordan High School in Morris. Jordan was a commander of Alabama’s distinguished Rainbow Division in World War I and was killed in combat. 

Among other projects, Browne also produced out of marble 21 Alabama Bicentennial Schools of Excellence awards.

“As opposed to starting with nothing and building up, what you are doing is already there and you are just uncovering it.”

“Craigger has been an important part of the Bicentennial in several ways,” says Jay Lamar, executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. “The fact that so gifted an artist from Alabama could play so important a role in several aspects of the celebration speaks to his talents, of course, and also the state’s pride in its makers.” 

A new place to call home

Browne grew up in Vestavia and attended the University of Montevallo on a baseball scholarship and where he received a degree in graphic arts.

“When I finished school, computers were taking over everything, and I didn’t want to spend my life in front of a computer,” Browne said.

He was able to get into the art school in Lacoste, France where he was introduced to stone carving.

“I started carving limestone, and I just fell in love with the process. It was so different from anything I had ever done,” Browne says.

Later as an assistant professor, he was able to study in Italy where he began carving “on what I thought was the best marble in world” at Carrara.

Browne was exposed to Sylacauga marble after returning to the states but didn’t think much of it. 

“Someone had given me a couple of pieces of the marble that had been scrapped,” he says. “It really didn’t work. There must have been a reason they were scrap pieces.”

A magazine article about Sylacauga marble, shown to him by a friend, reignited his interest and he decided to give it another try.

Browne’s sculpture of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan was created in 2017 for Ivey Green, Keller’s birthplace in Tuscumbia. Photo by Lenore Vickrey

“I haven’t stopped since in terms of carving with Sylacauga stone,” Browne says.

Browne said comparing Sylacauga marble and Carrara marble is like comparing “a Ferrari with a Lamborghini.” 

“They are both top of line and you are going to be happy with either one. I believe the marble here (in Sylacauga) is a little more translucent and really holds the light,” he says. “Either way you are always looking for the perfect stone, but this is natural material and perfect doesn’t exist.”

Whatever his future holds, Browne is comfortable with his station in life and the place he now calls home. 

“Sylacauga marble brought me here. It’s the people that make me stay,” Browne says.

Census 2020: Make sure you are counted

Packets will arrive in mid-March

Director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and Alabama Counts chairman Kenneth Boswell talks about Alabama’s 2020 Census effort at a kick-off event in January. ADECA serves as liaison between the state of Alabama and the Census Bureau. PhotoS by Hal Yeager/Governor’s office

It happens every 10 years, but state officials say this year’s census is the most important one in which Alabamians have participated. The results will determine if our state will lose billions in federal dollars for children, schools, health care, rural development programs and community programs important to rural areas, all of which are tied to census data. 

“In my lifetime, this is the most important census year ever,” Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell told a pep rally at the State Capitol in January that kicked off the state’s 2020 Census. 

Gov. Kay Ivey joined Boswell at the rally to encourage participation, reminding the audience of the stakes for 2020 – including $13 billion in federal funding, economic development and job opportunities and Congressional representation. Because of projected slow growth, Alabama could lose one of its seven seats in Congress, meaning one less voice for the state. 

Beginning March 12, every Alabama household should receive a notification in the mail that it’s time to complete the 2020 Census. The form contains 10 simple questions about basic household information and will take about six minutes to complete. 

The Census Bureau will never ask for Social Security numbers, bank or credit card account numbers, money or donations or anything on behalf of a political party. The information is private and will not be shared for any other purpose or with any other agency. 

Gov. Kay Ivey welcomed guests to the kick-off event and said much is at
stake in the 2020 Census, including $13 billion in federal funding for Alabama.

Alabamians may complete the form in one of three ways:

• Online via computer or smart phone, or

• Calling a toll-free number and talking with a U.S. Census Bureau employee, or

• Calling a toll-free number and requesting a traditional paper form.

All households across the country will receive information about how to respond in 12 non-English languages online and by phone.

The state is working with community colleges, businesses, schools, churches, and other community groups to educate as many Alabamians as possible about the importance of the census. A number of resources to help you get the word out are available at  If you are interested in applying for a temporary job to help with the census, go to

‘Sweet Grown Alabama’ new slogan for state foods

By M.J. Ellington

Beth Hornsby owns and operates Hornsby Farms outside Auburn, which features 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables and a farm cannery.  She feels the Sweet Grown Alabama program is long overdue and will be a help for the state’s farmers.

The request that came to the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries in early 2019 seemed like such a simple one. 

A large supermarket chain wanted to feature Alabama-grown and produced foods in its stores. The company asked for the state’s marketing slogan and copies of its logo and branding tools used for promoting Alabama agricultural products. The problem was Alabama had no coordinated program to promote its agricultural products, no logo and no slogan.

Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate had been in his job only a few weeks when a colleague broke the news about the exciting request and the challenge it presented. 

“He said, we’ve got a problem,” Pate says. During Pate’s campaign for the commissioner’s job, people kept telling him they want to know where their food comes from, so he could see the potential of such a program.

“It is such a simple thing, grown local,” Pate says. “Farmers want to grow; consumers want to know where their food comes from. How can we get them together? My role was to start the process.” He sought help from Jimmy Parnell of Alabama Farmer’s Federation and Horace Horn of PowerSouth Energy Cooperative. 

About 10 years ago, Alabama attempted to develop a coordinated branding program as several states nearby have. Pate said the effort was a casualty of turf questions, but not this time.

 “Once they realized this is not going to be an issue on the campaign trail, they bought in. This thing will have a million fathers,” Pate says. Other states that have adopted such a branding program have had good results, another motivation to develop the branding tools here.

By late summer 2019, the framework for Sweet Grown Alabama, a 501 C-6 nonprofit organization, was in place, dedicated to developing and operating the program. Pate, Horn and Parnell are its board of directors. Pate said he budgeted enough Agriculture Department funding to start the program with a goal to make the program self-sufficient and not dependent on future political tides.

Dream job for a farm-raised girl

Ellie Watson, an Auburn University agricultural communications graduate who grew up on a family farm in Colbert County, was hired as the director for Sweet Grown Alabama. She said the position is a dream job that had not yet been created when she finished college.

The past busy months, Watson has talked to farmers, to grocers, restaurateurs and other businesses that buy their goods and to the growing number of farmers markets. The website gives information about membership categories. Wat

son said billboards and social and print media will also help tell the program’s story.

“We will ask consumers to buy Alabama-grown food,” Watson says. She called the increased interest by consumer and grocer interest in locally grown food encouraging. 

Taylor Hatchett of Boozer Farms in Thorsby takes a sweet, juicy bite of one of the farm’s prized peaches.

This spring, Watson expects to have a searchable website operating where consumers can find out where to buy “locally sourced” food. 

“Consumers want to buy things grown here. It is fresher. It tastes better,” Watson says. There is also a local economy angle that affects consumers and farmers. 

“Of every dollar spent in your community, 60 cents stays in your community,” Watson says, pointing to the goods and services that farmers and other farm goods producers buy when with the revenue they earn. 

Pate and Watson both said one function of Sweet Grown Alabama will be to encourage farmers to grow more produce, to broaden the number of crops that consumers will buy here. Another will be to help farmers get good prices for their goods in the consumer market.

A hope for the future for young farmers

The people who operate family farms in Alabama are an aging population, something that Watson and Pate believe could change with the help of Sweet Grown Alabama. 

“We could solve the aging-out problem if farmers could get a decent price and have sources to sell to,” Pate says.

Two young women who operate family farms in Alabama and enthusiastically became grower members of Sweet Grown Alabama think the initiative can help state farmers and consumers.

Taylor Hatchett, president of Boozer Farms in Thorsby, a member of Central Alabama EC, got into farming in 2003 by growing and selling peaches as a way to help pay her tuition costs at Auburn University. She owns and operates the vegetable, fruit and sod farm with her father, Bobby Boozer, a retired Auburn University extension fruit specialist. Hatchett believes that a state agricultural branding program is critical to the future of Alabama agriculture.

“Alabama has a beautiful history as a leader in the production of many agricultural products and goods but what we have lacked is a unified system of branding and marketing those goods to proudly display that they are produced in Alabama and/or made from products produced in Alabama,” Hatchett says.

From left, Horace Horn, Jimmy Parnell and Rick Pate, Sweet Grown Alabama board members, look on as program director Ellie Watson introduces the branding program at a Birmingham farmers’ market.

As consumers learn more about food safety, environmental impact and local economic development, Hatchett said their desire for food grown and produced locally increases. “Consumers want access to their farmers, producers and artisans. They want to know more about the products they are eating and using and just how and where those products are produced. They want a connection to the hands responsible for growing and making the items they consume and use daily.”

On family land just outside Auburn, Beth Hornsby and her husband, Josh, established Hornsby Farms in 2013. What began as a family garden in 2008 is now a full-time working farm, and a member of Dixie EC, with 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables and a farm cannery.

“What better way to show the citizens of Alabama exactly where their food is grown and made,” Hornsby says. “For us, this means being able to connect visually with consumers by having the Sweet Grown Alabama logo on our produce packaging, as well as our sweet jams, jellies, pickles and honey.”

The branding program “will enable us to continue telling the story of Alabama agriculture and allow us to build on a great network of Alabama farms we work with every day,” Hornsby said.  “When our customers purchase our products, they know they can ask us important questions about how we grow and harvest our produce and create our canned goods. They can come to us with questions about how to prepare them, find other locally grown or made items and even how to start their own gardens.” 

“At the end of the day, Sweet Grown Alabama is long overdue,” Hornsby says.

Champion of Alabama’s beaches

Photo by Mary Sergent

For more than 20 years, Herb Malone has been arguably the state’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for Alabama’s Gulf Coast. With good reason, as he’s been promoting the coastal area for much of his life. A college football player who was a member of the Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama) 1971 NAIA national championship team, Malone was president/CEO of the Alabama Gulf Coast Area Chamber of Commerce from 1988 to 1993, working to recruit both businesses and guests to the area. He played a key role in the establishment of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), now known as Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. He has led this organization as president/CEO since 1993, presiding over a nearly $5 billion local tourism industry. 

His work was honored in 2000 when he was inducted into the Alabama Hospitality Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was named Alabama’s Tourism Promoter of the Year and in 2005, he was honored as Alabama’s Tourism Executive of the Year. Malone led the coastal tourism industry through two major disasters – the recovery from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest marine oil spill in history that battered the economy of the Gulf Coast. Ten years later, Alabama Living talked to Malone about his life and career on the coast. – Lenore Vickrey

What do you like best about your job? 

People! The people that choose to visit Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for their vacation, as well as the people I have the golden opportunity to work with.

 What is it about Alabama’s Gulf Coast that makes people return year after year?

The natural beauty of our beaches as well as the genuine Southern hospitality they experience while here.

 Has our coastline fully recovered from the effects of the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill?

Yes, several years ago. The seafood in the Gulf is the greatest barometer of the coastal environment. Testing of the waters ever since the oil spill was cleaned up has determined there are no side effects.

What’s your favorite place to relax on Alabama’s Gulf Coast?

Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge. My wife and I live within walking distance of the Refuge, and even on crowded summer weekends, we can find solitude just a short walk away.

What do you tell visitors is a “can’t miss” attraction on Alabama’s beaches?

Get out on the water and explore! There are many options to achieve this even if you do not own a boat. You can rent a boat, take a Dolphin-watching cruise, charter a boat for a wide variety of fishing trips from inshore to offshore, ride the ferry to Dauphin Island and back along with many more options to visit these God-given waters

‘Alabama Story’ comes to Alabama Shakespeare Festival stage

By Alec Harvey

State librarian’s courageous stance is focus of play

Greta Lambert and Seth Andrew Bridges played librarian Emily Reed and her assistant, Thomas, in the 2015 world premiere of “Alabama Story” at Utah’s Pioneer Theatre Company. Lambert reprises the role at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival March 5-22. 

When playwright Kenneth Jones read about Emily Wheelock Reed’s death, he knew the story of the Alabama librarian who became a civil rights activist should come to the stage.

“I was reading The New York Times one day in 2000, 20 years ago, and I read the obituary of this librarian I had never heard of and had been largely lost to history,” he recalls. “The moment I read it, I thought the story – a librarian personally attacked for protecting books – was a play.”

Jones’ “Alabama Story” received its first reading as part of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writers’ Project Festival of New Plays in 2013. Seven years later, ASF will present a full production of the play March 5-22.

The play tells the story of Reed, who, as the director of the Alabama Public Library Service Division during the civil rights movement, decided which books to buy for Alabama’s libraries. One of those books was Garth Williams’ children’s book The Rabbits’ Wedding, about animals attending the wedding of a white rabbit to a black rabbit. Segregationist Sen. E.O. Eddins (changed to E.W. Higgins in the play) wanted Williams’ book and others banned, and Reed refused. Among other things, he demanded Reed’s resignation, but she remained in her job and kept the book in Alabama libraries.

“I fell in love with this story,” Jones says. “This was a real passion project for me.”

While writing “Alabama Story,” Jones visited the state to do research. He visited Montgomery landmarks, including the State Department of Archives and History building, the State Capitol, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and Oak Park, which figure into his play. 

He also visited Demopolis, the hometown of Sen. Eddins/Higgins and two fictional characters in “Alabama Story,” a white woman named Lily and a black man named Joshua. Their story ends up connecting to Reed’s in surprising and subtle ways.

“They are the perfume and poetry and heart of a play that is often concerned with issues and politics and ideas,” Jones says.

Though she was not part of ASF’s original reading in 2013, Greta Lambert, a veteran of more than 100 productions at ASF, starred as Reed in 2015’s world premiere of “Alabama Story” at Utah’s Pioneer Theatre. She’ll also star in ASF’s upcoming production, which is directed by ASF Artistic Director Rick Dildine.

“It’s very exciting because in a way I sort of start ahead of the game because I’ve already discovered so much,” says Lambert, ASF’s associate artistic director. “Because of that, it might be richer and have more depth. I’ll also find different nuances and a different take on lines and ideas.”

Lambert says the role of Reed is a juicy one for an actress.

“I admire her strength so much,” the actress says. “She’s on the right side of a fight. She wholeheartedly believes in what she believes in and pursues it doggedly. … There are so many things against her, and this fight just became so important.  How often are we called upon to really test our own integrity and fight for what we know is right?”

Jones is excited to see Lambert in the role again.

“Greta was a dream come true,” he says. “She was really formidable, really tough. It was just a Herculean performance. It was absolutely everything I wanted it to be, and I’m over the moon that she gets to recreate it on her own turf.”

“Alabama Story” will play out on the intimate Octagon stage at ASF, Lambert’s “favorite space on Earth to be in a play,” and Jones says audiences will find it informative, emotional and, at times, humorous.

“I think people are surprised by how funny it is, but there’s something almost ridiculous about looking at a children’s book and wanting to hold a match to it and burn it,” he says.

Lambert agrees, and she looks to a daily reminder of “Alabama Story” and the story that spawned it.

“I’ve had the book The Rabbits’ Wedding as kind of a talisman on my bookshelf facing out like a picture,” she says. “It has been there for months, and it’s a great symbol for the play. It’s always amazing to me that all of this happened over a little children’s book.”

For ticket information, visit or call the ASF Box Office at 334-271-5353.

Whom do I contact? Social Security or Medicare?

Social Security offers retirement, disability, and survivors benefits. Medicare provides health insurance. Because these services are often related, you may not know which agency to contact for help. The list below can help you quickly figure out where to go. Please share this list with family and friends.

You can do much of your Medicare business with Social Security online.

• How do I report a death? Contact your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778)

• How can I check Medicare eligibility? 

• How do I sign up for Hospital Insurance? (Part A) 

• How do I sign up for Medical Insurance? (Part B) 

• How do I apply for Extra Help with Medicare Prescription drug coverage? (Part D)

• How to appeal an income-related monthly adjustment amount decision? (For people who pay a higher Part B or D premium, if their income is over a certain amount.) 

• How can I request a replacement Medicare card online?

• If I already get benefits or have Medicare, how do I report a change of address or phone number?

• Where do I find publications about Medicare? or 

Medicare also offers many online services where you can find out:

• What does Medicare cover? 

• How can I check the status of Medicare Part A or B claims? 

• Where do I find forms for filing a Medicare appeal or let someone speak with Medicare on my behalf?

• What do Medicare health and prescription drug plans in my area cost, and what services do they offer?

• Which doctors, health care providers, and suppliers participate in Medicare? 

• Where can I find out more about a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) and enroll?  

• Where can I find a Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy in my area?