There are 231,000 women and girls incarcerated in the United States. Women’s incarcerations have grown at twice the pace of men’s incarcerations in recent decades and has disproportionately been located in local jails. In Tennessee, white women have been the fastest-growing segment of Tennessee’s state prisoners. The number of incarcerated white women increased 117% from 2003 to 2018 compared to 29% for white men.
Research shows that the majority of these women incarcerated suffered from major trauma as children – including abuse, homelessness, and abandonment. Left to fend for themselves, often at very young ages, they, for one reason or another, often end up in the criminal justice system. And once in the system, find it almost impossible to get out without family or support to teach them how to change their lives. A fact that did not go unnoticed for Brittany Davis, an Assistant Public Defender with the 15th Judicial District.
The more involved Brittany became with her many clients within the criminal justice system, the more she realized that they needed more than just legal help. She shared her worries with her friend Suanne Bone, a long-time Wilson county resident known for her community involvement, and together these two strong women formulated a plan to offer help.
Our Sisters Keeper, Inc. is a non-profit recently formed by Suanne Bone and Brittany Davis that will advocate for these very women in our own community jails, both during and after their time in the criminal justice system. “Currently, we serve the General Sessions and Criminal Court in Smith county,” notes Brittany, “but we hope to serve the entire 15th Judicial District as resources
become available. That includes women in Wilson, Trousdale, Macon, and Jackson counties as well.
Currently, with Brittany assigned to Smith County courts, she is able to identify women in the justice system who are in the greatest need in Smith county. She connects these women with Suanne, the Executive Director of Our Sisters Keeper, who is the liaison between the women and determining their needs to lead a purposeful life outside of jail. Services include long-term drug and alcohol treatment, rehabilitation, and mentors and other partners committed to the women as they start anew. To help get the non-profit off the ground, Suanne pulled together various members of the community who also wanted to be part of the solution to this growing issue. The current board of directors includes Brittany Davis, Carl Hudson, Stephanie McCaleb, Jack Bare, Jeff Cherry, Shelley Gardner, Angel Kane, Russell Parish, and Cathey Sweeney. In its inaugural year, the non-profit has its work cut out for it but hard work isn’t something this group shies away from.
First on the agenda is finding permanent office space. One office will be the administrative office where the following services are offered: coordination of rehab beds, teaching the women how to reinstate their drivers license, resume building, interview skills, job placement, housing placement, expungement of criminal records, and completing their education. The second office will be a boutique furnished with donated clothing and hygiene products where the women can “shop” and choose pieces for their new life.
“I remember one of the first ladies who participated in our program. I picked her up from the jail and was taking her to a rehab facility where she would be staying for a few months and she literally had almost nothing to take. She had a few personal items in a garbage bag. That was her whole life. As we were just starting the non-profit, I called on friends and family for anything we could pull together to give her, some clothes and a bag of her own to put her belongings in. You would have thought I gave her a million dollars when I gave her a bag of clean clothes and toiletries and her very own pretty bag to carry it all in, “ Suanne notes. “How can we expect to raise someone up like this, when, if and when she does get out of rehab, she doesn’t even have clothes to put on for a job interview. It’s needs like this that we take for granted but make a huge impact on success for many of these women.”
And if we help these women, the end result is not just that these ladies lives will be forever changed but also the generations of women that will follow them.
When Mt Juliet City Mayor Ed and his wife Katrina Hagerty moved to Mt Juliet, the population was just 3,000. The landscape looked a little different. “I remember driving seven miles to buy a gallon of milk, downtown to enjoy a nice restaurant, and to Opry Mills to see a movie. Today, those activities and more are available right here in our city!” Ed says
Ed and Katrina met playing racquetball and married on February 14, 1982. Later that year, they made the move to Mt Juliet and haven’t looked back.
“We moved several times that year, from Cookeville to Atlanta to Arlington, Texas, and then an opportunity opened up here in Middle Tennessee.” Katrina
adds, “We looked at Nashville and all the surrounding counties but fell in love with Wilson County.”
Cut to 2020, Mt Juliet has a population of more than 34,000. The Hagerty’s have helped usher in a fair amount of the change seen across the western
city of Wilson County. There’s another big change in store for the Hagerty’s this year as Ed retires from local politics after more than two decades-ten of those as the Mt Juliet City Mayor. “I believe in the great traditions of our country, beginning with George Washington and later codified by the 22nd Amendment that the leader is to serve two full terms.” Hagerty continues, “With that said, it’s definitely a bittersweet decision to step aside. I have other passions to pursue. I love my church, I love teaching Economics, and American Government to 12th-grade students at Heritage Christian Academy, and the grands living three doors away were all important factors. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next.”
When Hagerty decided to step into local politics, his mission was simple. He wanted to bring decorum to the city. “Most people may not know or remember but our board was dysfunctional with in-fighting, back-biting, and unprofessional behavior. Shortly after taking the chair, a local reporter called
me and said my meetings were boring. My reply was, ‘Mission accomplished!’ My second goal was to upgrade our building standards.” Ed continues, “I
remember asking a friend to give me his first impression of Mt. Juliet. His response was, ‘Oh, that’s easy, it’s the land of metal buildings with brick fronts.’ I knew immediately that could not be how we would be defined. I worked many years to change that, and our buildings are now beautiful with sustainable designs.”
While the Hagerty’s love their city, they really light up when they talk about family. “We have three amazing daughters. Kristina is married to Sam Parnell,
and they have four children: Eli, Kate, Luke, and Ike. They live three doors down from us! Kacy is married to Andrew Callaghan. They have a newborn baby girl, Ezra, and live in Nashville. Kelly is married to Luke Strimaitis, and they live in Mt. Juliet. Kelly is a Registered Nurse and studying at Cumberland University to
become a Nurse Practitioner. We feel blessed that our children live close
enough for frequent family dinners!”
Katrina helped change the way many parents in Middle Tennessee homeschool by starting Heritage Christian Academy in 1997. HCA is a tutorial program where students meet each week to do school and life together. They have grown from just a few dozen students to hundreds. “We have families across the US and even some missionaries in other countries registered with
Heritage,” Katrina says.
As the world came to a halt in late spring 2020 due to the global pandemic, Katrina, along with her daughters, started Homeschoolers Association, a program aimed at helping families who have chosen homeschooling due to the impact of COVID. While Katrina no longer teaches classes at HCA, she’s still involved. Now she focuses more on the administrative duties of the school. “I love helping parents navigate this homeschooling adventure
for their children. Our students have a yearbook, take field trips together, go camping together, attend dances, participate in our STEM and International
Fairs, participate in Spelling and History Bees, attend graduation, and so much more! HCA has been our family’s ministry for many years, and we are blessed to see families grow together as a family unit and in the Lord.”
From the tornadoes in March to Covid-19, Mt Juliet/Wilson County faced a lot of challenges in 2020. Many of us can’t wait for the year to end, but Ed has a different outlook. “I prefer to think we will all look back on 2020 as a time of great personal growth, a time where we were intentional about our family relationships, and a time where we learned to value and cherish our faith walks. For us personally, we were saddened that Katrina’s father passed away in March. Still, we celebrate that our fifth grand was born, and she is a beautiful miracle.”
If you are planning to vamp up your yard this fall – look no further than Valley Growers.
Valley Growers, located at 1108 W Main Street in Lebanon, is a one-stop shop for everything you’ll need – and many other things you’ll simply want. Over ninety percent of their plants are grown in their main greenhouses in Pall Mall,
Tennessee. Bob Pyle started the business 37 years ago and they now have five retail locations in Lebanon, Pall Mall, Farragut, and Murfreesboro.
The Lebanon location opened nine years ago at the encouragement of Pyle’s sister-in-law, Janet McCluskey. “I told him that we needed something in Lebanon that people can drive by and see,” McCluskey said. McCluskey oversees the operation – and divides her time between working at the
retail shop, buying, communicating with vendors, and other aspects of management.
“We have grown and grown,” she added. “This year we doubled our size and expanded to the lot behind us.” Amy Shaw has worked at Valley Growers as a daily manager for the last few years. She took the job on a whim, not knowing much about gardening; however, planting quickly became a passion.
“A dear friend called me when they were looking for help. I wasn’t into plants until I worked here. She said, ‘If you know how to hold a hose, I’ll teach you how to water,’” Shaw recalled with a laugh.
After much “trial and error” in her own yard, on the job training, and even a few Google searches – Shaw now refers to gardening as “dirt therapy.”
“There is just something about it,” she said. “It is hard to explain, but it has become my passion.”
This year, in particular, she and McCluskey witnessed it become a passion for others.
“I’ve seen a lot of first-time gardeners this year (because of COVID 19 and more people staying home),” Shaw shared. “I think a lot of people are home working inside or outside of their homes and doing what they’ve not had a chance to do. We tell them to just get out there and get their hands dirty.”
McCluskey said this year has been extremely profitable for the business because they were allowed to be open during the quarantine. “Anything agriculture is considered an essential business,” McCluskey explained. “We are averaging 50 new customers every week and they are not just from Lebanon.
We are seeing new customers from Mount Juliet and Smith County. That amazes me.”
Valley Growers opens seasonally from mid-March until mid-November. They carry a wide variety of annuals and perennials, soil, fountains, pottery, and décor. Shaw said the shop has the largest selection of annuals, perennials, veggies, and herbs with a selection of specialty items such as orchids, hydrangeas, and roses. As fall approaches, they shift to mums, pansies, violas, and cold crops like lettuce and Brussel sprouts.
“Right now it is all about mums, mums, and mums,” Shaw said. “Usually in September and October, people are cleaning out their beds because a lot of their annuals have started to look tired.” Mums are a perennial – meaning they
regrow every spring. Valley Grower offers red, yellow, orange, purple, bronze, pink, and white mums – with yellow and orange being best sellers.
“I think that people are ready for those fall colors,” Shaw said, adding that mums are relatively easy to care for. “They like this season and the cool nights. They take water and that is about it.”
Valley Growers has also added pumpkins, straw bales, and cornstalk to their seasonal display. Shaw said they have a lot of fall décor – including metal pumpkin signs and luminaires in the shape of Dracula, Frankenstein, skulls, and jack-o-lanterns. “We have some of the nicest things,” she said.
Valley Growers is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and noon until 4 p.m. on Sunday.
What started in 2018 as neighbors on a 4 mile stretch of Sykes Road putting up crosses at Christmas, has turned into a movement that is exactly what we need this 2020!
It all started when Robin Underwood was driving home from work one evening in late 2018. “I was looking at all the lighted Christmas scenes in yards. It was Christmas time, but where was Christ? I saw snowmen, Santa and all his reindeer, even the Grinch, but where was Jesus? That really sat heavy on my heart. I’m not knocking by any means that we use Santa or snowmen in our decor, but I thought wouldn’t it be neat for children and families to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. So, I started thinking about what we could do to share the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of the Savior of the world. Wouldn’t it be great if people came through our little community of
Sykes (that is so small you would blink and miss it) and saw lighted crosses in every yard proclaiming the gospel from the hilltops, from the barns, from the valleys. Wouldn’t it be a glorious sight?! We would be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas every day as we made our path home, we would be reminded of the greatest love story ever told, we would be reminded to slow down and focus on the most important things in life. Soon after that, Clete and I shared the idea with our family over Sunday dinner table talk and they were on board. Our homes were the first to erect a lighted cross scene and then we began making flyers and going door to door in Sykes to spread the word.”
Forty or so other neighbors on Sykes Road joined in and then it expanded from there with a few others in and around Smith County. “It was a glorious sight to drive along the little country road of Sykes, TN, and see all the variety of crosses.”
Robin continues, “We then began seeing crosses come up in other areas of Smith County and had many Facebook messages and requests from the community to make this a countywide event. So, when November 2019 rolled
around, we announced the expansion on “aCross Smith County.” We started a Facebook page with a website so folks could register their crosses. We ended up with 1200 registered crosses in Smith County!”
As news about the crosses spread on Facebook and other news media sites, crosses started popping up in several states and those crosses began to get registered as well.
“It was so joyful to see crosses being erected. They were so creative, we had one of Santa kneeling at the cross and manger, they were on barns, CHRIST spelled out in lights, the traffic on Sykes Rd increased every night as people
came to see all crosses. We also drove out every night just to see what new ones had popped up.”
And it wasn’t just families that participated, businesses participated as well as churches. People stopped at crosses and prayed in yards, children added crosses to their barn playsets in their rooms, they colored crosses and shared them on Facebook.
“The community really showed off big in the love of Christ,” says Clete.
In early 2020, the Underwoods were invited to Christian Day on Capitol Hill to share their story and success of “aCross Smith County.” It was there they first shared their expansion to “aCross TN’ for the upcoming 2020 Christmas season. “We would like to see the cross lighting ministry expand to “aCross America”. Our world is so divided and we just need unity. Jesus is love and our world needs love more than ever.” notes Robin.
What started with the humble beginnings of 47 crosses in one tiny community has spread to every corner of Smith County, and to eight other Tennessee
counties and nine other states. People are reaching out daily from across the nation to learn more and to participate.
Clete states that “our mission is to keep Christ in Christmas and share the love of Christ with the world. As Christians, we are told to go into all the world and share the gospel. What an easier way to share the gospel than with a lighted cross in your yard, field, barn, business, or church and show your love for Christ.”
The Underwoods are gearing up for a lot of work this coming Christmas season as the movement has no boundaries. With the world in crisis right now and people asking what they can do to help, this cross-ministry is the perfect place to lend a hand right in our own backyard!
To help promote or volunteer with the cross lighting ministry within churches and communities please contact Robin Underwood at 615-489-5921 or email her at RobinUnderwood75@gmail.com. You can find the ministry on Facebook at aCross Tennessee or their website at www.aCrossTenn.com (website and
logo are compliments of friends at Better Letter Printing). And if you are wanting to participate with your own cross, be sure to go to their site and register your cross as well.
“Light a cross, be creative, help a neighbor that may not be able to make a cross on their own and let your light shine for all to see!”
The Paint WilCo mural project started with the goals of creating 10 unique murals throughout Wilson County by the end of 2020 and in doing so, boost tourism by creating photo opportunities for visitors, as well as residents, and to spark interest and integrate art into our communities while beautifying Wilson
County. In addition, this project helped to fulfill the requirements for Wilson
County to become a Tennessee ThreeStar certified county.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE
The Wilson County CVB (WilCo) went out and found the right people to be a
part of this project, people with the knowledge of art, artists, locations,
connections, etc. The Wilson County Murals Committee was then formed
from these people and they have been the driving force of this project. We are
now looking towards our seventh mural and the response and involvement
within our community has never been greater.
Sponsors, artists, building owners are all contacting us wanting to be involved in this beautification and art movement. With more locations scouted out in Watertown, Mt. Juliet, and Lebanon, be on the lookout for more artwork popping up throughout the county! The Paint Wilco project had a goal of 10 murals, and that goal is within an arm’s reach, or a brush’s stroke, but as we continue to see this involvement and this recognition of the value and importance, who’s to say that another phase of Paint Wilco is not just around the corner.
OUR NEW NORMAL
As we continue to walk this path of our “new normal” in the world today, it’s
good to get out and have a “feel good” moment. Close up your laptop, have
the kids turn off their Chromebooks, turn off the TV, and take a quick drive to
one of the Paint Wilco murals and have yourself a “feel good” moment. We
are hit daily with reasons to carry negativity, we heard something on the
radio, we read something on Twitter, we saw a sign in someone’s yard. Go out
to the Messages of Hope Mural and take a picture with your special someone.
Go to Charlie Daniels Park and have the kids make their best silly face for a
picture in front of the Caboose Mural. Take your Grandpa to the Veterans
Mural and spend some time with him at the Veterans Museum. Be reminded
of all the reasons to carry positivity. Keeps those pictures on your phone and
have your daily dose of positivity. Or maybe even post those pictures and
spread that positivity.
SPONSORSHIP and MORE INFO
Wanting more information on the Paint WilCo murals?
Looking to sponsor a mural? Wanting to submit a name for
prospective artists? Contact the Wilson County CVB office
at email@example.com, and be sure to follow the
Paint WilCo progress and the many other great things
Wilson County has at VisitWilCo.com.
When Dr. Bill Schenk was in college his two best friends were blind. One from a congenital disease and the other from an accident.
Looking back now after 39 years as an ophthalmologist, Schenk reflects and said these two friends, plus a job that got him through college related to helping the blind, were the impetus to choosing a path in this field.
Schenk is an ophthalmology specialist in Lebanon and after nearly four decades in practice, retired July 1 of this year. “It’s been great and I have no regrets on my decision to retire,” he said.
He lives just three blocks from Vanderbilt Eye Institute where he leaves in “good hands” a practice he’s built for so many years. His long-time practice, Lebanon Eye Associates, merged with Vanderbilt in 2011, he said.
Schenk is married to Linda, who works with the Wilson County teen court. They have three grown children; Lindsey, 37, Allie, 35 and Collin 31.
Schenk was born in Houston, Texas, and lived there until age 10. He then moved to Kansas for four years and went to high school, college, and medical school in Nebraska. He graduated with honors from the University College of Medicine in 1981.
“When I was in college I worked fulltime and went to night school,” he explained.
His job was at The Library for the Blind, which services the visually impaired.
“One half of them were blind,” Schenk said.
He said during this part of his life journey two of his closest friends were blind.
It was at this time he formulated his career path. “I became empathetic from knowing them and their perspectives,” he recalled. “It was from then on I wanted to improve sight and restore the blind.”
He was in his early 20s when he had this life-altering revelation. Part of his job was going to the University of Nebraska (right next door) where he recorded volunteer readers so those without sight could enjoy books.
“At first it was reel to reel,” he said thinking back. Then it went to cassettes, CDs, and now volunteer reading and audiobooks are online.
One of his best friends was born blind and the other was 16 and in an auto accident with four others where he thought the car was going to plunge down an embankment from an overcorrection. He jumped out before the car was corrected and it was he who made the fall, hit his head and lost his sight.
One of the friends was an athlete and Schenk remembers they worked out together and jogged in tandem through the park, connected and directing with a bandana.
Schenk and Linda met during a snowstorm. “We were at a racquetball court and my friend couldn’t show up and Bill and I started talking,” Linda said. “He asked me out on a date.”
The romantic first connection during a snowstorm solidified to years of marriage.
Schenk’s first practice was his own on Park Ave. in 1985, in Lebanon.
“I had two employees, someone who worked in classifieds and saw my want ad, and, my brother who we trained,” he said.
After three years they were so busy he got a partner and moved to his second location, also in Lebanon, at 1616 West Main. He eventually worked with several other ophthalmologists, and optometrists, and was the first practice in Tennessee that offered both optometry services and ophthalmology services.
In 1998 Schenk built Lebanon Eye Associates and by 2005 had 10 eye doctors and 70 employees. He merged with Vanderbilt Eye Institute in 2011 and the rest is history. “I enjoyed working with Vanderbilt for nine years,” he
Additionally, this practical entrepreneur doctor continues ownership of the building he built that also has Wilson County Eye Surgery Center he implemented. This continued ownership will augment retirement funds, he noted.
Schenk turned 67 in September and said he decided to retire about a year ago. He held off retirement long enough to feel confident he would leave highly trained providers in his absence. Dr. Jessica Mather is essential in this sense of ease and in July he felt it was time to “pass the torch.”
Their long-desired plans for retirement (Linda still works with Christmas For All and Wilson County teen court) was to find a place to retreat for their beloved sports of windsurfing, kiteboarding, scuba diving, and snorkeling. It’s in the Caribbean, and part of the Netherlands called Bonaire Island.
“We visited there some times and it’s the best place to windsurf with consistent high winds,” Schenk noted. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on these plans because of mandates.
So now, the couple bike, kayak, and paddleboard. Schenk works out two to three hours a day. He said he got his love of water activities as a child because his father ran a YMCA camp and he spent his summers there, and also in
California enjoying the ocean. This couple said they will continue their
travels and plan to soon white water raft in Maryland because it’s safe to drive there.
Through his long practice, Schenk estimates he’s conducted about 25,000
cataract and glaucoma surgeries, and about 10,000 laser surgeries. He’s treated tens of thousands of patients. When he first started, it took about an hour and a half to conduct cataract surgery and today it’s about 10 minutes.
And while those many surgeries and helping those with sight problems have
come full circle from his decision to carve a successful career dealing with the eyes, he said it’s been a fun path to travel and now he can slow down a bit and pursue a new kind of fun – enjoying his family and nature. The couple has already conquered places like remote islands, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Seattle, among so many other places. No doubt, they have made a long
list of upcoming explorations during retirement.
TennCommUNITY is the product of a collaboration of nine community banks
who had a desire to help small businesses recover from the impact of COVID-19. These banks “united” to create an initiative to urge the communities to shop locally. As Melynda Bounds (V.P., CedarStone Bank) said “We’ll do whatever we can to bring awareness to small businesses”. The Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, Mt. Juliet Chamber, and Watertown Chamber joined the efforts by spearheading the creation of the TennCommUNITY website and Facebook page, coordinating radio appearances, newspaper ads, and other media advertising.
Left to Right – Jason Loggins, Melynda Bounds, Lee Campbell, Nathan Harris, Debbie Lowe, Chris Crowell, John McDearman & John Lancaster
What is TennCommUNITY all about? John McDearman (CEO, Wilson Bank & Trust) explained it simply when he said “This is about working together to get us to a better spot”. A kickoff video featuring over 40 small businesses along with eight of the bank representatives and the three Chamber presidents was
one of the first promotional pieces that was completed to introduce the initiative in July. You can watch the video by visiting TennCommUNITY.com. The website also features podcasts and business listings, as well as resources and tools for small business owners. The initiative is scheduled to run through December. John Lancaster (Chairman & CEO, First Freedom Bank) noted that “Now is absolutely the right time for this campaign. It’s pretty simple. Shop at home. When asked why First Bank decided to join the initiative after it was launched, Shawn Glover (Sr. V.P., First Bank) replied. “If we want to live and work in a wonderful community, I believe it is our responsibility to contribute and support the people and the businesses in the community. We can each do
our part by shopping for goods and services locally.
Shop as you do now. Dine as you do now, but whenever possible, use that local business”.
Who can participate in TennCommUNITY? Any small business in Wilson County. You do not have to bank with one of the nine local sponsoring banks or
be a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Melanie Minter (President & CEO, Lebanon Wilson Co. Chamber of Commerce) said “Our goal with this initiative is to help small businesses with marketing and different tools”. Becky Dungy (President, Watertown and East Wilson Co. Chamber of Commerce) added
that “we want to promote small businesses through this crazy world we are going through right now”. “People in Wilson County can get involved in TennCommUNITY by continuing to shop local” pointed out Debbie Lowe (V.P., F & M Bank).
What is the goal of this initiative?
As Lee Campbell (Sr. V.P., Pinnacle Financial Partners) shared with Coleman
Walker on August 3rd, “We want to change lives and support our small businesses”. The reaction from the small business community has been
overwhelmingly positive. Most every business that has submitted their information to be added to the TennCommUNITY website business listing
has expressed gratitude for developing this to help promote their business. If you visit the business listing on the website, I guarantee that you will discover at least one business that you had no idea existed in Wilson County! If you
want your business added to the site, contact us via the “Contact Us” on www.tenncommunity.com or call the Lebanon Wilson Co. Chamber at 615-444-5503.
We brag about Wilson County being unique, special, and filled with authentic southern hospitality. Chris Crowell (Sr. V.P., Southern Bank of Tennessee)
affirmed that “Small businesses are important in our community”. If you knew that one of your favorite establishments was in danger of going out of business, would you not step up and support them? As Nathan Harris (Commercial Banker V.P., Liberty State Bank) commented “We want all businesses in the community to be strong and healthy.” When asked why his bank decided to get involved, Jason Loggins (Market President Wilson County,
Bank of Tennessee) expressed “Our bank decided to get involved because we are a community bank and simply put, we are going to bank our community”.
What can you do to help small businesses in Wilson County? Mark Hinesley, (President & CEO, Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce) summed it up perfectly
when he said “This is the chance for people to step up and say ‘I care’”
I don’t watch the news. In fact, if my husband turns on the news, I leave the room. There’s no way to truly isolate myself completely, anytime I unlock my phone I see the headlines. But the headlines tell me all I need to know. That I should be very afraid of the world we live in. And that’s the belief that I’m trying not to let take root.
There is no medicine for fear. Scottish proverb
Of the malady, a man fears, he dies. Spanish proverb
He who fears something gives it power over him. Moorish proverb
The day we fear hastens toward us, the day we long for creeps. Swedish proverb
Fear is only as deep as the mind allows. Japanese proverb
Some claim “do not be afraid” is written in some form or fashion 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year.
So what to do during this time of uncertainty and fear? Robert Frost said that “the best way out is always through.” So we’ll go through it and we’ll get through it. And I still won’t be watching the news.
If your life hasn’t been touched by addiction, count yourself not only lucky but in the minority. The statistics are staggering: 31.9 million American adults (aged 12 and older) are current illegal drug users; the number jumps to 53 million Americans if you include both those who use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs; 14.8 million people have an alcohol use disorder in the U.S. Drug abuse and addiction costs American society more than $272 billion annually in lost workplace, productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs. Of the 2.3 million people in American prisons and jails, more than 65% meet the criteria to be considered addicts.
In 2018, 47% of young people had used an illegal drug by the time they graduated high school. Additionally, current users (within the past month) included 5% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, 24% of 12th graders. Between 1999-2017 over 700,000 people died in the U.S. from drug overdoses.
No person, no race, no age group is immune.
From the housewife who convinces her doctor to keep her on valium, to the husband who drinks a six-pack driving home from work each night, to the injured worker who starts on pain pills and can’t get off, to the teenager who smokes weed on the weekends, to that pretty girl we all remember from high school, that has now lost her family, her children and maybe even her life to meth – it’s all around us.
Be it directly in your family or just in your community, it effects us all.
So how do we stop it? The million-dollar question, of course.
Jail is always an option. Arrests and then convictions, at least get drug abusers and sometimes their dealers, off the streets, but rarely is this a permanent solution.
In Middle Tennessee, however, specifically Wilson, Macon, Smith, Jackson, and Trousdale county, there is an option that is definitely making some headway.
The 15th Judicial District Drug Court Program began in 2002 with the help of the late Judge Bond and a team of professionals trained to break the cycle. Drug courts are specialized courts across the country for those addicted to drugs or alcohol. Rather than send people to jail, over and over again, drug courts use a multi-faceted approach with the aim of reducing the chances of re-arrest and relapse. They do this through interactions with the judge, treatment and rehabilitation services, monitoring, supervision, sanctions, and incentives.
There are consequences for failure, so if the individual continually relapses or commits crimes, the system effectively reverts to the ordinary, incarceration-based approach.
Initially, our local drug court program was only open to persons arrested in these five counties, for crimes involving felonies – basically any criminal charge that did not include violence, for which you could be sentenced to serve more than a year in jail.
Judge Bond and later Judge Wootten, were instrumental in growing and supporting the drug court program that was near and dear to both of them. Upon Judge Wootten’s retirement in 2019, Criminal Court Judge, Brody Kane took over the reins and expanded the program to include any misdemeanor offenders out of criminal court in all five counties that he serves.
“I’ve got children. That’s my reason for wanting to be involved in this,” says Judge Kane. “I see the devastation first-hand drugs are doing to our community – my community. I grew up right here in Watertown and moved back to Lebanon after graduating from law school in Memphis because I wanted to raise my children in a community far away from drugs and crime. But, realistically, I was being a naive 27-year-old father. I know now that those same things affecting the larger cities are coming this way and some are already here. I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of Judge Bond and Judge Wootten and also proud to serve alongside Judge Tiffany Gibson who has started a misdemeanor drug court in Jackson County and Judge Michael Collins who has started a misdemeanor drug court in Smith County. We all grew up right here when things were maybe simpler, we all have children we are raising in these communities and we want them to stay here and be safe here and we are all determined to fight this fight against drugs in as many ways that we can.”
“But this isn’t about the Judges,” he continues, “ we are just the ‘heavy’ you might say, this is really about the drug court team led in the 15th Judicial District Drug Court Program by Program Coordinator, Jeff Dickson. Jeff and his team include professionals that have years of experience helping people successfully battle drug addictions. They truly care about the people in the program and are cheering them on when they succeed and are devastated for them if they fail. The team includes probation officers, behavioral health services and provides services specific to veterans. For me, the best result is, if we Judges never see our participants in our courts again – maybe I’ll see them at Walmart – but I hope to never see them in my court again.”
Drug Court – as it’s called – is a sentencing option available to the court that focuses both on treatment and supervision of people convicted of felony or misdemeanor charges. In essence, the Judge has the option, if you either plead guilty or are found guilty of any crime not involving violence, of allowing you to participate in the Drug Court program as part of your sentence.
If chosen to participate then those individuals will receive treatment for alcohol and/or drugs at the local level while also being under intensive supervision to ensure compliance for at least 18 to 24 months.
“You are still under probation during the 18 to 24 month period, so you still face punishment for your crime, but as part of that probation you now get this intensive drug and alcohol treatment,” notes Program Coordinator Jeff Dickson.
“And yes, it’s a two-year program, because that’s what it takes to break the cycle.”
Treatment is provided locally and usually begins with a residential or in-house stay. Thereafter, participants step down to an intensive outpatient program – 3 days a week for 3 to 4 hours a day.
After that, each person continues outpatient treatment with AA/NA meetings and continuing education. Home visits, as well as work visits, are conducted by the supervising team throughout the length of the program. Every participant is required to work full time, attend school or if disabled, do volunteer work. If the participant does not have a high school diploma, they are expected to work towards their GED. The participants are drug and alcohol tested regularly and randomly, they must remain drug and alcohol-free, and they must adhere to strict rules about who they associate with and abide by curfews. They check in weekly, not only with the drug court team, but each week, in court, with the Judge and if there is a misstep the Judge can sentence them immediately to jail for that violation.
There are different levels – after a participant proves himself with not only continued sobriety, but also following all the rules and expectations in place, they move to the next level, and then the next level, with the goal that in two years they can graduate from the program.
Jeff Dickson has seen some real success with the program, “It’s intense. We only allow 30 participants at a time and we closely monitor them, encourage them, and support them. Of those that are allowed into the program, only 30% will actually graduate but of those graduates, 70% will not return to court in the next 5 years.”
That’s a very good result because, without intense treatment and monitoring like this, the national average recidivism rate is that 77% percent of drug offenders are re-arrested in five years, and nearly half of those within the first year of release.
Anyone convicted of a non-violent crime can contact the drug court office either on their own or through their attorney to apply. The Drug Court Team then evaluates each candidate based on their prior record, their support systems, whether they have transportation or employment, the type of substance abuse, and the amount and frequency of said drug use.
The program is also voluntary. Judge Kane finds, “you’ve got to want to get off the drugs or alcohol. My ordering you to treatment won’t help anyone truly recover from addiction. The fire inside you to seek treatment has to be brighter than the fire around you. But if you are ready, then this team will do everything in their power to help you never see the inside of a jail again. We are losing a generation of people. I’ve seen folks I’ve gone to school with come in front of me for sentencing and now I see their children in court for the same crimes. We have to find a way to help that doesn’t just involve locking them up and then letting them out to just get locked back up again. That only puts addicts back on the street to not only possibly hurt themselves but also your children and my children.”
Success stories abound with this program, notes Shelley Gardner, District Public Defender who has been on the drug court team for a number of years, “we have three former graduates that have started their own business. Two former graduates that either work or volunteer in the Drug Court program and most importantly, seven out of ten graduates of the program never return to court. We support them but they do the work and I’m always amazed at the two-year mark by the transformation.”
Assistant District Attorney James (Jimmy) Lea Jr, adds “Our team works with each individual on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis to give them support and feedback when they are struggling. During the COVID-19 crisis, when we couldn’t meet in person, we quickly moved the face to face meetings to Zoom because continuity and contact is so important. We try to be there not just when participants are succeeding but also when they have hurdles because getting over those hurdles without relapsing is the key.”
Dickson and his team stand ready to continue to help those in the community that are ready themselves. Some people are not given the gift of recovery because they are either too far gone or no longer with us, but for those that are prepared to fight for that recovery, there is not just hope, but a structured road with a light at the end of it.
To find out if you or someone you know is eligible for this program, contact the Drug Court Director at 615-453-5314.
15th Judicial District Drug Court Team serving Wilson, Macon, Smith, Jackson and Trousdale counties
Program Coordinator: Jeff E. Dickson Drug Court
Senior Case Manager: Paula Langford
Criminal Court Judge: Judge Brody Kane
District Public Defender: Shelley Thompson Gardner
If you’re like the rest of the world right now, you’re ready to get outside, enjoy the beauty that surrounds us in Middle Tennessee and begin to get back to life as we know it. Luckily for all of us, the perfect place that offers all this and more is just a few miles up the road. Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company provide both the experience and the equipment to enjoy many of the lakes and rivers that surround us.
Local owner, Brad Smith, originally from Red Boiling Springs, moved to the Cookeville area after high school, and thereafter, graduated from Tennessee Tech University with a degree in Business Marketing. He grew up active in boy scouts, lifeguarding in the summers, and the son of a logger, so his roots run deep both for the love of small towns and the love of the outdoors. Soon after college, Brad discovered that he could use his love for the outdoors and combine it with his education in business to do something good for his own family and the community he holds dear to his heart.
With all the growth occurring in the area, he decided this would be a great time to offer people the chance to discover the hidden beauty that surrounds Smith County. With lots of prayer and support from his friends, family, and community, Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company was born!
Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company is located in Carthage, Tennessee. It’s in the perfect location that has access to 2 rivers and 2 lakes: the Cumberland and Caney Fork River, and Cordell Hull and Center Hill Lake!
The Company offers half-day and full-day river trips with your choice of a single or tandem kayak or canoe. Not only is all the equipment provided, but all you have to do is show up and they take care of the rest. A shuttle will take you to your starting point and pick you up from your ending point. Transport service is also available if you have your own gear and just need shuttle service. Special rates are available for groups such as churches, civics, and employees.
They offer countless opportunities for adventure, but also offer outdoor gear, kayaks, and clothing available for purchase in their shop, including water gear, as well as camping, fishing, and hiking equipment. Additionally, they have many options for footwear, backpacks, and even snacks and drinks for your trip. In the future, Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Company also plan to offer specialty events such as fishing trips, overnight trips, sunset kayaking, moonlit paddles, and guided lake excursions.
To plan a trip, you can visit tnkayak.com or call 615735-7995. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We encourage you to visit and then let the adventures begin!
In January, many of us were still in disbelief that 2010 was a decade ago and trying in vain not to date documents 2019. You might say we were living in our own little bubble. That all changed in the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, when an EF-3 tornado decimated that bubble.
In the end, three people were killed and more than 1,300 homes and buildings in Wilson County were damaged or destroyed by tornado winds of up to 165 mph.
Moments after the initial touchdown, Wilson County law enforcement, emergency personnel, resident volunteers, and local officials were making their way to those neighborhoods and businesses to help. “No one knew at that time how much damage we were looking at.” Lebanon Police Department Public Information Officer PJ Hardy said. “We knew it was significant, but I don’t think you can prepare yourself for the sight of those homes.”
Something else Hardy and other first responders weren’t prepared for was the volunteer effort. “Almost immediately people started showing up at the prescient. Others who lived closer to the areas that were the most heavily hit went right to work. As tough as that night and the aftermath were, the volunteers brought an electric energy to the recovery. It was something to see and feel”
By Friday, March 6 damages were estimated at more than 1 billion dollars.
Even though it looked like it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
The tornadoes seemed to be an early wake-up call that natural hazards still loom large as whispers about something called COVID-19 soon turned to roars.
From Tornadoes to Covid-19
On April 2, Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order requiring all Tennesseans to stay home unless carrying out essential activities.
The goal…to slow and hopefully curtail the novel virus that first made headlines in late 2019.
It was up to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and other local officials to educate and enforce guidelines for Governor Lee’s order.
A task that proved challenging to say the least. “The shelter in place order brought some confusion early on. Everyone had to be educated on who was in charge. Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Hamilton, Madison and Sullivan Counties own their health departments, so their County Mayors were making executive orders and people wanted the other 89 counties to do so as well.” Hutto continued, “Then, we learn that those other 89 county health departments, including Wilson, are controlled by the state. Therefore, we had to wait, each day to hear Governor Lee’s direction.”
Mayor Hutto faced a tug of war each day. “Some thought we were doing too much others not enough. All the while, we felt the weight of each citizen on our shoulders to protect and yet maintain an economy so people could live.”
Soon days turned into weeks then months. That’s when a plan to begin reopening slowly began to take shape. But this didn’t mean life would go back to normal. Not by a longshot. “People go back to their lives; they remain effected and still in need of help.” Mayor Hutto said. “Thanks to Recover Wilson-a long term recovery group formed by Pastors Regina Girten and David Freeman, Wilson County now has a solid foundation to be prepared for the next disaster.”
Because many local businesses were primarily shuttered for two and a half months, owners had to get creative while looking for ways to stay connected. Necole Bell who owns The Beauty Boutique Salon & Spa in Lebanon overhauled her stores website to make it easier for customers to shop for clothing and beauty essentials.
“Until Covid, our site was set up for customers to book appointments and learn more about our store. We built a new ecommerce site in five days. That was a gamechanger.”
In addition to the website, Beauty Boutique offered customers curbside pickup, local delivery, and shipping, as well as Facebook Live events showcasing BB’s new spring inventory. Beginning in May, salons opened at half capacity and at press time spa services are still being phased in.
No one with an internet connection can deny the impact social media played in helping business owners stay connected to customers.
Gym’s like Hot Yoga Lebanon, Sports Village Fitness, and Taylord Fitness offered an array of Facebook Live classes for members to stream.
When we were sick of cooking at home restaurants were there to save the day. Sammy B’s, Town Square Social, Cheddar’s, Wildberry Café, Sake’, and many more offered up their culinary de-lights curbside.
How Wilson County will fare when the dust settles from the pandemic is an open question, as it is for many areas throughout the US. Unlike many other places, Wilson County has had a practice of surviving devastating events.
As businesses were still boarding up busted windows from the tornado mere days after the first touched down on March 3, a makeshift sign went up on the Southside of Lebanon’s square, that established a new town motto, “TN Strong.”
It was during this time that Mayor Hutto noticed something familiar. Among the scattered debris and shuttered business doors, were signs that our community would get through this. As emergency personal and volunteers continued to work round the clock, residents rallied around their favorite businesses. “You realize that people in Wilson County will be all ‘hands on deck’ when there’s a crisis. You realize organizations may be the most important tool you to have to put all the parts together. You learn to never underestimate the public when there’s a cry for help. Maybe the most important lesson is that there are always rainbows in the storm. No matter how bad things got, there were blessings mixed in that would really blow your mind.”
Most of us are aware of the steps we can take to be more eco-friendly, and some of us even do small tasks every day to help keep our Earth clean. However, John McFadden and Heather Bennett partnered up to inspire and equip people of faith to become better stewards of the Earth. Blessed Earth Southeast has been thriving since 2014.
Executive Director, Heather Bennett, has always had a love for creation. It all started when she read “Serve God, Save the Planet” written by Dr. Matthew Sleeth. “I was excited to read something that finally connected the dots for me. I asked my husband Ryan, who is a United Methodist Pastor, to read the book. When I realized Ryan had a meeting in the same town where Dr. Sleeth lived, I asked my husband to try and meet him!” Heather continued about how her husband’s meeting with Matthew Sleeth and his wife set in motion her call to action. “My husband, Ryan, was in luck. The Sleeth’s were hosting a clergy luncheon. Ryan attended the luncheon in hopes it would get me off of his back about reading the book, but when he had a conversation with the Sleeths, he admitted he was very honest with them. He discussed with them that he didn’t really see the connection between his faith and creation care. The Sleeths sent Ryan home with a box of “Serve God, Save the Planet” books. From Genesis to Revelation, what Ryan discovered was a biblical call to care for God’s creation. This was over ten years ago.”
Since then, Ryan Bennett has been a member of the Blessed Earth Board and advisory team, and Heather has written articles for their website. She also received her Masters in Sustainability from Lipscomb University. The Sleeths and Bennetts, to this day, are family friends and loyal ministry partners.
John F. McFadden (PhD) became a part of Blessed Earth, as Senior Fellow, in March of 2019. McFadden has over 35 years of sustainability, conservation, environmental and not-for-profit experience. His background includes community engagement, urban and rural forest restoration, watershed and wetland assessment, restoration and education.
McFadden exhibits a strong love for nature, and his return to his Christian roots are portrayed in all of his work. “They are forever linked together in my life,” explained McFadden. “From a young man playing in the west hills around Nashville, Tennessee, to surviving a massive heart attack when I was 48, I am indebted to God’s creation for life.” The partners passion, drive, and exuberance of what God has called them to do, has earned them an admirable reputation in the community and across the state and country.
Blessed Earth’s mission is to inspire and equip Christians and other people of faith to become better stewards of the Earth. Since it was founded, Blessed Earth has led groups and workshops on Sabbath and creation care retreats, led workshops for church groups and teachers, and even preached sermons. “We will continue working with faith based groups on three initiatives: We encourage houses of faith to preach, teach and practice creation care, and we work with faith groups to help them move toward daily operations that have less negative impact on natural resources and promote healthy behaviors for their members. Also, we are currently working with faith groups across 10-12 states to carry out the largest tree planting in the country.” McFadden went on to explain how Tennessee currently holds the one-day record planting 190,000 trees with 25,000 volunteers. They believe that by working together with other believers across the southeastern United States, that they can plant one million trees, in a day, with over 100,000 volunteers.
“Trees are one of God’s finest works of creation in that they not only provide us with oxygen, food and shelter, but they save us money and make us feel better!”
“We need community members to support the mission with their presence, presents, and actions. Obviously, with our goal to plant one million trees in one day, helping to plant trees is going to be a huge need of ours! Folks can also do the simple things like recycling in the church offices, and using ceramic or paper cups, instead of foam or plastic.”
For more information and tips about how you can help take better care of the earth, or to get involved with Blessed earth, you can check out their website at blessedearthtn.com. if you are interested in coordinating a tree planting, please contact John McFadden at firstname.lastname@example.org. if you have questions or would like to request Blessed earth Tennessee for speaking, workshops, retreats or have other requests, please contact Heather Bennett at email@example.com.
You might call him a trendsetter. Before, mixology became a word. Before, liquid nitrogen became part of cocktails. Before microbreweries. Before, bartenders became the star of the show. Before it all, Wilson County native James Cason was calling the shots and pouring on the fun.
Portrait painted of James by a former Art student at Cumberland
James and his wife of 55 years, Katherine
Cason’s storied career began 50 years ago by accident. “I was asked to work at a wedding reception at Lebanon Golf & Country Club. When I got there, they gave me a jacket and asked me to pour champagne. But they didn’t tell me not to give it to the kids.” Cason says with a hearty laugh.
Even though a few children had their first taste of alcohol that night, he caught the attention of Lebanon Golf & Country Club Manager, Larry Swafford, who thought Cason was a natural. Swafford convinced him to bartend at the club full-time. “That first night, I made $5. And $5 in 1970 was A LOT. So, I decided that this was the job for me, and I haven’t looked back.”
Growing up the 5th of 18 children (his mom had TWO sets of twins in the same year!), James dropped out of Baird’s Mill School after the 8th grade to help the family.
He worked at various jobs in Wilson County before that evening spent pouring champagne changed the trajectory of his life. As Wilson County’s first licensed African American bartender, Cason had dreams of moving to a different state to expand his knowledge and grow in his career. Today, he’s happy those plans didn’t work out. “A long time ago, I wanted to move to Atlanta or Washington,” he continues, “But the Lord directed me to stay here, and it’s been wonderful.”
Married for 55 years, Cason and his wife Katharine have two children and four grandchildren. When he’s not crafting cocktails at Sammy B’s Restaurant or singing in the choir at Lebanon’s Primitive Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, he tends to a small herd of cattle on his farm in south Wilson County.
It’s been five decades since Cason began his impressive career and lucky for everyone who’s had the privilege to watch him mix a cocktail while sharing a funny story, he’s not showing down anytime soon.
“It’s the people that keep me coming back. I’ve met so many good people. I’ve had customers who became friends and took me under their wing and gave me an education in business. It’s hard to beat the life I’ve lived.”
Cheers to you, James Cason! Wilson County appreciates you!
Covid-19: something everyone in this community, and the world, can relate to. Four months ago, those words meant nothing to any of us, today, we cringe when we hear them.
Lives have been shaken up because of the “Corona Virus,”; health put in jeopardy, schools, graduations, proms gone awry, jobs changed overnight and, in some cases, even lost. When they say “we are all in this together”, they really mean it, because never in our lifetimes have we experienced something so globally, that we can just look at someone else and know exactly what they are feeling, because we are feeling it too. And yet, even during this crisis, it is evident that we are slowly learning to overcome.
Judge Clara Byrd, Attorney Kayla Horvath and the Grooms family finalize an adoption by Zoom
Pastor Randy Cook with Crossroads Church in Lebanon
“You were forced to adapt overnight and it wasn’t easy at first but we finally did get the hang of it,” notes Tonya Sacci, Lebanon resident and a kindergarten teacher at May Werthan Shayne Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee. In a matter of days, Tonya and her students were forced into their homes and the school year came to an abrupt halt. It was up to her and many other local teachers and administrators to insure some sort of normalcy not only for the children, but their parents as well. Zoom or on-line learning became the new norm for high schoolers as well as many college students sent home after Spring Break never to return.
“Meeting with students through Zoom is a completely different atmosphere than face to face. My fellow teachers and I have had to find creative ways to adapt to this situation while still providing learning opportunities for the children. Many kids did not have access to Wi-Fi or a computer, so one thing I did was is mail different educational worksheets to the kids to have options to continue their learning. Although this has been an adjustment, I believe the new techniques and skills we have picked up will be beneficial to us in the future when we make it back to the classrooms. I speak for myself and other teachers, we miss our students and pray everyone is staying healthy!”
Not only has the teaching profession changed in the blink of an eye, but others like doctors, nurses, and grocery store workers, have become known as the warriors on the front lines. From long lines at the grocery stores that led to many citizens working double shifts, to nurses and doctors setting up, almost overnight, COVID testing facilities, these folks truly stepped up in our time of need. Fear gripped the nation and most of us were shuttered within the safety of our homes, and yet, those on the frontlines kept it all together for the rest of us. For that, the words, thank-you, will never be enough.
Small businesses, restaurants, banks, lawyers, and the courts had to find alternatives in order to continue to stay in contact with their clients and to continue to be of service. Many restaurants began curbside pickup and even delivery. Boutiques and shops transitioned to online orders as well. Judges and lawyers started having hearings online or by phone. Attorney, Ashley Jackson, a Wilson County resident and mother of four small children, found herself in many hearings where her client was at home on one computer screen, the Judge was at the courthouse on his computer screen and she was in her office looking into her screen as well – all for one hearing that used to take place in the courtroom. “Yes, it was different and at first, we all didn’t know how to make it work, uploading documents, sharing screens, muting participants but justice can’t stop just because there are stay at home orders. We had children who weren’t seeing their parents and clients in jail so, together, we just figured it out. And now, it’s almost seamless. All the attorneys and Judges are participating in Zoom hearings and have become quite the experts in technology. I can see the future of law changing for the better because of what we’ve been through.”
And in times of crisis, the one place a community can always turn to is their church and sadly, many of those had to be shuttered like the courtrooms. Pastor, Randy Cook, of Crossroads Community Church experienced first-hand the loss felt throughout the world. “Everyone is struggling with a lack of fellowship. People who were previously battling addictions, mental health and their faith now have lost encouragement they found by physically being in the church. We can’t let people believe the lie that we can hide ourselves and our hardships in the darkness. We all need to be surrounded by light and reminded that we are still connected and never alone, even in these trying times.”, stated Cook.
Cook went on to note that the church has been impacted in three major ways, “physically we have been affected by
not being able to gather, logistically by adapting and learning to connect with people outside of the church in new ways, and spiritually by not being able to fellowship and grow our relationship with the Lord in the ways we have in the past.” He added however, “we have been working together to be a resource for those in need. We just finished a 2-week food drive and have received many forms of donations that will all be available for people in need. Our members have also been reaching out through phone calls, personal cards, and grocery shopping for those at high risk Regardless of where you were in relation to technology, it was a major disruption, for some smaller churches, like Crossroads, more so than others. We decided not to do Sunday morning services to keep from overloading all the other churches who gather virtually at the time. Also, we understand that for some, it is hard to sit and stay engaged in an hour-long online service. We decided to meet through Facebook and Instagram briefly every afternoon (Mon-Fri) at 4:30, which we call Connection Point. We simply encourage people to spend 5 minutes surrounded by others of faith to replenish and give hope during these times.”
When asked if Cook had any words of encouragement as we are now slowly recovering, he added that “we strongly encourage those losing their jobs or having hours cut to continue to reach out to people and places of faith. Although we can’t solve all their needs, we can help them in many different areas. People want to help! Don’t make the mistake of shrinking back into isolation. It’s an easy thing to do, but it is toxic. We were created to be in community, so be proactive and continue to make connections in any way possible. When all of this is over, what will you come out of this with? Let this be a season of introspection. Don’t let this time go to waste. Emerge from this full of growth in your faith in God!”
Covid-19. Words we will never forget, but one day we hope when we hear these words, we will remember a time that as humans, we grew stronger because of it.
Jennifer Rowland Sheppard’s mom, Sue, started dating Jennifer’s dad in 1968. That courtship lasted 10 years before marriage.
He loved farming and he ran cattle,” Sue said from her daughter’s home in Timber Ridge during quarantine. “There was a beautiful, big Oak tree there and we would meet under the tree before we were married.”
From fallen tree to custom wood bowl, Bruce turns loss into artwork with help from his lathe
A live edge bowl from the fallen white oak tree on the Rowland’s farm
"The Tree" standing tall on the Rowland's Farm before the March 3 tornadoes.
Silver maple, this tree was at a house close to 109 and I-40, literally a few feet from the path of the tornado, and it survived only to be brought down in the wind surge of the storm a few weeks later
When it was lunchtime, she’d take her future husband, Albert, lunch to the massive tree that graced the family farm on Tuckers Gap Road in Lebanon.
“We’d sit under the tree on the truck tailgate and eat lunch,” she remembers.
Albert passed, 10 years ago, this October. Majestic in size and form, through the decades it was known as “the tree.”
“After we married, it was the meeting place,” Sue said. “He would call and ask what I had for lunch and say, ‘meet me at the tree.’”
Everyone knew which tree it was. The mighty Oak commanded the respect it de-served, smack dab in a big hayfield.
“It was a gorgeous tree,” recalls Sue.
“Beautiful and humongous. After the grands came along, it was their meeting place as well.”
Sue reckons the tree must be 100 years old, or more. Through the seasons, this family had picnics, get-togethers, sunny day siestas and more under the tree that sidles up to a narrow gravel road that goes deep into the farm.
Jennifer got engaged to husband Micah under this tree. Their daughter, Maggie Grace, turned 2 April 11.
For over a century, this tree stood tall and took many hits when storms were restless, and winds were high. Its roots were deep, and they held strong.
The March 3, EF-3 tornado’s winds upwards of 136 miles per hour were simply too much for this aged and mighty Oak. Her roots let go and she toppled to the ground in what was likely a graceful and dignified bow.
The original family farmhouse, built in the late 1880’s, also took a huge hit from the ferocious winds. The ceilings caved in, as did the ancient chicken coop, outhouse, and smokehouse. It is futile to repair the house, but they will salvage the large logs, for keepsakes. A barn was demolished.
But it’s the Oak tree still laying in the field that puts collective daggers in the hearts of this family. The uprooted tree’s naked roots are exposed and reach as high as a tall man.
Jennifer was determined to somehow capture the tree’s integrity and memories. She heard about a Mt. Juliet woodworker, Bruce Humphrey, who makes boxes and bowls out of family trees that are down. When the March 3 tornado blew down stately, timeworn, family mascot trees across our region he reached out to families to say he could do something “small” for them. For these families, this gesture and token of empathy is not “small” but huge.
“It’s the least I can do,” he said from his workshop on Benders Ferry Road. “They are beautiful, a memento, some-thing of beauty that will last a lifetime or more.”
He thought the process of being gifted with a bowl made from the wood of a once living family favorite would “ease the process” for them.” It’s the overall process that runs deeper than an old tree’s roots but encompasses a gamut of feelings.
And, they are gifts from him.
“When it comes down to it,” said Bruce. “If no bowls are made by me, these ancient trees would be no more than fire-wood. I can’t let that happen.”
Bruce likes to go out to the downed trees to choose the best piece of wood to work with. In addition to Jennifer’s gorgeous bowl made of Oak [one of the trickier woods to hone], Bruce has crafted different sized bowls from Walnut, Maple, Cherry, and other types of wood. All are one of a kind, with different gradations of colors and veining.
He shared a picture of his very first turned bowl.
“At that time, I thought it was pretty great,” he said.
“Looking at this picture, the walls are too thick.”
Turning wood is a rather new hobby for Bruce. He works full time. Several years ago, after work, he found himself “falling down in front of the TV and so bored.”
“I went to the University of YouTube,” he said with a laugh. “I was too stupid to be scared of losing fingers.”
He thinks that first bowl ended up the burn pile. If he didn’t burn some, his workshop and home would be inundated with the beautiful pieces.
“I look back at them as from my ‘youth period,’” he said. Many of the bowls are literal works of art, and, some can be used for decoration and even fruit bowls. These recent, heartfelt pieces of wood gifted to grateful tornado victims are some of his favorites. He also sells bowls made from treasured trees that have finished their time on earth to non-tornado victims.
The Rowlands recently received a memorial bowl from Bruce to help them remember the mighty Oak that was their meeting place for generations.
The bowl’s home is at Jennifer’s right now. Her mom dreamed of a rocking chair made from her favorite tree, so she can sit in it and remember. The bowl is the perfect piece and now an irreplaceable family heirloom.
Sue always said no matter what, this Oak would be pre-served and never taken down by man. She said only if the hand of God took it down, could she live with it.
“And, it was an act of God,” she said. “The bowl is absolutely beautiful. My new grandbaby never got to meet Pa Albert, but she has this bowl that represents many of his memories. It gives us comfort.”
This grandma said she’s yet to go down and see the toppled tree.
“Too many memories,” she said. “I’ve not been able to go back there. I have not done it yet. It’ll break my heart.”
To see Bruce’s works, go to riverviewwood.com or on Facebook.
By Sarah Haston, TCEcD
Economic Development Director | City of Lebanon
For the first time in his adult life, Lebanon Assistant Fire Chief Nick McCorkle sheltered in a closet with his wife in their home as a violent storm swept through his Westview Acres neighborhood. Minutes after the storm passed, he was dressed and attempting to assess the damage, first to his house, then to his neighbors, then to the whole area.
William Glover, the public safety officer for the Lebanon Police Department, heard the alert on his radio after midnight – and like he does for any perceived emergency service, he headed toward the police headquarters. He had to pull under a canopy at a gasoline station as he neared Highway 109 as the wind and rain pushed through the city around 1:30 a.m. on March 3.
Lebanon’s engineering services director, Regina Santana, was attending a conference in Dallas, Texas, on behalf of the City of Lebanon, and was awakened in her hotel room by her daughter-in-law, calling to tell her that an EF4 tornado with winds exceeding 150 miles per hour had just raged through Lebanon. She cancelled her plans and booked the first flight out of Dallas the next morning.
McCorkle and Glover and their first responder colleagues, aided by Jeff Baines, Commissioner of Public Works, General Services Director Lee Clark, and his team, worked through the night and into the next night. Santana was on site by early afternoon, and they all proceeded to be key players in the near miraculous search, rescue, and restoration response that unified the city and exemplified the spirit of volunteerism by residents and kind-hearted strangers alike. All three long-time Lebanon residents and city employees worked tirelessly through the next two weeks to help bring some semblance of normalcy to the city as it reeled in the aftermath of the deadly storm. And all give credit to the entire community.
“The quick action by first responders, other city employees, residents, volunteers from other police and fire departments, and thousands of volunteers from near and far is a great point of pride for me,” said Mayor Bernie Ash. “It was grueling, exhausting work, and a great example of what communities can do when they work together, and I am exceptionally proud of the City of Lebanon employees.”
McCorkle’s home sustained what he called minor damages, but the homes of neighbors two blocks away were leveled. Glover knows several members of his church whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Santana’s home was spared, but her grandmother’s house was heavily damaged. All knew someone who suffered from the tornado.
“As terrible as the damage was, we were lucky the storm hit in the middle of the night when most people were not at work. The number of injuries and possibly deaths would have been much higher if it had been in the day,” the 20-plus year veteran of the Lebanon Fire Department said.
The trip to Fire Station #4, which usually takes McCorkle 6 to 7 minutes, took 45 minutes. Power lines were down, trees blocked roadways, the Eastgate area was devastated, a fire there was reported, and an injured tenant of one of the many destroyed businesses was rescued and taken to the nearest ambulance in the fire chief ’s pick-up truck.
“We’re used to dealing with chaos, but I have never experienced anything like this,” he said. “Radios went out; we had two firefighters take off on foot to help clear a path into the area. “We went business to business, house to house that first night along Leeville Pike and Eastgate Blvd.
McCorkle said Lee Clark and Lebanon’s public works crews, along with Middle Tennessee Electric teams, were instrumental in the initial clearing of downed trees, power lines and debris. And he praised City Garage workers for setting up shop at Station #4 where they changed damaged tires on local and neighboring fire department fire engines.
“The fire chief decided to open up a big bay at the Administration Office to accept donations. There were an unbelievable amount of donated supplies, from food and water to cleaning supplies every day and we were able to saturate the area with these items over the next two weeks.” Glover’s role, working from the police department’s mobile command center since power was out at the main headquarters, was helping make sure people were safe the first day, and then to coordinate the huge volunteer response. “We had more than 400 the first day and from Wednesday through Sunday a total of 3,500 showed up to help.
“Regina and I worked extremely well together. We wanted everything to be as smooth as possible.
Glover said Highland Heights Church of Christ on North Cumberland still had power, and immediately agreed to provide shelter to displaced residents. And he praised local businesses in the surrounding area which then sent food and supplies.
“Police Chief Mike Justice, LPD Command staff, Officers and dispatchers worked tirelessly for our community. Police officers from other communities, driving their marked patrol cars and wearing their uniforms, assisted with traffic, and worked intersections around the clock. Firefighters and their equipment were dispatched from Hendersonville, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Franklin, Brentwood and even the Millersville Volunteer Fire Department,” Glover said.
He also lauded Lebanon’s C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) for the 500 hours of volunteer service 20 of its members logged.
“The outpouring of love was amazing. Everyone was tired, but the thing that kept me going was the love of our community. It made you so proud to be from Lebanon,” Glover said.
“From the time I received that phone call in Dallas, it was an emotional roller coaster. When you see so many people hurting, you wanted to do so much,” Santana said.
She set out moving through the city, helping to identify areas where volunteers could make a difference.
“People, our neighbors, showed up in force with gloves, chain saws, skid steers, tractors, trailers, back hoes, knucklebooms, dump trucks, rakes, shovels, food, hugs, prayers and lots and lots of love,” she said.
Her team also helped assess property damages for use in receiving aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and volunteered on weekends identifying downed power lines, potential traffic snags, and with debris removal.
Santana praised Glover’s role in helping coordinate the response. “For two weeks, he stayed calm and cool. He was a great leader.”
“Just to see the impact of what the volunteers were able to do was unbelievable,” she said.
She echoed what her colleagues said when asked how they kept the steady pace for two weeks.
“How did I keep going? I got home, fell into bed, couldn’t sleep. Kept thinking…all these people who need help. All these people who want help,” she said.
“After working here for 24 years, I know a lot of the people who work here. Some I’ve worked with closely over the years and others not so much. One thing I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt is that there isn’t a group of people I’d rather go to war with than the ones who pulled together when the tornado hit and the days that followed. This group worked in sync as if we had hand in hand on a daily basis for years, “Santana said.
We keep you in our hearts as your journey continues. Wilson County is truly a great place to live, work, and play. Together we can make a difference.
During the March tornado, the response and support of volunteers who stepped up to help in rebuilding our community was extremely overwhelming. It proved that our county came together lending a hand to help one another. We were stronger together.
In honor of National Hospital Week, we presented TriStar Summit Medical Center, TriStar Summit Medical Center ER Mt. Juliet, Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital, and McFarland Campus with a blue ribbon and signage to say, “Thank You”. A hospital is more than a place where people go to heal; it is a part of the community that fosters health and represents hope.
This week allowed the opportunity to show our support and appreciation to our health care workers. It is important to highlight hospitals, health systems, and healthcare workers and the innovative ways they are supporting the needs of their community members. Our healthcare workers continue to be the frontline of each community. We can’t thank them enough for their time, commitment, and dedication. Anytime you see a healthcare worker, take a moment to thank them.
In honor of National Police Week and Peace Officer’s Memorial Day, we presented the Lebanon Police Department with a black & blue ribbon and signage to say “Thank You” for your service and show gratitude to our fallen soldiers. Our Law Enforcement officers continue to protect and serve our community. We can’t thank them enough for their bravery, commitment, and dedication.
In honor of National Public Works Week, we were able to say “Thank You” to all City of Lebanon, TN – Public Service leaders and their dedicated staff for the hard work and commitment they give each day. They have continuously been instrumental in our community, especially since the recent tornado. The tireless hours they give are appreciated.
As a countywide initiative, the Lebanon Wilson County, Mt. Juliet, and Watertown Chambers of Commerce are presenting Blue Ribbons to businesses that have implemented Governor Lee’s Tennessee Pledge. We want to recognize them for their commitment to protecting their business, their employees, their customers, and their community. Your businesses make a difference and provide our communities with the quality of life that makes Lebanon and Wilson County home.
Memorial Day is a day to celebrate, honor, and remember those past and present that have served our country. “Thank You” and God Bless the USA.
Showing sheep is not a skill and passion that everyone has the drive for, but when it comes to 5th grader Marshal, he has us all beat. It all started with his great grandfather in California and continued on with his grandfather, his uncle, and mother in Oregon. They brought their love of showing with them when they came to Tennessee, and the legacy and knowledge have been passed down to Marshal; this makes him the 4th generation in the Hull family to be raising and competitively showing sheep.
What a difference a few years make with a new direction and focus. Before I get ahead of myself, let me first give some background on my athletic development.
Growing up I always enjoyed running. It came naturally to me. Being the youngest of four, I would always try to find ways to get noticed. So, running was the way I stood out. The compliments didn’t hurt either.