There Must Be Something In The Water

Watertown’s small-town values impact our community in a big way

Mayor Randall Hutto, County Attorney Mike Jennings, Judge Brody Kane and District Attorney General Jason Lawson

If you ever have the opportunity to drive through Watertown – you’re likely to see children riding bikes, grandparents sitting on their front porches and neighbors waving at each other as they drive down the road. Boasting only about 1500 citizens, Watertown is a close-knit community where neighbors check on each other, churches are full on Sundays and hard work is valued.

Wilson County’s smallest city was established in the 1790s when the grandparents of Wilson L. Waters, the founder of Watertown, moved into the Round Lick Creek area. Waters established a sawmill, gristmill and blacksmith in the early 1800s and in 1858 was appointed the first postmaster. Waters’ 400-acre farm became forever known thereafter as Watertown.

Watertown – with its rolling hills, fishing holes and a town that takes pride in the fact they don’t even have one traffic light in their entire town  –  almost sounds unreal in today’s 21st century modern world, where life happens fast and people are quickly losing their connections. But the people of Watertown are holding tight to their small-town values, finding that those values are impacting and shaping Wilson County for the better.

Just ask four local citizens who hail from Watertown. Each of them holds fond memories of growing up in Watertown and how their small-town values have influenced their lives and careers.

County Mayor Randall Hutto, County Attorney Mike Jennings, District Attorney General Jason Lawson and Criminal Court Judge Brody Kane were all raised in Watertown and have not wandered too far from their hometown roots. Hutto and Kane now live in Lebanon, Lawson is in Mt. Juliet and Jennings not only continues to live in Watertown but is also their Mayor. Visit a Friday night Watertown football game and you’re likely to see one or two of these men in the stands cheering their Purple Tigers on while talking to their old friends and neighbors.

“It’s about community. When you grow up in a small town like this, you always feel safe and protected. Everyone was always rooting for you, from your teachers who wanted you to succeed, to your coaches on the field who taught you grit and perseverance, to your friends who always had your back and still do 50 years later,” notes Criminal Court Judge Brody Kane.

Brody Kane

Wilson County County Attorney, Mike Jennings, was born and raised in Watertown and then raised his own children there too. In fact, he liked it so much, he has stuck around and has remained the Mayor of Watertown for more than three decades. A job he does without pay because this way of life and preserving it, is important to him. Mike remembers that “growing up in Watertown revolved around church, school and family. These things were focal points then and, in my opinion, they still are.”

Mike Jennings

In the last ten years, Wilson County’s population has grown by over 26% and as Nashville keeps pushing east and people are moving to Tennessee in droves, change is inevitable. Yet, the reason so many people want to live in Tennessee and Wilson County specifically, is directly because of the fact – church, school and family are important to them as well.

A fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by all four of these men whose job it is to protect and preserve our community, as well as another Watertown resident, who chose to call Watertown home as an adult.

In July, Jeff Luttrell took over as Wilson County’s Director of Schools. Jeff was raised in a town much like Watertown north of the border in Kentucky. He became a teacher because of the deep impact his teachers had on him as a young child. They believed he could when others did not. Their words and actions impacted him and encouraged him. Their efforts led him down a path that eventually brought him to Cumberland University and under the guidance of Coach Woody Hunt, Jeff finished college and began his teaching career in Hartsville and later Watertown. He stayed in Watertown because of a pretty young lady from Watertown named Tiffany Allison, who at the time was cutting his hair.  Jeff likes to share that his regular barber only charged ten dollars while Tiffany charged fifteen dollars, which was steep for a young teacher, but he laughs, he kept coming back every few weeks until she eventually went out with him and married him. Since then Jeff and his family have called Watertown home with Jeff eventually going from a teacher and coach to Principal of Watertown High School.

“Watertown is a great place to live and raise your kids. The people are hard-working and have integrity. What they say they mean. It’s not about money, it’s not about who your parents are or what they do, it’s about what you do and how you do it that matters. It was my privilege to be the Principal of Watertown High School and to see small town values in action daily within this community and the school specifically. You don’t necessarily teach honesty or work-ethic – instead it’s instilled in you as a way of life by watching and learning from those around you. Teachers take pride in their work and want their students to succeed. Parents are involved and support the teachers. The community as a whole watches out for each other and for our kids and often steps up to help each other out. The world our children are being raised in might be completely different than the one we were raised in, its faster, scarier, bigger but if your core values are solid, then you can handle anything that life throws your way.”

As Wilson County grows, the Director of Schools has a huge responsibility because how Luttrell leads will affect not just the children but the entire community in the future. “I’m ready for this job. I don’t take lightly the impact my decisions will make. I talked to my family and prayed about it long and hard before deciding to put my name in for the position. I’m up for the challenges ahead and excited to see all that these kids will be doing in the future. And I hope that many of them will return to the area after finishing up their education. The world out there may be all shiny and new but there is something to be said about living and working in a community like the one we have here in Watertown.”

Mayor Hutto, a former teacher and coach himself, also hopes that many of our young citizens will decide to stay within the community. “It’s one of the many reasons I decided to become Mayor eleven years ago. It’s important to me that as this community grows, we grow in a way that preserves our past but makes room for our future. We have to have opportunities for both our older and younger citizens and give them all a good quality of life – good jobs, good neighborhoods, good school systems, safe communities. While we can’t bring Mayberry back, we can teach and encourage the values that support a good quality of life. I was blessed to be raised in Watertown and maybe that’s why I love The Andy Griffith Show so much, because it reminds me of my early years in Watertown.”

Randall Hutto

“Growing up in Watertown, when you were not in school, a ballfield or church then you were somewhere working,” Hutto reminisces. Hutto remembers at nine years old working for his Uncle Donnie Roberts at the Valley Discount Store in Watertown. “It was the only store that stayed open past 6 p.m.. I learned how to pump gas, run a cash register and eventually become the butcher. When I wasn’t there, I was on my grandfather, Claude Roberts’ farm raising tobacco and taking care of two large chicken houses – which had over 10,0000 laying hens. The eggs had to be gathered twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening – 365 days a year. The store was open 365 days a year as well and only closed early on Christmas evening. So during a typical day, I would wake up around 5:30 in the morning and ride to the store with my Uncle Ed Roberts who also worked there and was like a brother to me. I would pump gas until it was time to ride the bus to school. We practiced football during school in those days, so when practice was over, I’d ride the bus back to the store and stay there until 10 o’clock at night when I’d drive home with my Pa, who would often allow us to do the driving.”

“Those were different times but hard work never killed anyone and made you stronger in my opinion. I support Jeff Luttrell and know he knows the value of hard work and how it impacts our younger generation. To be successful in our world today you must be able to withstand the storms of life – and to do so, you must have a strong foundation. Watertown gave me the foundation that has helped me navigate this world and hopefully make a difference. The first foundation was being raised with people with similar values as my own – people who valued family and a strong work ethic. The second foundation came from the people that came into my life from teachers and coaches to friends. These people helped me make my decisions. I remember my principal Mr. John D. Johnson’s response as I asked him whether I should go to college. He simply said ‘If you don’t try it, you will never know if you can succeed or not.’ The third and most significant foundation would be my faith, which was built by my grandmother Corine Roberts. She made sure I went to church every Sunday at the Watertown First Baptist Church. This church has not only been special to me because it was the first church I regularly attended and served in, but it was also the church that I was married in 35 years ago. I have many great memories in this church but the faith I live by today, especially when the storms of life arise, help me get through the other side.”

“Watertown is different today but I still believe the product it continues to produce is above average. There is just something special about this place. And I carry what I learned those years in Watertown and the foundation it gave me into everything I do to this day, including my job as County Mayor.”

Judge Kane also holds fond memories of growing up in Watertown and how that shaped him. “Mrs. Marian Driver was my 4th Grade teacher and she was wonderful. She often read books to us and had each row of students compete against the other in hotly contested math flash card competitions. Her classroom was located in the “new” high school building which meant I would often see my older sisters during the day when the high schoolers changed classes. I don’t ever remember being afraid of the high school kids, everyone was nice and respectful to each other.” Interestingly, the home and farm that the Kane’s grew up in in Watertown was torn down to make way for the current Watertown High School campus. “Whenever I drive onto the campus, I feel like I’m coming home – because I am. I rode my bike up and down that driveway thousands of times – riding my bike into town to the five and dime located on the corner of the square or to the Snow White for the vanilla shakes. It never once crossed my mind to be scared or that something would happen to me. I felt safe everywhere I went. And when I got older, there was less bike riding with friends and more working in the hay fields with them in the summer.  And when I wasn’t working on someone else’s farm then I was helping my parents out on our farm – from taking care of sheep or cattle when my Dad was out of town to planting rows and rows of potatoes for my mother. Work kept me out of trouble. I was too tired for trouble by the time I planted ten rows of potatoes!”

And of course, then there was football. Kane recalls that “Junior Pro Football started in the 3rd Grade and so I immediately started playing. William Taylor and Jack Hale were the coaches my first year followed by Ken Fountain and Bruce Harris and eventually Coach Robinson in high school. They all had a great desire to not only win but to teach us that in order to win we had to work hard at learning our skills and work together as a team. They spent countless hours teaching us these important lessons and for that I will be forever grateful.”

“I moved away from Watertown for college and law school and then lived in Memphis for a few years. All of a sudden the big city and all that came with it was at my door. That impacted me in a big way because I realized that without the support of teachers,  family, and church behind you, shaping you, like I had had,  you could easily make wrong decisions that could affect you and others negatively for the rest of your life. I returned to Wilson County because I knew I wanted my children to be raised with the same values I was raised in. And as Criminal Court Judge, I see daily what is happening to our world. But if a child is raised with a strong foundation, much like Mayor Hutto, mentions – family, faith, work ethic and then our schools and churches also are proponents of values like honesty and commitment, they are less likely to go astray. But if they do, you find ways to get them back on course. Those are Watertown values for sure – responsibility and caring about your neighbor.”

District Attorney Lawson, the youngest of the Watertown natives, grew up like Kane and Hutto – in that family, school and church were the cornerstones of his childhood. Lawson notes that “as I reflect on my memories about Watertown what I have come to realize is that the most special thing about the town is the people.” From his childhood friends Alan Hill, Patrick Orrand and Jennifer Hearn with whom he would play way past dark in games that spanned all the yards on the street, to attending church and listening to his grandfather Ben Fuston preach on Sundays, to his teachers Paulette Dorris, Sue Simpson and Janice Rochelle (to name just a few) who shaped the future of each child they taught, Lawson attributes who he became on all these one on one connections. “The people of Watertown, those memories, they have helped shape me to be the person I am. A person that cares about other people. A person that wants to help out. A person who isn’t afraid to step forward and make the effort to correct the situation and make it better than it was before.”

Jason Lawson

It was a great childhood – filled with great memories. Lawson remembers that playing softball at the Watertown ballpark was a right of passage. “My team was sponsored by Anderson’s Backhoe, a company ran by Billy Anderson, with whom I attended church. We were terrible but I’ll never forget one night my teammate Eric Dies crushed his first homerun over the fence. There was a reward for anyone who could hit a homerun – a free ice cream from the concession stand, and we were so bad I was really excited to see someone finally get one! I remember coaches like Clint Dennison and Steve Carlisle who would often talk to us about life lessons that had nothing at all to do with the sport they were coaching. They just cared about the kids they were helping raise. To all of these coaches and teachers, it wasn’t just a job to them, it was a profession that they invested themselves in. They knew how important their job was to make all of us become the people that we ought to be.”

“Watertown people have a spirit of helping people out. When the roads would ice over, my dad would get my brother and I up and tell us to get our warm clothes on, that since we had larger trucks with his business, that we had a duty to use them to help people get unstuck and to make it to their homes. I remember local farmers like Bob Haley reaching out to kids to hire them to help work in his tobacco fields not because he truly needed the help, but because he knew that the kid or the kid’s family could use the money. I remember Fridays and Friday nights during football season. Whether it was a year that I was a fan or a year that I played, the experience was unforgettable. The pride that the whole school and the whole town had for its team. The school decked out in royal purple face paint, pep rallies, and then a parade in town for a team meal at the Depot. It’s an amazing way to grow up.”

“All these people and their acts of compassion and dedication shaped me to be the person I am and I’m not alone in sharing this. County lawyers, county mayors, judges, district attorneys, school directors, there are easier ways to make money. These jobs come with challenging problems and more often than not not everyone agrees with your decision. But there are not better ways to help families in our county and to shape our community into what we want it to be. It is the spirit of service that I learned in Watertown that draws us to these positions and continues to motivate us to continue to serve.”

Lawson, who graduated from Watertown High School and went on to MTSU and then UT Knoxville for law school has been a prosecutor his entire legal career. In 2021, he was appointed by Governor Lee to be the new District Attorney General upon the retirement of General Tommy Thompson. At his swearing in ceremony, Judge Brody Kane had the honor of administering his oath of office, a touching moment that did not go unnoticed by many of their Watertown teachers, coaches and neighbors who undoubtedly had a hand in their achievements.

And it is in that same spirit of service that Mike Jennings, the final Watertown native continues to give back to his small community that has given him so much. Mike has been Wilson County’s county attorney for decades and Watertown’s Mayor for 38 years. He and Luttrell have raised families in Watertown and have no plans to leave. In fact, Mayor Jennings now has grandchildren growing up in Watertown.

Mike reminisces that ”I was blessed to have teachers that cared about me and made sure that I applied myself to my education. The older I get the more I realize how much these teachers influenced my life. Expectations were laid out in class and you were expected to meet them. Behavior issues were dealt with by the teachers in the classroom and they were not afraid to use the paddle. In fact, Mrs. Sadie Knox had an axe handle which she laid out on the front of her desk to remind you of the need to behave! And, should your behavior not rise to their expectation level you can better believe that information would beat you home and there would be worse consequences awaiting you there. One teacher, in particular, Mrs. Dorothy Bass, told me at her desk one day ‘you will be the Mayor of Watertown someday.’ I laughed at her and told her she was crazy. We both laughed about that and I thought about her the night I took my first Oath of office as Mayor of Watertown at age 28.

Mayor Jennings is also a member of Watertown First Baptist Church and remembers how the men of the church spent time with the boys like himself taking them camping, fishing and to the occasional minor league baseball game. They even built a ballfield out back at the church for the kids. With connections and support like this, you can do anything you put your mind to. “Like most boys of that age and time, I started out wanting to be a major league baseball player or football player. At the end of my junior year, the Watertown Lions Club selected me to attend American Legion Boy’s State in Cookeville and that is where I began to get interested in government. In college I became more and more interested in the law, traveling with my best friend, who also became an attorney, to the Wilson County Courthouse many afternoons to sit in on trials. By the time I graduated MTSU, I knew that I wanted to go to law school.” After law school, Jennings started his own law practice that eventually led him to being named the County attorney, representing Wilson County in various governmental matters. And a few years after starting his law practice, he also became the Mayor of Watertown.

As Mayor of Watertown, Mike believes “it’s important to continue the family values and guidance that I received as a student and young man. That is what I have tried to do in my 38 years as Mayor. I want Watertown to be a family friendly community where people want to live and, if they can’t live here, that they enjoy visiting. I want it to be appealing to any age and we try real hard not to make decisions that would not be in the best interest of our families, schools and churches.”

And while Watertown strives in many ways to stay the same and preserve its Mayberry type of community, Mike and the citizens of Watertown see the change coming right before their eyes. The new high school is a jewel in the county, and many families are moving in so their children can attend the school. “We’ve gone from one ballfield in town to a community Park and three fields. We have a drive-in theater and we have many annual events such as the Jazz Festival, Car Shows and the Watertown Mile Long Yard Sale. We still don’t have a traffic light though,” Mike says proudly, and then chuckles, “but we like it that way.”

Small town values – integrity, mean what you say, treat people how you want to be treated, work hard at everything you do. These are the qualities instilled in Watertown’s young not just by words but by the actions of those around them. And these are the qualities instilled in those guiding our community into tomorrow.

Seven Generations Later and the Dixons Come Home



If one trait has been passed down from generation to generation in the Dixon family, it has been perseverance. Josh and Ashley Dixon and their children have it and then some!

Today this large family are putting the finishing touches on their dream house in Defeated Creek, located on the original site of the farmhouse settled in the early 1800’s by Josh Dixon’s ancestors. Their farm, located in Smith county, has been in the family for seven generations and was given to them originally with a land grant.

Josh and Ashley met at church and dated for 6 months before tying the knot. “When I started dating Josh I saw a man who had an amazing work ethic, already had his own house and farm and I knew he was the type of man who would always take care of our family,” notes Ashley. “We didn’t plan on having
a big family but I came from a big family of 6 girls and Josh came from a family with 4 children so it was definitely something we were used to.”

As their family grew, their small construction busines flourished as well. Josh had been working construction since he was 10 years old and hard work was something that was instilled in him at a young age. However, in 2008 the market crashed and things went south in the construction business. The
Dixons made the difficult decision to sell the family farm and the home they had spent four years remodeling. By then they also had three children under the age of 3, a car and house payment and they had no other choice. They did, however, find a way to keep 45 acres of the farm with the hopes that they could someday return.

At that point, they left their beautiful remodeled home and moved into a 2 bedroom rented trailer, determined to persevere. Josh continued construction and took a factory job at night. They kept working the Dave Ramsey financial plan, saving their pennies and staying out of debt. This meant no credit cards and shopping thrift stores and goodwill for their growing family.“It’s amazing what you can do on so little!” Ashley remarks.

Soon Ashley was pregnant with baby number 4, a baby boy. Ashley says his name was whispered in her ear at a friend’s house. “It was the craziest things. It was like an Angel told me to name him ‘Logan’. I don’t know why and I still don’t to this day, but I believe one day I will.” After renting for a few years and the market making a comeback, they decided to build on the 45 acres
that they left. It was a crazy spot to build but we went for it. Josh continued to build small custom homes and take on remodeling jobs with his company ‘Dixon Homes’, while building the family home as well. They also started flipping houses and kept adding to the family too.

Then one day the person who had bought their original home reached out to them that she planned on selling it and wanted to offer it to them first. They Dixons, of course, jumped at the chance to have the old homestead once again be part of the family farm.

And as if they were not busy enough, Ashley had also started homeschooling her happy family of now 8 children, while also having them participate in gymnastics and baseball and enjoying family trips in between.

But Ashley is the first to admit that she had struggles along the way. After their 5 th child, she suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety. “By using micronutrients I was able to heal myself and now I use Instagram to encourage other mothers who may struggle with the same issues. My handle is @takingbackmoterhood and I love sharing what I’ve learned along my journey. As you can imagine our life is a little different than families of a smaller size because everything over here is bigger! Bigger meals, bigger shopping trips and bigger planning!”

So how does this family of ten manage homeschooling, a business and just day to day life? Ashley says that she likes to take her advice from God and how in Genesis God said it was evening and morning the first day. “He started the day at night, so preparing for the next day the night before is really helpful. I
am also a work in progress minimalist. I try to keep my children’s clothes to a minimum so there is less laundry overall, focusing on quality items over quantity items. If they won’t be fitting into it by the next season out if goes. I use apps like ‘Mercari’ to resell clothing so that I can reuse that money to buy what they need. I have never had a problem shopping second-hand clothes and shoes and when I do buy new, I shop sales and use websites like ‘retail me not’ to get cash back online.”

As for groceries they family cooks a lot of meals from scratch, buy from Sam’s in bulk and often buy a whole cow from a local farmer to have it butchered to fill their freezer. The boys also love to hunt so they eat deer as well. Ashley is just like the rest of us though and notes “Walmart grocery pick up is a
blessing!” She continues that “habits are so important for managing a large family. Starting when the kids are young, we teach them simple things like taking off your shoes when coming inside and putting them where they go. Hanging up backpacks as soon as they get home from tutorial and unpacking and putting away their lunchbox. I teach all of my kids to put away their own laundry and as they get older how to do their own laundry as well. Instilling good habits just makes life easier, even if it’s harder at first. And we are definitely not perfect and that is ok. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t but we just keep going till we get it right.”

“The kids are also involved in the business. A good work ethic is so hard to find these days and we felt if the kids were allowed to work when they were young it would produce more productive adults. I always say I’m raising the kids to be adults and not kids. We do pay them for work and they save money and
buy things they want. It’s important that the children learn the value of hard work because if we just buy them something they wanted ourselves, they would not learn that lesson.”

“It’s all about deciding what is worth it to you and thinking about the things you can make do without. Doing without the things you don’t need enables you to save more for the things you really enjoy like trips and hobbies. And the truth is I have grown with my children. It’s like a body of water, if it never moves it gets stagnant. I’ve had to adopt to life changes and I’ve had to learn to grow where I need so that the family can function well. It’s been quite a journey and in many ways we are still at the beginning stages and we look forward to that!”
And while 2020 was rough for the whole world, the Dixons have stood strong in their faith, family and business. They are now in the process of building their final home on the original site of the ancestorial farmhouse and hope to have it ready to move into by Spring 2021. While the road home has not been easy, the Dixons want to use their story to inspire others to reach for their dreams no matter how crazy they may seem.

Josh and Ashley have come full circle and are now exactly where they were meant to be!

Ebel’s Tavern

Founded in 2017 by husband and wife team, Cole and Erika Ebel, Ebel’s Tavern has become the centerpiece of the Carthage downtown square. And that seems only fitting since Ebel’s Tavern is located in a century-old building
made of solid brick and stone, right in the heart of town.

When Cole and Erika first moved to Smith county in 2012, they were not necessarily interested in starting up a new restaurant. Instead, they were looking for a simpler life, having each served in the military, air force for Erika, and army for Cole. They loved the hometown feel of Smith county and thought it was the perfect place to raise their three children. Upon moving to town, they soon became involved in various community groups and events and
realized that there were not that many places to socialize.

And the idea of Ebel’s Tavern was born.

  • The Ebel’s family (L-R): Colin, Cole, Evangeline, Cason, and Erika

“We wanted to incorporate a family-friendly, classy atmosphere where community could come together, eat good food, drink well-made drinks and have fun,” notes Cole. During a downtown event in 2016, the Ebels noticed
that the historic building was for sale and just for fun, called to ask about it. Next thing they knew, they made an offer and soon were the new owners.

One might think with no experience in the restaurant business, the Ebels would have been terrified of such a new business venture, but that isn’t their style. “We’ve both traveled the states and world and have enjoyed many
different cuisine styles and we wanted to bring some of those tastes closer for others to try,” continues Cole.

Ebel’s Tavern is a steak and seafood restaurant primarily. Specializing in everything from snapper, grouper, fresh oysters and scallops to calamari, shrimp platters and even lobster stuffed mushrooms, you definitely will find something you’ll love on their menu! They are also known for their delicious steaks that are all hand cut, upper 2/3 grass fed, grain finished and aged 21 days. While the grouper and scallops are local favorites, the oysters are extremely popular as well.

In addition to quality food, Ebel’s Tavern has become a place where the community can gather. The tavern has live music every Friday and Saturday night supporting local artists, a poker league every Wednesday night, family fun trivia on Tuesday night and a Thursday night dart league. And the Ebels continue to work towards filling up every night with an event that supports the community.

The success of Ebel’s Tavern, however, is definitely a group effort. While Cole and Erika certainly are very hands on, they are first to give credit to Janie Jones the General Manager of Ebel’s Tavern, as well as Chris Underwood, their Chef and Vince Vaughn, their Sous Chef. The Ebels are thankful for not only their hard work but also their loyalty especially during the last few months.

And while the restaurant is certainly near and dear to their hearts, the Ebels have not only enriched the town square with their new venture but stay  involved in other ways as well. Both are now involved with their local
government with Erika serving on the County Commission and Cole being part of the City Council. As active Libertarians, they are involved not only in government but also other groups that support their community including River City Ball, Smith County Living, Smith County Help Center, Keep Smith County Beautiful and are constantly on the Caney Fork River with a passion for keeping it clean and promoting river tourism.

To say they’ve embraced their new community is an understatement, but the best is yet to come. While expansion is certainly a possibility, for now the Ebels are content on concentrating their efforts on making Ebel’s Tavern the best it can be for the community they’ve come to love and call home.

Q&A with 3 Mayors


What important decisions must you make during your first 90 days in office?

RB: During the campaign, I talked with citizens throughout Lebanon, and three areas of concern emerged from those conversations. In the first 100 days, these need to be addressed.

City of Lebanon Mayor, Rick Bell

First, I will work closely with the Finance Director to better manage the budget. I will also ask each department head to look for cuts in their respective budgets. With many homeowners and local business owners facing difficulty and with an unknown economic future, it is essential that we relieve any unnecessary tax burden.

Second, I will work with the Planning Commission to implement a plan of growth management. This will include a deep study of the Comprehensive Plan that has yet to be approved. We must use the compiled data to create a multi-level strategy to tackle immediate concerns and plan for long-term goals.

Third, we must create a plan to attract restaurants and other amenities to Lebanon. I will work with the Economic Development Director to implement a plan to promote our city to regionally and nationally known businesses and to
incentivize the investment in locally owned businesses.


Watertown Mayor, Mike Jennings

MJ: As I am continuing in office with another term, I don’t know that I can identify any new decisions that must be made during the first 90 days. We will continue to pursue funding for the installation of the railroad turntable and
identify our source of long-term funding for the major sewer project about to go to bid.


City of Mt Juliet Mayor, James Maness

JM: Board and committee appointments, selecting a replacement for the open District 2 seat.


WL: What long-term goals are you coming into office with?

RB: My first long-term goal is to ensure that Lebanon runs financially efficient. We must spend citizen’s tax dollars wisely and in areas that enhance quality of life. This includes, but is not limited to, keeping everyone protected in their homes and neighborhoods; improving the infrastructure of the city; and
creating recreational opportunities for people of all ages.

Second, we need to take advantage of Lebanon’s strong position as a place where people want to live. With the proper strategy, we should be able to choose the type of development that we want and where we want it to be located.

Third, we must promote Lebanon’s assets to attract the types of businesses that we want. We have several things – Vanderbilt Hospital, Cumberland University, Music City Star, Lebanon Municipal Airport – that make our city unique in Middle Tennessee. Instead of waiting for someone to come to us, we will go to them and show them why they need to invest in Lebanon.

MJ: I have pretty much the same goals I have always had. I want to offer our citizens as many things as possible while continuing to maintain our small-town atmosphere.

JM: Reducing the fire ISO rating to a four in the city, completing our transportation projects, adding additional park land and greenways.

WL: What do you believe your city’s biggest challenge is right now? And what are your plans to find a solution for this issue?

RB: Lebanon faces several challenges, but I believe that growth is the biggest. Over the past four years, the city has grown tremendously. However, we have experienced the challenges of growth without reaping the benefits that should
come with it. As I stated previously, we must implement a plan that will prepare us for both. The first step is to study the Comprehensive Plan to determine issues that need to be addressed immediately and to map a strategy for the future. With the proper strategy, growth can be managed, and we can choose the type of community that we want to be.

MJ: The biggest challenge is always money. Many people may not realize that citizens of a small community like Watertown expect you to offer the same services that larger towns and cities do. Police and Fire Protection. Parks and
Recreational opportunities. Safe drinking water. An efficient, working sewer system. Paved streets. Codes enforcement. Opportunities for employment. Many of the expenses to provide these things continue to increase with inflation, increases in population, etc. The challenge is to do the most
you can in the most efficient, economical manner.

JM: Our biggest challenge is transportation. In 2019 we passed our long-term transportation plan. We have to ensure staff has the resources they need, and the funding is there to present shovel-ready projects to the state.

WL: How do you plan to manage the inevitable growth that is coming our way, with the “small town” quality of life many citizens want to retain?

RB: During the campaign, I talked about protecting Lebanon’s identity as a place where we can spend our lives; raise families, and watch as our families grow. Protecting our historic core is an important way to do this. For over 200
years, the square and downtown area has been the heart of Lebanon. We must ensure that it continues. We must also protect our established neighborhoods
throughout the city. There are many neighborhoods where people have raised families and are spending their retirement years. These areas have to be protected from the encroachment of higher density subdivisions.

Also, we need a traffic plan. For people in some parts of Lebanon, they can get to Mt. Juliet quicker than they can get across our city. Better traffic flow can make life less frustrating. It can also help people better enjoy the attributes
that make Lebanon a special place.

MJ: It’s difficult because there are just so few things that you can have input on or manage. We have been fortunate in Watertown to have slow, sustained growth. That offers you more opportunities for input and control. Folks who live in Watertown daily may think they don’t see any change. But, if they will look back 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and more they can see what I mean.

JM: One thing we have pushed for is lower density growth. There is a high demand for the area, and we try to balance the demand to develop an area with required open and green space. It’s also important for the growth to be compatible with the area and add value. It’s important we do not settle for just anything and continue to demand high standards.

WL: What will you do to bring more, higher-paying jobs or industries to the area in order to keep our younger citizens from moving away to larger cities with more opportunities?

RB: When businesses relocate, quality of life for their employees is an important part of the decision-making process. As I stated earlier, we must promote the assets that will put Lebanon at the top of their list. We have Vanderbilt Hospital, which has a reputation of providing excellent medical care. We have Cumberland University that creates a skilled workforce. We have the Lebanon Municipal Airport for convenient corporate travel. We have the Music City Star that provides public transportation to downtown Nashville. However, we must also improve our recreational facilities Businesses want to be in cities that provide greenways, parks, and athletic fields. These are places that provide recreational activities but also provide ways for people to be part of the overall community.

MJ: We will continue to look for those things. But, it is more difficult to do in a town that is 10 miles from the interstate system, rather than having multiple interstate exchanges available like Lebanon and Mt. Juliet have. But, we will
continue our efforts. We have some very good small industries here with some fair paying jobs. I think we have the opportunity for more of those. And, I have always tried to identify the businesses that will be “good corporate citizens”. It
needs to be a two way street between government and industry.

JM: One thing we are actively working on is the recruiting of white-collar jobs to Mt. Juliet. Providence Central was recently approved and will provide long-term traffic relief to the Providence area while having the space set aside for the type of jobs many of us commute to other cities for. Mt. Juliet was recently found to be the most cost-effective local government in the state. Keeping taxes and fees low, proximity to the airport, and a great workforce are some
things we offer to attract jobs.

WL: Under your leadership, what will the city do to improve the quality of life for both younger families as well as our Seniors?

RB: Quality of life can be defined in several ways. For some people, it is more places to dine and shop. For others, it is navigable sidewalks and greenways that provide opportunity for exercise and a way to move around the core of the city. For many, it is parks and better athletic fields for their children. For a lot of people, it is a place like the Senior Center, where people can congregate and socialize. For most people, it is a city that places importance on beautification. I will work in each of these areas, and more, to ensure that quality of life for the citizens of Lebanon improves.

MJ: I will continue to lead, and encourage, our City Council to pursue the things that blend into, and compliment, the things already in our community. I have been blessed to have a very cooperative and, I think progressive, City Council over the years who want the best for their community. Many people may not know that none of us receive a salary, or stipend, for what we do. We do it for public service seeking the best for all the citizens of our community.

JM: One thing we recently did was donate land for the senior citizen center. We also have required age restrictive communities to donate to the senior citizen capital fund so they can construct a new center. We are also actively looking
to expand our park land. Recently, in the last few years, the city opened several smaller parks and expanded our greenways. I also plan to explore ways to encourage family activity centers, such as skate centers, bowling alleys, etc. to
build in our city in ways that are not cost prohibitive.

WL: In your role as Mayor, what can you do to improve our education system?

RB: The Lebanon Special School District is independent from the City of Lebanon. However, we know that growth greatly affects the school system. I have asked the Planning Director to speak with LSSD officials when he is researching a potential development. Understanding the impact of a development on the school system is an important part of the process. If school officials say that a development will place a tremendous burden on them, then that should be taken into account when the Planning Director recommends approval or denial.

MJ: Continue to cooperate, and assist, them in any way we can. We have had a long, proven track record of working with all our schools (we have three inside the city limits) to assist with traffic flow, safety, and, through our recreational leagues primarily, provide some part-time employment for students.

JM: I think our parents, teachers, and school administrators deserve the credit for our great school system. One thing the city has done has been to encourage, when possible, the building of age-restricted developments (i.e. 55 and over) which pay into our schools without increasing the load on the school system. We can also work to streamline the building process for our school system when they need to build schools in the city.

WL: Where do you see your city 5 years from now?

RB: In five years, Lebanon will have a plan that manages growth and ensures that it is positive for everyone. It will also be a place where people have a variety of options in dining, shopping and entertainment. It will have a vibrant
downtown core where local residents will gather and people from other cities will travel to spend money. It will be on its way to having a sidewalk and greenway system that connects the entire city.

MJ: I see the slow, steady growth continuing trying to meet the challenge of providing 21st Century businesses, employment, etc. while continuing to maintain our small town image that we have come to be known for. Especially
around our Square and Central Business District.

JM: We will have our third fire station opened and operational, a reduction in our ISO safety rating. Many of our proposed transportation projects will be started and some complete within five years. By that point, we will see the
addition of some needed park space.

WL: Where do you see your city 20 years from now?

RB: In twenty years, Lebanon will be a place that provides a high quality of life for its residents. There will be a completed greenway system that connects neighborhoods and parks throughout the city. That quality of life will help
make it a hub of high-tech jobs. While some people will ride the Music City Star to Nashville for work, others will ride to Lebanon to enjoy our historic downtown and other amenities. It will be a city that prides itself on beautification and strict building standards. It will be a city that its founders and the generations who have lived here would be proud of.

MJ: Very similar to where I see the city in 5 years, however, I do think the urban sprawl that has affected Mt. Juliet over the last 20 years, and to a lesser degree Lebanon will become more of a challenge to future leaders. In school, we learned from the 19th century the encouragement “to go west, young man.” Here, in our County, over the last 20 years or so, it seems the encouragement, and actuality has been “to go east, young man.”

JM: We will see the completion of some major transportation improvements and see Mt. Juliet positioned as not only an edge city but a destination city offering diverse jobs. Mt. Juliet will be a city people commute to and not from. In 20 years, one thing that won’t change is Mt. Juliet will still be one of the safest and family-friendly cities in the state.


Our Sister’s Keeper

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.

aCross Tennessee, Shine Your Light For All To See

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 You can find the ministry on Facebook at aCross Tennessee or their website at (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!”



Pool Days Are The Best Days

Take A Dip Into the World of Gene Kulas Pools

  • Pool Days Are Great

There is something to be said about sitting out by a pool on a hot summer day. And one man, who definitely sees the benefit in that, is local pool builder, Gene Kulas.

Gene and his wife, Leanna, live in Lebanon and soon will be moving into their forever home built on Leanna’s family farm. Their pool is still in the planning stages but chances are it will be spectacular!

Gene was raised in Hartford, Connecticut. The son of Polish immigrants, he grew up speaking polish at home and being the interpreter for his parents. He also grew up visiting his aunt and uncle who lived in Mt. Juliet and soon fell in love with the area. At the age of 16, he moved in with his aunt and uncle, ready to make middle Tennessee home. Immediately upon arriving, he went to work with Roy and Janet Vaden of Roy Vaden Pools. He would often work for them and then later that same day work at Big Lots and when not working those two jobs, would be found at Mega Market sacking groceries.

He was taught work is good for the soul from his parents and grandparents and since the age of 16 he has continually been working to support his family.

After graduating high school, he continued to work for Roy helping build pools with him and soon after met his wife, Leanna (King) Kulas. “Becky Sellars was a friend of mine and she was working at the pool store with Gene. She set us up and the rest is history!’ , states Leanna.

In 1997 Gene and Leanna married and together have built a wonderful family and thriving business. They have two children Anna Cate who is in college and Alek who is a Senior in high school.

Gene Kulas Pools has been in business since 1998 and Gene tries to only build 8 to 10 pools a year because he does the job himself from start to finish. “I remain on the job the entire process. I can build a pool, renovate an existing pool and also help design and build outdoor living environments. I’m also a licensed contractor and electrician and have been building pools from the ground up now for over 25 years. With proper planning, there’s nothing we can’t build.”

Every year, Gene takes classes to be sure to stay current on the latest building trends and innovations. Automation is becoming a feature everyone wants and with smartphones you can now control your entire pool with an App. Some of his favorite pools that he has built include a guitar-shaped pool he built for a Nashville musician which was featured on the Today Show and recently he built a lazy river pool for a family in Franklin.

To come up with his ideas, Gene will sit with the homeowner and find out their wish list and their vision. “I take into account the architecture and color of their home, is it rustic, modern, or formal and how the yard lays. I have built small pools for exercise and large pools and spa combos. If you can dream it, I can build it.”

Keeping the business small remains a priority for Gene. “I don’t have a storefront or big overhead. I don’t do much advertising either. My clients come to me based on referrals which makes me feel good because that means I did a good job for somebody else.”

The future looks bright for Gene. His son is becoming more and more interested in the pool business and the family will soon settle into their new home in Lebanon – a home Gene built himself at night and on weekends.

“By next spring we hope to be enjoying our own pool and I’m excited to start building more pools in my community as I plan to stay closer to home so that I can come home at night and finally enjoy my own pool!” Gene Kulas Pools can be found on Facebook and Instagram at @genekulas_pools

The Road Home

By Angel Kane

As I sit here on my porch this early Saturday morning, I’m amazed by how time flies.

Four years ago I wrote an article about our oldest child leaving for college. At the time I thought my heart would break. Dropping her off and driving away was one of my toughest days thus far. I sobbed for the first hour and for the second and third hour, my husband and I sat in almost complete silence driving home. 

We were always trying to teach her to be strong and self-sufficient, but to be honest we didn’t think she was listening! 

And then she was gone. 

Four years have passed and since then our #2 has followed in her sister’s footsteps and gone off to college. (A different one in a completely different direction because that’s what middle children do!)

And in that time we’ve survived. 

Probably because #3 is still here and we are completely obsessed, with him. Some mornings, I literally just stare at him eating his breakfast. 

“You’re doing that thing again. It’s freaky.” he used to tell me. (Apparently a completely normal phenomenon for parents trying to soak in the last few years of child-rearing. ) Bless his heart though, four years later, he no longer says anything and just lets me stare. And then he gives me a long hug goodbye before he heads to school. 

But next week our eldest returns. 

I remember the first year she was gone, I followed her every move on my Verizon App. I’d obsess if she wasn’t in her dorm by a decent hour. I’d fret over her wardrobe choices and friend missteps. And if she didn’t text back for over three hours, I’d start calling her friends to look for her! (True story, and now she responds a little more quickly.) 

When she was happy we were thrilled, when she was sad we were crushed. She studied, she worked, she traveled. And each time we’d see her, she was a little smarter, a little stronger and a lot more self-assured.

She returns with two degrees in hand, a job lined up an hour from home and not the little Madi we dropped off with her matching dorm room bedding and twinkly lights. 

I like this Madi more. 

She survived and thrived and learned she could stand on her own two feet. That’s what we wanted after all. 

Soon after I wrote my initial article, I was at the park walking. Glenda Davis was walking too. She may not remember, but she called out to me and said, “I read your article, just know it gets easier. She’ll be fine. This is what we raised them to do. “ For some reason, her words brought me the peace I’d been looking for. She had once been in my shoes and knew how the story ended. 

So for all the mammas that are dropping their first-borns off this week, just know time will pass quicker than you know. They will call you heartbroken, they will call you overjoyed, each experience is a step to who they are meant to become. 

And those steps will eventually lead them home. 

LET THEM EAT CAKE & other tasty treats!

It was a love of baking instilled in her from her own mother that started it all. And from that little spark, Italian Mama’s Bake Shop was born.

Lauren Costley lives in Mt. Juliet with her husband Brandon, their sons, Collin, Luke, daughter Tessa, and their fourth child, Barrett, just arrived on May 6th. When she isn’t mothering or working in the family hardware store and mechanical business with her father, then you’ll find Lauren in her kitchen – baking.

“I was very fortunate and blessed to grow up with a Mom (Sharon Caputo) who was always cooking and baking. So, naturally I have always loved to cook and bake, whether it to be for my family or my friends,” notes Lauren. “After my Mom passed away in 2008, I really started to cook more and more because it reminded me of our time together.”

A love of family and a love of cooking are an integral part of Lauren’s life these days. “When Brandon and I started our family I began to have an interest in baking even more. I loved to make my kids birthday cakes and cookies. My friends started asking to buy cakes and desserts from me and at first, I was reluctant but gave it a shot. From there I started doing a little advertising online with my sister-in-law and it’s now taken off! Everything I’ve done has been something I learned from my own mother or just getting in the kitchen and giving it a try.”

But Lauren readily agrees she could not have done this alone. While her husband isn’t one to bake, he will help her when needed running to the grocery for necessary ingredients or cleaning up behind her. Her boys, on the other hand, don’t mind pitching in when its Pizza night, but it’s little Tessa who loves to put on an apron and help mom out in the kitchen.

“My sister-in-law Gina will also help me out with larger cakes or large events like parties or weddings. She is very talented herself and that’s how our name came about. We are both full blooded Italian so we thought it fitting to be known as “Italian Mama’s” Bake Shop.

Italian Mama’s offers all sorts of different treats from Italian cookies, decorated buttercream iced sugar cookies, different flavors of scones and breakfast/brunch desserts, cupcakes, cakes, cake pops, and brownies. They also are becoming very well-known for their gorgeous wedding cakes. “

The wedding cake trends I see and just love are the simpler one tiered cakes,” comments Lauren. “It’s a more affordable way to have multiple cakes with different flavors and designs for your wedding. Also, the semi-naked cake with gold drip and the two-tiered fresh flower cake with gold brushed paint, are both very popular right now and those are the ones we did for the Wilson Living Magazine wedding photo shoot.”

Lauren still considers her baking more of a hobby than a full-time business but her select few clients are keeping her very busy these days and no doubt, with her talent, we will all be hearing more and more about this Italian Mama!

If you are interested in any of her tasty treats then you can reach her at (615) 306-6355 or at You can also check her work out on Instagram or Facebook at @italianmamasbakery.