After a surreal journey the past eight years, Mike Harris believes laughter is the best medicine.
Known as “Dr. Mike” of Mt. Juliet Animal Care Center by legions of friends, family and clients, this loved local vet asks Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa to tell him a joke every morning to start off his day.
“She makes sure I laugh every day,” Mike said while at his home in Gladeville.
What happened to Mike, 67, on Sept. 11, 2013 was the furthest thing from a joke imaginable.
A few hours after a routine sinus surgery, Mike suffered an Ischemic stroke while recuperating at home. That type of stroke happens when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked. Within minutes, the veterinarian’s 35-year fulltime career came to a screeching halt and he began a fight; first to live, and then to battle back to regain full speech, the use of his legs and some mobility.
His wife, Denise, had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months previously and was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.
“The neurologist came to me and said Mike’s right side of the brain was devastated and the left side had irregularities,” she said.
Their daughter, Haley, was 12 at the time. They had a son, Drew. Denise said that day changed their lives and she put her cancer in the backseat.
“I was so caught up in keeping him alive I went into emergency mode the whole time,” she said. “Of course, I’d come back to the question of ‘why?’ He is such a good man. It’s devastating to watch your husband struggle.”
Brain surgery led to 30 days in the ICU and 120 days in the hospital. Then years of therapy. Both Mike and Denise fought off COVID-19 last June.
For years, clients and locals asked about Dr. Mike and how he was doing. If he was able to talk and walk? How is he recovering? The community missed Dr. Mike and he was rarely seen.
Life before the stroke
Mike was the first generation of his family who was not born in the log cabin on the family farm in Gladeville. Today he and Denise live in Gladeville, off Leeville Road. Haley is in college and Drew is in California in the music industry.
It was only logical Mike became a vet. He grew up on the farm where his father and grandfather ran a dairy. They then used it for beef cattle. Mike and his brother still run cattle today.
Following graduation from Auburn University’s veterinary school in 1978, he joined a vet practice in Austin, Texas. He came back home in 1982 and after a stint at Hermitage Animal Hospital, he opened his own practice on N. Mt. Juliet Road (Billy Goat Café now occupies that space).
In 1986, he built his animal care facility. He expanded three times before he sold the vet business to VCA in 2010 to spend more time with his family. He had been working 80-hour weeks for years. He had built the practice up to 15,000 clients, five other vets and 65 employees. At one point, it was not uncommon for him to treat 100 pets a day.
His deal was he could work there three years more to help with the transition. His clients begged him to stay.
He didn’t quite make it to finish that third year because of the stroke.
Journey back to ‘new normal’
When he woke from the brain surgery, he could barely speak, could not sit up and had no use of his left arm, and the other limbs were iffy.
“It was so frustrating, I was so scared but I had hope to get better,” Mike said. “As long as I could speak, I had to fight. I had my 12-year-old daughter, son and my wife.”
Denise said they were lucky enough to privately pay for his therapy and is taken aback when she thinks of those who can’t. Haley started a nonprofit called Healing Heads that raises money for those with brain injuries.
“After dealing with the fear and anxiety that comes with cancer, I was pretty emotionally numb when Mike had his stroke,” Denise said quietly. “It was simply a matter of survival at that point. In addition, there was so much support from our families and tons of support from his clients, friends, church family and the community in general.”
Mike said his lowest point was at first when he thought there was no hope to get better. He said his highest point was when after years of therapy he knew he could live a “semi-normal” life.
He hated therapy. He said therapists were strict.
Life’s new normal
One doctor told Denise that Mike would most likely never stand.
He can. He can walk with a cane short distances and uses a motorized chair around the house. He has no use of his left arm. Mike’s mind is as sharp as ever and he remembers every surgical detail. Sometimes former clients call him for advice.
“One client who lives in Florida now called me at 1 a.m. and said her little Yorkie (a former patient) was having seizures,” said Mike. “She couldn’t get a vet at that time. I knew the sugar levels were low and causing the seizures and told her to give a teaspoon of white corn syrup. The seizures stopped within 30 minutes.”
Recently he talked a former client through the delivery of a goat.
He doesn’t want to go into part-time practice, though he has kept up his vet license. He also signs health certificate licenses for the FFA and 4H.
“I realize my limitations,” he said.
Checkers and Scrabble are his favorites. Chess?
Until recently he thought Chess was just too slow. But recently, he began to play.
Denise said he and a friend can play up to 13 rounds of checkers in one sitting. She plays Scrabble with her husband a couple times a day. She said he’s remarkable at it considering his vision in one eye is compromised.
Progress continues every day. Mike said he’s done with formal therapy and good with where he’s at now. Denise said Mike has never been a bad patient.
Hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats later and eight years of fight, the retired vet has found peace with a simpler life.
“I’m a 67-year-old man,” he said. “I am now at my happy place.”
Since March 2020, many of us had to tweak or totally overhaul once normal routines. Medicine cabinets are now fully stocked arsenals of vitamins, tinctures, and essential oils. All serving as an invisible barricade between you and covid-19 or any variant thereof. We know we need vitamins, but 5 or 10 or 12 a day? Luckily, a local medical professional expanded her clinic by offering a supplement solution for the vitamin weary.
Wilson County native Helen Thorne is a family nurse practitioner and owner of MidTenn Primary Care. She had been researching IV vitamin therapy for quite some time and decided to put her research into practice (literally) by opening Lebanon’s first IV therapy service, Up Your Game Hydration.
Operating out of her office located on Park Avenue in Lebanon, Up Your Game
Hydration offers a menu of vitamin cocktails, calming atmosphere with reclining chairs, soft music, and peace from outside distractions.
Helen sat down to answer questions you might have about IV Vitamin Therapy.
WL: When did you decide to expand your medical practice to include IV vitamin therapy?
Thorne: We decided at the beginning of 2021 that it was time to offer Lebanon a service that would make people feel better. We knew that IV hydration therapy was a service that could help promote both wellness and boost immunity while people were still reeling from the pandemic.
WL: What are the benefits of IV therapy?
Thorne: IV Hydration Therapy provides the body with a myriad of amazing benefits that include increased energy, improved skin complexion, higher levels of antioxidants and decreased damaging free radicals, fewer headaches, increased alertness, improved immune system, and shortened recovery time, optimal performance, and improved endurance for athletes.
WL: Are there any age restrictions?
Thorne: Although we do not have a certain age range that we provide our services to, we do like for people to understand that our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Our services are intended only for healthy adults. People who are concerned that they may not be a candidate due to certain pre-existing health conditions should check with their physician before considering IV Hydration Therapy.
WL: Does insurance cover this procedure (in part or whole)?
Thorne: Insurance does not cover IV Hydration Therapy but most often our patients are able to use their health savings accounts for our services.
WL: How was your first experience with IV therapy?
Thorne: My personal experience with IV therapy provided me with a huge boost in energy and erased the brain fog I deal with on a daily basis just due to a hectic, crazy schedule!!
WL: How often can someone get IV therapy?
Thorne: IV Hydration can be performed on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Bariatric surgery patients struggle with vitamin deficiency due to limited absorption. They are perfect candidates for IV Hydration. Athletes and heavy drinkers can easily handle weekly hydration, as well.
WL: Why IV vitamins over pill form vitamins?
Thorne: Most of us do not consume the recommended daily dose of essential vitamins and minerals to maintain a healthy immune system or the energy we need to support our busy lives. While oral supplements are a great way to ingest nutrients, the digestive system can compromise a large portion of their efficacy. IV hydration therapy is a safe and effective way to obtain those important vitamins, minerals, and amino acids directly and immediately into the body through the bloodstream, altogether bypassing any breakdown through the digestive tract.
WL: What are some of the most popular cocktails you offer?
Thorne: We offer a wide array of cocktails that improve performance, immunity, hair/skin/nails, mental fatigue, hydration, energy. There are cocktails for detoxification that remove free radical from the body. We also have cocktails for cramping/pain relief for migraine, hangover, menstrual pain and post-performance for athletes.
WL: How long does the procedure take?
Thorne: We pride ourselves on our impeccable customer service while maintaining that personal feel. We strive to get our patients in and out within 45 minutes.
WL: What do the effects feel like?
Thorne: Most people tell us that they feel a surge of energy within 1-3 hours of having the infusion and report having a great night’s sleep.
WL: What events do you have coming up?
Thorne: We are planning to have a monthly AFTER-HOURS GIRLS NIGHT OUT IV HYDRATION. We want to be available to the working women whose schedule does not allow them to come in during the day. We would like for them to be able to come in, enjoy their hydration experience and not be rushed.
WL: Will you be offering group events (bride and bridesmaids, groom and groomsmen, before/after bachelorette/bachelor parties;))?
Thorne: We are able to offer mobile services such as pre-wedding events for
brides/bridesmaids, grooms/groomsmen, and rehearsal dinners.
If you would like to learn more about IV vitamin therapy, visit the Up Your Game Hydration office at 701 Park Avenue in Lebanon or Call 615-547-6699 for an appointment.
“If you haven’t tried IV hydration yet…you totally need to. It’s not what most people think it is. I finally went to see what all the fuss was about!!! I am feeling incredible after a visit to Up Your Game Hydration. They have all different options based on what your body needs are. Also if you and a group of friends want to go do it together, they have a great set up for that as well.”-Torri and Brian Fussell, Owners of IMA Crossfit in Lebanon
“I have always wanted to try hydration therapy. However, since we did
not have this option locally, I put it on the back burner. When Helen
and her staff announced offering this service, I was so excited. I had my
first, but not my last, and was totally amazed at how great I felt. My
energy level improved, my mind was clear and focused, and my sleep
became more sound and restful. IV hydration therapy is my new self-
care. If you are considering IV hydration therapy do not wait. You will
not be disappointed.” -Kim Stroud-Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Counseling in Lebanon
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!
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.
If you have visited or live in Wilson County, there is a good chance you’ve driven by the IWP Buchanan House. The eye-catching beauty had seen better days until recently. That all changed when the owner of Reid & Co.
Construction, Reid Hinesley and his wife, Ashley, purchased the residence hoping to bring it back to its original grandeur. Ashley notes, “Reid and I had driven by this home for 15 years and promised if we ever had an opportunity to restore it, we’d do it! And, we’re so thankful we had the chance to.” Reid adds, “We were told the house may be torn down and lot scraped before we purchased, which would have been a tremendous loss for the city. There’s just something really special about investing in the town that we live and raise our children in.”
Designed by renowned architect, George Barber, construction on this stunning home began in 1894 and completed 3 years later. “We knew it would be a tough challenge and not a low-cost investment from the first time we walked on site. Although it had fallen into disrepair from years of weathering storms,” Reid continues, “The bones of the home were and still are solid. 16-inch thick hand-chiseled limestone that makes the foundation and hand-pressed brickwork are second to none. Similar original stonework accentuates the front elevation in a polygonal tower. And the granite like strength of the wood
that frames the structure is from the yesteryears of the old growth forest harvest.”
Many rooms of the interior of the Buchanan House have been proudly preserved by Reid & Co. during the extensive renovation process.
The original Burled curly heart pine is an exceedingly rare and unique treasure that has been preserved today and is on
full display in the breathtaking foyer hall woodwork.
Original 19th century embossed wallpaper and simulated leather wainscotting in the foyer
The main level has original solid brass lighting fixtures which have been restored and now glow with new wiring and LED bulbs to make them safe and efficient. Fun fact: Records indicate this home was the first electrified residence in the City of Lebanon.
Reid & Co. Construction Brothers Coley, Reid, Whitney and Gatlin Hinesley
Reid & Ashley Hinesley Family
This renovation was not their first building challenge. In fact, the managing partners at Reid & Co. bring more than 75 years of professional experience in the building industry to every job. “Currently, Reid & Co. Construction is blessed to have eight $1-$3 million luxury lake homes in various stages of
construction on Old Hickory Lake.” Reid says.
By combining a passion for architectural design and interiors, Reid & Co. offers a hands-on boutique business style while building fine custom homes and select high-end renovations to clients throughout Middle Tennessee. They are always working to implement new technologies to better the customer
experience and just launched Vintage Barns, a timber frame barn division.
After graduating from Purdue University, Reid started his professional career in construction, working during one of the biggest housing booms in US history. During his tenure working for a Fortune 500 company, Reid was mentored by an accomplished Master Builder. Early in his career, Reid excelled
in the construction field as an award-winning project manager completing construction of more than 400 homes.
In 2008, Reid left his corporate management position and founded Reid & Co. Construction and brought on his 3 brothers: all highly skilled and accomplished builders. To date, the team at Reid & Co. Construction has been entrusted to manage more than $100 million in projects.
It is the firm’s dedication to quality and making every client’s unique tastes and perspectives a reality that can be found in each Reid & Co. project. “We want our homes to withstand the test of time. The same way that IWP Buchanan invested in the bones of his home some 127 years ago. This is what continues to motivate Reid and his brothers to build heirloom quality homes with the best bones so they can stand for generations to come.” Ashley continues, “When you walk into a home built by Reid & Company Construction, we don’t want you to feel like you’ve ever seen another like it.”
If you’re in the market for a fine custom home, Reid & Co. provides the expertise and vision to ensure your home is built above industry standards while making sure it fits your unique style and way of living. Reid adds, “At Reid & Company Construction, we build with a custom approach catered to compliment your site and lifestyle. While we understand the importance of price per square foot and meeting budget goals, we focus on quality per square foot and overall long-term value.”
Reid and his wife Ashley live in Wilson County with their three children.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.