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A look back: Church fire, fall weddings

Tying the knot: Jalyn Gibson (left) and Wes Presley were among those who were married locally in the fall in what has seemingly become a growing trend.  (File photo)

Tying the knot: Jalyn Gibson (left) and Wes Presley were among those who were married locally in the fall in what has seemingly become a growing trend. (File photo)

Below is the third installment of a four-part series looking back at the top news stories of 2015. This installment covers July through September. See a future edition of The Clanton Advertiser for the rest of the year in review.

July

16-year-old performs solo flight

While many 16-year-olds look forward to taking their first drive in a car as a newly- licensed driver, Clanton’s Andrew Evans decided to fly an airplane.

Evans celebrated turning 16 on July 15 by taking his first solo flight in a Cessna 172 at the Shelby County Airport.

“I really like how when you are up in the air, there are no restrictions,” Evans said. “That is probably the neatest part about flying.”

Evans decided to start taking flying lessons when he turned 15, after a football injury prompted him to pick up a different hobby.

“I broke all of my fingers and my hand in several places so I couldn’t play football anymore,” Evans said. “I decided to look into flying because it was something I have always thought was really neat. I really enjoyed going to the airport and watching the planes fly around.”

At 15, students learning to fly are allowed to fly with an instructor, but can fly solo at age 16 and with 22 flying hours.

Robert Glenn, Evans’ instructor, said for Evans age, it is a high achievement for him to fly an airplane solo.

“He is definitely young,” Glenn said. “It is a high achievement for someone his age. He started flying when he was 15, and he does a great job. I had the utmost confidence in him for his solo flight.”

During his flight training, Evans and Glenn flew to Auburn, toward Lay Lake, Birmingham and even flew over Chilton County.

Evans received his student’s pilot’s license after his solo flight on July 15, which allows him to fly an airplane by himself.

Glenn said Evans will be eligible for his private pilot’s license when he turns 17 and has 40 flying hours.

Some of the key components for a solo flight include having the student perform a landing pattern, go through emergency procedures, taking off and landing.

“You really want to be able to see that a student can handle all different types of situations,” Glenn said. “Flying a plane is one thing, but knowing how to handle it when things aren’t going your way is very important.”

Eventually, Evans will be able to perform a cross-country solo flight where he will fly 100 miles, but he has not decided on a location of where he plans to fly.

“I did get to fly over the University of Alabama, which was really cool,” Evans said.

Police, community leaders respond to racially-charged incident

One person was arrested and tempers flared over a racially-charged late-night incident in Clanton.

Police said four young white people were riding through the West End community, a mostly black neighborhood, flying Confederate flags and shouting racial slurs in the pre-dawn hours of July 15.

One arrest was made. 20-year-old Jeremy Varden of Clanton was charged with disorderly conduct after blocking a road with his vehicle and refusing repeated requests from a police officer to move the vehicle.

Damage was reportedly caused to two of the vehicles that were part of the group driving through the area.

The incident prompted a meeting of concerned residents July 16 at Fountain Chapel AME Church, off 12th Street in West End.

The church was filled for the meeting, with some residents forced to stand in the back of the sanctuary, and was also attended by numerous community leaders, law enforcement representatives and government officials.

Clanton City Councilman Greg DeJarnett was the first to address the audience, after a welcome by Jackie Baker, president of the West End Neighborhood Watch group.

“This meeting is a call for the safety of the people of this community,” DeJarnett said. “I couldn’t care less about that flag, but people use it to incite others to violence. It will not be tolerated.”

August

Three schools recognized in national rankings

Three local high schools were honored by U.S. News and World Report in its most recent rankings of the “Best High Schools in Alabama.”

Chilton County schools Isabella and Verbena, plus Billingsley in Autauga County, received the Bronze Medal, meaning they met a national standard of excellence.

“I am very proud these two schools,” Chilton County Superintendent of Education Tommy Glasscock said. “It just shows that a smaller setting often lends more time for student achievement. [Isabella Principal Ricky] Porter is an excellent example of what true leadership looks like. Carla White is new at Verbena and will continue the rigor that [former principal Kelvin] Boulware expected of our students before moving on to lead Clanton Middle School.”

No Alabama schools were awarded higher than a bronze medal, though there were gold medal and silver medal schools recognized nationally.

There were 108 bronze medal schools in Alabama, which requires high school students earn at least 24 credits in various subjects to graduate, including one credit in career preparedness, which covers career and academic planning, computer applications and financial literacy.

Fire at Poplar Springs prompts members to give thanks

Members of Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Clanton are giving thanks this week that an electrical fire at the church on Aug. 9 did not get out of hand.

“We are just all really thankful that we were at the church when the fire happened,” Poplar Springs Baptist Church Pastor Ken Brand said. “The fire happened when people from the church were inside the building, and we know that if it had happened during a time when no one was there it could have burned the whole church down.”

“I was sitting toward the front of the church, and the deacon came and alerted me that something was wrong,” Brand said. “We found that the fire had started in the attic, and by the time we got up there to look at it, the attic was covered with smoke and we could barely breathe.”

Once all of the church members were escorted out of the building, firefighters with the Clanton Fire Department responded to the scene and shortly had everything under control.

“We found out that it was some wiring in the attic that caught fire, and the damage to the church was very minimal, but it was just something we were thankful didn’t get out of hand,” Brand said.

Brand said after the fire was under control, the roughly 50 church members gathered in a circle holding hands, praying and thanking God for allowing everything to happen the way it did.

“I think that was the neatest part was seeing everyone come together and give thanks that it wasn’t worse than what it could have been,” Brand said. “I think it is very important that people are in the church today, and how important the church building is. God took care of us.”

Local attorney, author holds book launch event

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley was among the guests Aug. 10 at a book launch event for “More Than a Bird” by Liz Huntley.

Huntley, a local attorney, hosted the event at Clanton Elementary School, which she attended as a child. Dozens of relatives and friends were also present, including former teachers.

“More Than a Bird” was released July 29.

“Scared, abused and taken to the limit of a person’s capacity to endure tragedy, Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley reveals the perils of a childhood that would lead most to a broken life or premature death,” reads the summary on Amazon.com, where the book is available. “Liz, now a successful attorney at a prestigious Southern law firm, recounts her journey from unimaginable darkness to radiance thanks to the early intervention of teachers, a pastor and caring people, strategically placed in her life by God. Decidedly unembellished, inherently poignant, ‘More Than a Bird’ gives a glimpse of horror yet leaves only hope. Through her life story, Liz proves that on the wings of God, there is no height she cannot reach.”

Jessica Swindle served as mistress of ceremonies and told those in attendance that Huntley wrote a recommendation letter for Swindle to receive a college degree.

The Clanton Elementary School library was full of supporters for the event.

School Principal Rebecca Threlkeld welcomed the crowd and said she was proud of Huntley, a former CES student.

Superintendent of Education Tommy Glasscock said he has been “inspired” by Huntley.

“She’s someone who has made a difference in the lives of so many people,” he said.

District Judge Hardesty won’t seek fourth term

Chilton County District Judge Rhonda Hardesty will not seek a fourth term in office, she announced Aug. 17 at a meeting of the Chilton County Republican Party.

Hardesty, 60, was first elected in 1998, then re-elected to additional six-year terms in 2004 and 2010.

Her term will end in January 2017.

Hardesty said she had been considering retiring from the position and decided to go ahead and make an announcement so that those who would run for the district judge seat could begin their efforts.

The election would be in March 2016, as part of the presidential primary ballot. Qualifying for the election would be in October and November.

“I wanted to give everybody who wanted to run a chance,” Hardesty said. “I’ve been debating about it the last few months. I’m just trying to be fair to everybody.”

Hardesty said she’s not thinking about her decision as a “retirement.”

“I’m not going to sit at home and watch TV,” she said. “I’m lucky that I’m eligible for retirement after three terms. I may start a new career.”

County school system’s enrollment increases

Enrollment at Chilton County schools is up 169 students from last year, according to preliminary numbers released by the school system.

The largest increase in enrollment was at Chilton County High School, where an average of 828 students have been enrolled so far this academic year, which began Aug. 11, compared to 757 last year, an increase of 71 students or 9.4 percent.

Clanton Elementary School (plus-65), Jemison High School (48) and Jemison Middle School (29) also had significant increases.

The largest decrease was at Clanton Intermediate School, where an average of 620 students have been enrolled this year compared to 669 last year, a decrease of 49 students or 7.3 percent.

Thorsby (minus-16) was the only other school to see a decrease of more than one student.

Total enrollment across the system is 7,756 this year, compared to 7,587 last year, an increase of 2.2 percent.

Jemison Elementary School is still the county’s largest school in terms of enrollment, with 924 students.

3-year-old’s cancer diagnosis brings rivals together

Football rivalries have been known to divide homes and communities, but for the staff and students of Maplesville and Billingsley high schools, all the tension of a once bitter rivalry was set aside to come together in support for one young member of the Red Devil family.

When news of 3-year-old Caleb Harrison’s diagnosis with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma made its way to the halls of Maplesville High School in September, the heartbreak and outpouring of support began to burst at the seams of the school at which his mother, Ashlie Harrison, is vice principal.

The news spread through staff, students, friends and loved ones and turned what was once a heated rivalry into an opportunity for both schools to show there are some things more important than a football game.

Doors at Maplesville High School that would typically be adorned in red and white along with hopes of beating this week’s opponent were changed this week to read “Prayers for Caleb” and “Team Caleb.”

The prayers and support didn’t stop there, however, and quickly spread to area rival Billingsley, where signs started being produced and “Team Caleb” started appearing on students cars.

Prior to kickoff at the game between the Red Devils and Bears on Aug. 28, each side’s cheerleaders, football players, coaches and various staff met at the 50-yard line for a special prayer time and to show their support for this family.

For Caleb Harrison and parents Josh and Ashlie, the support has been nothing short of amazing.

“We would like to thank everyone for their continued support of our entire family,” Ashlie Harrison said. “Words cannot express how grateful we are to see everyone coming together to support our little fighter.”

September

Probate Office sees increase in fall weddings

While February and June were at one time the two most popular months for couples in Chilton County to get married, September seems to be the busiest month of 2015 so far.

“It used to be that most people wanted to either get married around Valentine’s Day or in June, but we have been incredibly busy this month,” Chief Clerk for the Chilton County Probate Office Mary Miles said. “There have been days where we have had a line of people waiting to get a marriage license.”

Miles said the probate office averages between 20 and 30 marriage licenses each month, but there were more than 40 licenses issued during September.

“At one time you knew what was going to be the busy months for marriages, but now it seems that has changed,” clerk Edith Hammock said. “September has definitely become a busy month for weddings.”

Jalyn Gibson and Wes Presley stopped by the Chilton County Probate Office to apply for their marriage license in September.

The couple plans to marry Oct. 17.

“We decided to get married in October because we are having an outdoor wedding, and we thought the weather would be better than it would be in the summertime,” Gibson said.