Community gatherings foster friendship, family

Published 10:52 am Thursday, April 27, 2023

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Small town residents often jokingly comment about how everyone in the area seems related in one way or another. In my coverage of Butler, Lowndes, and Crenshaw counties, I am finding that is true, more or less, and learning that family ties often run much deeper than genealogy in rural communities.

My coworker, the lovely Katie Till, serves as office administrator for Greenville Newspapers, Inc. She is the great, great granddaughter of The Greenville Advocate Founder J.B. Stanley.

And not only does Till have a long family history with Greenville and the Advocate, she also seems to know everyone who walks into the newspaper office. More than just a coincidence that she happens to have deep Butler County roots, her extended family network and friendly demeanor contribute to the family feel of our newsroom.

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Lowndes County residents go out of their way to make visitors feel welcomed. On every visit, I have felt right at home, but never more so than I did at the swearing in ceremony for Sheriff Chris West.

West likes to “keep it country” by treating officers, officials, and community members with love and respect. But at the ceremony, my guest and I felt especially welcomed, like part of West’s extended family.

That guest, officer Marion Bailey Brunson, Jr. of Elba, went to high school with West and served with him in the Elba Police Department. It’s too bad really, that our readers could not witness the look of recognition and joy on each man’s face when they met that day after at least a couple of decades.

There are some people, like Brunson, who seem to find a cousin or friend everywhere they go. We joke often by commenting, “I can’t take you anywhere. You seem to know everyone.”

On Sunday, I attended a “Let’s Talk History, Crenshaw” gathering of the Crenshaw County Historical Society hosted by Union Baptist Church in Honoraville..

As attendees introduced themselves, I learned that there I sat with three of Brunson’s Bailey cousins from Rutledge. I described my own Honoraville connections by naming ancestors buried in the church’s cemetery.

It was then I discovered a “new” cousin, Charles Russell, who is the grandson of my great aunt Susanna Thomas, buried in the Union cemetery. 

What I describe is common in rural communities. We often find family connections with our neighbors, down the road and in neighboring counties.

And whether the connection is based on blood ties or friendship, the extended family feeling, so unique to rural communities, is the foundation of “home” for generations of residents and transplanted persons too.

I love it and am looking forward to making more friends and discovering other cousins as I attend community events to hear your stories.