Community coverage inspires realization of the 45

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, June 22, 2023

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Talking with individuals and businesses about newspaper advertising has been a way of life for me since I was hired by The Selma Times Journal in 2011. Shifting to work on The Lowndes Signal in late 2020 brought many challenges and opportunities, one of which included writing a feature in the newspaper each week. 

Although I had been a Lowndes County resident for more than ten years, the majority of that time was spent in Selma, with my work travels taking me into Lowndes County only on a rare occasion. Traveling through the 45 on U.S. Highway 80 towards Montgomery or visiting the courthouse in Hayneville, did not allow time for stopping to really meet my neighbors. 

After I began working with The Signal, I realized that the opportunity to connect with my neighbors in a meaningful way was something that I had been missing. What I found when I paused to look around was thriving communities and individuals using their talents and gifts to make a difference in their communities. 

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My first writing assignment took me to Hayneville where I interviewed Hayneville Ace Hardware manager Joe Bell and discussed his career in the hardware business. Bell told me how his experience had led to the opening of Ace Hardware at its current location. 

In the course of the interview, I learned about Bell’s two sons, Joe and Travis, who own the store, and heard how they manage a business while keeping family first. 

Over the next few weeks I reported on the local internet service provider, Hayneville Telephone Company, and wrote about their plans to eventually provide high speed internet service to all of Lowndes County. Our paper shared articles featuring how the Lowndes County Water Authority effectively serves its customers from its facility off of Highway 21 in Hayneville, and ways the White Hall community came together to provide an end of the school year fun day for students at Jackson-Steele Elementary school. 

Covering these events, I discovered the recurring themes of commitment, service, and community conveyed by individuals and groups who recognized the needs of Lowndes County residents.

A pattern emerged, revealing residents using their individual talents and abilities to serve their communities in a positive way. A community is not unlike a quilt that may be sewn together from different pieces of fabric. The materials may have different colors and patterns but when blended and sewn together they form a beautiful cohesive work of art. 

Other article opportunities began to present themselves, allowing stories to be told about a few of the local restaurants in the area, like Highway 80 Cafe, located in Lowndesboro and owned and operated by the Surles family. 

Attracting locals as well as those traveling on Highway 80, this restaurant offers a variety of meal options in a family friendly atmosphere. Similarly, Deepwoods Soul Food serves customers who are traveling to Hayneville, many of which come to the restaurant while on the National Historic Trail coming from Selma and on their way to Montgomery. 

After I interviewed restaurant owners, subsequent articles reported that these restaurants were hit particularly hard during the Covid-19 Pandemic. The eateries survived only because of the support they received from the community. 

One can’t cover food service in the county without mentioning Larry Forest and the work he does in Hayneville. Also known as “Tadpole”, Forest not only serves lunch at the QV service station but he also serves his neighbors by lending a hand where he can. Working from a tip, I interviewed Forest and learned how far a friendly smile can go as he aims to brighten the lives of those he comes into contact with.  

Local sports are another important piece of fabric in the county and covering young athletes is essential. Story assignments led me to coverage of a district cheer camp, hosted by The Calhoun School to teach students the fundamentals of cheer but also to help them gain confidence and to put their best foot forward. 

Excellence was also on display during the 2022 football season as the Lowndes Academy varsity boys football team posted an impressive 11-2 record in 2022, winning the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) Class A state championship for the second year in a row. The Lowndes Academy girls basketball team also achieved its goal of winning a state title last year. 

The consistent message around these winning sports programs is that coaches and volunteers teach these young men and women about character and leadership. 

Lowndes County is largely agricultural. Raising cattle is an integral part of the economy. On several occasions, I had the opportunity to see the cattle industry up close. 

First, Lowndes Academy held an event called Cowboys In the Classroom, hosted by the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. During this program, elementary students were read a short story which taught them about the importance of the cattle industry.  A cow was also brought to the school for students to feed, pet, and to learn from. 

Next, C.K. Cattle Company held its annual bull sale, putting a full scale cattle operation on display. 

Then, at the annual meeting of the Lowndes County Cattlemen’s Association, cattlemen from across the county gathered to hear industry trends and learn about how to better care for their herd. By attending these events, it was easy for me to appreciate the cattle industry and the importance of its overall health in Lowndes County. 

In order to fully understand what commitment to a community looked like in the 45, I visited Frieda Cross, owner of Cross Printing and chairperson of Calico Fort. As I walked into her office, I was transported to a busier time in the small town. I learned the history of The Lowndes Signal, owned by Cecil and Frieda Cross until 1997, and the history of Calico Fort started in 1972 as a way to give locals an activity to participate in. 

I also learned about the resilient spirit of Cross, an individual who truly loves her community. 

Covering these events, people, and places, I gained a realization – that every town in Lowndes County has a story to tell and citizens that deserve a spotlight. 

I wish to encourage each citizen to take pride in their community and to help others along the way. I hope that by doing so, you will discover as I did, the beautiful tapestry that is Lowndes County.