Demopolis In Bloom hosting 2017 Symposium

Demopolis In Bloom will host its 2017 Symposium at the Demopolis Civic Center, beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 30.

Teresa Johnson of Johnson’s Garden and Cafe in Duncanville will be speaking about Southern Living Shrubs and plants that grown in the Demopolis area. Mike Randall of BWI will be speaking about turf maintenance for the homeowner. Jane Watson will be speaking about and demonstrating how to establish a cut flower garden.

Demopolis In Bloom is sponsored by Collins Communications, George Franks, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Evans and Barbara Blevins. The symposium is offered at no charge to the public.

Final Ride: Lt. Chris Foster laid to rest Monday

They came from Linden, Jefferson, Dixon’s Mills, Sweet Water and Old Spring Hill – where he had served as a volunteer for so many years. Red trucks with sirens blaring driven by men and women in the formal attire of their respective department. Some came because they knew him. Others came because they knew what his loss meant. They all recognized that they had lost a fellow member of the great fraternity of firefighters.

Lt. Chris Foster of the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department passed away in his sleep in the early morning hours of March 23, the day after his birthday and just hours after having worked what proved to be his final call.

“He was 150 percent dedicated in everything he did, with his family and with his fire department family. He gave 150 percent. He was a person you could always count on. He would be here,” DFRD Chief Vernon Waters said of Foster, who joined the Demopolis department in 1994. “With 23 years experience and 150 percent dedication, that’s the hole he is leaving in this department. We’re going to miss him dearly.”

Waters strained to keep his emotions in check as he told of Foster’s firehouse brethren the day following his death.

“It has been tough, very tough,” Waters said. “We asked if anybody wanted to stand and say anything and nobody could do it. That’s how much he brought to this department.”

A pair of ladder trucks stretch the Old Glory across the funeral procession of Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department’s Lt. Chris Foster’s funeral procession Monday.

Foster first came to the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department on a part-time basis while he was working with Cemex. And, despite more than two decades of full-time service in the City of the People, he continued to volunteer with the Old Spring Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

“He got it on his own. When he first started, he worked at Cemex and he worked part time with us. He just loved it so much he just took it on,” Waters said of Foster’s passion for fires service. “He put his two-week notice in and came to work with us and he has been here ever since.”

While it may be hard to pinpoint exactly from where Foster’s love of fire service was born, those who knew him showed little hesitation in pointing toward the genesis of his love of serving others.

“Chris taught my son to drive the firetruck working with the Old Spring Hill Fire Department. Very, very highly respected and thought of by my son and my family. He was a very, very outstanding man growing up, willing to help anybody, go beyond the call of duty when it was necessary,” Shirley Sprinkle Etheridge (South Marengo Fire and Rescue), who had known Foster since his high school days, said. “He was an honest, upstanding man. He stood up for what he believed in, always went forth with all effort possible to accomplish his goals that he set out for. He always looked back and always said that he wanted his kids to be proud of him and his wife to stand by him. In order to do that, he had to be honest, upright, Christian. He was raised with a good family because his family in the past have always been Christian people. His mother and dad always took care of the boys, and always raised them right with good, moral upbringing.”

Photo by Blythe Smith – Fire service vehicles from Demopolis and neighboring agencies filled the front lot of Fairhaven Baptist Church Monday morning as firefighters from throughout the area paid their respects to Demopolis Fire Department’s Lt. Chris Foster who passed away in his sleep March 23.

Billy Carlisle, himself dedicated to fire service in various forms, forlornly remembered the days when he first became acquainted with the man he would later regard as both professional peer and personal friend.

“I was probably 12, 13 years old when I met Chris. I was going to Linden Baptist Church and Chris was very active with the youth department and helping out with the kids. I’ve known Chris just as being a guy who loved to mentor younger kids, help them get a direction in life, especially in the teenage years,” Carlisle recalled of Foster, who many remember as having a disarming smile that both welcomed the world in. “He was always community minded. I really knew him more from the volunteer fire department than I did from the professional fire department just because of his commitment to his community. Chris was always active in the fire service. And he got married, had children and he has been a great father.”

Foster is regarded as having loved life in the simplest, most profound ways; his passion for service perhaps being equaled only by his love of his family.

“He always had little small, odd hobbies. One that stands out to me is beekeeping. He did honeybees. Just recently in the last few years got into that. He was passionate about it. He took on those hobbies mainly just to help his kids get interested in nature,” Carlisle, who works with the Alabama Forestry Commission, said. “Being in the Forestry Commission, he was always asking me different things about trees and wanted to teach his kids more about the outdoors. Chris was always just a genuine person, a trustworthy person, a good friend.”

Fire engines lined the front wall of Fairhaven Baptist Church as the funeral was taking place Monday morning. Demopolis Police Department officers stood in salute as the procession headed toward Foster’s final resting place at Demopolis Memorial Gardens. Several citizens stood next to their vehicles in the highway and somberly placed hand over heart in homage to the passing of a lifelong servant.

The Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department expressed sorrow and gratitude through its Facebook page Monday as local agencies helped DFRD members assist Foster with his final ride.

“The Demopolis Fire/Rescue Department would like to thank everyone for their support during the late Lt. Chris Foster’s funeral procession today. Fire departments, Police departments, Sheriffs and State Troopers from around Marengo County, neighboring counties, and the state come together as Brothers and Sisters to give Lt. Foster his final ride! To the City of Linden, City of Livingston, City of Tuscaloosa and the City of Northport, we can’t thank you’ll enough for covering our city so we could attend the funeral,” the Facebook post read. “Today was a very emotional and sad day for all of us but Lt. Foster looked down and smiled to see all of this take place in his honor.”

Foster, who died the morning after his 54th birthday, leaves behind a wife, Vanya Maria Wilson Foster; daughters, Mary Azilee (13), Rebekah Phares (6 months) and Sarah Ruth (six months) and son, Matthew Lane (11).

New Demopolis football coach addresses Rotarians

Demopolis football fans will have to learn to keep up with Coach Brian Seymore’s rapid-fire speech.

In a talk before the Demopolis Rotary Club Wednesday, the new DHS football coach reintroduced himself to Demopolis – he served as an assistant under Coach Tom Causey for a year – but also told stories of his wife and three children, explained the core values he stresses for his players, told how he plans to ready the team for stiff competition and shared some of his strategies.

He also asked for help.

“Somebody find me a kicker,” he pleaded.

Seymore spent the 2007 season as the defensive coordinator of the Tigers before leaving to become the head coach at Andalusia for seven seasons. He has spent the last two seasons leading the Class 7A Mary Montgomery program in Mobile where he began the process of building up a “rock bottom” program.

It was his mentor and friend Causey who encouraged him to apply for the DHS job when it opened, and he and his family welcomed the idea of returning to Demopolis.

“I understand what people expect,” he told Rotarians.

Growing up in Sumter County, Seymore said he always wanted to study beyond the high school level. He enjoyed playing sports under excellent coaches, but his father, who was also a coach, discouraged him from following in his footsteps because of the pressure on family life.

Seymore, who went on to get an undergraduate degree from Auburn and his master’s from UWA agrees, but his wife Nicholas provides a strong foundation for him and their children: daughter Mary Taylor, a ninth grader; son Drew, in the seventh, and fourth-grade daughter, Maggie.

“I’ll be happy when everybody gets here,” he said. “They’ll be a big part of what I do here.”

The Tigers face a tough schedule this fall, “which it should be,” Seymore said. The new coach has definite plans to bring in new assistants and evaluate those that already are here.

“Every good program has a solid weight program,” he continued, and he will be stressing strength work especially for hips and core. He also will be pushing the team mentally to play through fatigue. “The fourth quarter is where you lose football games,” he explained.

Seymore shared the five core values he has posted in the weight room.

First, “You’ve got to earn everything,” he said. “I want our kids to be proud of what we’ve got.”

“Project positive energy” is the second value, he continued. “I come in every day. I’m jacked up,” and he wants his players to be just as positive as he.

Third, “Be honest and use good judgment,” he said. He told members that the first day on the job a student lied to him. That student is no longer with the program.

He also encourages his team to “compete daily.” Seymore is not a coach who believes in giving a trophy simply for participating. “Someone’s trying to beat you every day,” he shares with the players.

The fifth core value is to “Live up to the expectations.” DHS always has been in the top 10. “That’s awesome. That’s the expectation I have for myself,” and he expects every student to act like they are members of a top 5A program.

As for his playing philosophy, “We’ll spread it out a little bit,” he hinted. “We want to be physical.”

He plans on drilling the team on different options to be ready for any opportunity.

As for defense, “We’ll change depending on who we play,” said the coach.

“We’re going to take a lot of chances,” including fake punts or on-side kicks that his team was known for in Mobile.

He also added that no player is assured of a position. “At spring training everything’s up for grabs.”

Spring practice begins May 3, and the team has a Spring Jamboree game against Northridge on May 19.

There’s a new rooster in town

Shown with Col. Bridges are (from left) John Scales, Sheryl Cunningham, Barbara Blevins, Woody Collins, Rachel Walker and Lane Averett. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

When the big bird appeared on the scene, he caused a lot of open-mouthed stares, a grin or two and some outright chuckles.

The 22-foot rooster quickly has become one of the most photographed sights in Demopolis, with families posing children in front of him and friends posting his picture on social media.

Located at the corner of U.S. Hwy. 80 E and South Cedar Street, the rooster is the latest symbol of Rooster Day. The second annual event celebrating the infamous Rooster Auction in 1919 will be held April 8 in the Public Square.

The notion for the two-story bird began shortly after the inaugural Rooster Day in 2016. John Scales first thought of a large display, and he and Woody Collins knocked around some ideas.

At first they envisioned a lighted rooster on a metal frame, but when they consulted Barbara Blevins, director of the Demopolis Horticulture Department, “she told us what we needed to build,” said Scales.

Blevins, Collins and Scales became friends when the two men served on the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce board and often worked with Blevins. Whenever the Chamber needed something, she would come up with the solution. In exchange, Collins Communications provides the sound system at no charge to various city functions.

After the rooster was designed came the fun of building it.

Rachel Walker, who has worked with Blevins for about six months, said creating the bird was more “play by ear” that any structured plan.

Blevins and her crew salvaged materials to make the framework from old Christmas light pole decorations that had been damaged. The only item that had to be purchased – with Collins’ help – was threaded pipe.

The frame is covered with Dacron used to repair airplane wings. Blevins said she had some left over from decorations used during Christmas on the River. Landscape fabric forms the tail that ruffles in the wind, a project Walker did whenever she had time.

Construction took about two months with all of Blevins’ crew lending a hand during lunch breaks or after hours.

The biggest challenge was mounting the rooster on the flatbed trailer. The crew discovered that, as originally constructed, the bird was too tall to transport. It wouldn’t fit under utility lines that crossed the streets. The rooster’s feet had to be sacrificed. Even with no feet, it still took some effort to get the unwieldy fowl into place.

To keep the structure stable, the legs are set over 10-foot pipes mounted on the trailer, and then it is held in place with guy wires.

From the time the rooster went up people have talked about it.

There have been a lot of good comments, said Blevins.

“I have not heard anything but complements,” added Collins.

The Rooster Day Committee held a name-the-rooster contest, and it drew 71 entries. On March 8 the tall bird officially became known as Col. “Cold Cock” Bridges.

Col. Bridges will travel to the Public Square for Rooster Day to add even more fun to the day’s activities.

Demopolis Middle readying for Hoops for Heart event

Demopolis Middle School will be hosting its annual Hoops for Heart Event Friday at 9 a.m. in the DMS gymnasium. Hoops for Heart is a community service learning program of the American Heart Association that teaches students the importance of developing heart-healthy habits.

The program seeks to help students gain a deeper understanding of cardiovascular health, including basic knowledge such as the value of physical activity.

“Raising funds to support cardiovascular research and education helps save lives in (the students’) community and across the nation,” Jesse Bell, head of the DMS Hoops for Heart initiative, said. “Heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer. Our children are developing significant health issues that can shorten their life expectancy. Almost a third of U.S. children and adolescents from age two to 19 are overweight or obese. Children who are obese are more than twice as likely to die before age 55. Sixty-one percent of children from age nine to 13 aren’t physically active outside of school.”

The program sends students into the community to raise donations for the American Heart Association. Students who participate in the event are afforded the opportunity to participate in an array of basketball competitions in the DMS gymnasium the Friday before spring break.

“Our goals are to increase students’ knowledge of practices and methods to care for the heart. We also desire to honor those in our community who have been affected by heart disease and raise funds to support the American Heart Association’s efforts to build healthier lives,” Bell said. “We would like to thank our community and citizens across the country for the support for this important event. If you have any questions concerning this event, please contact our Hoops for Heart coordinators at 334-289-4242.”

UWA seeks input from community for charter school

LIVINGSTON—The University of West Alabama is seeking community input for the proposed University Charter School through four planned forums throughout Sumter County on the following dates:

March 14 – Livingston Community Center, Livingston, Ala. – 6 p.m.

March 16 – Coleman Center for the Arts, York, Ala. – 6 p.m.

March 21 – Epes Community Center, Epes, Ala. – 6 p.m.

March 23 – Emelle City Hall, Emelle, Ala. – 6:30 p.m.

Each forum is open to the public and the community is invited.

The forums will include a brief introduction, a presentation on the charter school, a question and answer session via comment cards, and a 10 minute open discussion. University Charter School application committee members will be on hand at each event.

For more information or learn more about the University Charter School, click here.

Two Rivers Arts Council hosting Artist Showcase Sunday

More than a dozen artists are slated to exhibit their work in the Two Rivers Arts Council’s Artist Showcase.

The event will take place on Sunday, March 19 at 2 p.m. at the Demopolis Public Library. The event started in 2003 and was an annual event until 2008.

“We are very excited to bring this event back to our community,” said Two Rivers Arts Council President Carolyn Cowling. “It’s an opportunity to see what the community is doing by way of art and hobbies. We hope everyone will come out and see the talent that we are fortunate to have here in the Black Belt.”

The event is free to the public and refreshments will be served. Artists may choose to sell their pieces during the showcase. If you are interested in displaying your art in the Artist Showcase, contact Carolyn Cowling at cowling@mindspring.com or 334.341.3375.

Clee Compton: The Rooster Wrangler

Clee Compton, around 1919. (WAW | Contributed)

As roosters arrived in Demopolis for the famous Rooster Auction in 1919, organizers realized they had to have someplace to put them and someone to care for them.

They thought immediately of Clee Compton.

Compton had his own roosters that he kept on his property near the Public Square, the site of the two-day auction. In fact it was his rooster “Bob Jones” that became the symbol not only for the auction but for the celebration of the event almost 100 years later.

The second annual Rooster Day will be held in Demopolis April 8. Sponsored by the Marengo County Historical Society (MCHS), Rooster Day will start off with a 5K run, offer booths featuring the works of artists and craftsmen, provide entertainment and demonstrations on the event stage and feature a section for children’s games and activities.

The day will continue into the evening with a silent and live auction at Lyon Hall, one of the historic homes maintained by the MCHS.

Funds raised at Rooster Day will be used for the upkeep of the group’s two historic homes and for its other activities during the year.

The Rooster Auction, the brainchild of Frank I. Derby of Sumter County, was held to raise money to build a bridge across the Tombigbee River. The lack of a bridge was the only thing holding up a cross-country highway between Savannah and San Diego, what is now U.S. Highway 80.

Compton’s own roosters took part in cock-fighting, which was then both popular and legal, said his daughter, Putt Perry. An abandoned cock pit, what Perry calls a chicken house, still sits on the Compton Family property.

Bob Jones, held by Clee Compton. (WAW | Contributed)

Perry relishes her father’s stories of the auction, “the biggest thing that ever happened around Demopolis,” he told her. “It was one thing the whole city could enjoy.”

The same can be said of the modern event commemorating the auction.

At the time of the auction, Perry said, her father was a popular 35-year-old bachelor in town. He didn’t marry for another seven years. His wife, Margarete Pritchett, was 22 years his junior. Perry was the youngest of their children and named for her mother. An uncle gave her the nickname.

As Perry recalls, her dad said he didn’t have a lot of time to attend the auction. He was busy feeding and watering the eight or 10 roosters. Since they were sold more than once at the fund-raiser, he had to tote them back and forth from his home to the site of the auction.

His own Bob Jones, the rooster officially donated by President Woodrow Wilson, was chosen because of its brilliant black and red plumage, said Perry. The postcards and buttons advertising the auction were printed in black and white, but Compton said the full color photo was used on banners and other displays.

It is Compton’s hand holding Bob Jones in the photo on the postcard taken by Demopolis photographer Sixty Williamson.

Compton also was one of the small army of men who prepared what at that time was the largest barbecue in Alabama, Perry continued. Although he exaggerated, he told his daughter the barbecue pit was “a quarter mile long.”

Clee Compton. (WAW | Contributed)

The men dug the pit, lined the sides of it with coals, places rods and chicken wire across it and laid whole hogs on top. It took all night and half the next day to barbecue the meat. The men constantly basted the hogs with a mixture of salt, pepper and vinegar and fed the coals.

Another group prepared the gallons of barbecue sauce to serve with the meat.

Thousands of people flooded into the city for the auction. Most came by boat and by train since the roads at that time weren’t kind to cars. Even the state legislature moved to Demopolis for the event.

All those people had to sleep somewhere, and the city had only one hotel. Compton told his daughter that many residents took people into their homes, and other visitors slept on sofas or in their cars.

For more information on events or how to participate in Rooster Day activities, visit roosterdaydemopolis.com.

Team reunion planned for local semi-pro football team

A team reunion for the American Rebel Semi-Pro Football team is planned for March 18 at Ezell’s Fish Camp in Lavaca, Ala. The reunion will begin at 5 p.m. Spouses are invited, and the attire is dress casual.
For more information, contact Harold Agee at (334) 636-2567.

Rooster Day returns to Demopolis April 8

Rooster Day returns April 8, promising more activities, more artisans and craftsmen, more silent and live auction items, more music and more fun for the whole family.

The Marengo County Historical Society fund-raiser started last year in hopes of raising money to help preserve the group’s historic homes and pay for the society’s activities during the year.

What organizers didn’t expect was the enthusiastic embrace by Demopolis area residents who found the idea appealed to their sense of humor.

Scores of volunteers stepped up to help plan and carry out the event. This year the number may grow into the hundreds who are pitching in to make the day successful.

“We are trying to keep Rooster Day exciting by adding something new each year,” said Lisa Compton, chairman. “We want to involve everyone because Rooster Day truly is a community event.”

Brewster the Rooster, a six-foot chicken advertising Rooster Day, is again making visits to area businesses that sign up to become Rooster Boosters. The idea caught on last year and proved so popular that supporters are lining up to have the feathered friend visit their places of business for a few days.

Brewster is being joined by his very big brother. A 20-foot rooster sits at the intersection of Cedar Street and U.S. Highway 80 East welcoming visitors to the city.

Built by the employees of the Demopolis horticulture department, the colorful two-story bird now is the subject of a Name that Rooster contest which ends March 8. Anyone who wants to enter can go to the Rooster Day website at <roosterdaydemopolis.com>.

Barbara Blevins and her crew will move the big bird to the Public Square, the site of the Rooster Day activities, for the event.

School groups, athletic teams and friends coming together to add their talents to promote Rooster Day and encourage its success. “We are also encouraging clubs and groups to partner with Brewster the Rooster for fundraising,” Compton continued. Already the Demopolis High School cross country team and the local Eastern Star Chapter of the Masonic Lodge had Brewster helping their special events.

“We have added more publicity for businesses in the form of website advertising for businesses offering any kind of Rooster Day special,” said Compton. Business owners who have special promotions or offer coupons in association with Rooster Day can be post them on the Rooster Day website.

The Cock’s Crow Run, a 5K race that kicks off Rooster Day, is adding a little something extra this year for the whole family. To encourage entrants to pick up their race packets early, a one-mile Fun Run will be held the night before.

After the Fun Run, an outdoor movie will be shown and hot dogs will be provided for the families that attend. There is no charge for the Fun Run.

The Cock’s Crow Run begins at 8 a.m. on Rooster Day. Entertainment on the festival stage will keep non-runners entertained while the race is going on.

Instead of door prizes, entrants will be signed up to take part in a draw-down.  All runners get a ticket with their packet that could win a cash prize of $150. Information and entry forms for the 5K are on the Rooster Day website.

The Public Square will be filled with activities beginning at 9 a.m. Booths will be set up for Alabama artists and craftsmen to show and sell their wares. Local restaurants and organizations will offer food for those attending the festival.

A large section of the park will be devoted to activities for children, including a petting zoo, crafts, games and a rope bridge constructed by Boy Scout Troop 41.

Musical acts and demonstrations will be part of the entertainment on the festival stage during the day until the fair closes at 4 p.m. If weather permits, the 4H Chick Chain will demonstrate how to wash and blow-dry chickens for competition.

Once the downtown events end, however, Rooster Day continues with the Rooster Auction at Lyon Hall, one of the home museums maintained by the MCHS. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the event that will feature both silent and live auctions.

Interspersed with the auction will be music by the Rexton Lee Band on the Foster Farms Fowl Play Stage. Music and dancing will continue until 11 p.m.

Compton encouraged anyone who wants to become a Rooster Booster or ask questions about any of the activities to log on to the Rooster Day website.

“I hope everyone will support and come out to enjoy this unique event that makes our region special,” she said.

For more information on Rooster Day, visit the website or call Compton at 251-510-0582.