From big shirts to big crowds: Stories we loved in 2012

Published 12:58 am Saturday, December 29, 2012

There was plenty of news in 2012. Crime; elections; and election-related crime.

But instead of rehashing those, The Star-News staff decided to look back on the stories that made us smile.

The Alatex Memorial, affectionately known as “The Big Shirt” makes us smile every time we drive down River Falls Street.

The City of Andalusia, in partnership with the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, restored the former corporate headquarters of Alatex as the chamber’s new home.

A dedication ceremony held in October drew hundreds of former textile workers and their families.

William Merrill, the not-so-starched-shirt kind of guy and owner of Wilco Welding, who built the tribute, estimates that the frame for the huge shirt weighs 1,400 pounds. The shirt is 13-feet tall and 11-feet from elbow to elbow.

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson quipped that the shirt was so big, folks could see it when they got off the Interstate in Georgiana.

Earlier in the year, Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation honored Andalusia with its 2012 Preservation of Small Towns Award. During the presentation, Birmingham landscape architect Dale Fritz, who nominated the city, cited the preservation of the former East Three Notch and Church Street elementary schools.

Long before the big shirt appeared, mock-ups gave “Buford T.  Nerdley” plenty to joke about when he reappeared at the Red Garter Review.

Fresh from a tour of the sites of Europe, Nerdley shared vacation plans for this year.

“We were thinking about going on a cruise, but we decided we’d go to Andalusia and go to that mansion, Springdale.”

Two SEC athletes with Andalusia ties have given both Alabama and Auburn fans big reasons to smile.

Nico Johnson, a senior Crimson Tide linebacker, was among the senior players who earned a third trip to the BCS Championship Bowl on Jan. 7. But Andalusians are especially proud that this young man is often chosen by Coach Nick Saban to be a spokesman for the team.

Similarly, city native Blanche Alverson keeps racking up points for the Lady Tigers basketball team on the Plains. She also was named homecoming queen at Auburn this year, but left before the football game was over to make basketball practice.

Both youngsters give us reasons to smile.

Two events drew really big crowds.

In May, Little Big Town, the country music group that had a chart-topper this year, thrilled locals during a concert that concluded the Andalusia Junior Woman’s Club Three Notch Market.

Literally thousands of people attended the first Covington County Sportsman’s Expo, brought to Andalusia by Willows Outdoors LLC, in July. The City of Andalusia was the “behind-the-scene” partner of the expo. A repeat event is planned in 2013.

Several people inspired us.

Like James “Snag” Summerlin, who at 90 may call himself an old man, but performs a weekly workout routine that many teenagers couldn’t follow. Summerlin, who lives in the Svea (pronounced “sweer”) Community just over the Alabama-Florida line, travels to Florala’s Super Gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He opens the facility at 4:30 a.m. on those days, and pushes himself and others to stay in shape.

“I firmly believe if you work on your quality of life by taking care of yourself, you will have a quantity of life – meaning you can live longer,” Summerlin said. “It makes me feel good, and I enjoy doing it – and it makes me able to do the things that I want to in life – like go dancing.”

And then there’s Andalusia’s Guy Wyche, who with his friend Joe Culpepper bicycled some 4,750 miles, from coast to coast across the United States this year.

At 83, Oliver Williams, known in Covington County for his second career as a Christmas tree farmer, retired this fall. The spry octogenarian kept farming, even after falling from a pecan tree, unscathed, four years ago

Opp said goodbye to two legends. Saying goodbye was sad, but just talking about them makes many people happy.

They were, of course, Dr. Wheeler Gunnells and Dorothy Rainer Sellars.

Gunnells known as one of Opp’s longest-serving doctors for his service to his hometown, was the driving force for and namesake for the Mizell Memorial Hospital Wellness Center.

Say, “Mrs. Sellars,” and generations who grew up as students of the Dorothy Rainer Sellars School of Dance will stand up straighter and smile.

The woman who inspired that behavior through 57 years of dance classes died in June. She was 86, and had been retired slightly more than a year.

Local teen phenom Christian Wossilek performed Adele’s hit song “Rolling in the Deep” and left Birmingham as the overall state winner in the Alabama Talent Hunt last spring, earning a recording contract.

Wossilek, the son of Joey and Kay Wossilek of Andalusia, started his quest in 2011 and quickly moved up through the ranks – taking first place in all five rounds of the top 40 middle school category.

Andalusia businessman Frank Henderson was honored by Gov. Robert Bentley for excellence in exports. Bentley presented the seventh annual Governor’s Trade Excellence Awards to eight companies in a ceremony at the Capitol.

Henderson Sewing Machine is a global supplier of machines, parts and supplies for the sewn products industry, and also has an engineering team that designs custom automated systems.

One Andalusian and one Andalusia native each was honored by the University of Alabama in 2012.

Andalusia native Richard Anthony was be among the five distinguished business leaders who were inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame in November.

Anthony, 66, was chairman and chief executive officer of Synovus Financial Corp., a regional banking company headquartered in Columbus, Ga., with banking offices in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Alabama and his master’s in business administration from the University of Virginia.

Family members said Anthony has a grandfather and uncle, who previously were inducted in the Alabama Business Hall of Fame, former Gov. Charles Henderson and Fox Henderson Sr. He is the son of Eland and Jane Anthony of Andalusia.

This fall, Andalusia resident Jeanice Paul Kirkland was one of four outstanding educators recently inducted into the inaugural class of the University of Alabama College of Education Educator Hall of Fame. Kirkland spent more than 30 years in the classroom in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and in Andalusia. She retired from Andalusia Middle School.

We really didn’t want to revisit crime, but there were two headlines worth repeating: “Pot stashed in pumpkins,” headlined a story about marijuana being transported inside real pumpkins, the bottoms of which had been cut out; and “Meth lab found in home of peeping toms,” from a story about two men who were about to go to court on peeping tom charges for filming people in a tanning booth when a meth lab was found in their home.