A Project for Students and Citizens

Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

Helping the bayou starts at its roots

In Bayou La Batre on June 28, 2013 at 10:46 pm
Laney Payne instructs an antsy Bible class at Hemley Church of Christ. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Laney Payne instructs an antsy Bible class at Hemley Church of Christ. (Photo by Nathan Simone)


It may not be sufficient to say that the bayou has received another angel.

With the arrival of Laney Payne May 30, Bayou La Batre welcomed a new helper to the Hemley Church of Christ, a collaborator in trying to find sustainable innovations for Gulf seafood and a friend to neighbors and younger adults in the surrounding region.

Payne has been living and working at Hemley Street side-by-side with Church of Christ co-founder Daphne German and Billy Spaulding, who opened the church in 2003.

According to German, Payne has meshed right in with the church’s mission and sought to help wherever and whenever she is needed.

“Laney is a godsend,” German said. “What are we going to do when she’s gone?”

The food pantry of Hemley Church of Christ is only open Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

The food pantry of Hemley Church of Christ is only open Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Aside from specific duties like assisting with handing out food via the church’s pantry or teaching Bible school on Sundays, Payne has reached out to the local youth population to host sleepovers and plan athletic events.

One such event was a sleepover for high school aged girls, held at the church the weekend of June 14.

Payne said she and the girls had a fun night tie-dying t-shirts (all of which said “Bayou Blessed”) and playing while also discussing tough issues such as teen pregnancy, continuing education beyond high school and how they could use their talents to improve Bayou La Batre.

In her time away from Hemley Street, Payne has been involved in helping an oyster farming class proceed along with the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, assistant professor and marine fisheries extension specialist at Auburn University. The classes alternate between being held on Dauphin Island and at Delta Port Marina in Coden.

Walton’s focus has been working with “farming” oysters in the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico by transplanting juvenile oysters to wire baskets that stay suspended in the water column. The unique device, called an upweller, also allows the oysters to be removed from the water and sun-dried once a week, killing barnacles and seaweed that can impede growth.

One of the class’s members is Rosa Zirlott, co-founder and employee of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama. Zirlott said that the classes so far have been intriguing.

“I’m one of those types that if I’m going to tell someone to do something, I have to do it first,” Zirlott said. “So far, it’s been interesting and challenging.”

Rosa Zirlott (left) talks with Laney Payne about the work of OSA. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Rosa Zirlott (left) talks with Laney Payne about the work of OSA. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

One of the most important lessons Payne said she has learned is the value of investing in people. She realizes that money will always be an issue for starting and stopping projects, but that to really build community and empower others doesn’t cost a thing.

“To invest in someone and take a personal interest in them is free,” Payne said. “But the benefits to all involved can be tremendous.”

From simply talking to people and discussing their daily lives, Payne said she’s gained more of an insight as to how life works down in the bayou.

“It’s a world away from Auburn, but I can identify with almost everybody,” Payne said. “They have down-home values just like I was raised with, and want the same things out of life.”

In a relatively short amount of time, Payne has gone from being known as “that girl from Auburn” to being known by name and good works.

As long as Payne continues her forward path helping others and learning about life in coastal Alabama, the bayou will continue to be blessed with another angel.

The Hank Williams of the bayou

In Bayou La Batre on June 28, 2013 at 9:41 pm
Pete O'Dell holds a previous article written about his life as a Hank Williams impersonator.

Pete O’Dell holds a previous article written about his life as a Hank Williams impersonator.


Ever since Pete O’Dell can remember, he’s been singing Hank Williams.

“I guess I’ve been singing Hank Williams since I was 5 years old,” O’Dell said as he pointed to a stack of records in his newly-created museum, the Hank Williams Museum and Music Hall, next to his home in Irvington.

Open approximately a week at the time of publication, the museum is the next step in O’Dell’s continuous tribute and appreciation of Hank Williams’ legacy. Housed in a moderately sized trailer, the shrine to all Hank Williams is bare on the outside except for a sign announcing the museum’s presence. However, the inside is far from empty.

Hank Williams’ vinyl discography lines the walls, and clippings and articles relating to Hank Williams’ life and legacy are framed. VHS tapes of old Hank Williams concerts and performances by O’Dell as Williams sit on tables and shelves throughout the trailer.

“I built these racks myself,” O’Dell said, laying his hand on some of the plastic-encased vinyl. “Had to make ‘em special.”

O'Dell's museum is host to all things Hank Williams. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

O’Dell’s museum is host to all things Hank Williams. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Born April 28, 1948, in Sikeston, Mo., as the third child of two carnival workers, O’Dell comes from a performing background. His mother was a Cabaret dancer and his father was a jack-of-all-trades, with talents including knife throwing and sword swallowing.

O’Dell, 65, moved with his family to the bayou when he was 14 years old and has made his home in Irvington, just north of Bayou La Batre.

Since 2000, O’Dell has been dressing up in a blue suit emblazoned with musical notes and country music motifs and singing Hank Williams anywhere he can. Locals can usually spot him at Ole Maria’s near the Bayou La Batre bridge.

Despite being the man who strives to embrace and promote everything about Hank Williams, O’Dell has no problem choosing his favorite song. “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” O’Dell says without hesitation. “Such a sad song.”

The surprising treat that visitors will appreciate upon a visit to the music hall is that only does O’Dell look like Williams, he sounds exactly like him. While visiting the museum with Living Democracy fellow Laney Payne, O’Dell serenaded us with three Williams songs from his personal favorites collection.

O’Dell has received numerous awards from his accurate portrayal of Williams, such as the Hank Williams Legacy Award from The American Music Association and Museum in 2005.

O’Dell has even met Jett Williams, daughter of Hank, and plays a Martin D28 guitar in his spare time.

A certificate of appreciation O'Dell received from the Bayou La Batre/Coden Historical Foundation. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

A certificate of appreciation O’Dell received from the Bayou La Batre/Coden Historical Foundation. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Admission is free to those who would like to visit the museum, located at 7680 Penny Lane in Irvington, Ala. Guests are encouraged to call 251-824-7953 in advance.

Living Democracy in Hobson City: Week Three

In Hobson City on June 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm

IMG_1022Club H.C. plans summer projects for Hobson City

The H.C. Club was organized by summer by 2013 Living Democracy Fellow Audrey Ross. She is working with the Hobson City Community and EconomicIMG_1026 Development Corporation and other local citizens. The group meets regularly to plan events and projects to benefit Hobson City. Members recently organized a basketball tournament with six teams participating.  NaQuan Christian, one of the tournament organizers, said he hopes to continue to work to create opportunities for youth in Hobson City. Club H.C. meets in the library and is open to youth age 10 to 18.  Their next project is planning community beautification efforts such as a Welcome to Hobson City wall mural. Members of the group, in addition to NaQuan, are Jessenia Howard, Nykeria Howard, Antonia Marquez, C.J. Howard, and Jacorius Ball. Ross said the founding members of the group are working hard together as they develop projects to benefit the community.IMG_1010


Dr. Mark Wilson’s “aha” moment

In Videos on June 27, 2013 at 10:42 pm

The greatest life lesson is patience, and learning that good things don’t happen overnight.

Living Democracy in Marion: Week Three

In Marion on June 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Tabor 1Historic Marion Church Stands on Foundation of Love

By Catherine Tabor

A church isn’t just four walls and a steeple. It’s the people inside, and worshippers at Zion United Methodist Church in Marion stand on a strong history and a foundation of love. Zion played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement. On the night of February 18, 1965, nearly 500 people left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion and attempted a peaceful march to the Perry County Jail about a half a block away. This jail was where young Civil Rights worker James Orange was imprisoned. The participants of the march had planned to sing hymns and return to the church, but the short march was not as peaceful as some might have hoped. The marchers were met by the Marion police, sheriff’s deputies, and even Alabama state troopers. There was a standoff, and violence soon erupted. Jimmie Lee Jackson became a casualty of what began as a peaceful protest march. This event inspired the famous Selma to Montgomery march, which occurred a few days later, a significant event in the Civil Rights movement.

Looking at it now, it’s hard for people to imagine such an historic moment being associated with the brick structure at 310 Pickens St. Located adjacent to theTabor 3 town square, Zion is an easy church to get to. I was able to attend a service on Father’s Day, June 16. When the church doors opened at 11 a.m., church members come flooding in to take their seats for the service. Everyone exchanges friendly greetings, happy to be alive and able to praise God. All of the youth in attendance file to the front and take their place on stage as the choir, where they soon join together in beautiful, soulful songs of worship. Fairest Cureton is the pastor at Zion, and Velma England is the assistant pastor. Both did an impeccable job with this Father’s Day service.

Zion is, as I previously stated, a Methodist church. I have only been to a few Methodist church services.  I was raised as a Protestant without a particular denomination, but my family mostly frequented Southern Baptist churches. However, the denomination was not the only striking difference between Zion and other churches I have been to. The congregation of Zion United Methodist Church consists of mostly, if not all, African-Americans. Most of the churches I’ve been to had Caucasian majorities.  I was approaching a culture of faith different from my own. So with the differences in mind, I was a little nervous about walking into the church, but I was truly blown away by how open and friendly everyone was. The service in and of itself was exceptionally different from anything I had previously experienced. Usually, church services I attend last approximately one hour, and they generally lag after the first 30 minutes. The service at Zion not only lasted two hours, but I was captivated for the full two hours.

Since it was Father’s Day, the sermon was obviously about fathers. The main scripture was Luke 15:11-32, which is the story of the prodigal son. Many know this story, but assistant pastor Velma England at Zion told it in a different way than I have always heard it. Instead of focusing on the prodigal son and his wrongdoing and straying from the path of righteousness only to return home to beg forgiveness, she focused on the perspective of the father. She discussed how hard it must be for God to watch His children stray from the path and fall to the absolute bottom. She spoke of how much God loves us and wants us only to do our best and how happy He is when we succeed or, if we act like the prodigal son, how ecstatic He is when we return back to Him.

catherine pic 5I thought that was a really neat way to approach the story. Even though that youngest son got into all sorts of trouble, his father accepted him and welcomed him back home with open arms because that’s how powerful love is. And that’s really what I am most impressed by in Marion. Despite being one of the poorest areas in Alabama, its citizens love it so much that they accept its history, good and bad. They accept its flaws and embrace its assets. The residents of Marion love their small town, and it shows in all of the good restaurants and small businesses. It shows in the smiles and waves of citizens passing each other on the street. Marion is a town that has survived on love.

The thought of the week of Father’s Day was: “Sometimes, God has to break us to make us. It’s just a bend; it’s not the end. We’re all like glow sticks; no matter how much we’re bent and broken, our light still shines.” Marion is a lot like the prodigal son. It’s been beaten and broken in the past, but it has also been healed by love and caring citizens. The members of Zion United Methodist Church believe God is blessing Marion today. And they are truly a part of that blessing.