By Crystal Burns
Life came to a sudden halt on March 11 when news of the novel coronavirus, which originated in China, hit home. Many small businesses and schools were shuttered. Essential personnel were asked to risk their health and safety for the good of their communities, and the numbers of those contracting COVID-19 rose as Americans tried to come to terms with physically distancing from loved ones and wearing face masks in nearly all public spaces. More than 300,000 Americans have died, and there is no bright side to be found in their deaths.
While 2020 could go down as the most difficult year in modern history (it’ll take historians decades or longer to make that call), good news can still be found in our admittedly subjective list of 12 year-in-review top or favorite non-sports stories of the year.
Jan. 14 – Early voting moving out of courthouse
The Gibson County Election Commission announced that it would move early voting out of the courthouse and into the Ed Jones Agri-Plex conference room in Trenton beginning Feb. 12. Registered Gibson County voters were still allowed to cast their early ballots at the Medina Municipal Complex as well.
Administrator of Elections Julieanne Hart said the commission had been looking for an option that provided more space for early voters for some time.
“As early voting gets more and more popular, we’re getting more crowded,” Hart said.
In November 2010, 28% of the total voter turnout in Gibson County voted early. The total nearly doubled to 52% in November 2016. In November 2018, 46% of the total voter turnout in the county voted early.
*Early voter turnout would rise dramatically in the 2020 presidential election.
Feb. 18 – Peabody HVAC lab will put students to work
A new HVAC (Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning) lab at Peabody High School will soon put students to work in high-paying jobs.
Jerry Kirsch, manager of Johnson Controls Institute, showed off the lab for the Trenton Special School District board on Feb. 11 and the PHS Career-Technical Education (CTE) Advisory Council on Feb. 13.
In 2019, the school board hired Johnson Controls for an energy efficiency project that included lighting and water upgrades district-wide, HVAC replacements at the elementary and middle schools, some roofing repairs, and the HVAC lab. The energy savings from the upgrades should generate enough funds to free up utility and supply money to make the lease payments.
Kirsch worked with John Hodgson, president of Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Jackson, and John Carter, HVAC instructor, to create the curriculum for Peabody. He has also helped Michael Allen, Peabody agriculture teacher, and Tony Kash, TSSD maintenance specialist, get the training they need to teach the courses.
Students will learn to troubleshoot and fix problems on commercial and residential HVAC equipment. The lab includes mostly commercial equipment, but teachers will bring in smaller units to help students learn.
Kirsch met with representatives of several local HVAC businesses to gauge their interest in hiring Peabody students as interns or apprentices once the program gets off the ground. He said their feedback was overwhelmingly positive as the HVAC field is expected to grow 13% over the next 10 years. The average job growth over that time is estimated at 5%.
March 10 – Tornado rocks Skullbone
The community of Skullbone was hit hard March 2 when a F-1 tornado touched down and destroyed homes, barns, grain bins, and hundreds of trees, but no serious injuries or deaths were reported in Gibson County.
David and Phyllis Dudley were sound asleep when winds that reached 95 miles an hour hit their home in Skullbone. The couple grabbed their daughter, Madeline, and took cover in a bathroom until the storm subsided.
“We’re ok, but it was very scary,” added Ms. Dudley. “From the time we heard glass breaking until the time it was over seemed like 10 minutes. The pressure in the house was so strong, we felt dizzy. It sucked one of our curtains through a door and almost pulled out the entire door.”
The Dudley’s home sustained serious damage, but the foundation was unharmed. The storm totaled their roof, one side of their garage, and leveled their shop. Their cars were dinged up by debris.
James and Michelle Mullikin live just down the road from the Dudley’s home. Their newly remodeled home was totally destroyed by the tornado. Mullikin said the vacuum in her house was so great they couldn’t open their bedroom door. By the time they reached their safe spot in the home, the storm was over.
“Most of our ceiling and roof was gone,” she added. “But we feel truly blessed because it could have been a completely different outcome. There were huge beams that fell and electric wires dangling everywhere. We’re sore and bruised up, but we have no cuts or broken bones.”
March 24 – For teachers, ‘hardest thing is not have closure’
When Trenton Special School District teachers sent their students home March 16, they did so with more questions than answers.
Governor Bill Lee released a public statement that morning urging all school districts in the state to shut down by Friday, March 20 and remain closed at least through March 31. All schools in Gibson County plan for students to return to classes Monday, April 6, but only if the mostly voluntary efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 are successful.
“The hardest thing is not having closure,” said Tricia Wozny, a teacher at Trenton Elementary School.
A small group of elementary and middle school teachers meeting at the district office March 18 admitted that they were planning for the worst and hoping for the best. The worst would ultimately come true when the governor asked, and the district complied with his request, for schools to remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
Michele Elliott, TSSD supervisor of instruction, said staff members were concerned for students living in less stable home environments, such as those who take care of younger siblings and/or older relatives.
“When it comes right down to it, [children] like school,” Elliott said. “It’s their safe place. They feel they’re important and they matter.”
April 7 – Teapot Festival canceled for first time every
The Trenton Teapot Festival Committee announced in late March that it would cancel the 40th annual community celebration due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The festival was scheduled to begin Sunday, April 26 and wrap up Saturday, May 2. President Donald Trump asked Americans to practice strict social distancing guidelines through April 30.
“This year’s festival is historic for the wrong reasons,” festival co-chair Kari Temple said. “We’ve never had to cancel it before, and while we are saddened that we had to take such drastic action, the health and safety of our community is more important to all of us.”
Temple promised that the committee would celebrate the 40th anniversary of the festival in 2021 with “even more gratitude for the local businesses, individuals, and families that support us each year.”
April 14 – Trenton Food Pantry sees surge of new clients
When Tennessee Governor Bill Lee began urging schools and non-essential businesses across the state to close in mid-March, volunteers at the Trenton Food Pantry saw a surge of new clients.
The week before Lee announced measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, the pantry averaged about 20 to 24 clients a week. On Tuesday, March 31, volunteers served 58 clients.
An area school counselor called asking for help for a teenager living out of his car. Mothers have quit their jobs to stay home with their children while school is dismissed (at least until April 24), and many more have been laid off or had their positions terminated.
The pantry, located at First Baptist Church on High Street, cut back its hours from two days a week to one day – Tuesday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The pantry phone number is 731-855-4295, and the church number is 731-855-9321. Volunteers are available to assist people in need even when the pantry is closed.
The pantry accepts dairy, produce, canned goods, and other food items, but shoppers are encouraged to check the expiration dates before donating any food. The pantry cannot give any out-of-date items to the public. If you would like to make a monetary donation to the food pantry, checks should be made payable to First Baptist Church Trenton with food pantry written in the memo line. Mail your check to the church at 401 South High Street, Trenton, TN 38382.
May 12 – Peabody receives designation as STEM School
Peabody High School joined an elite group of 48 schools across the state, receiving designation May 4 as a Tennessee STEM School.
The honor recognizes schools for their commitment to promoting and integrating STEM and/or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning for all students that ultimately prepares them for post-secondary college and career success in the 21st century.
The designation extends to 2025, and Peabody received a $10,000 grant to maintain and expand its current program, said Ben Di’Chiara, Peabody STEM teacher.
Peabody is one of 22 schools to receive the distinction this year and the first high school to be recognized as a STEM school in northwest Tennessee. Each school awarded the Tennessee STEM School Designation was evaluated through a rigorous application process that included a self-evaluation, interviews, and hosting site visits with the Tennessee STEM Designation review team. The designation rubric includes five focus areas – infrastructure, curriculum and instruction, professional development, achievement, and community and postsecondary partnerships.
As part of the process, schools were also required to submit a plan of action for implementing and sustaining STEM and/or STEAM education for the next five years.
June 16 – Songwriters show Trenton youth the power of a song
Trenton native LeAnn Phelan virtually brought together two of her songwriting pals with children at the Trenton LEMAC program to show the youth the power of a song.
Phelan, owner of LP Creative Management in Nashville, hosted Catt Gravitt and Jake Rose last week for songwriting workshops at the building that bears her late father’s name. She kicked off the special program June 8 at the Robert Sidney Phelan Education Center in Trenton, which is home to the Trenton Housing Authority LEMAC program. LEMAC provides afterschool and summer academic help and enrichment opportunities for at-risk youth.
The following day, Gravitt, an award-winning songwriter who has written hits for Kelly Clarkson, Jake Owen, and Natalie Grant, and Rose, an artist, producer, and songwriter who’s had cuts on Meatloaf, Florida George Line, and Keith Urban, joined Phelan at the center via Zoom.
First, Phelan helped the children get in touch with their creativity, learning that songs come from the heart. At the end of class, Phelan encouraged each student to write a song idea. Phelan shared those ideas with Gravitt and Rose.
The next day, Gravitt and Rose joined Phelan and the LEMAC children on Zoom, where the professional songwriters worked with the kids on beats, phrasing, and rhyme schemes. All of the kids – and the teachers – helped Gravitt and Rose expand on Michael Dunlap’s idea to create a song that celebrates more than ice cream.
On Thursday, Phelan, who had returned to Nashville, Gravitt and Rose had another Zoom session with the children to finalize “Ice Cream Remix.” The kids got an opportunity to add their vocals to the track and even their teacher Charlotte Doaks added a special instrument to the backing track, her coach’s whistle.
June 30 – Harlan Morris volunteers sheltered in place with residents for 30 days
April was a tough month for the six staff members that volunteered to shelter in place with 21 Harlan Morris residents for 30 days to prevent COVID-19 from entering the facility.
But it was a good month for the tight-knit retirement community that now feels even more like a family, Administrator Amanda Newell said. Newell said the company began preparing Harlan Morris staff for a possible shelter-in-place order weeks before the six staff members settled in for 30 days at the facility. They asked for volunteers, and five others stepped up with Newell.
Newell was joined by Ray Carroll, Dana Bryant, Belinda Kimble, Sherry Fisher, and Marilyn Krug. Before quarantining, staff members were tested for COVID-19, and all six volunteers tested negative.
For the first 14 days of the shelter in place order, residents were quarantined, with staff delivering meals to them in their rooms. After the 14-day mark, residents returned to common areas for meals and socialization. Staff did daily temperature checks of residents, and residents wore face masks – and continue to do so – in common areas.
Residents still received visits from family and friends, but no outside guests were allowed inside the facility. Instead, they visited through their windows, or family would park in the circle drive and speak to family sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch. Newell said staff also encouraged Zoom visits and FaceTime, helping residents stay connected with their loved ones.
Volunteers worked in 8-hour shifts, six days a week, with Newell serving as a floater. They all took on responsibilities to keep residents healthy while families were prevented from coming inside.
“That month was hard, but it made the six staff that stayed appreciate everybody’s job,” Newell said. “It was a great team that stayed here.”
July 28 – GCUD board picks Horner to be next GM
Allyson Horner, the current CFO and assistant general manager of Gibson County Utility District, solidified her place as the utility department’s next general manager.
The Gibson County Utility District Board of Commissioners held its monthly meeting Wednesday, July 22 at the main office in Trenton. Board Chairman Paul Spain Jr. called on each commissioner to give their first, second and third choices when he called their names.
Horner received the most No. 1 votes, followed by Laura Coleman, then Brian Patterson. Spain said that a salary and benefits package would be presented first to Horner, and if not accepted, the board would move to the No. 2 candidate, and so on.
Commissioners discussed how hard the decision was to make, given the experience and education that each candidate possessed. All commissioners voted in favor upon the motion made to accept Horner as the No. 1 candidate chosen, and a start date for the new general manager will be announced on Aug. 25 during the board’s regular monthly meeting.
Horner accepted the job, and her first official day as GM was Sept. 1.
Sept. 22 – MacLean puts seven Peabody students to work
Through a unique partnership with Peabody High School, MacLean Power Systems in Trenton put seven seniors to work.
Annabell Barlow, Riley Connell, Hunter Scarbrough, Brett Wade, Colson Anglin, Walker Murry, and Janna Castleman comprise the first TOPS (Technical Options for Postsecondary Success) cohort. They spend the first part of their day at school before clocking in at MacLean at 12:30 p.m. At MacLean, the students are working in the areas of Safety, Quality, Human Resources, Maintenance, Tool Room, and with a Process Technician.
June McCourt, Career-Technical Education director for Trenton Special School District, and Richard Sharp, Training and Education specialist at MacLean, worked for about two years to put the TOPS program together after observing a similar program in Madison County called LOOP, which is a partnership between the school system and Stanley Black & Decker.
Peabody students chosen for TOPS were selected by their desire to have a job and whose academic schedules allowed them to leave school at 12:15. Participating students also must have earned or will earn all high school credits for graduation, have no discipline infractions, have parental consent and their own transportation, pass a drug test, and complete other criterion set forth by MacLean.
Sharp placed the students based on their interests and strength as well as opportunities for growth within the company. None of the students will work on production lines due to safety concerns, but all of them will likely have offers from MacLean after they graduate.
Nov. 3 – County, state smash early voting records
Gibson County and the State of Tennessee smashed early voting records during the two-week early voting period that ended Thursday, Oct. 29.
According to Gibson County Administrator of Elections Julieanne Hart, 14,684 voters cast their ballots early in person or absentee by mail. The county is tied for fifth statewide in percent increase in early voters to date compared to 2012 at the same number of early voting days.
Hart said 10,467 Gibson County voters voted early in the 2016 presidential election, with 9,336 voting on Election Day that year.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett reported 2,280,767 or 51% of the state’s registered voters have already cast their ballots for the presidential election.