Community grieves loss of teen who drowned

By Jared Felkins

Keon Dotson

WATERTOWN – A tight-knit community continued Monday to mourn the loss of a 17-year-old boy who drowned Saturday while swimming at Old Hickory Lake.

Wilson Emergency Management Agency divers found the body of Elijah Keon Dotson, of Watertown, on Saturday evening after about a three-hour underwater search at Cedar Creek Boat Ramp in Mt. Juliet. 

Dotson was a senior at Watertown High School. He previously played football and was a member of the track and field team. According to Watertown High School principal Jeff Luttrell, counselors were made available Monday to students who needed support. 

“We are so saddened as a school and community at the loss of our student, Keon Dotson,” Luttrell said. “He possessed a powerful smile and a personality that drew people to want to know him. We will take every step possible to ensure we assist our students as they grieve the loss of a friend and classmate.”

A community prayer service was held Sunday evening in the library at Watertown Middle School, organized by the Bridge’s parents of teens life group and the church’s youth group. All community members and students were invited to participate. 

According to social media posts, students and faculty wore red Monday to school in honor of Dotson. According to a tweet by a member of the football team, the Purple Tigers dedicated their season to Dotson, and the student section plans to have a “red out” during Friday night’s game against Westmoreland. 

Wilson County sheriff’s Lt. Scott Moore said the incident on Old Hickory Lake happened Saturday at about 2:30 p.m., and divers found the Dotson’s body at about 6 p.m. He said Dotson tried to swim to a buoy beyond the swim area, and there was a change in water depth where he went under and was unable to surface. 

Wilson County sheriff’s boat patrol and Wilson Emergency Management Agency water rescue crews searched for Dotson on Saturday afternoon in Mt. Juliet. 

WEMA director Joey Cooper said divers were called to the boat ramp to search for the teen. Moore said it’s believed no foul play was involved. 

Cedar Creek Boat Ramp is at 9264 Saundersville Road in Mt. Juliet. Old Hickory Lake is part of the Cumberland River.

Football manager’s dream comes true

By Angie Mayes

George Page • Mt. Juliet News
West Wilson and Walter J. Baird players cheer for Aiden Atkins (80) as he heads toward the goal line last Tuesday night to score the first touchdown of the ball game.

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A magical moment during the West Wilson Middle School football game last Tuesday night brought people to their feet and tears to their eyes.

That’s when Aiden Atkins, the team manager, entered the game and ran the first touchdown of the evening. The moment was unique because Atkins has a muscular disease.

The moment was the brainchild of head coach Naz Roseberry. He knew Atkins has a dream of playing sports, but, because the disease that affects his leg muscles, he was unable to be a part of a team as a player. Instead, he joined the team as the manager.

“Aiden has been a manager for me for two years,” Roseberry said. “It’s kind of been a conversation of ours that kind of became real this year. I saw the opportunity to do it. I thought it would be a special moment for him.”

Roseberry admitted, while the moment was special to Atkins, it was also a high point in his career.

“The moment was special for him, but it was probably more special for me and the school,” he said. 

Roseberry said West Wilson’s opponent, Walter J. Baird Middle School, was more than happy to help. 

“I called them, and their coach was very open and said, ‘anything we need.’ They wanted to be a part of this special moment, too,” Roseberry said. “He felt like this would be a good teaching moment for his guys, as well.”

Atkins said the touchdown was, “a very surreal moment for me. I was very in the moment. I really didn’t have a concept of this. I just went along with what was going on, and it happened. Coach told me I was going to run it in. I only had an hour to prepare.”

He said he prepared mentally and “through Christ. I have a good relationship with Christ, and that helps with mentally preparing myself.”

Atkins’ dad, Alan, and mom, Michelle, were in the stands. Atkins’ dad said he was proud of his son.

“This was a wonderful experience,” Alan Atkins said. “He came home saying it was a lot of fun. Of course, winning [the game] helps.”

Alan Atkins said it wasn’t hard to keep the secret. His son knew he was going to dress out. 

“He was not fully expecting to do what he did,” Alan Atkins said. “It was something very special for us and him. He loves the team and feels like he’s contributing something by being their manager. The team also appreciates what he does for them.”

His parents were gracious to Roseberry for planning the event.

“I want to thank [Roseberry],” Alan Atkins said, who added the family “thinks the world of him. We were so excited to be able to experience that with him.”

Aiden Atkins said he’s always wanted to play a sport, but was never able to due to his condition. 

“This is one opportunity that I’ll never forget,” he said.


Corn maze to open at fairgrounds

By Matt Masters

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
The Farmers’ Corn Maze will open Saturday and remain open weekends through Nov. 5 at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon.

A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Sunshine and Justin Gregory with Farmer’s Produce in Castilian Springs planted the maze with the help of the James E. Ward Agricultural Center and Wilson County Expo Center staff.

Sunshine Gregory said they have transitioned from growing tobacco into produce and agri-tourism and saw the Wilson County Fairgrounds and the James E. Ward Agricultural Center as the perfect place to have the attraction.

“The maze is actually not corn. It’s sorghum sudangrass. We did that because corn wouldn’t grow tall enough in the ground, and it’s about 4 acres,” Sunshine Gregory said. “We are celebrating 25 years of Lelan Statom this year, and we will have pumpkin painting, face painting, pumpkin bowling, duck races and other activities. Everyone knows about the Wilson County Fairgrounds, so we couldn’t think of a better place to have this celebration.” 

The maze spells out “Celebrate 25 years with Lelan” with the likeness of Statom cut into the maze. 

Charity Toombs, director of marketing and events for the Wilson County Expo Center, said that the maze is just one way the fairgrounds and Expo Center plans to offer new attractions to the people of Wilson County.

“When the county purchased this land, it was solely for the fact of promoting and having a place for agriculture, and so we’ve continued to take that mission and improve upon it. So with the new director, Quinton Smith, and myself and our staff, it has been our mission that the ag grounds become a place where people can literally be a part of agriculture and to get their hands dirty. And so it’s our passion to have these events where they can experience agriculture directly,” Toombs said.

The maze will be open  weekends from Saturday through Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is $8 per person, and children 3 years old and younger will get in free. 

Wilson County honors POWs, MIAs

By Matt Masters

Matt Masters • Mt. Juliet News
A POW/MIA memorial service concludes with the posting of two POW/MIA flags outside the Wilson County Veterans’ Plaza and Museum where they fly high in memory of those lost but never forgotten.

Veterans, active-duty servicemen, former prisoners of war and their civilian supporters gathered Friday morning at the Wilson County Veteran’s Plaza and Museum to remember America’s prisoners of war and missing in action.

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash gave the keynote speech and issued a proclamation to honor the day in recognition of POWs and MIAs. Ash also said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto also issued a proclamation.

“To those that are still missing, we will not rest until you or your remains are returned home. To all those former POWs, we will never forget your service and sacrifice that you and your families have given to this country and for us individually,” Ash said.

Ash also invoked the memory of possibly the United States’ most famous POW, Arizona Sen. John McCain who died Aug. 25. McCain was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 and held as a POW for five and a half years.

“There is a continuous effort by the United States government and activist groups like Rolling Thunder, who we heard from today and others, to bring these soldiers home, but it takes all of us to keep the pressure on until every last soldier has been accounted for,” Ash said.

Linda Yates, president of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1004, said education and recognition of the sacrifices is key to keep the history and memory of POWs and MIAs alive.

“There’s way too many POWs and MIAs unaccounted for. As we heard, there’s over 90,000 between all the different conflicts and wars, so it’s important that we remember them and work toward bringing them home,” Yates said. “This is one of the under recognized ceremony days and we wanted to make sure that it’s memorialized because of the connections to our community right here in Lebanon.

“The other part that we wanted to do today is to educate the younger generation and we are fortunate also that they publicized it in some of the schools, particularly Tuckers Crossroads, which actually did a program with their children, and we showed them the [POW/MIA] flag and explained to them the significance behind it. It’s important because it’s being forgotten. You have Bill Leslie, who in his 80s, his story is very important and those stories could be lost.”

Wilson Central JROTC cadets laid a uniformed cap on the Missing Man Table to remember those who await their honorable return home. State Rep. Clark Boyd and Dennis Guillette with the Vietnam Veterans of America participated in the roll call ceremony to remind the crowd just how many people never made it home from each of America’s engagements.

Bill Burkhart, whose father was shot down in Vietnam, spoke about the hardships of growing up not knowing if his father was alive and the challenges to find his final resting place. Burkhart said in the past year, advances were made to locate his father’s crash site, and work is ongoing to try and make more discoveries in the hope to bring his remains home.

Bill Leslie shared a unique story as a civilian POW as a child during World War II when he and several thousand people were held in a concentration camp by the Japanese while living in Manila, were they faced starvation and disease among other horrors.

Burkhart and Leslie laid a wreath in memory of those lost, provided by the American Legion Post 15.

Paul Williams with Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 1 in Middle Tennessee, an advocacy group that seeks to bring full accountability for the country’s POW/MIA service members, said it’s important to support those who have sacrificed so much, especially those who did not make it home through their sacrifice.

“The main tenant of Rolling Thunder is the POW/MIA issue. We want to help keep it in the forefront so that we can get as full an account as possible for all of our missing servicemen and women. Today is the National POW/MIA recognition day, and we also do things to help current active-duty servicemen and women and our veterans, including providing a motorcycle escort for anyone who asks for it during a veteran’s funeral,” 

The service concluded with the posting of two POW/MIA flags outside the Wilson County Veterans’ Plaza and Museum where they fly high in memory of those lost but never forgotten.

Auditions for character party business taking place

By Angie Mayes

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Ella Rollins interacts with Kamryn Boyd as Beauty, one of many characters that will be a part of By Royal Invitation, a new character party company in Wilson County.

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A new business in Wilson County is expected to be popular among young children thanks to the stars of the show – princesses currently and superheroes in the future.

The company, By Royal Invitation, is owned by Middle Tennessee actress, director and vocal coach Katharine Boettcher.

“I have been wanting to create something like this for the past three years,” Boettcher said. “I played Ursula a few years ago in a production of the Little Mermaid and had an amazing time. Seeing the kids react to the characters on stage just made me smile. I know how giddy I get when I visit characters in the Orlando parks, I can only imagine the excitement is 100 times more in a little one.”

She said as a child, she “hand sewed all of my Halloween costumes and had a blast creating some of my favorite Broadway characters come to life.”

The characters in By Royal Invitation are “based on classic fairy tales and villains. As the company grows, there will be superheroes and heroines and who knows where else our imagination will take us.”

There’s no limit to the number of characters that will be available for shows, parties and the like.

“We will have a small roster to begin with, but as we grow, we will continually expand and bring in new characters,” she said.  Among them will be “the Snow Queen, the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Mother Goethel, Cruella De Ville and more.”

Not affiliated with Disney, the use of the names is allowed due to the characters taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and stories from Hans Christian Anderson. 

“It is not our intent to infringe on copyright,” Boettcher said. “Our fairy tale characters are based on the Grimm Brothers and other historic fairy tale characters. Our costuming is of the highest quality. They are designed by [me], and many are built from scratch by a costumer in Nashville. Our characters have unique names and personalities.”

She said the company will offer “some Jedi knights, and we are hoping to cast a couple of superheroes during the audition process.”

The audition process is currently taking place.

“We currently have a casting call out for face actors and are taking submissions for all characters,” Boettcher said. “Once submissions are gathered, I will pull and have one-on-one auditions.”

Anyone interested in submitting materials must be 16 years old, have reliable transportation, send in a resume with height clearly marked, headshot and full-body shot. The information must be emailed to At the time of hire, eligible talent will have passed a background check and be eligible to work in the United States before a contract will be offered. 

“There is no weight or ethnic requirement,” she said. “I am looking for diversity. Something that will distinguish By Royal Invitation is the fact that a character is not limited by their ethnicity or weight.  I do want to keep true to some height requirements as there are expectations of how tall characters are when they are meeting guests. 

The actors’ auditions, resume and personality will have a lot to do with the hiring process, she said.

“I am looking for people who are fast on their feet,” Boettcher said. “Children can ask a variety of questions, and our characters need to be able to stay in character and answer as the characters.  Our characters are going to be entertaining so they must be able to sing and act, as well as interact with our guests to make their day an extra-special occasion.”

All actors must sing and be able to tell their characters story as if it is their own, she said.  

“We have several options for what our characters will perform-do at a variety of occasions,” Boettcher said. “[That includes] photo opportunities and, of course, corporate and community events. I’m hoping to hold a couple of character nights at some of Wilson County’s local restaurants that have kids’ nights. 

All face characters are paid per event, she said. Each character is accompanied by a paid attendant to assist with children and the character’s needs during the event. All characters are also attendants when not in character.  

“We are hoping to have several special events for kick offs, as well as for charity events,” she said. “My heart is with Make-a-Wish Foundation, and I hope to build a relationship with them. And I am hoping to have a Halloween bash with some fun villains and bad guys, too.”

For more information, contact Boettcher through the company’s Facebook page, By Royal Invitation, or via email Boettcher will launch a website when the full cast of characters is finalized.   

Boettcher said her company is “the first of our kind in Wilson County, and [we] are very proud that we have some amazing Wilson County talent already on our roster of characters. Character parties are huge. So many folks love to have this one-on-one experience with these iconic characters. And if you can’t get to the magic down in Florida, we hope to bring a little fairy tale magic to Middle Tennessee.”  

Foreign exchange students learn American values

By Tonia Cunningham

Zoe Boizaod

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The transition from childhood into adulthood can be difficult for most, but for students in the American Field Service intercultural program, it can be a culture shock.

The organization held a meeting last weekend at Cedars of Lebanon State Park, organized by American Field Service public relations officer Barbara Willis and chair Becky Haywood. The purpose of the meeting was for students to learn more about AFS and American values.

American Field Service Intercultural Program is an exchange program for young people 15-18 years old. The program promotes world peace and understanding. Many of the students in the program are from foreign countries. They stay with host families in the United States while they attend school. 

“As far as culture shock goes, the family who I stay with does not eat together,” said Zoe Boizaod, an exchange student from France. My family in France eats together. In addition, teachers at Mt. Juliet High School where I attend try to learn about the students. Educators in France do not do that.” 

The program started with ambulance drivers in 1947. Young men could not be drafted for World War II if they had a disability. At that time, there were 52 young people in the program. 

“Since that time, the program has progressed into an event where American students can study aboard,” said Haywood.

The program’s success has since opened up many opportunities financially. Students can currently apply for scholarships. Those financial awards include National Security Language Initiative and Youth Exchange Study. The deadline for NSLI is Oct. 30 and Dec. 1 for YES.

Anyone who would like to become a part of the action can do so, and more volunteers are needed. To volunteer, fill out an application at

Leedy elected president of state American Legion Auxiliary

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Kathleen Leedy, of Mt. Juliet, was elected president of the American Legion Auxiliary of Tennessee. Pictured (from left) are Marge Sterling, Pat Fields, Leedy, Gwynne Qweener and June Spata.

Kathleen Leedy, of Mt. Juliet, was elected president of the American Legion Auxiliary of Tennessee. It’s the first time in the organization’s history a Wilson County resident was elected president of the state organization. Leedy has served as Post No. 281 president since November 2010. As newly elected president, Leedy chose her fundraising project as ‘Healing Waters Fly Fishing,’ which provides service members with disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder with a therapeutic outdoor recreational activity. Leedy’s home auxiliary Post No. 281 will hold a pancake breakfast to benefit Healing Waters Fly Fishing on Oct. 13 from 7:30-10:30 a.m. at Victory Baptist Church at 1772 Tate Lane in Mt. Juliet. Tickets are $5 or $20 for a family of five or more. Pictured (from left) are Marge Sterling, Pat Fields, Leedy, Gwynne Qweener and June Spata.

14th Transit Citizen Leadership Academy welcomes new class

Staff Reports

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News The 14th Transit Citizen Leadership Academy members kick off Sept. 5 at Barge Design Solutions.

NASHVILLE – The Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee kicked off its 14th Transit Citizen Leadership Academy on Sept. 5 at Barge Design Solutions. 

The six-week program provides attendees with the resources they need to be leaders and actively engage in the transit conversation in Middle Tennessee. The class participants represent eight counties in the region, including Wilson County.

Among the class participants is Gary Soloway, president and owner of Business Brokers in Wilson County. Soloway lives in Mt. Juliet.

The opening class began with remarks by Pete Wooten, board chair of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee. Other featured speakers were Pam Krodenbrock, Tennessee division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration; Toks Omishakin, deputy commissioner and chief of the environment and planning bureau for the Tennessee Department of Transportation; Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, chairwoman of the Middle Tennessee Regional Transportation Authority; and Jo Ann Graves, president and CEO of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee.

The class features a full schedule of expert speakers, and the class members will graduate as effective advocates for transit in Middle Tennessee. More than 300 Middle Tennesseans have graduated from the Academy since it began in 2011.

“We are thrilled to welcome our 14th class,” Graves said. “It is so important to keep the conversation on transit open and moving, which is why the Transit Alliance is committed to continuing to educate and mobilize Middle Tennesseans on the transit discussion.”

 The academy was made possible by the support of contributors from across the state. The class will meet weekly through Oct. 10.

There are additional opportunities to get involved with the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee. Visit the website to learn more about upcoming TCLA classes, events and supporter opportunities. The Transit Alliance is part of the Transit For Nashville Coalition, a group of more than 110 Middle Tennessee businesses, faith groups and other organizations that bring transit to the people.

Kenny Martin: Whatever happened to the things of yesterday?

Whatever happened to front porches? Front porches where great. You could sit on your front porch and watch everything that went on in your neighborhood.

You knew who your neighbors were, when they went to work, when they came home, what they drove, where they lived and how many children they had.

What an awesome concept. Now, we have decks and privacy fences. Don’t get me wrong. Privacy and privacy fences are a must. We all need down time to ourselves away from the rest of the world. We all need time to rewind and download. But, we also need to know what’s going on in our communities and neighborhoods. We need to know who our neighbors are and get to know them.

The little old lady on the corner who everyone considers a busy body can be your best friend when it comes to crime prevention and awareness. This is the lady who knows everybody and everything. She’s going to be the first person to pick up the phone and call you or the police when unusual or suspicious activity is present.

Another thing I miss is family reunions. When I was a child, it seemed like everybody was having family reunions. Now you hardly hear about them. There are still quite a few families that have them, but it seems like there aren’t near as many as there used to be. Our families and relatives now live all across the country and beyond and with our busy lifestyles. It just seems we’re all too busy. It’s odd knowing that we have relatives out there from who we never see or hear.

We probably wouldn’t even recognize them if they walked right up to us today. It’s also sad knowing that we may never see or hear from them again unless we take the initiative to call, write or contact them. Normally, the only time we get to see most of our relatives is at funerals.

I also wonder what happened to horseshoes, checkers, kites, yo-yos, bubbles, Tonka toys, homemade wooden go-karts, miniature train sets, green army men, tree houses and Hot Wheels. These were the toys and things I played with as a child. And though I miss them, I’ve probably gotten a little too old to play with them at this stage of my life, so now I go around looking for old toys to collect. It sure does bring back lots and lots of fond memories.

I also miss the ice cream man and the red, white and blue rocket pops. I can remember screaming, “ice cream man, ice cream man” on many occasions. I can remember running like the wind to beg for money from my parents to buy ice cream before the ice cream man passed. I can also remember the disappointment when I didn’t get back in time and missed him. I can still remember those big tears streaming down my little dirty face and the immense disappointment I felt. Seemed like such a tragedy at the time.

In closing, take time to remember yesterday. Taking time to remember yesterday just might bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart. If it worked then, it can work now.

Kenny Martin is city manager in Mt. Juliet. 

Business leaders hear changes to wine, beer, alcohol laws

By Matt Masters

Tucker Herndon, a partner with Burr and Forman law firm, spoke at the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce connection luncheon Aug. 15 at Rutland Place to inform business leaders of the changes to sales of wine, beer and liquor, especially regarding wine sales in grocery stores.

Herndon was instrumental in the wine in grocery stores legislation that went into effect in 2016. He said it was the biggest change in the legislation of alcohol since the end of prohibition.

Herndon educated the audience of more than 50 people about the steps to implement and the results of the legislation that was popular for many Tennesseans in a presentation called, “A Journey into Wine Inside Grocery Stores Law.”

The “Red, White and Food” campaign needed 10 percent of registered voters in each jurisdiction to get the referendum off the ground, which made its way to the legislature March 30, 2017. The bill passed, and by June 20, 2016, the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission received 499 WIGS applications that resulted in 398 letters of approval and 279 licenses granted.

“We’re realizing that things in the ’50s and ’60s are not how people today view or vote in today’s arena, and based upon that, I think that people are more susceptible to understand that as long as we do it in a responsible approach, that we should provide all of the citizens of the state of Tennessee to different goods,” Herndon said. “It’s not limited to just alcoholic beverages. Whatever industry we’re talking about – having the ability to provide them access and unfettered access to a degree.”

Herndon said precautions and restrictions were placed on the sale of wine in grocery stores to help both communities and business owners provide alcoholic beverages responsibly.

Some of the restrictions included the requirement of managers and clerks to have training to limit sales to retailers whose food sales equal at least 20 percent of total sales, which means gas stations are excluded from selling wine.

Wine must also have a minimum 20 percent markup in grocery stores, which was done to appease liquor stores, which had no competition in wine sells before July 2016.

In contrast, local laws govern beer, and the Alcohol Beverage Control board controls liquor sales in the state.

Wine will first be sold in grocery stores on Sundays, beginning Jan. 6, 2019 at 10 a.m., but consumers will not be able to buy wine on Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter.

Herndon also talked about a new change to how alcohol might be gotten – deliveries at homes – legally. Herndon said it wouldn’t be long before companies like Amazon take advantage of the desires of their customers and the laws that allow people and companies to shop for customers.

Herndon said new rules were also put in place for package stores, including no liquor store to be within 1,500 feet of another. Mt. Juliet allows only one store per 8,000 people – currently there are three package stores in Mt. Juliet. No new licenses will be granted until 2021, and the rules were put in place to retain completion and survival of liquor store businesses as completion has increased from wine in grocery stores.

Herndon also spoke about other changes that are outside of WIGS but to the changes in culture around alcohol.

Herndon said so-called “open carry laws” allow patrons to go between adjacent restaurants and bars with open container drinks as long as patrons do not use public walkways to do so. This is currently restricted to beer, and vendors must use branded cups. Herndon also said the implementation of vertical licenses for minors helps bars, restaurants and stores from serving alcohol to minors.

Another change Herndon touched on were the alcoholic beverage trial programs that are implemented at Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee State University to allow alcohol to be sold on game days.

Finally, Herndon said the Tennessee ABC board implemented a program in January called the Regulatory Licensing and Permitting System, which upgraded the process to get licensed to sell alcohol.

Groundbreaking set for new high school

By Matt Masters

The groundbreaking will be Wednesday for a new high school in Mt. Juliet, collectively known as Green Hill High School, although the school has yet to be officially named.

The groundbreaking will be at 4 p.m. near the intersection of Lebanon Road and Greenhill Road. Signs will be posted at the intersection to direct the public where the event will take place.

The new high school was a contentious topic among the public who has been divided on the location, pricing and need, although many of those opposed to the school maintain they are not anti-school. The Wilson County Commission was also split on the new school, mainly regarding how to fund its construction.

The commission voted 18-6 to take out $107 million in bonds to pay for the school after supporters and opposition packed commission chambers and flowed into the hallways for hours. The commission also voted to put a ½-cent sales tax referendum on the Nov. 6 general election ballot as a potential funding source.

Commissioners Bobby Franklin, Jerry McFarland, Dan Walker, John Gentry, Terry Ashe and Frank Bush voted against the bonds. Commissioners Becky Siever, Adam Bannach, Chad Barnard, Kenny Reich, Terry Scruggs, Sara Patton, Sonja Robinson, Jeff Joines, Mike Justice, Diane Weathers, Gary Keith, Terry Muncher, William Glover, Annette Stafford, Wendell Marlowe, Sue Vanatta, Joy Bishop and Jim Embrton voted for them. Commissioner Cindy Brown was absent.

The Wilson County school board unanimously approved the decision Aug. 13 to send the funding request of $107 million for the school to the commission.

While the topic of the school has captivated and irritated people for months, there is little doubt the school isn’t needed as Wilson County continues to experience unprecedented growth, especially in schools.

The new high school will accommodate 2,000 students when it opens. More detailed information, including heat maps, property studies and impact studies, may be found at

Wilson County Fair sets new records

By Jared Felkins

The Wilson County Fair set new records in both daily and total attendance this year as the 30th-annual fair went in the books.

According to Wilson County Promotions president Randall Clemons, 136,626 people visited the fair on the final Saturday, which was the most visitors in a single day in the fair’s history.

Clemons also said the fair had 575,047 total visitors, which was the second-largest turnout in history.

Fifteen contestants crossed the stage Monday night at the Wilson County Fair’s premier pageant, Fairest of the Fair, and Addison Grace Oakley won the crown. Oakley is the daughter of Clark and Lisa Oakley, of Lebanon, a senior at DeKalb County High School and enjoys kayaking, traveling and spending time with family. First runner-up was Lily Steed, and second runner-up was Olivia Teague.

Laura Whittington, a substitute teacher and mother, described herself as “excited and shocked” at the announcement she won the Great Giveaway on Tuesday night.

Whittington chose a 2018 Chevy Equinox, provided by Wilson County Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and said the car will be a needed upgrade to her family.

“We had been looking for an SUV. It gives [my daughter] a whole lot more space than the vehicle we have right now.

“I thought, ‘There’s so many people. There’s no way we will win,’” Whittington said, as she tried to contain her disbelief and excitement, having never won anything this big.

Concerts also filled the week, sponsored by Bates Ford, that included Ronnie Milsap on Monday night and Buddy Jewell who opened for Confederate Railroad on Tuesday night.

The Wilson County Fair has many attractions from the classic Ferris wheel to fried Oreos and barrel racing, but no attraction may be more popular than a pregnant pig names Squeakers.

Squeakers is an 18-month-old sow who gave birth to 10 piglets on Wednesday night, and six survived. Throughout the fair, Squeakers was seen and continued to be viewed by people from across Wilson County to the Ukraine, Australia, Chile, Ireland and across the African continent, thanks to a live video feed set up by Edwards Feed.

The first piglet born, a male, was named Hale after Hale Moss, longtime Wilson County Promotions president, who died last year. The last surprise piglet born, also a male, was named Randall after Clemons. The other piglets were named after Wilson County Fair staff and volunteers.

The live feed had more than 1 million views, and allowed people from around the world to learn and witness the natural birth of pigs and be able to ask questions and learn about pig and piglet care.

The Wilson County Fair, sponsored by the Middle Tennessee Ford Dealers, will make its return Aug. 16-24, 2019.

News editor Sinclaire Sparkman and staff writer Matt Masters contributed to this report.

Big Bear Machine roars to opening win

By Andy Reed

MT. JULIET — After watching his Mt. Juliet team open the season with a 63-0 win over Glencliff, Golden Bear coach Trey Perry gave a postgame pep talk – to the losing team.

“I’ve been around (Glencliff) Coach (Tate) Thigpen for two years now,” Perry said. “Had to take the job at the last minute last year in terrible circumstances as far as trying to get things together with his account and finances and all those things which go into football and creating a football program and culture. They had 35 guys dressed out tonight, 17 are freshmen. That’s amazing they came out here and played under the lights at all and got lined up right. We told them to hang in there and trust each other, erase it and play next week.”

Marcello Walton set the tone with a 58-yard return of the opening kickoff as the Bears played in Colt territory all night. Mt. Juliet scored on its first three plays from scrimmage and five of its six first-quarter snaps to lead 35-0 before running the clock the final three periods.

Sixteen Bears carried the ball a total of 21 times. Six of them scored on their only rush after Alvin Mixon’s only pass of the night was a 12-yard score to Malik Bowen on the game’s first play.

Michael Ruttlen and Reggie Grimes scored on 21-yard runs, Conner Ruzek a 29-yarder, Colby Martin an 8-yarder, Conlin Baggott and Trey Evans each crossed over from 26, Cameron Malone from 20 and Trey Evans 16.

“We have a lot of backs who can do damage as far as explosions go,” Perry said. “We did a good job early on with our mesh points. With the wing-T, it’s very important you mesh correctly. Our offensive line did a good job at the point of attack and block until the echo of the whistle.”

Mt. Juliet didn’t punt, turn the ball over or be called for a penalty as the Golden Bears posted their eighth shutout in 12 games dating to last year’s opener, also against Glencliff.

Cage Ellis and Todd Harris intercepted passes while Tristan Kilmon and a No. 82, whose name wasn’t listed on the roster, recovered Colt fumbles.

Recently retired principal Mel Brown was honored before the game when the athletic complex was named in his honor. He also received a frames No. 1 jersey with “Bear Pride” on the front, which the Bears won during the game. He also performed the ceremonial coin toss which was won by Mt. Juliet.

“Bear Pride was a tribute to Mr. Brown and everything he’s done for this school and this community,” Perry said. “We were very excited to be able to surprise him with that.”

Mt. Juliet will continue its three-game season-opening home stand at 7 p.m. next Friday when John Overton pays a visit to Mel Brown Complex.

“Overton had eight seniors last year, they have 25 this year,” Perry said. “Obviously, Lebanon has a very good football team. We need to get past Overton.”

Wilson County Fair kicks off in grand fashion

By Rachael Anne Keisling

Special to The Democrat

The Wilson County Fair started in style Friday evening to celebrate the year of milk at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon.

The theme for this year, “mAGic memories,” celebrates agriculture, specifically Wilson County dairy farmers and overall healthy activity.

New to the fair this year is the Sea Lion Splash at the purple gate. There were four seals inside the swimming pool. Lily, one of the seals had her picture taken with the children.

The fair’s kickoff parade included a 1930s Mayberry vehicle from the Andy Griffith Show, Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and the Addams family hearse. It began at 7 p.m. and worked its way around the fairgrounds where the crowds cheered for the participants.

A milk-carton decorating contest was the first of many activities at The Dairy Patch, which is located near Fiddlers Grove. Children walked through a mini-farm to gain a perspective some challenges faced by farmers and what their daily activities entail. Children picked up corn, picked cotton, milked cows and collected eggs. The children then grabbed a ticket and took it to a booth room to exchange for a prize for their efforts.

New rides from Reithoffer Shows are the Stinger, Euro Slide, EuroBungy, Speed, Indy-500, Music Express and Wild Claw. The Stinger is somewhat similar to the Kamikaze, but it seats 16 people. The Kamikaze has two sides that flip upside down frontward and backward.

Favorites like the traditional carousel are also available.

Former ‘Voice’ contestant Joe Kirk releases new tunes

By Sinclaire Sparkman

Local musician Joe Kirk released a five-song EP in July just in time for his birthday. Kirk came on the radar in 2014 when he appeared on season 7 of NBC’s “The Voice.”

“This first project I really wanted to be true to myself, so I just took my time writing it. After The Voice, I took about three and a half, four years just to make sure that these five songs were the right songs that I wanted the world to hear, and it turned out to be one of my favorite projects. I’m just so happy with it,” Kirk said.

Kirk also released two music videos for songs on the EP, which he traveled to Los Angeles to film with the help of his friend, Cameron Adams.

“I flew out there for a week and filming was for about three or four days, and it was from sun up to sun down, making sure we got the best lighting and everything. The biggest part of the process was just what we wanted the video to look like. It was crazy how it all worked out. I’m so happy with the outcome,” Kirk said.

Kirk graduated from Mt. Juliet Christian Academy and said he’s been writing since he was 14. He started singing in Mt. Juliet and Nashville, but his career as a pop artist didn’t take off until after his appearance on “The Voice.”

“Whenever I look back I just remember how much growth I have experienced in the past four years really. I think I went from somebody who was not confident in what I did and not very sure of who I was or where I was going, and I turned into somebody who knew exactly what I wanted to say and knew exactly who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. That caused my writing to be a lot more confident and a lot more entertaining,” Kirk said.

Kirk describes his genre as “cinematic pop” and said his brothers, Steven and Justin, help him write many of his songs.

“Anytime I have an idea I know that I can call them and we’ll write one of my favorite songs. Every time we write together, it turns into my favorite song and it’s on repeat,” Kirk said.

Though every song he’s created is special to him, Kirk mentioned two that stand out on the EP.

“‘All I know’ is a song that is very upbeat and very fun, and it was the first upbeat song that I had ever been a part of writing that I really loved,” Kirk said. “I’m really into the ballads. I’m really into the deep lyrics, so this was something that was kind of a battle for me and I conquered it, finally. I wanted a song that was fun and people could dance to and it could also be who I am.

“‘Let This Go’ is a song that is very relatable. Everybody’s kind of been through heartbreak and I wanted to write a song that was very true to my life at some point that could kind of help someone through a similar situation. It’s been getting the most love and it’s one of my favorite melodies that I’ve ever written. That one will always be very important to me because I let myself get vulnerable while writing that one, and I think that’s very important to do as an artist because that gives people the opportunity to connect with you.”

Kirk’s music is available on YouTube, Spotify and iTunes. Connect with him on Twitter @JoeKirkMusic.

Wilson Central debuts video production trailer

By Angie Mayes

Special to the Democrat

Wilson Central High School sports information department students debuted their new 24-foot media trailer recently that will allow the department to film sports and other events, edit footage and prepare it for broadcast while in the field.

“This is a culmination of a lot of hard work and some dreams coming true,” said Wilson Central teacher and sports information department adviser Jay “Doc” Holladay.

The students decked out the trailer with tables, monitors and storage areas.

“The kids raised the money for some it, and they put blood, sweat and tears into it, literally,” Holladay said. “It’s something that will benefit the sports department here and benefit Wilson County and the school system, really.”

He said the trailer will go to sporting events and “any event that might need some type of exposure. We can videotape it; we can save it and give them an SD card or stream it live, whatever they want.”

Senior Dakota Russ, who was instrumental in the department getting the trailer, said he was in Holladay’s class his freshman year, and Holladay mentioned the need for such a unit for the press box.

“I came in a few days later and said, ‘I want to do this. I don’t know what it is, but I want to do that,’” Russ said.

He said the first away game the crew went on consisted of five members. There are currently about 30 members of the team.

“I’m honored that I got to be a part of the whole journey,” Russ said.

Senior Jordynne Loy said she was “really happy on the inside,” as she looked at the trailer. “We’ve come a long way since my sophomore year. My senior year, this is a big deal.”

Former student Daniel Bradley shared how the trailer came to fruition.

“A few years ago, Cleveland High School came to town for a football game,” said Bradley, who noted the video team not only brought a trailer with them, but also multiple pieces of video equipment. “Doc and I went to Waffle House after the game and talked about being out-funded and out-produced. I almost teared up when I saw this.

He said Holladay is “one of those people you want to work with. He gives people chances to fail, learn and grow from that. This is all good stuff for him, and he earned it.”

Another former student, Christian Kaposy, said he started on the crew as a freshman. He said a broadcast camp with the National Federation of State High School Associations changed everything.

“I went to a broadcast camp in Atlanta,” Kaposy said. “I came back and said, ‘I know you have your own program, but if we start something with NHFS, then we can have something big. This will be the fourth year of NHFS, and you can see what they’ve done with it. It’s been a pretty big move they’ve made.”

3 races in November municipal elections

By Jared Felkins

A rather light turnout produced three contested races among six seats up for grabs in the Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown municipal elections that will also appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Qualifying ended Thursday at noon for the city elections. The municipal elections will include Lebanon City Council races in Ward 3, Ward 4 and Ward 6; Mt. Juliet City Commission races in District 2 and District 4; and three at-large aldermen to serve on the Watertown City Council.

Camille Burdine and Zabrina Seay qualified and will face off for Lebanon’s Ward 3 seat left open when Councilor Rob Cesternino didn’t seek re-election. In Ward 4, incumbent Councilor Chris Crowell qualified and will run unopposed. In Ward 6, Jeni Lind Brinkman and Jon Kodi will face one another for the seat left open when Councilor Rick Bell didn’t seek re-election.

In Lebanon, Conner Vastola qualified for the Cartmell Scholarship for this year. Created by a private act in 1911 in the state legislature and, according to the terms of the will of the late William M. Cartmell, candidates for the scholarship must be Lebanon residents and only those eligible to vote in Lebanon elections may vote for the scholarship recipient.

Every regular city election, the Cartmell Scholarship is offered. Before, in the 1920s until the early 1980s, all council people were elected at-large, so every two years, there were citywide elections, and the scholarship was on the ballot. In the 1980s, the city was split into wards, so there were citywide elections every four years with the mayoral election. The trustees of Vanderbilt said the intent of Cartmell’s will was that he wanted it on every election. In 2008, the city amended its charter to put the scholarship on every general election ballot every two years.

In Mt. Juliet’s District 2, incumbent Commissioner James Maness qualified and will run unopposed. In District 4, both incumbent Commissioner Brian Abston and former Commissioner Jim Bradshaw qualified and plan to run for the seat.

In Watertown, incumbent aldermen Kristie Bayse Cantrell, Katie Smith and Brandon Howard qualified for the three at-large seats to fill.

The Nov. 6 general and city elections will also determine who will be the state’s new governor, fill District 57 and District 46 seats in the state House and pick a state senator for District 17 in Wilson County. Also on the ballot, voters will determine who will replace Diane Black in the U.S. House’s Sixth District and Bob Corker in the U.S. Senate.

Businessman Bill Lee won the Republican nomination, while former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean won the Democratic nomination, in the Aug. 2 primaries and will face one another for governor.

In House District 46, Republican state Rep. Clark Boyd and Democrat challenger Mark Cagle will square off in the Nov. 6 general election. Republican state Rep. Susan Lynn will face Democrat challenger Jordan Cole for the District 57 House seat in November. Both unopposed in their respective primaries, Republican incumbent state Sen. Mark Pody will rematch with Democrat challenger Mary Alice Carfi for the District 17 state Senate seat. Pody won by 308 votes in a special election last year to fill the then-vacant seat.

Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn and Democrat former Gov. Phil Bredesen seek to replace Corker in the U.S. Senate in the Nov. 6 election.

In the race for U.S. Congress Sixth District, Republican John Rose will face Democrat Dawn Barlow in the Nov. 6 election to replace Black.

The withdrawal deadline is Aug. 23 at noon for qualified candidates to back out of their respective city races. The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 8. Absentee ballots may be requested between Aug. 8 and Oct. 30. Early voting will be Oct. 17 through Nov. 1.

Bike repair stations installed in city parks

By Matt Masters

Mt. Juliet officials recently installed new bicycle repair stations in Charlie Daniels Park, Eagle Park and Jones Park, to allow bike riders to get the most of the city’s parks and bike lanes.

The repair stations are outfitted with a tire pump and Allen wrenches, along with a stand that doubles as a bike rack for easier repair access.

They are available for use at any time for free, and users need no additional tools, training or permission to keep their bikes in good working order.

City Manager Kenny Martin said the stations make Mt. Juliet a more bike-friendly community and add to both quality of life and public safety in the city.

“Biking, walking, jogging, running and all forms of outdoor leisure and fitness activities have really increased in recent years. As such, so is the need to make doing so that much safer and accessible for our residents and visitors alike,” Martin said.
Martin said the repair stations were paid for by funds set aside for the park systems, and residents could expect more additions to the parks in the future. He said the city is looking into the possibility to expand sidewalks and greenways and noted there was also some demand for other actives such as Frisbee golf and beach-style volleyball.

Community goes green for Sherry’s Run

Staff Reports

Sherry’s Run invites everyone to help paint the town green.

The 15th-annual Sherry’s Run 5K Run-Walk approaches, and organizers urge supporters and volunteers in communities across Wilson County to add a lime green splash of color to remind everyone to support neighbors who battle cancer.

“You can help us bring awareness and show support not only for your community, but also for friends and loved ones who are affected by cancer,” said Tiffy Clemons, who serves on the Sherry’s Run executive board.

Green bows are on sale for $10 each. Bows may be purchases and displayed on houses, mailboxes, cars, businesses or churches.

Green bows may be purchased during registration for the 15th-annual Sherry’s Run at or by paper registration form.

A paint the town green bow order form, available at, may be mailed to Sherry’s Run, 110 Babb Drive, Lebanon, TN 37090. Contact the Sherry’s Run office at 615-925-2592 or to order bows.

Green bows may be purchased Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Sherry’s Run office at 110 Babb Drive in Lebanon.

Bows may also be picked up during spirit nights Aug. 21 or Sept. 4 from 4-6 p.m. at the Sherry’s Run office.

Bows may also be picked up Sept. 6 or Sept. 7 from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. or Sept. 8 from 6:30-8 a.m. at the event site at 623 W. Main St. in Lebanon.

“Remember that all of the proceeds from the purchase of green bows stays here in Wilson County and the surrounding communities to help our neighbors who are fighting their greatest battle,” Clemons said.

Registration is open for the 15th-annual Sherry’s Run 5K Run-Walk on Sept. 8 at 8 a.m. at 623 W. Main St. in Lebanon.

Support allows Sherry’s Run to assist cancer patients 52 weeks a year with gas, groceries, utility bills, housing payments, prescription assistance, health insurance premiums, medical bills and colonoscopy assistance.

To learn more about Sherry’s Run, call 615-925-2592. To refer someone who might qualify for assistance, call 615-925-9932 or visit

New Mt. Juliet planner sees smart growth as goal

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Mt. Juliet has a new city planning director, and she’s no stranger to the city.

Jennifer Stewart has been with the city for 18 years for which 16 were in the planning department, according to City Manager Kenny Martin.

“Her first two years were with the Mt. Juliet police communications center, and Ms. Stewart was serving as the lead dispatcher for our police department the day Sgt. Jerry Mundy and Deputy John Musice were killed.”

Martin said Stewart most recently served as interim planning director.

“She is most talented and bright and has overseen and supervised the planning department on many previous occasions for many months at a time and up until just [last week] was serving as the interim planner in addition to her deputy planner and zoning administrator roles,” Martin said. “She was basically wearing three hats. Unlike past city planners, Ms. Stewart will be the first city planner to also serve as the zoning administrator in addition to her city planner role.

“Initially Ms. Stewart did not desire the planner role, but after much support, thought and prayer with family and friends, she decided to make her wishes known. Quite honestly I could not be more happy and excited. I/we are so very proud or happy for Ms. Stewart. She was born and raised in Mt. Juliet and loves everything about our great city.”

Stewart said, “My reluctance stemmed from several items, one being the fact that I actually enjoyed my previous position. Also, I consider myself a worker bee and prefer to work more behind the scenes. Lastly, this position is a huge responsibility, and I feared it will take away from family time. I will be required to attend more nightly meetings, so I wanted to be on the same page with them and secure their support.

Stewart said she has “love for this city. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have so much pride in this town, and I am a homegrown Mt. Juliet girl through and through. I have lived here my entire life, and I have seen many changes. I have seen Mt. Juliet Road go from two lanes to five, and seen Providence go from a field of trees to what it is today, I have seen new schools built to accommodate our growth, our police department go from a handful of officers to the force we have today, and we even have our own fire department.”
She said while she has “acted as interim planner on several occasions throughout my time at the city and through the personal growth, those opportunities have provided and the confidence that our city manager, board of commissioners and planning commission have in me, I thought now was a great time to advance my career here at the city.”

Stewart said the “planner for such a fast-growing community is a huge responsibility, and I am so excited to serve my community in this capacity.  My goal is to make our city better today than yesterday. Growth isn’t often appreciated in small towns. I still consider Mt. Juliet a small town, but it’s here, and I have full confidence in the development team we have forged with public works, engineering, building codes and others to ensure that development is done so in a manner which is top notch. Maintaining that level of service to our community is a top priority.

“Another priority top on my list is development along our newly opened Golden Bear Gateway. It isn’t often you get to start with a clean slate. That is a sensitive, yet critical, area of town, and my goal is to ensure any development that might occur in that area is done so in a positive manner.”

Martin said, “She is a true success story on how hard work, diligence, integrity and learning every nuance for every position she has served with the city from top to bottom can make dreams come true. As a result, she has achieved so much during her many years of dedicated service with the city.”

Stewart replaces Donald Anthony, who was with the city for two weeks before he decided “he was not the right fit,” Martin said.