School board honors Tatum

By Xavier Smith 

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

The Wilson County school board honored community leaders, students and received its own recognition during Monday’s monthly meeting.

The board honored longtime Wilson County juvenile court Judge Barry Tatum as a Friend of Education for his work within the school system.

Wilson County Schools director Donna Wright said she often hears students make remarks about the important role Tatum played in their lives even after graduation.

“I’ve had students tell me, ‘I’ve got to make sure I go back and tell Judge Tatum that I finished,’” she said.

Wright said many students who appear in Tatum’s courtroom do not have an adult advocate, which makes Tatum’s role more important that it appears on the surface.

“He’s fair, works to improve the circumstances of those that come before him and Wilson County is truly blessed to have a judge like Barry Tatum who not only has our students and community’s best interest at art, but the idea that young children are our future,” she said.

Wright said although Tatum often lectures in courtroom, he also offers students hope that their current situation doesn’t have to determine their future. Wright said Tatum has played the role of guide, mentor and advocate for many students.

Board member Wayne McNeese said he first met Tatum in 2000 during the district’s search for a director. He said he has the upmost respect for Tatum’s work with children in Wilson County.

Board chairman Larry Tomlinson said he also respected Tatum for his work and has witnessed his work in person. Tomlinson said he recalled one instance where a young man’s mother was acting out, which caused Tatum to threaten her with contempt of court.

Tomlinson said what Tatum told the young man after that is what sticks with him.

“It was something to the effect of, “Son, I can’t overlook what you’ve been charged with here, but I can see by the way you mother is acting why you probably are the way you are,’” Tomlinson said.

“It was such a true statement because in society today, some of these problems are placed on young people because they’re not getting a lot of direction at home.”

The board also honored the Patriot Pen and Voice of Democracy winners in Wilson County.

Established in 1947, the Voice of Democracy audio-essay program provides high school students with the unique opportunity to express themselves in regards to a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars website. Patriot’s Pen is the contest for students in 6-8 grades.

Winners of the Patriot’s Pen include: Mary O’Riordan of West Wilson Middle, first place; Raeann Green of Watertown Middle, second place; and Kailee Scott of Tuckers Crossroads, third place. Winners of the Voice of Democracy include: Navaneeth Shibu of Wilson Central, second place; and Kimberlynn Miller of Mt. Juliet High, third place.

Ken Kackley, VFW Post 5051 senior vice commander, and Post Commander John Marshall honored the school board for their work with the essay contest after it voiced displeasure last year with the lack of attention given to the contest throughout the district.

Youth Leadership Wilson event caters to 200 people

Youth Leadership heroes left plenty of children happy Saturday as the group held the first of two canned food drive events at West Elementary School. 

“It was really good,” said Leadership Wilson director Dorie Mitchell, who said the event raised a truckload of canned food for the backpack program.

“I was tickled to death,” she said.

Mitchell said about 200 people made their way to West Elementary School where Youth Leadership members were dressed as movie characters and heroes, such as Buzz Lightyear, Aladdin, Woody, Elsa and more. Children had the opportunity to meet their favorite characters and learn what makes them unique heroes.

“They were just amazing. It was so much fun. It’s really just a fun event,” Mitchell said.

A second event is set for Saturday at Castle Heights Elementary School. It was originally scheduled for Feb. 18, but was cancelled due to illness. The event will be from 9-11 a.m. in the school cafeteria.

Admission is one canned food item per person.

Mitchell said food received at Castle Heights would go to the Lebanon Special School District backpack program.

Mitchell said parents and guardians would need to bring their own cameras or smartphones for the event.

“I think we donated around 1,000 cans last year, and we would love to double that this year. I think we can help a lot of people,” she said. 

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Archaeologist explains remains at Grassmere Plantation

Local bio-archaeologist Shannon Hodge gave a presentation Thursday covering the discovery of African-American remains at the Grassmere Plantation, a site currently known as the Nashville Zoo.

The presentation was part of events planned to highlight Black History Month, sponsored by the Wilson County Black History Committee, at Mt. Juliet Public Library. Hodge is a member of the committee.

Many of the remains found were infants and children, with only two being between the ages of 35 and 50 when they died, and not one set of remains was found to be older than 50 years old at the time of death. Among those found, there were five adult men, four adult women and 11 infants and children.

The unmarked cemetery was first discovered in 1989 during an archeological survey conducted by students at Vanderbilt University. In 1997 when the Nashville Zoo relocated, the cemetery was known and avoided by the winding path to the entrance of the zoo.

The project of excavating the remains was later taken on by a number of organizations, including Hodge and a group of students at Middle Tennessee State University. The Nashville Zoo helped with the project’s funding.

The historic Grassmere home still stands at the Nashville Zoo, surrounded by the family cemetery, slave cabins and now this replicated cemetery containing remains of plantation slave workers.

“The zoo has had amazing growth,” Hodge said. “They had not intended to ever disturb the cemetery but it became apparent that they had to do it in order to expand.”

Grassmere was first established with a 1786 land grant during the Revolutionary War to a man named Simpson, who never actually lived at the property. Simpson sold the plantation to Michael and Elizabeth Dunn in 1810.

The Dunn family built the house that still stands today. The property would go on to be family owned by the Dunn, Shute and Croft families until it was acquired by Metro Nashville in 1985.

“By the 1960s the [Croft] sisters were the only ones who were left, and they made an agreement with Nashville Metro that if Metro would pay their taxes and keep up the property that upon the death of the last sister, the property would become the property of Metro Nashville,” Hodge said.

All of the families owned slaves who worked on the property, averaging about 33 slaves per census. The unmarked cemetery contained 20 graves with 19 sets of remains. Hodge said just because no remains were found does not mean there were not remains in it at one time.

The remains were found in coffins, an unusual luxury for slaves at the time. There were also buttons and grommets found, meaning the people were buried with their clothes on. Some blue seed beads were also found near the collarbones of some of the younger remains, meaning they may have been sown on to clothing or on a necklace. These beads are common in historic African burial practices, and symbolized the crossing of a body of water after death.

A study of some of the teeth excavated from the site revealed a low frequency of cavities of large size. The people were probably eating a lot of cornbread and beans, lots of calories but little nutrition.

“They were well fed, but they also worked very hard,” Hodge said. 

One of the graves contained the remains of an adult female and 22-week-old fetus.

“This was found in the grave with the mother. It’s not associated with childbirth, not associated with stillbirth. A pregnant mother died is what happened here,” Hodge said.

Others bore signs of infection, osteoarthritis, bone fractures, gout and other afflictions and injuries.

One case study Hodge presented, burial 13, was a young man, 17-21 years old, who suffered from chronic kidney disease, including things like misshaped bones, juvenile gout and eventually an aneurysm in the brain that was most likely the cause of death.

Unlike some plantations at the time, the slave quarters were not hidden on Grassmere Plantation, but actually out in the open for all to see.

“This is, look how much money I have, look at my property. Slave homes were right in the main driveway so everyone coming could see,” Hodge said. “It’s just like parking your Cadillac in the driveway instead of putting it in the garage.”

DNA tests of three sets of remains showed one of definite African descent, one of European or northern African descent, and one inconclusive result. Hodge still has samples from all 19 sets of remains and hopes to eventually get them all tested.

After the study, the remains were placed back in the ground in the same layout of the original cemetery.

By Sinclaire Sparkman

ssparkman@lebanondemocrat.com

Did you know? Littering is costly to everyone

After recently conducting a major trash pickup along various streets in the city, I found myself asking what would make a person disrespect their community, state or country by littering or illegal dumping. Could it be laziness or lack of respect for community and fellow citizens? If not, then I’d sure like to know why. Think about it. There are no good excuses or reasons for littering.

Why would anyone just throw trash on the ground? Is it because they think that all trash is biodegradable or will simply be picked up by someone else? I just can’t fathom what would posses a person to simply dump or throw trash on the ground or along the roadsides.

For the people who dump trash on the ground or along the roadside on someone’s property, let me ask you this. How would you feel if someone decided to dump his or her trash in your front yard or on your property? Would you be OK with that? I very seriously doubt it. People who litter apparently have very little respect for their fellow citizens and our great city, county and country.

Trust me, just drive down any road or through any community and see for yourself. I hate sounding like a litter tyrant or fuss bucket, but it frustrates me to no end to see something that’s so easy to dispose of simply thrown along the roadside. I agree that disposing of some items like stoves, couches and tires isn’t very easy or convenient.

It requires driving to the county landfill to dispose of and is time consuming and annoying at times, but it’s simply the right thing to do. Taking the easy way out and finding a convenient location to dump your trash and other conveyances isn’t right. It’s just plain wrong and costly to everyone else.

Illegal dumping costs us all. Those who illegally dump or litter only pass their trash and cost on to the rest of us. They simply make the problem someone else’s. But in the end it cost us all. Littering and illegal dumping is against the law and morally wrong. We must have respect for our country, community and fellow citizens. Littering is defined as the disposing of any material in an illegal manner. Let’s show some pride and put a stop to illegal littering and dumping. Let’s put trash where it belongs.

In closing, God bless the USA.

Kenny Martin is city manager in Mt. Juliet.

Youth Leadership brings back Heroes canned food drive

Bobby Reynolds • 
Mt. Juliet News • File
Children throughout Wilson County will get the chance to meet their heroes at two upcoming events sponsored by Youth Leadership Wilson. Hungry for Heroes seeks to collect food for Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District’s backpack programs.

The 2017 Youth Leadership Wilson class will bring back two events aimed to help those in need throughout Wilson County.

The group will continue a service project started by the 2016 class and hold two Hungry for Heroes canned food drives for Wilson County students Saturday at Castle Heights Elementary School and Feb. 25 at West Elementary School. Both events will be from 9-11 a.m. in the school cafeterias.

Youth Leadership members will dress as movie characters and heroes, and children will have the opportunity to meet their favorite characters and learn what makes them unique heroes.

Admission is one canned food item per person.

Dorie Mitchell, Leadership Wilson director, said all food from the Mt. Juliet event will go toward the Wilson County Schools backpack program and food received in Lebanon would go to the Lebanon Special School District backpack program.

“It’s a really fun day for everybody. Each child gets a goodie bag when they come in, and there’s an autograph book for them to get their favorite character’s autograph and pictures made,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said parents and guardians would need to bring their own cameras or smartphones for the event.

“I think we donated around 1,000 cans last year, and we would love to double that this year. I think we can help a lot of people,” she said.

Staff Reports

First baby of 2017 welcomed at TriStar Summit

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News Mother Rebecca Mounsey, of Mt. Juliet, holds her son, William Cole Mounsey, who was the first baby born in 2017 at TriStar Summit Medical Center.

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Mother Rebecca Mounsey, of Mt. Juliet, holds her son, William Cole Mounsey, who was the first baby born in 2017 at TriStar Summit Medical Center.

HERMITAGE – William Cole Mounsey was the first baby of 2017 born at TriStar Summit Medical Center.

Proud parents Rebecca and Ben Mounsey, of Mt. Juliet, welcomed their healthy baby boy Jan. 1 at 1:05 p.m. in TriStar Summit Medical Center. Dr. Jaybusch delivered the newborn.

William weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces and was 20-inches long,

Medical center staff presented the Mounsey family with a New Year gift basket in honor of their special delivery.

In 2016, TriStar Summit Medical Center delivered 1,217 babies.

“Welcoming babies to the world is one of the most special parts of working in maternity services. What makes this extra special for our floor is that mom, Rebecca, is a labor and delivery nurse on our floor at Summit.” said nurse Pat Woods, director of the labor and delivery unit at TriStar Summit. “We are proud to be part of the Mounsey family’s special day.”

Celebrating 20 years of serving the community, TriStar Summit Medical Center is a 196-bed facility in Hermitage. The TriStar Health hospital offers a full array of acute care services, including emergency care, general surgery, cardiology, obstetrics, orthopaedics, intensive care, physical medicine, rehab services, outpatient diagnostic services and cancer care.

Recognized by the Joint Commission as a top performer on key quality measures, TriStar Summit is a national leader in providing quality health care.

For more information about the services offered and health plans accepted by TriStar Summit, call TriStar MedLine at 615-342-1919 or visit tristarsummit.com. The hospital is at 5655 Frist Blvd. in Hermitage.

Staff Reports

Snow causes trouble for schools

Jared Felkins • Mt. Juliet News Students at Watertown High School brave the snow and ice Friday morning to get to class.

Jared Felkins • Mt. Juliet News
Students at Watertown High School brave the snow and ice Friday morning to get to class.

When snow suddenly hit Wilson County on Friday morning, local school systems were left to make tough decisions about whether to close.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory from 6:30 a.m. until midnight. However, many buses for Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District were already on the roads by the time the advisory was issued.

Lebanon Director of Schools Scott Benson said the district’s director of transportation was on the roads at about 3 a.m., and Benson himself was on the roads at 4 a.m.

“The roads really looked good then, and with the information we had, the forecast seemed like we weren’t going to be in bad shape,” Benson said.

Benson decided it would be in the best interest to keep schools open. He made a similar decision Thursday afternoon, when snow was forecast to possibly hit Lebanon. A winter weather advisory was also issued Thursday from noon until midnight.

“Some other school districts went ahead and closed early [Thursday], but we looked at the information we had, and we thought it would be OK to stay open,” Benson said. “Obviously, that was the right call.”

The Lebanon Special School District gets information from the Wilson County Emergency Management Agency about the status of roads and any possible bad weather, Benson said.

By 6:30-7 a.m., Benson said he was sticking with his decision. Once it became obvious the roads were too treacherous for schools to remain open, officials quickly began trying to get children back home safely.

“We made the call at 7:15,” Benson said. “Some buses had already dropped kids off at school, and at some schools we had parents coming to drop kids off, and we were just waving them right on through and telling them that schools were closing. It takes a while for the message to get out to parents, and for the media to pick it up.”

For Wilson County Schools, the same situation presented itself on a larger scale. According to Jennifer Johnson, spokesperson for the school system, Wilson County went through a similar process.

“We considered [closing schools] all through the night and probably up to the 5 a.m. hour,” she said. “[Friday] morning, the weather model indicated it was not going to come as far north as Wilson County, so we sent the buses out at about 5:15. It was not until 6:30, when we had 60 percent of our students at school or on their way to school, that the snow started coming.”

The school system announced schools would close early, with schools that start during the 7 a.m. hour closing at 11:15 a.m., and schools that start during the 8 a.m. hour closing at 12:30 p.m.

One reason that the schools closed later, Johnson said, was to give bus drivers enough time to hit all of their routes, as some buses carry students from multiple schools. Another reason was to give parents notice in case they were not at home.

Officials with the Lebanon Special School District can sympathize with the conundrum of parents who aren’t home to get their children off the school bus.

“We had bus drivers bring kids back to school because they were making sure there was someone at home before letting the child get off the bus,” Benson said. “We made arrangements and made sure every child got home safely.” 

Johnson said she fielded many questions from parents Friday about the decision to close schools at a later time.

“I’ve heard people throw around ‘it’s all about the money,’ but there’s absolutely zero truth to that,” she said. “There’s no money involved. We have snow days set aside already. We staggered the times to help our bus drivers and parents.”

Johnson said Wilson County Schools could have chosen to open late, but at the time, it did not seem like the best decision.

“It’s always easier when you have the benefit of hindsight,” she said. “Weather is a moving target, and we did the best we could with the circumstances in front of us. There are human beings making decisions, and we’re not always going to get it right. If we had it all to do again, we would have closed school completely, no question.”

Buses in Wilson County were able to take students home, except in Watertown, where the roads were worse than in other parts of the county.

Watertown High School principal Jeff Luttrell, who has no involvement in decisions on buses, said he agreed with the plan not to run buses in Watertown on Friday.

“We’ve got a lot more rural roads and higher elevations out here,” Luttrell said. “As a parent, I wouldn’t want my kid on a bus out in this.”

Johnson said no absences would be counted Friday at any Wilson County schools.

“We respect the discretion of parents,” she said. “If parents decided not to send their children to school, regardless of the decision we made, that’s fine.”

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com

Wilson County athletes shop for local youth

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News On Top Athletics athletes and trainers shop for two local children Thursday at Walmart for Christmas. The group said it hopes to continue the tradition and reach more children next year.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
On Top Athletics athletes and trainers shop for two local children Thursday at Walmart for Christmas. The group said it hopes to continue the tradition and reach more children next year.

Wilson County athletes spent time Thursday shopping for two local children as a part of the first On Top Athletics Christmas.

“We just came together. It’s our first OTA Christmas. This is the season to give. I believe to get blessings to have to give blessings,” On Top Athletics founder Shavez Jobe said.

On Top Athletics features student-athletes from several Wilson County high and middle schools and those athletes spent the first full day of their Christmas break helping others.

“Every kid’s not blessed to have a great Christmas. It’s not all about gifts. It’s about the birth of Jesus, but every kid wants to wake up and have something. As a parent, it was a joy for me to see my kids wake up when they were younger and see stuff under the tree,” Jobe said.

Jobe said several people have blessed On Top Athletics this year, including Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Dowell, Partlow Funeral Home, Neuble Monuments and the On Top Athletics parents.

On Top Athletics co-founder Mo Thompson said it’s important for the athletes, many of which have committed to colleges and universities, to know the importance of giving back to the community.

“These athletes are looked up to, whether they want to be or not. When you’re looked up to, you want to have good integrity and character, and also be a people person. It’s important to be able to help others because you’re in that spotlight and able to help others,” Thompson said.

Jobe said he wants to continue the tradition and sponsor more children next year.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Did You Know? Shopping local helps Mt. Juliet

Since the advent of the Providence Marketplace, I would venture to say that “shopping local” has been much easier to do, with a wider variety of stores and merchandise in our own town. But did you know that your city property taxes only go to fund the Mt. Juliet Fire Department?

All other expenditures for the city of Mt. Juliet come out of the general fund. So how does the general fund get refilled in order to pay the light bills for various city buildings, maintain the city infrastructure or take care of the payroll at those departments?

Shop local. Out of every $100 spent in Wilson County, the Mt. Juliet general fund gets $1.10. While this amount doesn’t seem like much, it all adds up every time money is spent locally. As more families plant roots in Mt. Juliet and take advantage of the shopping here, the more the General Fund will grow. And if we can lure other businesses here, in order to keep our Mt. Juliet residents from having to travel outside of our trade area, that would benefit both the residents and the city.

By shopping local, it allows our local businesses to support other local businesses. These owners then invest in the community and have a vested interest in the future of Mt. Juliet. Not only that, but the business community becomes reflective of this community’s unique culture.

As Mt. Juliet has grown over the years, the roads have been widened to ease the traffic flow for our citizens, that they may more easily be able to access our local businesses. Providence Marketplace has been a real boon to the area, both in the availability of stores Mt. Juliet residents can now shop at where formerly they had to travel into Nashville to shop. Even residents outside of our fair city come to enjoy Providence and all its many stores. This also enhances Mt. Juliet’s ability to keep roads, city buildings and the parks and recreational facilities maintained.

If we continue to shop locally, our city will continue to grow and the services we use such as the park system will continue to grow with us.

It definitely makes sense for our residents to be able to shop locally, thus saving time, gas and less stress to get to another store outside of the city. Our Economic and Community Development department is working diligently to bring other businesses here to minimize the need for local residents to travel outside of Mt. Juliet. I’m sure many of you would have a suggestion or two as to other businesses you would like to see in our area that you regularly shop at outside of Mt. Juliet. Please give us a “heads up” at the email address below and your suggestions will be forwarded to our ECD department.

Thank you all for shopping in Mt. Juliet.

If you have any questions or concerns you would like to see addressed in future columns, please email it to jbostick@mtjuliet-tn.gov.

Kenny Martin is city manager in Mt. Juliet.

Community tree lit, future uncertain

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News The beautiful spruce at 14001 Lebanon Road was owned by the McCluskey family, longtime Mt. Juliet residents W.J. ‘Mac’ McCluskey and his wife, Lanova McCluskey. The family farm is currently for sale.

Colleen Creamer • Mt. Juliet News
The beautiful spruce at 14001 Lebanon Road was owned by the McCluskey family, longtime Mt. Juliet residents W.J. ‘Mac’ McCluskey and his wife, Lanova McCluskey. The family farm is currently for sale.

Some Christmas traditions have roots in commercialism; others take root in a quieter spirit of the season.

The latter was the reason hundreds of people took to Facebook a few weeks ago — specifically the Hip Mount Juliet Facebook page —wondering if a 25-foot spruce tree on Lebanon Road, lit every year by the family who owned the property, would be lit again this year.

It was, but maybe for the last time.

The beautiful spruce at 14001 Lebanon Road was owned by the McCluskey family, longtime Mt. Juliet residents W.J. “Mac” McCluskey and his wife, Lanova McCluskey. Mac was a former Dupont employee and a Wilson County commissioner who died at 90 in 2014. Lenova died this year at 96.

For 44 years, those travelling Lebanon Road got an extra slice of Christmas spirit.

The McCluskeys’ son, Macky McCluskey, said the house and the tree, along with the property’s 44 acres of land, are for sale. “We would expect by this time next year that it will have been sold,” said Macky McCluskey. “It would then be up to the new owners.

McCluskey said his father in particular loved Christmas. About 44 years ago, he said his father bought a small tree still in burlap, which he used for the family Christmas tree, and then planted it outside.

The first tree was destroyed in April 1998 from a tornado outbreak throughout Middle Tennessee, which Mac McCluskey replaced with a larger tree that lived only a couple years. Mac McCluskey then went back to a smaller tree that has grown to its present size.

“Daddy has loved Christmas forever,” McCluskey said. “He was a product of the depression, and I suspect that that caused him to, when he got in a position to help other people, do for other folks.

That first tree took root but was destroyed by tornadoes that struck the area in 1998. A second one was planted, which survived only a few years, However, a third spruce took root and is the tree that stands at the property today.

A close friend of the McCluskeys took over the decorating in the final years of Mac and Lenova McCluskey’s lives.

The younger McCluskey said he hopes new owners would get on board with the tradition, but he is not even certain about the fate of the house.

“It’s a sad time, but things change,” McCluskey said. “You just can’t do everything forever. What my sister [Margaret Pile] and I want is that if somebody wanted to buy the property to preserve the house and to preserve the Christmas tree. That would be our ideal choice.”

The tree was decorated just after Thanksgiving this year and can be seen throughout the holiday season just before dark at 4 p.m. when the lights are turned on.

By Colleen Creamer

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Cops shop for local children

Xavier Smith • Lebanon Democrat Wilson County sheriff’s Deputy Jennifer Mekelburg shares a smile with her shopping buddy Tuesday. Mekelburg was one of several law enforcement personnel who shopped for local children during the annual Shop with a Cop event.

Xavier Smith • Lebanon Democrat
Wilson County sheriff’s Deputy Jennifer Mekelburg shares a smile with her shopping buddy Tuesday. Mekelburg was one of several law enforcement personnel who shopped for local children during the annual Shop with a Cop event.

Several local law enforcement personnel looked to give two-dozen children a little more this holiday season Wednesday with the annual Shop with a Cop event.

The annual Fraternal Order of Police Sam Houston lodge event gathered officers, administrators, personnel and retirees from the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, Lebanon Police Department and district attorney’s office to shop for children whose families have shortcomings this time of year.

“The kids all seem excited about this. This is a way for us to provide families that are going to be a little bit short this time of year so these kids can actually have a Christmas. They’re going to be able to get shoes, socks, shirts for school and things like that,” said FOP Sam Houston lodge president David Willmore.

Willmore said the group shopped for 23 children thanks to donations from groups, such as Walmart and the Music City Mopar Club, which donated $1,000 for this year’s event.

Willmore said the group’s donated allowed event organizers to add 10 children to this year’s program. He said the children would typically shop for friends, family and siblings to they would be able to give a gift during the holidays instead of receive one.

“It never fails that there’s always a kid that we bring with us that’s selfless that wants to give forward to someone else. That’s always moving when we deal with that,” Willmore said.

Willmore also praised the law enforcement personnel who participated during what would have been their time off from duty.

“They want to give just a little bit back to the community, and it’s commendable. You can see the excitement in the kids’ faces to be able to get a new shirt or shoes, and that means a lot,” he said.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Sunnymeade fire victims receive a much-needed merry Christmas

George Page • Mt. Juliet News The Mattern family gathers around to receive gifts from the Del Webb Lake Providence community. A fire recently destroyed the home of the Matterns. The Del Webb community collected more than $4,000 in gift cards as well as furniture, clothing and more.

George Page • Mt. Juliet News
The Mattern family gathers around to receive gifts from the Del Webb Lake Providence community. A fire recently destroyed the home of the Matterns. The Del Webb community collected more than $4,000 in gift cards as well as furniture, clothing and more.

The 55-and-up community in Mt. Juliet rallied together to help the Mattern family of eight have a merry Christmas after a fire destroyed their Mt. Juliet home last month. 

Residents of Del Webb Lake Providence, Joe Thompson and Judy Wilson recognized the need of Jordan and Shay Mattern and their six kids, after seeing the devastation of the family’s home burnt to a crisp.

Wilson and Thompson knew the kids would not have Christmas if someone didn’t step in. They connected with Del Webb’s Lifestyle Director Erin Brown, and the “Friendship Club” in the community, to sponsor a donation box which was set up in the vestibule of the Clubhouse lobby. 

In one short week, there was an outpouring of support with over $4,000 in gift cards collected for the family to Walmart, Target, gas stations and area grocery stores. Items such as clothing, two loveseats, and a flat screen television were also donated. All of these goods were formally presented to the entire family on Friday with members of the Del Webb community present.

The family was shocked and grateful for the unexpected love and generosity shown to their family during the holiday season.

Staff Reports 

Wilson Central students raise $15K for fire victims

Xavier Smith • Lebanon Democrat Wilson Central students load buses Wednesday around 5:30 a.m. to head to Sevier County to donate $15,000 raised by the school to two high schools affected by wildfires. Teachers picked the students who were most instrumental in the fundraising effort.

Xavier Smith • Lebanon Democrat
Wilson Central students load buses Wednesday around 5:30 a.m. to head to Sevier County to donate $15,000 raised by the school to two high schools affected by wildfires. Teachers picked the students who were most instrumental in the fundraising effort.

A handful of Wilson Central students and faculty made a trip to Sevier County on Wednesday to donate about $15,000 the school raised for fellow students affected by wildfires in the Gatlinburg area.

Students left around 5:30 a.m., which is a few hours before they normally arrive at school. However, the group of about 120 students sacrificed their time, energy and spare change to help those in need, so a few hours of sleep didn’t seem to bother the group.

“We had a meeting and asked all teachers, coaches and sponsors to nominate one student from classroom, club or group that was actively involved in this donation process. Teachers throughout the building nominated these students,” said Wilson Central athletic director and assistant principal Chip Bevis.

Bevis said the school initially had a goal of $2,000 in two minutes. Buckets were set up in hallways and classrooms throughout the school and students used the two minutes to blitz as much change and cash into the containers as possible.

The school raised about $3,900 from that initial effort, and Bevis said the students continued to take the effort to heart.

“After that, the student body was so excited and the sponsors and coaches were so excited that they said let’s see what we can do here. The momentum was there,” Bevis said.

He said students brought change from home and various places they could find change. Fundraisers continued at Wilson Central athletic events, performances and other meetings.

Bevis said one student set up a fundraiser change jar at her fast-food workplace and raised between $500-$700.

“A lot of times they get a bad rap for being like teenagers can be, but to have an opportunity to step up and do for others, I think it’s been a really good thing. That’s why we get into this, to be able to truly teach and mentor students and I think this is one of those opportunities,” Bevis said.

The students will visit Gatlinburg-Pittman High School and Pigeon Forge High School where they will present each school with a check for about $7,500. They will also tour areas affected by the fires

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Big Brothers delivers with Mother’s Toy Store

Submitted to The Democrat Big Brothers of Mt. Juliet volunteers hand out toys and food to hundreds of families Saturday at the Mother’s Toy Store at Mt. Juliet Middle School.

Submitted to The Democrat
Big Brothers of Mt. Juliet volunteers hand out toys and food to hundreds of families Saturday at the Mother’s Toy Store at Mt. Juliet Middle School.

Christmas will be significantly brighter for several hundred families thanks to Big Brothers of Mt. Juliet and Saturday’s Mother’s Toy Store.

In partnership with Toys for Tots, the Mother’s Toy Store provided 723 children with toys and 245 families with food baskets. In all, 311 families were served through the effort, according to Big Brothers of Mt. Juliet director Sherry Bilbrey.

“If it had not been for this community, we could not have done this,” Bilbrey said. “We’ve got the greatest community in the world. Our schools, churches, everyone came together to help make this happen.”

The Mother’s Toy Store was at Mt. Juliet Middle School on Saturday and served children up to 16 years old and special needs children up to 21 years old who live in west Wilson County. Each registered child received a package of one age-appropriate large gift, two medium gifts, two small gifts and stockings stuffers.

Bilbrey said the effort was much appreciated and helped a lot of families in need, but it also depleted Big Brothers’ available resources. She said anyone who wanted to donate to Big Brothers of Mt. Juliet could do so by mailing a check to P.O. Box 1513, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121 or calling 615-202-6084 or 615-641-0577.

Bilbrey said Big Brothers’ missions and goals are to never let a person go without food or necessities of life. Big Brothers members are all volunteers and no member or officer of Big Brothers receives any compensation of any kind for their services.

When a family experiences short-term difficulties with paying an electrical bill, water bill, heating bill, sewer bill, rent, needing food, medication, etc., for their family, Big Brothers takes that request and makes a decision on whether help is needed.

“We are funded entirely by donations from businesses, the general public, other charity organizations, some churches and fundraisers. We have been hit hard these last several years with requests for assistance and our funds are very low,” Bilbrey said.

By Jared Felkins

jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com

Wildcats collect $3,800 in two minutes for fire victims

Wilson Central High School students and faculty used a unique tactic last week to raise money for fire victims in east Tennessee.

The school used the $2,000 in two minutes initiative to help raise more than $3,800 for fellow students affected by last week’s historic wildfire in the Gatlinburg area.

“We got a lot of students and people in our state right now who have been greatly affected. We have students at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School and Pigeon Forge High School who are now without any homes and any possessions,” Wilson Central athletic director and assistant principal Chip Bevis said in a video promoting the event.

The school partnered with the affected school and decided to donate change to students to help start rebuilding their lives.

Buckets were set up in hallways and classrooms throughout the school and students used the two minutes to blitz as much change and cash into the containers as possible.

Bevis, who worked in the Sevier County education system for 12 years, contacted both schools and asked what Wilson Central could do to help. They responded with financial help since donors were already gracious with donated items.

Bevis held a meeting with club sponsors and athletic coaches, and the group formed the idea for the event.

In addition to the $3,817 raised Tuesday during the two-minute event, the school collected an additional $870 in two minutes at Tuesday night’s basketball game. The school also collected another $800 Wednesday morning during first block classrooms.

Principal Travis Mayfield also said he received several donations from parents, faculty and civic groups.

“I think the clear motivation with students was that the wildfires directly affected students that are the same age as us. Whether they followed the news on the television or just scrolled though Twitter we all saw the loss in Gatlinburg, there’s a humbling feeling seeing our entire student body come together and try to monetarily help students,” said Wilson Central student school board representative Preston George.

George said the school also planned another collection Friday.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Region strike team, WEMA return from Gatlinburg trip

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News Members of the Tennessee EMS Region 5 Strike Team arrive at the East-West Building at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center on Monday after the group deployed to the Gatlinburg area last week to help fight the devastating wildfires. The team consisted of emergency management service members from Wilson, Montgomery and Sumner counties, along with Nashville Fire Department.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Members of the Tennessee EMS Region 5 Strike Team arrive at the East-West Building at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center on Monday after the group deployed to the Gatlinburg area last week to help fight the devastating wildfires. The team consisted of emergency management service members from Wilson, Montgomery and Sumner counties, along with Nashville Fire Department.

Hugs and handshakes filled the parking lot of the East-West Building at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center on Monday as the Tennessee EMS Region 5 Strike Team returned from Sevier County.

The team, featuring emergency medical services workers from Wilson, Montgomery and Sumner counties, along with Nashville firefighters, deployed to the Gatlinburg area last week as agencies from across the state responded to fight the intense wildfires in Sevier County.

Strike team members included Chris Davis, Paula Todd and Christy Tomlinson from Nashville Fire Department; Terry Miller, Dustin Haas, Chris Brown, Garlan Lester and Robert Ward from Montgomery County EMS; William Dinwiddie and Doyle Walker from Sumner County EMS; and Shannon Cooper and Becky Null from Wilson County Emergency Management Agency.

The crew was among hundreds of first responders who fought remaining fires, searched for victims and helped Sevier County begin their recovery efforts from one of the state’s most historic wildfires.

As of Monday, officials confirmed 14 fatalities related to the fire and more than 100 injuries as a result of the fire. More than 1,400 structures were damaged or destroyed by the fire.

Some of the returning members reflected on the scenery of the area and marveled at the speed in which the fire spread and the area it covered in a short amount of time, including the fire’s jumping of roads and waterways.

The group went through its final briefing at the East-West Building on Monday morning.

Officials also described what happened with alert to residents a week ago after residents claimed they never received alerts on their cellphones.

Throughout the day Nov. 28, officials sent media releases, utilized social media and held media briefings to alert the public about the status of the fire to spread awareness.

At about 8:30 p.m., the command post contacted the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, requesting an Emergency Alert System evacuation message to be sent to the Gatlinburg area through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, a system that has the capability of sending text messages to mobile devices.

However, communications between the agencies was interrupted due to disabled phone, internet and electrical services. Due to the communication failure, the emergency notification was not delivered as planned through IPAWS as an EAS message or as a text message to mobile devices.

The alert was delivered through radio and television without trouble.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Warner vowed the area would rise up from the ashes.

“We’re going to bounce back for two reasons: because we’re mountain tough and our faith in Jesus Christ,” he said.

New bike park opens for riders to learn

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News Mt. Juliet High School senior and soon-to-be Eagle Scout John Forth admires the fruits of his labor at the new Eagle Park he designed and helped build in Mt. Juliet.

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Mt. Juliet High School senior and soon-to-be Eagle Scout John Forth admires the fruits of his labor at the new Eagle Park he designed and helped build in Mt. Juliet.

Get ready to break out the training wheels because Mt Juliet has a brand new bike park aimed at small children.

The city of Mt. Juliet opened Eagle Park on Saturday, a bike park designed to provide a safe place off public roads for parents to teach small children the rules of the road and safe cycling.

On hand for the ribbon cutting were city and state officials, including Mayor Ed Hagerty, Mt Juliet Commissioner Art Giles, who represents the district in which the park will be used, and state Rep. Susan Lynn.

“The attendance and support for the ribbon cutting was impressive and appreciative,” said Giles. “The attendees were enthusiastic about the future opportunities for children to learn bicycle safety and impressed and grateful that a young man named John Forth had a vision for an Eagle Scout project to build the facility.”

Forth, a local Boy Scout, developed the park as his Eagle Scout project. The Mt. Juliet High School senior and member of Troop 150 worked tirelessly for months not only physically, but also in marketing and fundraising.

Forth developed a “Playground Donor Brick Campaign” in which interested donors could buy a brick for $100 and have it laser engraved with the donor’s name.

The 300-foot-long two-lane paved bike path near West Division Street and Fourth Avenue is on land donated by the city. It is the only park of its kind in Wilson County.

In March, Piedmont Gas donated $5,000 to the project. Veloteers Bicycle Club, a nonprofit organization that serves cyclists in Wilson and east Davidson counties, then gave $6,500 to the project.

Lynn spoke to Forth, as well as his entire troop, which was additionally instrumental in getting the park finished.

“Thank you for your commitment,” Lynn said. “Thank you for dedicating yourself to these young people.”

For more information on the park, visit mtjuliet-tn.gov or the park’s Facebook page at facebook.com/MtJulietBicyclePlayground2016.

By Colleen Creamer

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Local agencies respond to Smoky Mountains fires

Local emergency response agencies have committed several vehicles and personnel to help battle intense fires that have threatened to alter the image of the Great Smoky Mountains this week.

Wilson County Emergency Response Agency and Lebanon and Mt. Juliet fire departments have committed to send reinforcements to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area to help other local and state agencies.

“Wilson County has been asked to provide mutual aid to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge community. In the spirit of the season we are, as always, ready and glad to assist,” Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said.

WEMA, Mt. Juliet and Lebanon will send the following to the area to help aid local emergency responders: DART Team with six volunteers; Lebanon fire engine with eight personnel; Lebanon fire chief’s vehicle; Mt. Juliet ladder truck with six personnel; WEMA brush truck with two people; WEMA ambulance with two people and WEMA EMS Strike team.

“This is a place we all know and love. We all have visited this area throughout the years and have, no doubt, made countless memoires with family and friends. Please continue to keep the people of Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge in your thoughts and prayers. Also, please pray for the safety of our volunteers and staff as they assist those in need,” Hutto said.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials said state agencies and local officials evacuated thousands of residents and visitors from Sevier County on Monday night due to wildfires in-and-around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Officials estimated more than 14,000 people were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

Officials said the source of the blaze, the Chimney Top Fire, began in the Great Smoky Mountains and spread quickly yesterday evening due to high winds. There is little hope the rainfall in the area will bring immediate relief.

TEMA officials said three people with severe burns were transferred from University of Tennessee’s Knoxville hospital to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville overnight. A fourth with burns to their face continues to be evaluated in Knoxville.

Currently, there are no reports of fatalities, according to TEMA.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Citizen stops man from jumping

Photo courtesy of Mt. Juliet police A citizen stopped a man from jumping off the Mt. Juliet Road overpass onto the Interstate 40

Photo courtesy of Mt. Juliet police
A citizen stopped a man from jumping off the Mt. Juliet Road overpass onto the Interstate 40

A citizen stopped a man from jumping off the Mt. Juliet Road overpass onto the Interstate 40 last Wednesday evening.

Officers responded to the overpass at about 5:40 p.m. after it was reported a man was attempting to jump. Officers arrived to find a citizen holding down a 52-year-old white man.

Further investigation and multiple witness statements revealed the man had a leg over the overpass barrier. A citizen then grabbed the man from the ledge and held him down until police arrived. Paramedics took the man to the hospital to receive proper care. 

“The department is thankful for the many citizens who assisted in this incident,” said Mt. Juliet police spokesperson Tyler Chandler.

Staff Reports

Friends, colleagues mourn Leon Russell

Leon Russell

Leon Russell

Leon Russell, the musician affectionately known as the “Master of Space and Time” by those close to him, passed away Sunday at 74.

Friends, family and colleagues gathered Friday afternoon at Victory Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet to celebrate Russell’s life, and mourn his death.

Russell, who was born Claude Russell Bridges on April 2, 1942, was a 2010 Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Russell penned dozens of hit songs, some he performed and others written for various other musicians.

Several people who were not able to make it to Mt. Juliet on Friday sent along messages that were read aloud.

Friends shared memories and words of advice from Russell. Musicians he played with years ago – or in some cases, just weeks ago – recounted the first time they heard Russell perform.

“I can’t imagine a world without Leon’s music,” Sir Elton John said in a written message to Russell’s family and friends. “He was everything I wanted to be as a pianist, vocalist and writer. His music has helped me and millions of others in the best and worst of times. He was a unique man, a God-given talent, and he didn’t waste it. He took it and flew. He became the master of space and time.”

A statement was read from Bruce Hornsby, who said Russell was one of the biggest influences for Hornsby in playing piano and writing music.

“He was completely unique, a deep, soulful presence who had a groove and feel on the piano that was unmatched,” Hornsby said.

A statement was also read from entertainer Whoopi Goldberg.

“When I finally met Leon, all I could say was ‘hey Leon Russell,’ and he said, ‘hey Whoopi,’ and what can I tell you? In that short exchange, I knew he was family and how lucky I was to meet and get to spend time with he and Jan,” she said.

“His picture sits on my piano with the rest of the family.”

Following a public service and private visitation Friday afternoon, Russell’s body was taken to Tulsa, Okla., where another public service will be held Sunday afternoon.

Russell is survived by his wife of 38 years, Jan Bridges; daughters, Tina Rose Bridges and her fiancé, Rod Schindler, Sugaree Taloa Noel Bridges and her fiancé, Gianny Muller, Honey Bridges and Coco Bridges; son, Teddy Jack Bridges; and grandchildren Payton Goodner, China Rose Goodner and Tiger Lily Schindler.

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com