Athens Rehab And The Eagles’ Tale

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“Chill bumps” is a word we use in the South to describe something that touches us so deeply, (either in a positive or negative way,) that the result is that the hair (usually on our arms) stands on end. Out west they say “goose pimples,” and in Hawaii they say “chicken skin.” When we get “chill bumps,” we need to pay attention, and that is exactly what happened to Tee and Jackie Jackson when they saw what has come to be affectionately referred to simply as “The Eagle.”

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Tee and Jackie head up the Community Relations Team at Athens Rehab and Senior Care, and joined the staff in 2013. As such, they wear many hats, including that of Public Relations, chaplains, staff and patient pastoral care, education, and ministering in general. Tee is also an ordained minister, and has been a part of the ministry team at First Baptist in Athens for many years. Additionally, he served as Principal and Vice-Principal at Athens High School, taught history and “coached everything.” Jackie spent decades as an administrator in the health care field, serving as the office manager at the practice of Dr. Frank Cauthen and Dr. Wendell Shannon. She has a special love for seniors that came about in part as a result of having a remarkable relationship with her grandparents, who were married for 82 years and were record holders published in the Guiness Book of Records. They were 17 when they were married, and 99 when they died!

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Last year the Jacksons were eating at Cracker Barrel, (as is the custom of many Athenians,) and saw “The Eagle” out in the country store part of the restaurant. That is when the “chill bumps hit.” Without conferring with each other, both of them thought of how much it would minister to the veterans of our community, the ones at Athens Rehab and elsewhere. They bought it and showed it to Sara Wallace, the Administrator at Athens Rehab and Senior Care. Her “chill bumps” were sufficiently strong to nudge her in the direction of purchasing that one for the facility. She purchased another one as well, and the second was presented to the Alabama Veterans’ Museum and Archives by Sara, along with the facility’s co-owner John Plunk.

Both eagles have been utilized as props in Jackie Greenhaw’s productions that have honored our vets, and will be used again in October of this year when the program will focus on remembering our Vietnam vets. Between now and then, though, one of the Eagles is being given a special home at Athens Rehab through the artisan craftsmanship of local cabinet maker Jerry Smith. Housing one of these silver toned symbols of freedom comes with special demands, given the fact that the vast majority of the population at the facility is wheelchair bound. The birds are also are not lightweights, each tipping the scales at about 100 pounds.

The first thing Jerry did was construct a base made of solid cherry upon which the eagle rests. There are two engraved plates and a patriotic symbol surrounding the statue, and all of it is viewable both from a wheelchair as well as from a standing height. The display case that will be the eagle’s “home” will have glass on three sides, and Tee told me, “It is going to be displayed in a prominent location in the dining hall. This location will maximize the number of residents, employees, and guests who view the eagle.”

The Eagle is not the only patriotic project having been completed at Athens Rehab and Senior Care. In the past year plus, owners John Plunk and Doug Maund saw to it that the entire facility was given a facelift, inside and out. They are both solidly behind the “Eagle project,” and have done more to show forth an American spirit. On both the Market Street entrance as well as that of the entrance on Washington Street, two new flagpoles have been erected, each a bearer of Old Glory. This is an important reminder for all of us of the freedoms we hold dear, and the price that has been paid to maintain that freedom. It should come as no surprise that the Center is home to many veterans, and multitudes of vets pass through the Rehab wing as they recover from various health challenges. Remembering them and making them feel honored can contribute significantly to their quality of life, which has been proven to speed recovery from both chronic as well as acute medical conditions.

It is pretty much part of our local culture to be patriotic, and my experience is that many citizens have had a “defining moment” when it comes to igniting a passionate love for our nation. For Sara Wallace, it was 9/11. She was a small child during the ‘60s, not old enough to understand the chaos that was caused by people like I used to be, but vaguely aware that something was wrong. Then she, like many, got busy with “living the dream,” but not completely connected to those who made it possible, i.e. our troops, past and present. Her “wake up call” was 9/11. “Before then, we were untouchable,” she told me. “There were no threats, no opposition, and at that time I did not fully appreciate the ladies and gents who fought for us to be free,” she continued.

For a moment, we had to swallow hard to fight back tears. She in her own way had just been caught up in the extraordinary blessings that America affords, and I had been caught up in trying to destroy it. “We serve the God of second chances,” we said. Since that time, both of us have become ardent soldier supporters. She told me, “Anytime we can support vets and their families, we will,” she said. Then she told me about her other “defining moment,” the one being when she first laid eyes on “The Eagle.” “When I first saw the eagle, it was mesmerizing,” she said. “I got cold chills,” she added, and told me that she thought “it was a wonderful symbol of our freedom.” That’s why she has been so happy to do whatever it takes to give “The Eagles” a good home. Come see them at either Athens Rehab and Senior Care, the Vets’ Museum, or on October 26th at the Senior Center. And, as you are enjoying the fireworks and cookouts that have become part and parcel of this holiday, thank God and a Vet for your freedom.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner