By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
It seems like we have been celebrating bicentennials here in our great state of Alabama for several years now, and I am glad because it is an important part of our history, which will only happen once. I say, “for several years” somewhat tongue-in-cheek, only because it has taken that long to make sure that we covered everything — Limestone County’s Bicentennial, Athens’ Bicentennial, and Alabama’s Bicentennial. Well, I have a personal, private Bicentennial-plus-one that I would like to share with you: this marks the 201st time that I have had the pleasure of producing Athens Now.
For those of you who are not familiar with the story of the paper, Athens Now was born in mid-summer of 2007, and was the “baby” of Wayne Huff and his wife Deborah. Wayne had been a part of the newspaper business for decades, and his uncle had been the founder of Thrifty Nickel. It was Deborah’s first newspaper gig, but she did know sales, and together they found and formed a staff that cranked out a paper every week. I don’t know how they did that, honestly. Frankly, I don’t think I could have handled the stress. Twice a month is plenty, thank you! Eventually they began to produce the paper two times a month, and for years it has been published each time on the first and third Friday, bar none. Deborah felt the need for Athens Now to have a tagline, and as a praying woman, she “called Home” and felt that the answer she received was “Information and Inspiration.” I do believe it was indeed an inspired choice, and it has become the litmus test for each edition. No matter how crazy, frustrating, or “house-of-cards-game-of-Jenga” it has seemed at times trying to make the deadline, if there is one thing we have always tried to do, it has been to bring information and to inspire.
In February of 2010, Wayne and Deborah contacted me about the prospect of writing for them. Originally they had contacted Jerry Barksdale, who knew at the time that he could not do it, but, in imitable Barksdale style, he said, “But I just met someone who can.” Wayne and I went out for a life-changing breakfast at Cracker Barrel that rolled over into lunch time; we talked about everything from fixing people to the planet to politics, and a friend who observed us for part of the time said, “I didn’t want to interrupt—it looked intense.”
Intense. Now, there’s a word. Everything about Wayne was intense, and sometimes his vision and drive made my eyes glaze over. I loved him like a brother, and cancer took him from us last summer. I am comforted by the fact that I know where he is, and I know I will see him again. That vision and drive brought him to the place that he felt it was time to sell the paper in order to pursue an online endeavor, and Wayne felt he could trust us with the paper he and Deborah had worked so hard to build. My husband, Steve, felt that I was up to the task of becoming a publisher, even though I had no previous experience. The man had no idea that the learning curve for me was going to be so brutal that for years every time “Pub (Publication) Week” rolled around, I thought I was going to throw up. I think he had more than one night when he thought, “What have I done?” But, one of the things that I love about him is that at heart, Steve Turner is a coach, and he believed in me more than I believed in myself. He and Wayne both told me that they knew I could do it, and I am glad I borrowed their faith.
So, it is now July 19, 2019, and tomorrow we celebrate the fact that 50 years ago, a whole lotta folks in Rocket City helped put America on the moon. For me, I am celebrating the fact that Wayne, Deborah, and Steve launched me into a career for which I had never searched. I have been blessed by a creative, hard-working crew, faithful clients, people who come up to me almost weekly to tell me how much they love the paper, readers from more than 24 countries, and the freedom of the press as guaranteed by the Constitution. It is indeed my own private bicentennial, and I am grateful to my Savior for giving me a shot. And, dear Athenians, please know that the love and honor I feel for being able to tell your stories is endless. Here’s to 200 more, plus one!