2015: a year in review

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Staff Reports

This past year was a big year for Opelika and the Observer. We took a look back at the stories that made 2015 great and have listed them, along with a brief synopsis, for your enjoyment. We thank our loyal readers and wish you all a Happy New Year!
Jan. 2  “Raising a hero”
This article introduced Opelika the dog to her namesake. Opelika is a golden retriever being trained by Auburn University’s Canine Science Performance facility to be a bomb detector dog. Opelika recently visited the Opelika City Council before traveling to Anniston to complete her training.
Jan. 16  “Start-up space: The Round
House brings new opportunities
for Opelika entrepreneurs.”
In the Jan. 16 issue, the Observer introduced Opelika to The Round House and its owner, Kyle Sandler. Sandler, a local entrepreneur, started the Round House in effort to give like-minded people a place to grow their businesses and network with other professionals.
Jan. 23 “Realizing the dream”
We ended January with a story on the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. day in Opelika. Councilwoman Patsy Jones was the recipient of the 2015 Dream Achiever Award for her service to the city of Opelika, its children, its elderly and anyone in need. Jones was the first African-American woman to be elected to the Opelika City Council in 1995. This year marks her 20th year to serve on the city council. She has served five consecutive terms, and she is the longest reigning councilperson of the city of Opelika.
Feb. 13 “Big House receives $20k”
In the Feb. 13 issue, we covered Big House of Opelika winning the first place prize of $20,000 through MaxGives as a part of their year-long social media campaign that benefited non-profit organizations.
Feb. 20 “City announces new industry”
In our Feb. 20 issue, we reported that city officials announced that Golden State Foods Corp., of Irvine, Calif., would open a facility in Opelika, investing $40-45 million and creating 173 new jobs for local residents.
Feb. 27 “Top notch: OCS systems achieves
highest graduation rate in Lee County”
February wrapped up with the announcement that Opelika City Schools achieved the highest graduation rate in Lee County.
March. 27  “Robert Flournoy: he molded men”
The March 27 Observer featured a story about Robert Flournoy, the first director of the first youth recreation center built on the south side of Opelika, now known as the Covington Recreation Center. Flournoy was widely respected for his positive impact on black youth, many going on to serve in leadership positions in the community and the nation.
April 17 “60 years in the biz: Bob Sanders
reflects on his career in radio”
In the April 17 issue, the Observer featured one of its own columnists, Bob Sanders. April 1, Sanders, 83, marked an almost of unheard of milestone: 60 years in one career – not just in radio but at the same station and in the same time slot. His career with WAUD began after his Army service, in 1955.
April 24 “Museum of East Alabama
dedicates recognition wall”
April ended with a report on the Museum of East Alabama dedication of its Recognition Wall. Along with the founders, John T. and Eleanor Harris, donors at the Builders level were honored, including Billy Hitchcock, Mary and Yetta Samford, Mary and Richard D. Williams., Charter Foundation, City of Opelika and Pat and Tommy Davis. The Recognition Wall was made possible by donations from the Opelika Historic Preservation Society, Henry J. Stern Family Foundation, Auburn Heritage Association, Auburn Preservation League and the Genealogical Society of East Alabama.
May 1 “OHS Principal named
Principal of the Year”
May began with Dr. Farrell Seymore receiving the honor of  Alabama’s “Principal of the Year.” Seymore, who is nearing the end of his fourth year in his position, is an Auburn graduate and has also worked at Opelika Middle School. He began his tenure as a science and language arts teacher in1997 and later became principal there before coming to OHS in 2011.
May 22 “Fashion
and fame”
The May 22 issue featured a story on Opelika native K. Cooper Ray, who has taken men’s fashion by storm. Ray has been featured on the reality TV show “Southern Charm” and has his own line of men’s dress wear.
May 22 – “Beating
the odds”
In “Beating the odds” the Observer told of the obstacles Beulah teen David Eastridge overcame to graduate high school after a horrible car accident left his severely injured in June 2014.
May 29 “Remembering Henry Hart”
May ended with a feature story commemorating the legacy of Opelika’s first police chief, Henry Hart and recounted the circumstances surrounding his death. Hart lost his life in the line of duty, murdered at the train depot in downtown Opelika by James Abercrombie.
June 5 – “Law runs deep in Walker roots”
June began with a feature story on  third generation Opelikan and the 37th Judicial Circuit’s senior judge, Jacob A. “Jake” Walker III. The two Jacob Walkers before him also practiced law so our Jake carries on in the family tradition… quite well.
June 5 – “Recycle, reduce, reuse: Opelika to expand recycling program, convert to single-stream”
In June, the city of Opelika announced a complete overhaul and expansion of its recycling program. Terry White, director of Solid Waste, said the overhaul, augmented by curbside pick-up later in the year, signified Opelika’s commitment to a recycling program.
June 12 “Opelika’s youngest CEO”
Another issue featured Taylor Rosenthal, Opelika’s youngest CEO who, as a 13-year-old, came up with an idea for specialized first aid kits, to be sold in vending machines at various sporting events and recreational venues. Taylor’s concept has attracted considerable commercial interest and Taylor has reportedly already turned down a rather large sum for his company in favor of further developing the concept himself.
June 12 “Gig city”
Opelika was also announced as Alabama’s first “Gig City,” referring to  one-gigabit-per-second fiber internet service provided through Opelika Power Services (OPS), city-owned fiber-optic cable.  “It’s significant for any city, but even more significant for a city with less than 30,000 people,” said Mayor Gary Fuller. “This is world class technology.”
June 19 -“Prather named fire chief” Byron Prather, Jr., a 30-year veteran Opelika fireman was named Chief, succeeding Terry Adkins who retired in April after a long and distinguished career. Prather, a popular choice for the position, began his Opelika Fire Department career in Septem ber, 1985.
June 26 -“Observer wins APA awards at annual convention”
The Observer won several significant awards in the annual Alabama Press Association competition, most notably the most improved newspaper and the best newspaper website among Alabama newspapers with less than 5,000 circulation. Editor Fred Woods said, “… These awards … reflect the good efforts of our entire staff.”
July 24 – “Lee County educator creates
lasting legacy”
In our July 24 issue, we featured an article on Don Roberts, headmaster of Lee-Scott Academy. Dr.
Don Roberts in
his 46th year in education and
his 16th year as headmaster at
Lee-Scott. Roberts officially announced his retirement in the article.
Aug. 14 “Going
for gold”
We opened August with a report on Lee County’s own Gideon Wiegel, who competed in the World Special Olympics and brought home a gold medal in volleyball. Wiegel was the only competitor that represented Lee County.
Aug. 21 “All aboard: Council approves contract with RMI Railworks to restore Rocky Brook Rocket.”
In this issue, we reported that the Opelika City Council approved a contract for the restoration of the Rocky Brook Rocket, the miniature train that has run around Monkey Park since the 50s. The Observer continues to follow the Rocket’s progress – the train is expected to return to Opelika, in all its former glory, this spring.
Aug. 28 “How Opelika came about”
We kicked off our series of “Opelika through the decades” written by Fred Woods in the Aug. 28 issue, reviewing Opelika’s history. Woods wrote successive articles about Opelika in the 40s, 50s and 60s and plans to continue the series in the new year.
Sept. 4 The 41st anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of a prominent  Opelika lady, Mrs. Ruth Dorsey, was marked in a Sept. issue of the paper. Mrs. Dorsey disappeared without a trace on the evening of August 8, 1974. Neither her house, found open the next day as if she had just stepped out, nor her car, found parked on an Opelika street with keys in the ignition and her purse and glasses on the front seat, yielded a clue to her whereabouts and no clue has been found in the years since.
Sept. 18 “Step by step”
Rick Hagans, Opelika’s famous preacher who walks for shoes, was featured in Sept. also. Over the last 19 years, Hagans has walked across 35 states, more than 10,000 miles, so that poor people might have shoes. Hagans, pastor of Harvest Evangelism and a life-long Opelika resident, hopes that, before he’s through walking, he can make it across all 50 states and collect at least a million pairs of shoes. Hagans left to walk across Washington just after our story.
Oct. 23 “DiChara to challenge Mike
Rogers”
In the Oct. 23 issue, the Observer reported that Dr. Larry DiChiara,
2012 Alabama Superintendent of the Year,  announced his candidacy for Congress in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District. DiChiara will face incumbent Rep. Mike Rogers in next year’s March 1 primary election.
Oct. 30 “Haunted
Opelika”
We told a few spooky stories in the Oct. 30 issue, with an article on the scary history of Spring Villa Park. Spring Villa, a lovelyplace for a day out withthe family, has been the subject of Opelika ghost stories for years. Built in 1850 by Horace King for plantation owner Penn Yonge, the Spring Villa mansion is rumored to have been the site of a brutal murder.
Nov. 6 “Feeding the Hungry: Empty Bowls now available for purchase”
November began with a report on the annual Empty Bowls event put on by Opelika and Auburn’s Parks and Recreation Departments. The event raises funds to be donated to the Food Bank of East Alabama. Volunteers created clay bowls to be sold for $10 and the event will take place in February.
Nov. 6 “Pride motivates cheer advisers”
This issue featured an article telling the story of Bulldog Pride, a cheerleading squad formed for special needs students at OHS, by veteran teachers Tonya Lazzari, Kim Allen and Carolyn Vickerstaff.
Nov. 13 “Monkeying around: ‘Furry’ friends to return to Monkey Park”
The Observer broke the news of the return of former residents of Monkey Park in the form of wooden statues. Spider monkeys were housed at Monkey Park for years and many native Opelikans recall spending summer afternoons playing in Rocky Brook Creek and feeding the monkeys.
Dec. 4 “County approves spay/neuter
program”
In Dec. we reported on a Lee County Commission plan to operate a low-cost spay-neuter program for Lee County aimed at reducing the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the county. According to the article, mayors of all three municipalities have expressed their interest in joining the program, slated to begin in the next fiscal year (although if obstacles can be overcome it may start sooner.
Modeled after a Limestone County program credited with reducing that county’s stray dog and cat population by half over a nine-year period, the program, called “Spay-Neuter Your Pet” (SNYP), will provide assistance to pet-owning members of the community who cannot otherwise afford to pay for spaying or neutering their pet.
Dec. 11 “Airview church of God
embraces Korean Partnership”
We also told of a church partnership between the Airview Church of God and a Korean Christian Church that permits the Korean congregation to worship in the Airview building and permits both congregations to learn of each others‘ culture. This
partnership was made possible through the joint efforts of Loren Sutton, pastor of the Airview Church of God and Yuen (Peter) Kim, pastor of the New Vision (Korean) Church.
Dec. 18 “A Christmas homecoming”
December wrapped up with a story about Frank Morris. On a cool, sunshiny, morning in December 1945, the young Navy Ensign disembarked from a New Orleans-to-Atlanta train at the Opelika Depot, a sight we haven’t seen in many years. No one met him because no one knew when he was coming. So Frank Morris wrote of this experience and shared it with his family. Morris went on to become one of Opelika’s leaders for the next several decades and a beloved member of our community – he died this fall. The community feels his absence. His son, Ben, shared this story so that Opelika could have another pleasant memory of his father.

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