While 2019 had its fair share of memorable moments, the Auburn-Opelika area and entirety of Lee County experienced unexplainable, incalculable loss.
It began with the attempted murder of Auburn Police Department Officer Justin Sanders, who fortunately survived his injuries. Then, the March 3 tornadoes that claimed the lives of 23 individuals in Beauregard and wrecked the lives of countless others there and in Smiths Station, a death toll so high that the President of the United States felt compelled to come comfort those whom it affected most and tour the damage.
In May, we experienced another act of violence against our local law enforcement when three Auburn Police officers were shot, claiming the life of William Buechner and leaving the others injured. Just days later, the longtime voice of Auburn Athletics Rod Bramblett and wife Paula lost their lives when struck by a 16-year-old driver on Shug Jordan Parkway.
The cities of Opelika and New Orleans joined in mourning in August when beloved journalist Nancy Parker Boyd, daughter of Bill and Patsy Parker, lost her life in a deadly plane crash while on assignment.
O.D. Alsobrook, known across the city for his involvement with the Opelika City School Board and Opelika Chamber of Commerce, passed away unexpectedly in late September.
This fall, East Alabama Medical Center’s Emergency Department Director Sharon Gess and her brother William Gess Jr. were the victims of a double homicide, allegedly at the hands of their brother Aaron.
Days later, Southern Union student Aniah Blanchard went missing, the beginning of a month-long search that captivated the hearts and sympathy of an entire nation. Tragically, her remains were found in a remote area of Macon County right before Thanksgiving.
Longtime Auburn High School athletic director and “The Drive” co-host Chuck Furlow died unexpectedly in November, a voice that will forever be missed on the local air waves.
Inspite of all these sad circumstances and loss, our community has shown its resiliency, a strength that the surrounding area and country can only describe as being “Lee County Strong.”
Following is a recap of the news found in the Observer in 2019:
Jan. 9 – Opelika High School’s Spirit of the South Band performs during the halftime show of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Jan. 23 – Opelika City Council votes to rename bridge on 2nd Avenue in honor of Sharron Robinson Fuller, J. and Ginger Stern discuss plans to create art creation and education destination called the Art Haus near downtown Opelika
Jan. 30 – His Place announced their move from the location on 2nd Avenue that it had previously occupied for nearly three decades
Feb. 20 and 27 – Shooting of Auburn Police Department Officer Justin Sanders and listings of fundraising efforts to cover medical expenses, Opelika Middle School students win State Quiz Bowl title, go on to win at national competition in Orlando
March 6 – Cakeitecture opens new shop in downtown Opelika, coverage of March 3 tornadoes, damage, survivor stories, visit to Beauregard by President Donald Trump and wife Melania, reconstruction, home dedications in Beauregard and Smiths Station
April 24 – Renaming ceremony of the Lee County Meeting Center to Bennie Adkins Meeting Center in honor of Opelika native and Ret. Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins
May 8 – Inaugural “Opelika Giving Day” that raised thousands of dollars for local community-minded organizations
May 22 – Three Auburn Police Department officers shot, William Buechner ultimately loses life, Observer receives 11 awards in the Alabama Press Association’s “Better Newspaper Contest,” including first place for “Most Improved” and second place in the General Excellence category
May 29 – Ribbon-cutting ceremony for Lee County Courthouse Annex, tribute to Rod and Paula Bramblett following their untimely passing four days prior
June 5 – Dorris Signs relocates to Ermine Avenue from downtown Opelika after 67 years, Richard Brown Sr. retires after 47 years as principal of Beauregard High School
June 12 – Ken Ward hired as the new director of Opelika Main Street
June 26 – Hanwha, West Fraser announce major expansions of their Opelika-based facilities valued at hundreds of millions of dollars
July 10 – City of Smiths Station celebrates grand opening of Historic Jones Store Museum, Tyeshia Hart opens “Royal House of Klass” dance studio to celebrate life of daughter Mykala who passed away during March 3 tornadoes
July 17 – Longtime Auburn establishment DaySpring, relocates to downtown Opelika under new ownership; Richard Brown Jr. becomes next principal at Beauregard High School
July 24 – Local radio personality and Observer columnist D. Mark Mitchell receives “Making a Difference Award” from the AHSAA
Aug. 14 – Andy Burcham announced as the new “Voice of the Auburn Tigers” to fill the void left with Rod Bramblett’s passing
Aug. 21 – Opelika native and New Orleans television anchor Nancy Parker Boyd dies in traguc plane crash
Sept. 4 – Opelika SportsPlex celebrates 10-year anniversary, opens new pickleball facility to the public
Sept. 11 – Opelika Main Street holds screening of Norma Rae at Courthouse Square to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary, holds Q&A with cast members, extras who participated in filming
Sept. 18 – Opelika native and businessman Richard Patton receives Main Street Hero Award
Sept. 25 – Flower’s Bakery announces that their Opelika plant will close in December after nearly a century in operation, former Opelika Chamber of Commerce chairman and Opelika City School board member O.D. Alsobrook passes away unexpectedly
Oct. 2 – One Voice Shelter Coalition opens local temporary shelter for displaced women
Oct. 9 – BigHouse Foundation receives $25,000 grant from State Farm
Oct. 16 – New business park under construction along Hi Pack Drive
Oct. 23 – EAMC’s Sharon Gess and brother William are victims of double homicide, Opelika Police Department officers receive historic pay raises
Nov. 13 – Historic Ward Funeral Home demolished
Nov. 20 – “Alabama’s Favorite Weatherman” James Spann holds book-signing at Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library
Nov. 27 – Longtime Auburn High School Athletic Director and “The Drive” co-host Chuck Furlow passes away unexpectedly
Dec. 4 – More than 1,000 people attended the inaugural “Sno*pelika” event coordinated by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce and East Alabama Medical Center; look back on Auburn’s stunning Iron Bowl victory and Opelika’s heartbreaking state semifinal loss to Spanish Fort.
Dec. 11 – Opelika’s Chuck Riddle was named as OFD’s Firefighter of the Year and Longest Table event held on First Avenue
Dec. 18 – Alabama celebrates its 200th Birthday
We thank you all for your support this past year. We look forward to the opportunity to keep covering news of local pertinence and interest to our readers for years to come. Readers and subscribers can expect even bigger and better things from the Observer in 2020.