By Hannah Lester 

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders awarded six lamplighter awards to local change-makers in the community Monday night during his State of the City address. 

Before Anders announced the names, which were kept secret, of the six award winners, however, he took time to update residents on how the city has grown and changed over the last year — and what is on the horizon for Auburn. 

“The good things about Auburn are the very things causing it to grow,” the mayor said. “And I’m looking forward to spending many more fall seasons in our city, now the seventh-largest city in Alabama, according to the 2020 census.”

Of course, and this is no surprise, one of the major factors affecting Auburn over the last year was the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“While we are still fighting the virus, one key difference between now and a year ago is that we have learned to fight back,” Anders said. “The vaccine is helping our businesses stay open and our people stay healthy and recover quickly. I’m proud of the city’s efforts to launch and operate the vaccine clinic early this year. 

“Sometimes, government moves slowly out of necessity, but this was not one of those times.”

While the vaccine clinic, located in the Tuesday morning on Opelika Road, was still open, it distributed over 90,000 vaccines, he said. 

Some of the other changes for the city included opening the city council’s new meeting chambers and opening and then closing the city’s 2040 plan process, both of which were affected by COVID-19. 

“I want to thank our small businesses for hanging in there this year, for taking care of your employees and for fighting to keep your doors open despite uncertainties,” Anders said. “I know you’re struggling, not only with the impact of the coronavirus on how you do business but with labor shortages and product supply challenges. 

“You are facing a lot. I see that and your community sees that. While we recognize the hardships, we also marvel at your heart, and your dedication and your gusto.”

Behind support for local businesses is the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, Anders said, which also underwent some changes. Lolly Steiner stepped down as president, passing the role onto Anna Hovey. 

Schools were affected by the pandemic too. Despite the challenges, Auburn City Schools enrollment reached 9,221 — a record number, Anders said. This past year Auburn Jr High School teacher Kimberly Johnson was awarded the 2021-2022 Alabama Teacher of the Year award. 

“As long as I’m mayor, I’m all in for Auburn City Schools because supporting our schools means supporting our future and we have an exciting future,” he said. 

Infrastructure projects are in the works, and some were completed this year.

The roundabout at Farmville Road and North College Street and improvements at North College Street and Highway 280 are both completed. 

Dinius Park also opened this year. And hopefully, by the end of the year, the Town Creek Park inclusive playground will open to the public, Anders said. 

“These projects are especially exciting for me because I have a heart for our families and our children and for making sure Auburn has adequate space for everyone to play,” he said. 

The Wright Street Parking deck also opened this year. And speaking of downtown, next year, a new Publix will open on Gay Street. Additionally, a new branch library will come to Boykin soon. 


The Mayor, each year, presents six community members with what he calls ‘lamplighter awards’. 

“I’m humbled tonight to introduce six individuals who contribute to our community in meaningful ways and give me a reason to hope,” he said. “I recognize them as recipients of the 2021 Mayor’s Lamplighter Award which signifies the light that they each shine in our community.”

Pat Giddens:

Pat Giddens has been working at J&M Bookstore for 51.5 years, Anders said. 

“A smile of encouragement,” Anders said. “A word of comfort. An act of support. A servant’s heart. Our first lamplighter is a constant source of encouragement, comfort, support and service to her community.”

Giddens is known for praying for anyone and everyone — in coffee shops, for those who have had surgeries for friends and family and showing her love.

“Once shy, her legacy is full of intentional impact,” he said. “Not just words, but hugs, and meals and prayer. Now, this once shy teenager gives her love and her heart to those whose path she crosses and then their lives are changed forever.”

Glenn Gulledge:

The second lamplighter award winner, Glenn Gulledge, spends his days in Byron’s smokehouse on Opelika Road, the business that he owns. 

“It’s his work ethic,” Anders said. “All of us are sound asleep as he’s starting his day, starting the fire, brewing the coffee, preparing the breakfast while planning for the lunch customers. He does the work, all of the work, every day. 

“But it is his heart. He is always helping someone do something. Youth sports, Auburn High School, nonprofits, others have received his kindness with little expectation of gratitude. It’s just what you do.”

Gulledge has a passion for his family, and his friends that are as close as family. 

“He loves his family and shows all of us what commitment really means,” he said. 

LaDextric Oliver:

The third lamplighter award winner makes a difference in the lives of young Auburn residents in the school system. 

Oliver grew up in Auburn and attended Auburn High School himself. Following his graduation, he began working when an opportunity for an assistant PE position at Wrights Mill Road became available. 

“While working during the day, he attended classes at Southern Union in the evening,” Anders said. “After completing his time at Southern Union, he moved onto Auburn University to pursue a physical education degree. Two years later he was the first member of his family to receive a college degree.”

Oliver then received his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology from Auburn. He now serves as the PE teacher at Wrights Mill. 

“There’s much to admire in the journey of tonight’s third lamplighter, but there’s much more to be thankful for,” Anders said. “Not only the PE teacher of 500-600 children annually, he is a running back coach for the Auburn High School Varsity Football Team and the boy’s head coach for the Auburn High School Track and Field Program. Through these platforms, he’s literally changing the lives of our kids. His principal said that he is truly a leader, that  he is very humble and practical and providing students with real-life experiences.”

Janie Price:

As Anders mentioned previously, the COVID-19 pandemic heavily affected all of Auburn. But things at East Alabama Health were often bleak. 

So, Janie Price, with the help of others, created a prayer effort at the hospital.

“Our next lamplighter led an extraordinary effort to pray for the patients, the doctors, the nurses and the staff at East Alabama (at that time) Medical Center,” Anders said. “By following a directive from her God, she inquired about praying for the worn-out staff as the pandemic raged on. Told that the initiative must remain outside, she [brought] in what can only be called ‘a movement.’

“Park and Pray started as a question and became a point of encouragement to those on the frontlines. One person prayed, felt led by God to do more, worked with Chaplain Laura, put out a call to the community and sustained an effort.”

Price wanted to stay behind the scenes, Anders said, but he wanted to be able to thank her with the community. 

Nolan Torbert:

“Our next lamplighter was described by a local nonprofit leader as ‘a light in our community,’” Anders said. “21 years ago he started a congregation on North Donahue Drive. Today, he stands as a fixture in Auburn.”

Bishop Nolan Torbert started True Deliverance Holiness Church, which has grown and expanded. Soon it will open a multi-purpose gym, too. 

“He and his church are advocates and supporters of the work of Habitat and the work of other groups in our community,” said Mark Grantham, executive director of Lee County Habitat for Humanity “They bring hope and help to others. He has a caring spirit. He listens to the Spirit’s prompting and often connects those in need with resources in our community.”

Greg Williams:

Ander’s last award winner has brought glory to Auburn from his passion — by starting the university’s equestrian team. 

“One day I ran into an old friend, we caught up quickly,” he said. “Tiring from traditional conversation, he dove straight into his vision for a new program for Auburn’s athletic program. It had nothing to do with balls, nets, goals and at that time the dominate program on campus was swimming and diving. No, it was about horses.”

Anders said that at the time, he was not supportive of Greg Williams’ idea. 

27 years later, Auburn’s equestrian team has won six national championships. 

“Are you willing to plant a seed for a tree that you will never shade under?” Anders said. “Season after season he has convinced members of the Auburn Equestrian program to do just that. He has brought glory to this university, he has delivered pride to his hometown, he has given life lessons to his riders. Thank you for allowing all of us to shade under your tree.”