Auburn moves forward during pandemic

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com 

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders delivered the second annual state of the city address Monday night and discussed how Auburn has responded to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The city streamed the address live because they were not able to have a normal occupancy in the Jay and Susie Gogue Center, where the event was held. 

“Last year I began by telling you how unexpected and challenging 2019 had been for the city of Auburn,” Anders said. “I talked about how we came together as a community after the Lee County tornadoes and the tragic loss of a police officer. Frankly, a year ago I hoped that I would stand before you tonight to talk about the state of the city in a year where things were back to normal. But 2020 has been anything but normal.”

Anders honored those that the community lost, including Lee County Commissioner Johnny Lawrence, former Auburn Head Coach Pat Dye and Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins. 

“We’ve all been affected by this virus,” he said. “I’ve only named a few of the many who have been ill or lost among us. The Alabama Department fo Health currently reports 65 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Lee County so far. My condolences to all of you who have lost family or friends to COVID-19 this year. But the worst pandemic in a century was not the only hallmark of 2020.”

Lee County has seen its share of the social unrest, justice and protests that the entirety of the nation experienced this year, Anders said. 

“In response to what has happened in our nation, I have engaged Auburn in a community-wide conversation called ‘One Auburn’ to help strengthen the bonds between us,” he said. 

The mayor also thanked and commemorated healthcare workers in Lee County and city of Auburn employees who helped keep the city running. 

There were accomplishments in the city for 2020 that were undeterred by the pandemic, including the completion of the new public safety building, the new Indian Pines skate park, the Auburn Public Library Outdoor Classroom and work on the Boykin Community Center to complete the medical clinic and pharmacy. 

More plans are underway, including a free-standing emergency medical clinic in the research park, The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, a grocery store on south gay street and the Auburn Bank redevelopment, Anders said. 

Finally, Anders honored six community members with the annual ‘lamplighter awards.’ The awards highlight the service of people in Auburn who make the city a better place to live. 

Katie Basden 

“Our first lamplighter has been a relentless servant … As a mother of two children with special needs, she has moved mountains everyday to provide a normal life for them and to support her other child and her husband, who owns his own practice,” Anders said. 

Katie Basden helped to found the Eagles Foundation, which works to provide scholarships for students attending the Eagles Program at Auburn University.

The Eagles Program gives students with special needs the opportunity to not only attend college, but learn more about how to live an independent life. 

Colleen Jennings 

“How much time does it take to make a city beautiful,” Anders said. “The effort to keep Auburn beautiful is ongoing … One of my favorite aspects about downtown are its beautiful hanging baskets. Always blooming. Always communicating that Auburn is a unique village.”

Colleen Jennings adopted the task of watering these 35 baskets everyday and in the summer, twice a day. 

“Her attitude can be summed up in tis quote, ‘I do occasionally have a lizard leap out of the baskets. When one lands on me, I’ll be screaming, other than that, it’s a day in the sunshine,’” Anders said. 

Fred Kam

The third lamplighter winner has become a little more well-known because of the pandemic. 

“A recent student from Auburn University wrote this email to me, ‘[Fred Kam] is much more to me and to others than just an advisor,’” Anders said. “‘He is a spiritual advisor and a loving friend. The impact he’s had on my life and this campus is astronomical. It’s too astronomical to put into words.’”

Kam is the director of the Auburn University Medical Clinic, Anders said, and has served thousands of students and parents. Recently, he has taken on the responsibility of COVID-19 updates for the community as well. 

Odalys Silvera

“Asylum,” Anders said. “A unique word that sounds dramatic. It’s used to describe the actions of those who are physically leaving all that they have ever known to come to a place that they know nothing about. These people are courageous and desperate in the same instance.”

Odalys Silvera came to the United States in 1980 and settled with her family in Auburn. She is the founder of the Esperanza House.

“In 2016 the Esperanza House was founded,” Anders said. “This is a ministry that seeks to improve the quality of life for low-income hispanic children. Currently there are over 75 families with over 200 children being served.”

Charles Smith

Charles Smith uses his position to advocate for the children of Auburn as the president of Auburn City School’s Board of Education.

“‘Humble but aspirational,’ is a quote from a coworker and a friend,” Anders said. “‘He wants the best for all those he works for without the recognition of his efforts.’”

Smith is a retired reserve member, worked on the Lee County Youth Development Board, the Auburn Parks and Rec Advisory Board and the city of Auburn Planning Commission to help make the city great.

Karen Turner


The last lamplighter award winner has numerous credentials in the area; she served as the chairperson of the Auburn Beautification Council, served on the city of Auburn’s Board of Zoning and Adjustments and as the chair of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. 

“But we’re not here tonight to recognize her for all those accomplishments,” Anders said. “Recently, when a need was presented, she stepped in to become the president of the Board of the Auburn/Opelika Habitat for Humanity.”

She did so during a pandemic to help provide the Lee County Community with the Habitat For Humanity services.

“As a long-time member of the finance team at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, she is called by Father Michael Farmer an ‘effervescent personality,’” Anders said. “‘Filled with joy and optimist, her trust in God and her trust in people is admirable. She has a giving heart and she deeply loves her community.’”

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