By Ann Cipperly
With hectic schedules and full calendars throughout the year, Mayor Gary Fuller enjoys time with his family to celebrate Christmas. He prepares a special breakfast with Eggs Benedict for his wife, Laura, and two grown children, Ginny and Gary Jr. “It has been a tradition for our family,” says Laura. “Gary makes the eggs, while Jenny prepares the hollandaise mix.”
During the Christmas season, the Fullers focus on the reason for the season. “First of all, Jesus is the center for us,” says Gary. “We know that God sent His Son to save us from our sins and make a way for us to be with Him eternally. It is all about a relationship with him.”
When Laura was growing up in New Orleans, La., she remembers her family kept Christmas fairly simple, with a tree decorated on Christmas Eve. Her grandmother sat in the kitchen and carefully chopped oranges and coconut for ambrosia.
Her family had a live-in maid that did the cooking. Laura recalls the only time her mother cooked was on the maid’s day off on Sundays when she served bacon and eggs.
The family went to her aunt’s elegant home on St. Charles Avenue for Thanksgiving. Her aunt entertained formally with lace tablecloths and silver. They also visited her during Mardi Gras, as the parades went by her aunt’s home.
Laura’s father was a civil engineer, who traveled the world for a large construction company. He worked in New York City for two years when Laura was in kindergarten and first grade. Her family resided in Connecticut while her father commuted to the city.
Laura enjoyed sports growing up. She majored in physical education at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., which was the best school for physical education. After graduating, she taught tennis professionally.
She taught tennis at Saugahatchee Country Club where she met Gary, who enjoyed playing golf. When Laura’s job ended on Labor Day, she went to work at the Vestavia Country Club in Birmingham and then in New Orleans.
“I kept moving farther away from Gary,” Laura says. “That is when he asked me to marry him.” They were married in 1980 and lived in Atmore until 1985.
While in Atmore, Laura went back to college at South Alabama for a degree in elementary education. She became pregnant with their daughter, Ginny, and never used the degree. Gary Jr. was born three years later.
Ginny is a physician in family medicine in Columbia, S.C., while Gary Jr. has an MBA and works at Chick Fil-A in Birmingham.
Laura still enjoys tennis. She received honors in the top ten at a tournament in Houston this past spring and will play in a tennis tournament in Hilton Head, S.C. in early December. She also enjoys Bible studies and teaches a junior high school Bible study at their church.
Gary grew up in Dadeville and was the middle child of five children in his family. His father had a dry cleaning business, while his mother worked the third shift at Leshner Mills in Opelika. With a limited income, the family did not have an indoor bathroom until later years.
At Christmas, the family would have Spam for their meal. “Growing up, we were very poor,” says Gary, “but there was always a little something under the tree. Our favorite candy was peppermint candy cane.”
After high school, Gary enrolled at Southern Union in Wadley and then transferred to the University of Alabama. He began working at a radio station in Tuscaloosa. When the station asked him to work full time, he left college. He started as a DJ and interviewed Coach Bear Bryant in the 60s.
Gary then went to work at a radio station in Salem with Julius Talton, who took him under his wing. Gary worked his way up to management. When Julius purchased stations in Atmore, he asked Gary to manage them and gave him a percentage of the partnership.
Gary and Laura were living in Atmore in 1985 when the stations were sold. The Fullers made enough on the sale to be able to purchase three radio stations in Opelika, WKKR, Mix 96 and 1520 AM. In 1998 they sold the stations.
When their children were in junior high school, Gary decided to go back to college for a degree. He called Southern Union and learned he only needed two classes. The dean of the college wanted him to walk for graduation. Laura remembers with a laugh that when he walked on stage, the dean said, “Gary Fuller started here in 1963. It has only taken him 38 years to get his degree.”
After Gary opened a consultant business, he was approached by a group to run for city council. A year later, he was approached to run for mayor. He has served as Mayor of Opelika for 14 years.
While Gary has a full schedule, he looks forward to relaxing at Christmas with family and friends.
Laura begins decorating the day after Thanksgiving. Years ago she purchased a tree from the Jr. League with a manger scene in the middle. After the tree became worn, she began decorating with small trees. “Some of the decorations are ones the children made when they were growing up,” says Laura. “I love those the best.”
The Fullers hang their stockings over the fireplace. A plate of cookies and milk are left for Santa along with a carrot for Rudolph.
After the first year Gary was elected mayor, they began inviting department heads over for a catered meal in their home, a tradition they carry on today. After the meal, they play dirty Santa and sing Christmas carols. They ask everyone to bring canned goods for the Food Bank.
The Sunday before Christmas, the Fullers celebrate with out-of-town family, including Laura’s sister and her family, Gary’s two remaining siblings and cousins from Mississippi. They can have between 17 and 23 for the meal.
Laura will cook a turkey and ham, and everyone brings a dish for a traditional meal. Laura’s sister enjoys cooking and learned how to cook from her mother-in-law.
The Fullers attend the family Christmas service at the First United Methodist Church of Opelika. Laura prepares Shrimp Chowder ahead of time to serve with hot bread and salad when they come home. They often invite people who don’t have family in the area to join them.
Laura also bakes Blueberry-Almond Pound Cake in small loaves to give to people who are special to her.
“The last few years we have adopted a couple of families to give presents to them and their children,” says Laura. “We shop for presents, wrap them and deliver the presents late on Christmas Eve night to the family.”
After opening gifts on Christmas morning, the family enjoys Gary’s Eggs Benedict. They then go to the movies, which has been a tradition for years.
“As I have gotten older,” Gary says, “time with family and friends and being at home really makes Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Sometimes with all the hustle and bustle and shopping we take our eyes off the fact that Christmas is a major holiday.
“It certainly is the most special time for us as we celebrate the blessed birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he adds. “It is almost too powerful to fully comprehend that God sent his only Son for the purpose of saving us.”
Ann Cipperly can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christmas Morning Eggs Benedict
Gary cooks the eggs, while daughter Ginny mixes the sauce. The eggs are served with fresh sliced fruit.
4 English muffins, split and toasted
8 slices Canadian bacon, cooked (I use ham slices instead)
8 eggs, poached
2 pkg. Knorr Hollandaise Sauce mix, prepared according to package directions.
Top each muffin with a slice of Canadian bacon or ham, an egg and a spoonful or two of Knorr Hollandaise Sauce mix.
Laura makes the chowder ahead of time to serve after the Christmas Eve service at their church. She serves it with hot bread and salad.
¼ cup chopped green onion
½ onion, sliced thin
½ lb. sliced mushrooms
1 potato, diced
1 can chicken broth
½ tsp. liquid crab boil
1 lb. shrimp or crawfish, cooked
½ can tomato paste
2 cans cream of potato soup
3 oz. cream cheese
1 can evaporated skim milk (or regular milk)
1 can niblet corn
In large skillet, sauté onions and mushrooms. Boil potato in broth and liquid crab boil until potato is cooked but firm. Add shrimp to potato and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add tomato paste to vegetables and stir until smooth. Add potato soup and stir until hot and smooth. Add shrimp and potato and stir until hot and smooth.
Add cream cheese and stir until melted. Add milk until desired consistency. Add corn and cook for about 10 minutes until very hot. Can be reheated. Serves 6-8
This is Laura’s great aunt’s recipe. She serves the oysters as an appetizer.
1 stick butter
4 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. finely chopped bell pepper
3 Tbsp. finely chopped celery
3 Tbsp. finely chopped green onions
3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 pint oysters
Cracker crumbs to thicken, if needed
Make a roux over slow fire with butter and flour, stirring constantly until roux is tobacco brown.
Add bell pepper, celery, green onions and parsley.
About 15 minutes before serving, put above back over heat and add water from 1 pint of oysters. Let come to a boil; add oysters and cook until oysters curl.
If liquid is too thick, thin with a little water. If too thin, thicken with cracker crumbs.
Can add some Worcestershire sauce for flavor.
Serve in ramekins with toasted French bread.
Laura serves this punch for their family’s Christmas gathering.
2 bottles mango juice to one/2 liter ginger ale
Splash of orange juice
Combine mango juice, ginger ale and orange juice for punch. Have ice ring made ahead and frozen.
Sliced oranges and strawberries
Fill Bundt pan 3/4 full with ginger ale and a splash of orange juice with layers of oranges slices and strawberries. Freeze.
Remove ice ring from freezer early to get slushy. Put ice ring in punch bowl first, then add punch.
Note: If ring will not come out of pan, place pan in hot water while holding it.
Kati’s Peanut Brittle
Laura makes the brittle for Christmas treats. She places pieces in a small jar and uses red or green toile tied around top of jar for a festive presentation.
3/4 cup white Karo syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups raw peanuts
1 Tbsp. baking soda
Mix first three ingredients and cook until honey-colored. Add soda and mix well. Pour onto a greased cookie sheet.
Let cool and break into small pieces. Store in airtight container. May be frozen.
Kati’s Cheese Ball
Three 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz. pkg. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 2-oz. jar diced pimento, juice included
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tsp. black pepper
1-2 tsp. seasoning salt (to taste)
1/4 cup Heinz 57 steak sauce
Mix all ingredients together except pecans. Refrigerate until firm. Divide into 5 small balls. Roll in chopped pecans. Take out of refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.
Gloria’s Orange Balls
These are wonderful to give in bags tied with a bright Christmas bow.
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 box confectioner’s sugar
1 box vanilla wafers, chopped fine
1 cup chopped pecans
6-oz. can frozen orange juice, thawed
1 cup shredded coconut
Extra confectioner’s sugar for rolling
Cream butter, sugar, wafers, pecans and juice. Form into bite-size balls. Roll in coconut and confectioner’s sugar. May be refrigerated or frozen.
Blueberry-Almond Pound Cake
Laura bakes this pound cake in little loaves to give away to people who are special to her.
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 pkg. sliced almonds
2 cups blueberries
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar; add eggs one at a time, beating until fluffy. Add vanilla and almond.
Sift 2 cups flour, salt and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to cream mixture and beat well. Dredge blueberries in remaining 1 cup flour and fold into mixture along with almonds.
Butter and coat pan with sugar.
To bake 3 small loaf pans, bake for about 45 minutes.
To bake 1 large pan, bake for about 1hour 15 minutes.
Lemon Cheese Cake
Gary’s Aunt Ethel’s recipe
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
3 cups cake flour
5 egg whites
Cream butter well. Add sugar a little at a time, and cream well after each addition. Add baking powder to milk and stir. Add flour and milk to butter mixture a little at a time, mixing well.
Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into cake mixture. Grease and flour 3 or 4 cake pans; fill with batter. Bake at 325 until brown on top. Cool cake layers before adding filling.
5 egg yolks
Zest of 3 lemons
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 stick butter
Combine all ingredients. Cook in heavy saucepan on low heat until thick, stirring constantly to keep from sticking.
Cool slightly before using on cake. Put on layers and on top. May use a white icing on top, if you prefer.
1 can English peas
2 boiled eggs, chopped
1 pkg. slivered almonds
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup grated cheese
2 can cut asparagus, drained
1 1/2 tubes Ritz crackers, crushed
½ stick butter
1 cup grated cheese
Mix all together except asparagus, crackers and margarine.
Alternate a layer of asparagus and layer of soup mixture until all of mixture is used.
Melt margarine and mix with crushed crackers. Top casserole with crackers.
Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes until brown.
Kati’s Country Style Hash Brown Casserole
1 pkg. country style hash browns
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
8 oz. sour cream
8-oz. pkg. sharp shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Thaw potatoes in the refrigerator overnight. Bring cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise to room temperature. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Pour into a sprayed 9×13 pan.
2 cups crushed corn flakes
3/4 stick butter
Melt butter and mix with crushed corn flakes. Spread over top of casserole. Bake at 325 for 1 hour.
Spinach Madeleine with Pepper Jack Cheese
2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. chopped onion
l/2 cup spinach water
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. Worcestershire
1/2 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. celery salt
¾ tsp. garlic salt
6 oz. pepper jack cheese (more or less depending on how spicy you want)
Cook spinach according to directions; drain well and save juice.
Melt butter in saucepan, add flour, stir until blended (not brown). Add onions, cook until soft; add spinach water, milk and seasonings. Add cheese (cut into small pieces); stir until melted.
Combine with drained spinach (squeeze out liquid). Put in greased casserole. Top with buttered breadcrumbs, if desired.
Bake at 375 until bubbly. Flavor improves if made the day before and refrigerated. Also can be frozen before heating.
Congealed Cola Salad
1 large can crushed pineapple
2 cans sweet black cherries
1 large box Cherry Jell-O
1 small box Strawberry Jell-O
l2 oz. Coke
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup chopped pecans
Drain juice from canned fruit into saucepan. Add Jell-O and boil for 2 minutes. Add Coke and set aside.
Cut cream cheese into small pieces and add to Jell-O mixture (cream cheese will melt) and stir.
Chill until partially set, then add fruit and nuts, mix together. (This keeps fruit and nuts from settling to the bottom.) Pour into mold and refrigerate.
Sweet Potato Soufflé
1 can (1 lb. 1 3oz) sweet potatoes, drained
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Beat all ingredients. Bake in ungreased 1 1/2 quart dish. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes or can freeze after beating.
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup crushed cornflakes
Mix all toppings ingredients until smooth. Spread on top of baked soufflé.
Brown under broiler until hot. (Topping can be frozen separately.)