Posted on

continued from page surrounding the ….

continued from page

surrounding the Toombs County Courthouse in Lyons in preparation for work on its 50,000-squarefoot, $34 million replacement.

Plans were announced for renovations and upgrades to the Vidalia-Toombs County Library.

Area teachers and school staff rolled up their sleeves to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Beginning March 8, eligibility for vaccinations was extended to include teachers and staff at public and private schools and eligible daycare centers.

Saborris Johnson was named the first Vidalia Sweet Onion Citizen by the City of Vidalia for his volunteer efforts to make the walk to school safer for neighborhood children.

March 24:

Montgomery School Superintendent Hugh Kight was terminated by the Board of Education in a March 18 session, promoting an emotional outpouring from a stunned community who supported the popular superintendent. Kight said that his vision and the board’s vision differed. Jennifer Evans won her bid for the Ward 2 Seat on the Vidalia City Commission that was previously held by Gregory Johnson. He resigned to seek the Mayor’s post. The Great Vidalia Chamber debuted in a western-themed event at Hawk’s Point. Chamber Board Chair Steven Mc-Comas said the new name is part of a holistic branding effort for the Chamber that includes a new logo, new website and an aggressive marketing strategy.

Wheeler County opened the first of six fenced and staffed waste disposal centers, replacing unsightly dumpsters distributed around the county. Meadows Health Auxiliary presented a $50,000 check for a new 3D mammogram machine to CEO Alan Kent. The check completed the auxiliary’s $100,000 commitment for the equipment’s purchase.

March 31:

Dr. Mark Davidson was appointed interim superintendent for Montgomery County Schools pending a search for a new superintendent. Davidson was a part-time instructor for the Montgomery County School System and former Superintendent for Wheeler County Schools.

Wheeler County School System broke ground for its new school, to be built on the site of the present middle-high school in Alamo.

April 7:

Israel Timothy Williams was convicted and sentenced for his role in the 2019 murder of Bandon Colson in Lyons. Williams was convicted of malice murder. District 156 Representative Greg Morris, RVidalia, resigned his seat as the 12th District representative in the Georgia House after being assigned to the State Board of Transportation. He replaced Don Grantham, who left the DOT Board to assume a position on the Georgia Ports Authority.

Debra Brown moved into her new home on 5th Avenue in Vidalia. She was the first person to benefit from the work of the nonprofit Urban Revitalization Group, which is made of local volunteers. The group has plans to revitalize neglected housing as new homes for worthy individuals.

April 28:

Ground was broken for a new Toombs County Courthouse on April 21. City of Vidalia and City of Lyons officials came together to symbolically “bury the hatchet” and mark the beginning of a new courthouse era. The significance of the hatchet harkened back to the days of the county’s founding when there was controversy about where the county seat would be located.

The 2021 Citizens of the Year were named. Pat Dixon was named Woman of the Year and James Thompson was named Man of the Year in the 73rd Annual Vidalia Citizen of the Year banquet.

Governor Brian Kemp opened ceremonies at the 2021 Vidalia Onion Festival, which attracted a crowd of about 7,500.

May 5:

Meadows Hospital officially merged with HCA’s South Atlantic Division as HCA bought the formerly community-owned facility and most of its assets for $73 million. As Memorial Health Meadows Hospital, the facility connects with HCA’s system of facilities and expertise, including Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah. In addition to a name change, the regional hospital adopted a new logo: the Caring Star that represents the critical continued from page

link between team members, physicians, patients and the community.

The Lyons City Council honored late Councilman Ben Mitchell by renaming a street at Vincent Faison, Sr., Park in his honor. Mitchell served on the Council for three decades.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger set June 15 as the date for a special election to fill the post of Representative Greg Morris.

May 12:

Area motorists were greeted with bags over gas pump dispensers announcing, “Sorry, Out of Service.” Whether the area gas shortage was due to panic buying was debatable, but, in any event, the effects of a cyber attack on a major, regional gas supplier were being felt locally.

Three area residents qualified to seek the District 156 House seat previously held by Greg Morris. Businesswoman Leesa Hagan, car salesman Wally Sapp of Baxley, and writer and entrepreneur Wright Gres of Appling County all threw their hats into the ring.

May 19:

Over 50 area businesses— from corporate giants to small, locally owned establishments—reported difficulty in finding workers. Federal COVID relief benefits were blamed and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp stopped these benefits (on June 26) due to the adverse impact on businesses. Brewton-Parker College’s four-year nursing program was approved by the Georgia Board of Nursing to start in the Fall of 2022.

May 25:

Dr. Beverly Faircloth was named Assistant Superintendent and Curriculum Director of Montgomery County Schools. She replaced Marcee Poole, who resigned.

June 2:

Vidalia Apicultural Services and Bee Company was named a Georgia Department of Economic Development 2021 Small Business Rock Star. The recognition came in conjunction with Georgia Small Business Week, May 3-8. The local business was one of six Georgia enterprises to receive the honor.

The Greater Vidalia Chamber and Toombs County Development Authority hosted the Vibrant Community Workshop in downtown Vidalia. The workshop brought together community leaders to work together to enhance the area’s economic development. Georgia Power facilitated the event.

June 16:

The Lyons Housing Authority received a $500,000 grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to clean up lead paint hazards in community public housing.

The Georgia Department

of Transportation announced a plan to clean up about five miles of an old rail line running through Vidalia and Amberwood Subdivision. Residents of the established neighborhood expressed concern about the damage which might be caused to their home sites.

June 23:

Voters in the House District 156 race learned they were going back to the polls in a July 13 runoff to select a new representative. Neither Leesa Hagan nor Wally Sapp achieved more than 50% of the vote. A local campaign to bring out voters was launched by area business and elected officials.

Memorial Health Meadows Hospital named Matt Hasbrouck as new CEO. The former COO at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah assumed his duties on July 5, replacing Alan Kent, who retired from his post after 21 years of service.

June 30:

An announcement was made that the Vidalia branch building of the Ohoopee Regional Library System is to be renamed for Dr. Mark Spivey and Tonya Spivey, who contributed $250,000 toward the structure’s

renovation, expansion and technological upgrade.

Construction is on target for the new Wheeler County School, which is scheduled to open in Fall of 2022. The 167,262-squarefoot structure will cost $36 million to build and will accommodate Prekindergarten through 12th grades.

July 7:

Partin Park was the location of the filming of “Blue Lightning,” a movie produced by musical celebrity Luther Wardlaw of

Photo by Deborah Clark

Toombs County. State Senator Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was named to all three of the Georgia Jobs and Infrastructures Committees. The committees guided the awarding of funds to Georgia through the federal ARPA.

It was announced that Eagle Academy in Montgomery County, an educational opportunity for elementary level high achievers, was to open its doors in the Fall.

July 21:

Interstate 16 was reopened in just two days after a dump truck heavily damaged the Highway 86 bridge overpass. While the interstate was soon operational, reconstruction on the Highway 86 bridge stretched out for months.

Leesa Hagan of Vidalia was victorious in the bid for the State House 15 seat as voters on her home turf rallied. Wheeler County wood producer TC Logging was awarded a $2.65 million grant by the state Public Service Commission for a gas line expansion. The funds are to be used to increase wood production at the large logging and sawmill operation outside of Alamo.

July 28:

Local physician Geoff Conner warned the public about the dangerous Delta Variant as a highly-contagious COVID mutation. Cases of the new virus were beginning to increase across the state. Area schools announced plans to reopen for face-to-face instruction the first week of August.

Vidalia Mayor Doug Roper was named to the State’s Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Committee. The committee regulates the operation of private postsecondary colleges and schools in Georgia.

August 4:

A delegation of area leaders attended a public hearing on state and congressional redistricting held in Macon. The session was one of several held in Georgia ahead of the Special Prelegislative Session on Redistricting and hosted by the Georgia House and Senate Redistricting Committees.

Altama Museum of Art and History was awarded a $6,000 bridge grant by the Georgia Council for the Arts. The Museum announced plans to hold a kickoff for the 2021 season and a grand reopening once restoration work on the Museum headquarters was complete.

August 11:

The Delta Variant caused a resurgence of COVID in the community. The patient census at the local hospital peaked. None of the COVID patients had received vaccinations in advance of becoming ill. Montgomery County schools delayed the start of Fall classes, and Prekindergarten classes were paused in Wheeler County schools because of the virus. A systemwide mandate for masking up was issued.

August 18:

Vaccinations were urged as COVID numbers continued to climb. Meadows Hospital reported that 12 people were on ventilators, the highest number in the facility’s history. The hospital was at maximum capacity and sending more critically ill patients to other facilities for treatment.

August 25:

Toombs County Schools implemented a unique pathway for students as the Heavy Equipment Operations Program was launched. The Career, Technology and Agricultural Education program is the first of its kind in the state, and Georgia is among three in the nation with this type of program.

Greg Johnson and Doug Roper qualified to seek the Mayor’s Post; Sonja Eason and Cathy Benton qualified to seek the Ward 2 seat on the Lyons City Council; Tracy Johnson qualified to seek the Ward 1 seat on the Council and John E. Moore qualified to seek the Ward 4 seat on the Council. The election was set for November 2. COVID was hitting the community hard, but health experts expected the epidemic to be near its peak. After community clinics were established, it appeared the public was heeding the call to get vaccinated.

September 1:

Vidalia Police Commissioner Brian Scott was terminated following his re-indictment on charges stemming from an investigation in Glynn County, where he was formerly employed. Scott was charged with violation of oath by a public officer.

The COVID epidemic peak date was pushed to September 15 as cases continued to climb. As of August 30, Meadows Hospital had treated 57 COVID patients, ages 30 to 54, with 15 of these on ventilators. The hospital is licensed for 70 patients but was accommodating the overflow in areas normally reserved for postoperative and outpatient care. “There are no beds to be had,” one hospital official said.

September 5:

A free, drive-through COVID test site was set up at Meadows Hospital. The mobile test site, initiated September 1, was seeing approximately 40 to 60 patients daily. Construction on the Vidalia branch building of the Ohoopee Regional Library System, to be named the Dr. Mark and Tonya Spivey Public Library when completed, was put on a fast track due to combined local fundraising efforts and state assistance. The project was initially expected to require three years to complete. “Make It, Move It” was launched at the Southeastern Early College and Career Academy. The fast-track educational program, focused on training students in manufacturing and logistics, was a partnership between SECCA and community businesses.

Altama Museum of Art and History announced plans to celebrate its 40 years in the community and the second hundred years of the 1911 Brazell mansion, its headquarters, with a front porch event on September 16.

September 23:

Vidalia police were able to defuse a dangerous situation without any injuries after a suspect in a pawn store robbery opened gunfire on them downtown. The suspect was apprehended and later the officers involved in the incident received recognition for their professionalism and bravery.

Dress code complaints brought parents and students to a session of the Vidalia City Schools Board of Education meeting. The complaints stemmed from an incident in which a student was called out for wearing clothing displaying the American flag.

Election integrity was the focus of a town hall meeting hosted by Vidalia Senator Blake Tillery, RVidalia, on September 16. The session provided an update on the controversial topic about which Tillery had received numerous contacts.

September 29:

The Georgia Public Service Commission approved a $9.4 million regional gas line project, which will substantially increased the capacity of a gas line running through Wheeler County. The expansion will benefit several area counties.

As the COVID virus abates, elective surgery resumes at Meadows Hospital.

October 6:

Local businessman Tommy Rollins was named Lions Citizen of the Year at a banquet held September 30.

The Montgomery County Board of Education named veteran educator Dr. Stan Rentz as the finalist for the Superintendent’s position. Rentz is the former Schools Superintendent in Jeff Davis County.

It was announced that the big guns were coming to town as Lyons prepared for its 10th annual Real Squeal BBQ Festival and Cookoff on October 8 and 9.

October 13:

Dylan Harrison was working his first shift on October 9 as an Alamo police officer when he was gunned down in front of the police station in downtown Alamo. After an intensive manhunt, authorities apprehended suspect, Damien Ferguson of Alamo, who was charged with murder. Later, two other suspects were charged in connection with the incident.

Former Arkansas Governor and 2016 Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee headlined the 25th anniversary celebration of Vidalia Heritage Academy on October 5. The fundraising event was held at First Baptist Church in Vidalia and drew a capacity crowd, which helped put VHA over its fundraising goal.

October 20:

Dr. Stan Rentz was named new Montgomery County Schools Superintendent, allowing Dr. Mark Davidson to step down from his duties as interim Superintendent.

October 27:

Georgia’s new Rural Strike Team held its inaugural session in Vidalia. The team heard from representatives from area counties about their economic development needs. The Team, headed by Executive Director Brian Marlowe of Tifton, was formed to assist Georgia’s rural counties in fostering and furthering economic development goals. Montgomery County Schools achieved a perfect graduation score in the 2020-2021 academic year and earned top honors in the Georgia High School Association Class A Public Region 4.

November 3:

Altamaha EMC announced a $29 million broadband project that will supply 1500 miles of fiber optic cable to the area. The project will extend from Toombs County to East Dublin and cover Montgomery County and portions of Tattnall, Treutlen and Laurens County. Also, in 2021, Windstream/Kinetic announced fiber optic projects in Mount Vernon and Alamo.

November 10:

In November 2 balloting, Doug Roper won re-election to the Vidalia Mayor’s post, and Cathy Benton displaced Sonja Eason in the race for the Ward 2 post on the Lions City Council.

November 17:

United Way of Toombs, Montgomery and Wheeler Counties exceeded its goal of $460,000 and raised over $477,000 to serve the area.

A $607,900 federal rural development grant was continued from page

awarded to the Wheeler County Schools to build a telemedicine and distance learning network.

Elementary school teacher Karen Walker was named the Montgomery County School District’s Teacher of the Year.

Ronnie Bates of Laurens County was named to the Little Ocmulgee EMC’s Board of Directors following an election at the LOEMC annual meeting in Alamo.

The names of 16 veterans were added to a memorial in downtown Alamo during a Veterans Day ceremony. Middle school instructor Elizabeth Adams was named the Montgomery County Schools Teacher of the Year.

November 24:

The Special Redistricting Session wrapped up at the State Capital with Toombs, Montgomery and Wheeler Counties in the Senate District 19 and House District 156. The changes, based on population shifts, will take effect in 2023. The Vidalia Airport received a $2.2 million federal grant for runway repairs. The airport is a local rock star as it continues to operate in the black.

Memorial Health Meadows Hospital introduced the community to its new Da Vinci XI robotic surgical equipment during an open house on November 18. The new equipment will help minimize invasive surgical procedures.

December 1:

Following a multiyear, multicountry federal probe, 24 suspects were indicted on charged related to human smuggling and labor trafficking operations traced to Mexico and Central America. The laborers were brought in to work on South Georgia farms and two of the suspects were from Toombs County. Julie Caraballo, a seventh grade teacher and 18-year veteran educator, was named Vidalia City Schools Teacher of the Year.

December 8:

Captain James Jermon was named Chief of the Vidalia Police Department on December 3. His promotion following the exit of Commission Brian Scott in August. Two Toombs County Schools—Lyons Upper and Toombs Central Elementary— earned the Lighthouse Award, the highest prize give by the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. Little Ocmulgee State Park has a new manager, Brad Smith, who brings with him an extensive background in the hospitality field, as well as a love of the history of South Georgia where he grew up.

December 15:

After closing during the pandemic in 2020, Meadows Fitness Center reopened under new management in November. An open house was held December 16. Malique Rheam Harrington, Jr., was found guilty of three of five charges in the 2018 shooting death of Jerry Clark, Jr., at Raymonia Apartments.

December 22: The Vidalia Woman’s Club, which disbanded this year, donated proceeds from the sale of its club building to various community projects, including paving Pinecrest Cemetery roads. Funeral home director Ron Hall who has launched an effort to pave streets at Pinecrest Cemetery. Hall was presented a check for $20,000 to assist the project. Higgston’s annual “Christmas in Dixie,” presented by the Robert A. Toombs Camp #932 Sons of the Confederacy, raised funds to benefit needy families, as well as $7,000 to heart transplant candidate Tim Evans of Dublin. Elementary instructor Laura Hart was named Toombs County Schools Teacher of the Year.

TWO CITIES BURY THE HATCHET – Mayor Willis NeSmith, center, of Lyons and Mayor Doug Roper, right, of Vidalia join Toombs County Commission Chairman David Sikes in turning the dirt at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new County Courthouse April 20. The ceremony provided an opportunity to “bury the hatchet’’ which harked back to the county’s founding and controversy about where the county seat would be located.

TAKING A SWEET BITE – Tracy Clark with the Vidalia Lions Club encourages a young participant in the Onion Eating contest in April. The contest, held on the stage behind the Arts and Crafts Festival, was rescheduled from Saturday to Sunday after the rain arrived.Photo by Evan Riekhof

ON TARGET – Wheeler County School Superintendent Suzanne Couey and School Facilities Director Gregory Wilcher visited the construction site for the new K-12 school last week. Rain and removal of an old foundation caused concerns early in the project, but Couey announced last week that construction is progressing well and plans are to open the new facility in Fall 2022.

NEW NAME – HCA Healthcare’s South Atlantic Division has completed the purchase of Meadows Health in Vidalia. The hospital was renamed Memorial Health Meadows Hospital in May. This connects it to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah and reflects HCA Healthcare’s presence in the region. Memorial Health Meadows Hospital and its employed physician practices will take on a new icon – the Caring Star – that represents the critical link between team members, physicians, patients and community.

JOINT HEARING – Members of the Georgia House and Senate Redistricting Committees, which held a hearing in Macon in August, listen while Ginger Morris, (at the microphone facing the panel), makes a presentation on behalf of leaders from Toombs and Montgomery counties. Morris is a member of the Montgomery County Commission and also serves as Assistant Superintendent for Vidalia City Schools. The hearings were held in various locations across the state to gather input prior to a special legislative session on redistricting.

Photo by Deborah ClarkPRESS CONFERENCE — Natalie Ammons, Director of Public and Government Affairs for the GBI, makes a statement at the Wheeler County Courthouse on the shooting death of Alamo Policeman Dylan Harrison in October. Also shown, from left, are: Wheeler County Sheriff Randy Rigdon, GBI Special Agent in Charge Lindsey Wilkes of Eastman, Alamo Police Chief Karen Zanders, and Commander of the Oconee Drug Task Force Trey Williams.

Recent Death Notices