Health fair to be held at Sportsplex Oct. 4

Healthfair-300x277Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

The Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatics Center will host its fifth annual Senior Health Fair on Oct. 4, from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Sponsored by the Robert and Marjorie Goodson Foundation, Opelika City Council and the Opelika Observer, the free event will offer attendees a host of services, including vision screenings, prostate exams and overall medical evaluations.
Valeri White, who works as the senior adult coordinator at the Sportsplex, said the fair has seen extensive growth since it began.
“We’ve grown to between 60-65 vendors with 62 confirmed for this year’s fair … and we’ve gone from having 100 to nearly 300 show up at last year’s fair,” White said.
Representatives from Auburn University’s school of nutrition and the Lee County Sherriff’s Department, as well as those from local assisted living facilities and financial institutions will be present at the event, which White says makes it truly an overall resource and wellness fair.
“I hope that through this event, people will realize how our area is changing and resources are becoming much more geared to our senior population as they age. That’s a huge and growing population across the country,” White said. “I just hope people realize that we’re making strides to making sure that we’re meeting the needs of everyone in our communities.”
For more information about the event, call 705-2493, or email White@opelika-al.gov.

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Restoring Ross

kyleNP3_8180-300x200Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

Local teen Kyle Graddy leads cemetery cleanup efforts

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

Opelika’s Kyle Graddy, a Lee-Scott Academy student and Boy Scout, began cleanup work last week at the old cemetery on India Road, commonly referred to by locals as “Ross Cemetery.”
Having had an interest in the property for a number of years, choosing to clean up Ross Cemetery as his Eagle Scout project was not a hard decision.
“I used to go to school at Trinity, and we passed this lot every day. I always kind of wondered why it was the only lot that wasn’t built on, and one day we saw a couple of markers and realized it was a cemetery,” Kyle said. “We walked out here one day and saw that there were graves all out here.”
Finding information on the cemetery has proved to be a challenge, but the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission provided information which links the cemetery to the old Ross plantation house. Other than that connection, Kyle said that much of history is either lost or unknown, and that there is no known owner or possessor of the property. The exact age is also unknown, but based on dates from some of the head stones in the cemetery, Kyle said he estimates it to be at least 100 years old.
Cleaning up the cemetery had already been a part of their plans for quite some time, and Kyle said he saw this as a perfect opportunity to do that, but that he would need the proper funding.
They started a Kickstarter account for the project in early July, and during campaign, raised more than $1,400. Thanks to social media and word of mouth, Kyle said news of the project “spread like wildfire.”
Kyle, along with help from his father Dirk, have been working closely with city officials in order to abide by the law and garner support in their cleanup efforts, with the city recently providing no dumping signs in front of the cemetery. Initial cleanup efforts consisted of spraying the property, to clear the weeds and undergrowth.
Currently, the Graddys, along with help from some of Kyle’s fellow troops and family friends, are using dead trees and cutting low-lying limbs in order to better mark the trail that runs through the cemetery, carved out from heavy foot traffic over the years. The next project will be the installation of a chain-link fence.
For the purposes of the project, Kyle and Dirk are only restoring an acre of the property, and hope to have that done by December. Money that is left over from the Kickstarter campaign will be donated to the LCCPC, in order to help complete similar projects.
Both said they hope that their efforts inspire others to come along and help finish what they have started.
“I’m hoping that the people around here will take it over, and keep it up once we get it cleaned out. We’ve talked to the cemetery commission about asking the city to take it over and keep it cleaned and do the rest of the work,” Dirk said. “I think it’ll bring some awareness to this, and bring awareness to the history that was here.”
In addition to raising awareness, Kyle said he hopes to respect the memory of those buried at the cemetery, with eight known veterans from both World War I and World War II being buried at the cemetery.
“Restoring this cemetery is just to honor the memory of the people that are buried here, the veterans that are buried here in particular,” Kyle said.
According to Dirk, future projects like headstone restoration and finding descendants of those buried in the cemetery are being planned, and they hope to begin that later in the restoration process.
For more information or to volunteer, email Kyle at kyleg2015@icloud.com.

Miles Thomas inducted into the Alabama Pharmacy Hall of Fame

Miles-Thomas_NP3_8259-300x228Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

Miles Thomas, the founder and former owner of Opelika’s well-known Thomas Pharmacy, is now a member of the Alabama Pharmacy Hall of Fame, receiving the recognition during the Alabama Pharmacy Association’s 135th Annual Convention in June.

Thomas, a member of the Alabama Pharmacy Association, received a letter from them in April letting him know of his induction. He said he was honored by the recognition.
“I had no idea it was coming. I was very surprised and glad to know somebody was thinking about me,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ introduction to pharmacy came through working a part-time job at Corbett Pharmacy in Hartford, Ala., where he cleaned soda fountains and swept floors. He said he found his true love for pharmacy when he was promoted to the pharmacy’s prescription department as a high school sophomore.
“I knew from that point on, pharmacy was what I wanted to do,” Thomas said.
Following his junior year, the Thomas family moved to Rehobeth, Ala., and Thomas said he took as many science and mathematics classes as possible, to prepare himself for pharmacy school.
After graduating from high school, Thomas said he returned to Hartford to work at the pharmacy, with the knowledge that at any point he might be drafted.
In 1948, he was drafted, and would spend the next four years serving in the military, for both the U.S. National Guard and Army. It was also during this time that he would meet the love of his life, Marge.

After finishing his years of military service, Thomas set his focus on pharmacy school at Auburn, and began taking classes in 1952. He said his previous working experience and strong academic background made pharmacy school easy, and managed to balance classes, a dating relationship and a National Guard branch on Auburn’s campus that he played a major role in starting.
Three years later, Thomas graduated from Auburn, and moved to Eufaula, where he lived and worked for nearly a year and a half.

Looking to establish his own pharmacy, Thomas and a friend took a trip up through eastern Alabama. Stopping in Opelika, Thomas found an empty building that could be turned into a pharmacy. He said after driving through the city, he knew that it would be a great place to start his practice.
“I knew a little bit about Opelika then, and I told my friend that we’d ride through the mill villages, so we rode through Opelika and Pepperell. I asked my friend if he noticed the lack of cars and how close they lived together, and he noticed those same things too,” Thomas said. “They all had to take taxis to come get their medicine, so I knew having a place accessible to them like this would be a good place for my business.”

In 1957, he established Thomas Pharmacy, and moved into the present building the pharmacy occupies in 1960. Thomas said the business’s growth was steady, and that it became a well-accepted establishment in the community. In addition to running his own pharmacy, Thomas would also serve on a number of pharmaceutical boards and committees, and played a major role in local government, most notably serving as mayor, county and city commissioner, city councilman and member of the parks and recreation board.
“I enjoyed being invested and involved in the community, and helping it grow … the youth baseball fields at Floral Park and helping bring about the development of the Grand National golf course are two of the biggest things I got accomplished for the city,” Thomas said.

In 1996, he stepped away from city government work, and in 1997, sold his pharmacy to friend and business partner Roger Burnett. Reflecting on his time in pharmacy, Thomas said the best part about the work was getting to work with people. “I was excited every time I opened the door in the morning. Getting to know people was the best part …earning their trust and taking care of them,” Thomas said. “Those are probably the best parts about being a pharmacist.”

Now 86, Thomas still lives in Opelika, with his son Ken. He said that after nearly 60 years of living here, his passion for the town has not diminished. “It’s been the best years of my life working and living here. We were accepted real good early on, and I’ve loved living here … it’s without a doubt the best place I’ve ever lived,” Thomas said.

Porter’s fight for life

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By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

Every day, four-year-old Porter Heatherly fights for life. Every breath, every movement is painstakingly made, and he is unable to speak or take care of himself. However, his struggle is impacting the lives of many, including those closest to him.
Porter has the infantile form of GM1 gangliosidosis, an inherited disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord. According to information provided from the U.S. National Library of Medicine website, early signs of GM1 include unusual eye movement and the ocular inability to properly track objects. Sara, Porter’s mother, said she noticed his eyes doing this when he was three months old, back in January 2013.
“We went home for Christmas, just after he turned three months old. He wasn’t tracking objects with his eyes like we thought he should,” Sara said. “Me and Michael talked about it, and we thought we would just mention that to our pediatrician at his four-month-old checkup.”
After returning home from the trip, the problem continued, and Sara decided to take Porter to his pediatrician before the scheduled check-up. Following the examination, the pediatrician at first told them to observe, and see if there were any changes. But only a day later, they received a call from him saying that he recommended a visit to a pediatric ophthalmologist in Birmingham.
“There was a week there before we had our visit with him, and we kinda started thinking to ourselves, ‘maybe something might be wrong.’ We made ourselves a little bit sick over it, and wondered if he couldn’t see or thought in the worse-case scenario he’s going to be blind,” Sara said.
During the ophthalmologist’s examination of Porter, it was discovered that he had cherry-red spots on his eyes, an indicator of 13 to 14 possible genetic disorders.
Only an hour later, the Heatherlys were sent to the University of Alabama-Birmingham hospital to see a geneticist, and there doctors took samples of his blood and urine for testing.
Nearly a week later, they received a call from the geneticist’s office, informing them that Porter had GM1 gangliosidosis, a disease with a two-year life expectancy. Despite the knowledge that their son had a terminal illness, Michael, Porter’s father, said he and Sara were glad to have found out so quickly.
“It’s a hard thing to lay out to somebody that your child has a terminal diagnosis. What can they say to you when you tell them what his diagnosis is? How can you respond to that?” Michael said. “At first, it was hard to open up … but eventually it got easier, the more people we told.”
Realizing now that time with Porter was precious, Michael said he came up with the idea of celebrating his birthdays every month, never knowing when his son might succumb to the disease.
“We wanted to just do everything we possibly could with him while he was in good shape and in good health. It was a blessing to have such an early diagnosis,” Michael said.
Over the next few months, Porter’s health progressed, and peaked at nine months. After nine months, however, Sara said Porter’s muscle tone and eyesight began to regress, and his health began a gradual decline.
At 17 months old, Porter began experiencing seizures and being fed through a g-tube, and at two years old, he started using an oxygen tank to assist with breathing.
Given a time frame of only two or three years to live, Porter, who is now four years old, has well exceeded that assessment. However, the monthly-birthday tradition has come to a halt because of his rapid decline, and Michael said he and Sara now make it a day-to-day appreciation for Porter.
Throughout the journey that the Heatherlys have been on the last few years, Sara said their faith and support group has always played a key role.
“We have had great support from our family, friends and church family … I think a lot of people could take this experience and see a lot of negatives … but I could talk for hours about how God has placed the right people in our lives at just the right time in our own church,” Sara said. “Having an experience like this helps you see a bigger power at work here. There are so many positives for us, like the people we’ve met through this journey. We definitely believe God had a hand in that.”
Since the time of Porter’s diagnosis, Sara has had the opportunity to travel to conferences across the country and meet parents of children like Porter. Seeing these other families with a child sharing similar conditions to her son inspired she and Michael to create a Facebook page called “Prayers for Porter” and a fundraising event to raise awareness about GM1, using Porter’s birthday as an opportunity for people to come celebrate his birthday and donate money to the CureGM1 foundation.
Currently, there is still no cure for GM1, but positive results from gene therapy trials in cats conducted by Auburn University professor and College of Veterinary Medicine researcher Douglas Martin, Ph. D., give hope of one day being able to eradicate the disease.
“According to most numbers, approximately one in every 360,000 children will get this disease … direct injection into the brain and through the bloodstream are the ways that we can do the gene therapy, and the bloodstream option should be available by the end of next year,” Martin said. “I started doing research on this disease in 1991, and my goal through this research is to find a means of improving their quality and duration of life.”
Michael said that despite this research being too late for Porter, he hopes that it will help out other families who find themselves in a similar situation like the one they faced years ago.
“We want Porter to be a part of that. We hope that his life impacts the research and help provide the funding to be able to have a cure for this disease,” Michael said.
Through the hardships of seeing their son battle this disease, Michael and Sara said that they are proud to have been able to be parents to a boy like Porter.
“It’s been great to see the support that we have for Porter on his Facebook page … there’s tons of folks who know us as Porter’s parents or me as Porter’s dad. It’s cool to be called Porter’s dad and the fact that people know who he is,” Michael said.
Sara said that God placing Porter into she and Michael’s life was a blessing.
“I sit back and think to myself, ‘is this real? This beautiful little boy that God has entrusted us with that is affecting and having such an impact on everybody around him?’ “, Sara said. “I also think, ‘how in the world did we get so lucky to have him in our lives?’ It’s truly amazing to me, and makes me tear up to think about it. Having him in our lives has been a positive.”
To follow Porter on Facebook, look up his page called “Prayers for Porter”, and to help donate to the CureGM1 foundation, visit their website, http://www.curegm1foundation.org.

Planning commission approved conditional use request

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By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

The Opelika Planning Commission granted a conditional use request at its Sept. 27 meeting to local business owner Lynn Brown, who will open an indoor trampoline center at Pepperell Corners.
In other business, the commission:
– Approved a preliminary and final plat for the property of Kenison Marsh SD, Parcel B, Lot 1, located at Highway 29 N
– Approved a preliminary and final plat for two lots located at 3529 Lee Road 54 (Society Hill Road)
– Approved a preliminary and final plat for two lots located at 2003 Marvyn Parkway
– Gave a positive recommendation to the city council for re-zoning property located at 2004 Yarbrough Drive
– Tabled discussion on amendments to the ordinance regarding truck fueling services until its Oct. meeting
– Discussed improvements to the curb and gutters at 507 Geneva Street.

Anne Penney retires from East Alabama Mental Health

AnneP-300x232Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

East Alabama Mental Health executive director Dr. Anne Penney retired after more than 42 years of service last Friday, handing the reins to new director Jamie Herren.
Penney said stepping down was a hard decision, but that it would allow her more time to give back to the community.
“I love doing volunteer work and I love being active in the community and I wanted a little more time to be able to do that … but making the decision was hard because I love the center and the people here so much … I’m going to miss it,” Penney said.
A native of Decatur, Ala., Penney came to the Auburn/Opelika area to attend school at Auburn University, earning her master’s degree in sociology, with a focus on education.
After graduation, Penney began looking for jobs locally, and found an opening for a community educator at the East Alabama Mental Health Center. The center, founded in 1967, was then located on the corner of Second Avenue and Seventh Street.
“My father had a mental illness, but mental health centers weren’t started yet he was diagnosed. He sought private treatment, and did real well,” Penney said. “Even though I had that family history, I didn’t really know what a mental health center was at the time. But they were looking for somebody who could work in community education and prevention work, and I thought, ‘well, that sounds like fun.’ “
Beginning her career there in 1974, she said then executive director Dr. Jim Walter served as a mentor and source of encouragement.
“Dr. Jim Walter was my mentor. After I started in that prevention role, he gave me opportunities to advance and to learn about administration,” Penney said.
She added that after five or six years of working for EAMH, she would become more involved with administrative work. Not having a deep grasp of the budgeting or legal aspects involved in such work, she told Walter that she needed to go back to school and take classes that would prepare her. She went back to school at Auburn, and received a doctorate degree in administration, which she said was crucial in being able to handle the work for her future executive director position.
In March 1993, the organization relocated to where it is today, located in Tigertown on Lambert Drive.
Over the years, Penney said she served in a number of positions within the organization, and following Dr. Walter’s retirement in 1994, she became the Executive Director, a position she would hold for the next 22 years.
Penney said she loved her job as director for several reasons.
“I think the most enjoyable aspect was watching people recover and live successfully with a mental illness … that was a true joy,” Penney said. “Also, people like Jamie … and our board of directors, who are volunteers, helped me stay and enjoy being here for 42 years. They really made my job much easier.”
The new director, Jamie Herren, a fellow Auburn alumnus and EAMH veteran, has served EAMH for the last 24 years in the finance department serving in all aspects of the Center’s accounting and information technology, assisting patients with personal finances and most recently working as the Chief Financial Officer. He said filling the void left by Penney will be difficult, but he is excited about the task.
“I’m real excited about taking on the role. I feel like working with our great staff and leadership team, we’ll be able to do a lot for our consumers,” Herren said. “There’s a lot of challenges ahead, but I’m looking forward to taking them on.”
Penney said she believes that Herren will be a great successor.
“Jamie has a wonderful rapport with our consumers. He has had a lot of contact with them, and they respect him,” Penney said. “He’s going to be a great director for us moving forward.”
EAMH, a non-profit public organization, offers services to those with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities and substance abuse issues. The organization has branches in Lee, Chambers, Russell and Tallapoosa counties. They provide residential treatment, educational programs and a host of other services for those with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities and substance abuse issues. For more information about the center and its services, visit http://www.eastalabamamhc.org.

O Grows pop-up farmers market taking place Saturday

Garden-02-300x200Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer

Staff Reporter

O-Grows’ first “Pop-Up” Market is taking place Saturday from 8-11 a.m., at 1103 Glenn St., in front of the Southside Center for the Arts building. Local produce ranging from kale and other winter greens to okra and pepper jellies will be available for purchase.
Following their first summer managing the traditional Tuesday afternoon farmer’s market, O-Grows Executive Director Dr. Sean Forbes said that this fall market is an experiment, and based on vendor’s produce availability and customer support, could last all the way through Thanksgiving.
“We’re not doing this to suggest that Tuesday’s farmers market isn’t happening … we’re not messing with that. We’re just looking to see how we could not only extend the season but see if we could tap into a different slice of the community by having it on Saturday mornings,” Forbes said.
He said that this fall market will particularly emphasize locally-grown products, and that everything there for sale will be homegrown and authentic. Besides offering Opelika fresh, quality produce, Forbes said that he sees the market as an opportunity to bring the community together.
“Having a farmer’s market any time of the year offers a lot of stuff to the community. It’s a nice way to have a little bit of business, a little bit of agriculture and a little socializing …all good stuff,” Forbes said. “Opelika in particular has so much to offer … people like Mayor Fuller and Barbara Patton over at the Chamber of Commerce have done so much to help us grow and expand … this whole ride has been wild.”
For vendor information or general questions, call or text Forbes at (334) 750-2215.

Alabama Office Supply celebrates 70 years

AlabamaOfficeSupply-300x145Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

On Oct. 10, 1946, Mr. and Mrs. Judson Salter, Cecil Stowe and Jim Thigpen came together to found the Alabama Office Supply Company. Providing office items like pencils, paper, furniture and Thermofax copying machines, the store thrived and quickly became an Opelika establishment. Seventy years later, the family-owned store is continuing its mission: to provide great customer service and quality products to its consumers both locally and across the state.
The business was originally located in the building that is now home to Jefferson’s, at 905 S. Railroad Ave. The Salters, Stowe and Thigpen split the duties, as Judson handled the business’s finances, Stowe ran the store, and Thigpen was the chief salesman. A little more than a year and a half later, Thigpen suffered a major heart attack and died, and Stowe wanted to leave the business, forcing the Salters to buy out the other shares and become the business’s sole owners.
The Salter’s daughter, Anna, married longtime Opelika resident Harris Asbury, who joined AOS in 1960. Harris, who had previously served in the U.S. Air Force and worked at a textile company for several years in Atlanta, said that there was a major learning curve when he first started.
“I came down here to work, and at first I couldn’t tell you the difference between a gem clip and a file cabinet …  but I learned. It’s a repeat business, and I knew people from high school and called on them and got them to buy from us instead of buying something from out of town,” Asbury said.
Soon after his arrival, Harris took over the day-to-day operations. He said that he continued the business’s growth in both customer base and revenue, and in 1976, they moved to its current location at 201 S. 8th St.
In 1982, Harris’s son Wake joined the company, and assisted his father in the daily operations, until he officially took over for his father in 1995.
Wake said that the opportunity to work in his family’s business was a rewarding venture.
“It was hard at first, adjusting to it, but it’s been very good, very rewarding for me, to be able to take a business and grow it over the years like we’ve been able to grow it. Dad was always real easy to work with, and he gave me a lot of freedom to not only make mistakes but to take chances that I thought were good,” Wake said.
Under Wake’s leadership, the business has expanded to Montgomery, added on to its retail furniture selection, created an easily accessible and usable website for its consumers, and joined a national buying group, which Wake says give them an ability to compete pricewise with other, larger chain office supply stores.
With Alabama Office Supply’s diminishing need for retail space, Wake’s wife Joan moved her commercial and residential furniture and interior design business,Wakefield Home, to fill the void, providing the store’s visitors with an assortment of options in business and home décor.
This summer, Wake’s son Lucas, an accountant, joined the company, making him the fourth generation in the family to work in the store.
Weathering the often stormy economic seas and dealing with larger, chain competition stores has proven unable to slow down Alabama Office Supply, and Wake said he believes that the business’s longstanding tradition of excellence is a significant reason for that.
“I think people trust us. We’ve been here for a long time, and people know if we say we’re going to do something, that we’re going to do it,” Wake said. “And we provide a level of service that’s way beyond our competition and I’ve been able to build up a lot of relationships over the last 35 years with people that know what this business is all about.”
Harris, reflecting on having a business in Opelika, said the city’s growth and support of their business were the two biggest reasons for their success.
“It’s been so much fun to watch this city grow like it has over the years … and folks who have been customers of ours forever still buying from us,” Harris said. “I would speak very highly of Opelika to anybody who was looking for a place to live and have kin folks here. This is such a great place to live.”
To learn more about the products that Alabama Office Supply has to offer, visit http://www.alaoffice.com, or call (334) 749-3456.

Pop-up farmers market to be held on Saturdays

2016-10-15 O GrowRobert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

O-Grows’ first “Pop-Up” Market took place Saturday in front of the Southside Center for the Arts building. Local produce ranging from kale and other winter greens to okra and pepper jellies was available for purchase.
Following their first summer managing the traditional Tuesday afternoon farmer’s market, O-Grows Executive Director Dr. Sean Forbes said that this fall market is an experiment, and based on vendor’s produce availability and customer support, could last all the way through Thanksgiving.
“We’re not doing this to suggest that Tuesday’s farmers market isn’t happening … we’re not messing with that. We’re just looking to see how we could not only extend the season but see if we could tap into a different slice of the community by having it on Saturday mornings,” Forbes said.
He said that this fall market will particularly emphasize locally-grown products, and that everything there for sale will be homegrown and authentic. Besides offering Opelika fresh, quality produce, Forbes said that he sees the market as an opportunity to bring the community together.
“Having a farmer’s market any time of the year offers a lot of stuff to the community. It’s a nice way to have a little bit of business, a little bit of agriculture and a little socializing …all good stuff,” Forbes said. “Opelika in particular has so much to offer … people like Mayor Fuller and Barbara Patton over at the Chamber of Commerce have done so much to help us grow and expand … this whole ride has been wild.”
For vendor information or general questions, call or text Forbes at (334) 750-2215.

Reid Pope to retire Oct. 31

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By Morgan Bryce

Opelika Observer
Staff Reporter

Opelika Sportsplex Director Reid Pope is retiring Oct. 31, after nearly 43 years of working with Opelika’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Pope said his decision to retire came after a conversation he had with his wife Gail earlier this year.
“My wife, who’s a retired school teacher, and I talked, and she has gone through a lot of time waiting on me to come home with late night hours …  and with over 40 years of working for the city, it was time in my mind to retire and be able to spend more time with her and enjoy each other’s company,” Pope said.
A lifelong resident of Opelika, Pope graduated from Opelika High School in 1972, and in the following year, began his college career at Auburn University. A Wildlife Sciences major, he said he did not find his life’s true passion until he began working part time in the summer 1973 for Opelika’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“I started off in field and park maintenance … keeping them smooth, putting the lines out, cleaning bathrooms. I also got to drive the Rocky Brook Rocket some, clean monkey cages and feed the spider monkeys that were there at the park during that time,” Pope said.
He would later change his major to Recreation Administration, and during the next few years, took time off from school during quarters to work and learn more about how the department worked, from former Parks and Recreation directors William Calhoun and Bill Harrelson
Pope graduated in 1984 from Auburn, and took over as program manager for Parks and Recreation, overseeing popular programs like Friday Night Drop-In and Golden Age Club, working with the Opelika swim team, as well as coordinating annual events like the fall festival.
In 2009, he was relocated from Denson Drive to the Sportsplex, where he was co-director with Tim Gore. A couple of years later, Gore left and Pope was promoted to director, with John Huling being hired as his assistant director.
In his five years as director, Pope said seeing the growth of the Sportsplex and programs it offers was memorable for him.
“Watching all the programs grow that we had … soccer was just a small little thing we had before we moved out here … and now there’s 50-60 teams,” Pope said. “We now have over 6,000 members also. It was a blessing to have this group of people to work with and see them grow over the years too. This whole experience has been a blessing to me.”
Currently, there is no successor to the director position, but Pope said he hopes that the city looks for someone who knows the community well.
“The process of finding someone to replace me is going to be a process … and I hope that the person they get is someone who knows Opelika well and has a sense of what is going on,” Pope said.
Looking ahead to retirement, he said that he and Gail have plans to travel and enjoy their abundance of free time. However, after more than four decades of working for the city he loves, he said that leaving this job will be difficult.
“I was talking with Sam Bailey (director of Opelika’s Parks and Recreation department), and I told him that there’s not many people who work at the same job for as long as we have. When you do work that long, it’s not a job anymore, it’s your life,” Pope said. “I’m going to definitely miss seeing our staff and members on a day-to-day basis. They made this job easier and very enjoyable for me.”