Local News Articles

Smithville Firefighters Visit Elementary School (SEE VIDEO HERE)

October 11, 2013
Dwayne Page

As part of October Fire Safety month, Chief Charlie Parker and members of the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department paid a visit to Smithville Elementary School Friday morning to talk about fire safety and to show the children the new ladder truck.


Walleye in Center Hill Lake threatened by low dissolved oxygen levels

October 11, 2013
Dwayne Page

Over the past few weeks several dead walleye have been observed at Center Hill Lake. Walleye prefer a cool-water habitat, which means they are usually located fairly deep in the lake this time of year. This year the dissolved oxygen levels in this zone are very low. Data collected yesterday indicated that the only area deeper than about 35 feet that contains any oxygen is a zone between depths of 60-to-90 feet, and even there the levels are quite low.

"This isolated zone of cool, oxygenated water has gotten much smaller over the last few weeks as natural processes in the lake have depleted oxygen from the water. If there are significant numbers of walleye and other fish trapped in this zone they may not be able to survive long enough for the lake to mix and restore oxygen to these lower depths," said Bob Sneed, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Water Management Section chief.

The low oxygen levels are primarily due to a series of rainfall events during the spring and summer that resulted in a loss of oxygenated water from persistent higher flows from the dam. A lower lake pool while maintenance is ongoing at the dam is also a contributing factor.
Cooler nights are helping to restore oxygen levels at lower depths, but Corps officials aren’t sure yet if large numbers of fish could be affected before mixing of oxygen at lower depths can occur.

Sneed said that warmer lake temperatures also translate into warmer water temperatures in the Caney Fork River downstream of Center Hill Dam where a major put, grow, and take trout fishery is managed by the Tennessee Wildlife and Resources Agency.

"The trout are likely to be stressed and they may not feed as aggressively as normal, but I would not expect a major die-off of fish in the river," Sneed said. "We will continue to blend sluice gate releases with hydropower releases to support the downstream environmental resources."
There are no physical or operational actions that can be applied to alleviate this condition. Corps of Engineers and TWRA staff will continue to work together and monitor the situation.

For more news and updates please go to http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil and follow the Nashville District at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps.

New Report Card Introduced for Kindergarten and First Grade Students

October 10, 2013
Dwayne Page
Michelle Burklow

As part of the new Common Core State Standards initiative, the DeKalb County School System has introduced a new standards-based report card for kindergarten and first grade students.

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The purpose of the new reporting system is to provide parents and teachers with more accurate information about students' progress toward meeting the specific content standards for the various subjects taught at each grade level.

Michelle Burklow, Supervisor of Instruction for Pre-K through 6th grade, informed the Board of Education Thursday night that the new report card has already gone out for the first nine weeks of school. "We're very excited that we did get that completed. Kindergarten and first grade had a standards-based report card going home the first nine weeks. I was able to attend DeKalb West School's parent-teacher conference this evening and I was able to speak with several of the parents coming down the kindergarten and first grade hallway. I received lots of positive comments. We talked about how that this is an opportunity for parents to polish skills with their child. I think they (parents) were really amazed at how much the students will be learning this school year," she said.

"I've had a couple of compliments on it as well," said fourth district school board member Billy Miller. "They (parents) really like it. They like where their kids are at. They know there are probably some deficiencies going on so this (report card) distinguishes those a little bit better so they (parents) know what to work on," he said.

Dr. Danielle Collins, Federal Programs Supervisor, visited Smithville Elementary School's parent-teacher conference and also received positive comments from parents. "They appreciate that they now can help their child on specific standards at home .They actually know what their child needs extra help in," she said.

Burklow said plans are to start working on a standards-based report card for second graders after Christmas and to have it in place next year.

With the standards-based report card, educators know whether all students are learning what they should in each grade by monitoring the skills listed on the report card.

Traditional report cards usually assign one grade for reading, one for math, one for science and so on. On a standards-based report card, each of these subject areas is divided into a list of skills and knowledge that students are responsible for learning. Students receive a separate mark for each standard.

Instead of letter grades, the standards-based report card grades students by numbers 1-4. " Category 4 would mean students are advanced," said Burklow at a previous school board meeting. " That means they have an understanding of the standards, the skills. It exceeds the grade level expectations. Earning a 3 would mean that students are proficient in understanding the skills and meet grade level expectations. We want all students to be at that proficient level. So a 3 would mean that they are right on target for gaining all their academic information for the school year. A 3 would be something to celebrate. A 2 would mean that the student has a basic understanding of the skill/skills being tested. This child is progressing toward mastery but needs a little polishing on a specific skill. A 1 would mean that the student has minimal understanding. Here again, teachers and parents would work together, intervene with that student so that they would progress up to mastery," said Burklow.

In other business, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby updated the school board on personnel moves since the last meeting.

Those employed as substitute teachers since September are:

Jean Hope, Ann Frazier, Katie Merriman, Tiffanie Martin, Yvonne Hale, Michelle Critser, Jenny Trapp, Kerry Polk, Michael Hattaway, Joy Whitman, Meghan Padgett, Helga Thompson, Jordon Roller, Erin O'Loughlin, Bethany Cornelius, and Kim Taylor.

Lisa Hull, a teacher was granted a leave of absence as requested.

The board gave approval for an overnight FFA trip to the 2013 National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky October 29 through November 2.

Board approval was granted for an overnight DCHS Beta Club trip to attend the National Beta Club state convention at Gaylord Opryland November 24-26.

Approval was given for two day basketball games at DeKalb Middle School (play at Warren County November 22 and for Warren County to play here on December 9)

Director Willoughby also gave a brief update on the DeKalb West School building project. He said the contractor will start pouring concrete Friday morning, October 11.

The next regular monthly school board meeting will be Tuesday, November 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Board of Education Building. The board will have a workshop on Tuesday, October 15 at 6:00 p.m. at the Board of Education Building on the development of a five year plan.

More Indictments Against Wendy Askins

October 13, 2013
Dwayne Page
Wendy Askins

Wendy Askins is facing more charges.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s case against the former executive director of the Upper Cumberland Development District resulted in a grand jury indictment against her Tuesday for taking money from the Upper Cumberland Development District to use toward the Living the Dream home, a home built as an independent living home for middle income seniors in Putnam County.

The 52 year old Askins of Cookeville was indicted by the Putnam County grand jury on one count of theft over $60,000, one count of money laundering and one count of forgery. While employed as the executive director Askins inserted into the February 16, 2010 Upper Cumberland Development District board meeting minutes a paragraph stating that $300,000 was to be transferred to the Cumberland Regional Development District for an independent living home. TBI’s investigation revealed that the transfer of funds was never discussed at the meeting. Askins transferred $300,000 out of the Upper Cumberland Development District account and used the money for the Living the Dream home. The home was built to provide an independent living environment to middle income seniors in the area. Although Askins had a residence in Putnam County, she and her daughter used the Living the Dream home as their primary residence. TBI investigated the case with the Office of the Attorney General and the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.

The UCDD employed Askins as its executive director for 17 years prior her being released from the position. Askins turned herself in on the charges Tuesday at the Putnam County Jail and was released on a $25,000 bond. She is scheduled to appear in court on November 12, 2013.

Askins was indicted by a federal grand jury two weeks ago on a variety of charges, including conspiracy, theft of more than $1,000, bank fraud, money laundering and making a false statement.

Askins' assistant, Larry Webb was also indicted on those same charges, while former UCDD Board Chairman and DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster was indicted on one charge of making a false statement.

DUI Charge Against O'Neil Dismissed

October 9, 2013
Dwayne Page

A driving under the influence charge against Smithville Building Inspector Eugene O'Neil has been dropped.

O'Neil appeared with his attorney Tony Hagan in DeKalb County General Sessions Court Monday before Judge Tiffany Gipson of Jackson County. Judge Gipson is assigned to hear cases in which Judge Bratten Cook, II has a conflict.

Hagan, in a prepared statement to WJLE, said that "In March 2013, Smithville Building Inspector Eugene O'Neil was charged with DUI and other related charges. Today, the State of Tennessee dismissed all charges against Mr. O'Neil," he wrote.

"Mr. O'Neil would like to thank all of his friends who stood by him during this difficult time," Hagan concluded.

Assistant District Attorney General Greg Strong told WJLE that "the state could not produce results of the blood test from the TBI crime lab and had no choice but to dismiss the case," he said.

O'Neil, off duty at the time, was stopped by Trooper Bobby Johnson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol on Friday, March 1. The traffic stop occurred on Golf Club Drive. O'Neil submitted to field sobriety and blood tests, according to Trooper Johnson.

Judge Patterson Hands Down Sentences in Several Theft Cases Friday, October 4

October 9, 2013
Dwayne Page
Judge David Patterson

Three people caught after allegedly breaking into a barn on Joins Road in February were sentenced in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday, October 4.

36 year old Andy Joe Certain, 35 year old April Lee Hollingsworth and 53 year old Kelly Lee Hollingsworth appeared before Judge David Patterson. All three entered guilty pleas under negotiated settlements.

Certain pleaded guilty to burglary and unlawful possession of a weapon. He received a four year sentence for the burglary and two years on the weapon charge. The two terms are to run concurrently for a total of four years. Certain is to serve at least 30% of the sentence as a range one offender but he has been given jail credit for 167 days. Certain must also forfeit the weapon.

April Hollingsworth pleaded guilty to burglary and received a four year sentence, suspended to probation except for 89 days to serve. She has been given jail credit for 89 days. The sentence is to run consecutive to a case against her in Rutherford County.

Kelly Hollingsworth pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and received a two year suspended sentence to run consecutive to other cases against her.

Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that Certain and the two Hollingsworth's allegedly entered the barn on Joins Road through the barn doors and took numerous old and antique farm equipment, valued at $1,500.

According to Sheriff Ray, deputies arrived at the scene before the three intruders left and the stolen property was unloaded from their vehicle and returned to the owner.

36 year old Lisa Michelle Porterfield pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary and received a six year sentence to serve in the Tennessee Department of Correction. The sentence is to run concurrently with a violation of probation case against her in DeKalb County but consecutive to a Warren County violation of probation. She was given credit for 30 days served last November and time served from May 21 to October 4.

Sheriff Ray said that on October 9, 2012 Porterfield allegedly broke into a residence on Campbell Road by kicking in the front door. She allegedly stole from the home a Honda transmission, a battery, push mower, tire and rim, in-door heaters, 13 inch television, a microwave, and several other items with a total value of more than $1,000. The case was investigated by a criminal detective of the sheriff's department.

A woman accused of vandalism, burglaries, and thefts at a local marina in May received a total sentence of four years .

36 year old Stephanie Lee Vanatta pleaded guilty under a negotiated settlement to two counts of burglary, two counts of auto burglary, one count of theft over $1,000, and one count of vandalism.

She is accused of breaking into and taking items from two pontoon boats, committing vandalism of an automobile, and breaking into and stealing items from two other vehicles at Sligo Marina.

Vanatta received a two year sentence in each of the two burglary cases to run consecutively for a total of four years. She also got a two year sentence in the theft case, a one year term for vandalism and one year in each of the two auto burglary cases but all those sentences are to run concurrently or together with each other and with the burglary cases. Her total sentence is four years.

Sheriff Ray said that on Thursday, May 23 Vanatta allegedly entered a pontoon boat at Sligo Marina and took two fish locators, a tool bag containing miscellaneous tools, a solar battery charger, and an electric fish cleaner all valued at less than $500.

Vanatta allegedly entered another pontoon boat and took two flashlights, a can of WD 40, a set of tools, two quarts of oil, and miscellaneous tools all valued at less than $500.

Vanatta further allegedly entered a Ford pickup truck by breaking out the glass on the driver's side and taking a gas can, extra car keys, and a boat latch lock.

The same day, Vanatta allegedly entered a Toyota by breaking out the back glass and taking a bag containing several keys, a first aid kit, a thirty one bag, flip flops, a cleaning kit, and two Sam's cooler bags all valued at less than $500.
She also allegedly damaged a 2006 Chevy HHR vehicle by leaving marks on both of the driver side and passenger side doors causing over $500 in damage.

50 year old Tony Beasley pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary and received a four year sentence to serve. The sentence is to run concurrently with another term he is now serving.

49 year old Trina Matthews pleaded guilty to theft over $1,000 and received a three year sentence, all suspended to supervised probation. She must also make restitution to the victim in the case. Matthews was given jail credit from April 11 to October 4.

19 year old David Tyler Hutchins pleaded guilty to burglary and received a three year sentence but he will be on supervised judicial diversion probation. He must make restitution of $1,342. Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, October 12, 2012 Hutchins allegedly broke into an outbuilding on Green Hill Road in Liberty by kicking in the front door. He allegedly stole a chainsaw, leaf blower, a cordless screw driver set, battery charger, and various other items including a 1997 Honda Four Wheeler, all valued at over $1,000.

21 year old Travis Marcus Melton pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated burglary. Melton received a four year sentence in each case to run concurrently with each other and all suspended to supervised probation. He was given jail credit from August 6 to October 4.

Sheriff Ray said that on February 29, 2012 Melton allegedly broke into a residence on Johnson Chapel Road by kicking in a back door. He allegedly took a 20 gauge shotgun, two flat screen TV's, a DVD player, a chain saw and other various items all valued at over $1,000.

Meanwhile on the same day, February 29 Melton also allegedly broke into another home on Johnson Chapel Road through a window. Melton allegedly took a 46 inch flat screen TV, DVD player, laptop computers, a digital camera, and other various items all valued at more than $1,000. The case was investigated by criminal detectives of the sheriff's department.

Melton was further named in sealed indictments returned by the grand jury in August.

The indictments allege that "On or about the 1st day of March, 2012, Melton did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly enter the habitation of the victim with the intent to commit theft of property, constituting the offense of aggravated burglary and that he "did knowingly exercise control over certain property, to wit: a 12 gauge shotgun, 12 gauge ammunition, a Disney Pellet Rifle, a .22 Ruger handgun, ammunition, a 52 inch flat screen television, a DVD player, a leather jewelry box, $25 cash, several knives, an air compressor, tools, a tool box, pillow cases, several bottles of liquor, a gas can, a hatchet with sheath, a machete with sheath, a Browning hunting knife with sheath, two fishing poles with reels, a coke machine key and $3 in change, being over the value of $1,000, the property of the victim, constituting the offense of theft."

In another case, the indictments allege that "On or about the 3rd day of March, 2012, Melton did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly enter the habitation of the victim with the intent to commit theft of property, constituting the offense of aggravated burglary and that "Melton did knowingly exercise control over certain property, to wit: a Henry .22 lever action rifle, being under the value of $500, the property of the victim, constituting the offense of theft."

37 year old Lonnie L. Wheeler pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and theft over $1,000. He received a four year sentence in the theft case, suspended to probation. Wheeler got a sentence of 11 months and 29 days for the DUI to serve 48 hours and then be on probation. The two terms are to run consecutively for a total of five years. He is to pay a $350 fine and he will lose his driving privileges for a period of time.

Wheeler was accused of stealing a 1992 Honda Accord from the Walmart parking lot on Monday, January 21.

Chief Randy Caplinger said Smithville Police received a call of a stolen vehicle taken from the Walmart parking lot. Officers went there to check the video footage, which showed a person, identified as Wheeler, stealing the vehicle. The car, which belonged to a Walmart employee, was later recovered near the Warren County line.

Proposed City Annexation Could Increase Business

October 8, 2013
Dwayne Page
Proposed City Annexation Map

A local land developer plans to look into the possibility of building a truck stop and restaurant if his land near the intersection of Highways 70 & 83 (New Home Road) is annexed into the City of Smithville

Ed Young is one of six county property owners just outside the west end of town who would like their land annexed into the City of Smithville.

Young made his request known during Monday night's meeting of the Mayor and Aldermen "I am an absentee owner. But if you incorporate that into the city and we get that sewer pipe in I will do the research on what it takes to put in a big truck stop with a restaurant. I did a deal like this years ago with Shell. I put up the property (elsewhere). They put up the building and I got a percentage. I don't know if it will fly now but I will know actually what it takes to build one. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You put it together and I'll find the two million dollars to build it," he said.

Young has other properties in town including the old shell station, discount tobacco, and donut shop buildings on Broad Street. He also owns the old Smithville Freight Lines property which he currently has under development and is trying to restore.

If approved, the properties of Young, Mike Foster, Dr. David Foutch, Pat Walls, John Kilgore, and Jim Beshearse would be annexed. The area includes almost seventeen acres on the south side of Highway 70 from the existing city limits to near the intersection of Highway 83 (New Home Road). It would take in the Kilgore's restaurant property, which belongs to Foster; Dr. Foutch's Eye Care office; and parcels of land belonging to Kilgore and Beshearse. Facing the Old Snow Hill Road, the residential properties of Beshearse, Walls, and Foster would be annexed. On the northside of Highway 70, another fourteen acres of undeveloped land belonging to Young would be annexed along with the old Beshearse grocery store building, which still belongs to the Beshearse family. Young's property is located across the highway from Kilgore's Restaurant.

John Kilgore, owner of Kilgore's Restaurant, told WJLE Monday that being in the city would be a great benefit to him as a tenant and to Foster, the property owner. "The reason we're wanting to get it annexed here is we can pick up the utilities like the sewer system to make it a better functional place because it's a restaurant and it should not be set up to run on septic lines. We're wanting to pay the (city) taxes in order to be able to get the sewer," he said.

Kilgore, who owns two and a half acres of undeveloped land between the properties of Dr. Foutch and Jim Beshearse on Highway 70 said his desire is to one day build a restaurant on that site.

Dr. Foutch told WJLE that while he has no strong feeling about annexation, he does not oppose it and would welcome the city services.

Although he would have to pay city taxes, Beshearse said the benefits of being in the city appeal to him with city police, fire, and sewer services along with garbage pickup. Beshearse added however that he has no complaints with the county fire department which he says does a good job too.

Due to a state moratorium on annexation, the city cannot take the initiative on its own without a request. The property owners have to petition the city for annexation. "We have not gone out and sought these people for annexation. They have come to the city and asked to be annexed in. These are all voluntary annexations," said Mayor Jimmy Poss.

State law halts in progress forced annexations of residential and farm property by Tennessee towns and cities prior to April 15 until May 15, 2014, unless a city can persuade county commissions to approve them.

New annexations of such property are banned during the same time frame unless property owners want to become part of a city.

That's intended to provide time for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study how a 1999 urban planning law, intended to bring order to annexations, has worked. TACIR serves as a forum on state and local issues.

Mayor Poss and the aldermen only brought the issue up for discussion Monday night. The Smithville Planning Commission will take it up during its next meeting, which has been rescheduled for Thursday, October 17 at city hall. If the planning commission gives a favorable recommendation for annexing these properties, the measure will go back to the aldermen for approval by ordinance.

State law also requires that all annexations include a Plan of Services (POS). The POS outlines those services, such as sewer, that will be made available to the land being annexed and the timeframe within which services and/or amenities will be provided.

Lester Gets Eight Years In Rash of Burglaries and Thefts, Reeder Also Sentenced

October 8, 2013
Dwayne Page
Robert Allen Lester, Jr.
Ronald Deshon Reeder

Two men charged in an investigation into a rash of burglaries and thefts in the Dowelltown and Dry Creek Road area last winter were sentenced in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday, October 4.

Judge David Patterson presided.

24 year old Robert Allen Lester, Jr. received a total sentence of eight years after pleading guilty to eleven counts of auto burglary, two counts of burglary, and one count of aggravated burglary. He was given jail credit of 265 days.

19 year old Ronald Deshon Reeder pleaded guilty to one count of auto burglary and one count of theft over $1,000. He received one year of state probation for the auto burglary and two years of state probation in the theft case. The two sentences are to run consecutively for a total of three years. Reeder will be on judicial diversion for three years and he must make restitution in the case.

Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that the burglaries and thefts occurred on December 28, 2012 and from January 7-10, 2013 mostly in Dowelltown but also on Dry Creek Road in the area from New Home Road to the city limits of Smithville. There were nine victims altogether. Lester is accused of breaking into the Dowelltown Post Office, burglarizing automobiles of residents on South Mill Street, North Mill Street, Happy Valley Drive, Corley Street, Dry Creek Road, and the burglary of a shed/guest house on Corley Street, and an outbuilding on Dry Creek Road.

According to Sheriff Ray, Lester was responsible for the actual burglaries and thefts. In the case of the vehicles, he allegedly entered through an unlocked door in most instances and took what he could find, mostly guns and GPS devices, among other belongings. Reeder was originally charged with Lester in three of the crimes on Dry Creek Road because he rode along with Lester and sat in the vehicle while Lester was out committing the burglaries and thefts, knowing what Lester was doing. Sheriff Ray said after Lester was identified as a suspect, detectives and officers of the Sheriff's Department raided his home and found most of stolen items.

Smithville Police also arrested Lester in January and charged him with three counts of burglary and three counts of theft. Chief Randy Caplinger said that on December 4 and January 2 Police received reports of vehicles having been broken into and items taken from them on Hayes Street, West Main Street, and Spring Street. Upon an investigation, it was determined that Lester had committed the crimes.

Indictments against Lester alleged that:
*On or about December 4, 2012, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and took a TOM TOM GPS, being under the value of $500.

*On or about December 28, 2012 Lester broke into the Dowelltown Post Office and took three money orders being over the value of $500.

*On or about January 2, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and took a Blue Jensen Double Speaker Box, a GPS, miscellaneous baseball cards, miscellaneous CDs, miscellaneous tools and miscellaneous wiring, being over the value of $1,000.

*On or about January 2, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and took a wallet, a driver's license, social security card, birth certificate, insurance card, set of keys and car keys, being under the value of $500

*On or about January 6, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and took a TOM TOM GPS, being under the value of $500.

*On or about January 7, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's residence and took one set of engagement rings, two anniversary band rings, a diamond bracelet, a Dell computer, a Canon digital camera in a case, an MPG player and a power cord, being over the value of $1,000.

*On or about January 7, 2013, Lester broke into two victim's vehicles and took a Garmin, a phone car mount, fifteen Disney DVD's, a car charger, twenty CDs and a car safety kit, being over the value of $1,000; along with a another Garmin, an iPod, an adapter and a charger, being over the value of $1,000.

*On or about January 7, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and a building and took a 10 inch laser guide and two TOM TOM GPS's, each being under the value of $500.

*On or about January 7, 2013 Lester broke into a victim's building and took a Stevens over and under 22-20 gauge shotgun, being under the value of $500.

*On or about January 7, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's residence.

*On or about January 8, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and took a Remington rifle with scope, an H&R rifle with scope and a Smith and Wesson 270 rifle with scope, being over the value of $1,000.

* On or about January 8, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and took a bottle of blood pressure pills, being under the value of $500.

* On or about January 9, 2013, Lester broke into a victim's vehicle and took a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber pistol with holder, being under the value of $500

Lester and Reeder were co-indicted in the following offenses:

* On or about January 9, 2013, Lester and Reeder broke into a victim's vehicle and took clothing, change, a buck knife, a hunting pouch, 270 Winchester shells, a vest, and hat, being under the value of $500.

*On or about January 10, 2013, Lester and Reeder broke into a victim's vehicle and building and took a Play Station 3, money, a 250 piece Kobalt socket set, a Brother sewing and embroidery machine, and a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes, being over the value of $1,000; along with a TOM TOM GPS and seven cell phone chargers, being under the value of $500.

Former Alexandria Mayor Turns Author

October 8, 2013
Dwayne Page
Ria Mayor (photo by Dave Turner)
New Book by Ria Baker

Have you realized yet that you are unique and that you have an amazing talent to offer ? Have you made an attempt to discover that gift and allow it to emerge for all to see?

Former Alexandria Mayor turned author Ria Baker has penned a new book which she hopes will inspire readers to find their talents and make the best of them.

"You Don't Have to be an Eagle to Fly" by Ria Baker from Westbow Press is now available in paperback or eBook at www.amazon.com.

"It's a Christian motivational book," said Baker in a recent interview with WJLE. "It's about how you should use whatever talent God has given you to use and to be proud of it," she said.

"God didn't make us all eagles, but he did make us all so we can fly. We don't have to feel like we are not doing everything we should because we aren't rich or famous. That's not God's way for very many of us at all. If you have ever wondered if you were doing everything you could and should be doing with your life or if you feel bad that you aren't as successful as others you see around you, this quick, easy, and humorous book is just what you need," said Baker.

Although she has been involved with others in researching and compiling information and photos for previous local historical related books, this is Baker's first literary project on her own.

Baker also previously collaborated with author Karlen Evins on several projects including two cook books. "It's actually her cook books but I did the illustrations. We collaborated together but the cover, and all the little what knots and do dads, I drew all those. The first one we did is called "Southern to the Core" and the second book is "Put a Lid on It". They are sold in Cracker Barrel. Once a year we go to Gatlinburg to the craftsman show and sell them there. She (Evins) also has two other books called "I Didn't Know That" about unusual origins of things we say and I illustrated those," said Baker.

In the late 1990's, Baker began writing a humor column for the Watertown Gazette and the former Middle Tennessee Times newspaper locally and won the Tennessee Press Association Humor Column Award in the year 2000. "I really enjoyed doing that humor column. People really seemed to find it funny and I like to make people smile. It makes me feel good," said Baker.

The daughter of Jimmy and Daris Mullinax, Baker has lived all but six months of her entire life in Alexandria. "My daddy was in the service and I was born in Germany. We came back when I was six months old because my grandfather was killed. He was working on the dam with a road grader and it tipped over and killed him," said Baker.

She is the granddaughter of the late Charles "Chop" and Beulah "Shorty" Jennings of Alexandria, and Pauline Mullinax of Liberty. Baker has two sisters, Stacey who lives in Alexandria, and Beki who resides near Huntsville, Alabama.

After graduating from DeKalb County High School in 1977, Baker married Ricky Baker and started a family. The couple has two children, Derrick and Tori Baker. Today, Derrick and his wife Stacey have two children of their own, Jonathan and Sadie and they reside in Alexandria. Tori now lives in Lebanon and works as a school psychologist for the Metro-Nashville school system.

In addition to her flair for writing, Baker is an accomplished artist. She discovered her creative talents as a child working with her late grandmother who was also a gifted artist. "My grandmother (Beulah "Shorty" Jennings) was a school art teacher. When other grandmothers were doing cookies, we were painting. I can remember being in her kitchen and she would set up two easels. I had my little easel and she had her easel. She would paint and I would paint. That's just what we did. Now my grandkids paint at my house. When they come to my house we paint," said Baker.

"I like to do realism which is art that shows things exactly as they appear in life. I like for things to look like they are supposed to look when I get through with them. I don't do a lot of abstract. I've done portraits. I like doing something that means something to somebody. Sometimes I'll make a still life (work of art) out of people's grandparent's stuff, like an old pair of glasses and a vase. I enjoy doing that. I also enjoy making costumes. My sister Stacey and I are currently doing a puppet show ministry. It's a black light and I made the puppets for that," said Baker.

In the mid 1980's Ricky and Ria bought a grocery store in Alexandria which they operated for twenty years. " Ricky had worked for a place now called Service America then we bought the Cee Bee store on the square and ran it for 20 years. We got out in 2005," said Baker. Ricky is now branch manager of Liberty State Bank in Alexandria.

In her spare time, Baker has always enjoyed doing volunteer work , whether it be for the DeKalb County Fair or other organizations and causes. She and Ricky were also the first husband and wife to serve together as members of Leadership DeKalb, a 10-month program designed to bring together individuals who desire increased leadership responsibility in improving the quality of life in DeKalb County.

About the time she graduated from Leadership DeKalb, Baker decided to try her hand at politics and became mayor of Alexandria, an office she held for seven years. "I didn't do it for the money. But it can be a full time job if you do it correctly. There's a lot of meetings you have to go to. A lot of people knock on your door at night and call you all the time but I enjoyed being able to help people if they needed it. That was very rewarding," said Baker. Asked why she decided not to seek another term, Baker replied " I felt like it was time for me to move on and let somebody else do it."

While she is through with politics for now, Baker said she could see herself running for public office again. "There may be a time I would do it again. It wasn't all bad. Some of it was good," she said.

Baker was not the first member of her family to be involved in city politics. Her father, Jimmy Mullinax served as alderman for several years. Her husband Ricky Baker was an alderman and mayor and Baker's son Derrick and mother-in-law Tony Baker also had stints as members of the town council.

Having accomplished so many other goals in her life, Baker said she now has a desire to become a motivational speaker. "I really want to get into public speaking. I want to go to churches or women's groups. I've not been to college and I've never had a class in motivational speaking so It makes me a little afraid but if somebody gives me a chance, I'll try it," she said.

Habitat Chili Cook-off and Bake Sale Friday!

October 8, 2013
Dwayne Page
“Chili Flappers” from DeKalb County Board of Education

For the 10th year in a row, it’s your turn to support a great cause and decide who makes the best chili in DeKalb County! Come out and cast your vote this Friday, October 11th on the Courthouse Square when Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County hosts its 10th Annual Chili Cook-off and Bake Sale.

Chili will be served from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on the north side of the Courthouse on the Smithville Town Square. You can purchase your bowl for $5.00, eat all the chili you want, and vote for your favorite chili and the best decorated booth. Handmade pottery bowls will be available for $10.00. Delicious baked goods prepared by members of local churches and the DCHS Tiger Pride Bakery will also be for sale.

“We’re so excited about the 10th Annual Chili Cook-off,” said Tecia Puckett Pryor, a member of the Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County Development Committee. “We are looking forward to being outside again on the Courthouse lawn and hope everyone will come out to enjoy the fun and fellowship. This year, we completed our Fourth Habitat home in DeKalb County and are making plans for our fifth house to be built in 2014,” said Pryor. “The proceeds from the Chili Cook-off will be used towards building our next house, so we hope everyone will come out and eat lots of chili for a great cause!”

At press time, the teams competing in the Chili Cook-off are “Storybook Chili” from the DeKalb County Board of Education; “Hot Checks Chili” from DeKalb Community Bank; “The Courthouse Gang” from the DeKalb County Officials; “We’re the Quack Pack, Jack” from the City of Smithville; “Pipeline Pirates” from Middle Tennessee Natural Gas; “The Bean Counters” from Tom Janney, CPA and Associates; “Indian Summer Chili” from Indian Creek Baptist Church; “Chili With Electability” from The Inn at Evins Mill; and “No Liability Chili” from the DeKalb County Bar Association.

Last year, the “Chili Flappers” from DeKalb County Board of Education won the “Best Chili” award, and “The Courthouse Gang” from the DeKalb County Officials followed in second place. In the decorating contest, “‘Lei’ Me Out Chili” from Middle Tennessee Gas Utility District won first place honors. The 2012 event raised approximately $3,400 for Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County is a locally run affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization. Habitat for Humanity builds and renovates houses in partnership with volunteers and families in need, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The houses then are sold to those in need at no profit and with no interest charged.

For more information on the Chili Cook-off and Bake Sale, contact Tecia Pryor at 597-7370. To contact Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County, call 215-8181.


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