National recognition in 2015

TelechoiceAward
Ardmore Telephone Company Operations Manager Georgie Bailey (left) and Chief Marketing Officer Carrie Huckeby hold a prestigious first-place award from NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association for The Ardmore Connection magazine.

Company officials took home two awards, out of six categories, during the annual telecom industry meeting, held in Austin, Texas. The Ardmore Connection magazine impressed several judges who particularly liked the use of customer profiles. “I could read it all day, and I’m not even a customer!” one judge wrote. “Your designs on stories like the profile of “American Pickers” make this magazine feel like a warm cup of coffee on a cold day.”
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Making a ‘smart’ decision

By Trevor Bonnstetter
Chief Executive Officer

Trevor Bonnstetter

Trevor Bonnstetter


When it comes to technology, we want everything to be “smart” these days. We have smartphones and smart watches, smart appliances in our kitchen and laundry room, smart thermostats and smart home gadgets with smart apps to control them.

While all this smart technology is impressive and can make life more convenient while saving us money, the really smart part of it all is the broadband network that so many of these devices and apps rely on to bring us this functionality.

This trend toward devices that are only possible with broadband is not going away. And as broadband becomes the leading infrastructure driving innovation, it is impacting every facet of our lives.

That’s why we decided long ago that improving broadband service in our rural area was the smart thing to do. With access to an advanced broadband network, boundless opportunities open up for our region:

Smarter businesses: Technology allows businesses to reach new customers and better serve the customers they already have. Smart businesses are using data and their broadband connections to learn more about customer habits, streamline supply chains and optimize their operations. Studies have shown that broadband-connected businesses bring in $200,000 more in median annual revenues than non-connected businesses. Our network ensures that these tools are available to our local businesses so they can compete regionally, nationally or even globally.

Smarter education: Local teachers and school administrators are doing amazing things with tablets, online resources and other learning tools. These smart schools are opening up new avenues for students to learn. Experts say that nationally, students in schools with broadband connections reach higher levels of educational achievements and have higher-income careers.

Smarter health care: From bracelets that keep track of physical activity to telemedicine, smart technology and broadband are improving the way we monitor and care for our bodies. Physicians are able to confer with other medical experts, transmit X-Rays and lab results and communicate with patients over our network. Through smart electronic medical records, everyone from stroke patients to expectant mothers is receiving better care because hospitals and doctors are getting “smarter.”

Smarter homes: A host of new devices has allowed users to bring smart technology into their homes. Smart devices allow you to monitor your home, change the thermostat, turn on lights and even lock or unlock doors remotely.

We’ve made smart decisions that put our community in a position to take advantage of this smart revolution. As our devices, businesses, homes, schools and hospitals get smarter, rest assured that your telecommunications provider is smart enough to have the infrastructure in place to handle these demands — plus whatever the future holds.

Slow down in work zones

Fiber0402Linemen have dangerous jobs, and the dangers aren’t always from the heights or the equipment on which they work. These dangers involve motorists and are often fatal.

Crews at Ardmore Telephone are committed to facing these dangers to ensure you have the best and most reliable service available. But they need your help to keep their crews safe.

When approaching a utility work zone, please slow down and, if possible, move to a lane farther away from the crews.

Utility workers are killed each year in the United States due to traffic accidents that occur in street and highway work zones. These accidents are sudden, violent and almost always preventable. Please help keep these hardworking crews safe.

Hosts with the most (mileage)

The Thayer family have been serving as park hosts while living in a fifth-wheel trailer at the park for the last few months.

The Thayer family have been serving as park hosts while living in a fifth-wheel trailer at the park for the last few months.
 

Many families head off on a weekend camping trip as an escape, building lifelong memories while making s’mores over a hearty campfire. However, for one family of six, their experience is about reconnecting while spending months in the cozy comfort of a fifth-wheel trailer.

Since October, Eric and Gabrijela Thayer have stayed at the park along with their kids — Ian, Noah, Zoe and Eli — and 3 dogs. “It’s cozy, but it’s good for us right now and is meeting our needs,” Thayer says.

The Thayers arrived in Huntsville in September, returning to take care of Eric’s mother and uncle in the city where he grew up. They also volunteered as campground hosts at the Sharon Johnston RV Park. The family braved the winter months with a few heaters, as early morning temps sometimes plunged below 45 degrees inside their trailer. “We are blessed with so much in life, so to deal with less helps us not take things for granted,” Gabrijela says.

Thayer deployed four times in six years, with trips to the Middle East and Southeast Asia while in the U.S. Navy. During his time in the service, humanitarian missions were replaced with anti-piracy efforts aiding cargo ships. “I honestly didn’t know that they still had pirates in this world,” he says, chuckling. “They’re not as luxurious as you see in the movies. It was exciting, but that took me away from the family a lot, so that was part of the reason why we traveled around the country.”

Eric returned from his final deployment in January 2014. He used remaining ‘leave time’ to take the family on a cross-country trip to the national parks so he could bond with their kids — ages 8 to 15. They traveled around California for a month until he could officially retire. “We wanted to see the country,” says Gabrijela, who is originally from Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. “It first started as a little joke that we would travel in a tiny trailer, but then that joke turned into a dream. It’s been wonderful.”

Eric is accustomed to the tight quarters of a ship, but his family would get to learn many of those same challenges in the 36-foot trailer. Their eight-month journey took them through 42 states before landing in Alabama. “We wanted to get to Alaska, but we took too much time in some of the other states,” Thayer says, laughing.

The family has found peace while staying at the rustic rural park, providing a greater sense of ease than the Huntsville neighborhood that Eric grew up in. “We can come out at night and not worry about our safety,” he says.

“I was complaining about having to move from San Diego to Alabama, but then we got here, and this is really a nice place, and I don’t mind staying here. We really haven’t seen anything quite like it.” Gabrijela says.

After six months at the campsite, the Thayers are now preparing to move their fifth-wheel trailer to his uncle’s residence to provide continuous care for the ailing man. Eric plans to attend Calhoun Community College this fall, using the GI Bill toward an engineering degree. Soon, a new park host will be selected to begin their volunteer experience at this majestic park.

A family reconnects while helping others

By Matt Ledger

The rustic weekend retreat that James Johnston built for his family.

The rustic weekend retreat that James Johnston built for his family.

James Johnston, the owner of a Huntsville-based concrete company, envisioned family outings surrounded by the unspoiled natural region of Madison County.

He made that passion a reality and eventually shared the land with the public so others could share his vision at the park named after his daughter, Sharon Johnston.

“They bought this land because of their love for the great outdoors,” Park Director Jenny Barrett says. “They would come out here on the weekends to fish in the lake that he built.”

The Sharon Johnston Park is popular among RVers, campers and anyone near New Market looking for a place to get outside, but many don’t know the story behind the park.

Johnston’s 31-year-old daughter Sharon — an accomplished aerobatic stunt pilot — died in 1974 during a performance at a naval air station in Massachusetts. Four years later, the family donated the land to the Madison County Commission in memory of their daughter, to share their love of the great outdoors with other families.

The ironically-named “Play Station” playground aims to keep kids active while staying at Sharon Johnston Park in New Market.

The ironically-named “Play Station” playground aims to keep kids active while staying at Sharon Johnston Park in New Market.

The Johnstons sought to teach their three children how to enjoy the great outdoors, escaping the city for weekend retreats for many years. Johnston also built a prominent fireplace that now bears his name, and their rustic cabin now serves as a caretaker’s house for the 250-acre property.

Park amenities

An avid fisherman, Johnston frequented the 12-acre lake he built on the property, which is stocked with catfish, bass, bream and crappie. The park has 14 rustic sites available for $15 per night, or monthly rates with a limit of a four-month stay. There are 25 full-hook-up sites that go for $18 per night, capable of hosting large motorhomes or fifth-wheel trailers.

The park hosts numerous family reunions each year and has several popular annual events. Senior Fun Day is Tuesday, May 5, with more than 2,000 people attending in 2014. The Scottish Festival and Highland Games happens in October, drawing a large crowd for traditions like the caber toss, Celtic music and ethnic foods. A youth fishing rodeo also takes place each spring, and the 5K running trail hosted the 2014 Div. II Collegiate Southeast Regional Championship. A park pavilion designed for weddings is still being constructed, despite a few weather delays.

The amenities and scenery of the Sharon Johnston Park impressed Eric Thayer and his family upon arrival, after staying in numerous other campgrounds during a 15-month-long journey. “Most of the campgrounds weren’t this nice, and they charged a lot more,” Eric says. “It’s such a beautiful and quiet place, with a really nice playground that is great for families,” his wife Gabrijela adds.

Calendar of Events
May 2 — Community Yard Sale
May 5 — Older American Festival/Spring Fun Fest – Gate 5
May 16 — Madison County Youth Fishing Rodeo – Gate 5
May 30 — Madison County Saddle Club Horse Show
June 6 — Mission Firefly 5K Race – Gate 5
June 27 — Madison County Saddle Club Horse Show
Sept. 26 — TVSS Scottish Festival and Highland Games
Oct. 10 — Car Show

Campground Amenities

  • Olympic-sized swimming pool
  • Twelve acres of lake, annually stocked with catfish
  • Small picnic shelters and large pavilions with open-air barbecue grills
  • Handicapped-accessible playground
  • Soccer fields
  • A 5K walking/running course
  • Primitive arena for horses
  • A skeet and pistol range on a leased portion of the land

For more information regarding upcoming events, please visit www.madisoncountyal.gov/sjpark/.

 

Fiber optics are coming!

Fiber0402On March 16, Ardmore Telephone Company began a fiber project that will bring high-speed Internet to Main Street. Fiber works by sending pulses of light along strands of glass the thickness of a human hair. The network is being installed using a mix of aerial and underground construction, and the project will continue throughout the year. This expansion will include additional nearby areas that have yet to be determined. Check Ardmore’s Facebook page or The Ardmore Connection magazine for future availability.

Empowering customers to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Trevor Bonstetter
Chief Executive Officer

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to the Connection readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about Ardmore Telephone.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this company plays in economic and community development because of the Ardmore Connection. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I share this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this company.

Ardmore Telephone is a community-based telecommunications provider. Our roots run deep throughout the towns and neighborhoods we serve. As technology changes the way people reach out to family and friends, conduct business and enjoy digital entertainment, we are committed to providing this region with the tools our people need to stay connected.

Part of that commitment is ensuring our customers are informed and engaged with Ardmore Telephone, and this magazine is a big part of those efforts.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to rural telcos like us and people like you to let legislators and policymakers know that small town America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications companies matter to those living here, too.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your telephone and broadband provider, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in building a strong future for the place you’ve chosen to call home.

The storm of the century

By Matt Ledger

Ray Widner, standing near the Bee Spring cemetery, gazes in the direction where a 1909 tornado crossed a ridge and destroyed his great-grandparents’ home, along with many others in the area.

Ray Widner, standing near the Bee Spring cemetery, gazes in the direction where a 1909 tornado crossed a ridge and destroyed his great-grandparents’ home, along with many others in the area.

By daytime, the unsettled sky passed over the valley as livestock wandered impatiently, seeming to sense trouble ahead. Strange animal behavior and farmers’ observations were the closest things to a weather report in 1909, when a devastating tornado tried to wipe the tiny community of Bee Spring, Tennessee, from the map on April 29.

Several generations before meteorologists real-time satellite updates, people braced in the darkness with little to no warning of the dangerous approaching weather system. The twister traveled 25 miles, with “only the lightning bursts unveiling the green wall cloud” to those residents looking into the darkness, as written by Tim Dempsey 100 years after the “spear of destruction” tore through the valley.

“The folks in Bee Spring probably knew it was going to be a bad storm because of their farming experience working out in the weather,” Ray Widner says.

One tale from the tornado

Will Lackey, Widner’s great-grandfather, was 44 years old when he tightly held closed the front door to his family’s home, needing to protect them while acutely aware that the storm had worsened as it drew closer. He sent his oldest son Elam, 14, to brace the back door as the swirling winds approached. “They could hear the tornado coming up the valley and all of the destruction nearby,” Widner recalls from the stories he has heard since childhood. Lackey had his wife, 38-year-old Naomi, grab the other two children — 11-year-old Will Ross and 7-year-old Raymond — in each arm and sit in the middle of the floor for safety.

“By 11 p.m., the tornado got to full strength, collapsing the rear and front doors inward, pinning both Will and Elam to the floor,” Widner says. “It’s thought that the doors falling in on them gave a fair amount of protection because they didn’t have a scratch on them.” However, the winds were then peaking, and Naomi struggled to hang onto both children as the pressure change destroyed the walls of the home. “In total darkness, something fell on her arm, forcing her to lose her grip,” Widner says. The timber that struck her arm also hit Will Ross, and after the storm passed, she would discover that he was seriously injured.

Community members started to search other homes nearby, designating an undamaged home as a makeshift triage point for injured residents. Lackey could hear cries from his livestock inside a collapsed barn, but knew his child needed him first. He carried Will Ross as the rest of his family climbed the dangerous debris-covered hill more than a half-mile toward the undamaged home for help.

Will Ross’ parents purchased a headstone for their son by selling his pig.

Will Ross’ parents purchased a headstone for their son by selling his pig.

But by the time they arrived, they were too late. Will Ross had passed away in the darkness of April 30. A distraught Naomi learned that her arm was broken in three places. In the days that followed, the Lackeys would have to find, then sell, Will Ross’ pig to pay for the boy’s headstone at Bee Spring Cemetery in an area with several others killed in the storm.

Naomi would physically heal in time, but her broken heart could never be mended after the loss of her son. After she passed at age 56, Lackey needed family support and moved in with his son Raymond and his family. “My grandfather lived with us from the time I was born until I left high school,” says John Lackey, Widner’s uncle. “He would never go to bed without his shoes and clothes right by his bedside.” That fear led Lackey to huddle his son’s family together until daybreak any time a storm passed by.

Impact on Bee Spring

In the storm’s wake, the Lackeys were far from the only ones grieving. Reverend A.J. Pope and his wife died in the twister, as did the four members of the Guffey family and Thad Reese with her two children. In the McGrew family, the mother and five of eight children were claimed by the twister. “Most of the families who owned the land in the area stayed and rebuilt,” Lackey says. The displaced families helped each other in the months that followed, setting up tents and makeshift frontier homes nearby. “They shared those remaining crops in the field just to get by and survive,” Widner says. The natural spring water — which is still popular as drinking water for locals today — is what drew the early pioneers to the area to establish the small farming community.

Living together, as the Lackeys did, allowed the stories to pass among generations of their family, which led Widner to further research the disaster upon retiring from Ardmore Telephone Company in 2013. During his 43-year career, he occasionally drove through the Bee Spring exchange area on service calls. “When I drove through that area, it was always a sacred ground for me because I knew what they all went through,” Widner says.

Weather Emergency
 Preparedness

The F4 tornado that hit Bee Spring was part of a larger system that killed 55 people in seven states. A more recent, similar outburst happened 102 years later on April 27, 2011, ravaging nearby areas in Alabama. Sixty-one tornadoes carved paths of destruction across the northern half of the state, claiming 247 lives. That chilling fact is a reminder for all to rehearse safety plans in advance.

The Ardmore Community Storm Shelter was built in 2014 on Park Street.

The Ardmore Community Storm Shelter was built in 2014 on Park Street.

The first week of March is Severe Weather Awareness Week, and the websites ready.gov and fema.gov have numerous lessons on preparations for adverse situations. Ardmore’s Emergency Management Director Timothy Toone encourages everyone to purchase a battery-powered weather radio. He and his staff will alert local media of vital details during any emergency, as officials did after the 2011 tornadoes. During that disaster, Ardmore firefighters assisted in search-and-recovery operations for several days in eastern Limestone County.

“Every emergency is different in its own way,” Toone says. “The websites give supply lists in preparation for storms or … winter weather.” Another important thing to consider is a family communications plan, which could mean texting your relatives as any remaining cell phone networks could be filled with emergency calls. Ardmore has two storm shelters, with the Main Street City Hall location capable of sheltering 150 people. A $300,000 FEMA project, completed last year, adds the capacity for 300 people at the Ardmore Community Storm Shelter at 29910 Park Street, Ardmore, AL.

A burning passion for barbecue

By Matt Ledger

Bill Pfeiffer serves a few plates to customers at his restaurant, Corner Pit BBQ in Dellrose, Tenn.

Bill Pfeiffer serves a few plates to customers at his restaurant, Corner Pit BBQ in Dellrose, Tenn.

Dellrose Road, in the tiny town of Bryson, Tennessee, has a charred and smoky history dating back half a century.

Bill Pfeiffer has seen most of it.

Pfeiffer, a cattle farmer turned pitmaster, now owns the Corner Pit BBQ, even though he knows the barbecue restaurants on that corner have caught fire six times since 1965.

“Hopefully that won’t happen to us,” Pfeiffer says. “We’ve always eaten here. I’ve always been a customer with each of the owners, but I never dreamed that I would ever own it. It wasn’t even on my radar.”

The restaurant was originally opened in 1965 by Willard and Geraldine Russell, after his store across the street burned down. The Russells sold it in 1988 to Bobby and Sandra Burnham, who tried to make it their slice of hog heaven during their five-year tenure owning the restaurant.

In 1997, Bo Witt, who made national news during the 1970s for driving cross-country on a tractor, and his wife Jane took their turn, naming the restaurant Bo’s Corner Pit. But it burned to the ground in 2002, the day after Christmas. The Witts rebuilt a larger restaurant, which also caught fire in 2008, this time during the week of July Fourth.

The landmark Corner Pit BBQ restaurant is located at the intersection of Bunker Hill, Bryson and Dellrose roads.

The landmark Corner Pit BBQ restaurant is located at the intersection of Bunker Hill, Bryson and Dellrose roads.

Pfeiffer made the purchase of the restaurant from Witt merely as an investment property, having lived nearby for many years. “It’s been such a landmark on this corner,” says Pfeiffer, who has frequented the restaurant since his teen days. “I thought it would be sad to see it go.”

Locals repeatedly asked him when it would be reopened, and it did so seven months later in spring 2009. Despite being a full-time farmer, Pfeiffer found a new calling as the Corner Pit BBQ grill master. He restored the rustic interior, replaced the burnt roof and modernized the kitchen in an attempt to avoid any future fires. A trailer-mounted smoker is kept outside of the kitchen.

New concepts are really just traditional techniques

As the provider of the proteins, Pfeiffer is able to closely monitor the quality of the restaurant’s ingredients, thanks to 30 years of raising cattle. The University of Tennessee helped the Pfeiffers obtain USDA approval on the farm-to-table process that would allow them to serve the meats grown on the pastures just outside the restaurant. The low-and-slow, wood-fired process of true barbecue means the meat typically goes into the smoker at 11 p.m. on Thursday night to serve the diners the following day.

Even if it’s not a slow-smoked dish, every plate comes with a side of tender loving care. “If you get a hamburger here in the summertime, you’re going to get a farm-fresh patty, slice of tomato and a piece of lettuce, all grown within a mile or two of here,” Pfeiffer says.

Bill Pfeiffer, his wife Kristen (left) and son Jake are serving up divine swine dishes.

Bill Pfeiffer, his wife Kristen (left) and son Jake are serving up divine swine dishes.

Food has always been a big part of life in the Pfeiffer family. A photo on the wall shows a 5-year-old Bill cooking a chicken, a family skill passed down from his father Dan. His eldest son, Jake, has also been interested in cooking since age 5.

“I’ve cooked for a number of years and have always enjoyed food,” Pfeiffer says. “When this opportunity came about, he [Jake] was the one who was really pushing me, even though at the time he was only 15 years old.”

While the restaurant is only open Friday to Sunday, one-third of their business comes from catered events during the week.

Rave reviews

Barbecue joints typically have a laid back atmosphere that would make a Manhattan maitre d’ blush, but that’s part of the experience. “Our pigs are dying for you to eat!” is the clever slogan on Corner Pit’s t-shirts.

“I really like the chicken sandwiches and of course the pork,” says Sonny Hicklen, a regular of more than 40 years, as he finishes off a bowl of Brunswick stew. “Everything they have is really good.”

One reviewer on UrbanSpoon.com found the restaurant in 2013 during a Friday drive from Huntsville. “It’s rustic, it’s classic and the Texas-style brisket was outstanding,” reviewer Dan says. “Flavorful, not greasy, melts in your mouth. The original hot sauce was the perfect topper. The potato salad was just right, and the green beans were fresh and tasty. Worth the drive!”

Corner Pit usually has a waiting list on Sundays after church, with a line out the door allowing patrons to patiently sniff pork-licious perfection from the nearby smoker.

Blazing cattle

The Pfeiffers also brought new concepts, including being the first restaurant in the area to serve beef brisket as well as some unusual twists like brisket tacos and barbecue quesadillas.
Their creativity is paying off.

Kristen Pfeiffer serves a barbecue sandwich to Sonny Hicklen, who has been coming to the restaurant for more than 40 years.

Kristen Pfeiffer serves a barbecue sandwich to Sonny Hicklen, who has been coming to the restaurant for more than 40 years.

The brisket is in high demand, with 30 or more being ordered for pickup on some weekends, aside from what he serves to diners. “We now have barbecue salad, which I never thought would work in this location, but it does great here, and many times we are sold out of barbecue baked potatoes.”

The success has led Pfeiffer to make plans for a few of his own renovations in 2015. He wants to blend the vintage facade with an outdoor seating area, and their family will begin bottling two of their sauces for customers.

“We are always looking at messing around with ideas,” Bill says.

Corner Pit BBQ
107 Dellrose Road • Bryson, Tenn.
931-732-4575 • cornerpitbbq.com
Fri/Sat – 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sun – 11:30 to 2 p.m.

Are you looking for a meal worth squealing about? Websites like Urbanspoon, Tripadvisor and Yelp have a ratings system and customer reviews to help you the next time you come to a fork in the road, looking for a new dining experience.