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Is Publix coming to Ft. O?
There are rumors but officials aren't saying much

A new grocery store option could soon be coming to Fort Oglethorpe, but city officials and the chain itself are keeping the possibility pretty hushhush for the time being.

In recent weeks, the rumor of a possible Publix location coming to Fort Oglethorpe has created a buzz among residents.

Publix, a Florida-based supermarket chain, already has stores in East Brainerd, North Chattanooga, Hixson, Ooltewah, and Cleveland, Tenn., but for now, city officials aren't saying much about the rumor.

"I cannot comment on it at the time," mayor Earl Gray said via email last week. "If anything definite develops, I will let you know."

City manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins added that there's nothing on the books as of yet regarding the store.

"To date, I have not seen plans from Publix," Payne-Simpkins said. "I have heard a lot of chatter about a Publix possibly coming to the area. However, until I see the plans or we issue the business license (there's nothing to comment on)."

The Publix to Fort Oglethorpe intrigue began in late June when a link ( began surfacing on social media showing a proposed Publix anchored shopping center in the area of Battlefield Parkway and Dietz Road.

The link specifies that eight other retail spaces would be available in the shopping center, and at least the Publix part of complex ready to open by 2018.

Multiple representatives of Publix did not return calls seeking comment on the matter.

Homeschool Expo not just for homeschoolers

It's that time of year again – the hunt is on for school clothes, shoes, notebooks, pencils and a long list of other supplies.

For many parents in the Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia area, that list is a lot longer. It includes math books, language and science curriculum, maps, globes, art supplies and more. The go-to place for these parents is the annual homeschool expo at Camp Jordan in East Ridge, Tenn.

More than 80 exhibitors will be set up to show and sell their wares and services at the 35th Annual CSTHEA Curriculum Fair & Home Education Expo. CSTHEA, or Chattanooga Southeast Tennessee Home Education Association, has served Tennessee and Georgia homeschoolers for nearly four decades.

The yearly curriculum fair has grown from a small event in its early days, in which parents showed their own material and offered advice, to an expo that takes 175 volunteers to pull off and features major suppliers of textbooks and education supplies from around the country.

Homeschooling mom Nilesen Cross, who recently moved from Fort Oglethorpe to Chickamauga, attends the expo every year. "This year, I'm looking for new math books for all my kids," says the mother of four. Last year, says Cross, she stocked up on things like maps and educational games.

Janell Bontekoe has been coordinating the expo for 15 years now. "My youngest child was four days old when he attended his first expo," she says.

Bontekoe begins planning the next year's expo before the current one is even over. "I like to get the right mix of exhibitors – ones that offer materials to suit teaching and learning styles ranging from very formal to more relaxed." Bontekoe also makes sure that homeschoolers can find resources for extra-curricular activities for their children.

Among the 80 exhibitors this year, parents will find some of the big names in the world of homeschooling: BJU Press, A Beka, Rod and Staff. They'll also find vendors selling everything from classic literature and biographies for young people to science kits, maps, games and art supplies.

CSTHEA sets up its own booths to help inform people about its athletic association, which sponsors baseball, basketball, cross-country running, soccer, girls' softball, volleyball and track teams. There's also a homeschool band, a mock trial team, a theatrical troupe, a spelling bee, and parents can learn more about the organization's annual yearbook and graduation events and services.

The CSTHEA Curriculum Fair & Home Education Expo takes place July 21, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and July 22 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Camp Jordan in East Ridge. Admission is $8 per family (children welcome) and includes both days and all workshops. More information can be found at

Homeschoolers from Georgia are free to join CSTHEA and participate in all the group's activities.

At Camp Jordan this year, parents and young people will be able to talk with representatives of 4-H, Civil Air Patrol, American Heritage Girls, Trail Life, YMCA of Metro Chattanooga, Chattanooga School of Language, Scenic City Children's Choir, High Point Climbing and Fitness and a number of art and dance studios. "The expo is a good place for homeschoolers to find tutors and classes, too," says Bontekoe.

For students close to graduation, four colleges will be present to share what they have to offer: Chattanooga State, Bryan College, Berry College and Pensacola Christian College.

Also on the slate for the two-day expo is a host of workshops that are included in the $8-per-family admission fee. A few of the workshops parents can attend are: Teach Your Kids to Think, Teaching the Way Kids Learn, Promoting Wonder, Navigating Through High School, and Seven Keys to College Admissions & Scholarships.

CSTHEA secretary Jeannette Tulis recommends that those new to homeschooling stop at the CSTHEA booth and pick up the organization's "Quick Start Guide."

"One great thing about the expo," says Tulis, "is that you recognize you're not in this alone. We had over 3,000 people come to last year's expo. You can get information about support groups, co-ops and classes and mingle with hundreds of other families who homeschool."

"We are really blessed in the Chattanooga area," says Bontekoe. "The homeschool community is very supportive and there's a lot of opportunity."

Bontekoe says that over half the volunteers who help make the expo happen every year are young people. "The sports teams, American Girls, Trail Life – they all come out to help set up. They help exhibitors unload their materials. We provide two meals a day for our vendors, and the kids deliver those to them – that's hundreds of meals, then they help them load back up when the expo is over."

"The expo is not just for homeschoolers," says Bontekoe. "It's a great place for any parent to find materials to supplement their kids' education, and teachers love it, too. It's even a good place to shop for Christmas."

Nilesen Cross offers some advice for parents thinking about attending the expo this year: "It's overwhelming. There's so much to choose from. It's good to go the first day and just look around. Then go home and think about it and come back to buy the second day. And get a babysitter, if you can."

Neal joins Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Adult Felony Drug Court, brings more than two decades of experience to position

Gretchen Neal

Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Court Judges Kristina Cook Graham and Don Thompson have named Gretchen Neal as the coordinator of the Adult Felony Drug Court.

In her new role, Neal will oversee the program and coordinate team efforts. She will receive training from the Georgia's Council for Accountability during the court judges annual training conference in Athens, Ga., in the coming weeks. While Neal will be considered an employee of Walker County, her salary and benefits will come from funds provided by the grant funding the entire program.

Neal comes to the Adult Felony

Drug Court with 22 years of experience managing employees; 25 years of ensuring compliance with banking regulations; and 27 years of customer service experience. Neal has a breadth of experience in managing daily operations and maintaining staff while ensuring employee and customer satisfaction.

Most recently, Neal served as branch office administrator at Edward Jones Investment Company in LaFayette. While there, she was responsible for customer relations including appreciation events, scheduling and preparing client reports. Prior to Edward Jones, she was vice president and manager of the Chickamauga and LaFayette branches of Cohutta Banking Company (a division of Synovus Bank). While there, she was responsible for all personnel and operations at the two branches.

In addition to her professional resume, Neal brings significant volunteer experience to the team. She currently serves on the LaFayette Downtown Development Authority, the executive board of the Walker County Chamber of Commerce, and is a Rotarian. In addition, she worked with men in recovery in her local church The Wesleyan, for more than 30 years.

Neal is married to Jay Neal, senior pastor of The Wesleyan Church in LaFayette. He is a former representative in the Georgia General Assembly and currently serves as the executive director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for Georgia.

Judge Thompson, who will be hearing the cases coming before the court, said, "We are pleased to have someone with Gretchen's significant community involvement joining the team. As someone who knows and is known by the community, we know she will provide valuable in-roads to organizations and individuals who can assist in making a difference in the lives of those coming before the court."

Judge Graham noted that more announcements would be made in the coming weeks. "We're excited how well the program is coming together and look forward to sharing updates as the program prepares to launch in early fall."

The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Adult Felony Drug Court addresses the needs of habitual users, helps to break the cycle of addiction and prevents further criminal activity in the community. The Adult Felony Drug Court serves Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, and Walker counties.