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Spotlighting 'unsung heroes'
• Rome and Floyd County public works crews perform a wide range of jobs.

Chris Jenkins

Gary Burk came face to face with a copperhead out in the brush, but he laughed it off.

"Could have been a king cobra. I just ran," he said.

Chad Hampton was called from a celebratory lunch when a power line fell across Reservoir Street.

"24-7, 365," he shrugged.

High winds picked up Marcus Dean's truck as he was heading to a job and set it down facing the opposite direction. Another time he accidentally stepped into a ditch full of water — during a flood that drew an Atlanta TV crew to capture the moment.

"It was only 4 or 5 feet," Dean said with a grin, when asked if he got hurt. "It was just cold."

It's all in a day's work for Rome and Floyd County public works crews.

They maintain our roads and bridges, control vegetation and traffic signals, make and install the signs vital to finding our way.

Ditches are cleared and drained; trash and recycling disappears; sidewalks and trails are smoothed; graves are opened and closed. And, through it all, a contingent of support staff ensures the necessary plans, parts and equipment are at hand.

"Whenever we need them, they're there," City Commissioner Sundai Stevenson said following a joint proclamation naming May 19 to 25 National Public Works Appreciation Week.

County Commissioner Allison Watters called them "unsung heroes," but the public works directors — Michael Skeen for the county and Chris Jenkins for the city — can't say enough about their crews.

"These guys are good," Jenkins said. "They're good at their jobs and they're always willing to go above and beyond."

Take the time when a worker, now retired, was mowing a swath of high grass and came across a bag full of thousands of dollars in cash. He traced it to an elderly woman and delivered it to her door.

"He didn't hesitate to do the right thing, and it turned out to be her life savings," Jenkins said.

Most days, it's quietly working behind the scenes to ensure nothing impedes people going about their own business. Jenkins said his crews do the kind of jobs not often noticed unless they don't get done. Which is rare.

"There's a little bitty dead fox in the street that we still have to go get," said Chandra Fallin, the solid waste collections operation manager, during a lunch break last week.

When the weather turns rough, though, Public Works is in the forefront.

Skeen told of a night when the temperature was expected to drop to about 10 degrees and crews were deployed with the spreader truck to salt the roads. Instead, the temperature hit zero — low enough to freeze the droplets of moisture in the engine and stop the gears.

"I went out to check on them and they were standing up in the back of the truck with a piece of rebar," Skeen said. "They'd spread a little, it would freeze up and they'd bust it up with the rebar and spread some more. They got it done."

That story reminded him of the kind of work his team accepts without question, such as being the first out on icy or unpaved roads.

"You ain't lived until you've backed your spreader up Mount Alto," he said with a laugh, explaining that "they need traction just like anything else."

Skeen vividly remembers the spate of thunderstorms that blew through the county in April 2011, knocking out power and water and leaving a track of destruction in their wake.

He said that they were cleaning up from the powerful straight-line winds of the morning when a tornado from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, blasted Cave Spring.

"You're cutting out trees to clear a path and, as you get in, more are falling behind you," he said. "At some point you realize you're hemmed in."

Most days in the Public Works Division are mundane, he said.

Some are slow, others are filled with laborious or repetitive jobs. His crews enjoy that, for the most part, he said,

"But when it's an extreme situation, they're excited. They're ready to go and do whatever it takes," Skeen said.


Pickin' and grinnin'
• The Armuchee Bluegrass festival closes out another year of jamming.

It started in the '70s on Old Dalton Road when Chuck Langley was 32 years old. Since then the Armuchee Bluegrass Festival moved to the Armuchee Saddle Club off Ga. 140 where twice a year it hosts music lovers from all over the South.

"That's where it's at, buddy," guitar player Glenda Justice said about Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, which is where the majority of the bluegrass players hail from.

Bluegrass is a dying art, Langley said.

His passion for the music comes from growing up in the Smokey Mountains and he started the festival with his late wife Kricket to preserve what he calls the old time music.

After his wife passed in 2012, Langley enlisted the help of Helen Burke to help run the festival. She and her husband Jerry split some of the responsibility regarding lining up the acts for the festival and running the campground.

Campers arrive as early as two weeks before the festival to claim their camping spot since the festival does not reserve spaces.

The Kings Inn on Martha Berry Highway is another popular lodging option, since it is close by to the festival.

Burke said the hotel was completely sold out except for one room and was told by the hotel owner that all of the patrons were in town for the festival.

Langley said his favorite part about the Armuchee Bluegrass Festival was the excitement leading up to the event. In all of the years he has been running the festival he has rarely experienced any major issues.

"The good Lord loves bluegrass," he said. "We've only had one show rained out in 46 years, soon to be 47."

Burke said her favorite part about the festival was watching younger musicians get involved with the genre.

"We need them to keep the music alive after we are gone," she said.

The festival is looking to become a bit more advanced in technology and hopes to start live-streaming some of the acts by the Labor Day festival, Burke said. In the concert area volunteers have cameras, an iPad and a soundboard set up to monitor the acts.

Most of the help for the festival comes from outside of Rome. Burke travels from the metro-Atlanta area several times a year to help keep things up and running. Gary Caste of Murphy, North Carolina, comes down about 12-14 days before the festival to lend a hand parking the campers. There are no designated camping spots at the Armuchee Saddle Club, so Caste makes sure the close to 80 campers are not on top of each other. When he isn't parking RVs, Caste, along with others at the campground, eats at local restaurants and goes to see the Rome Braves play.


2019 grads toss their caps

Ways to remember the fallen
• Several Memorial Day services are happening in the area Monday.

On Monday members of the military who have fallen in active service are remembered nationwide through events put on by various clubs and organizations, providing a variety of ways to observe Memorial Day.

Shannon

"Everybody should go to a memorial," Jack Dickey of The Watters District Council said. "It's what they give us the day off for."

The Shannon Memorial Day service will take place at noon Monday at the flagpole outside the mill office building off Burlington Drive. The Memorial Day observance in Shannon is one of the oldest continuously held programs in the nation. It was started to commemorate the sacrificial service of 12 employees of the old Brighton Mill who died during World War II.

This year will mark the 73rd anniversary of the placement of a memorial at the flagpole in front of the old mill honoring J.D. Braswell, Daniel Garlin, William Grady Ledford, A.Q. Moss, Charlie R. Neese Jr., Otis Brown Orsbion, Howard A. Phillips, William C. Quarles, Ben Ridley, Jack A. Gunter, Albert W. Goodwin and William H. Sluder.

The program for this year's service includes the unveiling of a new marker at the memorial site. Descendants of Julian Morrison, the mill's first president, will also be in attendance, Dickey said. Morrison was the one who erected the WWII monument at the site in 1946.

The speech Morrison gave at the monument's dedication will be delivered by Lou Byars, Brighton Mill's last plant manager and current superintendent of Rome City Schools.

"A lot of unique stuff in this celebration," Dickey said.

Coosa Valley Fairgrounds

Coosa Valley Fairgrounds is set to host a number of events in observance of Memorial Day next week, all sponsored by the Exchange Club of Rome.

Starting on Sunday, there will be a display of military history at the fairgrounds furnished by Richard Riggs and Jack Martischnig.

The centerpiece of the display will be a locally made replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The display will be open from noon until 5 p.m. Sunday, and again from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday — Memorial Day.

The exhibit belongs to the Exchange Club of Rome and was constructed entirely in Rome by The Phillip Burkhalter Builders. Local Rome artist Chuck Schmult created the artwork, both the sculpturing and painting, to make it appear as marble.

The replica is 50% the size of the tomb based in Washington D.C., which is a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains being identified.

The tomb bears the inscription "HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD." Congress later directed that an "Unknown American" from subsequent wars — World War II, Korea, and Vietnam — be similarly honored.

Also on Monday, from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., the Palladium building at the fairgrounds will host a Memorial Day observance ceremony featuring guest speaker U.S. Army Col. Mark Viney, who is based out of Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The ceremony will include the laying of a wreath, and recognition of fallen service members from Rome and Floyd County.

Grady Mabry

The American Legion Post No. 506 will hold their annual Grady Mabry celebration on Memorial Day, May 27, at 11 a.m. at 21 Peachtree St. William Rome will be speaking. Refreshments will be served. For more information call 706-766-4430.

Rotary

The Rotary Club of Rome will meet at Rotary Plaza behind the Forum River Center, 301 Tribune St., at noon on Thursday for a special Memorial Day program. Lunch with guest Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Alonzo J. Smith will follow.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's art is by Elisia Castillo, a second-grader at Alto Park Elementary.

Visit Rn-T.com to see Today's Young Artist monthly galleries. Email submissions of student artwork to HKoon@RN-T.com.