By Sabrina Bates
The ringing in of a new year brings with it hope, opportunities and a fresh start. While there will be 12 months of the development of new ideas, 2020 will be a year when projects from “auld lang syne” will be brought to life in Weakley County.
2019 paved the way for community projects that saw people of all ages come together for a common goal. These sparks are ones that will continue to gain momentum in the new year.
People of all ages are celebrating in Martin with the groundbreaking of the city’s latest project, a 21st Century public library. The multi-level structure will feature meeting rooms, areas for culinary and craft classes, a space for teenagers, an expansive children’s library and technology throughout the building. An outdoor amphitheater will offer space for outdoor concerts and plays.
Fund raisers have raised close to $1.5 million for the project in private and business donations. Martin High School alumni have joined in the effort, while local children created lemonade stands last summer to help with fund raising. The Martin Public Library will be located in the heart of downtown at the former site of Martin City Hall and the police department. Ground was broken on the project in November and construction is under way.
In the summer of 2018, a group of nine people made the trek to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The newly-installed memorial is a story-telling project that recognizes victims of racial lynchings across the nation. The goal of those who installed the monument is for communities to bring their monuments back to their home counties to recognize those victims locally.
The painful and emotional journey made by the “Montgomery 9” of Weakley County led to the discovery of five racial lynching victims in Weakley County. Bringing back their discovery, the group began a series of public discussion forums and formed the Weakley County Reconciliation Project. The WCRP invites community members who are interested in an open discussion on race matters to spread awareness and ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. The group has a Facebook page.
Two projects in the City of Gleason are under way thanks to progress made in 2019. The city now boasts a caboose that signifies part of its rail history. The caboose is being restored and will be a centerpiece in the city park.
Thanks to a grant awarded through the Boyd Foundation, Gleason will construct a dog park for its community members. The grant allows to city to create a greenspace for canines.
The Press featured four Martin youth after they walked into Mayor Randy Brundige’s office one afternoon with a plan to combat teenage boredom. The kids are seeking the installation of a skate park in Martin. While their idea is only in the proposal stages, the youth are slated to pitch their idea during a parks and recreation committee meeting later this month.
Community members with an affection for sports and outstanding athletes have joined together to create a Weakley County Sports Hall of Fame. Spear-headed by John Hatler, Lin Dunn and Wayne McCreight, the Hall will be in a central location in the county for fans and visitors. The Hall will be replicated in each community, at a place of their choosing by representatives.
The Inaugural Class will be announced at the luncheon before the Weakley County Sports Hall of Fame Golf Scramble April 23. The event will be held at the Persimmon Hills Golf Course in Sharon. The Class of 2020 will be inducted Aug. 15.
More than $9 million in USDA Farm to School Program grants were awarded last year to increase the amount of healthy, local foods served in schools and create economic opportunities for nearby farmers. Among the awards was a nearly $49,000 grant to Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN) for a collaboration with Weakley County Schools. The Weakley County project is the only one in West Tennessee, and one of only three in the state, to receive a Farm to School grant.
While the System already boasts a livestock production program, schools with on-site greenhouses, farm days and small gardens, the funding and partnership will further expand the blend of agriculture in the classrooms of Weakley County Schools.
Approximately $370,000 received from grants has netted five propane buses for Weakley County Schools. The grants will also help with the anticipated purchase of seven additional buses in the next two years. The clean fuel buses are estimated to save more than $24,000 per bus throughout the life of the vehicle. The adoption of propane school buses helped garner a 2019 Tennessee Sustainable Transportation Award for the school system.
Former Press reporter, now Communications Director for Weakley County Schools, Karen Campbell has already made great strides on a short amount of time for the System. With the revamping of the schools’ social media platforms and website, Campbell works daily to expand on the school system’s already open-door policy. With her energetic and compassionate spirit, she is diligent about promotion of the county’s future generation. Campbell wears a few hats, as she was also recently appointed to serve as an alderwoman for the City of Greenfield. She is working with Communications Director for the Office of Weakley County Mayor, Erica Moore, on a multi-faceted rail trail tourism project for the county. This project will connect the rail trails in each city with an emphasis on local history. The goal is for visitors to be able to safely walk the connecting trails while discovering nature and learning more about each city’s unique traits.
Led by Greenfield science teacher Robert L. McCall, members of the Greenfield School Research Team — Logan Rash, Joshua Floyd, Andrew Campbell, Logan Sawyers and Jacob Romans — blew the competition away in April 2019 when they competed against 23 other schools in Tennessee. The team provided a study on water quality and its correlation to diseases, specifically cancer, in Weakley County.
Based on their research, the team brought home the state championship title from the Tennessee Junior Science Academy. The students will present their project at a national competition this year.
Westview High School alumnae and UT Martin graduate, Crystal Hayslett has gone from the fields of soybeans in Northwest Tennessee to the stage in Hollywood. As a production assistant for Tyler Perry Studios in the beginning of her career, Hayslett worked her way to the top as a fashion designer for “Nobody’s Fool.” From there, she landed on the set of the hit series, “Sistas,” as not only a costumer, but a producer and actress. The BET original series airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Hayslett’s work ethic, skills and willingness to do what needs to be done continue to drive her career behind and on the stage.
Spearheaded by Angela Ammerman of the UT Martin music department, and Katie Mantooth, Weakley Arts Can has grown from a small seed into a mighty oak in just the span of a few months. The group is a booster club for the arts for students in Weakley County. Among the goals are the provisions of year-long elementary music and art in the school system, a county band, orchestra, choir and drama option available to middle- and high-school students. The organization has partnered during the Soybean Festival and as part of the summer concert series in Martin. Updates and information can be found of the group’s Facebook page.
Students in Tennessee have access to a TN Promise scholarship opportunity that helps fund tuition and expenses at community colleges and colleges of applied technology. With an announcement last year by the University of Tennessee System, students now have an option for a Promise scholarship for the first two years of schooling at a UT System school. Students must qualify for the Hope Scholarship and meet the school’s academic qualifications to receive UT Promise assistance. The program officially rolls out in the fall of this year.
As the community bids farewell to 2019 and looks ahead in the new year, Weakley County residents prove they are working toward the theme of constant progress and growth.