COMMUNITY—Since the third annual Jerry Brown Arts Festival (JBAF) in 2005, attendees and supporters have been offered the opportunity to obtain a special piece of collectible art in the form of designer JBAF T-shirts.
But these are not just your ordinary festival-type T-shirts.
No, the T-shirts for the JBAF have always featured “wearable art” printed on bright, fun colors, and using only the most comfortable fabrics.
The featured artist for the T-shirts changes each year, with past artists including the late Jerry Brown himself, as well as artists Charlie Lucas, Maurice Cook, Jimmy W., and Brian Bohanan, to name just a few.
But, along with the T-shirts becoming top collectible items, the funds used from T-shirt sales have also become instrumental in helping to fund the festival—keeping it admittance free to the public. T-shirt sales also help to fund multiple art-related programs in Marion County (Alabama) communities.
With the cancellation of this year’s 19th Annual JBAF due to safety concerns associated with COVID-19, Northwest Alabama Arts Council members and fans of the festival were understandably disappointed.
But then a little ray of sunshine appeared on the horizon.
JBAF Founder Tyna Pyburn, who handles the T-shirt designs each year, decided that not all would be lost. Why not have a T-shirt designed for “the festival that never took place?”
So, Pyburn did it. And the extra special collector’s edition 19th JBAF T-shirts are now available. Plus, the T-shirts feature someone near and dear to Jerry Brown’s heart and ours—Blue The Mule. And, of course, she’s wearing a safety mask!
“Our 2021 T-shirts are a way to have a little fun with a tough situation,” Pyburn said. “We wanted to be able to think about this year’s festival with a smile.
“And we think this year’s T-shirt will be special for collectors, too, many of whom have every year’s shirt—as it will be the festival that never took place.”
The sale of these special T-shirts will also help to fund the JBAF’s 20th Anniversary on March 5-6, 2022.
The costs for the shirts are $20 for small through extra-large sizes and $25 for 2X and 3X sizes.
You can pick up a T-shirt online at jbaf.org by clicking on “Official T-shirts” on the left side of the page.
You can also purchase these T-shirts locally at Brown’s Pottery, Sassy Frass Tees or at Hamilton City Hall.
Help support the JBAF and get one today for yourself. JBAF T-shirts always make great gifts for art lovers, too.
Regarding Feature Photo:
Blue The Mule Featured On Special 2021 T-shirts
Potter Sandra Brown, widow of the late Jerry Brown, and a co-founder of the Jerry Brown Arts Festival (JBAF), displays the official T-shirt of the 19th Annual JBAF, which was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. Brown’s Pottery is among the locations where T-shirts can be purchased.
(Photo Credit: Marla Minter/Northwest Alabama Arts Council)
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Kathryn “Chazz” Hirschfeld of American Risk Managers at the request of the Northwest Alabama Arts Council. The article was published in the Wednesday, March 3, 2021, “Journal Record” and has also been posted and shared on the Jerry Brown Arts Festival Facebook Page.
COMMUNITY—For more than 40 years, American Risk Managers was led by its founder, Walter Davis Haney. With his passing in July of 2020, there will now be a “changing of the guard” for the leadership of the company.
According to his wishes, plans and goals, Mr. Walter’s partnership role will be carried forward by his oldest granddaughter, Jessica Taylor Spears, one of the Risk Managers at the independent firm.
Mr. Walter’s son, Wally Haney, president of the company and chief financial officer, made the official announcement during an interview at the office in Hamilton, Alabama, on Thursday, Nov. 12.
“I am reiterating what my father’s thoughts were and what he wanted,” Wally said. “He wanted the company to carry forward. He created American Risk Managers in 1979 and had been here for the majority of his life.
“These last nearly 50 years, his whole hobby was his work. That was his love. He loved his family and he loved the Lord, and he loved Auburn and other things, but he also loved to work.”
Wally said his father had built the business with its long-term goals in mind. As Jessica gained knowledge, experience, and professional polish in the field of Risk Management, Mr. Walter’s confidence in her grew.
“He laid the groundwork,” Wally said. “Daddy could see this thing going far into the future. And he recognized years ago that the new leader would be Jess. He told me repeatedly that Jessica was a really good Risk Manager and that the clients were noticing what a good job she was doing.
“This company was really important to him. And in his mind, at age 86, I believe he’d accomplished what he wanted to do with the business. If he’d died five or 10 years ago, Jessica would have still been as successful, but it would have been harder on her. At this point, in his and her life, it’s going to be okay.”
Jessica & Her Husband, Exie
Jessica and Exie Spears are shown in a photo taken at a wedding in Columbus, Miss.
The Original Partnership
Wally recalled how the original partnership was structured, when father and son joined forces back in 1985.
“He wanted me to do the ‘inside’ work of operating the business, such as handling the employees, and dealing with the accounts, the invoicing and the corporate paperwork,” Wally noted.
“And he said he would do the ‘outside’ work, which was calling on the Risk Management clients, dealing with all the insurance agents, and keeping up with all the changes in the insurance marketplace.
“He said, ‘We’ll be partners. You can have half of it and I’ll have half of it.’ And I said okay. Now, it’s 35 years later. I’ve enjoyed the growth of the company and I look forward to the future.”
Since his father’s desire and hope for American Risk Managers was for the company to continue to carry on as a family business—after both father and son were gone—the inclusion of the next generation was necessitated.
“About two decades ago, my niece and his granddaughter, Jessica, came to work with us,” Wally explained. “And she became involved in all aspects of American Risk Managers.
“For the last several years, she has been in a leadership role. And as we go forward, she will be the new tip of the spear for the company and the leader who everyone looks to.”
Jessica is shown with her grandmother, Sue Haney, in a photo taken on Christmas Day of 2019. Ms. Sue and Mr. Walter were married for 64 years.
Auburn Grad Joins Staff
Jessica started working at American Risk Managers full-time in August of 2001, right after she graduated from Auburn University, the college that her grandfather had also attended.
“When Jessica came here and started working with our other Risk Managers, she was really good at the jobs she began to handle,” Wally said. “And she just continued to improve. The longer she was here, the more roles we turned over to her.”
Jessica seemed to be a natural in her new position as a Risk Manager, which was not surprising. She’d been trained by the company founder himself, as well as another top Risk Manager, Ginny Hughett.
“Ginny was very successful and she taught Jessica everything she knew,” Wally said. “Before long, Jessica could handle herself very well. We had many clients remark on what a good job she was doing with their accounts.
“And then, at a certain point, we looked back and realized Jessica had become one of our best Risk Managers. She does amazing work. I know her Papa was proud of her.
“He had no doubt she could run this company and be successful doing so. And I agree 100 percent. I know the only limitations would be the ones she would place on it and she doesn’t have any.”
A Special Bond
During the last several years, Jessica gradually began taking over the management of close to 90 percent of the client load, allowing her grandfather to concentrate on a few chosen accounts.
We asked her if assuming responsibility for the other 10 percent of the work since his passing has affected her in anyway.
“The extra work itself has been fine,” she said. “It is missing being able to go to Papa and talk something over that has been hard. He was so knowledgeable about so much. I just hope I absorbed some of that.”
Wally said he has no doubts about Jessica’s abilities. But he does recognize that all their years of working closely together have made it harder for her to lose her grandfather and mentor. And that there is a bigger gap there, than if they had not worked together.
“I know it’s difficult for Jessica,” Wally noted. “And it’s not anything she’s not capable of handling. But these past 20 years or so, that her and her grandfather were able to work together, there was a deep bonding.
“He loved all his grandkids, but there was a special bond. They both enjoyed working together. So there’s a downside to it and an upside to it. And you can talk about it all day, but you have to experience it to know.”
Jessica Taylor Spears is shown with her parents, Phillip and Deborah Taylor. Deborah was Walter and Sue Haney’s first child, joined by her brother Wally, two years later.
Jessica Was Firstborn Of Third Generation
Wally also explained that Jessica is actually more like a daughter to him than a niece. “Jessica was the first baby, the first grandchild in the family,” he said. “So everybody was very close to her.”
A few years after Jessica was born, Wally became a father himself. He was eventually blessed with three daughters. Jessica was also joined by two more sisters, creating a total of six granddaughters for Mr. Walter to enjoy.
Wally noted that Mr. Walter’s views of women, which were shared by many men of his generation, were later transformed by his relationships with his half-dozen granddaughters and his hopes for their futures.
“Growing up in Beaverton, in Lamar County, in the 1930s and 1940s, my Dad was probably pretty close-minded to what the female could accomplish,” Wally said. “But then, as the Lord brings us all along on the journey, as we’re exposed on different levels to things, the Lord gave him six granddaughters.
“And his vision widened greatly to the possibilities of what they could and should be. And it’s not remarkable. We all change. But this is something I saw in him. And I used to be similar, too. Then the Lord gave me three daughters.”
Wally & Family
Wally Haney is shown with his wife, Tonya, and daughters (from left) Andrea Cantrell, Jennifer Burns and Ashton Wilbanks.
Memories Of Earlier Years
All of Mr. Walter’s grandchildren grew up in the family business, visiting the office on a regular basis. As babies, they were bounced upon his knee. As they grew older, they ventured into other aspects. We asked Jessica to share some of her first memories of American Risk Managers.
“When I was little, the business was located downtown next to Fred’s Pharmacy’s original location (on the Hamilton Court Square),” she said. “We would go to see Papa after school somedays and he would give us a dollar to go to the pharmacy and get a coke and a snack.
“I always loved doing that. It was such a treat. Also, we would always go to the office to watch the Homecoming and Christmas Parades.”
Jessica also performed her first duties at the office as a young girl, along with her sisters and cousins.
“My Aunt Tonya (Wally’s wife) would sometimes come and get me and let me go to the office and help,” she said. “I would help file and such. It was never anything big, but I always loved going and working with the other girls.”
Jessica is shown with her youngest sister, Allie Grace. Allie Grace became sister number three for the Taylors and granddaughter number six for the Haneys.
Mr. Walter Is Missed Daily
Regarding becoming a partner at this particular time, shortly after losing her grandfather, Jessica said she feels mixed emotions.
“It is bittersweet to now be a partner,” she said. “While I am so proud of this accomplishment, it came at the loss of my grandfather, who I miss daily.”
And although he is still mourning the loss of his father, too, and the office will never be the same without him, Wally said he is enthusiastic about his niece’s new role at American Risk Managers.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to continue working with Jessica as a full partner,” he said. “I have no doubts about her leadership. I have full confidence in her. There’s not a single thing we do as a company that she cannot do without my input.”
Future Goals Mirror Those Of Founder
Regarding American Risk Managers’ wide variety of consulting services, Wally said his father always felt excitement about the company’s accomplishments and the work they could do for their clients.
“He was truly excited about all aspects of the job and the services that we perform,” Wally said. “And that may be rare in some companies, but not in the companies that really succeed.
“I think companies that have been successful, and are successful, have that type of leadership. They are not limited by their vision — they can see forward and take it forward.
“And that was him and that’s what he wanted. And that’s the reason he wanted his family to carry it forward. And that’s kind of where we are at.”
Jessica’s goals for the company mirror those of her grandfather. “I would like to continue to grow American Risk Managers,” she said. “I would love for us to be to the point one day that we have more than one location.”
A Haney Family Gathering
The late Mr. Walter Haney is shown surrounded by his loving family; his wife, Sue, their children and grandchildren (and assorted spouses), as well as several of their great-grandchildren in a photo circa 2016.
Clients Are ‘Like Family & Close Friends’
Asked what she enjoys the most about being a Risk Manager, Jessica said she enjoys helping the company’s clients get the best insurance coverages at the most competitive pricing.
“I enjoy making sure they are covered for anything that may come their way,” she said. “I also enjoy the relationships we end up developing through our work. A lot of our clients have become like family and close friends.”
As we near the end of 2020, a challenging year to say the least, we asked Jessica to remark on the current difficulties of her job.
“Right now, the insurance industry is in what we call a very hard market,” she said. “Prices are going up and coverages are getting more restrictive. This is making the work we do a little harder, as far as making sure we are obtaining the best coverages and pricing for our clients.”
Jessica noted that there is always room for a few more good clients at American Risk Managers, which was designed by her grandfather to act as a type of “protective middle-man” between businesses and insurance companies.
“We always have more room for clients,” she said. “And in the insurance market that we are in, I know people are struggling. I would love to help other companies with coverages and savings.
“Businesses now, more than ever, have to look at the bottom line. One of the biggest expenses for businesses is insurance. It is important for them to make sure they are properly protected at the best possible price.”
Would Your Company Be A Good Fit For Risk Management? Schedule A Discovery Call With Jessica Today At 800-548-0117.
Photo Credits: Feature Photo – Chazz Hirschfeld (Courtesy of Our Good Lord); and Family Photos – Courtesy Of The Haney Family.
COMMUNITY—A coach. A friend. A gentleman. More than one person has used those phrases to describe Coach Walter “Red” Haney, also known as Walter Davis Haney, Mr. Walter, Walter and Red.
“He loved coaching and he loved his boys,” said his son, Wally Haney.
And although Coach Haney may have called his last play here on earth on Monday, July 27, 2020, his legacy lives on. He blessed many lives through his extraordinary gifts and talents, and through serving others to serve God.
Those who were fortunate enough to know him will carry his memory and positive influence throughout their lives, passing along the wonderful traits he so freely shared with all of us during his 86 years.
For this special Tribute in his honor, we’ve gathered comments from several of his former “Little Aggies” football players, which he led as head coach from 1962-1973, creating a nearly unbelievable 105-5-5 record.
Known as the “Father of Hamilton Little League Football,” Coach Haney not only developed the program, he helped to develop his 1,400 football players—ultimately creating top business, community, and family leaders.
And since Mr. Walter was also a great businessman, we’ve asked some of his associates to share a few memories and impressions, too.
Among his many professional achievements were 12 years on the Hamilton City Council, owning and managing five Haney Insurance offices, and the founding of American Risk Managers—still going strong in five states 42 years later.
Walter was a true and valued friend to many, as well. So, we’ve included some thoughts from his friends to round-out our collection.
Not many persons can boast three to four decades of friendship and fellowship with the same roster of lunch buddies, with an occasional side dish of a visit from former players and other friends thrown in.
We hope you enjoy this Tribute and we appreciate all the former players, business associates, beloved friends—and combinations thereof—who shared their thoughts and memories, as well as their newspaper clippings and photographs.
Coach Walter “Red” Haney demonstrates the “Heisman Pose” for his young football players during a photo session for individual and team pictures.
Coach Walter “Red” Haney was officially recognized in 2017 for his many athletic contributions to Hamilton. Photos and newspaper layout are courtesy of the Journal Record.
Coach “Red” Haney and his son, Wally, are shown on the football field. Walter’s wife, Sue, said that’s where they stayed most of the time.
A “Little Aggies” team photo from 1967, with Coaches “Red” Haney (left) and Carl Bumpus.
Hamilton High School Science Teacher David Markham was coached by Walter “Red” Haney during his 6-7th and 7-8th grade years. He went on to become a high school coach himself and spent a dozen years with the Aggies. David noted that among the many gifts Coach Haney gave his players was to believe in themselves and to give their best.
One thing that always stood out to me was how he treated kids from all different backgrounds. My dad died before I was three and my mom (Mary Ellen “Johnnie” Markham) only made a little more than $200 a week, but he always made sure that my Mom had a way to the ballgames. That was big.
I never lacked for a Dad because of guys like this early on in my childhood. And I’ll never forget that. People stood together back then, but he always stood out.
He always encouraged me. I was a little bit small for my age at the time and I went out for football, really, because I wanted to be in the parade they had. When I was growing up, the football players all got to walk in the Homecoming Parade.
And a lot of times, early on, sitting on the sidelines, I was afraid to look up. Because if you looked up, they’d tell you to get in there. I was afraid of him somedays, but I dearly loved going to football practice.
He cultivated me and I loved playing for him and playing football in high school. He continued to encourage me, too. He always made sure I was alright outside and away from football, which didn’t happen very often back then. But he knew the situation with my Mom.
After his players transitioned, Coach Haney still kept an eye on them. He would always go to the high school ballgames and I would see him every now and then. Or I’d be in town and he’d come put his hand on my shoulder and tell me he was always proud of me.
I think, all in all, something that is inseparable from you—in helping you become successful—is believing in yourself and having others believe in you. Because that’s part of getting through the high school period—believing in yourself in the midst of a whole bunch of other folks.
And understanding that you can do it, but you better give it your best shot when you get in there.
He was one of the major influencers of my life. Him, my mom, my preacher and Bravell Jackson. I did have some other good coaches in high school that also helped me a lot and I tell them that about every other month.
I am just one of many players deeply influenced by him. We are all shaped by different things and wouldn’t wind up the way we are if we didn’t have people like Coach Haney in our lives.
And it’s a little hard to talk about sometimes, but think about how much better things would be if we had more Walter Haney’s in the world.
Coaches Red Haney and David Markham at Sargent Stadium in 2017.
Venture Church Pastor Jeff Clark of Hattiesburg, Miss., is continuing the great legacy that Coach Haney sowed into him, by sowing into and touching countless lives via his ministry’s four Mississippi campuses. Currently, the church has two campuses in Hattiesburg, one in Wiggins, and one in Gulfport. A new campus is scheduled to open in February of 2021 in Laurel, Miss.
Sometimes, you don’t realize how important somebody is in your life in the moment. When you’re growing up, you just take all of those things for granted.
Coach Haney really made me realize that there was more going on than just our hometown. Before him, I thought the whole world was the ballgame, because it felt like everybody in the world was at the football games on Friday night.
For a small town, you need somebody who is really willing to get involved, because there’s so much you can miss out on. Small towns are great and I’m glad I grew up there. But you need somebody who has been somewhere else, who’s been to college, or who understands how the world works to expose you, so you’re not isolated.
Coach Haney exposed us to things outside of the city limits of Hamilton, Alabama. And it wasn’t that he did all the coaching by himself. There were a lot of great coaches. But he had the vision.
When we were traveling to all these different towns to play Pee Wee Football, he’d get a really nice bus. Not a school bus, but like a Greyhound Bus, to take us to Huntsville to play in the Turkey Bowl.
We would have to count up all the money, all the coins, to pay for the buses. I remember counting up quarters and nickels and dimes from the concession stand to be able to support what we were doing and our trip to Huntsville. And then Coach Haney would put his own money in with that. Who does that?
Here we were, these little country kids, and we were traveling to these towns all around us, and even to Huntsville, and we were beating everybody we played.
We never lost any of those games. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I don’t ever remember losing a Pee Wee Football Game anywhere in my years with him. In Huntsville, I remember one time we tied. And I was heartbroken.
I started playing football at a young age. In Hamilton, you start playing in the second or third grade. You start playing about the same time you start school.
So, he was my coach all the way through the fifth or sixth grade. And those are five or six of the most formative years of a kid’s life.
Coach Haney was the one constant in my life growing up. My parents worked hard. They were busy. But every Saturday, he was out there with all his kids that weren’t his flesh and blood, but he was pouring into us.
And he didn’t have to take all that on. He had an insurance agency. He had his own kids. And he also took me on vacations with his family. Wally was one of my best friends.
It wasn’t just football, it was influence. It was seeing families together. And he was a disciplinarian, as well. If he got onto Wally, he got onto me, too. But he had to have a good reason. It was a good balance. You loved him, but you also had a little reverence for him.
Coach Haney was an athlete, too. And he had a strategic mind. He was a good coach, but he was also a motivator.
He moved me to center and I made a bad snap and I remember he got upset about it. I think that was the last bad snap I made. It worked with me, because I didn’t want to let him down.
He had that effect on people. You just didn’t want to let him down. Because he believed you were going to win. And he convinced you, so you believed it. Everything rises and falls on leadership. Coach Haney was just a great leader.
Originally, I didn’t want to be a preacher. I thought coaches and people like him were the biggest influencers because they spent so much time with us.
I really wanted to be a coach or a businessman and be able to have the freedom to do things like he did. But I’ve found that you can do ministry that way. And the way we do ministry is more hands-on.
He had an impact on me with regard to what really motivates change in people’s lives—it’s not just Sunday morning. If you’re a minister, wherever you go, God is using you. The Bible says, “As you go, make disciples…” He probably didn’t realize how much God was using him.
Coach Haney cared about people. He lived the two commandments—love God and love others. He had that simplicity about him.
He was having some tough times years ago when I was back in high school. And one day as he dropped me off at the school, I said, “I want to tell you something. You’ve done all this for me, but I believe in you. I just want you to know that.”
It was one of those weird moments where I got to actually kind of re-invest in him what he’d invested in me.
So that’s a legacy.
When you die and then you have people of all ages passing that on to other people… It’s a legacy.
You don’t have to be perfect. Coach Haney wasn’t a perfect guy. He wasn’t a perfect church-goer. But God used him in a perfect way—in my life and in a lot of kids’ lives like mine.
Last time I saw him, it was at Hamilton First Baptist Church. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Anything you need, all they have to do is call me and I’ll drop everything I’m doing.” He said, “I know.” And I said, “I love you.” And that’s it.
He was special.
In a team photo from the fall of 1972, Jeff Clark wears number 63 (top row, fourth player from right). Coaches are Larry Armstrong (left) and Coach Walter “Red” Haney. Jeff’s best friend, Wally, is easily identified with his bright red hair, wearing number 14 (near middle of third row).
Brent is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the First National Bank of Hamilton, with additional locations in Berry, Carbon Hill, Double Springs, Haleyville, Parrish and Sulligent. He is also the bank’s legal counsel. He played Pee Wee Football under Coach Haney in the early 1970s.
I thought a lot of Coach Haney. He was a good fellow.
As a young person, I loved sports, but I had never been around coaching and mentoring before Coach Haney. He was the first person that encouraged me. Of course, for a young man, at an early age, that’s great. Mentoring is what coaches do. And that’s what he was and he did a great job at it.
He didn’t get onto you and scold you; he was always coaching. It was corrective instructions. He’d say, “You did this and it was good, but you can do better by doing it this other way.” And that always resonated with me.
I grew up in Detroit, Alabama, on a farm with dairy cows. We moved to Hamilton when I was in fourth grade and Rick Holloway talked me into going out for football. I loved sports and it was my life when I was young.
As a football player, as a quarterback and running back, I’d be running down the field for a touchdown and I could hear the coaches encouraging me, saying, “Come on, Brent! Come on, Brent!” And that made me go even faster—knowing that our coaches were pulling for us on the sidelines.
Coach Haney, Carl Bumpus and Larry Armstrong coached our teams. I can remember the motivation and encouragement they all provided.
They were good coaches. They gave a lot of effort. They loved that sport. Of course, I didn’t realize until later how much time they devoted or what kind of effort it took to invest in these players. But those three men made the whole system up. They were dedicated. That was the infancy of all of our local youth sports teams.
It was a great time. Coach Haney was a wonderful man. All those coaches were wonderful men. Of course, we always looked up to them—being coaches and all.
And I know our practices and our games took away from their jobs and their businesses they had back then.
We practiced on Thursday and Friday and had our games on Saturday. And that was when we traveled. We would go around to different schools and Hamilton would play Vernon, or Sulligent or Lynn.
The first time I ever practiced was at the old Elementary School front area (now Middle School, near Pocket Park). I remember being out there once in full pads in the fall. First Federal Savings had a sign that rotated and it had a thermometer on it on one side. It was 98 degrees and we were out there having a wonderful time.
When the junior high took that area over, we practiced near the old Rec Center at what is now the first baseball field. There were a lot of us who enjoyed that.
I always called Mr. Haney, Coach Haney, because that’s what he was to me. Once you have someone who has coached you, that’s their name forever. Even when he would come in the bank here (First National Bank), I would still call him Coach Haney.
He was a good coach and a good man and instilled a lot of respect for the game, being a competitor and being a sportsman. Being tough, but also honoring the other people. It was a lot of learning, a lot of mentoring for us young boys. And my thoughts of him are always good and always pleasant.
Of course, that’s a good time in your life. When kids are that young, they haven’t been exposed to a lot of bad stuff. Or we weren’t at that age. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there today.
Coach Haney treated us all well, but he would pay particular attention to some of the more disadvantaged young men. He’d go overboard to help a kid who didn’t have what they needed.
The only thing we got was the jersey, we had to provide everything else. But if there was a kid who wanted to play, Coach Haney made sure they had the equipment; shoulder pads and the other necessities. Where he got it, I don’t know. He might have bought it himself. But there wasn’t anybody who didn’t play because they didn’t have a uniform.
Some things you don’t think about until you pull out an old photo album and then it brings back all those memories. Those old cameras were not very good, but we’re lucky we have these photos.
We are grateful for Brent’s generosity in sharing these photos and hope that the players who don’t have these pictures can find their younger selves in the lineup and perhaps have a new photo to go with an old memory.
Also, since these photos feature the green jerseys, we’ll address a minor mystery surrounding them here. Wally said his father may have picked the color green as the younger boys used the same dressing room as the high school team, and having a different color (but not the same color as a surrounding town team), would have helped keep confusion down. He invites anyone with a different theory to please submit it.
The Little Aggies pose in their green jerseys for a team photo. Players identified by number include: 20 – Mark Salter; player without jersey – Euel Hall; 81 – Marlon Holloway; 50 – Darrell Yielding; 14 – Brent Thompson; 70 – Rick Holloway; 12 – Jeff Comer; 66 – Mike Hodges; 64 – Randy Hughes; 68 – Byron Rye; 45 – Lee Tucker; 82 – Robert Tesney; 65 – Mark Sanderson; 22 – R.P. Lindsey; 72 – Calvin Channel; 77 – Russ Stahl; 74 – Mark Peterson; 44 – Eddie Salter; 88 – Drew Hodges; and 54 – Wayne Ray.
Coaches shown include (from left) Billy Joe Frederick, Carl Bumpus and Larry Armstrong. Brent noted, “Coach Haney, Carl and Larry, those were the three men that raised me in football and sports when I was a kid. Billy Joe Frederick also helped sometimes, and Ed Reeves too.”
Brent Thompson is shown wearing his number 14 jersey and a big smile.
Turkey Bowl Action – Players on the field.
Cheerleaders at the Turkey Bowl.
An undefeated team celebrates their victories!
Asked why he believes so many of Coach Haney’s former players went on to become so successful later in life, Brent replied with the following.
I think future success has a lot to do with your foundation. The things that you learn and adopt when you are young—and that you carry throughout your life—are important.
A lot of young men today, a lot of these football players in college, some of these kids don’t have family. So their coaches are their dads and it does have a lot to do with their success.
Unfortunately, some of them, once they get to the pros, their coach is no longer a coach, it’s a business arrangement. They’re their boss. And that’s why they lose it when they get to the NFL. They can’t hold everything together.
Of course, it’s different times now. Back then, these men coached because they loved the game. Today, these people that are coaching these young men are their daddies. And once their kid moves up, they get out and move up with their kid.
But these men, after their kids had already moved up, they were still out there coaching because they loved the game and they loved coaching. And we were novices, we didn’t know anything. They were having to teach us like kindergarten.
When we started out, we learned blocking and tackling. That’s the basics. And that’s kind of what we use in business today. When we want to teach folks in the banking world or anything legal, you start with the basics—the blocking and tackling.
That’s what they did. They taught us all that. Those are things you never forget.
Like sportsmanship. I remember my first thoughts of the opponents were as the enemies. They taught us to go and shake hands after a game. I would think, “Hey, you know what, those guys just beat us. Why would we want to shake their hands?” But we did.
They were instilling qualities you look for in leaders and business people. We may be competitors in the legal or the banking world, but we still respect each other and are colleagues.
The “Little Aggies” after the Huntsville Turkey Bowl.
Judge Jimmy Cashion
Judge Cashion was a Marion County District Judge for 25 years. He retired nine years ago. He said he was glad to hear we were doing a tribute for Mr. Walter. “A tribute is well-deserved,” he said. Judge Cashion was also kind enough to share two of his newspaper clippings from “The Northwest Alabamian.”
There were two groups back then, the older Pee Wees and the Little Pee Wees. We would generally play two games each time.
Coach Walter coached me two years, but he was over the entire program. It was one entity, but there were different coaches.
To a degree, we would practice on Thursdays and then briefly on Fridays. We’d practice before the high school games on Friday nights and then played Saturdays.
With rare exceptions, we played an annual Thanksgiving game. In one of those articles, the headline says, “Hamilton Little Leaguers to Play Nashville Thursday In Legion Bowl,” but most people came to call that game the Turkey Bowl because it was on Thanksgiving.
From a treasured scrapbook, Judge Cashion’s newspaper clipping promoting the Hamilton Little Leaguers.
One thing that stood out to me was that Coach Walter was a class guy. He did things the correct way, the first-class way.
We had good equipment, good helmets, good jerseys, pants and pads. They provided everything, but we had to provide our own shoes.
Back in our time, the band hall wasn’t up where it is now. On the top level of the campus was an old wooden band hall that was behind the lunch room. You could see it very well from the football field. It had a basement in it and probably wasn’t 750-square-feet.
That’s where we would go before the game or before practice and get out of our school clothes and put on our practice clothes. When I finished high school in 1974, it was still there, but it was torn down in the 80s.
Coach Haney was special. Just for an example, I remember when we went to play Columbus, Miss., and I was still on the smaller team.
I was spending the night with a real good friend who was also still on the smaller team and Coach Haney said, “Well, y’all can come. Y’all can go with us and be the Managers.”
Well, we were excited, we were going to get to go with the big boys.
We got up fairly early in the morning, at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and we got on the bus and drove to Columbus.
And Coach Haney said, “Y’all just go ahead and put a uniform on. Instead of standing there in your shorts, put a football uniform on.”
And we both got to play. We got way ahead and then there we were playing with the big boys. My buddy, Mike Reid, even scored a touchdown.
That was the kind of guy Coach Haney was. He didn’t leave us sitting there on the sidelines.
On the way back, we stopped in Vernon at some kind of Dairy Bar. And I assume it was out of his pocket, but there were 40 kids in there eating all the footlong hot dogs, French fries, milkshakes and root beers they wanted.
He also had a stern side. When he was talking, he didn’t want you to be talking. He wanted you to listen and pay attention.
In one of those pictures, there are probably 30 to 35 players. If you wanted to play, you might not be very good, but he would give you a uniform and give you a chance.
It was fun. He didn’t make it hard. But we were prepared. Obviously, to go undefeated five years in a row, he was doing better than the other boys. He was doing something right.
Another of Judge Cashion’s newspaper clippings features the post-game writeup announcing the win and the 5th undefeated season.
One year, we scored 304 total points and only surrendered 32 points. And 26 of those points were to Huntsville in a game we played on a Friday night (38-26).
There was such a big crowd there, you’d think Hamilton and Winfield were playing.
He was just a good guy. I have a lot of good memories.
Mr. Walter received this plaque when he was recognized as “Kiwanian of the Year” for 2010. Fellow Kiwanian Ricky Sims said Mr. Walter was a superstar in the club’s annual fundraiser—selling smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving. Ricky noted, “Walter was a salesman when it came to turkeys. He always outsold everyone. If he was involved in something, he was going to do a good job at it.”
Ricky is one of the owners of Your Insurance Centers in Hamilton, Haleyville and Winfield. During a phone call, he said he believed Mr. Walter was proud of the success his football players and teams had. Ricky noted, “I always said he should have been a high school football coach, because he could always motivate kids, that’s for sure.“
My family has known Walter and Sue (son Wally and daughter Deborah) our entire life. I remember growing up here in Hamilton and visiting their home and them visiting our home many times. Our families were very close during those days and it was a time in my life that I will never forget.
My father was mayor back in the 1970’s and Walter was on the city council during that time. He was part of the group of men that were responsible for bringing Federal Mogul (NTN Bower) to Hamilton and providing many people in this area a great opportunity.
As I was growing up in Hamilton, Walter spearheaded the startup of Pee Wee Football in the mid 1960’s. I played on his first team and we went undefeated that year, beating a Birmingham Toy Bowl Team Thanksgiving Day 14-0, completing his first undefeated season. I think he went on to have several undefeated seasons in a row after that. He became the Bear Bryant of Pee Wee Football.
Walter was a great motivator of kids. I remember when I was young, I was a shy boy with not a great deal of confidence, but Walter helped me gain the confidence as a young football player that I needed.
He helped me to believe in myself and my teammates. This helped me to carry on through high school, as well as college, and today I have been part owner in a successful insurance agency for over 40 years.
I have reflected back on my life many times and I am so thankful for my family’s support. They helped me to be who I am today. But outside my family, Walter Haney played a huge part in who I am today.
I am so thankful for all he did for me, as well as all of the young people that went through and experienced his Pee Wee Football Program. He sacrificed a lot of his time to help young kids grow up in this town and become leaders and an important part of this community.
This town will truly miss his presence and what he meant to all of us will never be forgotten.
Mr. Walter served three terms on the Hamilton City Council, from 1964 to 1976. Councilors shown are: (from left, standing) Ralph Sanderson, Bodie Reid and Walter Haney; and (from left, sitting) Lewis Flippo and Austin Jones.
Rick is retired from the manufactured housing business. He and his family have the distinction of being the only Aggie Players with four generations of continuous participation. His grandfather, Connie Holloway, was first; followed by his father, Norman Holloway; then his brothers, Scotty and Mike, and him; followed by Scotty’s son, Steven.
I remember Coach Haney pitching in to bring Auburn Quarterback Pat Sullivan here in the 1970’s for the Pee Wee Football Banquet and the banquet being packed with people.
There weren’t many Auburn fans in Hamilton back in the day. And when we would go to Auburn, Walter would get lots of tickets for everybody else. At one time, he probably bought 20 tickets per game. He was really good at letting me have a ticket or letting one of my brothers have a ticket.
I always liked seeing Walter at Auburn games. I was seated right above them and every halftime we’d go out and visit together. I went 37 games in a row, from 1981 to 2019. And Walter may have not had a big streak like that, but he went to his share of games.
I also knew him as a city councilor. My dad had the Amoco Station in town for more than 15 years and he was on the city council for the same two terms that Walter was on—from 1968-1976.
Some of the projects they worked on were securing Federal Mogul, which is now NTN Bower. They were also involved with the Rec Center (E.T. Sims Jr. Neighborhood Facilities Building).
Talking about our Pee Wee Team, I remember us using an old school bus, the blue Cub Scout Bus. We called it the Old Blue Goose and we won some ball games traveling in it. And I remember, if it got on any kind of an incline, going up a hill, we’d have to bail out the door and get out and push that bus.
Especially when we were going to Vernon. There was a real steep hill and we just knew when we coasted to the bottom of that hill, we’d have to push.
On the field, Coach Haney called me Ricky. I can hear him now calling me Ricky. Nobody else ever called me that. My Christian name is Richard and everybody calls me Rick. But I can hear him say, “Get your head high, Ricky,” as I was making tackles at practice.
And he was good at just instilling principles. He wanted the truth to be told. No matter if it was ugly or pretty. And he was not one to gripe. If a referee made a call, he would abide by that call most of the time. Because the referee was an authority figure.
When I think about him, I think about my coach. And I think about the Old Blue Goose. I think about Coach Haney when they mention a football banquet. But he has a lot of memories in my mind. And for most everybody in Hamilton. He really does.
Mr. Walter’s name is shown directly above Norman C. Holloway (Rick’s father) on a plaque at the E. T. Sims Jr. Neighborhood Facilities Building.
Judge Mark Hammitte
Judge Hammitte has been the Marion County District Court Judge for the last nine years. He said Mr. Walter was a great man and he’s known the family for decades. He became close friends with Mr. Walter’s son, Wally, when the boys were in the seventh grade and that friendship continues today.
I first met Coach Haney in 1972 when he graciously allowed a small, skinny, eleven-year-old boy to become a part of his football program.
However, Coach Haney was more than just an integral part of many a young man’s football career; he helped shape our lives by instilling character and persistence in his players.
He had a profound positive impact on his players, and taught us, at an early age, the poise and confidence we needed to become who we are today—fathers, husbands and leaders in our communities.
He was a fierce competitor not only on the football field, but in business, as well. I had the privilege of doing some work for him in his Risk Management business and he was committed to providing his clients with excellent service and advice.
Coach Haney also expected others to do what they represented to him that they would do—and when they didn’t, I witnessed first-hand that fierce competitiveness.
He not only taught me things as a young boy, but continued to show me how a true leader should act. I am forever thankful for his being a friend and mentor to me since I was a young boy.
The number of lives Mr. Walter “Coach” Haney touched is endless and he will be dearly missed.
The “Little Aggies” had their photo taken at the old Hamilton City Hall with their trophy for winning the Turkey Bowl against the Birmingham Toy Bowlers. Coaches are Red Haney (center), with Ed Reeves (left) and Carl Bumpus. Wally Haney (behind trophy) was a manager that year.
A closer shot of the Turkey Bowl trophy (right) along with a 1966 American Legion Trophy also won by the Pee Wee Team.
Auburn Quarterback and Heisman Trophy Winner Pat Sullivan and his wife, Jean, posed for a photo with Coach Haney in 1972.
Terry Henley is a senior vice president with Palomar Insurance in Birmingham. He currently oversees several commercial insurance accounts of clients of American Risk Managers. He became very close friends with Mr. Walter during the last three decades of their professional association.
Walter Haney was a gentle giant, treating everyone with class and respect. He had a knowledge of insurance that was hard to compete with.
During my 30-plus years of working with Walter on various accounts, he was always fair in awarding accounts to you, as well as telling you that you missed out on an account.
He would always make it known that he wanted you to bid again during the next process, because he truly cared about people and wanted them to do well.
I’ll miss the phones calls that I received two-to-three times a week from Walter. I’ll miss his laughter, and I’ll miss the sharing of stories of our younger years being boys. I’ll miss Walter. I have lost a dear friend… We all have lost a friend in Walter. Thank you for the memories.
We discovered some interesting facts about Terry and feel that Mr. Walter would want us to share, so we’ve added a second section. Terry was a star running back at Auburn in 1970, 1971 and 1972. He is in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and his name is on the “Tiger Trail” sidewalk.
Terry Henley was voted Most Valuable Player in the SEC in 1972 and led the conference in rushing and scoring. He also played on one of the most famous teams in Auburn history—“The Amazin’s”
I met Walter so many years ago and he was an Auburn fan from the very beginning. He was a friend of Pat Sullivan, too, the Heisman Trophy winner. He got Pat to come to Hamilton to speak at his Pee Wee Football Banquet. Walter had Pat’s autographed picture up on the wall.
Pat Sullivan liked Walter. Everybody liked Walter. I don’t think there was anybody who didn’t like Walter. Everybody liked him and that’s why Pat accepted that request to come up there and speak, because of Walter.
Wally said his dad also booked Pat in 1970—when he was joined by fellow player and punter/wingback Connie Frederick—for a return engagement in 1972. (The banquet would alternate between Auburn and Alabama speakers.) Pat won Auburn’s first Heisman Trophy in 1971.
“It was standing room only at the middle school lunchroom that second time Pat Sullivan came,” Wally said. “A lot of Alabama fans got autographs from an Auburn player that night.”
Walter also walked on for baseball at Auburn. He said he found out that college baseball was a little bit better than him, but he hung in there with them for a while. He said it was a little more challenging than high school baseball had been and he always laughed about that.
Even though he didn’t sign on scholarship, his efforts in participating and walking on and trying to play with the baseball team—those efforts fulfilled his dream.
Very seldom did I talk to Walter on the phone that we didn’t talk about some ballgame 30 years back. We were always sharing Auburn stories. We would never get off the phone unless we talked about Auburn and what was going on, or some past event that happened at Auburn years ago.
He loved Auburn. He told me he was born an Auburn Man. He and I would often talk about that. He’d say, “I’m like you, I was born an Auburn Man.”
Years before they became good friends, Mr. Walter was in the crowd watching Terry Henley play football in the 1972 “Punt Bama, Punt Game.” Auburn beat Alabama 17-16.
Pat Thomasson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Thomasson Company of Philadelphia, Miss., and holds leading roles with its affiliate companies.
Whenever I was in Walter’s presence, I felt reassured I would get the best professional advice. With the help of his team, Walter helped us navigate the maze of insurance and took a lot off our shoulders. I will miss his visits.
Mr. Walter is shown at American Risk Managers in November of 2017.
Lisa is a senior account manager with Palomar Insurance Corporation in Kennesaw, Ga. She worked closely with Mr. Walter for many years on multiple client accounts.
Mr. Walter was always very nice and I enjoyed when he called. He was among my favorite business associates to work with. And he was the only professional contact that I made sure to send a Christmas card to every year. He will be greatly missed.
Walter, age 3, with his dog, “Doc.”
Gavin Petty is an account executive with Alabama Media Group, the owner of The Birmingham News and AL.com, among others. He enjoyed speaking with Mr. Walter on many occasions regarding advertising matters and sports—namely Auburn Football.
There are so many great and wonderful things that ought to be said about Mr. Walter—and that have been and will be. But one thing that really stood out to me is that Mr. Walter took the time.
He took the time to listen. He took the time to understand. He took the time to teach and to guide. He took the time to help.
He gave his time to people, and there is no more precious gift than that.
I’ve heard the term “High Quality Person” used before, and that’s exactly what Mr. Walter was. A very High Quality Person, with a sterling character and a good heart. He was very special. He will be greatly missed.
Auburn Quarterback Brandon Cox signed this photograph for Mr. Walter.
Kendrick is the area vice president for Arthur J. Gallagher & Company in Brentwood, Tenn. He oversees several insurance accounts for clients of American Risk Managers. He not only enjoyed working alongside Mr. Walter on those accounts, but valued their personal relationship, as well.
I have known Mr. Walter for close to 20 years. I have had the opportunity to work with him in the insurance business and there is no other individual that will fight harder and provide more for their clients.
However, the most enjoyable moments have been when I have had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Walter on other topics outside of insurance.
I looked forward to these discussions as I got to know more about Mr. Walter personally and thoroughly enjoyed his compassion for college football, as well as his commitment to the Lord. I will miss those discussions very much.
Mr. Walter (left) and his son, Wally, open Christmas presents at American Risk Managers in 2002.
Shelly served as the Office Manager for American Risk Managers from 2010 to 2017. She enjoyed her job and various other roles with the company and said that while working with Mr. Walter, “Everyday was an adventure.”
When I think of Walter, I think of a man who loved God, Family and Auburn.
I worked for him a little over seven years. In that time, he went from my employer to a man that I loved and respected. I thought of him as a Grandfather.
He once told me that there was nothing you couldn’t work your way out of. And he was right. Work was something he was not afraid of, along with about anything else.
He was as stubborn as he was lovable and had a great smile and a big laugh.
I think of him pretty regular, because every time he stood up or sat down, he would say, “Oh, me.” And now I catch myself doing the same thing.
There was nothing I would not do for him, except ride with him. Once was enough for me. He thought he owned the road and was a NASCAR driver. He took me to a local shop to pick up my car and as he pulled out in front of this car, he said, “Well, that guy needs to slow down.”
I almost just walked from that point. It was a short distance that I can assure you we made in record speed!
He was a handful, but he was a wonderful, loving man who will be missed by so many.
Walter and Sue Haney with granddaughter Allie Grace (left) and great-granddaughter, Lydia, during the Christmas Holidays in 2000.
Kent and Keith Ingram
Kent and Keith Ingram are the owners of Razorbox and Two LLC in West Memphis, Arkansas, and the former owners of Razorback Concrete, which was founded in 1965 and had more than 20 locations throughout the state. Keith currently serves as a state senator and is also a former representative for Arkansas. Kent served nine years in the state senate. Their father, William, also served, and held office from 1963 to 1981.
Keith and I first met Walter in about 2000. He had been recommended by a mutual friend, Doug Farris, of Memphis, as an insurance consultant. Little did we know that this introduction would be a strong and lasting friendship for over 20 years!
In life there are rare opportunities when you are able to do business with a friend. Walter always looked after us as if he was a family member. That is exactly how he performed the entire 20 years of our wonderful relationship.
Walter was so good at his job and dedicated to his clients. You knew that you would always get treated fairly and at the most competitive price in the market. When we would recommend Walter to a friend, it never failed that they would thank us and share what a wonderful job he was doing for their company.
We will always remember Walter and his love of Auburn and Tommy Tuberville, his wonderful sense of humor and the way he chuckled when he laughed. He was a knowledgeable man, a good friend and a true Gentleman.
A football autographed by Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville was displayed pride of place in Mr. Walter’s office.
John Blythe is the Executive Vice President of McGriff, Seibels & Williams of Birmingham, Alabama, an insurance brokerage firm. He and his team handle several accounts for clients of American Risk Managers. John and Mr. Walter enjoyed working together and became friends along the way.
I got to know Walter around 25 or 30 years ago. He “coached” me on some insurance issues and we initially worked together to move a number of businesses with large Worker’s Compensation premiums to become qualified self-insurers.
Although Walter was a rabid Auburn fan and I am an Alabama graduate and vocal Alabama football fan, we always found time to discuss the pros and cons of each team’s upcoming recruiting class or the prior week’s game performance.
He was an eternal optimist when it came to Auburn football… And he was fun to engage with in those conversations. I will miss them.
We would often also have detailed discussions about insurance issues on wide-ranging subjects, from the proper class code of a Worker’s Compensation risk, to whether a risk had a significant non-owned auto exposure.
He challenged my thought process (and I challenged his), but we were always able to do so respectfully and in a manner that resulted in a good outcome for the client.
He would occasionally ask a question or make a comment that I would roll my eyes about, but when I later thought about it, would concede that was actually a good thought.
His “coaching” style came through in his challenging thought process. His primary allegiance was always for his client, and he would fight hard for a good outcome for them. I have great respect for Walter and learned a lot from him that I still occasionally use today in my dealings with clients.
Walter was hard to stop! He refused to go off quietly into the sunset and he tried hard to stay involved with his clients until the very end. Unfortunately, that required the occasional loud cough or gentle nudge under the table to keep him going in longer meetings, but he wanted so bad to remain involved and relevant to his clients. He will be missed!
Walter Haney is shown at American Risk Managers in 2002.
Ginny spent 10 years in the insurance business before her time with Mr. Walter. She noted, “He was the best boss I ever had.” She is enjoying her retirement in Tennessee; spending her time writing, writing poetry and flower gardening. But her favorite hobby is playing with her two precious great-grandchildren. She was also gifted with three wonderful grandchildren by her beloved daughter, Heather.
I worked for American Risk Managers from 1990 until I retired in 2016. As you can imagine, during that time, I saw Walter Haney in virtually every type of business situation imaginable. He was always steadfast in his beliefs, polite and professional.
I heard him say countless times, “We have nothing to sell but our reputation.” This is totally true for any service organization. Walter expected each of us to act in a way that reflects and enhances the image he worked so long to build and maintain.
Walter was a voracious reader of all types of books and periodicals. He spent a great deal of his time searching for changes in the law, the insurance industry and the political world that might impact our clients. Walter knew our clients were absolutely the most important members of the American Risk Managers’ Family.
When I went to work at A.R.M., I’d never even been to Hamilton, Alabama, and I knew no one there. I was a 39-year-old widow, and had just taken my only child to a Christian college in Arkansas. I was a fairly good insurance technician. That’s a title you get after making a lot of mistakes.
Over the years, American Risk Managers became my home and the Haneys became my second family. Since retirement, I still drive down from the Memphis area to visit. Even in Walter’s absence, I will continue to do so as long as I’m able—because that’s what families do.
Speaking of family, Walter, or “Papa,” as he was known to his grandchildren, would light up when they would drop by for a visit. He had a total of six granddaughters. When they were small and they crawled up in his lap, you could see the love and joy in his eyes.
Following his funeral, one of the girls commented that she always believed she was “Papa’s Favorite.” As she grew, she realized the other girls also believed they were “Papa’s Favorite.”
Walter’s wife, Mary Sue to him, Sue to the rest of us, is a Saint! Anyone who can live with a strong-willed, driven man for 64 years has to be supernatural. They stuck it out to the very end.
I’ve tried to share a bit of Walter’s character with you and he was a character! I could have saved a lot of time by simply saying he was a good, good man. And he was a good, good man. He is and will continue to be missed by those who knew him.
“Papa” Haney is surrounded here by ALL his favorite granddaughters. Shown are (front row, from left) granddaughter Allie Grace, great-granddaughter Lydia, granddaughter Ashton, Walter, his mother, “Granny Annie,” and (back row, from left) granddaughter Jennifer, Andrea’s husband, David, granddaughter Andrea (holding great-granddaughter Ella), Ashton’s husband, Chris, daughter-in-law Tonya, son Wally, wife “Mary Sue,” granddaughter Valerie, daughter Deborah, granddaughter Jessica, and son-in-law, Phillip.
Some of the “Lunch Crowd” gathered at American Risk Managers on November 15, 2019, to share a meal and lively conversation. Shown are (sitting, from left) Walter Haney and James Dodd, and (standing, from left) Alan Cantrell and Bill Nowlin.
Mr. Walter considered James to be his best friend. James was the owner of Hamilton’s KFC Restaurant for 40 years—to the day—from October 30, 1974, to October 30, 2014. And just in case you were wondering, James said the awesome peach cobblers mentioned in this Tribute were originally made by Robbie Roberts (15 years) and then Jennie Brown.
I came to Hamilton in 1974 and I met Walter shortly after that. Walter had an insurance office two doors up the street (now Agape Medical Clinic) from my restaurant and he would eat lunch with me from time to time.
Sometime later, Walter moved his office to the middle of town and we didn’t see as much of each other for a few years.
Then, Bill Nowlin, who was the manager of the TG&Y Store across the street from KFC, left that job and became the General Manager of the Holiday Inn. And Walter, Mark Dearen, Alan Cantrell and I would meet Bill at the Holiday Inn for coffee or lunch.
A few years later, Bill left the Holiday Inn, so we all moved back to my place for lunch at KFC about four days a week.
Mark, Alan, Bill and myself were all Alabama Fans. We all gave Walter a hard time. But he took it all in stride and would give it right back to us.
Sometime in 2018, Walter had to stop driving because of a health condition.
I was dealing with some health struggles, too. In August of 2017, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon and Liver Cancer and was taking chemo every other Tuesday.
After working for 55 years, I was now confined to my sofa. Knowing how Walter liked to eat lunch every day, I thought this was an opportunity for me to do something constructive and help Walter, also.
So, I started picking him up every day for lunch, five days a week, between 11:30 a.m. and noon. I found out quickly that Walter was a creature of habit.
We would go to the Kiwanis meetings on Mondays at J&V Ole Smokehouse and have whatever they had for their special.
Dinelli’s was our Tuesday choice and Walter would always get a chicken sub sandwich, with onions and green peppers, along with potato chips.
Each Wednesday featured a trip to the Coffee Buzz. And Walter would have a BLT—EVERY Wednesday.
JV’s was our pick again for Thursdays. Walter would always eat a large hamburger with French fries—this was every Thursday.
And on Fridays, we’d go to Bama Q. They’d have a buffet and he’d eat the catfish—every Friday!
He ate the same thing each time at all those places. Of course, I was getting different things and eating them, and he’d remark on my choices. He’d say, “You don’t like the catfish?” And I’d answer, “Yeah, Walter, but I don’t want to eat it every Friday!”
For nearly two years, when I picked him up, he ate the same thing every single day at wherever place we went. The VERY same thing…
Then when COVID-19 closed area restaurants down, we met a few times at American Risk Managers on Fridays, and then people were asked to self-isolate and Walter created an office at home and our lunches ended.
We have continued the lunch tradition once since Walter’s passing, though. We met in my driveway a couple of Fridays ago. Mark, Alan and Bill came, and Les Walters joined us. It was so strange, all of us there, and Walter not there. It had always been all of us and him. I missed him.
Everybody brought their own lunch and got there between 11:30 and noon. And we visited together until around 2:30 p.m. It was a good day. We talked a lot about Walter. I told them all that after I go, they need to keep getting together and then remember me.
The last few times we spoke, Walter and I talked about the COVID letting up some and how he wanted to go back to the office. We always talked at least two or three times every week. And we might not have had much to say, but we talked.
I told Alan the other day that I miss picking up the phone and dialing up Walter and saying, “What are you doing?” He would always say “working,” of course.
But I knew better. He was probably looking up Auburn stuff on the computer. I’d come in lots of times to pick him up and he wouldn’t hear me walk in. I’d stand in the doorway of his office and he’d have Auburn news on the computer. I’d say, “What are you doing, Walter?” And he’d quickly close the screen. Whatever he was doing, he was always ready to go eat.
Walter liked to tell stories. He could tell you some good stories about Sulligent. One of his favorites was about him and L.C. “Coach” Fowler and Bobby Joe Irvin (football player who was an Alabama scholarship pick; and later owned a landscaping company), who were all in the same class during high school in Sulligent.
All those guys were characters. And Bobby Joe was always aggravating somebody. One day, he was particularly aggravating L.C. during football practice. And L.C. told him if he didn’t leave him alone, he’d throw him in the thorn bushes.
Well, Bobby Joe didn’t leave him alone, so L.C. grabbed him and threw him in the bushes, which had about one-inch long thorns. Of course, that made Bobby Joe mad, so he came out—nearly crying he was so mad—and called L.C. a bad name. So L.C. just grabbed him and threw him back in there.
Walter always had plenty of funny stories like that to share, but we also discussed serious topics. When you spend that much time together, you talk about a lot of things. We probably talked about more personal-type matters with each other than I did with any of my own brothers.
I’d always liked Walter, but later on, after we spent all that time together, I found out I loved him like a brother. I miss him.
Walter Haney (left) and James Dodd were selected as the Grand Marshals for the Hamilton Christmas Parade in 2017.
Bill moved to Hamilton in 1979 to manage TG&Y and later managed the Holiday Inn and Dixie Cinema 3. He was a great friend and a regular lunch buddy of Mr. Walter’s for at least 35 years. One of his remembrances highlights how Mr. Walter was not only impartial when it came to his players, but also when it came to himself. Bill also shared some insight and fond memories of the “lunch crowd.”
There’s a lot that I could say about Walter. We spent many hours talking, so I heard a lot from him over these decades. But here are the first two things that stand out in my mind.
First, he lived out and spoke out that we need to do the best we can in all we do. And that includes helping others and following the Lord.
And secondly, there’s a story he told me about when he played sports in high school (Sulligent High School in Lamar County).
I don’t know what grade he was in, but he and his younger brother, Leo, were having basketball practice.
Well, somebody sent word to the coach or maybe to Walter that his daddy had sent for Leo to help him come get the cows up, as they’d gotten out of the pasture.
But the basketball coach said, “Leo, you stay here. And Walter, you go and help your daddy get the cows up.”
And even though Walter was older, the reason the coach did that was that Leo was already better than Walter at basketball.
Walter knew that. And he didn’t get mad. Obviously not, because he shared this story with me and he didn’t complain about it.
He said he already knew Leo was better than him. And he acknowledged that Leo was better than him. So, he didn’t really have a big problem with him leaving practice and getting the cows up instead of Leo.
And I always thought about that… How Walter acknowledged reality and he knew that was the right thing to do. He didn’t harbor or shelter any ill will toward the coach or anything and he wasn’t jealous of Leo.
For many years, the regular lunch crowd gathered at the Holiday Inn’s Riverchase Restaurant, which Bill also managed. He said Mr. Walter absolutely loved having lunch with his buddies, sitting way back in his chair and “holding court.”
Walter was in his element. Those were the best times and the Riverchase Restaurant was the place to be. We would all meet there Monday through Friday for lunch and then have the breakfast buffet together on Saturdays.
The Kiwanis Club met there on Mondays, too, and Walter and a few others would join us after their meetings. They’d sit with us for a few minutes and catch up on what we’d been talking about and what they may have missed. Walter didn’t want anything to get by him.
Our group size varied from day to day, but most of the time we had a minimum of about eight people. Sometimes, former players would drop by to join the regular crowd. And there were times we’d have around 16 people there and we would have to pull a few tables together.
On court days, a lot of law enforcement personnel met there for lunch. Many of them knew him and would stop by, or if they were sitting nearby, would interject on our conversations.
We had some great, great, great times. We all just go along so well. We understood one another, we all had some business experience, and not to brag, but we were educated folks, too. Anyway, we’d just let our hair down and have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.
He was a popular lunch companion for several reasons: He definitely had a sense of humor; he was intelligent; he loved sports; he tried to do the right thing; he cared about people; and he was a Christian.
Walter was well-known and respected. He was somebody that people just generally gravitated toward and rightfully so. He was just a good guy. He was somebody that you would want to be friends with.
Walter always wanted to be involved in the community. He was on the city council. He coached sports. He was in Kiwanis. He was elected to the Marion County Sports Hall of Fame. There were all kinds of things he did to serve others. He liked people and he enjoyed helping people and vice-versa.
A relationship is a give-and-take thing and he gave and he received. I’m sure all of us were there for him in hard, difficult or emotional times, or whatever the situation might be—we were there for him. You’d help him and he helped you. You listened to him and he’d listen to you.
And it was fun to be around somebody who had experiences to share, some intellect, and some common likes. We were never at a loss for words or a topic to discuss. We didn’t have to search for anything, we could always talk about current events.
Walter had a personality and it showed, which was a good thing. You could kid with him; he could take a joke. Of course, you had to be able to take a joke if you sat at that main table down at the Holiday Inn, because you were going to get kidded.
On my last day at the restaurant, some people were invited to come by to say goodbye and he was one of the ones that showed up. He left work to come down there and let me know he cared about me and wished me well.
He valued my friendship just as much as I valued his. He would bounce stuff off of me to see what I thought. He respected my business experience and my business acumen.
Walter was also a speeder, a fast driver. When he got behind the wheel of a vehicle, especially out on the highway, the pedal was to the metal.
One day, I was traveling to Memphis for a funeral and I stopped to get gas somewhere. As I was checking out, Walter came in. He was also traveling, going up to Memphis for a business meeting.
When I got back on the expressway, he was still in the store. And then on down the road, I see this white vehicle in my side mirror and it was Walter. He flew right past me. My ears are just now recovering from the sonic boom he created.
Walter was just a man in a hurry. He didn’t want to waste time on the road, sitting behind the wheel of the car. He may have been trying to get there early to have more time before the meeting. But everybody used to say when he got on the road, those little white lines went by in a hurry.
And that’s the kind of thing we’d joke about during lunch. Walter enjoyed seeing us all and we enjoyed him. Whether it was telling jokes, or sharing serious thoughts or true stories, we always had a good time.
It’s been tough. I really miss him. We shared many meals, years and memories together. It was always good to spend time with him. Walter valued people and he valued relationships.
Four of the lunch buddies gathered at American Risk Managers last September for a Pizza Party. Shown are (standing, from left) Mark Dearen and Bill Nowlin, and (sitting, from left) James Dodd and Walter Haney.
Mark has been an insurance agent for State Farm for 27 years. He has also been a coach himself, coaching Hamilton High School football for 14 years. He spoke during the funeral service about how much Mr. Walter served his fellowmen in so many capacities during his lifetime.
I’m going to speak about three people today. I’m going to speak about Coach Haney, I’m going to speak about Mr. Haney and I’m going to speak about Walter.
Coach Haney was my first football coach. When I coached at Hamilton High School, I often said you need your best coaches at the youngest levels—the ones who start the kids off.
When kids start playing organized ball, you want them to love the game and you want them to learn the right fundamentals, so they can be the best they can be.
Coach Haney knew about the game. He knew how to teach the fundamentals; how to block, how to tackle, how to throw, and how to run. But most of all, he knew how to get effort and he knew how to get results without sacrificing the love for the game. And that was what was so unique about him.
Coach Haney served as the Hamilton Pee Wee Coach, what we now call Toy Bowl, from 1962 to 1973. If you were a boy playing football in Hamilton and are now around 56 to 70 years old, you started with Coach Haney.
He put together quite a dynasty of teams with a record of 105 wins, five losses and five ties—an unbelievable record that would be envied by anyone at any level of athletics.
People will say he was a great coach because of his record. I say he was a great coach because of the effect he had on young boys.
These boys became good young men, they became good citizens, good businessmen, good workers and good husbands. They became good fathers, and good grandfathers—partly because of the life lessons he taught them at a young age.
Coach Haney was a great leader and he was a great coach. He was recognized for his coaching by the Marion County Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1994.
And now I’ll speak of Mr. Haney.
Mr. Haney came to Hamilton as a newspaper man for the Marion County News. He came to run the Hamilton office.
I don’t think there are any coincidences. I believe God had a plan for Mr. Haney and Mrs. Sue. He had plans for them in Hamilton, Alabama.
When I look at this family and I see all the connections from that one move, I believe God had His hand on it.
After a few years, Mr. Haney went to work for Liberty National Insurance Company, working as an agent for 13 years. He also owned his own insurance company for a number of years, building it up from one town to five different cities.
Then, as life has it, he had a massive heart attack. During that time, he lost those businesses.
But God has a way of taking bad and making good out of it. It was a hard time for the family, but God rewarded them.
In 1979, Mr. Haney started a business called American Risk Managers and it is still in operation today down on River Road. He had the opportunity to start that business and work side-by-side with his son and other family members. What a blessing that was.
Mr. Haney was also my first Sunday School teacher when we moved to Hamilton. The same lessons Coach Haney used to teach boys on the gridiron, Mr. Haney used to teach young kids in the Sunday School classroom. And all those Bibles lessons he taught; I can still remember them today.
And he never lost that zeal for teaching. He taught until just recently. And not only was I in his first Sunday School class, I was in the last Bible Study Class that he ever organized.
Mr. Haney was a man of great faith. And he never quit serving. He was a pillar of our community.
Let me tell you about Walter.
Walter was my friend. Lots of times when you get to know somebody through business or through church, you don’t get to know the whole person.
I got to know Walter Haney on every level and what a blessing that was to me.
I was privileged to have a relationship with him for years. I don’t know how many lunches we ate together, but we started back when Bill Nowlin managed the old Holiday Inn. (Bill was the manager for 15 years, from 1984 to 1999.)
Then, when Bill wasn’t the manager there any longer, we started going down to KFC, owned by his friend, James Dodd. I don’t know how many pieces of peach cobbler me and Walter ate, but it was the best peach cobbler ever.
When you spend as much time with someone as I did with Walter, you get to know them pretty well. And I know five things about Walter to be true.
Number one, he loved Hamilton. He loved living here. He loved the schools. He loved the athletic teams. He loved the community and he wanted everybody to love it the same way he did.
He tried to make it a better place. He served on the city council. He was a Kiwanian; whose main goal is to make the community better.
And I don’t have to tell you, he loved Auburn. He went to college there. And it didn’t matter how many Alabama fans we’d gather up at lunch to rag him, he could handle his own. He didn’t need any help.
Every once in a while, he’d call Wally to join the conversation, but it wasn’t for help. It was more like, “Son, watch how I handle them.”
He loved his church family. When people had problems, he was genuinely concerned. He loved the people in his church.
He loved his family. And you could tell by the way he talked about you all. He loved each and every one of them from the bottom of his heart.
And I know Walter Haney loved Jesus. Paul said that to be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). And today, I believe my friend is present with the Lord. And no matter how much we miss him, would you call him back for anything from where he’s at?
I don’t know much about Heaven. I don’t know if you can eat there. But maybe you can if you want to. Because after the Lord was resurrected, He ate with the Disciples.
But if there’s peach cobbler… He’s going to be able to eat as much as he wants without worrying about gaining a pound.
Walter ran a great race. And he finished his course. And I believe God is with him today.
Coach “Red” Haney takes the field at Sargent Stadium in 2017, approximately 55 years after he began to coach more than a thousand young football players there. Also shown is his son, Wally Haney (left), and his grandson-in-law and football coach (now principal) David Cantrell.
Pastor Jeff Armbrester
Hamilton United Methodist Church Pastor Jeff Armbrester mentioned during funeral services that Mr. Walter had touched the lives of countless people in many positive ways during his life on earth. He said, “We’re here to celebrate his life, and certainly, all that God has done through him. All of us carry a piece of Walter in our hearts with us.”
During prayer, he asked God to “Remind us of the many ways that Walter helped You make us the people that we are today.”
I had the privilege of knowing Walter seven years and he and Sue were always very welcoming. He will certainly be missed, both here at the church and at our Men’s Breakfast.
Walter was always, in my presence, happy, and looking at the bright side of things in life. I realized really quickly from being around him, that he was a man of wisdom. His years were not just years on earth, they were years that had grown into wisdom. Not just about life, but also about God and spiritual matters.
He would ask me sometimes to review books he was thinking of using for his Bible Study and to give him my opinion on them. He made me feel comfortable because he trusted my judgement and my wisdom. He saw something in me that made me appreciate him even more.
Pastor Armbrester spoke about Mr. Walter’s favorite scripture, which was Isaiah 40:28-31 and reads, in part, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
He laughed, noting, “Not necessarily War Eagles, just eagles, but I’m sure Walter would have liked that. This passage is of comfort to a lot of people.”
During his 86 years of life on this earth, Walter went through good times and tough times. He’d often quote this scripture when things weren’t going so well, as a reminder that his strength didn’t come from within him as a person. Yes, it came from within, but it was the Holy Spirit in him that was enabling him to have the strength to do whatever he needed to do in the moment.
Pastor Armbrester also mentioned another passage that Mr. Walter had quoted to Sue while he was in the hospital after his massive heart attack. Mr. Walter had spoken of God’s strength being sufficient, with Pastor Armbrester noting, “To interpret grace as strength is very appropriate.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 states, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.”
When we walk and grow weary, but we don’t faint, it’s not because of our strength, but because of God. Because God is in me giving me physical strength or mental strength. Whatever strength I need, God is there.
The strength that Walter had as a person, wasn’t just his strength. Yes, there was some natural strength there, God has given all of us some natural strength—physically, mentally, and emotionally.
But we all have those times when it’s not enough—it’s not there. That’s when we need the Lord, and He comes beside us
Pastor Armbrester mentioned Mr. Walter’s faith and compared faith to the muscles in our bodies.
The muscles you don’t use get flabby, lose strength, and can even begin to atrophy and deteriorate. But the ones we use stay toned, strong, and flexible. And when we push them beyond their limits, they get stronger.
Those times in Walter’s life, and in your life and my life, when life comes at us and pushes us beyond our limits to that place where we have to say, we can only say, “God, I can’t do this anymore, I have to have You…” That’s when our faith grows stronger.
The faith that Walter had today was far stronger than the faith he had 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago, because he was willing to let God bring him to those limits.
He was willing to trust God when he reached the limits of himself. And that’s something we can all learn from him, from the apostle Paul, and from all the writers of the Bible. Paul said it best, “When I am weak, I am strong.”
God’s faithfulness is greater than ours and our dependency on His faithfulness can grow and become stronger.
What wonderful passages Walter left us all. When times are hard, you can go back to those passages. And remember and celebrate the life of Walter.
This image was created by Kathryn “Chazz” Hirschfeld in honor of Mr. Walter. She noted, “I’m so grateful I was able to work alongside Mr. Walter for three years. I always knew he was a very special person. But, after working on this Tribute for two months, I can now say I actually worked with Clark Kent… And didn’t realize until after he’d gone that he was Superman.”
Alan has been a Certified Public Accountant for 44 years and owns his own firm, Alan Cantrell CPA LLC, in Hamilton. He is among the “Little Aggies” football players who later became close friends with their former coach.
Walter and I became great friends years ago when we started eating lunch together nearly every weekday. We formed a lunch group along with several other guys and talked mostly about politics and college football.
Walter was the only Auburn fan in our group and we gave him a hard time. Of course, he was used to being outnumbered and loved every minute of it. He gave as good as he got, but I prided myself on my ability to get him jacked up on occasion. He must have enjoyed it as well, because he never missed a lunch.
He knew my daddy (Rayford Cantrell) and granddaddy (Clint Cantrell) and I loved to hear him tell stories about the old days with my dad. Life was at a slower pace back then and I think Walter liked that.
He was my coach for Pee Wee Football. He never appreciated my football abilities even though we were undefeated during my years (he thought it was his coaching skills, of course).
He would pick up the phone and call me about something and we would talk for 30 minutes. He called me about two or three weeks before he died and we had a good conversation about him going back to work after this COVID was over. I could not tell he was sick at all and I know he was planning to go back ASAP.
Men don’t tell each other that we care because we don’t know how. I miss Walter.
Another autographed football in Mr. Walter’s collection featured Auburn Coach Terry Bowden.
Les was the managing editor of the “Hamilton Progress” from 1979 to 1987 and then the managing editor of the “Journal Record” from 1987 until 2019. He has also been (and is still being) an inspiration for youth. He created a program that allowed high school students in Marion County to publish their own school news pages in the “Journal Record” for nearly a decade.
He was also instrumental in creating a mentoring program for local students. Les is currently working as a substitute teacher for Hamilton Schools; including students at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.
I arrived in Hamilton in 1979 as editor of the new newspaper in the city, The Hamilton Progress. Our office was located downtown in the top floor of one of Gene Sanderson’s buildings, directly across the street from Fred’s Pharmacy.
Gene had an office there, American Risk Managers (ARM) and later, Hamilton attorney Al Tidwell.
I met Walter “Red” Haney at ARM, which was his business.
Always cordial and key with his dry wit, always Auburn to the bone, we struck it off splendidly. Mr. Haney was a hoot to be around, to listen to his stories.
Through others, I learned how great an influence he had on Hamilton sports, particularly football, through his coaching during the formative years of the city’s little league football program. He produced some great teams and great players, and both his peers and former players recognized him for being the great coach he was.
Often I enjoyed “sitting in” with other friends who would have a great time swapping old tales and good-natured ribbing each other. Mr. Haney would take it on the chin and dish out some slobber-knocker punches as well, all depending on how well his beloved Auburn Tigers football team was doing that particular season.
Much beloved, so very well respected, Mr. Haney was one of the first people I had a relationship with, and it lasted until he died.
Visiting with him was always a pleasure.
Stan White is shown passing at a Mississippi State game in this autographed photograph. Walter Haney was at this game.
Sandy took over Fred’s Pharmacy when his father, Fred, retired. He still helps out at the hometown pharmacy, now owned by his son, Cole. He was already playing high school ball when Coach Haney started his Pee Wee Program, but clearly recalls the “really good teams back in the late 60s and through the 70s.”
Of course, nobody around here, around Hamilton, was playing back then, so they had to play teams out of Birmingham and Huntsville, and Tupelo and Columbus, Miss. They beat them all.
Most of the time, they played them here and beat them.
They had a game on Thanksgiving for several years, the Turkey Bowl. And I remember there was a team out of Birmingham called the Birmingham Toy Bowlers. I’d heard about them on television, on sports. They came out here and we beat them.
And I don’t remember which game it was, but one time Coach Haney started the ball game by running a play, a sweep to the right. And then the next play was a sweep to the left. And then the third play was a sweep to the right, pass.
And there was an end down the field way behind everybody. But because they’d seen that sweep two times, those defensive backs were coming up. Of course, it was a touchdown.
Coach Haney had so many players that he was able to influence and he put Hamilton on the map.
I think he’s still mad because the first game he ever lost, down in Fayette—to everybody on the Hamilton side—we felt we’d been cheated. And I don’t know if he ever got over that. I know he lost four more games over the next few years, but that first one—they took that ball game away from us.
You don’t hear of people having records like 105-5-5, not in any sports or at any level. Most people don’t coach that many years. I don’t know how many games they played a year, but it was a lot of years.
And I remember when he came to Hamilton in 1962, I was in 9th grade. I guess, he weighed about 150 pounds—he was skinny. But Sue’s cooking and Hamilton slowly put some weight on him.
Both Sandy and Cole are die-hard Alabama fans, and so have enjoyed a healthy and robust rivalry with Mr. Walter over the years.
Mr. Haney was just “ate up with Auburn.” He passed it on to his kids and grandkids and they’re just ate up with Auburn, too.
When he had a motorhome, every time Cole and I’d go to Auburn—after seeing my brother’s games in Georgia—we’d all go to a game down there, and we’d go by and see him.
There were several people from Hamilton with motorhomes that would always park in the same place. And during Auburn-Alabama games, we’d always go by and see him. He’d have a bunch of food and we’d go by and get something to eat.
Sandy said he felt Mr. Walter was lucky to survive the massive heart attack he suffered decades ago, and therefore had many bonus years. Wally said the Good Lord actually doubled his father’s life, as he had the heart attack at age 43 and was granted 43 more years for his grand total of 86 years.
He’d had that big heart attack, but he was faithful to go to the Wellness Center at 5 a.m. Cole went down there some mornings to work out and Mr. Haney would already be there working up a sweat.
Maybe working out helped him live so long. Most people don’t live to be 86, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.
Shown is one of Coach Haney’s four “Turkey Bowl” plaques that were proudly displayed on the wall in his office.
Cole is the owner of Fred’s Pharmacy and is married to Jill. Their children are Molly, 10, Luke, 7, and Kate, 2. Cole was one of Mr. Walter’s favorite persons to talk to (and talk football to). Rumor has it that Luke Sandlin, surrounded by a mighty clan of Alabama fans, has been known to occasionally pull for the Auburn Tigers.
I remember Mr. Haney from our Men’s Group at the Hamilton United Methodist Church as a leader. He was a Christian-gentleman leader and a good role model for the church to follow.
Outside the church, he was a friend. There were a few years in between us (86 years versus 37), but we always got a good laugh picking at each other.
I always loved to discuss football and to get his take on his side of it.
We’re going to miss that laugh, that Auburn spirit that he had.
I told somebody the other day, that when he got up to Heaven, Pat Dye and Pat Sullivan would be standing at the gates with Auburn shakers, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” with a big, “War Damn Eagle!”
That’s the Mr. Haney I knew and I’m going to miss.
He’ll be missed in our Men’s Group at church, for sure.
He’ll be missed as a friend, and somebody to look up to. And somebody to talk to.
Walter and Sue Haney are shown in a Hamilton United Methodist Church member brochure photo.
Brian is the President of the Men’s Club at Hamilton United Methodist Church and enjoyed interacting with Mr. Walter during church activities. He said Mark Dearen did a good job at Mr. Walter’s funeral service talking about Coach Haney, Mr. Haney and Walter, but didn’t go into a lot of detail about Red. “Red could carry on,” he said. “Red was a colorful character.”
I’m not much for blowing smoke and Walter wasn’t either.
He was still working at 86-some odd years, up till all this COVID hit. (Mr. Walter continued working from his home office until two weeks prior to his death.) He respected hard-working folks. He appreciated that.
Walter was honest. There aren’t many left like that. What he told you, he’d do. He worked hard. And he listened to folks. He appreciated folks. There aren’t many left like him.
I grew up in the country and worked hard for what I have. And me and him got along really well, because he appreciated that. And I appreciated him.
Walter was a lot older, but he’d listen to folks. And even though he was older and wiser, he knew he could learn something every day.
He’s just a dying breed, you might say. People like him are irreplaceable. He was a mess, for sure.
We’re all better off to have known him.
Perhaps we can see a little bit of “Red” in this photo, where Mr. Walter displayed his great community spirit by wearing a beard and costume for a local club fundraiser. (Men who shaved were thrown into a mock jail.)
Larry was the Parks & Recreation Department Director for the City of Hamilton for 40 years and retired four years ago. He coached alongside Mr. Walter for approximately five years.
Walter was a tremendous competitor. He wanted the players he was coaching to compete and he wanted the coaches that worked with him to be competitors, too. He never demanded anything out of you, but he led us in that direction.
He always had a great heart for the kids in the community. His heart was with the kids and their well-being, long before his own son began playing sports.
And he looked out for the child who hardly had any other way of making it. He kind of fathered those children and took them under his wing and went with them the extra mile.
But he had a great heart for all our kids.
He always greeted each child from the sidelines—when they did good and when they didn’t do so good. He would correct them and hug them. Then he expected them to do better.
He would expect the physical mistakes, but he wanted them to cut down on the mental mistakes. He was really good at that.
If a child messed up or didn’t do what they should have done, he would approach them and explain what they didn’t do and say, “Let’s don’t do it anymore,” in a way the child could understand.
And when they didn’t do what he said, he’d bring their attention to it again and then he’d hug them. He made sure they weren’t afraid to come to the sidelines.
When they did good, he always had a pat on the back for them.
He expected performance out of his coaches, too, the people that helped him. He expected them to be good to the kids, that was first and foremost. He expected them to discipline the kids in a kind and gentle way.
And if a child had a hard time getting to practice, he made sure they had a way home and a way to the game and a way back. That was taken care of. That was understood when you went in.
He was easy to work with because he was so kindhearted.
The “Big Aggies” and their Coaches pose for a team photo. Coaches include Carl Bumpus (far left), Larry Armstrong and “Red” Haney (far right). (Photo Courtesy of Brent Thompson.)
Freddie coached sports at Hamilton High School for 33 years. During those three decades, he was also an instructor for Drivers Education, Physical Education, Science and History. He noted that there’s a good possibility he and Mr. Walter were also “distant kin.”
What do the Sulligent Blue Devils, the Auburn Tigers, and the Hamilton Aggies have in common? The obvious answer is three great schools. But another common factor is Walter Haney; L. C. Fowler; and me, Freddie Burnett. And we all three LOVED the game of football!
Walter Haney, L.C. and I grew up in Lamar County, Alabama. Walter and L. C. played football together for the Sulligent Blue Devils. The two of them were ahead of me in school, and, yes, also smarter; so I didn’t get to play the game of football with them.
L.C., better known as “Coach Fowler,” loved to kid around with Walter about their football playing days. Coach Fowler always said that Walter got hit so hard playing football that his helmet was knocked side-ways. And Walter was on the bench looking out of the ear-hole exclaiming that he was NEVER going back in! Whether this story was legend or lore is unclear among us Sulligent Alumni.
Coach Fowler and I both joined the coaching staff of the Hamilton Aggies in 1966 and guess who was selling insurance and also living In Hamilton? Walter Haney! Three former Blue Devils are now Hamilton Aggies, and friendships are rekindled with football as a common thread.
Walter had a football-playing son known as Wally. Well, Wally just happened to recover a fumble and returned it for a game-winning touchdown against Central of Florence. This resulted in one of the largest grins ever seen on proud Dad, Walter’s face. This story is legend! Despite his best efforts, Walter never talked his daughter, Deborah, into playing football!
Now, Walter was what we call a “die hard” Auburn fan. And yes, L. C. and I were, too. The three of us had great times talking, watching, and attending Auburn football! This was back during the days when Auburn football wins, especially against that other team in the state, weren’t so plentiful. We used to say a perfect weekend was when Hamilton won; Auburn won, and that “other team” got beat! Legend or lore? I’m not telling!
Walter Haney loved football; he loved his schools; he loved his family and the Town of Hamilton where he raised his family and was a business man. He was my friend, and he touched my life in a special way. He will truly be missed by many.
Walter, Sue, Wally and Deborah Haney are shown in a family portrait, circa 1973.
Walter Haney was an award-winning Insurance Agent (Liberty National Torch Club) during several of the years that he coached Pee Wee Football.
Walter Haney (far right) is shown with his brothers Coy (far left) and Leo.
Big brother Walter Haney stands in front of his father, Roland, and beside his brother, Leo. His mother, Annie, holds baby brother, Coy.
You can see Mr. Walter’s resemblance to his parents in this photo, where he and “Mary Sue” posed with Deborah and baby Wally.
A young Walter Haney on the farm in Lamar County where he grew up, circa 1955.
Walter Davis Haney is shown in uniform during his time with the “Golden Arrow Division,” the 8th Infantry, which was stationed in West Germany. Before that time, he was also a member of the Army Security Agency. During the Korean War, he served with the 28th Infantry.
Coach Walter “Red” Haney (far left), his coaches, Carl Bumpus (middle) and Jack Christian, (Larry Armstrong is not shown) and his fifth consecutive undefeated Little League Football Team. Several of these boys are now playing on Coach Haney’s Heavenly Team and were probably overjoyed to see their coach again. (Photo courtesy of The Northwest Alabamian.)
Another amazing legacy—Mr. Walter’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Note: Not all family members are shown.
With Much Gratitude
In closing, we’d like to share one more verse that has come to mind that reminds us of Mr. Walter. The last verse of Job (Job 42:17) states, “So Job died, old and full of days.” And so Mr. Walter did also. He was greatly blessed and we were all greatly blessed to know him.
Thanks once again to those who so generously took the time to share their stories, which we realize was difficult to do—especially in the midst of mourning your friend. This was not an easy project to compile, but the Good Lord has guided this Tribute from its beginning to its end. To God be the glory.
We all terribly miss Mr. Walter, but know he is in a better place.
His son, Wally, noted, “As much as he loved football, his family and Auburn, he loved God more than anything else. And he’s right where he always wanted to be. Probably eating cobbler…”
Farewell… Y’all Be Good To Each Other!
Persons wishing to know more about Mr. Walter’s life can click HERE for his obituary and more photos.
(Photo Credits: Haney Family, American Risk Managers, Chazz Hirschfeld, Brent Thompson, Judge Jimmy Cashion, Ginger Avery, Hamilton Progress, Northwest Alabamian, Journal Record, Pexels/Todd Trapani—flag, and Pexels/Flo Maderebner—eagle.)
(Thank you to the Marion County Funeral Home for providing copies of multiple photos, as well as a video for transcription purposes.)
COMMUNITY—Thank you to ALL the Essential Workers in our community and in our world that helped US ALL make it through the last two months of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic.
We don’t know what the future holds, but we want to recognize you now for all the time, effort, hard work and mercy you’ve shown by continuing to work daily on the frontlines and deliver services and products to those in need.
Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!
You’ve saved lives, nursed the sick, fed the hungry, stocked the shelves, pumped the gas, and aided the elderly.
You’ve led your community, provided medicine (and dignity) to the ill and infirmed, kept clean water flowing and rode the roads as a hero warrior.
You’ve delivered goods near and far, restored electricity and re-connected or connected cables, so people could work from home.
You’ve served dozens and dozens of meals via takeout, making a fraction of your usual income—just to provide breakfast, lunch or dinner for your grateful customers.
You’ve written inspiring posts, shared beautiful photography, helped to uplift others, and offered free advice in your field—even though you couldn’t afford to.
You’ve preached on your church’s Facebook page or even in your church’s parking lot, always sharing the message that God is going to make good out of this situation somehow—just like He always does.
You made us feel like we weren’t alone—even if we were. And if we weren’t alone, you offered tips on how we could better quarantine together.
You’ve made us laugh, gave us hope, comforted the mourning, and shown great grace and courage. Thank you.
And to those who’ve sheltered in place—we thank you, too! You are also Essential Heroes to us. We need you. We love you. No one can ever take your place, so thank you for doing all you can do to stay safe.
Hopefully, the crisis period for this massive COVID-19 outbreak will end soon for all countries across the globe.
As of this posting, some countries and cities are now opening up, while others remain in lockdown.
In our immediate area, businesses are beginning to re-open. And although many people have resumed normal activities, some seem more cautious.
We hope everyone will continue to practice empathy for others by following (area) appropriate guidelines—recognizing that some people may remain at risk—even if they themselves are not.
A Special Thanks To OUR Essential Heroes
There are a few people we’d like to especially recognize now for being a part of our “Saluting Essential Heroes” series that we posted on American Risk Managers’ Facebook Page in March and April.
Besides highlighting these local heroes, we also used the opportunity to try to support them. We asked them about specific challenges they were facing and how the public could help them do their jobs easier or better.
We made sure to protect our heroes by following safety protocols ourselves, with every interaction conducted at a safe social distance.
A ‘BIG THANK YOU’ to ALL who participated!
Thank you for your time in allowing us to photograph you, or video you, or photograph your business and then speak with you over the phone.
We are so grateful that you allowed us to spotlight you as an “Essential Worker/Hero,” so you could be recognized by your friends, family and community!
And now, in no particular order, here’s a rundown of our 2020 Pandemic Essential Heroes!
Healthcare Workers Everywhere!
For privacy reasons, we did not identify the wonderful nurses who participated in our salute, but presented the post as a shoutout to all healthcare workers—locally and globally.
Our nurses advised people to take the threat seriously, to stay home, and to realize that they are doing the absolute best job they can do to protect their patients and their own families.
One nurse noted that “the public is now the frontline” and asked persons to please “get in and out” if they had to venture from their homes.
She also asked everyone to pray.
I believe this was our longest posting and I was so grateful to be able to include healthcare workers. These are the people who are actually interacting with those who are the sickest, and so are at the most risk themselves.
Truck Driver Marty Chambers of Boral Resources
Marty was such a great sport about participating in our series and did not hesitate at all about stopping along his route and bringing his big tractor trailer truck and cargo rig to our business.
He was patient with all the photographs (and the photographer), and offered some great advice on how the public can help truckers stay safe, so they can stay on the road.
He was our last spotlight and definitely helped to complete our series. We could not leave truckers out! They deserve all the respect and admiration they can get.
Just like all our heroes, Marty was saluted because he did not have the option to work from home. No trucker does.
Let’s continue to help truckers by doing as Marty requested and “be courteous out on the road.”
Kyle Compton of Hamilton Walmart Supercenter
Kyle was the very first “Essential Worker/Hero” to be posted on our page. So, he is not only brave for having to work at Walmart during the pandemic, he was courageous enough to be our inaugural series’ subject.
He did a great job and is a natural on-camera. Kyle said his remarks on challenges and how the public can help received notice among the staff and some of the customers—so we’re thankful we were able to support these essential workers and their efforts.
We were also glad to see Walmart eventually create their own “Thank You” commercial to recognize their unique frontline heroes.
And speaking of unique heroes, Kyle works two jobs and his other job just happens to be ANOTHER essential position. He works a second shift at UPS, so he also helped to keep important packages moving during the crisis.
Antonio Wilcher of AutoZone
Antonio starred in one of my favorite videos. He is also a natural!
I was so glad to see AutoZone offering curbside service and I definitely took advantage of it. In one of the photos, you can see Antonio bringing out two coolant containers for me.
AutoZone was also one of the first places I saw that posted a notice about keeping back a safe distance from their clerks. So, two thumbs up to this company for promoting safety for customers and employees.
Antonio was a great on-the-spot interview subject and if AutoZone is ever looking for a great spokesperson, here he is!
Becky Satterwhite of Dinelli’s
Sweet Becky was my most unwilling subject, but she finally gave in to my requests and let me video her. She’s also the shortest interview. But, she did a great job!
Becky is not even “on Facebook,” but participated to help her restaurant, Dinelli’s Pizza & Pasta. All of us sincerely appreciate Dinelli’s remaining open to drive-thru customers during the weeks that dining on-site was prohibited.
I was so grateful to be able to continue enjoying my favorite Sunday afternoon food choice—Italian! Any smidgen of normalcy during the last two months has truly been a blessing.
Josiah Mullins of FedEx
Josiah had never met me before, but when he delivered a printer to our office for one of my bosses, I did not hesitate to take advantage of the situation and ask him if he’d agree to be interviewed for our series.
Surprisingly, to both me and my boss, he said yes. He did a great job. His words were heartfelt and on-spot.
He even thanked our county for being good to FedEx drivers. What a gentleman.
Tonya Burney of Heritage Chevron
Tonya did a great job in her interview and you can see she has a wonderful smile. Her store was so busy and we really appreciated the time she took to speak with us.
I also noticed that Heritage Chevron was one of the first stores in our town to install clear plastic protectors between clerks and customers, so kudos for that!
It was also great to see members of her family share her video on their own Facebook pages, giving shoutouts to their mom for her efforts during the pandemic.
Montana Karr of J&V Ole Smokehouse
Cute as a button Montana was my go-to-girl for cheeseburgers and Friday catfish dinners! She didn’t know me when I asked her to be videoed, but it feels like we became friends during the eight weeks she waited on me.
J&V Ole Smokehouse continued to operate during the pandemic, giving lots of people who don’t or can’t cook the opportunity to have a good meal.
I was really glad to see Montana start wearing a mask and gloves to protect herself and her customers. And it was comforting to have your takeout food brought to your car. I appreciate all the extra effort this took on the staff.
Also, please notice the wonderful mural of the flying pig, which was done by my dear artist friend, Missy Miles. On the day I videoed Montana, I’d forgotten to get an exterior photo. Missy came to my rescue and shared her own photograph for Montana’s salute. Thanks, ladies!
Pam Bass of Walmart (& Family Aide)
One of our most shared, remarked on, viewed and liked Facebook salutes was for dear Pam.
Described by everyone I know as “an angel,” she is certainly deserving of all the recognition she can get.
Pam is not only a hardworking Walmart Clerk; she also takes care of an elderly veteran and his wife—plus many members of her own family.
She is beloved in our community and I am grateful she allowed me to film her (as she checked out my groceries) one early morning during the first weeks of the pandemic. Thank you for ALL you do, my friend.
Conley Ellis of PeoplesTrust Bank
Another gentleman I really did not know before the pandemic started, but who I feel like I know better now—is Conley.
He kindly allowed me to video him AS he took care of my banking needs at PeoplesTrust Bank in Hamilton.
I dared not slow him down with a line of cars behind me and he quickly gave some tips on customer and employee safety for our series.
If you look closely, you can see my silhouette in the glass reflection on the drive-thru window. It was kind of tricky to keep Conley in my shadow, so he could be filmed, but I actually like how this video turned out.
Braeden Northam of Sonic
Another genuinely nice young gentleman who took a few minutes out of his hectic schedule to speak with us was Braeden of Sonic in Hamilton.
During the pandemic, Sonic adjusted its rules and asked customers to not eat their meals at the drive-in. I’ve always gotten my meals to go anyways, so this did not affect me, but I was grateful to see they were taking safety seriously.
And I was extremely glad to see Braeden wearing a mask for both his sake and my own. He was super sweet and did a fantastic job with his impromptu interview. Again, he’s another worker who could easily be an official spokesperson for his company.
Rodney Williams of Hamilton Water Department
As with all our interviews, I was out-and-about on approved business when I took photos and videos. Here, I was paying my water bill, putting an envelope in the drop-off box, when I saw movement inside the building.
I was surprised because it was quite a few minutes before 8 a.m., but I didn’t hesitate to ask if I could include a water department employee in my heroes’ salutes.
Hamilton Water Department Superintendent Rodney Williams was not only nice enough to step outside and take a few moments for me, he also pointed out that the mayor had just driven up. So, because of Rodney, I was also able to speak to another town official.
Thank you, Rodney. You did a great job with your last-minute interview.
Bob Page, Mayor of Hamilton, Alabama
There are not too many people busier in a city than its mayor.
Thank you to Hamilton Mayor Bob Page for taking the time to speak to us about the 2020 Pandemic and how residents should follow official protocols.
I would not want to be a town leader in the best of times, I cannot image what it felt like to be a leader during—what was to us—our first pandemic and one of the worst of times.
Thanks again to you and all the leaders of our cities, counties, states and countries for your efforts in trying to keep us all safe from harm.
Mayra Flores of Los Amigos
Most people do Taco Tuesday, but I’m a Monday, first-of-the-week, gotta get my salsa and chips kind of person. Pretty and sweet Mayra is shown here with my usual order.
I was so grateful that Los Amigos remained opened during the weeks we were asked to self-quarantine (except for food pickups, grocery runs, and other approved activities).
Again, like other area restaurants, I’m sure Los Amigos did not break even on the cost to provide services versus the price paid for services.
But, like me, many loyal customers will not soon forget those who helped us out in our time of need—even if that need was for a grilled chicken taco.
Maitri Patel of Subway
Maitri of Subway in Hamilton always seems to be smiling and here she is holding a bag filled with two cups of tuna for me—wearing her famous smile.
Our local Subway protected its customers as best as they could with call-ahead ordering, social distancing, intense restaurant cleaning and even curbside pickup.
Maitri or her husband, Dilip, met me many times right outside the store, with me in my mask, which I wore mostly for the protection of others—as we had been asked to do.
I noticed on my last pickup that the staff were also wearing masks, so I am grateful for this added level of safety.
Watha Williams of Watha’s Inc.
Watha has always been kind to me. And as the owner of Watha’s Inc., in Hamilton, I thank him for taking the time to share a few challenges and safety requests for our heroes special.
Since I’m allergic to gasoline, Watha or one of his staff has many, many times provided essential services for me. Everyone who works there is always helpful and considerate.
In his remarks, I liked how Watha asked customers to let them know if they were sick to help protect his employees.
I also liked his conclusion, where he declined to offer any opinion on the virus itself, stating, “I’m no doctor whatsoever, just a hard-working service station man.”
The Staff of Fred’s Pharmacy
One of the most touching posts to me was the one about Fred’s Pharmacy in Hamilton and the interview with Pharmacist Cole Sandlin.
Cole really stood out with his overwhelming empathy for others—not only the sick, which he refused to treat any differently—but also for all the businesses in our town that had to temporarily close.
He also spoke about all the waitresses working the drive-thru windows—but who weren’t making anywhere near the tips they’d made with dine-in customers.
Cole also called me after he read the Facebook post about his pharmacy and we were both on the verge of tears during the conversation. He said he was touched by the post and I was touched by his heartfelt reaction. He said reading the post reminded him of why he does what he does.
This family-owned business and all their wonderful employees are true gems in our community. I also loved the message they put on their digital sign, “This Too Shall Pass.”
Rocksann Colburn of Pizza Hut
I can only guess at the most popular meal during the pandemic period, but my guess would be pizza.
Rocksann and her employees at Pizza Hut in Hamilton did a fabulous job serving their customers during the Coronavirus crisis.
And although the franchise does not allow filming in their facilities, she was able to give me an interview to go with the photos I took outside.
I especially liked her quote, “We’re just glad to be here to do what we can to help you guys.”
I also thought it was a good idea when they later put out a sign, limiting the lobby section to one pickup customer at a time.
Tombigbee Electric Cooperative & Freedom Fiber
I’m combining Tombigbee Electric Cooperative and Freedom Fiber here, but each one had a separate posting and video in our series.
We first did a post about Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, saluting company employees and offering safe bill-paying tips. I took a photo of the beautiful facility one morning as I dropped off my power bill, then interviewed General Manager Steve Foshee via telephone.
Later in the series, we had a storm in our area that knocked out power to a great portion of our county for more than 24 hours.
When my route to work was blocked by storm damage response crews, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and captured some videos and photos of linemen and Freedom Fiber officials as they worked to restore service to our area.
Besides their efforts to repair the power lines and main fiber cable line (as shown in the photos), Freedom Fiber crews had already been working long hours before the storm.
Since the pandemic began, they’d made it a top priority to provide fiber cable internet service for persons who were having to work from home. So, I was doubly glad to be able to include these hardworking crew members in a salute.
One Of My Favorite Photos Of The Series
Although I later used this photo of a large water tower in our city for my water department post, this tower is actually located beside the Tombigbee Electric Cooperative facility on Interstate 22.
I captured this photograph right after I took the photo for Tombigbee’s post. I just loved the flowers, the sky and the way the name “Hamilton” stood out among the clouds. I’m blessed to live in such a great city.
Once again, thank you to all the participants; both to each individual person and to the companies they represent. It was an honor to interact with you during this difficult time in our country’s history.
You have all found a place in my heart with your generosity, service and sacrifices to mankind.
If you are interested in seeing all the different videos and posts mentioned in this article, please visit our American Risk Managers Facebook Page. You can find us on Facebook or click HERE and scroll down.
To God Be The Glory
When you are recognizing those who have helped you accomplish something, it’s good to remember who is in charge of all our blessings.
I believe our Good Lord put the idea to do these salutes in my mind.
He certainly helped with the execution, setting up the timing in my favor and the reception of the persons and companies involved. He also provided inspiration, energy and strength for all the hours spent editing each video, photo and post.
Of course, any skills or talents that I have for writing, photography or videography are also gifts from Him.
In this regard, I chose to end each salute with the phrase, “To God Be The Glory.”
As Psalm 71:8 states, “Let my mouth be filled with Your praise and with Your glory all the day.”
I’d also like to thank my company—American Risk Managers—and my bosses for allowing me to work on this community support campaign.
We were all honored to be able to dedicate our company’s Facebook Page to the recognition of some of our area’s Essential Workers for the two-month period involved.
We sincerely hope all the family members and co-workers of our salute participants enjoyed this series as much as we did.
May God Bless You, Your Family, Our Community, Our Country & Our World! In Jesus’ Name!
(Photo Credits: J&V Smokehouse – Missy Miles; All Other Photos – Chazz)
COMMUNITY—For a dozen years, one of the most frequently spotted sights at the Jerry Brown Arts Festival (JBAF) has been smiling shoppers carrying around colorful and decorative birdhouses made by artist Ray Dutton of Moulton, Ala.
Dutton is being honored in 2020 as the featured artist for the 18th Annual JBAF, set for Saturday and Sunday, March 7 and 8, at Tombigbee Electric Cooperative in Hamilton, Ala.
To mark this special achievement, Dutton was asked to share some of the history behind his popular birdhouses, provide a few details on his most popular styles, and give us a sneak peek at what’s new this year.
Becoming a Birdhouse Builder
Dutton was working in the construction field, helping to build houses, when one of his customers asked him if he would build a birdhouse for her sister.
The lady and her sister were both delighted with the outcome, so Dutton decided to build another one. Before long, his weekend hobby of selling his birdhouses along the side of the road near friendly business locations, grew into something more.
After several of the people stopping by to purchase birdhouses told him he needed to “go to so-and-so festival,” he and his wife, Diane, decided to take their advice.
When a few festivals a year turned into participating in dozens annually, Dutton gradually began to decrease his construction jobs and focus all his time and attention on birdhouses.
The Festival Circuit
The Duttons have been traveling the festival circuit for 20 years.
“We’ve been to a lot of places,” he said. “”We’ve been as far north as Virginia and as far south as Gulf Shores. We’ve been all over Alabama, and many locations east and west of the state.”
And Dutton is not just popular at the JBAF. He’s won prizes at numerous festivals throughout the southeast. These include first-place honors at TroyFest (Troy) and Art in the Park (Jasper), and second-place finishes at the 911 Festival (Haleyville) and the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival (Fayetteville).
As for their favorite part of being in the birdhouse business, Dutton said he and his wife enjoy the traveling and seeing all of the friends they’ve made at the festivals. “Of course, the money comes in handy, too,” he said. “If the birdhouses didn’t sell, we couldn’t do it.”
For most of the last two decades, the couple attended as many as 32 to 35 shows a year. Recently, they decided to scale back and focus on the top 12 to 16 festivals.
“We’re getting a little bit of age on us and it’s a little bit harder and tougher than it used to be,” Dutton said. “It’s easier now than it was, but we still keep plenty busy. We picked out some of our best shows and we’re sticking with them.”
Dutton explained that festival artists work all week on their craft, then drive 200 or 300 miles to attend the events. “You set up the day you get there and kind of sleep with one eye open in a place you’re not used to,” he said. “You work hard for two or three days and then it’s time to load up and drive home. After all that, you’re pretty much worn out.”
JBAF is Among the Best
JBAF fans of “The Birdhouse Man” are surely pleased that the Northwest Alabama Arts Council-hosted event remains on his list.
“The JBAF is one of our best festivals,” he noted. “We enjoy it and they have a big variety of artists. We’ve made a lot of friends there and we get to see them, too.
“We also like the Tombigbee location. It’s a good place and a nice building. It’s easy to get in and out of and it’s easy to load in and then unload afterwards. And the people that run the show are friendly. We’re thankful to the arts council for selecting us as the featured artists this year.”
JBAF 2020 T-shirts Feature Ray Dutton Birdhouses And Were Designed By Sassy Frass Tees Of Hamilton, Ala., Working From Photos Of Birdhouses Purchased At Previous Festivals By Former Northwest Alabama Arts Council President And Arts Festival Co-Creator Tyna Pyburn.
Reasonably Priced Art
Dutton was asked why he thinks his birdhouses are such a big hit.
“I don’t really know,” he said. “A lot of people like the bright colors and how we’ve decorated them. But I think our prices help a lot. We try to keep the prices reasonable, so people can afford them and we can make a little bit on them.”
A standard, small birdhouse that you can nail to the top of a fence post or to the side of a storage building will cost you $10.
Another popular smaller size, which he and his wife call a “Tall Tin,” is a taller birdhouse, with a steeply-pitched roof. Tall Tins cost $27, with posts running $12.
Larger, more detailed, birdhouses, such as church-style birdhouses with crosses at the top, are $43. Larger posts cost $15.
But these are not just any posts, Dutton’s poles come with plates on the top, with pre-drilled holes for four screws to fit through the plates on the bottom of the birdhouses. There’s also rebar on the bottom of the posts to make them easy to put up.
He also has plenty of birdhouses already affixed to poles to select from or he can put together your selection of birdhouse and pole on the spot. “Most of the time, people buy a post with their Tall Tins, so all they have to do is take them home and stick them in the ground,” he said.
The couple also bring plenty of extra decorations with them, so customizations are possible. “If someone likes a particular house, but wants a different decoration, we can change it out for them,” he said.
Some of the decorations are mermaids, lovebirds, butterflies, anchors, hummingbirds, frogs, pigs and cows.
“We also have some stained birdhouses, in lighter and darker stains, for people who like stained wood,” he said. Decorations can also be mixed and matched according to preference on the stained birdhouses.
Dutton said his favorite birdhouses to make are his churches, with his churches and his Tall Tins being the best sellers.
“I make four styles of churches; a larger size, two smaller sizes and then one that’s a little bit different from the others for those who want something different,” he said. “All the churches are painted white. A lot of people like the churches. I guess they’re kind of personal to people.
“The Tall Tins are really colorful, ranging from turquoise, yellow, blue, and peach to a loud green. One style has a picket fence and another style has a wall on each side. We also have a red one that my wife puts a rooster on and paints red and yellow, and it’s really pretty.”
Other birdhouse themes include barns, cabins, moose heads, and waterwheels. He has one type called a swing, with four separate birdhouses at four different heights, surrounded by a fence, and featuring, of course, a little swing.
Besides birdhouses, he also builds bird feeders, butterfly houses, bat houses and carpenter bee traps. “Birdhouses are our main thing, but we usually bring one or two of the others for people who request them,” he said.
Artist Ray Dutton Is Shown Holding His Favorite Style Of Birdhouse To Build, A Church Birdhouse. Dutton’s Churches Are Also Among His Best-Selling Styles.
New for 2020
With so many birdhouses circulating throughout the festival every year, what do Dutton’s customers say when they see him again?
“They’ll say, ‘Well, we have one of everything you make, you need to come up with something different,'” he explained. “So, we always try to come up with something fresh every year.”
Making their JBAF debut will be two items; a different style of butterfly house that Dutton started creating recently, as well as his newest inspiration, a school bus birdhouse.
“The school bus has wheels on it and I put a hood on it to look like a real school bus, but it’s actually a birdhouse,” he said. “It’s pretty and I think it’s going to be a winner.
“We also have some birdhouses that we’ve been selling since we started and they still sell very well. I’m pretty sure we’ll have something you can take to the house with you.”
Ray And Diane Dutton Hold The Two Newest Models Of Their Popular Birdhouses, A School Bus And A Butterfly House, With A Church And A Barn Model Also Shown. The Couple Will Make Their 12th Appearance At The Jerry Brown Arts Festival On March 7-8 In Hamilton, Ala., As The Featured Artists.
Birdhouse Holes are Bluebird-Sized
Dutton’s birdhouses are designed for Bluebirds, with 1 ½-inch holes, because those are the houses most people ask for. He has also made marlin houses by order, which require a bigger opening. His birdhouses also come with a built-in cleaning mechanism, called a cleanout.
“A lot of people like to clean their Bluebird houses out,” he noted.
In his own yard, he has four birdhouses and one bird feeder. “We love Bluebirds and we have several of them around here,” he said.
When he first started building birdhouses, Dutton said his wife fell in love with each new model. “She’d say, ‘Oh, I love that one. I want that one,'” he noted.
Dutton always put her newest favorite up in the yard for a while.
He’s also had a customer go through his workshop and look at all the birdhouses and then decide that they really wanted one from his yard. And even though it’d been nicely weathered for a year, she still had her heart set on it. So, he sold it. That’s what he does. He can always build another.
Diane Dutton Adds Lettering To The Side Of A School Bus Birdhouse. The Lettering Goes On The Stop Sign Side Of The Bus, While The Other Side Features The School Bus Door. A Hood And Headlights Help Round Out The Theme.
Four frequent visitors to the Dutton workshop are the couple’s grandchildren, three boys and one girl, ranging in age from 4 to 13. The Duttons have been married 43 years and were blessed with grandchildren from their two sons and spouses.
“Our grandkids love to come in the shop and build,” he said. “They also like to paint for a little while. When they’re in there, my wife and I aren’t doing much building, we’re watching them.”
For persons wishing to build their own birdhouses as family projects, Dutton stresses safety. “Watch your children with saws and stuff,” he said. “I haven’t lost a finger yet, but I’ve come close. And sometimes, things can ricochet. I’ve had my cap knocked off. Things happen. Be careful.”
He also noted that birdhouses can be decorated any way you like. “If a child wanted to make a birdhouse for his father, and if his father enjoys deer hunting, he could put a little deer on it.”
Dutton has also built some more elaborate birdhouses, including a two-story model, with stairs on the exterior, porches and even television antennas.
“You’d think you were outside looking at a big house,” he said. “But I don’t make these anymore except by order. They take so much time. And even though they’re real pretty, people want to see a price. I think most people have an idea of what they want to spend.
“There’s a lot of labor in a house like that and you really can’t get enough for them for your labor.”
And, although they like traveling and reunions with other festival artists, Dutton noted that birdhouse building is still a business like any other.
“I’ve had people ask me where I work,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘Well, this is my job here’ or ‘This is what I do.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, you don’t have a job.’ But, I’m thinking, ‘Yes, I have a job.’
“I do this all the time. A lot of the people who’ve never done something like this don’t realize what goes into it before you are at a show. They don’t know the work involved before we make it to the festival itself.
“We are out in the shop two to three months, just getting ready before all the festivals begin. I have to build ahead of time or I couldn’t keep up.
“Sometimes, we only have two or three days at home between festival weekends. So, it’s a lot better to have the birdhouses built already than have to make them then.”
Wood Chips Fly Through The Air As Artist Ray Dutton Drills Out The 1 ½ Inch Hole For A Bluebird-Sized Birdhouse At His Workshop In Moulton, Ala.
Dutton makes 6 to 10 birdhouses at a time, depending on which style he’s creating. His process begins with cutting out all of the parts.
He then builds the houses one by one. The second step is painting. After the paint dries, he adds the tin tops. And then it’s decoration time.
“My wife helps with the painting and decorating,” he said. “And she does all of the paperwork,” he added, giggling.
If he had to time his efforts for a single smaller house from start to finish, Dutton said it would take approximately an hour and a half. Bigger houses double that time, requiring at least three hours.
Dutton makes most of his birdhouses out of treated, dog-eared fence boards, but he sometimes uses red cedar. He said these types of wood seem to weather better than others.
He usually purchases his wood materials new, but he’s also had people give him used boards when they’re tearing down a fence or storage shed.
He uses rusty old tin for some of the birdhouse roofs, as that’s what his customers prefer. “Old tin just looks better,” he said. “We’ve tried new tin, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg. We get our tin from old buildings, chicken houses and barns.”
Dutton said he uses color exterior paints and buys them at his local Walmart. He gets his wood stains at Lowe’s or similar stores. “We shop around,” he said.
You can visit Dutton’s booth, along with more than 50 other artists, at the family-friendly, free arts festival, which is always held the first weekend in March. Hours on Saturday, March 7, are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shuttle service and food vendors will also be available.
The Tombigbee Electric Cooperative is located at 3196 County Road 35, just a short distance from Exit 14 on Interstate 22. Look for the Hamilton water tower and you’re there!
For more information, visit JBAF.org.
(Photo Credits: All photos by Marla Minter, courtesy of the Northwest Alabama Arts Council.)
NOTE: American Risk Managers’ Marketing Director Chazz Hirschfeld was asked to write an article about Ray Dutton for the 18th Annual Jerry Brown Arts Festival. She wrote this feature story and a shorter press release with much joy. Chazz is a long-time member of the Northwest Alabama Arts Council. She loves promoting the arts festival, the arts council and her community.