Walter Davis Haney, age 86, of Hamilton, Alabama, was welcomed into Heaven on Monday, July 27, 2020, passing from this world at his residence, where he was surrounded by his loving family.
He was born in Lamar County, Alabama, on Friday, March 23, 1934, to Roland Oakley Haney and Annie Young Haney. He was preceded in death by both his parents and his younger brother, Leo Haney.
He leaves many fond memories for his wife of 64 years, Mary Sue Mixon Haney; along with their children, Deborah Taylor (husband, Phillip), Wally Haney (wife, Tonya Kay); and grandchildren, Jessica Taylor Spears (husband, Exie), Andrea Cantrell (husband, David), Valerie Marie Taylor, Jennifer Burns (husband, Jeff), Ashton Wilbanks (husband, Chris), Allie Taylor; and great-grandchildren, Lydia, Ella, Jack Davis, Josiah, Micah, Asher, Will, Max, brother: Coy Haney; and a host of nieces, nephews, and friends.
Mr. Walter was raised on a row crop farm in Lamar County, surrounded by farm animals, his two brothers Coy and Leo, and lots of love. He also began the 80-plus years of his work career on the family farm, as a 6-year-old boy plowing off seed beds and picking up sticks and stalks.
He attended school in Sulligent and his lifelong passion for sports was instilled while playing football and baseball for Sulligent High School. His team positions included being a guard in football and a pitcher in baseball.
During his senior year in 1952, he met the love of his life, falling in love with Mary Sue Mixon and marrying her four years later. Mr. Walter truly cherished his bride and felt blessed to enjoy 64 wonderful years by her side. He declared in 2019 that she was still “the prettiest girl he has ever seen.”
After high school, Mr. Walter interned at the “Progressive Farmer” magazine, to see how reality lined up with a dream he had of being a writer.
That fall, he became a member of an elite Army unit, the Army Security Agency. He also served his country during the Korean War, as part of the 28th Infantry, which was sent to Germany to augment NATO forces. His overseas action included 16 weeks in the Golden Arrow Division (8th Infantry), which was stationed in West Germany. He received military honors at his funeral.
After his time in the military, Mr. Walter attended Auburn University, known then as the Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Besides his studies, he also participated in sports. His long-standing enthusiasm for the university’s athletic programs was put into motion with his first step on the field as a “walk-on” with the baseball team.
In 1956, knowing of his work with the “Progressive Farmer,” the owner of the “Marion County News” gave Mr. Walter an opportunity to become Managing Editor for the newspaper, located one county over from Lamar.
And so began his residency in Hamilton and his appreciation for Marion County; its beauty, its people and its communities. His original plans to stay for one year turned into two years… And then the rest of his lifetime.
In 1957, Mr. Walter and Mrs. Mary Sue became the proud parents of Deborah Ann Haney Taylor, joined two years later by her little brother, Walter “Wally” Davis Haney, Jr., in 1959.
With a growing family to support, Mr. Walter decided to return to retail insurance, a vocation which he’d briefly explored between college and his newspaper position.
He spent many lucrative years as an agent with Liberty National, qualifying annually for their Torch Club recognition. He continued to advance in that field, even owning an independent agency with five offices, before changing careers for the last time.
In 1979, Mr. Walter created American Risk Managers, Inc., an independent Risk Management Consulting Firm, which was designed to act as a type of “middle-man” between businesses and insurance agencies. He was successful in this task, advising businesses about their risks and needs, and advocating for them with insurance agencies for more than 42 years.
He worked with dozens and dozens of clients in all types of industries in five different states—Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi. The company remains family-owned and operated to this day.
Mr. Walter also continued his dream of writing by penning, assisting with or editing numerous articles for his company’s website, Amerisk.org, and its blog, “Risk Resources.”
For three years, he was its top subject matter expert and closely involved with 95% of all the information shared freely, on a global level, to anyone interested in learning more about Risk Management.
He also participated in special articles focusing on family, faith, and community, as well as personal columns, such as “My Life And The Blessings.” This extremely popular autobiographical piece was posted on June 26, 2019—one month, one day and one year before his death.
Besides writing, Mr. Walter’s other great dreams as a youth were coaching and teaching. He was able to fulfill those dreams beyond his greatest expectations by coaching youth football for 12 years, becoming known as “The Father of Little League Football” in Hamilton.
He was given the moniker, Coach “Red” Haney, because of his bright red hair. He ruled the sidelines with grit and patience, enthusiasm and determination, and plenty of hugs and pats on the back.
He served as head coach for the Pee Wee teams from 1962 to 1973, including seven undefeated seasons. He finished with an unmatched record of 105-5-5 and mentored more than 1,400 players along the way. Many of his “Little Aggies” went on to become stand-out players and stars on the Hamilton High School football team.
His former players also used his words of inspiration, motivation and dedication to drive them into professional careers, becoming top business workers and owners, as well as strong community and family leaders.
His positive influence and support of youth and community has been recognized by thousands and is now being passed along as his legacy to the next generation. Numerous tributes from his former players, business associates and friends are now being gathered for publication on his Amerisk.org website.
Besides youth football, Mr. Walter remained dedicated to another level of play, continuing to take his role as a fan for Auburn University very seriously. He was an avid Tiger ally, both financially and spiritually, for decades and was acknowledged by the university several times.
His recognitions include a 2004 “Eye of the Tiger Club Award” for his positive support and promotion of athletics, and a 2014 “Samford Society Award” for his interest and general support of excellence.
And although he bled orange and blue, Mr. Walter was the ultimate good sport, counting many Alabama fans as close friends. Those on both sides of the rivalry enjoyed his energetic opinions on games, plays and players.
He was also a strong supporter of the Hamilton United Methodist Church and taught Sunday School there for decades.
He was a long-term, dedicated member of the Hamilton Kiwanis Club and its mission of community support, and was voted “Kiwanian of the Year” in 2010.
Regarding community, Mr. Walter also served the citizens of Hamilton for 12 years from 1964 to 1976 as a City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem. During his three terms, he was involved with many beneficial projects.
Mr. Walter was inducted into the Marion County Sports Hall of Fame in 1994 as Hamilton’s Special Category Honoree for his monumental athletic contributions.
He was officially recognized during pregame ceremonies at Sargent Stadium in Hamilton on October 4, 2017, for his role in creating the remarkable dynasty of the area’s Little League Football Program.
That December, he and his best friend, James Dodd, served together as Grand Marshals for the Hamilton Christmas Parade.
Mr. Walter continued to work as a Risk Manager until two weeks prior to his passing, creating a home office during the COVID-19 self-isolation period. He maintained his sense of humor and proved it with his writings about the quarantine experience. He also kept his Auburn spirit till the end, responding to a family member with a “War Eagle” on the day he died.
Funeral services for Mr. Walter were held on July 29, 2020, at the Hamilton United Methodist Church. Rev. Jeff Armbrester officiated, along with Mr. Walter’s former “Little Aggies” player, fellow Kiwanian and dear friend Mark Dearen. He was buried in Hamilton Memory Gardens. Marion County Funeral Home assisted the family before, during and after the service.
Pallbearers included Exie Spears, David Cantrell, Jeff Burns, and Chris Wilbanks; with honorary pallbearers James Dodd, Bill Nowlin, Alan Cantrell, and Mark Dearen.
As much as he loved his family, his football and his company, Mr. Walter loved the Lord even more. He shared his strong faith with his family, friends and community for more than 80 years and now rests in peace until he greets us all again at the Pearly Gates, or perhaps the Pearly Goalposts.
Haney Is Honored By Aggies
Coach Walter “Red” Haney stands surrounded by his family as he is honored as the “Father of Hamilton Little League Football” on October 4, 2017, at Sargent Stadium. Shown are (front row, from left) Jack Davis Cantrell, Josiah Wilbanks and Asher Kate Wilbanks; (second row, same order) David Cantrell, Ella Cantrell, Deborah Taylor, Sue Haney, Walter Haney, Allie Grace Taylor, Lydia Bentley, Andrea Cantrell, Ashton Wilbanks (holding Micah Wilbanks); and (back row, same order) Exie and Jessica Spears, Valerie Taylor, Phillip Taylor, Wally Haney, Tonya Haney and Chris Wilbanks.
Glimpses Of A Life Well-Lived
Walter Davis Haney, Age 3, With His Beloved Dog, “Doc.” All Dogs And Walters Go To Heaven.
The Haney Clan
(Top left photo) Roland and Annie Haney pose with their three boys; Baby Coy (in Annie’s arms), Little Leo (left) and Wee Walter (right).
(Top center photo) Roland and Annie with (from left) Coy, Leo and Walter.
(Top right photo) A dapperly dressed Walter poses with his father, Roland.
(Middle photo) Roland and Walter are shown with a family friend.
(Bottom left photo) Roland and Walter relax at home.
(Bottom right photo) The Haney Brothers – Coy, Leo and Walter.
Walter – Back In The Day
A young Walter Haney is shown (top left photo) in a photo taken while he was in Germany, (middle top photo) as a Torch Club recipient during his Liberty National Insurance Agent days, (top right photo) in a photo collage from his time with the “Golden Arrow” Division, (bottom left photo) at the Bosch Motorsports speedway in Germany with his brother Leo (left); and (bottom right photo) on the roadway in Germany while he was stationed there with the Army Security Agency.
Walter & Sue
(Top left photo) Mary Sue Mixon admires her engagement ring, while a smiling Walter Haney looks on. Known as Sue by most people, Walter always called his bride by her full name, Mary Sue.
(Top middle photo) The couple celebrate Christmas in the early-to-mid 1980s.
(Top right photo) The Haney’s in a photo taken for the Hamilton United Methodist Church member brochure.
(Bottom left photo) A 25th Wedding Anniversary writeup in the “Hamilton Progress.”
(Bottom, second from left) The Haney’s are shown at their home, circa 1973.
(Bottom photo, third from left) Another 25th Wedding Anniversary photo of the couple from March 29, 1981.
(Bottom photo, far right) Walter and Sue Haney are shown in another formal portrait taken for their church’s member brochure.
The Family Man
(Left photo) Walter and Sue Haney are shown with their young family, with first-born, Deborah, standing in front of Walter, and son, Wally, in Sue’s arms.
(Top middle) Walter with Wally (left) and Deborah, circa 1960.
(Top right) Wally and Walter, circa 1972.
(Bottom right) A family portrait of Walter, Sue, Wally and Deborah, circa 1973.
(Top left photo) Walter and Sue Haney are surrounded by family at their 50th Anniversary dinner celebration on April 2, 2006, at Outback Steakhouse in Tupelo, Miss. Shown are (from left) Ashton, Wally, Tonya, Jennifer, Phillip, Jessica, Deborah and Valerie and (in front of Sue) Allie.
(Top right photo) Walter and Sue enjoyed a special Christmas in 2000 with two new bundles of joy; a granddaughter, Allie (left), and a great-granddaughter, Lydia (right). Allie is their daughter, Deborah’s, third daughter, while Lydia is their granddaughter, Andrea’s, daughter.
(Far right, middle) Walter is shown in between his son, Wally (right), and Wally’s daughter and his granddaughter, Jennifer Haney Burns; with Wally holding his grandson and Walter’s great-grandson, William Walter Burns.
(Bottom left photo) Roland and Annie were photographed on their 50th Wedding Anniversary with their son, Walter, and his family, including their two grandchildren and first two great-grandchildren. Shown are (from left) Wally (holding Andrea), Tonya, Walter, Roland, Annie, Sue (with Jessica standing in front of her), Phillip, and Deborah (holding Valerie).
(Bottom right photo) Walter was called “Papa” by his loving family. He is shown here with his mother, “Granny Annie,” and his children, grandchildren and great-grands. (Front row, from left) Allie, Lydia, Ashton, Walter and Annie; and (back row, from left) Jennifer, David, Andrea (holding Ella), Chris, Tonya, Wally, Sue, Valerie, Deborah, Jessica and Phillip.
(Top photos, from left) Walter and Sue Haney are shown in the Painted Desert and in front of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.
(Middle photo) Walter was a dedicated Auburn Fan, but also had great respect for his rivalry team. He is shown standing in front of the U.S. Post Office in Junction, Texas, where “Bear Bryant’s Boys Became Men.”
(Bottom photos, from left) Walter and Sue stand on a precipice overlooking the Grand Canyon; Walter enjoys a rest at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville; and Walter poses with his brother, Leo, and his wife, Evonne, during a vacation.
(Top photo) A “Journal Record” newspaper clipping shows five generations of Haney’s (from left) Lydia, Andrea, Wally, Walter, and his mother, Annie.
(Bottom left photo) Another five generation photo, this time featuring (from left) Walter’s paternal grandmother, Edna, known as “Ma Haney,” his father, Roland, Mr. Walter, his son Wally, and Wally’s daughter, Andrea.
(Bottom right photo) A five generation photo featuring (from left) Walter’s daughter, Deborah, and her daughter, Jessica, the Haney’s first granddaughter, Mr. Walter, his father, Roland, and Roland’s mother, Edna Haney.
On The Field
(Top left photo) Coach Walter “Red” Haney is shown on the football field in Hamilton with his son, Wally, who was around 3-years-old.
(Top right photo) Coach Haney (middle) takes the field at Sargent Stadium for his official recognition as “The Father of Little League Football” in Hamilton. He is shown (2017) with his son, Wally (left), and son-in-law and Hamilton High School Coach David Cantrell, who is now (2020) the high school principal.
(Bottom left photo) “Red” Haney shows his football players the “Heisman Pose” during a photo day for the ‘Little Aggies” teams.
(Bottom right photo) Coach Walter “Red” Haney’s Fifth Consecutive Undefeated Little League Football Team is shown in a photo taken on the football bleachers. Coaches are (from left) Walter, Carl Bumpus and Jack Christian. Larry Armstrong is not shown.
(Players are not identified here, but most are named in a newspaper clipping that will appear in the special tribute article underway now for Mr. Walter. Please check back to see more photos and quotes from former “Little Aggies” players and Mr. Walter’s business associates and friends.)
We lost our fearless leader last month—Mr. Walter Davis Haney.
He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, brother, businessman, boss, co-worker, coach, mentor, friend, church member, church leader and community leader—plus much more!
Things will never be the same for American Risk Managers.
Yet, we know he would want us to continue his vision…
He created this company so that businesses would have “someone sitting on their side of the table” during insurance negotiations.
We miss him. We love him. We will never forget him.
We will honor him by continuing to serve those in need of advocacy, aid, and advice through Risk Management consulting.
We are in the process of gathering quotes from those who knew and loved Mr. Walter for a special tribute article.
We are also composing a full obituary to share here and with family and friends.
We hope to publish both projects early next month, along with a collection of photographs.
Below is Mr. Walter’s favorite verse and information from his funeral program.
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.