SHELL-ebrate Good Times!

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Roland Cooper’s Re-opening Celebration

By Ethan Van Sice

It would take more than a few drops of rain…

It’d take something longer than ten months of bitterness; something harsher than Legislative neglect; something heavier than hopelessness and something badder than budget cuts…

Then again, not even fifteen, painful years of Al-Quadian aftershock could keep the locals cooped up last Sunday, September 11th.

Instead, they all decided to get “COOP’ed” Out!”

After weeks of meticulous planning, a music-infused, Grand Re-opening Celebration (aptly named “Music in the Park”), organized by the Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce, was finally underway at Roland Cooper State Park. Hundreds of Wilcox residents (along with its most talented musicans, craftsmen, chefs, and even a few…TORTOISES?)– were on hand to celebrate.

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The park officially re-opened last weekend under a concessionaire contract with the Arizona based company, Recreation Resource Management Inc. Today, RRM represents Wilcox with Ed and Lynette Jones, Roland Cooper’s newest team of General Managers.

The Jones’ wasted no time proving themselves gracious hosts. As the crowds rolled in on Sunday, they began shaking hands, making friends, and happily answering any and all questions people might’ve had about their new park.

At 3 p.m., underneath a cloudy veil (not quite gloomy enough to shroud the gleam of smiling citizens), pastor Brian Dovey opened up the festivities with a prayer. The tone was somber, yet hopeful. Everyone was reminded of the day’s signficance–not only to Wilcox County’s history, but also to our nation’s history. “Most of you know exactly where you were on this day 15 years ago.” said Dovey. Judging by some audience members’ introspective glares, one could well assume they may have been standing in that very same spot the moment the towers went down.

Major Brown and his fleet of Jr. ROTC cadets from Wilcox Central High School sealed the mood with a regal presentation of our colors. Attendees young and old looked on in proud recognition of American resiliency, which has remained unshaken since the day our nation fell under attack.

Bailey Jordan Aguire of Pine Hill sang the National Anthem. Local musicians such as Rebecca Vick, Crum Cook, Zack Kennedy, Frank Buckner and Trey Staudenmeir supplied beautiful melodic backdrops for the occasion, which at some points, perhaps unintentionally transformed joyful moments into undeniable metaphors.

From 4-6 p.m., they played the hits that would (just like Roland Cooper) bridge the generational gaps scattered amongst the crowd. Buckner and Staudenmeir’s renditions of “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Virginia” and “Free Bird” were so well-polished and precise, hardly anyone could believe the 17-year-old Staudenmeir had never performed live before.

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Then, at around 6:00 p.m and under flashes of lightning, Rick Carter and Kyle Kimbrell brought the thunder.

..Meanwhile, everyone in attendance enjoyed some good eats, courtesy of Sysco and Frito Lay. Clete and Peggy Verhoff made homemade ice cream with an old-fashioned hit-n-miss engine.

John and Kim Gibson the “turtle rescuers” from Buena Vista, entertained and educated the youngsters with their arsenal of tortoises.

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That’s right…Tortoises.

Tortoises of all shapes and sizes. Some ranging from the size of an Ipod, to over 100 pounds. The children enjoyed feeding the shelled creatures a variety of veggies and ruffage. Not a single person lost a finger.

A wooden sign, donated by Handiman, stood as a visual totem of patriotism as guests were allowed to “Make (their) Mark” with red, white, and blue handprints. The Auburn University Extension Service “wowed” the crowd with their “Skulls and Skins” exhibit, showing different types of animal skins and skills to teach children about the different types of wildlife. They also made sun braclets to teach the kids how to be safe in the sun, although that was hardly a precaution that was needed that day…

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Despite the muggy conditions and sad memories associated with it, the 15 year anniversary of 9/11 will undoubtedly be remembered for something else in Wilcox County, something a little more positive, for years and years to come.

The festivities came to a close around 7 o’clock, but it’s safe to say that nobody was quite ready to leave. Perhaps this is none truer for one person in particular, one who is arguably the most to blame for such a wonderful evening.

Though her unwavering modesty will refuse to accept it, much of the event’s success is due Wilcox Area Chamber Director, Elizabeth Reaves. The wide-eyed, refreshingly amicable Auburn-Grad has been firing on all pistons ever since she landed the lead role in the production of “Wilcox County 2.0” back in June, and she’s shown no signs of slowing down. Reaves is a proud native of Wilcox. She’s tough as nails, determined, and is made of a certain, rare ambition and moral clarity that is hardly seen anymore. “I hope we can make this a new tradition!” She says, “We had an amazing turnout despite the rain, and everyone seemed to have a great time!”

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Park Manager Lynette Jones has spoken highly of Reaves’ influence in the past, once referring to her as a “triplet”, a comical nod towards her seemingly tireless work ethic.

But Jones and Reaves both stress the fact that it’s community involvement, not the works of one single person, that will be the premium factor when it comes to making Roland Cooper all that it can be. Optimism is on high for the park’s future, but until then, Jones is still very much satisfied with the way things played out last Sunday. “I don’t think even the rain could dampen the spirit of those in attendance,” she said, “ There were a multitude of activities for young and old alike, not not mention those who performed by singing and playing guitar. A lot of work went into this event and the outpouring of appreciation and goodwill was greatly appreciated by RRM. Thank you all so much.”

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