Donna Barton five years of columns

I’m celebrating an anniversary of sorts.

It was five years ago this month when I began writing a weekly column for The Anniston Star.

In that time, I’ve shared stories about such interesting people in our community. Take Greg and Mary Ann Stay, for example, the owners of Smoke-N-Hot BBQ. She’s from the United Kingdom, he’s from Coldwater and they met in Iraq. Their story is still one of my favorites.

Same goes for Dr. Jacquie Tessen’s adventures in New Zealand. She spent a year working in a hospital there, and I was captivated by her adventures, one of which ended up on the editor’s cutting room floor, not making it into print.

But I’m telling it now.

Get this. Jacquie set off by herself one day to see the East Cape Lighthouse — the easternmost lighthouse in the world, located in a remote area. There was not another soul in sight for miles around (or rather, kilometers). She climbed more than 700 steps to the top of the lighthouse and was rewarded with a view that was worth her exhaustive effort.

On the drive back, she encountered not one, but two flat tires, no cell phone service and an unlikely hero in the form of a Maori pig farmer who put her up overnight at his homestead until roadside services could find her the next day. Crazy, huh?

Another one of my favorites was entitled “Message from Above.” Kristy Farmer, owner of the Peerless, awoke one morning having dreamed of her dear friend, Nina, who died at the age of 40. In an eerie twist, another person also dreamed of Nina that night: Jeff Goodwin, Nina’s one-time boyfriend, now living in Nashville, Tenn. Even though Jeff and Kristy hadn’t talked in decades, he reached out to reminisce about Nina. He then arranged for Kristy and her husband, Scott, along with Nina’s daughter, Julie, to have VIP seats at the Country Music Awards, for which he was a producer. Something that never would’ve happened had it not been for dreams of Nina.

Perhaps the piece I was most humbled to write was the story of Sacred Heart’s priest, Charley Alookaran, and his miracle birth. Pronounced stillborn in the middle of the night at his family’s home in India, his tiny body was set aside until gravediggers could be called at morning light. While waiting, it was the midwife who witnessed the baby take a quick gasp of air. The doctors rushed back in and went to work on him, and as a result, the gravediggers never had to be called. “Had I been born during the day,” Father Charley surmised, “I wouldn’t be here now.”

So many intriguing stories.

I loved hearing about Mike Monroe’s work with the Charlie Daniels Band, and Caroline LaFollette’s experience as a nanny in Spain. I was amused by the nerdy details that went into Carol and Karl Record’s “big fat geek wedding,” and it was a privilege to write about the courtship of Dot and Woodfin Grove who, at the time, were celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary.

Another love story I was honored to share was that of Mark and Mary Keller, who were mere teens when they fell in love. Sadly, Mary died of cancer at too young of an age, leaving Mark devastated and bereft, but willing to share those memories where his joy and pain intersected.

Death is a natural part of life, of course, but as Ellen Comfort said, “What will never be natural is for a parent to bury their child.” Her memories of the day when Army officials knocked on her door to inform her of the death of her son, Capt. Kyle Comfort, still haunt my thoughts. As does the tragic story of Denise and Randy Davis, who lost their son, Daniel, to childhood cancer.

The stories I’ve been trusted with over the past five years have been happy, sad, funny or somewhere in between, and I can only hope that I’ve done them justice.

It’s appropriate for me to celebrate my newspaper anniversary during a time of thanksgiving because I am truly grateful to have this job I love — and I can’t wait to see where the next story takes me.

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at