- Cullman, Alabama

June 23, 2013

SOUTHERN STYLE: Cullman’s Gravitational Pull

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— There’s a place in Lawrence County called Henry Hill, where something about the earth’s gravitational pull seems to make you feel that your car is going uphill backward. You have to shift to neutral, take your foot off of the pedal and let it coast. It really feels like you are backing up. People come from everywhere to check this place out.

In Cullman County there is a similar gravitational pull that has more to do with people than a geographical location. I often ask folks their impression on this phenomenon, but so far, I haven’t had a single person who can give me a definitive answer.

If you are reading this, you are probably from Cullman County, so you most likely know just what I’m talking about. It’s the giving, loving, caring nature of the people in Cullman. It might seem as if there are places like it everywhere in the world, and I know that for pockets of time, like after a tornado, earthquake, or similar natural disaster, you’ll see it in other places — but it’s in Cullman all the time.

I’ve tried to describe it in other columns and stories, but its essence is hard to pin down in words. Is it in the water? The air? Something about the way the earth was formed around those hills and hollows eons ago before man walked here? What makes one community reach out to help others while another community seems indifferent to the plight of those less fortunate than themselves?  

 I’ve never seen a community that comes together in a crisis or to support anyone or anything the way Cullman does — from donating time and money, to showing up at every function on the calendar, or making sure that there is enough food in the food bank, shelter for homeless animals or you name the cause — Cullman County people rally ’round whatever it is with determination and they get it done.

I’ve literally seen miracles worked through the generosity of people who read this paper. Your hearts open up and burst with love and goodwill like a piñata at a birthday party. Don’t believe in miracles? Just ask around, you’ll find people who have been the recipients of someone here who saw a need and made sure that it was met. It just happens, as surely as that gravitational pull at Henry Hill.

And it’s not all about money. Donations are an amazing part of this Cullman County experience, but it’s more about the hearts behind the checkbooks. It’s in the staggering number of volunteers who donate their time and energy to make sure that organizations like the United Way and Cullman Caring For Kids, The Link of Cullman County, and many other agencies can continue to provide services to people who for one reason or another need a little help.

It’s also about the folks who have a passion for what they do, like go-getter Wade Harbison whose mission in life is making sure that there is always something for people to do in Cullman on a Friday or Saturday night, or tiny Thelma Freeman, whose impressive list of volunteer duties would make your head spin. Then there’s Chester Freeman, who saw a need for recreational facilities for all people and made it happen. Tanya Shearer single-handedly started Empty Bowls of Cullman and turned it into one of the biggest fundraisers in North Alabama, and don’t forget the multitude of people who make Cullman’s Relay For Life one of the most successful anywhere. There’s Bob and Melba Palys, who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Birmingham Children’s Hospital through local Key Clubs and Randall Shedd who oversees one of the largest programs for senior citizens in this state. There are also scores of other philanthropic citizens who make up the fabric that lace this place together in such a unique way.  

Your civic leaders and the members of the CRMC Foundation are some of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met. They all work together in a team effort to ensure that Cullman has the resources so crucial to any municipality or medical facility.

I know individual people elsewhere who have made their mark in the world by being benevolent, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver, patron of Special Olympics or Millard and Linda Fuller, who came up with the idea of building a few “partnership houses” for people who needed shelter. Their idea turned into Habitat For Humanity. There are many others, too many to list here, but the point is, they are individuals or groups of people, scattered over the world, but not in one community the way it has happened here.

I have a feeling that it is because Cullman has kept Christ at the center of the city and county. The churches on most of the city street corners are the touchstones of this community. Their outreach extends to every corner of the county and beyond. That same loving, caring spirit is found in Cullman’s rural churches, as well as the monastery around which the city was formed.

It’s also something less tangible than a congregation of people. It’s a state of mind, a walk of faith, a trust in one another that creates this atmosphere. It’s the belief that doing something because it’s the right thing to do is the norm, not the result of some calamity that makes people temporarily aware of how precious their community really is.

No wonder industry gravitates to this area. No wonder it is blessed with the beauty and natural resources that are abundant here. It’s no wonder that people on the city council and the industrial board want to show prospective investors how great this place is. It seems that it practically sells itself, but behind the shops and the industrial park and the Chamber of Commerce’s promotions are the people who work behind the scenes, making this community such a rare and precious place in the universe.

If this is your home, be thankful. If you are visiting here, take time to look around you, you may never see a place like this one again. If you are reading this from a barracks in the desert, you recognize exactly what I’m referring to because you have seen it’s opposite.

 They say that all hearts come home for Christmas. Well, in Cullman, that includes the other 364 days of the year, as well. The gravitational pull of this place will bring you back here again and again, and leave you longing for it when you are far away.

Whatever it is that makes Cullman what it is, cherish it. It isn’t like this in all communities and cities. Never take it for granted. Keep working together. The luminosity of your love and fellowship is a precious gift, a light unto men.

Keep shining, Cullman!