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V112<br />

224<br />

Bully<br />

Prevention<br />

Awareness<br />

Super Dangerous<br />

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Hometown RANKIN • 5

6 • FEBRUARY 2024


Legends are always fascinating, which is why I wanted to visit a<br />

place of legends and meet two of the people this issue highlights.<br />

I was in the Coach Billy Rhodes Gymnasium of East<br />

Rankin Academy, the center of activity during basketball<br />

season, when it hit me.<br />

A true wave of memories raced through my mind as I<br />

heard the basketballs bouncing over the familiar hardwood.<br />

For a brief, satisfying moment, I was running out on the<br />

basketball court of my high school team as a New Albany<br />

Bulldog. The fans and families filled the stands and cheered<br />

us to a lot of victories. I was learning teamwork, discipline,<br />

the ability to overcome defeats, and the joy of victories.<br />

There were lots of skinned knees and multiple bruises,<br />

but I carried them as tokens of competition.<br />

Hopefully, Hometown Magazines will always touch<br />

hearts with special memories and challenge each of us<br />

to be “team players” focused on making our hometown<br />

the best it can be.<br />



Tahya Dobbs<br />

CFO<br />

Kevin Dobbs<br />


Mary Ann Kirby<br />


The Way We Were 10<br />

Reader Spotlight 15<br />

Hometown Family 18<br />

Living the Legacy 24<br />

Kids Who Care 30<br />

Bully Prevention Awareness 42<br />

First Responders 52<br />

The Time Coin 58<br />

...see you around town.<br />


Barbie Bassett<br />


Amy Forsyth<br />



Melissa Kennon<br />



Alisha Floyd<br />


Daniel Thomas<br />

3dt<br />

STAFF<br />


Othel Anding<br />

STAFF<br />


Debby Francis<br />


Susan Wolgamott<br />

www.facebook.com/hometownrankinmagazine. For subscription information visit www.htmags.com or contact us at info@HTMags.com / 601.706.4059 / 200 Felicity Street / Brandon, MS 39042<br />

All rights reserved. No portion of Hometown Rankin may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher. The management of Hometown Rankin is not responsible for opinions expressed by its writers or editors.<br />

Hometown Rankin maintains the unrestricted right to edit or refuse all submitted material. All advertisements are subject to approval by the publisher. The production of Hometown Rankin is funded by advertising.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 7

8 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 9

Jane & Steve Wilson<br />

Camille Anding<br />

Sometime between Steve<br />

Wilson’s high school and college<br />

days, a wise friend suggested that<br />

Steve make a list of the qualities<br />

or traits that he would want in a<br />

future wife. He recalls his list that<br />

named “good-looking, smart, and<br />

a sense of humor.”<br />

By the time Jane Pinson was a<br />

teenager, she had begun to make her<br />

checklist for a future husband to<br />

fill. First, he had to be a Christian,<br />

then a man of integrity with a<br />

sense of humor.<br />

With their forty-first<br />

anniversary coming this July 23rd,<br />

it appears all their expectations for<br />

a happily-ever-after relationship<br />

were and are being met. Jane said,<br />

“We’ve always been comfortable<br />

together.” Being in their company<br />

any length of time gives credence<br />

to her statement.<br />

Steve describes his unique way<br />

of becoming acquainted with Jane.<br />

“I made friends with her mother<br />

before I made friends with Jane.”<br />

That is because Steve worked<br />

part-time at the YMCA where<br />

Jane’s mother was the bookkeeper.<br />

Jane would work there in the<br />

summers when she was home<br />

from Ole Miss.<br />

Their occasional conversations<br />

led Steve to ask Jane for a date.<br />

They still remember dining at<br />

Cock of the Walk and seeing the<br />

Raiders of the Lost Ark movie.<br />

There was an immediate<br />

connection that kept them dating.<br />

Steve was pursuing his goal of<br />

becoming a medical doctor, taking<br />

all the biology and chemistry<br />

courses at Millsaps and then at<br />

Mississippi College. It was on the<br />

Natchez Trace while traveling to<br />

classes at Mississippi College that<br />

he distinctly sensed God speaking<br />

to him. The direction was plain:<br />

“Your job is to point people to Me.”<br />

There was little hesitation for<br />

Steve to change his life course.<br />

Even though medical professions<br />

were predominant in Steve’s<br />

family, he never wavered in his<br />

obedience to his very clear call.<br />

Jane was not surprised when Steve<br />

shared this turn in his plans, and<br />

becoming a minister’s wife didn’t<br />

deter Jane’s devotion to this young<br />

man who had already won her heart.<br />

After dating for a full year<br />

while Jane was a student at Ole<br />

Miss, Steve drove to Oxford for a<br />

date that would cement their<br />

relationship. It was on January 13,<br />

1983, on the grounds of Rowan<br />

Oak. Steve dropped to a knee<br />

and asked Jane to marry him. She<br />

accepted his request, and in July of<br />

that year, walked down the Hillcrest<br />

Baptist Church aisle in South<br />

Jackson on her dad’s arm to repeat<br />

vows with Steve. Her dad cried,<br />

but Jane and Steve shared a united<br />

joy that would continue to grow in<br />

the years to come.<br />

Preparation for the ministry<br />

meant enrolling in New Orleans<br />

Baptist Theological Seminary.<br />

The couple lived across from Billy<br />

and Flo Simmons, Steve’s New<br />

Testament professor. It did not<br />

take the newlyweds long to realize<br />

how God was meeting all their<br />

needs. The Simmons “adopted”<br />

the young couple and demonstrated<br />

10 • FEBRUARY 2024

“...be reminded<br />

that your spouse<br />

loves you, so always<br />

show grace.”<br />

to Steve the humility, beauty, and<br />

joy of allowing Christ to live in<br />

and through a Christian – even a<br />

seminary professor. Flo mentored<br />

Jane on how to live and flourish as<br />

a pastor’s wife. One key piece of<br />

advice was, “Accept that you can’t<br />

do everything people think you<br />

can do.”<br />

The Wilson’s first pastorate<br />

was in Temple Baptist Church in<br />

Dermott, Arkansas, from 1986 to<br />

1992. They left there to answer<br />

Meadow Grove Baptist Church’s<br />

call to be their pastor. That is<br />

where they still serve and lead in<br />

their Brandon community.<br />

They are parents to three<br />

grown sons. Robert is on staff as<br />

manager of student opportunities<br />

at The Open University in<br />

England, an online college with<br />

175,000 students. Jess is his wife,<br />

and they have two children, Ella<br />

and Jack. Andrew is married to<br />

Zoë. They have one son, Emmett.<br />

Andrew is working toward his PhD,<br />

while on staff at the New Orleans<br />

Seminary Caskey Center for<br />

Church Excellence, in preaching.<br />

John, the youngest, has a master’s<br />

degree in divinity and is studying<br />

toward his Master of Theology<br />

while on staff at Southeastern<br />

Baptist Theological Seminary in<br />

Wake Forest, North Carolina.<br />

The Wilsons’ sons have all<br />

attained to higher education,<br />

which leads one to inquire about<br />

their childhood. Jane said, “We<br />

read to them at an early age, and<br />

they learned to love books and<br />

read a lot on their own.”<br />

Steve added, “We limited<br />

their screen time, talked to them<br />

like adults, and did fun things as a<br />

family.” Both parents agreed that<br />

friends become more important as<br />

children get older, and it is essential<br />

for parents to know their kids’<br />

friends. The question was raised<br />

about cell phones. Those were<br />

granted when their teenagers<br />

got their drivers’ licenses. Steve<br />

interjected, “I told them they<br />

could borrow their friends’ phones<br />

if they ever had an emergency.”<br />

Chores were another key to<br />

teaching their sons responsibility.<br />

They learned to cook, and all<br />

began doing their own laundry<br />

at age seven.<br />

As a pastor, it is no surprise to<br />

hear Steve’s advice to newly married<br />

couples: “Get involved in church.<br />

Start doing life together with<br />

believers, and good things will<br />

materialize.” Jane sees communication<br />

as a key to enriching a<br />

marriage – it needs to be learned.<br />

Steve closed out with grace.<br />

“During misunderstandings, be<br />

reminded that your spouse loves<br />

you, so always show grace.”<br />

It is obvious that Steve’s choice<br />

in his bride and his obedience to<br />

God’s call, blended with Jane’s<br />

role as pastor’s wife and mother,<br />

has resulted in lives that are<br />

blessed while their lives bless<br />

others. Their future promises to<br />

follow their lives’ blueprint.<br />

Steve put it in his own words,<br />

“I don’t want to stop living<br />

before I die.”<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 11

12 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 13

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READER<br />


Morgan<br />

BAILEY<br />

Tell us about your occupation.<br />

I am the director of sales at the Blake at<br />

Flowood. I have been here since October 2023.<br />

I love being part of such a special community<br />

and enjoy the relationships I get to make with<br />

each resident as well as every family that takes<br />

time out of their day to tour our community and<br />

trusts us with their loved ones. I also help out at<br />

Rollin Beans Coffee Company on Spillway<br />

Road every now and then! Best coffee in<br />

Rankin County!<br />

Why did you decide to make Rankin County<br />

your home?<br />

I was born in Rankin County! My parents felt<br />

Rankin County was the best place to start a<br />

family and knew it was somewhere they would<br />

want to stay forever.<br />

How long have you lived in Rankin County?<br />

My whole life. I attended Brandon schools from<br />

kindergarten through graduation. I spent a<br />

semester at the Hinds Rankin Campus before<br />

transferring to Mississippi State University.<br />

After graduation, I moved back to Rankin<br />

County to begin my adult life.<br />

Tell us about your family.<br />

My mom, stepdad, brother, and stepsisters live<br />

in Brandon. My mother is a home health nurse,<br />

and my stepdad is a teacher at Brandon Middle<br />

School. My dad, stepmom, and step siblings live<br />

in Madison. My dad is a NICU nurse, and my<br />

stepmom is a labor and delivery nurse. I am<br />

blessed with a beautiful, blended family! I am<br />

recently engaged to Robert Cox, and we will be<br />

starting our own family in September of 2024!<br />

What is your favorite memory of living in<br />

Rankin County?<br />

Being a homecoming maid and riding through<br />

downtown Brandon during the homecoming<br />

parades. There was such an overwhelming sense<br />

of community, and I loved seeing the parade<br />

route jam-packed with what felt like every<br />

single person in Brandon.<br />

Where are your three favorite places<br />

to eat in Rankin County?<br />

El Sombrero in Pearl (best street tacos around!),<br />

The Cleaners, and OEC.<br />

What are some fun things to do in<br />

Rankin County on the weekends?<br />

I love going out to eat with my friends on the<br />

weekends. I love having lots of great restaurants<br />

to choose from! I also love going to concerts at<br />

the Brandon amphitheater and shopping in<br />

Dogwood.<br />

What do you enjoy doing in your spare<br />

time?<br />

I am beginning to enjoy wedding planning!<br />

I enjoy spending time with my friends and<br />

family and working out at Burn Boot Camp.<br />

Who is someone you admire and why?<br />

I admire so many of my sweet residents at the<br />

Blake at Flowood. It is incredible to be let into<br />

their daily lives. I am working in their home and<br />

each and every person has their own background<br />

and life story that I can learn from daily.<br />

Where do you see yourself in ten years?<br />

I hope to be still living in Rankin County with<br />

my children attending the Brandon school<br />

systems where my fiancé and I both attended<br />

school.<br />

What is your favorite childhood memory?<br />

Walking to Shiloh Park and watching the<br />

fireworks for the Fourth of July or Brandon Day.<br />

I grew up in a home directly behind the t-ball<br />

fields, so we could walk as a family, to where the<br />

splash pad is now, and sit and watch the<br />

fireworks.<br />

If you could give us one encouraging<br />

quote, what would it be?<br />

Nobody is paying as much attention to your<br />

failures as you are.<br />

What are three things on your bucket list?<br />

Go snow skiing, read the entire Bible, and go to<br />

Greece.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 15

16 • FEBRUARY 2024

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Hometown RANKIN • 17

18 • FEBRUARY 2024

TheRenos<br />

Tell us about your family.<br />

Kyle’s hobbies include exercising, hunting, and fishing.<br />

Katie’s hobbies include exercising, going on long walks with Kyle,<br />

reading books, and always finding herself at a grocery store to get<br />

snacks for the kids.<br />

Cooper is eleven years old and enjoys hunting, fishing, and playing<br />

all sports.<br />

Able is eight years old and loves playing with Legos, playing soccer,<br />

and climbing trees.<br />

Lincoln is five years old and plays with toy robots and Legos.<br />

Tucker is five years old and enjoys wrestling with his brothers.<br />

Joy is three years old and loves taking care of her baby dolls.<br />

How did you meet and how long have you been married?<br />

We met on a mission trip in Ecuador where we spent time going to<br />

different villages sharing the Gospel and giving kids some of their first<br />

pairs of shoes. We’ve been happily married for sixteen years.<br />

Do you allow time with your spouse for a date night?<br />

Although we enjoy date nights, we usually have Friday morning<br />

dates together while the kids are in school. Primos Cafe is a great<br />

breakfast date spot!<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 19

What brings you the greatest joy as a parent?<br />

Our story to become parents has been our greatest joy. God blessed<br />

us with five amazing kids. We struggled with being able to have kids<br />

for over seven years and had doctors give us no hope. By God’s<br />

calling, we adopted Cooper and Able and experienced unexplainable<br />

joy when both of them were placed in our arms. A few years later,<br />

God did an absolute miracle, and we got pregnant with our twin<br />

boys. Then, the cherry on top was getting pregnant again with our<br />

daughter, Joy. It’s a huge honor to be their parents.<br />

What is your discipline philosophy with your kids?<br />

We need the Lord’s help in this every day. Our goal is to intentionally<br />

have close relationships with each of our kids, so when we do<br />

discipline, it comes from a place of love and trust. We want to<br />

discipline immediately and consistently and always love abundantly.<br />

We continually pray together as parents and declare scripture over<br />

our kids.<br />

What’s a quick go-to meal that isn’t fast food?<br />

And who does the cooking?<br />

Katie usually does the cooking and our quick, go-to meal is<br />

Sausage Tortellini Soup.<br />

• 6 links sweet Italian sausage<br />

• 2 cloves garlic, minced<br />

• 1/2 onion, chopped<br />

• 2 cans beef broth<br />

• 2 cans water<br />

• 14.5 oz. diced tomatoes<br />

• 1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning<br />

• 2 cups sliced zucchini<br />

• 1 can kidney beans<br />

• 1 cup carrots diced<br />

• 1 package cheese tortellini<br />

• grated parmesan<br />

In saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and brown sausage links.<br />

Add garlic and onion. When onion is tender and sausage is cooked,<br />

slice sausage links. In large pot, bring beef broth, water, sausage,<br />

garlic, onion, Italian seasoning, tomatoes, zucchini, kidney beans,<br />

and carrots to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-20<br />

minutes. Add tortellini, and cook until tortellini is tender.<br />

Serve with Parmesan cheese.<br />

Who is the financial manager in your home?<br />

We’re both aware of all of our personal finances, but Katie manages<br />

the bills and budget.<br />

What are your favorite things about Rankin County?<br />

We quickly realized how much the people of Rankin County<br />

love where they live. They have a sense of pride for their part of<br />

the community. It excites us to watch how much the county is<br />

growing and thriving.<br />

How do you spend your summer breaks?<br />

We love to use the summer break as a moment to rest intentionally<br />

from routine and spend lots of time outside with friends. We usually<br />

take a trip to Smith Lake and the Gulf Coast beaches to spend time<br />

with family.<br />

What drives you to have the job that you have?<br />

And what do you do for a living?<br />

Kyle I was radically saved by the Lord at nineteen years old.<br />

Then, He called me to preach at the age of twenty-one. After<br />

struggling through the process of surrender, I haven’t looked back.<br />

For twenty- one years, I’ve been blessed to be a part of His work<br />

in the world. I have the privilege of serving as senior pastor at<br />

Crossgates Baptist Church.<br />

Katie I have an elementary education degree and use every bit<br />

of it while being a stay-at-home mom right now. I also feel honored<br />

to be a pastor’s wife to Kyle. We get to serve the local church, talk<br />

about the hope we have in Jesus, and minister to people. Doesn’t<br />

get better than that!<br />


Favorite Family Activity?<br />

Cooper going on trips Able going to Smith Lake in Alabama<br />

Lincoln playing with toys Tucker making s’mores<br />

Joy playing at the playground.<br />

Favorite Restaurant?<br />

Cooper Wendy’s Able Primo’s Café Lincoln The Cleaners<br />

by Pizza Shack Tucker Lost Pizza Joy Primo’s Café<br />

Favorite TV Show?<br />

Cooper Hunting Public Able Dude Perfect<br />

Lincoln Transformers Tucker Transformers Joy Frozen<br />

Favorite Book to Read as a Family?<br />

The Adam Raccoon book series by Glen Keane<br />

20 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 21

22 • FEBRUARY 2024

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Hometown RANKIN • 23

24 • FEBRUARY 2024

“Shoot 100 shots<br />

every day,” and she<br />

did-as a third grader!<br />

Then, she began dribbling<br />

her basketball up and down<br />

the driveway. More coaching<br />

instructions came: “Dribble<br />

two basketballs using both<br />

hands,” and she did!<br />

Those coaching instructions might have<br />

seemed challenging to most children her age,<br />

but for Brooke Rhodes, it was a must to follow<br />

because those instructions came from her<br />

legendary granddaddy, Billy Rhodes. Everyone<br />

in the surrounding area of Pelahatchie knows<br />

him as the basketball coach that trained and<br />

coached young athletes from 1970 to 2016,<br />

winning state championships in ‘75, ‘76, and<br />

‘77. In addition, the gym and growth of the<br />

private school would not have become a reality<br />

without the Rhodes husband-wife team who<br />

invested so much of their lives and are now<br />

delighted to see its present enrollment grow<br />

to over 700.<br />

By the time Brooke reached the eighth<br />

grade, it was obvious to everyone, especially<br />

her granddaddy and dad, that she had the<br />

“gift” for excelling in basketball. When her<br />

granddaddy was not instructing, her dad<br />

filled in. Even Brooke’s mom worked as her<br />

rebound partner when Brooke shot rounds<br />

upon rounds of practice shots.<br />

Brooke’s high school years on the hardwood<br />

continued to display her talent. She averaged<br />

21.4 points and led East Rankin Academy to<br />

a 35-2 record and the MAIS Overall Tournament<br />

Championship for the first in school<br />

history. Brooke scored 35 points in the final<br />

game, and 2,568 total points in her high school<br />

career. College recruiting letters began to<br />

acknowledge her talent by her junior year.<br />

She accepted a scholarship to Delta State,<br />

believing its size and distance from home was<br />

the best choice. After three successful years<br />

there, her coach took another position which<br />

left Brooke considering her own transfer to<br />

University of Southern Mississippi. With<br />

only a year of eligibility left to play basketball,<br />

Brooke understood the challenge it would<br />

present to hone her skills and become a player<br />

that could compete at this new level.<br />

Brooke described that challenge, “The girls<br />

on the team were better, taller, and appeared<br />

to have more skills than I was expecting.<br />

However, I knew I wasn’t going to sit on the<br />

bench my senior year, so I knew I had to work<br />

harder and play better than I had ever played.”<br />

Her determination and drive delivered and<br />

earned her the award of MVP at the end of<br />

her senior year at Southern. After graduating,<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 25

she switched from playing on the hardwood<br />

to coaching. Brooke was an assistant coach at<br />

Central Arkansas, Jones College, Presbyterian<br />

College in South Carolina, and Western<br />

Carolina for a combined six years before<br />

returning home. “It was where I<br />

knew I was supposed to be<br />

– I sensed God calling me<br />

to return to my roots.”<br />

In only her third season at East Rankin,<br />

it is obvious that her playing “gift” has<br />

progressed into a coaching “gift.” She and<br />

her team hold a 26-4 record so far this year,<br />

and the Lady Patriots have set their sights<br />

on the 5A state title and an even higher goal<br />

of the Overall title.<br />

The coaching fit is perfect for Brooke.<br />

She loves the game and is passionate about it.<br />

She confessed that she played with passion<br />

and coaches in the same manner. Her passion<br />

spills over at certain times, which is why her<br />

dad sits beside her during the games. “He’s<br />

been known to give my jacket a little yank at<br />

times to keep me calm!”<br />

26 • FEBRUARY 2024

Coach Rhodes wants her players to know<br />

that she loves them and that they can always<br />

trust her word. In the midst of molding them<br />

into stellar athletes, she is also instilling lifetime<br />

values of integrity and servanthood.<br />

“I want younger girls to want to be like these<br />

players on and off the court.”<br />

Brooke’s coaching schedule of 5th graders<br />

through high school does not leave much downtime,<br />

but she thrives on any free time that she<br />

gets to spend on her family’s farm and with her<br />

nieces, Reese and Libby. Hay-baling is another<br />

family affair when she helps drive the heavy<br />

farming equipment. Her coach’s office holds<br />

past memorabilia relating to her impressive<br />

career. A crowded rack of basketballs line one<br />

wall and her framed Southern jersey is mounted<br />

to her right. The office is not occupied much of<br />

the week – Coach is usually on the court doing<br />

what she is gifted at and loves. Today her PawPaw<br />

joined the interview. Their love and admiration<br />

for each other were expressed often during our<br />

talk. He has been her chief mentor, and she has<br />

been his delight.<br />

PawPaw pointed out that she has refused some<br />

coaching offers with salaries far exceeding her<br />

present one, but Brooke was quick to explain<br />

that money was not her goal. For now, she is<br />

where God wants her – enjoying coaching<br />

in a supportive school and community, living<br />

“next door” to family, and going to work every<br />

weekday in a building with her PawPaw’s name<br />

printed across the front. There is an enviable<br />

supply of contentment in Coach Rhodes’s office.<br />

The legacy? To be continued.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 27

28 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 29

30 • FEBRUARY 2024


Mary Grace Tomlinson<br />

Mistie Desper<br />



PERSONIFIED. She has always had<br />

the ability to see a need and fill it.” Mom,<br />

Lauren, praises her daughter’s servant’s<br />

heart. From an early age, Mary Grace<br />

Tomlinson, a freshman at Florence High<br />

School, has had a strong desire to not only<br />

be the best version of herself but to also be a<br />

role model for her peers to pursue acts of<br />

kindness and service to those in need. She<br />

would always lend a helping hand wherever<br />

she could. In middle school, she took this<br />

kindness one step further.<br />

Having family and close family friends<br />

who had courageously served in the military,<br />

Mary Grace and her father Bryan noticed<br />

that the flag was not being raised on campus.<br />

Being patriotic and recognizing the respect<br />

that should be shown for our flag and country,<br />

she knew she had to take action. Mary Grace<br />

reached out to the administration and thus<br />

the Flag Raisers Club was born with her<br />

leading others as president. “I felt that it was<br />

important because things like this can get<br />

lost in today’s society.” When she moved up<br />

to the high school, she made sure that an<br />

election was held and the position was filled<br />

to keep raising the flag each and every day<br />

carrying on the legacy she started.<br />

Attending Lakeshore Church in Byram<br />

keeps Mary Grace quite busy. There, she<br />

serves on the praise and worship team, is<br />

part of the children’s ministry, helps with<br />

their annual summer programs and vacation<br />

Bible school. She also helps with their<br />

popular outreach programs like the fall<br />

festival and the enormously anticipated<br />

yearly live nativity drive-through. The live<br />

nativity takes many hands to execute, but it is<br />

such a joy for the young, and young-at-heart,<br />

to be able to drive through with a CD story<br />

of Christ’s birth. Lakeshore draws a huge<br />

crowd for this event, and Mary Grace is<br />

honored to be a part of it when she can. “I just<br />

hope that my actions in the community show<br />

others Jesus. It can be hard for others to<br />

participate, and I hope that by seeing me<br />

and others, it can make it easier for someone<br />

my age to do the same. I strive to be my best<br />

self and try to always be encouraging and<br />

welcoming to everyone, especially those<br />

younger than me.”<br />

Kelsey Williams, assistant principal at<br />

Florence High School, said, “I am not sure<br />

that I have ever met a student who is more<br />

dedicated to serving others than Mary Grace.<br />

She is always willing to help faculty, staff,<br />

and other students in need. She has helped<br />

tour new students around the school, recited<br />

the pledge over the intercom daily, and<br />

volunteered to set up car rider speakers many<br />

afternoons. She is truly a ‘kid who cares’ as<br />

she represents the Florence community with<br />

passion and humility.”<br />

Bryan, Lauren, and sister, Rory, are so<br />

proud of Mary Grace and her willingness to<br />

get out in her community and serve. “She is<br />

just so humble, she won’t tell you exactly<br />

everything she has done for her community.”<br />

Lauren shared that Mary Grace has also<br />

been involved in the Color A Smile program<br />

that sends colored sheets to those in nursing<br />

homes, adoption agencies, and even our<br />

military troops to brighten their day.<br />

Her Sunday school class raised money<br />

for Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that<br />

builds houses, schools, hospitals, and<br />

churches in areas affected by disaster,<br />

poverty, and war. She decided to take the<br />

donations public into her school and ended<br />

up raising a substantial amount for the<br />

organization. Mary Grace has also given up<br />

the traditional things for herself like<br />

birthday gifts. For many years, she has asked<br />

that donations be made to CARA (Community<br />

Animal Rescue and Adoption)<br />

instead. “She is just so self-motivated and<br />

driven to succeed. We really don’t deserve<br />

her and her goodness, but we sure are<br />

thankful that the Lord gave her to us<br />

because she is just too good for this world.<br />

We are so proud of her and cannot wait to<br />

see what the future holds for her,” said<br />

Lauren. As she continues to enjoy her high<br />

school years serving her community and<br />

playing soccer for her school, she is thinking<br />

about life after high school and considering<br />

a future career in physical therapy or<br />

chiropractic care. Mary Grace is excited for<br />

her future and left me with her favorite<br />

Bible verse, Esther 4:14 which reminds us<br />

that God has a plan for our life even when<br />

He asks us to do difficult things and that<br />

we can always have hope and confidence<br />

that God is there for us.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 31

32 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 33

34 • FEBRUARY 2024<br />

88th Annual Children’s Benefit Gala<br />


Hometown RANKIN • 35

36 • FEBRUARY 2024

This story begins in 2020, when my husband was deploying and covid<br />

was preparing to take over the U.S. We were completely unprepared<br />

for the deployment, let alone a pandemic, when he came home<br />

after drill and told me that he was going to be gone for a year.<br />

I understand that this is a part of being a military spouse.<br />

It’s something that we “sign up” for–at least that’s what they tell us.<br />

And, for the most part, we are pretty resilient and flexible. And while<br />

we do break, somehow, we always figure out how to piece ourselves<br />

back together.<br />

Deployments are just a part of the package when you marry a<br />

service member. As a wife, this would be our second deployment of<br />

our marriage. As a mom, however, it would be our first. We struggled<br />

to get prepared for when my husband would leave in March of 2020.<br />

As adults, we understand what it means when someone deploys.<br />

We can understand that this is a vital part of being in the military<br />

and that, ultimately, it’s going to happen. For my little boy, who was<br />

almost three years old, I didn’t know how to explain this. I tried to<br />

tell him that his daddy had to go away for a while. But for a child,<br />

there is no concept of time. That could mean a few hours, or a<br />

couple of days, even.<br />

While we wrestled with our own breaking hearts, I realized that<br />

if it hurt me and my husband this badly, it was going to hurt our son<br />

even more.<br />

We had discovered the animatronic dinosaurs at the Natural<br />

Science Museum and we frequently visited them, trying desperately<br />

to make as many memories as possible before my husband left for<br />

a year. Then, one day, the exhibit was over, and the dinosaurs were<br />

gone. My little boy, Maddox, kept asking us, “where did the dinosaurs<br />

go?” He asked it over and over again.<br />

That’s when I had an idea. I told him that Daddy was going to go<br />

find the dinosaurs and bring them home! He would be gone for a<br />

long time because they had a lot of dinosaurs to track down.<br />

When the time came for my husband to leave, we had a plan.<br />

We were going to swap dinosaur stories while he was away! The<br />

night my husband boarded a plane leaving the country, in his<br />

possession was also a plastic Spinosaurus named Sergeant Steg.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 37

Over the course of a year, Maddox and I<br />

used dinosaurs to go on adventures, to take<br />

photos with friends, and used our dinos to<br />

tell Daddy all about what we were learning!<br />

We even sent our friend, Sgt. Steg, a care<br />

package full of gummy fish, berries, and a<br />

blanket. He became the unofficial mascot of<br />

the entire battery. I was working at the<br />

Mississippi National Guard at the time and<br />

when they caught wind of our story, they<br />

loved it! They wanted to make sure every<br />

kid with deployed parents got a dinosaur to<br />

go on adventures with, too.<br />

I realized that this wasn’t just an idea<br />

anymore. This was a children’s book. I<br />

began writing, researching, and trying to<br />

find someone to help me create it. And<br />

when I couldn’t find an illustrator, I started<br />

drawing for hours a day and putting the<br />

ideas I had on paper.<br />

38 • FEBRUARY 2024<br />

My husband had returned at this point,<br />

and we went through the typical postdeployment<br />

emotions that meant getting<br />

to know each other all over again. This brings<br />

with it its own special kind of challenges, but<br />

through it all, I kept drawing and kept writing.<br />

For three years, I drew for hours at night<br />

while everyone was asleep. When my<br />

grandma was sick and dying in the hospital,<br />

I drew by her bedside. After all, she was<br />

the one who told me that I was capable<br />

of writing this story.<br />

In 2022, I saw some illustrations at a<br />

children’s book festival that were absolutely<br />

incredible. They made me realize that if I was<br />

going to do this, I had to put my heart and<br />

soul into my illustrations. My husband took<br />

us to Washington, D.C., in March of 2022,<br />

and I met with a Navy spouse to show her<br />

my book. When she told me that she loved<br />

it, that was all I needed to push forward and<br />

finally complete my book, “Super Dangerous<br />

Top Secret Dinosaur Mission.”<br />

The reason I’m writing this is because it’s<br />

my son’s story. The courage that I witnessed<br />

from him as a 3-year-old gave me the stamina<br />

to write, illustrate over 60 different scenes,<br />

edit, learn how to format, and ultimately<br />

begin printing our special project.<br />

Maddox’s story, the story of a child<br />

struggling with separation, anxiety, and fear,<br />

is very common among military children.<br />

We have books for children all over the<br />

world, but we have few books about coping<br />

with deployments, and even fewer that ask<br />

children to use their imaginations to<br />

overcome traumatic separations.<br />

The dinosaurs are also a way of bringing<br />

tangibility to “bad guys.” They can see what<br />

their parent/guardian, etc. is up against and<br />

it is not as frightening as hearing that<br />

Daddy/Mommy has to go away for a while<br />

to fight the scary people.

Children don’t understand why their parent(s)<br />

can’t do their jobs from home. They become<br />

afraid that the bad guys are going to hurt<br />

their parents, or possibly even them. Because<br />

of these intangible fears that our military<br />

children face, I believe that this book can<br />

help them. I have faith that this book will give<br />

them the courage to use their imaginations,<br />

the most powerful thing in this world, and<br />

look beyond the unknown to create a world<br />

that they can understand.<br />

Maddox is six now, and still in love with<br />

dinosaurs. He’s also my co-author. This book<br />

is a love letter to my little boy. I had no<br />

experience in drawing, and if you’ve ever<br />

illustrated something, you know how<br />

tedious it can be, especially for a beginner.<br />

My love for him kept me going–not just<br />

while writing and illustrating this book, but<br />

also during the deployment.<br />

There were times when I was sure it was<br />

going to break me. I believe that it did once<br />

or twice. But, seeing my little boy’s courage<br />

made me get back up every time. Military<br />

kids will do that to you.<br />

My husband has been a huge cheerleader<br />

through this whole process, as well as my<br />

little community of military and non-military<br />

friends and family. Now, I want to share this<br />

story with everyone else, so they can use it to<br />

keep pushing when their spouse is deployed,<br />

and when everything seems like it’s going to<br />

cave in on them.<br />

Thank you for reading our story.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 39

40 • FEBRUARY 2024

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Hometown RANKIN • 41

Bully<br />

Prevention<br />

Awareness<br />

CATEGORY 1 PreK - 2nd<br />

For the past eight years, the Rankin<br />

County School District has hosted their<br />

Bully Prevention Awareness Poster Contest.<br />

Students from grades Pre-K to 12th are<br />

encouraged to submit original artwork<br />

addressing positive friendships, peer<br />

pressure, peer conflict, as well as physical<br />

bullying, emotional bullying, social bullying,<br />

and cyber-bullying. In recent years, we added<br />

a poetry division for the middle/high division<br />

to allow another creative outlet for students.<br />

“This contest, along with other programs<br />

and initiatives, serves our students by<br />

allowing them to think outside the box and<br />

visually present problems that they or other<br />

students may face in regard to bullying and<br />

also offers a way for them to be a part of<br />

the solution. We feel that when students<br />

are reaching out to one another and striving<br />

for positivity through opportunities like this<br />

contest, they are providing their peers with<br />

a message of support and hope,” said<br />

Ginger Jones, RCSD director of student<br />

support services and counseling.<br />

The winning posters and poems in each<br />

category are placed in all 28 of the schools<br />

in the Rankin County School District.<br />

Colton McCoy 2ND GRADE Steen’s Creek Elementary - $100<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

Lyla Schaffhauser 2ND GRADE StoneBridge Elementary School - $50<br />

Posters were submitted for judging at the<br />

school level, and each school submitted<br />

three posters and three poems to go on to<br />

the district level competition. Each of the<br />

six categories had district-level first, second,<br />

and third place winners. Rankin County<br />

School District had the twelve winning<br />

posters and six winning poems reproduced<br />

to display in district schools and offices.<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

The Foundation for Rankin County Public<br />

Schools provided checks in the amount<br />

of $100 for first place winners,<br />

$50 for second place winners, and<br />

$25 for third place winners.<br />

Devansh Sadhu 1ST GRADE Northwest Rankin Elementary School - $25<br />

42 • FEBRUARY 2024

CATEGORY 4 9th-12th Poster<br />

Jossalyn White 10TH GRADE<br />

Brandon High School - $100<br />

Lauren Entremont 11TH GRADE<br />

Brandon High School - $50<br />

Kaitlyn Gowdy 12TH GRADE<br />

Northwest Rankin High School - $25<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 43

CATEGORY 3 6th-8th Poetry<br />

“Put Yourself In Their Shoes”<br />

“In the End Kindness Wins”<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

Broken Crayons Still Color<br />

McKinley Stanton 8TH GRADE<br />

Richland High School - $100<br />

CATEGORY 4 9th-12th Poetry<br />

Put Yourself in Their Shoes<br />

Braelyn Vincent 8TH GRADE<br />

Brandon Middle School - $50<br />

In the End Kindness Wins<br />

Sadie-Jane Boyd 6TH GRADE<br />

Pisgah Elementary School - $25<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

Easily Renewed<br />

Josiah Johnson 9TH GRADE<br />

Pisgah High School - $100<br />

Words Hurt<br />

Marli Sutherland 11TH GRADE<br />

Florence High School - $50<br />

Clouds<br />

Ruthie Partridge 9TH GRADE<br />

Puckett High School - $25<br />

44 • FEBRUARY 2024

CATEGORY 2 3rd-5th Poster<br />

Richard Traylor 5TH GRADE<br />

Northwest Rankin Elementary School - $100<br />

Ellie Kellems 4TH GRADE<br />

Brandon Elementary School - $50<br />

Clara Nelson 3RD GRADE<br />

Puckett Elementary School - $25<br />

CATEGORY 3 6th-8th Poster<br />

Annabelle Long 7TH GRADE<br />

Northwest Rankin Middle School - $100<br />

Maycee Fallin 6TH GRADE<br />

Richland Upper Elementary School - $50<br />

Violet Sanchez 7TH GRADE<br />

Richland High School - $25<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 45

Help a child<br />

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Friends of Children’s Hospital Debit Card<br />

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BankPlus makes a donation to Friends each time the card is used.<br />

Available via instant issue. Since inception, the Friends debt card has<br />

raised over $4,000,000.<br />

© Copyright 2023 BankPlus.<br />

Member FDIC.<br />

46 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 47

Quick Strawberry Jam<br />

• 1 quart hulled strawberries<br />

• ½ cup sugar<br />

• 2 Tbsp. fresh<br />

lemon juice<br />

Process<br />

strawberries in<br />

a food processor<br />

until coarsely chopped. Transfer to<br />

a large skillet, and stir in sugar and<br />

lemon juice. Cook over mediumhigh<br />

heat, stirring frequently, until<br />

jam is thickened and bubbles<br />

completely cover surface, 9 to 10<br />

minutes. Transfer jam to a jar and<br />

let cool to room temperature. To<br />

store, seal jar and refrigerate up to<br />

10 days.<br />

Strawberry<br />

Blue Cheese Pizza<br />

• 1 (11oz.) tube refrigerated<br />

thin pizza crust<br />

• 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided<br />

• 1 Tbsp. honey<br />

• 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese<br />

• ½ cup blue cheese crumbles<br />

• 8 medium strawberries,<br />

hulled and thinly sliced<br />

• 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves<br />

Preheat oven to 400. Line a rimmed<br />

baking sheet with parchment paper.<br />

Stretch the pizza dough on baking<br />

sheet into approximately a 10x14<br />

inch rectangle. Brush the dough<br />

with 1 Tbsp. oil. Bake 5 minutes.<br />

In a small bowl, whisk together<br />

remaining 1 Tbsp. oil with the<br />

honey. Season with pepper, and<br />

set aside. Sprinkle the mozzarella<br />

and blue cheese over<br />

partially baked dough.<br />

Arrange strawberries on<br />

top and sprinkle with<br />

thyme. Bake 13-16 minutes,<br />

until the crust is golden<br />

brown on bottom. Drizzle<br />

honey mixture over pizza<br />

and serve.<br />

Barbecue<br />

Strawberry Chicken<br />

• 2 Tbsp. canola oil<br />

• 4 boneless skinless chicken<br />

breast halves (6 oz. each)<br />

• 2 Tbsp. butter<br />

• ¼ cup finely chopped red onion<br />

• 1 cup barbecue sauce<br />

• 2 Tbsp. brown sugar<br />

• 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar<br />

• 2 Tbsp. honey<br />

• 1 cup sliced strawberries<br />

Preheat oven to 350. In a large,<br />

ovenproof skillet, heat oil over<br />

medium-high heat. Brown chicken<br />

on both sides. Remove from pan.<br />

In same pan, heat butter over<br />

medium-high heat. Add onion;<br />

cook and stir until tender, about<br />

one minute. Stir in barbecue sauce,<br />

brown sugar, vinegar, and honey.<br />

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer<br />

uncovered until thickened, 4-6<br />

minutes. Return chicken to pan.<br />

Bake until thermometer reads 165,<br />

12-15 minutes. Stir in strawberries.<br />

48 • FEBRUARY 2024

Strawberry Biscuits<br />

• 2/3 cups flour<br />

• ¼ cup sugar<br />

• 1 Tbsp. baking powder<br />

• ¼ tsp. salt<br />

• ¾ cup butter, frozen<br />

• 1 cup diced fresh strawberries<br />

• 2/3 cup buttermilk<br />

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract<br />

• 1 Tbsp. heavy cream<br />

• 2 Tbsp. sugar<br />

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a<br />

baking sheet with parchment paper.<br />

Combine flour, ¼ cup sugar, baking<br />

powder, and salt in a large bowl. Place<br />

frozen butter into dry ingredients.<br />

Gently mix. Add strawberries and<br />

mix until strawberries are coated with<br />

the flour mixture. Combine buttermilk<br />

and vanilla. Pour into strawberry<br />

mixture and stir until barely combined.<br />

Do not overmix or biscuits will be<br />

tough. Use an ice cream scoop to<br />

scoop biscuits onto the prepared<br />

baking sheet. Brush top of biscuits<br />

with heavy cream, and sprinkle with<br />

the 2 Tbsp. sugar. Bake in the<br />

preheated oven until bottoms are<br />

browned, 15 to 17 minutes. Let sit<br />

for 5 minutes. Remove biscuits, and<br />

cool completely on a wire rack.<br />

Glaze<br />

• ½ cup confectioner’s sugar<br />

• 1 Tbsp. milk<br />

Whisk together powdered sugar<br />

and milk together in a cup. Drizzle<br />

over biscuits.<br />

Pork Tenderloin Medallions<br />

with Strawberry Sauce<br />

• 1½ cups reduced-sodium<br />

beef broth<br />

• 2 cups chopped fresh strawberries,<br />

divided<br />

• ½ cup white wine vinegar<br />

• ¼ cup packed brown sugar<br />

• ¼ cup reduced sodium soy sauce<br />

• 3 garlic cloves, minced<br />

• 2 lbs. pork tenderloin,<br />

cut into ½ inch slices<br />

• 1 tsp. garlic powder<br />

• ½ tsp. salt<br />

• ½ tsp. pepper<br />

• 2 Tbsp. canola oil<br />

• 2 Tbsp. cornstarch<br />

• 2 Tbsp. cold water<br />

• ½ cup crumbled feta cheese<br />

• ½ cup chopped green onions<br />

In a large saucepan, combine broth,<br />

one cup strawberries, vinegar, brown<br />

sugar, soy sauce, and garlic; bring to a<br />

boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered<br />

for 15 minutes or until slightly<br />

thickened. Strain mixture and set<br />

aside liquid, discarding solids. Sprinkle<br />

pork with garlic powder, salt, and<br />

pepper. In a large skillet, heat oil over<br />

medium heat. Brown pork in batches<br />

on both sides. Remove and keep<br />

warm. Add broth mixture to pan;<br />

bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch<br />

and water until smooth, and gradually<br />

stir into skillet. Return pork to the<br />

pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat;<br />

cook and stir until sauce is thickened<br />

and pork is tender, about 2 minutes.<br />

Top servings with cheese, onions, and<br />

remaining 1 cup of strawberries.<br />

Strawberry Cobbler<br />

Filling<br />

• 2 lbs. strawberries, trimmed<br />

and quartered (6 cups)<br />

• 1 cup granulated sugar<br />

• 1/3 cup cornstarch<br />

• 1 tsp. coarse salt<br />

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice<br />

Preheat oven to 375 with racks in<br />

middle and bottom. Line a baking<br />

sheet with foil, and place on bottom<br />

rack to catch any bubble over. Stir<br />

together berries, sugar, cornstarch,<br />

salt, and lemon juice. Transfer to a<br />

2½ quart baking dish.<br />

Topping<br />

• 1¾ cups all-purpose flour<br />

• ¼ cup sugar<br />

• 1¾ tsp. baking powder<br />

• ¾ tsp. coarse salt<br />

• 6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter,<br />

cut into pieces<br />

• 1 cup heavy cream, plus more<br />

for brushing<br />

• Sanding sugar, for sprinkling,<br />

optional<br />

• Heavy cream or ice cream,<br />

for serving (optional)<br />

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking<br />

powder, and salt. Cut in butter until<br />

the largest pieces are the size of small<br />

peas. Add cream, and use a fork to<br />

incorporate, stirring until a soft sticky<br />

dough forms. Dollop dough over<br />

filling, dividing evenly into 9 pieces.<br />

Brush with cream and sprinkle with<br />

sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden<br />

brown in the center, about 1 hour and<br />

10 minutes. Cool at least 1 hour<br />

before serving.<br />

Strawberry Salsa<br />

• 9 oz. strawberries, hulled and diced<br />

(1½ cups)<br />

• ¼ cup finely diced red onion<br />

• ½ jalapeno, finely chopped<br />

(remove seeds for a less spicy salsa)<br />

• ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro<br />

• Kosher salt<br />

• Tortilla chips for serving<br />

Combine strawberries, onion,<br />

jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl and<br />

season with salt; refrigerate 15<br />

minutes. Serve with tortilla chips.<br />

Strawberry Spinach Salad<br />

• 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil<br />

• 1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar<br />

• Coarse salt and freshly ground<br />

pepper<br />

• 4 cups lightly packed baby spinach<br />

• 6 ounces strawberries (1½ cups),<br />

hulled and thinly sliced<br />

¼ cup almonds (1½ oz.),<br />

toasted and coarsely chopped<br />

• 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted<br />

• 2 oz. feta, crumbled<br />

Whisk together oil and vinegar in<br />

a large bowl. Season with salt and<br />

pepper. Add spinach, strawberries,<br />

almonds, sesame seeds, and feta.<br />

Gently toss until spinach is evenly<br />

coated with dressing. Serve<br />

immediately.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 49

50 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 51

SALUTE<br />

to First Responders<br />

What made you decide to work as a first responder?<br />

As a child, I always had an interest in fire and EMS services.<br />

When I graduated high school, I wasn’t exactly sure what I<br />

wanted to pursue. I rode along with a paramedic friend of mine,<br />

and after riding just a few hours with him, I knew it’s what I<br />

wanted to do. I enrolled in EMT school the next day.<br />

How long have you been with the Pafford EMS?<br />

I’ve been with Pafford since they began operating in Rankin<br />

County in 2015. Previously, I was a firefighter and paramedic<br />

at Brandon Fire Department and AMR. I also volunteer with<br />

Puckett Fire Department.<br />

Tell us about your family.<br />

I have been married to Molleigh for 14 years, and we have a<br />

10-year-old son, Hayes. We live in the Puckett community.<br />

What is the toughest thing you have experienced<br />

in your job?<br />

The hardest part of the job for me is taking care of sick children<br />

or seeing children in conditions that you wish you could get<br />

them away from. That’s always been tough.<br />

Share some things you enjoy doing in your spare time.<br />

In my spare time, I enjoy taking my family to all Mississippi<br />

State athletic events. My son is a huge fan and doesn’t want to<br />

miss a game! When we aren’t in Starkville, we love to travel.<br />

We love to visit Walt Disney World, go on cruises, and new<br />

places we have never been!<br />

Curtis<br />

Paramedic<br />

WELDON<br />


What are three things on your bucket list?<br />

I would love to travel out west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton<br />

National Park. I want to travel to Europe. I would also like to<br />

complete a marathon one day.<br />


52 • FEBRUARY 2024

Who is someone you admire and why?<br />

I’ve had many mentors and people in my life that have<br />

meant a lot to me, but I always looked up to and admired<br />

my grandfather, Don Henry. He passed away when I was<br />

in high school, but my time with him shaped me into the<br />

person I am today.<br />

What advice would you give to a young person?<br />

Always be open to new experiences and never stop<br />

learning. Find something you love, and give it all<br />

you’ve got.<br />

What is your favorite thing about Rankin County?<br />

I’ve lived in Rankin County my whole life, and I have<br />

always enjoyed the small town feel of Rankin County.<br />

It seems like everywhere you go you see someone you<br />

know. The main reason I came to Pafford was because<br />

I wanted to work in my home county. I wouldn’t want<br />

to live or work anywhere else.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 53


Pearl Public School District<br />

Mississippi Interim State Superintendent of Education Dr. Raymond C. Morgigno recently visited Pearl Upper Elementary to commemorate<br />

the school’s A-rating. During the celebration, fifth-grade science teacher Jennifer Hite received the surprise of a lifetime - the national<br />

Milken Educator Award along with a $25,000 prize! The Milken Educator Award recognizes outstanding educators for their excellence and<br />

innovation in the field of education.<br />

54 • FEBRUARY 2024

Jackson Prep<br />



Congratulations to Mrs. Bailey’s fifth grade<br />

homeroom for winning the Parklane Academy<br />

Supply Drive Competition by bringing the most donations!<br />

Prep Middle School students donated various supplies<br />

to restock Parklane Academy’s<br />

STEM Lab after their recent fire.<br />

Front L-R: Gabriella Coxwell, Lucy Robertson,<br />

Patrick Gunn, Beau Bitner, Walt Mardis,<br />

Metta Margaret Ferris, Everly Smith.<br />

Back L-R: Walker Teague, Henry Collins,<br />

Andrew Vanderloo.<br />


The Jackson Prep Upper School VEX Robotics competition<br />

team recently won their first tournament. Recognized<br />

with the Excellence Award, this top award signifies their<br />

status as the best overall team and qualifies them for the<br />

state championship. To obtain this award, the team<br />

competed against other high schools in interviews and<br />

the submission of their engineering notebooks garnering<br />

high rankings. Congratulations to team members<br />

L-R: Miriam Caballero, Bennett O’ Quinn, Payne Stroud,<br />

Jefferson Keller, and Jake Zhang.<br />

Not pictured: Lola Burch and Brock Young.<br />


Congratulations to Jackson Prep seniors<br />

Margaret Dye and Percy Oliver for completing their<br />

Make A Difference project supporting Clinton Retirement<br />

Home. Over Christmas break, the students decorated<br />

hallways and doors, provided Christmas foods and<br />

spirited visits for weeks leading up to Christmas Day.<br />

For their volunteerism, Dye and Oliver were awarded<br />

the Jackson Prep Impact Award for Leadership<br />

and Excellence. L-R: Margaret Dye,<br />

Colonel William Merrell, Director of the Global<br />

Leadership Institute, Percy Oliver.<br />


Shown in costume at their first Colonial Fair are<br />

Jackson Prep Lower School fourth graders.<br />

L-R: Matthew Hammack, Millie Tompkins, teacher<br />

Tori Williams, Anna Kathryn Hinshaw, Lucy Maddux,<br />

Arjun Adari, Samuel Warf, Britt Bitner.<br />


Jackson Prep students were featured in the holiday<br />

classic, The Nutcracker, held at Thalia Mara Hall<br />

(Ballet Mississippi) and Jackson Academy<br />

(Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy).<br />

Ballet Mississippi ballerinas L-R: Anna Kathryn Hinshaw,<br />

Polly Waterloo, Madelyn Magee. Back L-R: Sims Abdalla,<br />

Mary Harr Payne, Lily Frances Garner, McClain Morgan,<br />

Olivia Thompson, Ruby Hospodor.<br />

MMDA L-R: Avery Dale, Stella Barbour-Matthews,<br />

Hart Maley, and Caroline McPhillips.<br />


Jackson Prep recently held its annual<br />

Poetry Out Loud competition.<br />

This year’s top three winners,<br />

L-R: Brianna Wang (Grade 9), third alternate;<br />

Allie Landry (Grade 11), winner;<br />

Caleb Zhu (Grade 10), second alternate.<br />

Landry will go on to compete in the regional<br />

competition in February 2024 with a chance<br />

to progress to the state finals in March.<br />

Hometown RANKIN • 55


Florence High<br />

Eaglette Dance Team Wins Double State Championship<br />

The Florence High School Eaglettes competed in the MHSAA<br />

State Dance Championship on December 8, 2023, at the<br />

Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. The team was awarded a<br />

state title in 3A-5A Hip Hop as well as 3A-5A Pom. Outgoing<br />

co-captain and senior Avery Meredith stated,” There are no<br />

words to describe this feeling. We worked so hard to get to<br />

this point, and we overcame so much. We had teammates<br />

get injured or become ill, but we banded together to work<br />

through it. This was the goal we set in August, and to be able<br />

to bring those trophies home to our school makes us so proud!”<br />

Rising senior and incoming team captain Sydney Higdon<br />

agreed. She said, “It still doesn’t seem real! When they<br />

called our name, we just screamed and hugged. It was such<br />

a memorable day! As a team, we cannot wait to get started<br />

on our 2024 season. We love our school and our Eagles, and<br />

we want to represent them well in every pep rally and game.<br />

We want to hear our names called as a 2024 champion, too!”<br />

Eaglette seniors are Alana Guillot, Avery Meredith, Brelyn<br />

Muse, Sarah Register, and Lanie Smith. Juniors are Sydney<br />

Higdon and Carley Jo Smith. Sophomores are Kylie Bates,<br />

Laina Dunkley, Sawyer Register, Shelby Claire Walters,<br />

and Ashlyn Watts. Team freshmen are Skylar Cloer, Skylar<br />

Dickerson, Kaylee Hall, Avery Martin, Taylor Raymond,<br />

Sammy Sebren, and Mary Yates. The team is under the<br />

direction of Amy McAllister and Taylor Willoughby. Florence<br />

High School’s principal is Mr. Keith Reed. FHS Athletic<br />

Director is Mr. Brian Huskey.<br />

56 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 57

TheTime COIN<br />

Camille Anding<br />

Long-stem roses for Valentine romantics?<br />

For sure, and my “significant other” knows that I am overly fond of roses, but I prefer them with<br />

their roots on and ready to plant. Just fill me with joy by allowing me to grow my own Valentine<br />

roses in their growing season.<br />

Recently, it was a mild February day that rose pruning was calling. I grabbed my<br />

clippers, garden gloves and some garbage bags and proceeded to my rose garden.<br />

The end of their blooming year had left them with long, rambling stems and ragged<br />

ends. I’m not a prolific rose grower, but the task of trimming my less than a dozen<br />

plants would take time and a lot of wrangling to bag the cuttings.<br />

The thorns are the problem. Unless I snip the cuttings into small pieces, pushing<br />

the prickly stems into a plastic bag is like poking a wild cat into a duffle bag.<br />

(Simply an imaginary comparison!)<br />

With protective gloves, jeans, and long-sleeved shirt, I launched into my task.<br />

It’s not a job one rushes! Even with my garden gloves, the thorns outwitted me.<br />

They snagged my clothes, managed to scratch my arms, and found weak spots<br />

in my gloves.<br />

By the time I finished, I felt wounded. By night, my fingers were sore, and I was<br />

probing into my fingertips with a needle. Some of the tiny thorns had stayed after their<br />

piercings. The pruning had taken several hours and numerous, painful thorn punctures.<br />

As I examined my fingers for more thorn splinters, I thought of the care that roses needed.<br />

The humidity and extreme temps in Mississippi would never be optimum growing conditions.<br />

Herbicides were a necessity to help keep them healthy, and they required regular feedings and<br />

watering during droughts. Were they worth the cost, their requirements and pain?<br />

Then I remembered the first buds of spring, the joy of cutting fresh bouquets, the aroma and<br />

beauty they added to a room, and the color they added to my garden. Yes, they were worth it!<br />

The following morning, I spotted another small thorn that I had to remove from my red and<br />

tender thumb. It was almost microscopic – so much smaller than the circle of thorns that were<br />

pressed onto Christ’s head before His crucifixion. I wondered what servant was forced to weave<br />

such a painful task. Even the handling of so many thorns surely left some wounds, but to be pierced<br />

violently by having that painful crown pressed into His scalp was so cruel, so brutally agonizing.<br />

During those horrible hours, was there ever a point at which Jesus must have thought,<br />

“Are they worth it?”<br />

How I want to be.<br />

58 • FEBRUARY 2024

Hometown RANKIN • 59

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