Sep 9 2013

‘Voice’ star to headline Calvary Rescue Mission fundraiser

Feature story for The Memphis Daily News

Sept. 10, 2013

On Thursday, Sept. 12, Calvary Rescue Mission will hold its annual Appreciation Dinner to celebrate 46 years of helping the homeless in Memphis.


(Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The dinner will be held at Bellevue Baptist Church, 2000 Appling Road, and featured entertainment for the evening will be Visible Music College graduate and “The Voice” starSarah Simmons.

Calvary Rescue Mission was founded on April 1, 1967, byMilton Hatcher. In the beginning, Hatcher, a recovering alcoholic, would drive the streets of Memphis in a hearse, picking up homeless men to deliver them to area shelters. When Central Church moved east, its former home at Linden and Dudley was scheduled to be razed and replaced with a parking garage.

“Brother Jimmy Latimer told Milton that we could use the building until urban renewal took it and that they would pay the utilities and insurance on it,” said Betty Hatcher, Milton Hatcher’s widow and current board member emeritus.

Two years later, Holiday Inn offered the Hatchers a furniture warehouse that had been ravaged by fire. The roof had caved in, but the outer walls were still sturdy.

Evangel Church offered $2,000 toward a new roof, and the stained glass windows from the old Central Church were reclaimed before demolition and installed in the new location.

That same mission, located on 960 S. Third St. near Crump Boulevard, today sleeps and feeds 46 men per night in the building, which was built in 1921. Now a year into its $4 million Breaking Ground, Building Hope capital campaign aimed at constructing a new, expanded facility on the three acres of land surrounding it, Hatcher hopes to more than double the nightly population and spread the word of the Gospel to as many as possible.

Donors have already helped to the tune of $1 million, including an individual pledge for $250,000, and a $75,000 pledge from Central Church for a new dorm wing. Due to the increased cost of maintenance and line items such as food and utilities, many philanthropic organizations and foundations want to see at least half the goal raised “so that they can know that once you get the building up, that you’ve got a donor base that’s going to be enough to keep you,” Hatcher said.

With Calvary reporting that 1,800 to 2,000 are homeless on the streets of Memphis each night, need is greater these days than it was when Hatcher and her husband began the mission.

“With the economy like it is, we have people that just don’t have a job, which causes them not to be able to have a place to stay,” she said. “And, of course we’ve had some that have come through that have been down at Tunica and lost everything. It’s kind of been a multitude where, to start with, there were mainly people with drinking problems then went into drugs, then the gambling and economy, all of it continues to add to it.”

The fundraiser’s headliner, Simmons, was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., and traveled the world with a musical troupe beginning at an early age. She came to Memphis in 2010 to attend Visible Music College, and credits its founder, Ken Steorts, with her appearance on the NBC talent show “The Voice.” She also gives credit to the music scene and tradition of Memphis.

“I played all the way from random venues and bars to B.B. King’s, just everywhere, and met the most incredible friends I could ever ask for in life,” Simmons said by phone from Los Angeles, where she’s busy recording . . . (read more)

Aug 1 2013

2 little girls not afraid to dream big

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Aug. 1, 2013

2 little girls not afraid to dream big

I am 20 feet tall and can outrun a gazelle. I can step over houses and fly when necessary. I can remove a set of training wheels from a bicycle and a splinter from the thumb, inflate soccer balls, squash bugs, vanquish bad dreams, find lost socks and cook toast. I cannot braid hair; it is my white whale.

I am the father of two little girls.

While I do what I can for my daughters, I know they are growing and learning, and will eventually surpass me one day in all the things I can do. And those that I only pretend I can do.

Last week, this house wrapped up its annual daily viewings of the Tour de France, and each of my daughters, at some point during the three-week race, asked me if there are girls in it. There are not. I told them that perhaps they could help change that in the future, that there is a movement already under way to do so. Even better, I said, maybe one day you’ll be part of a women-only Tour, one that is longer and more grueling than the current race.

They might well do so because women are stronger than men. I’ve witnessed four births; you guys who have seen what I’ve seen know what I’m talking about. I would rather ride my bike 2,115 miles over the French Alps four times than have to go through labor once.

I was in the room with my youngest when her heartbeat was gone for a few seconds, and it was the nurse who remained calm and told me what to do. I helped unhook the bed from the wall so she could maneuver it better, and then I stood back, as ordered, while she applied an oxygen mask and monitors, and did what she needed to do with a remarkable swiftness. My wife continued the heavy lifting of labor, and I could only stand to the side and look on. My daughter, newly born, newly blue, eventually let out a defiant shriek that began somewhere around the knob of umbilical cord and has filled our ears ever since.

Not long after our Tour de France talk, we learned that Helen Thomas had died. The longtime journalist set a bar in the White House press room, not only for women, but for all reporters. My daughter asked me who that was, and I told her that she was a successful reporter, and that if it had been a race, Helen Thomas surely would have won. I told her that she could very well be on the front row asking questions of the president one day if she chooses. Or she could be the president.

My daughters will be able to do anything they want because they come from a line of strong women. If they don’t one day win awards on the field of physical competition, then perhaps they will win in the battle for understanding, equality and professionalism.

My girls are 20 feet tall. They can swim far, jump high and argue their points. I’ll give them what I have, and mend what I’m able, but one day, on their own, they will soar higher than I could ever imagine.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal

Feb 7 2013

Notorious ‘black widow’ of Memphis focus of TV show

Feature story for The Commercial Appeal

Feb. 7, 2013

On a recent cold and rainy early morning, an Australian film crew worked setting up lights and testing microphone levels in Phillips Cottage at Elmwood Cemetery. They were in search not of ghosts, but of the story of Alma Theede, prostitute and notorious murderer of three men, also known as Vance Avenue Alma.

Alma Theede was married seven times to six different men in the early to mid-1900s, and was charged with the murder of three of them.

This photo of Alma Theede appeared with the 1970 obituary that ran in the Commercial Appeal. Theede died in a Millington nursing home at the age of 75.

Interviews were being recorded that day for a show called “Deadly Women” on the Investigation Discovery Channel. The show is produced by the Australian company Beyond Productions, which specializes in factual and documentary-style programs and is best known for the “Myth Busters” series. The Memphis segment is scheduled to air this fall.

“It explores the psychological motivation behind why some women commit homicide,” producer Dora Weekley said of the show. “We hope to create a greater awareness and understanding of the effects of such crimes, both on the individual and larger society.”

To tell their story, the team, which also included cameraman David Maguire and sound man Phillip Rossini, call on people involved in the cases, from police and prosecutors to journalists, historians and the victims’ families. The production crew went to Elmwood to see Theede’s final resting place and to interview staff historian Dale Schaefer, assistant cemetery director Jody Schmidt; and board president Dan Conaway.

“We do a mix of stories from way back in the late 1800s to last year,” Weekley said. “Anything where, obviously, the case is closed.”

Alma Herring came to Memphis from Mississippi with her sister, brother and mother, Nettie Green Herring, who worked for the American Snuff Co. By age 16, Alma was frequenting an area of Downtown known for its more lascivious businesses.

“South Main and Vance, it was known for the gambling, the brothels and the bars, and she appeared to be attracted to that,” Schaefer said. This proclivity garnered her the name “Vance Avenue Alma.”

At age 17, she married Charles Cox, only to divorce him and elope to Little Rock with Roy Calvert, Schaefer said. In 1919, she was charged with Calvert’s murder with a verdict of justifiable homicide returned. Back in Memphis, she remarried Cox, who later died in a car wreck … (read more)

Feb 4 2012

Kids’ fickle nostalgia a reminder of growing up

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

Feb. 2, 2012

Aging is bittersweet, isn’t it? There’s the bitter: the aching joints and forgetfulness and … something else. And there’s the sweet: not needing anyone’s permission to eat ice cream for dinner while watching television in bed.

I have recently spent some evenings doing just that while catching up on last season’s episodes of “Sherlock” on PBS.

My oldest son has been eating meat and vegetables for dinner, and watching the “Masterpiece” series as well. He’s also read some of the Arthur Conan Doyle novels and short stories. I’ve read them all, and Sherlock Holmes, one of the great literary characters, is a fascinating subject for us to discuss.

In the past, my kids and I have had other interesting characters to discuss as their interests — near-obsessions with each at any given time — ranged from Dora to Big Bird to Caillou to Clifford the Big Red Dog.

While watching these shows in a seemingly infinite loop, first day-to-day as they aired, then on VHS, DVD and, finally, streaming through Netflix, can be trying on a parent, there is a certain melancholy that comes with leaving them behind, with flipping that switch on childhood … (read more)

Jan 22 2012

Technology changing how, where, when of viewing habits

Feature Lifestyle story for The Commercial Appeal

Jan. 22, 2012

There were scones, crumpets, volunteers dressed as butlers and tea galore for a recent screening of the second season of “Downton Abbey” at the WKNO-TV studios in Cordova.

Outside, fans of the British drama about the lives of Edwardian aristocrats lined up 100 strong for a day-early peek at their favorite new show.

“We were pretty blown away with the popularity of ‘Downton Abbey’ last year based on the national buzz we were hearing, but also local calls we were getting from viewers,” said Teri Sullivan, promotions manager for WKNO, adding that they wanted to know when it would air again, how they could get a video and when Season 2 was coming.

Many television aficionados these days are choosing carefully, not just what they watch, but how, when and where they watch it. With so many options available, the necessity to commit to time in front of a TV set is as passé as walking across the room to turn the dial. Whether watching alone or with a group of fellow fanatics, more of us are watching on our own terms instead of those of programming directors … (read more)