Jim Lynn

independent journalist

Dreaming big: Phenix City voters need bold, not bland


Voters deserve to know who’s willing to dream big

COLUMBUS LEDGER-ENQUIRER (McClatchy Newspapers), 3 July 2016

By Jim Lynn

Two men in line at the Piggly Wiggly at Phenix Plaza struck up a conversation, talking around two others.  “Hey! When did you get out?” the one with a can of sardines asked the other.

“Last month,” the second man yelled back.  The two went on to laugh about their months in the slammer and asked about each other’s families.  The half-minute exchange made others in line smile, but it also reflected in a deeper way some of the challenges facing Phenix City – and Phenix City voters – this election year.

Phenix City’s mayoral and city council election is August 23.  Mark your calendars.

In this and in most local campaigns, candidates steer clear of anything that looks remotely like an issue.  Keep it bland, shake a lot of hands, stir no controversy.  Hand out brochures that say where you went to high school and where you go to church.  It’s the plain-vanilla, “I want to move Phenix City forward” approach, a cynical strategy that’s downright condescending to voters.  Our community deserves better.

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Bridging ‘Islands of Innovation’ at CSU … Chris Markwood hopes to use a subtle leadership style to improve what works (Columbus and the Valley magazine, February 2016)

By Jim Lynn

So he probably wasn’t the best teacher on campus that summer.

Chris Markwood had just moved his tassel at his Southwest Baptist University graduation ceremony moments before Larry Whatley cornered him. An associate professor of political science, Whatley told Markwood that another instructor was unable to teach a summer class and asked if he’d be willing to fill in.

Markwood had been accepted at the University of Missouri law school, thinking of a career in law and politics. But the summer adventure sounded like a way to earn cash for law school and he accepted. He had been an undergraduate teaching assistant to Whatley and knew the material well.

“So I taught the class,” he remembered. Just 20 years old, many of the students were his age or younger. “It was probably not the best class I ever taught.”

But it was enough, becoming one of those unpredictable turning points in life. Read the rest of this entry »

A love of art and history brings new museum director to Columbus (Columbus and the Valley Magazine, May-June 2015)

By Jim Lynn

Marianne Richter, age 7, stood in a large, second-floor gallery at the Louvre and stared. Before her was a series of 24 paintings depicting the late 16th and early 17th Century life of Marie de Medici, the wife of King Henry IV of France. The Louvre was a must-see stop on a month-long family trip to Europe, and others had moved on. Marianne and her mother stayed behind.

It wasn’t the Mona Lisa that captured Marianne’s imagination, or the iconic Venus de Milo. Instead, the youngster was spellbound by the panels full of colorful, allegorical images by Peter Paul Rubens. They seemed to Marianne “like a storybook fairy tale,” dwarfing her in their size, their Baroque figures curved and draped in flowing fabric as if caught in mid movement.

The half hour with the paintings given the regal title of “The Apotheosis of Henri IV and the Proclamation of the Regency of Marie de Médicis” set Marianne on a path of fascination both with art and with history.

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Ragtime — Reflections on the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s history on 12th Street and its historic move (Columbus and the Valley Magazine, January 2015)

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Ragtime —
Reflections on the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s history on 12th Street 

By Jim Lynn

Every day at 10 a.m. Every single weekday, Fairy Lee Hunter would polish the brass stair rail that led from the entrance of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer building to the second floor newsroom. We would bound past her, often two steps at a time, those of us in our 20s and early 30s, wondering fleetingly why she polished the railing every morning.

No time to ask, though. Deadline! There was typically a rush to grab one of the glowing, green terminals with their loudly clacking keyboards before someone else did. In the pre-PC, pre-newsroom layoff days, there could at times be more reporters than terminals. Planners threaten to widen 13th Street through Wynnton! Shenanigans on the Phenix City Council! Speed traps in outlying counties! Fort Benning gets a new commander! Carlton Gary is charged! Mayors promise riverfront development will happen “soon”!

But every day, Hunter, an older, African American woman wearing a crisp blue and white uniform, would smile and continue her methodical polishing. Gone were yesterday’s fingerprints and smudges like yesterday’s papers, replaced with an impeccable shine for a new day and new deadlines for the afternoon Ledger and the morning Enquirer. Turning the flight of stairs, a large window let in sunlight that seemed to set Hunter’s handrail ablaze. Outside the window, an American flag on a pole mounted above the entrance would catch the breeze.

There was a lot of pride in that stair rail. A lot of pride in that building, and in the work that was being done over the decades at typewriters, then terminals, then computers. Patterned on a bank building in central Florida, the 1930, Mediterranean-styled structure features a weathervane that always points to “NEWS,” no matter which way the wind blows.

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‘You Guys Are My Life’ … Ron Anderson’s Journey (Columbus and the Valley Magazine, January 2015)

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‘You guys are my life’
Ron Anderson’s journey

By Jim Lynn

As Ron Anderson opens a rehearsal for the musical “Shrek,” his focus is not on the usual reminders about projecting or where the spikes are or some detail of musical cues. It’s not on when to watch out for prop movements or the need to keep the energy high on stage. But Anderson is not the usual theatre director.

He stands on the floor of the historic Springer Opera House, leans against the edge of the stage, faces the cast and crew sitting in front of him, and proceeds to preach.

“If you see someone backstage you don’t know, make a point to get to know them,” he implores. “That’s why we’re here.” It’s the sermon the almost-minister has been preaching continuously during his 18 years in Columbus. Ron Anderson is all about bringing people together.

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No time for excellence (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)


No Time for Excellence

— A parent’s perspective on high school science research


Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

June 7, 2014

Two things were very clear at the recent Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. First, a lot of very serious, very credible research is being done by high school students. And second, inspiration and guidance for scientific research ain’t coming from the classroom.
Out of seven million qualifying research projects from around the globe, 1,783 students made it to the international event in mid-May. Project displays filled the L.A. Convention Center in a dozen rows, each the length of a football field.

Walk down one row, there were scores of projects dealing with electrical engineering. Another row, biochemistry. Another, computer science. Seventeen categories in all. And these are not cute projects about which toothpaste gets teeth whiter. These are years-long work in … statistical analysis of cancer-promoting genes, remediation of environmental disasters, exploration of synthetic antibiotics, development of a faster test for kidney disease, optical computing, spine stabilization for children with scoliosis, and on and on.

But one floor above this brainfest was a conference room crammed with teachers who agreed it’s virtually impossible to foster this sort of work in today’s schools

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From dress to success … Celebrating 125 years (Columbus and the Valley magazine, January 2014)

By Jim Lynn

From a dress, a savings account.  From a torn hem, a culture of the heart.  From $60, an institution that became a cornerstone in the development of a community.

A woman working in the Eagle textile mill in 1873 had no place to keep her savings.  She said if she kept money in her storage trunk, presumably in a boarding house, someone was sure to steal it.  So she stored cash in the hem of her dress.  But the dress got caught in a machine one day. A supervisor quickly freed the woman by slicing through her dress with his knife, and $60 in “greenbacks” fell to the floor.  It was a lot of money when the highest wage for workers at the mill was $1.50 a day.

Columbus industrialist and Eagle Mill founder William H. Young offered to keep the money for the woman in the company safe.  The same perk was soon offered to other employees, and the mill’s “savings department” was formed.

In one version or another, the story has been told many, many times.  The workplace accident was described in some detail, though, during an 1883 hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor and Capital, which was examining post-Civil War working conditions in the South.  Young testified that the savings department at that point had $1 million in deposits, and 6 percent interest was being paid to its 1,778 depositors.  Other historical records indicate the mill used the deposits for “quick capital.”

“The largest depositor… has $9,128.95, which he has saved out of his surplus earnings since he has been with us, that is, during the past 10 years,” Young told the committee.  “He has a family and has supported his family well, yet his deposits have accumulated to that extent.”

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‘Poet of the world’ calls Columbus home, for a while (Columbus and the Valley magazine, Nov-Dec 2013)

Moscow winters are frigid. And Anzhelina Polonskaya hates the cold.

“I love heat,” Polonskaya says, gesturing outward with both hands.  A noted Russian poet who hasn’t followed the well-worn path of traditional Russian literature, Polonskaya is this year’s Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellow, a position awarded by the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians of Columbus State University.

Sitting outside the Carson McCullers home on a recent evening, the setting sun prompts her to squint, but she seems to welcome the chance to sit in the sunlight nonetheless.  In conversation, through her thick Russian accent, it becomes clear that it’s not just the weather that makes her feel at odds with her country.

“I can’t write at home,” she says.  “There are many, many political problems, and the environment around me is not very quiet.  At night, I write, and at night I can’t write and think about my motherland, and people who are in jail.”

Polonskaya is a member of the Russian PEN-centre, a group of writers publicly critical of the government on human rights issues.  A recent statement from the group opposed the prosecution of a punk rock band on “hooliganism” charges.

“Our country doesn’t change a lot,” she said.  “You can buy glamorous things now, if you have the money.  But people are like they’re looking for a new Stalin.  It’s very sad in a way, very sad, but true.”

Columbus is a far different world.

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Katrina isn’t over (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, May 13, 2007)

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JIM LYNN, Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

Ben Welman and his wife Jonnie never dreamed they’d see the inside of a shelter. Theirs was a comfortable life in suburban New Orleans, children in private school and a home in River Ridge. They never thought they’d lose a race with a hurricane, be forced to spend the night in their car in a parking garage in a town they didn’t know while an unimaginable wind hurled sheets of rain and debris past them all night. Five hours to drive 18 miles. Eight days in a Red Cross shelter. And they never thought they’d call Columbus home.

Joel never imagined a storm would force him out of his modest two-bedroom house, where he cared for his 92-year-old grandmother on a postage-stamp lot in tiny, impoverished Pearlington, Miss. He never thought he’d be living out of his van, then a FEMA trailer. Or that people he didn’t know from a church in Columbus — a town he’d barely heard of — would be helping him get his life back together, nearly 20 months later. But the Welmans and others like them, Joel and others like him, the tiny towns of Pearlington and Waveland and others like them, all are tied to Columbus now. Katrina and its seemingly unending aftermath have forged lifelong bonds through happenstance, acts of kindness, the missions work of local churches and the generosity of Columbus residents.

For a time, Katrina’s havoc and the third world drama of New Orleans wrenched our guts. It ripped the tight-knit fabric of what we thought was America.

But that’s history now. It’s been 20 months since Katrina, and we’ve moved on.

The perpetual storm

America has moved on. But Katrina isn’t over. It’s not over for the Welmans. And not for roughly 100-150 other families who now call the Columbus region home. Not for the communities of the Gulf Coast. And not for the dozens of Columbus-area volunteers who trek back to the region to help rebuild homes, and neighborhoods, and lives.

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Tim Mescon … Getting CSU in the Game (Columbus and the Valley magazine, 2011)


Tim Mescon is a man on the move.  Constantly.

The new Columbus State University president seems to have enough energy to run a handful of colleges.  Foot-twitching energy.  Taking notes – while he’s being interviewed – energy.  Never lose a quick thought.  He’s not an ounce overweight, surely burning calories as fast as he takes them in.

Keep him away from energy drinks.  But Tim Mescon’s high-octane energy and passion may well be exactly what’s needed to put CSU in a tighter spotlight among Georgia’s public colleges.

“The people in the community have been great. The faculty have been very enthusiastic,” Mescon said of his time on the job since August.  “… There’s a very impressive 50-year history and tradition here. We clearly want to continue a lot of the momentum.”

Big Mo.  If there wasn’t momentum before Mescon got to town, there is now.  Wasting time is not on his agenda.

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