Standing the test of time

Photos by Mandy Owens Weddings.

Andrew and Whitney Meeks take their first dance as husband and wife in a farm building that was specifically revitalized for their wedding. Photos by Mandy Owens Weddings.

By Matt Ledger

Eight weeks before wedding bells would ring in 2014, Andrew Meeks and his fiancee, Whitney, faced a tough reality. The new barn for their perfect farm wedding wouldn’t be ready.

“We went over our choices, and while many ideas were given, it was my uncle, Brian Maxwell, who said, ‘You have the perfect place at the gin,’” Whitney says.

They faced, however, one daunting problem. The gin was the heart of the Meeks Grain and Gin Company, a building in disrepair.

“Looking at the gin, I had no hope,” Whitney says. Putting the rust in rustic, “the building had basically become a storage building filled with spare parts,” she says.

With only weeks remaining, the family went to work in a race against the calendar.

The new Meeks Grain and Gin Company sign hangs upon the old ‘gin’ building.

The new Meeks Grain and Gin Company sign hangs upon the old ‘gin’ building. Photos by Mandy Owens Weddings.

A family story
In 1947, a wedding began a lasting legacy. After their marriage ceremony, Lloyd and Ruby Meeks started the Meeks Grain and Gin Company, building many of the structures on their homestead. The Pisgah-based farm prospered for many years — an additional 640-acre lot was located 5 miles away — until cotton lost value and farmers sought new crops to survive. Ruby ran the office and even tagged the cotton bales, while Lloyd primarily worked at the cotton gin, which closed in 1975. Their two children, Myra and Nacey, helped their folks on the farm, selling seed and fertilizer.

Switching to potatoes kept the farm going until it too lost value. Nacey continued running the grainery, growing corn, potatoes, wheat and soybeans from 1985 until 1993.

The farm was passed down to another generation in 2011, as Lloyd’s grandson Andrew began to manage the operation. He and his father, Nacey, have left the spuds behind, but still tend fields with the other three crops.

Finding a new purpose
In 2014, the farm’s next generation was waiting. Andrew may have grown up in Pisgah, but his heart found a Henagar girl named Whitney. Both went to Pisgah High School a few years apart, but they first met in 2012 while out with mutual friends in Scottsboro. Whitney also grew up on a farm; however, it raised cattle and horses. “The transition from the farm I grew up on to what Andrew does was difficult at times, but we made it work,” Whitney says.

“Andrew and I started out wanting his farm to be included in our wedding,” Whitney recalls. “After getting engaged in September, he planned to build a barn for us to have our wedding reception in.” However, contractor delays led to an anxious family meeting in March 2014.

Nearly 20 members of the Meeks’ family — ranging in age from 8 to 72 — emptied the overloaded barn, cleaning floors and pressure washing walls. Many farm implements dot the landscape, adding a vintage feel with industrial equipment that isn’t commonly found today.

Andrew and Whitney married on May 24, 2014, before 260 guests. “The location was a complete surprise to many people,” Whitney says. “While traveling on our honeymoon, we decided Meeks Grain & Gin would be the perfect event venue.”

Growing a new business
Soon the corn and soybeans would take a back seat to white rice on weekends, as bridal parties throw the good luck grain on newlyweds. The 50-by-110-foot cotton gin sits on the original 10 acres and is suitable for as many as 300 guests. Reservations fill each weekend of spring, and the gin is nearly booked for fall. The Meekses are already taking dates for 2016.

Andrew and Whitney will begin a new chapter for the Meeks family when their first child, Truitt, is born in July. “This has been a very big year for us and our new business,” Whitney says.

 

FRS trip

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Two students in FTC’s service area recently made the annual trip hosted by Foundation for Rural Service. Kaelin Butts and Ben Coots joined the 2015 FRS Youth Tour of Washington D. C. Kaelin is the daughter of Tracy and Tony Butts, and a student at Plainview High School where she is involved with Bear Theatre, Senior Beta Club, Science Club and the Improv Troupe. Ben is the son of Tracy and Donald Coots, and a Plainview High School student, where he is a member of the Science Club, FCA, FFA, Beta Club and Tennis and Fishing teams.

Kaelin Butts and Ben Coots toured the National Mall and visited several historical locations during their five-day visit, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theater.

First area family with telephone is now FTC’s first with gigabit Internet

By Matt Ledger

Geraldine Mayor Chuck Ables was a boy when his parents became the first members of Farmers Telephone Cooperative on February 20, 1955. R.E. Ables, the mayor’s father, was the first to receive a telephone line — party line number 9-5722 — in his home across the road from Geraldine School.

Sixty years later, the Ables’ home was once again the first in town to get a new form of telecommunications service.

FTC officially launched the gig Internet services on Feb. 6 — once again at the Ables’ home. “The symbolic nature of us being back here to celebrate this milestone for customer No. 1, means that we have remained committed to our mission,” said Fred Johnson, general manager of FTC.

Ables, 64, spoke emotionally about his late father’s own communication interest as a HAM radio operator. R.E. Ables was instrumental in improving the Sand Mountain region and bringing Northeast Alabama Community College to the area. That campus, along with all DeKalb and Jackson county schools served by FTC, will benefit from FTC’s new Internet capabilities.

In 2007, FTC board members committed to building a world-class fiber optic network, which is nearly complete. When all phases are finished in June, approximately 84 percent of all residences in the FTC coverage area will have access to the highest Internet speeds in Alabama. All municipality and industrial parks in DeKalb County, and those east of the Tennessee River in Jackson County are served by the FTC optical fiber network, except Mentone. “(Mentone) is my hometown, and we’ll get there sooner or later,” Johnson said, joking.

Keith Adams, assistant administrator for telecommunications of USDA Rural Utilities Service, spoke about the ways that enhanced broadband capacity enables opportunities like telemedicine and distance learning programs. “It means economic development, educational opportunities and access to the world,” Adams said. “When we fund projects in rural America, it makes the world much smaller to people who don’t have the same opportunities, in most cases.”

This major milestone for FTC puts the co-op in an exclusive club of telecom providers offering gigabit Internet service.

“It was accomplished by the members of the Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, which are those men and women who have lived, worked and raised their families on this mountain,” Johnson said, proudly. “Those communities that have this kind of communications infrastructure will thrive in years to come.”