Category Archives: Feature Stories

Opelika band, Jule Vera, on the rise
As the members of Jule Vera, an upcoming local Opelika alternative-rock band, sat across from me at The Overall Company in downtown Opelika, I asked them how they felt about their recent achievements in the music industry.
“You know it doesn’t seem like a long time [from starting Jule Vera to now] because signing record labels can happen within just a couple months, but it feels like a long time for us,” Jake Roland, band member, explained. “We’ve had all these songs and feelings bottled up for so long that the fact we are actually doing this is like our first step, our shot.”
Three years ago, Ansley Newman, lead singer, Jake Roland, guitarist, and Will Stacey, bassist, were three teenagers playing and writing music in their houses, uploading their songs to Sound Cloud and sending their music to band managers, hoping one might take an interest in their music. Since Ansley Newman joined Roland and Stacey, back when Newman was only 15, the three have been writing and creating music collaboratively. Not until 2013 did the band officially become “Jule Vera” which is Greek for “young truth.”
“We wanted our name to be different, not just something like The Strokes or like that, we wanted a name people will remember,” Roland said.
After being a three-person band for years, this January Kyle Horvath, drummer, and Austin Jones, guitarist, came in the picture. Horvath and Jones, both hailing from Nashville, Tenn., had heard of Jule Vera through a friend of a friend. They met with Newman, Roland and Stacey and joined their band in January when Jule Vera was about to sign with California-based independent label, Pure Noise Records. (Photo courtesy of Jule Vera)
Being signed to a label was just the start. They have recently released a new single through Alternative Press magazine titled “One Little String,” check it out HERE, and they will be releasing an EP album this summer as well as playing on The Vans Warped Tour for the entirety of the 2015 tour, which kicks off in June.
In their early beginnings, Newman, Roland and Stacey played at local bars and coffee shops, then eventually started traveling to Atlanta to play more shows because the music scene was larger there.
“There’s just not that many venues to play around this area, for our type of music anyway, so we usually go to Atlanta or Birmingham and have started branching out and traveling to up to Michigan and stuff,” Roland said. “Now this summer we will be playing in almost all the states with The Vans Warped Tour. Maybe we will get a bumper sticker or something for every state.”
Being able to participate in The Vans Warped Tour gives Jule Vera more national exposure and a chance to shine. They now have band managers, tour managers and an RV to take them from city to city.
“When you’re just starting out no one really wants to help you, but now everyone is like, ‘What can I do for you?’ which is great for us,” Roland laughs, explaining the difference between now and when they first got together.
While most bands dream of success and making it big, for Jule Vera this dream is becoming reality. But it is not luck that has gotten them to where they are today. Their hard work and determination has paid off and the music industry has noticed.
For the five members of the band, success is not the only goal of Jule Vera. Though being able to get signed to a label and playing on a national tour is definitely an achievement, Jule Vera is not just about the fame.
“We don’t necessarily have to be famous, you know, as long as we are playing in front of kids who like us. We really strive to meet everyone at shows and try to respond to everyone who tweets us and stuff like that. We just want to hear from other people, that’s the best part about it,” Roland clarified.
Sipping on coffee, a passerby would not recognize them as members of a band that is about to perform on one of the world’s biggest traveling tours. Dressed in normal, comfortable clothes, they blend into the rest of the patrons enjoying their coffee at The Overall Company. Laid back, laughing and talkative, they are genuine and friendly.
Roland, the main talker of the group, continued on about their fan base.
“We have a wide sound, we don’t necessarily confine ourselves to one genre, so we have all different kinds of fans,” he said.
“When we make music, what’s so cool about it is that you can create something from nothing and suddenly there is a song there,” Horvath chimed in.
“Yeah, the ideas to start songs usually come at random, in the middle of the night or when you’re driving in the car,” Roland added.
However their music and lyrics have come to be, Jule Vera will now be releasing their songs on an EP expected to come out in early summer, just in time for The Vans Warped Tour.
To listen to Jule Vera yourself, go to their Sound Cloud page at:
If you want to check out Jule Vera live this spring, they will be playing with Lydia in Birmingham, Ala., May 7, and with He Is Legend along with Meddler in Mobile, Ala., March 24. Also don’t forget Jule Vera will be playing the entirety of The Vans Warped Tour, which begins June.
For more information about tour dates, locations and news visit or their Facebook page
For more information about The Warped Tour, visit

Healing Springs: Small town, big secret

Small towns can hide big secrets. Some secrets can be unpleasant, but others turn out to be a miracle.

In the case of Millry, Ala., its secret was never much of a secret, but all the same it has something that today many people would never know about. People who are aware of the area’s gift from nature say a local spring can cure an array of ailments and diseases, from skin rashes to kidney and bladder infections.

Imagine the late 1800s. Horse-drawn carriages, dusty dirt roads, railroads, cotton gins, women in heavy cotton dresses working in the garden and men sweating for a couple dollars pay in the saw mills. While this time was closing in on the turn of the century, normal middle-class citizens still couldn’t afford the luxuries of new-age technologies that were becoming available in the United States.

Lack of technology came with lack of medicines as well. Ailments various in nature plagued townspeople, especially in small towns where connections to medicine were mainly inaccessible. A cure-all remedy for common illnesses was a dream… or at least until the discovery of Millry’s secret in 1872.

According to Millry legend, the springs were discovered long before 1872, but not well-known until around that time. The legend goes that a young injured Indian warrior living in the region stumbled across these springs to clean a lesion on his leg. After daily use, the lesion healed and the water was thought to have been the cure. When the area started becoming populated, the springs’ presence became known to locals. After claims of its clear waters healing numerous conditions, more people around Washington County and Alabama started traveling there to bathe and drink from the 17 springs on the property. Thus the Healing Springs were born.

Motivated by the springs’ popularity, William Wooten, in the early 1900s, built a two-story bed-and-breakfast hotel and several cottages for visitors and promoted the property as a “place for health and pleasure.”

With multiple changes of ownership, amenities grew over the years resulting in two separate spring-fed pools visitors could bathe and swim in, as well as other spring outlets that were left free-flowing.

The current care-taker, Mary Dearmon, of the springs today explained in detail about the pools.

“That was the first swimming pool in Washington County,” she said, pointing over to the black waters of what is now just a pond. “It had a board bottom in it, and they later upgraded to a second brick- block pool.”

Much of the board and blocks are gone from the pools now. Grass and brush line the sides, but the other springs have updated boardwalks carrying visitors over the marshy land to pavilions that encompass PVC pipes churning out spring water. The land is simple now, the cottages gone and simple red dirt roads twisting their way down to each of the springs. When the hotel and pools were in operation, the scenery was much more extravagant. With various buildings, walkways and pavilions, the grounds were of utmost sophistication.

Along with the addition of the second pool in the 1950s, the new owner established the Healing Springs Industrial Academy, a three-story structure youths attended because of the water and the warm climate, which burned down later. A church was built on the property, and the hotel and cottages were added onto.

The springs thrived for most of the 20th Century, welcoming visitors to stay and enjoy the bathes. Locals established the property as a social gathering place where the men and women would dress in their Sunday best and sit on the boardwalk that circled the pools, dangling their feet in the water, and on other days young people would come to swim and play.

Out of the 17 springs on the property, three of them were the most famous.. The Mound Springs catered to women, supposedly curing female diseases such as dyspepsia, indigestion, stomach aches, eczema, sores and all skin problems, while another called Creek Springs was said to treat kidney, bladder, urinary ailments and Bright’s disease.

The third spring, Iron Springs, contained large amounts of iron and helped treat chronic constipation, piles, chills, malarial fevers and was a blood builder.

So, a cure for common illnesses was found in the small southwestern town of Millry, Ala. It was advertised in papers as a “delightful all-year health resort” and would ship bottles of the spring water “to any address.” Attested by hundreds of people over the 75 years of operation, people to this day still travel from all over to sample the springs’ water.

“We’ve had people come from Missouri and all over the world to drink the water. You never catch a break. There are always people coming in to get water. One day I sat outside and I bet I counted at least a hundred vehicles coming in here,” the care-taker said as she gestured to the property.

So where do the special healing powers of these springs come from? No one is completely sure, but locals assume it’s the small amount of dissolved minerals that combine together in the water.

The closing of the pool and hotel in 1961 led to a down-sizing of the amenities at the springs. Now, only the main two-story hotel and an additional 4-room guesthouse, where the caretakers live, mark the entrance.

Surrounded by woods so dense with yellow pines, sunlight’s long fingers barely touch its floor. The springs are easy to miss if a visitor isn’t searching for a break in the woods. Down about a mile from Millry’s town center along a road littered with potholes, the springs hardly announce their presence.

A dirt road cuts between the two main buildings and down to the springs. White signs nailed to trees by the road offer insight into the springs. The first sign at the entrance asks visitors to respect the property. The second sign is much more poignant.

It’s a place hidden to most outsiders now. Traveling south down U.S. Highway 43, take a slight right onto County Road 34 and keep straight making sure to watch out for the potholes and changes in pavement texture. The road cuts its way through fleshed out forests that create a twisting tunnel of green to navigate, curving like a writhing snake, the road finally opens up to the only stoplight in Millry. Taking a left on the main road, you will pass “Sookies,” the main gas station and diner. Turn right onto 1st Avenue and keep straight for about a mile and the Healing Springs will be on your left.

Millry’s 700-person population grants it the title of a small town. A main street, a high school, one bank and a town hall that holds only one office and an attached police station are the main components of the town.

Though small on size, the people of Millry are big on generosity. Anyone is willing to direct a lost traveler to their right path, pointing out stop signs buildings and landmarks to help them on their way. With a warm smile they will offer places of interest, people to talk to and friendly advice, telling you to come back if there’s anything else they can do.

Small towns can hide big secrets, secrets in the form of helping hands and springs with healing powers.

The second sign at the Healing Springs:

A thought… Man can make many things. Only God can make a spring. We have found the water to be healing… We hope it will do the same for you.”




Fighters for Freedom

Dust clouds swirl in the air, rising up from the earth in great plumes. Beyond the haze, tall white-capped Nevada Mountains stand erect in the distance; a gulf of rolling plain separates them from the next cluster of mountains. A helicopter’s blades cut through the air, flying low over the range in pursuit of what’s hidden under the large mass of dust: wild horses.
The herd runs for their life; eyes rolled back in fear, sweat running off their tired bodies. Soon, the helicopter chasing them will herd them into a small, high-fenced corral where the horses will be pushed and prodded into a trailer leading them to what could be their deaths.
What were once proud, American symbols of the Wild West are now disappearing faster than sand through an hourglass- more than 270,000 wild horses have been removed from public lands since 1971 by a government appointed agency. The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, is responsible for dispatching wild horses off public lands in order to keep the number of wild horses and burros from overpopulating and crowding grazing room for cattle. But wild life activists claim that wild horses barely enter grazing land designated for cattle. Activists also argue the species will become extinct if the number of wild horses taken off the land stays the same.
These animals are protected under an Act of Congress passed in 1971. Wild horses and burros are placed under protection of the “Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act,” which is designed to keep wild horses and burros on public lands to save biological diversity and represent the spirit of the Wild West. Though the BLM has practically disregarded this act, there is still hope for wild horses. Many guardians are working to save these animals’ freedom. One of those guardians is Suzanne Roy.
Roy is a 20-year animal welfare advocate. She now serves as director for the American Wild Horse Preservation, fighting for the rights of wild horses and burros in America.
She joined AWHP in 2010 when the wild horse issue heated up. With a background in politics, Roy has helped AWHP become a leader in the fight for wild horse welfare, but the job hasn’t been an easy one.
“A culture of treating wild horses like livestock instead of managing them as a wildlife species has made changing this mindset very difficult. Government agencies view wild horses as a resource to be periodically slaughtered, whereas Congress has deemed wild horses worthy of protection,” Roy explained.
With a small staff, a “crushing” workload and “a very difficult issue,” as Roy stated, the challenge of working for AWHP is tough. Roy in particular, as director, deals with raising funds, managing finances, donor relation and media relations, policy, lobbying and coalition relations. Creating political strategies, writing briefs for Congress, writing press releases, blogs and web articles, reviewing BLM policies, devising press strategy and social media campaigns are just a few parts of the work she has to do.
Roy works 10 to 12-hour days, and many times, weekends too. But it’s worth it to Roy.
“After working on presidential elections in 1998, I decided to apply the political skills I had gained to my passion, which was protecting animals,” Roy said.
Roy first had contact with the wild horse issue when she was working at an animal protection group. She met Neda DeMayo, the founder of Return to Freedom which is AWHP’s parent organization, in the early ‘90s and stayed in contact with DeMayo over the years. When Roy’s daughter took an interest in horses, she reconnected with DeMayo and started visiting the Return to Freedom horse sanctuary often, which eventually led to the offer of being director for AWHP.
Roy’s career in animal welfare wasn’t her first plan though. Growing up with a father very involved in politics, he sparked a political fire in Roy.
“My first memory is of the day President Kennedy was shot. I was just three. This had a big impact of my family. After that, my father instilled in me a sense of public service and interest in politics.”
Though even with a political-rich childhood, Roy took the pre-med path at Boston College, but after graduation, she realized medicine was not what she wanted to do with her life. Her friend’s father, who was running for Congress, offered Roy a job as his personal travel agent. This was the toehold that launched Roy into the world of politics. After, she started working in the Lt. Governor’s office and received an informal education in public relations via the Lt. Governor’s press secretary.
“He took me under his wing and taught me everything I know about PR,” Roy said.
After that politics became her life. Roy worked on multiple campaigns, including being the press secretary for Gary Hart, the press advance for Joe Biden and Jesse Jackson, all during their presidential campaigns. Eventually, she focused her political skills on her passion: helping animals.
Roy explained, “For as long as I can remember, I have loved animals. I have rescued many dogs and cats, and I became a vegetarian at 19.”
Now, her full attention is on the plight of wild horses and burros. Before her role as director, there were only 2,400 people signed up to receive emails about updates of AWHP’s work. Now with her work, AWHP has reached 100,000 sign ups. But generating email sign-ups is only one part of a large goal.
Roy details the goal of AWHP as this:
“The idea was to create a coalition through which wild horse advocates could speak with one voice and to facilitate the development of unified positions on the varied issues affecting wild horse management on public lands.”
There are many other organizations and campaigns like AWHP too. They all have the same goal in mind: help protect and defend wild horses’ right to live freely.
Through working at AWHP, Roy has had the opportunity to meet many “colorful people and great horses” along the way. She’s had many different experiences, but there are some memories that still stand out in Roy’s mind.
One of them was Roy’s first time watching a herd of wild horses in person in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Witnessing the horses up close allowed Roy to really understand “the dynamics of this small family and how they loved each other.”
Another was seeing her first BLM roundup, which wasn’t as pleasant an affair as the first memory.
“It was devastating to watch horses being chased by helicopters and see them lose their freedom and their families in an instant. A stallion died in front of me from a broken neck while charging the bars of the trap pen. I have seen other roundups since then, and to this day the sound of helicopters anywhere gives me a sick feeling in my stomach.”
The fight for wild horses and burro’s freedom is a long and complicated one. Apart from the main task of convincing the government to keep more wild horses free, which is a challenge within its self, there are other tasks that prove just as hard.
“Just making sure we have the funds to pay for our programs and other ones we want to launch is difficult,” Roy explained. “A lot of what we do would be very appropriate for funding from foundations, but it is difficult to find the time to get funding for our work.”
Regardless of the challenges Roy faces, protecting America’s last symbol of the Wild West is something she is dedicated to. Living in North Carolina, Roy makes monthly trips to D.C. for lobbyist activities, but she expects to move back to California, where she resided previously, to be closer to the wild horses.
While some people spend their lives only voicing their own problems, Suzanne Roy spends hers being the voice for creatures who don’t have one.

An Angel in Disguise: An Oncologist Social Worker’s story

Chelsea Kroll works with uncertainty. Uncertainty about life, uncertainty about death, uncertainty about the future. But dealing with all these uncertainties is what Kroll excels at. Navigating her way through the numerous secondary problems that leech themselves to cancer’s formidable stature, Kroll’s job is to help patients deal with these problems as they focus their attention on fighting cancer.
Kroll makes it easy for them to access resources they need to live with cancer. In her own way, she is the unseen angel for these patients.
“When working at the hospice, there was a family who couldn’t afford a funeral for their loved one and needed a casket,” Kroll said. “I got a call from the Auburn University School of Industrial Design, and they had constructed a casket and wanted to know if we knew of someone who might need it… So I conferred with the then-Volunteer Coordinator, Valeri White, and she worked with a volunteer who was able to get the casket from campus, put it on a trailer and leave Auburn University on graduation day and head down Highway 14 with casket in tow to get it to the family in need.”
These kinds of acts are what Kroll goes to work for every. Helping patients and their families obtain the resources they need to function, even in the end when the battle is sometimes lost.
Kroll is an oncology social worker. She works with the East Alabama Medical Center. She devoted 14 years of work specifically at the Cancer Center at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika. Prior to that, she worked two years at EAMC Hospice.
She provides resources, counseling, assistance, education and support for patients while they explore the ever-changing world of cancer. These types of resources enable patients to have the things they need and allow them to live their lives with as much ease as possible.
From getting patients to and from the center, helping them with insurance needs, emotional support, referring them out to community assistance programs and setting them up with support groups, Kroll helps with the day-to-day challenges that come with dealing with cancer.
While the doctors treat the body, social workers treat the spirit, she explained.
“Giving them the support they need to get through treatment, whether it’s emotional support… or maybe it’s just a smile or relieving some of the financial and emotional stressors- that’s what we try to do for them. It’s a team approach, so it’s not just the medicine, but everything else we can do to help them travel this journey,” Kroll explained.
The team Kroll works with at EAMC includes oncologists, hematologists, nurses, radiologists, dosimetrists, breath health navigators, clinical navigators and other social workers. The group effort to provide maximum assistance to patients is how many patients are saved.
Oncology social work is largely an untold story – the focus is usually on the medical side. Doctors save lives and perform surgeries to rid bodies of cancer is undoubtedly the main aspect of fighting a disease. But there are also non-medical ways to save a person with cancer, at least mentally and emotionally.
That’s where Kroll comes in.
“I think one of the memories that has stayed with me from working in hospice was working with a patient and her boyfriend. The nurse, our hospice chaplain and I worked it out for them to be married before he died. He couldn’t leave the hospice, so we were able to have the ceremony there, cake and all,” Kroll said. After a moment’s pause she continued, “There are going to be situations that tug at your heart. Hope and healing come in many different ways, and that’s the way I like to explore it.”
Before working at East Alabama Medical Center, Kroll worked in the Army since she enlisted after graduating high school in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. So, her path wasn’t a straight line to social work. Enlisting because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do yet, the Army offered her a way to explore her options.
While stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, during the first two years of being in the Army, Kroll took classes at the University of Alaska and graduated with an associate’s degree. After she finished her required time in the Army she went into the Reserves in June of 1993 and enrolled at the University of Texas at Tyler to get her Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice.
During this time, Kroll finally stumbled upon the field of social work. Her minor in sociology, required her to take social work classes.
That’s where everything clicked for Kroll. But the University of Texas did not offer a social work major or minor, so, after graduation, Kroll went straight to New Orleans to work on her master’s in social work at Tulane University.
“I did an internship at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in New Orleans. So that’s kind of what got me interested in going into the medical field,” Kroll said.
After getting her master’s, Kroll went from being enlisted in the Reserves to being an officer and started her career in social work in Tuscaloosa, Ala. working at the Combat Support Hospital. From there, Kroll went into a public affairs unit with the military until she retired in 1997.
“My first social work job [after retiring from the Army] was at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, so I worked as an in-patient social worker on the medical oncology floor… my husband was working at the vet school, so we ended up moving up here and I worked with the hospice for the first four years,” Kroll explains. “So my whole time in this area I worked with the East Alabama Medical Center.”
Over time, Kroll’s brown office cabinets have become covered with smiling pictures of her family, patients, co-worker’s families and past interns. She half-laughs, her pink-toned face lights up as she turns to describe all the people lucky enough to get their pictures on her cabinets.
“That’s one of my patients when Aubie came and her little boy. And that was our Think Pink walk for breast cancer,” Kroll said while describing the smiling picture of a little boy with Aubie, Auburn University’s mascot, and a picture of the Colleen Alsobrook, the breast health navigator, during the Cancer Center’s Think Pink walk.
Her other pictures include her two sons, Joshua, 10, and Jacob, six.
“That was probably two Christmas’s ago, but I can’t stand to take it down,” Kroll’s explains.
Her soft, round face smiles at the pictures then turns serious again. Her blue eyes shift to the phone that starts ringing, and she clips on her Bluetooth ear piece to take the call. She swivels around so her pink and black scrub-clad back faces the room.
Kroll’s intern for the semester, Erin Holt, senior at Auburn University, is with her today.
“She’s awesome. She does a really good job of teaching and also letting you try it yourself,” Holt said.
“Every day is something different… I write down at the end of the day what I learned,” Holt said.
Kroll quickly finishes the call with quiet, short clipped words and turns back to face the room.
She says resources, such as transportation, are one of the more challenging areas of her work. Trying to get patients to the center for treatment can be tricky if they don’t have a vehicle. But those challenges seem small compared to all the different ways Kroll can help patients.
“It really all depends if you look at the glass half empty or the glass half full,” Kroll said as she talked about giving hope to patients. “That’s how it is as a team. We don’t ever take anyone’s hope away and sometimes, even if we can’t give medicine, we are able to refer someone to a hospice. That’s a treatment in a sense because we’re not giving up. Sometimes you just let go of one focus of care and focus on another.”
Kroll used a metaphor for being diagnosed. She said life is like a puzzle where everything has its place, then cancer comes and scrambles up the picture and the pieces don’t fit right anymore. The puzzle’s picture is not the same anymore, and they have to figure out that new puzzle and put the pieces back together again.
“That’s what a lot of this is, it’s navigating a new part of their life’s picture puzzle, and we do that as a team.”