RODNEY ALEXANDER: Remembering the construction of East Franklin Junior High and the April 27, 2011 tornado
“I moved into this community when I was in the fifth grade, and I’m now 58 years old, fixing to be 59 in February. We moved down here from the state of Illinois; my dad bought the property he still lives on now, and I still live in the community here in East Franklin.
“The year prior, the schoolhouse in this area had burned, and there was no school to go. So the Oak Grove churches, Oak Grove Missionary Baptist and Oak Grove Freewill Baptist offered their facilities for us to go to school in. So I went from a nice school – when we first moved down here, I went to Russellville for a year – to a church house to go to school in. That was called the Union High School – the one that burned. The only thing that was left of it was the lunchroom. We were bussed from the churches at lunchtime to the lunchroom, and then we went back over to the church to finish the school day.
“The day East Franklin Junior High School was completed, which took the place of the old Union High School, we thought we were in seventh heaven – brand new school, big gymnasium, whole nine yards. The gym doubled as the lunchroom; they would set the gym up with tables and stuff, and we would have lunch in the gym.
“I have a lot of fond memories of people who are still in the community and people who have passed on. I can drive down the road and think back to ‘Oh, so and so, lived there,’ drive down the road and name off the people who have passed out of this world into the next. There was a gentleman in the community that ran a store, Uncle Tommy, or Tom Morgan … Another little store in the community, Pete and Lurlene Harris ran that one. Another little store, I forget the gentleman’s first name, but it was Bishop’s store. All these little stores found the usual things you find in a convenience store – cold drinks and snack and bread, things like that.
“There are still a lot of people in the community who are really good people. If I had to pick a community to live in, this would be it. If you get in a bind, people are always there to help, and the churches in this area are phenomenal; whatever need there is in the community, they are always ready to step up and give money to a cause or help somebody who is having a hard time. It’s not called a hand out – it’s a hand up. That’s the way they do it here.
“In 2011 when the storm came through here, we lost five people in this community that day. With a tight-knit community, that’s pretty tough loss. But the people in this community really stepped up during that time period. The fire department and community members set up a disaster relief area at the school. Tony Hodge ran that center; he was the assistant chief at the time and still is.
“My home was completely destroyed, along with my dad’s and my son’s and my brother’s and my other brother’s. It destroyed everything. And my dad was in the hospital; we had to fly him to Birmingham. Since the tornado had gotten all six of my dad’s poultry houses, I was having to get all that squared away and disposed of and buried, so I wasn’t really able to help with the disaster relief. Tony and the community members did a fantastic job on that. People stepped up, and they were there for people in this community – cutting trees and trying to get to the people who were injured. It’s a super fantastic community. All the people are great.
“I couldn’t have been luckier than for my parents to pick this area for me to live in.”