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Ladies social club hangs up its red hats one last time

ABERDEEN – Since the 1990s, a group of ladies wearing red hats, gaudy jewelry, purple blouses and feather boas have commanded attention while eating and laughing monthly at local restaurants. Going a little deeper into the foundation of the Red Hatters, particularly the Highland Hatters of Aberdeen, it has been more of a sisterhood.

“We are encouraged to be ourselves and say what we think. You’re 50 and you made it this far so don’t be embarrassed, get out and enjoy yourself,” said Marsha Ballard, who was the club’s queen mother for the past two years. “We’d talk about our problems, and it was really a sisterhood. Someone may have marriage problems or sickness in the family. We’d get in the car and talk about anything. We’d say, ‘What happens at Red Hatters stays at Red Hatters.’”

What began with Aberdeen’s original queen mother Ann Wood starting the social club in the 1990s quickly grew into 35 members. She took the idea of the Red Hat Society’s mission to promote fun and friendship among females 50 and older and localized it. Through the years, though, members have passed away, moved, shifted into caretaking roles, fallen ill or just gotten too busy.

Ballard and the club’s last remaining members, Jo Ann Finn, Ginny Pounders, Judy Hansen and Pat Tucker, unofficially met for one final lunch last week and donated the rest of the club’s remaining saving balance to the Friends of the Aberdeen Animal Shelter.

“We could have stayed but with five members, it’s tough. The national dues are a lot, and we didn’t want to be called a club and not be affiliated with the national chapter,” Ballard said.

For years leading up to the end, though, the Red Hatters met monthly at different Aberdeen restaurants and occasionally took road trips and out of town trips to eat. For Ballard, her most memorable takeaway was a trip to the national convention in Nashville.

“Gaudy, honey…when we went to Nashville, they probably had hundreds of vendors. By the time we got back, my credit card was limp, and Virginia Pounders’ credit card had sparks,” she said.

Red Hatters members’ signature look was the clashing colors of purple and red in what they wore.

“I had been dressing that way since the ‘80s,” said Ballard, explaining the club was a perfect fit for her when she joined 10 years ago.

While her closets still have hat boxes, bags and racks with clothes from her time in the club, some of the other members have donated Red Hatters items to the Friends of the Aberdeen Animal Shelter Thrift Store.

Ballard said there are still active clubs in Columbus, West Point and Fulton.

Even though the Highland Hatters of Aberdeen are officially no more, the bond between that group of friends will continue.

“We were close and we were good friends. It’s not like we belonged to a club, and that’s it. We were involved with each other,” Ballard said.

Sheriff responds to online video, audio clips

A video and older audio clips shared to Facebook in the past week regarding Sheriff Cecil Cantrell set off a barrage of commentary from the public and him, in turn, blaming the timing of the postings on politics.

In the video, a work center inmate, who is no longer being housed there, is assembling a “Re-elect Cantrell Sheriff” campaign sign and in the audio clips, Cantrell thanks employees who supported him and threatens those who didn’t.

Cantrell denied any involvement in directing the former inmate to assemble signs and said he didn’t realize anything about the incident until last Tuesday night, when it was posted to Facebook. He acknowledged the audio, however, and said it was from four or five years ago.

“This is nothing but dirty, rotten politics. This is the dirtiest campaign I’ve ever been involved in. I had no clue it happened, if you want to put the truth out there,” Cantrell said last week of the video clip.

He reiterated part of the same message Monday morning in response to the audio.

“I was county judge for 24 years and I’ve served almost eight years as your sheriff. You know what kind of job I’ve done. This is nothing more than dirty, rotten politics,” he said, adding during his time as sheriff, his department has made numerous drug busts and helped decrease the county’s crime rate.

The video clip was posted to Facebook by Bryant Hargroue of Amory.

“People need to know what’s going on,” said his wife Brandi, who added she couldn’t reveal the origin of the inmate video. “A lot of stuff going on behind closed doors isn’t right. We want people to be honest with the people.”

Cantrell said the video was taken during the beginning of April and he wouldn’t elaborate on who filmed the video either. He said he is investigating the incident.

In a separate video posted to Facebook, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White said during a campaign stop in Amory he was aware of the situation. Kelley Ryan, a spokesperson for the state auditor’s office, could neither confirm nor deny if there is an investigation.

Mississippi Codes 47-5-401 through 47-5-421 address work center inmates, who are restricted to work orders for the county, cities and certain nonprofit organizations. Schools may also use inmate labor.

Work center inmates are non-violent offenders through the Mississippi Department of Corrections housed at the county’s facility.

In researching the legality of an inmate assembling campaign signs, the Mississippi Ethics Commission and Secretary of State offices had no comments regarding such an instance. There was no return calls from the Attorney General’s office or the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

In the two-minute, six-second audio clip, posted online Sunday night, Cantrell appears to address employees who were against him.

“You traitors who are sitting in here, please find you a job,” Cantrell said in the clip. “Get out of here because you’re a cancer. Please move on. Please turn in your notice as soon as you can and find you a job. Move. Get out of here. You keep turning the Lord away, He’ll leave you. Well, I’ve left you, brother.”

The audio continues to state Cantrell saying he’ll “fight with you or I’ll fight against you.”

“I’ll throw down any time you’re ready. You may kick my tail, but I’ll get my licks in. You can believe it or not. And I’ll catch you walking through one of these doors down here and I’ll put a 2x4 upside your head ‘cause I’ll blindside you. I don’t fight fair ‘cause I’ve been doing it ever since I grew up as a little bitty boy,” he said as the clip ended.

Cantrell is running on the Democrat ticket and is seeking his third term as sheriff through the Aug. 6 primary.

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Historic Amory homestead getting some grooming

AMORY – The estate of Chesley Columbus Hester once encompassed more than 700 acres crowned by a home place alongside Highland Drive and an area of Black Cat Bottom extending to the Tombigbee River.

The bottom-land property was reduced by half when portions were sold to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the development of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The home, however, is still in the family at 1300 Highland Drive.

For years, it has remained vacant but is currently undergoing a property cleaning, peaking the curiosity of many in Amory.

The home’s present owner, Bill Tibbett, is the son of the youngest of Hester’s seven daughters. He is now in his late 70s. Although his health is failing, his resolve remains to save and restore the historic home in which he grew up.

His desire is that the estate’s home will eventually be a restored landmark to compliment the history of Amory.

“I’m doing the best I can for Amory and my family,” he said.

A grandson of Hester’s only son and Tibbett’s cousin, Tom Hester of Mobile, Alabama, has recently come to document the present condition of the home. He has photographed its look after much-needed work to clear the years of overgrowth that hid away several vintage automobiles, ranging from a 1936 Ford sedan to a late 1960s Mustang coupe, parked around the house.

“Billy is a retired football coach and was a star athlete inducted in 2009 to the Itawamba Community College Athletic Hall of Fame,” Hester said. “After retiring from coaching, he worked for the Post Office, taking after his mother, who was a mainstay at the Amory Post Office for many years. He and his brothers also inherited their father’s mechanical abilities and collected the cars that are on the estate.”

According to Hester’s research, his family came to Amory from Alabama and bought the house in 1913, where three generations of the family have lived. Tibbett’s mother, Fay, and her family were the last Hester relatives to live in the home, after which it has been uninhabited.

She lived alone in the house after the death of her husband in 1964 until the early 1990s. She began to have falls, and some dementia set in, so she became unable to continue to live alone and moved in with her sister.

Fay died in May 1996 and had been living with her sister then for two or three years. The house has been vacant since she moved in with her sister.

Going back to another previous owner, C.C. Hester is remembered to have run a neighborhood grocery story across the street from the home at the intersection of Old Highway 6 and Highland Drive.

One of the older Hester sisters directed the home economics department at Mississippi State University, managed the Hester Estate after the death of her father and also developed the nearby Meadowbrook Circle subdivision on a portion of inherited estate property, according to Hester.

The massive two-story home is Craftsman in style, with a screened side porch enclosed through the years around the back. Beadboard ceilings in the porches were painted sky blue, which still remains.

“They called the color haint blue,” Hester said. “The colloquial name of the color was adopted from early African-American culture to ward haints, or ghosts, away from the home.”

Historians attest that the tactic was intended either to mimic the appearance of the sky, tricking the ghost into passing through, or to mimic the appearance of water, which ghosts traditionally could not cross.

Going back further

There is a marker on a portion of the property away from the house in an area where evidence has been found of a prehistoric colony. According to the marker, evidence dating activity of a prehistoric civilization from 10,000 years ago was discovered in 1973.

“It is called the Hester Dig. Each year, Mississippi State University brings students to the site who are enrolled in an excavation- and survey-based archaeological field course for continued explorations,” Hester said.

The deepest layers of the site have been found to contain Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic artifacts, a period of occupation dating from 9000 BC to 7000 BC. Per the National Historic Landmark nomination, all of the layers contain evidence of the manufacture of stone tools using locally abundant chert, or microcrystalline quartz.

Almost all prehistoric tools in the zone recovered by archaeologists suggest that activities in the area could be associated with hunting, butchering or related processing of wild game. The site is one of the largest Archaic sites in the southeast and yields bountiful clues to archaeologists about the Meso-Indian period in North America, which lasted from approximately 8000 to 1000 BC.

The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.