Monthly Archives: November 2015

At Your Service Dogs


K-9-Cabela2Evans resident Jerry Lyda has trained dogs since he was 12 years old. However, after his father-in-law, who served in Vietnam, died in the mid-1990s, he realized he wanted to help others with his skill.

“My father-in-law died from the effects of Agent Orange, and he had post traumatic stress disorder,” says Lyda. “That’s when I got to thinking that this is something I can do to help my brothers.”

After years of asking questions and learning about incorporating nonprofit organizations, Lyda, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era, and his son, Jay, co-founded Veterans K9 Solutions Inc. in 2012. The mission of the organization is to train dogs to rehabilitate veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries or other disabilities.

K-9-1.-Main-picSome of the soldiers who go through the training program have their own dogs, but others are paired with a dog that has been rescued from a kill shelter.

“The type or size of dog doesn’t matter. It just has to have the right temperament,” Lyda says. “We match dogs with veterans according to the task the dogs have to perform. To be a service dog, it has to be able to perform at least one task for a disabled person.” 

Training classes begin at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays beside the Columbia County Courthouse in Evans. “We train outside, but we would love to find an indoor facility so we can train in all kinds of weather,” says Lyda.

K-9-HunterThe Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center refers veterans to the program, and many of them have PTSD. Oftentimes, they have lost their families to divorce, suffer from substance abuse or nightmares, or feel overwhelmed in public places. So far, Veterans K9 Solutions, which has two trainers in addition to Lyda and his son, has trained 55 teams of dogs and veterans.

The dogs must pass five skill tests to be certified as a service dog by Veterans K9 Solutions, and in September the organization held its first graduation ceremony at the Columbia County Amphitheater for 36 dogs and their soldiers.

“The service dogs give the veterans an opportunity to lead the quality of life they should be leading,” Lyda says.

For more information, visit or call (706) 231-3856.

Band of Brothers


VET-1.-Opening-photo--Capt.-TroxlerMembers of a U.S. Army reserve unit that served in Vietnam support each other and their fellow soldiers

Former U.S. Army reservists John Bowen and Steve Whitt, who served together in Vietnam as members of the 319th Transportation Company, have been friends for a long time. Apparently, however, that friendship has its limits – which Bowen discovered when he recently invited his fellow veteran to lunch. He says he offered to drive his friend to the restaurant, but Whitt jokingly said he had no intention of getting in a car with him. 

“Every time we rode together in Vietnam, we got ambushed,” Bowen says. 

Otherwise, though, this close-knit group of Central Savannah River Area natives has been a band of brothers since they were activated for service on May 13, 1968. The 138 members reported to Fort Lee, Virginia for four months of training, and they arrived in Vietnam on September 21, 1968. Based in Long Binh, South Vietnam, the five-ton truck company drove more than 1.1 million miles hauling personnel and 92 tons of supplies until returning home August 13, 1969.

“For the last 46 years we’ve kept everyone together by having reunions every year. We have a big reunion every five years, and we’ve been told that we’re the only group that really keeps everybody together,” says Bowen. “When you’re in harm’s way with someone every day, you become close.”

VET-2.-ConvoyThe unit, which was led by Captain Paul Drew Troxler, became known as Troxler’s Truckers. They also adopted a roadrunner as their mascot. Involved in seven ambushes and numerous sniper and road mine attacks, the 319th personnel earned three Purple Hearts and 16 Bronze Stars, including three with V for valor. The 319th Transportation Company also earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious conduct in performance of outstanding service while in Vietnam.

The unit suffered one casualty during its tour of duty with the death of Specialist 5 Roy Miller, and 108 of the “Truckers” still survive today.

“We were just ordinary citizens, and we were thrown together because the unit was activated,” says John Trulock, another member of the 319th. “I didn’t even have a uniform.”

During the 319th’s tour in Vietnam, regular Army personnel from other parts of the country filled in with the unit from time to time. However, they belong to the band of brothers as well.

“We Southernized them,” says Bowen. “They thought of themselves as part of the 319th.”

In fact, some of them have come from across the United States and as far away as Australia to attend the reunions. As part of the reunion each year, the reservists gather at Hillcrest Cemetery and place a wreath on Miller’s grave. 

VET-3.-Return-to-VietnamIn recent years, the 319th Transportation Company has reached out to other veterans as well. In 2011, for instance, the 319th held a dinner for wounded warriors and the general public. About 60 servers from local restaurants volunteered to work at the event.

Actor Gary Sinise, who played Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, was the guest speaker at the fundraiser. That was the first time Sinise visited Augusta, says Bowen, but he has returned twice since then.

Proceeds supported a joint project of the Augusta/CSRA Habitat for Humanity, Augusta Warrior Project and the 319th to renovate a home in Martinez for wounded warrior and Lakeside High School graduate William Word. “We raised almost $25,000, and that was the seed money to renovate the house,” Bowen says.

Members of the unit also volunteer at Thunder Over Augusta, and Bowen says they plan to have another dinner in the future. In addition, he says, reserve units from across the United States that were activated in 1968 and 1969 will have a reunion in Augusta in 2018. 

VET-4.-Green-shirtsMore than 100,000 individual members of the Army Reserve served on active duty each year from 1967 to 1971, many in Southeast Asia. In addition, 35 of the 42 Army Reserve units that were mobilized in 1968 went to Vietnam.

In recent years some members of the 319th have gotten a different perspective of Vietnam. Seven of them traveled together to Vietnam for a visit several years ago. “We followed our footsteps to all of the places we were in combat. There’s a fertilizer plant on the site of our company headquarters now. There used to be berms there,” says Bowen. “It’s a beautiful country, and the Vietnamese people love Americans.”

Raye’s Your Voice


Collin-RayeA country singer who performs issue-oriented music is coming to Evans. Country crooner Collin Raye entertains audiences and advances the social causes of those who cannot always speak for themselves. This month the energetic showman, who has been performing since the 1990s, is bringing his electrifying style to Evans.

Fans will remember “Love, Me,” the song that shot him to fame in 1991. Other favorites include “Little Rock,” an anthem for those struggling with addiction recovery. When this song hit the charts in 1994, its video prompted more than 100,000 phone calls to Alcoholics Anonymous from people seeking help with their addictions.

“Not That Different” pleaded for tolerance, while “I Think About You,” which exposed the exploitation of women and children, won awards for its song and video. 

During his career, Raye has had 24 Top 10 records and 16 number one hits. He is a 10-time male Vocalist of the Year nominee (five-time Country Music Association nominee and five-time Academy of Country Music nominee).

He also has supported organizations ranging from Al-Anon and Special Olympics to Easter Seals and Make A Difference Day. At the Country Radio Seminar in 2001, Raye won the organization’s Humanitarian of the Year award in recognition of his issue-oriented music and his tireless charity work.

If You Go:

What: An Acoustic Evening With Collin Raye

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 20

Where: Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center

How Much: $52

More Info: (706) 726-0366 or

Baked Hasselback Sweet Potatoes

Side Dishes

food sweet potato4 sweet potatoes

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt, pepper & garlic powder, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash and pat dry sweet potatoes. Place two chopsticks or pencils on a cutting board and set potato in between them lengthwise. Using a sharp knife, make 1/8-inch slices along each potato (the chopsticks will prevent you from cutting all the way through). Drizzle olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per potato) over the top of the potatoes and use your fingers to gently separate the slices. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste. Bake on middle rack 45-60 minutes until done. Makes 4.


Better Than Pinterest

In The Home

Forget virtual bulletin boards. Local interior designers and talented homeowners have creative ideas of their own to share for decking the halls during the holiday season. 

Sometimes an ingenuous holiday decorating tip is just a mouse click away. However, for those who prefer a little more stirring all through the house to gather ideas, the Augusta Ballet Guild Holiday House is better than Pinterest. In fact, it might even be better than a visit from St. Nick himself.

This year the third annual Holiday House, which benefits Augusta Ballet, will be held 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, November 21 and 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, November 22 with a tour of homes in Summerville. Tickets, which are $20, are available at the Augusta Ballet office, at interior designers’ locations and online at

“We want people to come and celebrate the season with us,” says Jan Hodges Burch of the Augusta Ballet board of trustees. “It’s a gift to the community. A lot of people work very hard, and it’s just a beautiful event.”

Last year’s tour, which featured Christmas décor in three homes in West Lake, showcased the talents of a dozen area interior designers at the home of Paige and Brad Bertram. The tour also included visits to the homes of DaNelle and Julian Murphey and Tina Kelley and her late husband, Rusty, who passed away this September.

Photography by Haley Lamb

Photography by Haley Lamb

The Bertram Home

At the Bertram home, the outdoor décor by Southern Landscaping & Lawncare Inc. welcomed guests to the front porch and back patio. The swag around the front door featured red and green ornaments, oversized snowflakes and elves. Packages wrapped with shiny green paper and tied with bright red ribbon sat outside the door.

Greenery with white lights, along with large red and green bows, adorned the stair rails to the back patio while lanterns along some of the steps illuminated the way. Cheerful holiday pillows lined the curved couch by the fire pit. Red berry wreaths hung on the doors to the breakfast area, while green wreaths with red berries brought holiday greetings to the sunroom doors.

BERTRAM-Patio-Table-2Tomato stand planters formed Christmas trees adorned with red lanterns, cardinals, red berries, magnolia leaves and white burlap poinsettias trimmed in red. On the patio table, red cardinals perched on a wire orb centerpiece that was filled with greenery surrounding a small white tree. 

Design Images & Gifts decked the front hallway with a white Christmas tree that showcased silver snowflakes. Styrofoam balls of various sizes surrounded the base of the tree in a clever and inexpensive way to create a tree skirt. A reindeer wearing black boots with red laces sat on an upholstered bench to welcome visitors.

The dining room, decorated by The White Crane, brought an outdoorsy feel to a Thanksgiving table. A centerpiece of feathers and greenery sat in the middle of the round table, which was covered with a tan leather tablecloth. Candles and decorative gold acorn ornaments surrounded the centerpiece, and brown and green napkins were tied with twine and acorn napkin rings.

Natural light seeped into the French doors and two-story high arched windows of the living room, where Signature Interiors decorated a tall Christmas tree with gold, green and brown balls, pine cones and cascades of gold ribbon to complement the earth-toned décor. A giant bow of brown and cream-colored ribbon topped the tree.

BERTRAM-Dining-Room-ChestIn the study, LMT Designs offset the deep rich tone of the wood-paneled walls with greenery on the fireplace mantel. Magnolia leaves and plaid ribbon brought a decorative touch to the greenery.

Cynthia C. Balentine Interiors used a back-to-nature approach to set the scene in the keeping room and the breakfast area. Brown and beige bows accented grapevine on the fireplace, while greenery was interwoven in the chandelier. An apple-filled bowl sits on the table, and dried beans in clear candleholders surround beige candles.

The natural hues continued in the breakfast area, where earth-toned wreaths, which had either orange slices or a pear hanging from them, hung in the bay windows. Beige stockings filled with greenery and red berries hung from each of the four upholstered chairs. 

BERTRAM-KitchenFrom a pair of elf legs dangling in the window to a wooden toy soldier standing sentry in the corner, a touch of Christmas whimsy highlighted the kitchen. Decorated by Design Dilemmas, the kitchen also featured illuminated red presents on the granite countertops and greenery and red ornaments in the pendant lights above the island. Santa stood with his sleigh by the sink. The island chairs were decorated with silver ribbon, greenery and signs that said Peace, Noel or Joy.

Local interior designers made sure the Christmas joy could continue even if holiday revelers were nestled all snug in their beds. In the master bedroom, Mish Mash laid greenery on the dresser and adorned it with large snowflakes and balls, tan bows and white lights. A red skirt with white polka dots wrapped around the base of a skinny revolving Christmas tree trimmed with small red balls and oversized green and white balls. In the adjoining sunroom, a collection of Christmas pillows accented the couch. Decorative white trees sat on the coffee table where a whimsical elf kept an eye on holiday treats.

In the master bath, which was decorated by Interiors by Roger, a white-flocked wreath on a shutter brought Christmas cheer to the space.

The upstairs bedrooms were decked out as well. In one bedroom, Villa Interior Design, Décor & Details hung wreaths with magnolia leaves, giant pinecones and ribbon from a corner of the windows. Strands of small snowflakes, made of thin reeds by Augusta Training Shop employees, hung atop the floor-length, paned windows while large reed snowflakes hung on the pictures and armoire.

Clara from “The Nutcracker” couldn’t have dreamed up one of the other bedrooms better herself. Brittany Wallace Interiors hung a stocking in the shape of a pink ballet slipper from the armoire. Ballet slippers – along with pink-and-green-striped ribbon, giant pink and green snowflakes, and green and pink balls – accented a white Christmas tree in the corner.

MAC & Company brought splashes of teal, red and lime green to a third bedroom, where a tree was decorated with balls of the bright colors. A teal tree with gold sequined picks and chevron-striped red and green ribbons accented a tree in the adjoining bath.

 MURPHEY-Dining-Room-TableThe Murphey Home

Christmas decorations do not have to be brand new to celebrate the season, however. DaNelle Murphey has accumulated holiday décor through the years, and most of it has been given to her by friends or been passed down from family members. And now a new generation can enjoy the holiday heirlooms.

“I do it for my grandkids,” DaNelle said. “They come in, and their eyes light up.”

With greenery, red and gold balls, a red bow and a gold bow on the mailbox, the Christmas cheer began before anyone set foot inside. Greenery filled with red and gold balls also surrounded the front door. Two black planters on the front porch were filled with greenery and small red and green balls, while bright red packages sat on the porch. White lights brought a soft glow to the greenery and porch décor.

A four-foot St. Nick greeted guests in the foyer, and lighted greenery, interspersed with red ribbon with polka dots and gold trim, beaded garland and red poinsettias, adorned the stair rails.

MURPHEY-Living-RoomEvery year DaNelle puts up three big Christmas trees, as well as trees in the bedrooms, and last year Southern Landscaping helped her with the trees. Her friend Karen Thomason helped her decorate as well.

Each room has a theme, and DaNelle said it usually takes her about a month to decorate. The finishing touches are always ready in time for the Murpheys’ annual holiday party.

MURPHEY-Family-Room-FireplaceA nine-foot tree in the family room had a theme of Santa and nutcrackers. The tree also featured red and gold ribbon as well as ornaments that the Murphey children and grandchildren made. Two nutcrackers stood tall on the fireplace mantel, which also was draped with beaded garland.

Two nutcrackers stood on the step to the family room, which adjoined the snow-themed living room. Snowmen and snow villages made the room look like a winter wonderland, and a giant hat tree topper put the finishing touch on the flocked, revolving tree.

The dining room featured a nativity and angels theme. DaNelle set the table with her grandmother’s Wedgwood china, circa 1930. “The pattern is so old it doesn’t have a name,” she said. “It has a number.” Red wine glasses completed the table setting, while dishes from another Christmas pattern filled the china cabinet.

Even though the kitchen walls are painted red all year long, the festive shade brought brightened the yuletide season. Greenery on top of the cabinets accompanied Santa and Christmas trees, and Christmas treats were plentiful throughout the room. A gingerbread house occupied the desk, while bowls of candy canes and Hershey’s Kisses on the counter were replenished throughout the holidays.

A kitchen window opened into the sunroom, where a nature theme blended perfectly with the backyard that is visible through floor-length, arched windows. A bespectacled Santa in a brown MURPHEY-Covered-Porchfur coat stood in a corner, and a pair of reindeer nestled together on a glass-topped table among big green balls. The Christmas tree featured gold balls, feathers and birds’ nests.

On the covered porch, a bird theme brought bright red cardinals to roost in the greenery along the rails. Cardinal-decorated pillows were propped on the furniture.

KELLEY-Front-Door-decoratedThe Kelley Home 

At the Kelley house, Santas and elves, wreaths and trees, ribbons and bows set the scene for a holly, jolly Christmas. “I love to share my love of Christmas with others,” Tina said.

Two giant nutcrackers stood at attention by the front door, where garland adorned with red and green ribbon and red berries surrounded the doorframe.

A four-foot Santa, who had a golden reindeer at his feet, greeted guests as they came inside.  Greenery and burgundy ribbon added holiday cheer to the stair railing. Tina gets a new elf or St. Nick figure every year, and the North Pole denizens were tucked throughout the house. 

KELLEY-Bonus-Room-1In the piano room, greenery and a pair of red goblets sat atop a baby grand piano. On top of a chest, a nativity scene with Hummel figurines from Germany, which once belonged to Tina’s great-grandmother, served as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

Burgundy balls decorated the tree in the living room, where a pair of golden reindeer settled down next to the arrangement on the fireplace mantel. In the dining room, china and flatware that Tina received for her high school graduation topped gold chargers. The china belonged to her grandmother, and each bowl contained a burgundy and gold ornament that was tied with a gold bow. Another pair of gold reindeer nestled in an arrangement of greenery and pinecones on a chest. Three gold trees of staggered heights stood in a corner.

Tina trimmed a wreath, which hung on the office door, with gear that she found in the fishing tackle box that belonged to Rusty’s late father. She continued the theme in the office, decorating the tree with ornaments shaped like fish and fishermen.

Decked out in lime green and red, the sunroom had St. Nick’s imprint everywhere. A large Santa head and his skinny legs poked out from the tree, where an elf held a long list of Christmas wishes. Signs with Santa’s signature “Ho, Ho, Ho” phrase were scattered throughout the tree as well. Next to the tree, Santa had parked his red sleigh that was overflowing with shiny red packages tied with green ribbon.

KELLEY-Kitchen-1An oversized elf leaned against a chair in the breakfast area, and wreaths hung on each of the arched windows. A tipsy elf climbed a ladder to the built-in wine rack in the kitchen, and greenery, wide ribbon and beaded garland hung from the pendant lights above the island. An arrangement of red and green ornaments dripped down like icicles above the sink.

Of all the beautiful Christmas trees throughout the home, Tina said the tree in the bonus room was her favorite. “This tree is in memory of all the pets we’ve lost,” she said.

The tree featured ornaments shaped like dogs and bones, while the bow at the top was tied with wide ribbon that was covered with paw prints and said “Santa Claws.” A stuffed dog wearing a Santa hat peeked out from a green and red doghouse at the foot of the tree. And no doubt, this tree was the perfect place for Santa to leave presents for Tina’s Maltese, Sophie.

The garland along the stair railing was decorated with red-and-white-striped bones, and pictures of past family dogs in Christmas frames lined a table.

kelley-Dining-RoomOutside, a gazebo on the back deck was draped with strands of greenery and red bows. A decorated sleigh, which belonged to Rusty as a child, stood by the gazebo next to a container for hats, mittens and scarves and a pile of “snow.”

We may have to settle for days that are merry and bright, but it never hurts to dream about having a white Christmas, does it?

By Betsy Gilliland

Photography by Haley Lamb

Concerts with a Cause

Community Groups in Action

Concerts with a CauseConcerts with a Cause, a series sponsored by St. John United Methodist Church in Augusta, is honoring World War II veterans with “Peace: 1945” on Sunday, November 8 at 3 p.m. The concerts bring prominent musicians to the community, and jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon will be the guest artist for this performance at the church.

Generous donations allow the church to offer the concerts free of charge. At each performance, however, a “love offering” is collected to benefit a local service organization. This concert will benefit Augusta Richmond County Historical Society for the Veterans History Project. The Library of Congress established the Veterans History Project in 2001 to collect memories, accounts and documents from U.S. war veterans to preserve their stories for future generations. 

“Locally, a dedicated group of volunteers has done interviews with more than 800 World War II veterans, and it is deeply moving to hear these men talk about their experiences,” says Jamie Garvey, the St. John organist and director of music. “We’re losing this generation, and it’s important to hear their stories.”

Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the multi-media presentation will focus on themes of hope, love and peace. In addition, it will feature video footage of local veterans’ stories.

After each veteran’s interview, says Garvey, “We will sing or play music inspired by that particular story. It is not really patriotic music, but music of peace and hope. The music just goes straight to your soul.”

Gordon, a Waynesboro native, and his trio will perform with instrumentalists and musicians. At the end of the concert, the guest artists will perform solo pieces of popular World War II-era songs. Childcare will be provided, and a reception will follow the performance in the fellowship hall. 

Since its beginning in 2003, Concerts with a Cause had donated almost $152,000 to 43 organizations. For more information, visit or call (706) 724-9641.