Monthly Archives: March 2020

Family Ties


Photography by Sally Kolar

Two area sisters who were separated for 65 years formed an instant, lasting, unbreakable bond when they finally met

It’s never too late to build strong family relationships. Just ask sisters Debi Drummond, 66, of North Augusta and Barbara Hudson, 71, of Augusta. Until May of 2018, they had no idea each other even existed. For the last 20 months, however, they have been making up for lost time.

“My story began in North Augusta, South Carolina,” says Debi, when she and Barbara shared their story with a group at Wesley United Methodist Church. “God’s impeccable timing and love has brought us together.”

For 65 years however, they grew up in different families and lived separate lives. Debi was adopted at birth in 1953 by a North Augusta couple and grew up with an older brother, who was their parents’ biological child. Her adoptive parents, Jerry and Helen Baxter, had been told that Debi was one of eight or nine children whose family could not afford to keep her.

Barbara, who was born in 1948, was raised in Augusta as an only child. “In 1953, my mother was pregnant. She also was in the midst of a divorce,” says Barbara, whose mother remarried in 1957.

They think Debi was taken from their mother for adoption by a local juvenile court officer, Bee Hamilton, who died in 1988. Hamilton reportedly sold hundreds of babies to adoptive parents from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s.

“Bee Hamilton was powerful and well-respected in the community,” says Debi. “She had connections with unwed mother homes. She preyed on low-income, low-education people.”

Allegedly, Hamilton often told birth mothers that their babies had died and asked the adoptive parents to pay the baby’s hospital bills. The sisters believe these were the circumstances that led to Debi’s adoption.

Before her mother, Betty Perry, died in 2004, Barbara saw a page in the family Bible that listed the births in the family. She saw her name, her cousins’ names and their birthdates. She also saw an unfamiliar name – Beverly Kay Perry, who was born May 10, 1953 and died in 1953.

“My mom said, ‘That was a baby I had, but they told me she died,’” says Barbara.

Because her mother was terminally ill, Barbara, who was living in Jupiter, Florida at the time, didn’t ask any questions. However, she told a close friend and a cousin what she had seen.

“My cousin sent me a link about a black market baby ring in Augusta and said, ‘What if?’” Barbara says.

DNA Testing
The “what if” began to turn to reality after the younger of Debi’s two daughters, Kim, submitted a DNA sample to find answers and solace for her mother. Debi had fallen into depression when she lost her husband, Andy, in January 2014 after a brief illness and her parents died a week apart 20 months later.

Before Kim submitted her DNA for testing, however, the kit sat on her dresser for eight months. “She did it behind the scenes. I didn’t know it,” Debi says.

After she got the results from her DNA sample, Kim connected with Barbara’s second cousin in Dallas and he recommended that she contact his cousin – Barbara’s uncle Billy, who was her mother’s brother – in Evans.

After talking to Kim, Billy called Barbara and told her that a young lady had contacted him and told him that she thought her mother was Barbara’s sister. He asked Barbara to meet with Kim, and they talked on Memorial Day of 2018.

Kim, who lives in the area, and her sister, Keli, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, came to Debi’s house that night, and they told their mother they had something to tell her.

“Kim said, ‘Mom, you have a sister.’ And Keli said, “And an uncle. And they want to meet you,’” Debi says.

Her response was immediate. “I said, ‘Call them right now. I’ve been waiting 65 years,’” she says.

Barbara arrived at Debi’s house about 9 p.m., and she stayed until 2 a.m. “We bonded right away,” says Barbara, who has one daughter named Ashley.

Debi agrees. “Not only was there an instant bond between us. It has extended to our daughters and all the way down to our grandchildren,” she says.

Debi is a grandmother of six, and Barbara has three granddaughters.

The physical similarities between the two sisters are unmistakable as well. Barbara’s husband, Eddie, told her that Debi looks more like their mother than Barbara, and Ashley felt an instant connection with Debi.

“She sees her grandmother in me, and that warms my heart,” says Debi.

Their first meeting was filled with poignant moments as well. “Debi said, ‘Why was I not wanted?’ I told her, ‘My mother would have never parted with you,’” Barbara says.

In fact, Barbara says her mother had contacted the Georgia Adoption Registry to try to find her daughter. However, she was searching for Beverly Kay Perry, who was born on May 10, 1953, and Debi’s birth certificate said she was born May 8, 1953.

Debi believes divine intervention played a role in the reunion with her sister as well. “God’s design for me and Barbara is perfect,” she says. “His timing was exact. At that time, God said, ‘This girl needs her sister.’ I think Andy Drummond walked up to God and said, ‘Please help her.’”

Parallel Lives
From the first night they met – when Debi was wearing black pants and a white shirt and Barbara was wearing white pants and a black top – the sisters realized how much they have in common. Talking late into the evening, they discovered many similarities in their parallel lives.

Both of them met their husbands when they were 15 years old and married at age 19. “Our husbands could have been brothers,” says Barbara. “They had the same mannerisms.”

Debi and her first cousin were in the same Sunday school class in North Augusta, and in 1985, Debi was a bridesmaid in a wedding where Barbara was a guest. They even discovered that they had flown on the same airplane several times through the years.

Both of them do freelance interior design work. And now, as a reminder of their story, each of them wears a dragonfly bracelet with birthstones from the months that Debi, Barbara, their mother and their children were born.

The dragonfly bracelet is meaningful to them because it plays a significant role in the novel Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. The fiction-based-on-fact book recounts the actions of Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization who kidnapped and sold more than 5,000 poor children to wealthy families all across the country from the mid-1920s until 1950. The book is set in 1939 Memphis and in present-day Aiken, South Carolina.

As for their true-life experience, the sisters believe that Debi may have been the only baby that was sold to a local family. “We grew up within a 10-mile radius of each other our whole lives,” Debi says.

Finding an Identity
Debi found out she had been adopted when she was about 3 years old, and she was told how fortunate she was to have been adopted.

“It was the ’50s, and we didn’t talk about it. But I didn’t have anybody I looked like,” says Debi.

“I was raised with a loving family in a loving home, but I struggled. I had questions, but I held it in because I didn’t want to hurt my parents’ feelings.”

Finally finding a blood relative has made a huge difference in Debi’s life. “With Barbara, I can look in her eyes and her big heart, and that has given me an identity,” says Debi.

Their reunion has answered many questions for Barbara as well.

“All through the years, my mother suffered emotionally, but we never knew why,” she says. “Now we know what happened to her.”

At the end of her life, Betty survived in a coma for seven weeks while she was in hospice care. “The hospice people said that never happens. They asked if there was anybody she had not said goodbye to,” says Barbara.

At the time, she knew of no one else that her mother needed to see. Now, though, she understands. “There was only one person left,” says Barbara. “It was Debi.”

Barbara, who was raised as an only child but found her sister at age 70, is relishing her new identity as well.

“It’s been a blessing for both of us, but especially for Debi. And I’m loving being in a sister role,” says Barbara. “What if our mother could see us now? We have to know that she does.

By Betsy Gilliland

Avocado Ranch Dressing

  • 2 avocados
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives

Place avocado, buttermilk, mayo, sour cream, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and lime juice in a food processor and puree until smooth. Pour into a lidded glass jar and add parsley, chives and pit from avocado (the pit helps reduce browning/oxidation). Secure lid and shake until herbs are evenly combined. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving with salad, veggies or as a dip. Makes 8-10 servings.

Beyond Peaches, Peanuts and Onions


Photos courtesy of Georgia Grown Trails

Highlighted by family farms and home-grown businesses, Georgia Grown Trails promotes agritourism and awakens feelings of nostalgia for travelers.

Sometimes a name says it all. But sometimes a name – like Georgia’s nickname, the Peach State – merely whets the appetite. Peaches, along with peanuts and sweet Vidalia onions, might be the state’s most well-known crops. However, the state is full of other Georgia born-and-bred products, and the Georgia Grown Trails system is here to highlight the abundance of homegrown goods.

Georgia Grown Trails, which started in 2014 and includes four trails, is designed to showcase agriculture-related tourism hot spots in rural areas throughout the state. These attractions include U-pick and other farms, dairies, vineyards and wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, seafood and farmers’ markets, specialty food stores, lakes and forests.

“The attractions represent something out of the past,” says Jerry Connell, one of the co-founders of Georgia Grown Trails. “It’s all low-tech. The trails are simple fun.”

The trails are developed as a joint project of the state Agriculture and Economic Development departments, and the trail designations are authorized through the Georgia Legislature. The system also is affiliated with Georgia Grown, a state Agriculture Department marketing and economic development program that helps state agricultural economies grow and thrive.

Attractions on the trail system must meet certain criteria to be eligible for inclusion. First and foremost, however, Connell says, “To be part of a trail, you have to be connected somehow to Georgia agriculture.”

The number of each trail designates the highway where the attractions are located, and the state Department of Transportation posts signs along the roadway designating it as a Georgia Grown Trail. All of the attractions on the trails are open to the public.

“The trails particularly appeal to empty nesters and grandparents who want to show their grandchildren what life was like when they grew up,” says Connell. “They can get a sense of how food is grown, where it is grown and what it tastes like out in the field. You can get a real sense of how things used to be.”

Trail 1
Featuring 44 stops and stretching for 182 miles, Georgia Grown Trail 1 is the closest to Columbia County, extending north to south from Augusta to Folkston. It became operational in July 2017 as the third trail of the system.

Trail stops include meat markets, hands-on farm experiences, farmers’ markets, peanut stands, museums, specialty shops and restaurants.

Closest to home, the family owned and operated Lanier’s Fresh Meat Market in Augusta has been in business since 1969. Some of its locally farmed meats include certified Angus beef, alligator, goat, seafood, game and hard-to-find meats and poultry. The cow atop the building on Walton Way was a landmark on Highway 1 for about 50 years.

Halfway down the trail visitors will come to the home of Georgia’s official state vegetable — the Vidalia onion.

“Trail 1 runs through Vidalia onion fields, which are a big draw for this trail,” Connell says.

Visit farms and produce stands, but allow time to explore historic downtown Vidalia, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just a block off Highway 1 in Lyons is the Altamaha Heritage Center, a history museum dedicated to the cultural heritage of the Altamaha River Basin. Visitors can see artifacts and information on Native Americans, moonshine, turpentine, homestead, transportation and barn implements.

In Alma, the Blueberry Capital of Georgia, visitors can happily get the blues at The Blueberry Barn. From fresh-picked berries — the season starts in late April — to jams, sauces, syrups, even blueberry butter and barbecue sauce, it’s filled year-round with all things blueberry.

The shop also carries items made by local artists such as paintings, jewelry, pottery and ornaments. In a nod to the past, the store shelves are made from 100-plus-year-old wood from owner Ann Wildes’ grandfather’s house.

Also in Alma is Rockingham Pecans, famous for its specialty – fried pecans. These sweet and salty pecans were a finalist in the 2007 Flavor of Georgia contest and the number one snack food in the 2008 Flavor of Georgia contest.

Trail 1 is about much more than food, however. Okefenokee Swamp Park transports visitors to prehistoric environs where alligators and rare birds roam among carnivorous plants and lily-decked water trails.

Travelers along this route also can enjoy sports such as kayaking and turkey hunting, attend festivals and expos and learn old-fashioned arts such as making soap. You can even visit a working saw mill or grist mill.

“Georgia Grown doesn’t just mean ‘plant-based’ or ‘animal-based.’ Businesses are Georgia-grown, too,” says Connell.

Trail 37
Extending east to west for 167 miles from Homerville to Fort Gaines at the Alabama state line, Trail 37 was the first trail in the system, the state’s first officially branded agritourism highway and its first award-winning agritourism trail. Incorporated in 2013, it was up and running by mid-2014. Trail 37, which became the prototype for the subsequent trails, includes 30 stops.

At the historically significant Kolomoki Mounds State Park, visitors can see the oldest and largest Woodland Indian site in the southeastern United States, occupied by Indians from 350 to 750 A.D. Standing 57 feet high, the state’s oldest great temple mound dominates two smaller burial mounds and several ceremonial mounds. Kolomoki Mounds also offers outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, camping and hiking.

At 2,500 acres, White Oak Pastures in Bluffton is the state’s largest organic farm. The six generation, 152-year-old family farm has four one-bedroom cabins that are nestled in a longleaf pine forest, a general store and a farm-to-table restaurant called The Farmers Table.

Trail 37 also includes three wineries that were instrumental is getting the south Georgia agritourism trail started. The properties offer wine tastings and vineyard tours.

Near Lakeland, Georgia Olive Farms has plants that came from Italy. “Visitors can see the machinery harvest olives, and some people go just to see what an olive tree looks like,” says Connell.

For award-winning honey, travelers can make a beeline to Bruce’s Nut-N-Honey Farm in Homerville. The honey is a Flavor of Georgia winner, and it has been voted Georgia’s Best Tasting Honey.

“Trail 37 is the most unadulterated one, and all of the attractions relate to agritourism,” says Connell.

Trail 41
Trail 41, the system’s second trail, was dedicated in October 2014. Easily accessible from Interstate 75, this 173-mile trail runs north to south from Barnesville to Lake Park near the Florida state line.

“You can take a train ride. You can go to a cotton museum. You can get pecan products or go to a ranch that has miniature horses,” says Connell.

The 46 attractions along Trail 41 include Turner County Stockyard, where visitors can see a live cattle auction, and three different locations of Stripling’s General Store. This family business offers custom-cut meats, its famous sausage and jerky, seasonings and sauces, syrups and jellies, pickles and relishes.

At the Historic SAM Shortline Railroad, travelers can board air-conditioned, 1949 vintage cars and take the train to quaint little Georgia towns.

The Georgia State Cotton Museum occupies a 125-year-old school house in the eastern part of Vienna, between historic downtown and I-75.

“These are all Southern experiences. A lot of small towns don’t have large tourist attractions. This is our way of getting people off the interstate and into the countryside,” Connell says.

Trail 17
The newest agritourism highway, which runs north to south for 108 miles along Highway 17 from Kingsland to Savannah, was added in the fall of 2018. The 22 stops along Trail 17 include farms, restaurants, red brick sidewalks in historic downtown Kingsland, a cattle company and a petting zoo.

In Woodbine, visitors can kick back and relax at Captain Stan’s Smokehouse, where backyard barbecue, local seafood, Southern sides and live music reign supreme behind its “magic fence.” One customer amusingly describes the quirky vibe there as “Jimmy Buffet meets Deliverance.”

Veering off Highway 17, Market on the Square, a family owned and operated general store in historic downtown St. Marys, is located in a renovated grocery store. The store carries gift items and sweets, including homemade fudge that is made on the spot.

Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island also is part of the trail. Situated on 200 acres of land, the property spans from marshland on the west to the ocean to the east. Each day the inn provides guests with three full meals including a Southern breakfast, picnic lunch and farm-fresh dinner – plus an hors d’oeuvres hour.

Trail 17 also includes U-pick blueberry farms, so wear comfortable shoes and take your sunscreen.

Timing is Everything
Because the agritourism attractions along the trails are seasonal, visitors need to plan ahead before visiting a location.

“Berries are seasonal in the spring. Olives are big in the fall,” Connell says. “Winter is a good time to visit the wineries.” In addition, he says, “It’s not the kind of thing you can do in one day. The stops can be 40 or 50 miles apart.”

Trail stops also include overnight accommodations such as state parks, B&Bs, boutique hotels and historic inns. “We realized when people are traveling long distances, they’re going to need a place to stay,” says Connell.

However, Georgia Grown Trails is not just for long-distance explorers. Local residents can enjoy the sites as well.

“We think we know everything about the area where we live, but we don’t see for looking. So often, we don’t know or see interesting, beautiful or exciting things in our own backyards,” says Connell. “People should get out and explore their own areas. They’ll really be surprised at what they’ll find.”

So go ahead and hit the trails.

“There is only good to come of getting off the interstate and into the countryside to find beauty and charm in out-of-the-way, small country towns,” Connell says. “It lifts the spirit and enriches people’s lives.”

By Morgan Davis


Happy Homecoming


Columbia County native Josh Kelley is heading home for his first public performance in the area in 10 years.

For his upcoming album, slated for release in June, Columbia County native Josh Kelley taps into the family life he shares with his wife, Katherine Heigl, and their three children.

On March 20, however, the Lakeside High School grad might turn back the clock. That night the singer/songwriter will perform at The Country Club Dancehall & Saloon as part of a spring tour in support of the single and video, “Busy Making Memories,” that he released last fall.

“It’s a solo acoustic tour. The show has a lot of heart and a lot of comedy. It’s almost like a variety show,” says Kelley. “It’s my favorite way to perform. It’s the way that I express myself best. I can get back to my roots and the way that I got here.”

During the performance, Kelley will tell stories and play original songs as well as some of his favorite covers.

“I try to bring the feeling that we’re all sitting in a living room together,” he says. “I love bringing in every aspect of entertaining that I love.”

All of the venues on his spring tour have a seating capacity of 200-500 people. However, Kelley plans to offer a little something extra to the local audience, where he expects to see plenty of fellow Lakeside alumni and friends.

“It will be an unofficial Lakeside High School reunion – with a few surprises,” he says. “I’ll come up with material a couple of days before or on the spot. It’s just a fun, goofy show.”

Kelley added comedy to his shows several years ago when he decided that he didn’t want to hold himself back in his performances. “My wife says she married me because I’m funny, but I’m a much better singer than comedian,” he says.

Whether he is telling jokes or singing songs, however, he feels at ease on stage. And he hopes to convey that same sense of joy to his fans.

“I want them to leave fully entertained,” Kelley says. “I want it to be an experience.”

Admittedly, he used to feel added pressure when he performed before hometown crowds. That feeling has waned through the years, though.

“Over time, you change a little. Each time I come back, they see that change,” says Kelley. “About four years ago, I stopped caring about what other people think. I try to be authentic. I don’t write songs that I don’t relate to because I don’t believe them either.”

For instance, “Busy Making Memories,” is about family memories and adventures that were inspired by his kids on New Year’s Day 2019 on the Kelley family ranch. Making the video was a true family affair, as Kelley and his wife collaborated on its concepts, editing and directing. Kelley also produced and engineered the single himself in his-barn-turned-studio where he creates most of his music.

“I wrote that song as a reminder that I’m not so busy in my career that I’m not making memories with my family,” Kelley says. “It’s not just a glimpse into my life. It’s relatable, so it’s a glimpse into anyone’s life. Being relatable is always my goal.”

In addition to “Busy Making Memories,” his show will include his latest single, “Love Her Boy,” which was released in February. “I think it’s the best song I’ve made since my first song, ‘Amazing,’” Kelley says.

Kelley, who plays 14 instruments and started recording music on a “little tape machine” when he was 10 years old, will have a busy summer. In addition to the release of his currently untitled album, his first since 2016, he will perform in a supporting slot on “a big tour for a big artist” in July. Sorry, he can’t divulge any more details yet.

In the meantime, though, he just keeps perfecting his craft.

“Over the years, I always try to keep getting better,” Kelley says. “I try to be a better singer, lyricist and musician.”

If You Go:
What: Josh Kelley
When: 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 20
Where: The Country Club Dancehall & Saloon
How Much: $15 in advance, $75 VIP, plus handling fees
More Info: @joshbkelley,,

A Guitar, a Voice and a Barstool


Country star Jake Owen is bringing his first-ever acoustic tour to the area

A lot has changed for multi-platinum entertainer Jake Owen since his college days when he first perched himself on barstools to play country covers live on his guitar. He has spent the last 10 years traveling with his band to entertain massive audiences in NFL stadiums.

However, Owen is returning to his roots with his first-ever acoustic headlining tour, Down to the Tiki Tonk, and the penultimate stop will be at Miller Theater’s Brian J. Marks Hall on Saturday, March 14.

He will perform intimate and acoustic interpretations of songs on his most recent, highly-acclaimed album, Greetings From…Jake, including the single “Homemade,” number one smash “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” and ACM-nominated hit “Down To The Honkytonk.”

“I’ve been looking forward to the acoustic tour since the days I used to play acoustics on a barstool in college,” says Jake. “There’s something so satisfying about pushing away the smoke and mirrors and lights to entertain people with nothing more than an acoustic song and a voice.”

Greetings From…Jake, which debuted with more than 154,000 album equivalents to date, has yielded Owen’s seventh number one hit.

In addition, “Entertainment Tonight” recently premiered the long-form extended video of “Homemade,” which tells the real-life, 1940s-era love story of his 95-year-old grandparents, Bryan Yancey Owen and Jean Martin.

Owen stars in the video as his grandfather’s younger self, and his grandparents narrate it. (Spoiler alert: His grandfather first spotted his future bride walking down the street in Munfordville, Kentucky when he was hitchhiking through town and waiting to catch his next ride. There’s much more to the story, though. Think a camera, a coin flip and a call to duty.)

Owen says Greetings From…Jake illustrates his evolution as an artist since his first number one hit, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” was released in 2011. In the refrain of the song about youthful exploits, he sings, “Never gonna grow up. Never gonna slow down.”

Of his latest album, Owen, the father of two daughters, says, “It’s got a lot of different examples of how I’ve grown. I’ve always enjoyed songs about life. I am definitely growing up, and I am definitely slowing down. I have different priorities in my life now. The music I make now has to correlate to them. It has to be authentic.”

Owen taught himself to play guitar after an injury and reconstructive surgery derailed his dreams of a professional golf career. Ultimately, he started writing his own material and moved to Nashville.

“I loved the feeling of playing songs for my buddies around a campfire or on a couch, and I thought maybe I could do this in front of people,” says Owen. “I’ve always liked telling stories. I like putting ideas to melodies. Everybody is a songwriter at heart. You just need to put it together with an instrument.”

He loves being on stage, but the experience is humbling for him as well.

“It feels amazing. It’s a feeling of being elated, but there is also a big fear to play music live for people,” Owen says. “I’m just scared enough to be inspired to be better. I don’t want to let people down. There are so many emotions you can have at once on stage, but it’s the best feeling to have the ability to make someone feel good.”

The acoustic performance, which also features singers/songwriters Larry Fleet and Scott Emerick, will not be Owen’s first visit to the area. He has performed here many times, including shows at James Brown Arena and the inaugural concert at the Augusta GreenJackets’ SRP Park. “I like going back to places that have been great to me,” Owen says.

He hopes to return the favor to his fans.

“I want to give people the show they came for, whether they want to escape or smile or laugh,” Owen says. “But I’ll have a few surprises for them, too.”

If You Go:
What: Jake Owen: Down to the Tiki Tonk Acoustic Tour
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14
Where: Miller Theater Brian J. Marks Hall
How Much: $39 – $150, plus handling fees
More Info: or