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Tournament Tips & Landmarks

Masters Guide

Course LandmarksMagnolia Lane – tree-lined main entrance to Augusta National

Founders Circle – two plaques honoring founding members Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones at the base of the flagpole in front of the clubhouse

Crow’s Nest – a cupola atop the clubhouse that provides tournament housing for amateur players 

Oak-TreeBig Oak Tree – a gathering spot for media interviews behind the clubhouse

Rae’s Creek between the 11th and 12th greens 

Hogan Bridge at No. 12 green 

Nelson Bridge at No. 13 tee

Sarazen Bridge at No. 15 green

3.-Landmark--Arnold-Palmer-Plaque-behind-No.-16-teeArnold Palmer Plaque behind No. 16 tee 

Jack Nicklaus Plaque between Nos. 16 and 17

Record Fountain to the left of No. 17 green

Augusta National Golf Club cabins

Ike’s Pond – a spring-fed, 3-acre pond on the Par-3 Course behind Eisenhower Cabin

Par 3 Fountain – adjacent to No. 1 tee on Par 3 course; includes list of Par 3 Contest winners 


Prohibited Items
• Cell phones, beepers, tablets and other electronic devices
• Any device capable of transmitting photo/video*
• Backpacks, bags and purses larger than 10” x 10” x 12” (in its natural state)
• Cameras on tournament days**
• Weapons of any kind (regardless of permit)
• Radios/TVs/noise- or music-producing devices
• Two-way or other talk radios
• Folding armchairs/rigid type chairs
• Flags/banners/signs
• Strollers
• Food/beverages/coolers
• Golf shoes with metal spikes
• Ladders/periscopes/selfie sticks

*Fitness tracking bands and electronic watches are permitted. However, they cannot be used for phone calls, emails, text messages and other photo, video or data recording and transmission.

 **Cameras (still photography/personal use only) are allowed at practice rounds on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Violation of these policies will subject the ticket holder to removal from the grounds and the ticket purchaser to the permanent loss of credentials.

Tournament Amenities:

  • Automated teller machines
  • Concession stands
  • First aid stations
  • Golf shops
  • Information centers
  • Lost and found
  • Merchandise shipping/check stands
  • Message center
  • Pairing sheets with course map and tee times
  • Parking
  • Picnic areas
  • Patron photos (tournament days only)
  • Restrooms
  • Scoring information
  • Spectator guides
  • Telephones
  • Water fountains

Autograph Policy
Autograph seeking is only allowed around the practice range and on the Par 3 course during the Par 3 Contest. A No Autograph Policy will be enforced on the golf course for practice and tournament days. 2021 Note: To help maintain social distancing, there is a no autograph policy enforced on the grounds at all times.

Re-Entry Policy
Patron tickets will be limited to a total of three entries per day. 2021 Note:  Patron tickets are valid for one gate entry per day. Additional entry will not be permitted.

Free Masters parking is available at Augusta National Golf Club on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Fall Guy

Masters Guide

Photos courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club

After springing out to a four-stroke, 54-hole lead, Dustin Johnson declared open season on the field to win the 84th Masters Tournament.

When Dustin Johnson arrived at Augusta National Golf Club in November for the 2020 Masters Tournament, postponed for seven months because of the coronavirus pandemic, he was in a good spot. He had notched two victories in the summer, winning the Northern Trust in August and the Travelers Championship in June. Playing well in the first two majors of the disrupted golf season, he had finished T6 at the U.S. Open and T2 at the PGA Championship.

He was the top-ranked golfer in the world and the reigning FedEx Cup champion after taking the title at the Tour Championship in September for his third win of the season.

Remarkably, though, he came to the 84th Masters, which was played without patrons in attendance, somewhat under the radar for the last major championship of the unprecedented year. Instead, the majority of the pre-tournament hype had been focused on U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau.

However, the fact that most of the attention was directed elsewhere didn’t seem to bother the low-key Johnson, who had quarantined for 11 days in mid-October after testing positive for covid-19.

He had recovered in time to compete in the Masters, and he left Augusta National with yet another title after shooting a record-breaking 20-under par to win his second major championship and his first green jacket. Clearly, he was feeling just fine.

“I think I look pretty good in green, too,” said Johnson.

Same, but Different
With an abundance of pine trees on the golf course, Augusta National still looked pretty good in green for Masters Week in November as well. True to the season, though, maple and other species offered a splash of fall colors, particularly around Amen Corner.

However, the most noticeable difference in the tournament was the lack of patrons on the grounds.

“This is definitely a different Masters, and it’s just because the patrons aren’t here. Everything else feels the same. You know, really excited to be here and really looking forward to playing the Masters, and you know, everything’s the same other than not having the patrons,” said Johnson, who finished T2 at the 2019 Masters, on Tuesday. “It’s definitely a different feeling out there, and it’s going to be a different feeling throughout week. But it’s still the Masters, and there’s still a green jacket on the line.”

The absence of patrons was felt acutely during the Tuesday practice round, especially on No. 16 where many players still kept up the Masters tradition of skipping tee shots across the pond on the par-3 hole. Celebrating his 26th birthday, Jon Rahm skipped a 4-iron shot three times across the water and onto the green, then watched the ball roll the length of the putting surface into the hole.

He got a few cheers from TV camera crew members that were at the hole, but a gallery would have erupted.

“Pretty nice birthday present – can’t complain,” Rahm said. “You don’t see people skipping it and actually hitting it on the green very often. And to make it to a back pin, clearly we were all pretty shocked.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have been too surprised, however. After all, Rahm also made a hole-in-one on Monday with a 5-iron on the fourth hole.

“The one on four is actually a lot harder than – actually, I’m not going to say harder – but just a tougher hole in general,” he said.

The Par 3 Contest, normally held on Wednesday, was canceled last year. However, Fred Ridley, the Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament chairman, held the chairman’s traditional press conference in the morning and discussed the challenges of holding the Masters during a global pandemic.

“Since the postponement of the Masters in March, we took the following months to plan for a tournament that would welcome a full complement of patrons to the city of Augusta,” he said. “By August, however, it became clear that, despite extensive planning and a resolve to safely stage a tournament with at least a limited number of patrons, the realities of the situation made it clear that our hope was simply not the right course of action.”

Augusta National consulted a variety of government officials and health organizations to put proper protocols in place for the tournament, Ridley added.

He also said he hoped that the tournament could return in April under more normal circumstances.

“Looking on to April, I’m hopeful that we will see improved conditions regarding this virus, but April is less than five months away. So, there’s certainly no assurance of that,” said Ridley.

Solid Start
In the meantime, though, there was a tournament to be played with a field of 92 players that included five amateurs and 21 professionals among 26 first-time players. Because of limited daylight hours, golfers teed off in threesomes on No. 1 and No. 10 all four days of the tournament.

Not until an all-important twosome got the proceedings underway, though. Masters champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit ceremonial tee shots on the first hole early Thursday morning. Although they teed off on time, inclement weather accompanied by lightning suspended play for three hours in the morning.

Play was suspended again late in the afternoon due to darkness, with 44 players left on the course. Paul Casey was the leader in the clubhouse with a 7-under-par 65 on the rain-softened golf course. Johnson still had nine holes to play.

By the time the first round ended Friday morning, Johnson, who eagled the par-5 second hole, and Dylan Frittelli had posted scores of 65 to tie Casey for lead.

“At any golf tournament, but especially majors, especially at Augusta, but any golf tournament, it’s always good to get off to a good start or just even a solid start, which I felt like I did,” said Johnson. “I got off to just a nice solid start. Hitting it good, leaving myself with nice putts, and hopefully rolling a few more tomorrow.”

The second round also was suspended because of darkness Friday, and four golfers – Johnson, Justin Thomas, Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer – held the lead at 9-under-par when play was halted.

Saturday morning 48 players had to finish the second round, and at the end of the 36 holes, Jon Rahm also was tied for the lead – giving the world No. 1 (Johnson), No. 2 (Rahm) and No. 3 (Thomas) a spot atop the leaderboard.

Johnson’s round included back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes. However, he birdied his way through Amen Corner, and added a birdie at No. 9, to shoot 70.

“I’m still happy with the way I’m swinging it, how I’m controlling the golf ball and everything I’m doing,” Johnson said. “You know, rolling the putter good. Just hopefully can see a few more go in over the weekend.”

Rewriting History
The weekend kicked off with a different look in 2020, when the Par 3 course was put to use as the site of ESPN’s “College GameDay” program Saturday morning.

On the main course, the lineup also was outside the norm as the cut had been changed to the low 50 and ties for the final 36 holes of the tournament. Players within 10 strokes of the lead did not advance. On Wednesday Ridley had said the new cut would have been in place for an April Masters, not because the tournament was postponed to November when the days are shorter. He said two reasons drove the decision.

“We thought that it was a reliable way to sort of better predict what our weekend field was going to be,” he said. “But the other thing is, we look back at the statistics, and the last few years, or the last several years, I think we’ve only had two players who have been in contention who made the cut only because of the 10-shot rule.”

The cut fell at even par 144, the lowest cut score in Masters history, and 60 players, including 11 past Masters champions, made the 36-hole cut. A record 14 first-year players including two amateurs, John Augenstein and Andy Ogletree, competed on the weekend. Thirty-three international players from 16 different countries also advanced.

The group included Bernhard Langer of Germany, a two-time Masters champion who shot 68 on Thursday and 73 on Friday. At the age of 63 years, two months and 18 days, he became the oldest player to make the cut at the tournament.

“To be the oldest to make the cut, it’s certainly an achievement,” Langer said. “Hopefully I get to play a few more years and enjoy this place.”

Other players in the field were looking for their opportunity to win so that they can play the Masters as former champions in the twilight of their careers as well.

After sharing the lead with a crowd at the end of the first two rounds, Johnson shot a bogey-free 65 in the third round to post a tournament score of 16-under-par for a four-shot lead by himself. His round included his second eagle of the tournament on No. 2, where his 5-iron approach shot landed about a foot from the pin, and birdies at the third, fourth, seventh, 13th and 15th holes. He also tied Jordan Spieth’s 54-hole record of 200.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot of control (over) what I’m doing, controlling my distance well with my flight and my shape. I’m very comfortable standing over the golf ball right now, and obviously that’s a really good feeling,” said Johnson.

He said course conditions were favorable for scoring, and he liked his chances on Sunday.

“I think I’ve got a good game plan. I’m not going to change it. It’s just, you know, I’m going to have to go out and play well. There’s a lot of really good players right around me, so as we all know here, if you get it going, you can shoot some low scores,” Johnson said. “I’m going to need to go out and play a really good round of golf if I want to win tomorrow. I need to go out and play solid. I feel like I’m swinging really well. If I can just continue to give myself a lot of looks at birdie, I think I’ll have a good day.”

Ancer and Sungjae Im, both playing in their first Masters, and Smith were tied for second place at 12-under.

Johnson woke up in a familiar position on Sunday – the windiest day of the tournament. Four times in his career, he had slept on the 54-hole lead at a major championship. However, he never had converted any of those leads into a victory, winning his only other major title at the 2016 U.S. Open by coming from behind.

On the front nine, it looked, briefly, as if history could repeat itself as Im chipped away at his lead.

Im birdied No. 2, and he and Johnson both birdied No. 3. After Johnson bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5, his lead had been trimmed to one shot over Im when they reached the sixth tee. When Johnson birdied the hole and Im bogeyed it, however, the world’s top-ranked player walked off the green with a three-shot cushion over Im and Smith.

Playing in the next-to-last group ahead of Johnson and Im, Smith birdied No. 7 to draw within two shots of the lead. Johnson then parred the seventh hole, and Im made bogey.

With another birdie on the eighth hole, Johnson reached 17-under and stretched his lead to three shots again. Smith birdied No. 9 to pull within two shots once more. However, that was the closest anyone would get to Johnson the rest of the afternoon.

Smith dropped a shot with a bogey at No. 11 to fall three behind, and Johnson pulled away from the field with three straight birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes.

He parred the final three holes to seal his triumph with a round of 68 and achieve a lifelong dream.

“Growing up so close to here, it’s always been a tournament that, since I’ve been on Tour, since I played my first Masters, it’s been the tournament I wanted to win the most,” said the South Carolina native.

Johnson said he didn’t look at the leaderboard after the seventh hole and just concentrated on his own game.

“I took what the course gave me and hit the shots I felt I could hit,” he said.

The typically unflappable Johnson, wearing the latest addition to his wardrobe, grew uncharacteristically emotional in a post-round television interview on the putting green where the green jacket ceremony usually takes place.

“I’ve never had this much trouble gathering myself,” said Johnson, struggling to answer questions. “On the golf course, I’m pretty good at it. Out here, I’m not.”

His tournament play, however, spoke volumes. In his record-breaking victory, Johnson became the first player in Masters history to post a score of 20-under par – eclipsing the tournament record, previously held by Tiger Woods and Spieth, by two shots. He also tied the lowest score to par in major championship history, and he became one of only four No. 1-ranked players to win the Masters.

Johnson made just four bogeys (two in the second round and two in the final round) and hit the most greens in regulation (60) all week. His four bogeys also were the fewest ever by a Masters champion.

“I proved that I can get it done on Sunday with the lead at a major, especially in tough conditions. I felt like it was tricky out there today,” Johnson said.

Smith and Im shot 69 on Sunday to finish knotted in second place at 15-under par, and, with their 273 total, they tied for the lowest 72-hole score by a non-winner. Smith secured another spot in the history books, becoming the first player to shoot all four rounds of the tournament in the 60s.

“It would have been cool to do that and win,” said Smith. “I was actually saying before, you know, I’d take 15‑under around here the rest of my career, and I might win a couple.”

Food for Thought
It was Johnson, however, who savored the taste of victory on Sunday when Woods, the 2019 winner, draped a 42 long on the new champion’s shoulders. Rituals are a hallmark of the tournament, and at the start of the week, Johnson had been asked about his favorite Masters tradition.

“I don’t know if it’s really tradition, but my favorite thing about the Masters is the sandwiches,” he said. “All of them.”

For future tournaments, however, Johnson might want to rethink his favorite Masters tradition. The Champions Dinner, perhaps?

By Betsy Gilliland

Off to a Good Start

Masters Guide

The honorary starters ceremony at the Masters Tournament will have a third golfer this year when Lee Elder joins six-time champion Jack Nicklaus and three-time winner Gary Player on the first tee.

Fred Ridley, Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament chairman, announced at last year’s tournament in November that Elder had accepted a special invitation to take part in the ceremony on Thursday, April 8 to open the 85th Masters.

Elder became the first Black man to compete in the Masters 46 years ago. He later qualified for the tournament for five consecutive years, 1977 through 1981. His best finish came in 1979, when he tied for 17th place.

“Mr. Elder’s participation in the honorary starters ceremony will recognize his courageous life and commemorate all he has done in his career to help eliminate barriers and inspire Black men and women in the game of golf and beyond,” Ridley said. “We hope that by having him serve as an honorary starter for the 2021 Masters that he can be joined at the first tee by family, friends and patrons for a moment that will be treasured worldwide.”

Elder is looking forward to his chance to participate in the ceremony.

“The opportunity to earn an invitation to the Masters and stand at that first tee was my dream, and to have it come true in 1975 remains one of the greatest highlights of my career and life,” he said last November. “So, to be invited back to the first tee one more time to join Jack and Gary . . . means the world to me.”

They seemed equally pleased to have Elder join them.

“I thought that was great, that Lee was invited to play, and to honor him now is, I think, very appropriate. I’m delighted. I look forward to teeing it up with him,” Nicklaus said.

“I think it’s just the most wonderful thing – one of the most wonderful things I’ve seen,” said Player.

Player also said he admired the golfer’s fortitude, recalling the time in 1969 when he invited Elder to visit his home country of South Africa.

“He came down there, and must have been very nervous, and he had the courage to accept the invitation and come down there knowing what a great deed he would be doing,” Player said. “It was very influential because at that stage no Black visitors or people of any color were visiting South Africa.”

Ridley also announced the creation of the Lee Elder Scholarships at Paine College, a Historically Black College and University in Augusta. Two scholarships will be awarded annually, one each to a student-athlete who competes on the men’s and women’s golf team. As part of this effort, Augusta National also will fund the creation of a women’s golf program at the school.

“It also gives me great pride to know that my first Masters appearance continues to make a positive impact on others. Throughout my career, helping young men and women achieve their dreams through education has been a cause close to my heart,” Elder said. “I am deeply honored to share a connection with Paine College and these scholarships, which will provide life-changing opportunities for the deserving recipients.”

By Betsy Gilliland


Spring Chickens


Photos courtesy of the Fitzgerald Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tis the season to celebrate anew the prized poultry of Fitzgerald, Georgia.

For the last 24 years (excluding 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic), the small town of Fitzgerald in south central Georgia has strutted its stuff with its annual Wild Chicken Festival.

While event organizers aren’t counting their chickens before they hatch, they plan to hold the festival, as long as conditions allow, on March 19 and 20 this year.

“We’re diligently planning as if we’re going to have it, and we’re praying that fate, luck and God shine on us,” says Barry Peavey, the festival chairman.

Even if the town has to cancel the festival again this year, every self-respecting Georgian should know about this one-of-a-kind event because it will be back – sooner, hopefully, rather than later.

First, though, a little history.

Fair or Fowl
The forerunner to the Wild Chicken Festival was the Rattlesnake Roundup, which lasted 30-some years, but that’s another story for another day. (Let’s just say the nice folks at the state Department of Natural Resources asked the fine citizens of Fitzgerald to please refrain from catching the snakes.)

Instead, chickens have ruled the roost in Fitzgerald since the 1960s when the Georgia DNR stocked Burmese wild jungle fowl, native to India, all across the state as an additional game bird to be hunted like pheasant or quail.

Flocks of these tiny colorful birds, which resemble fighting game chickens with their orange and yellow ruffs and black tail feathers, were released several miles from Fitzgerald at the Ocmulgee River.

Populations of the bird never took hold in other parts of the state. For some reason, however, they left the river site and made their way to downtown Fitzgerald, where they have propagated and prospered ever since.

“One of the DNR employees hatched eggs under bantams and started the whole population. They just walk around downtown,” says Peavey. “The population has ebbed and flowed through the years. The red-tailed hawk also has made a comeback as a predator, particularly for the chicks.”

Predators such as foxes and bobcats likely had something to say about the presence of the interloping chickens as well, but the exotic jungle fowl might be smarter than the average bird.

After all, if drawn into a fight, these chickens are known to channel their inner Muhammad Ali and think out their moves. Other birdbrained breeds step straight into the ruckus.

Peavey estimates that the current wild chicken population is more than 500 but less than 1,000, and Fitzgerald residents have a fair or “fowl” attitude toward their Burmese chicken brethren.

According to the festival website, “Some folks buy seed and feed them regularly; others chase them out of their yards and gardens with a broom and a few choice words.”

The chickens wake up residents in the morning and create minor traffic jams, but some people claim that they also keep away bugs. For several years, the local Humane Society even had a fundraiser where people could drop donations in a love jug or a hate jug to express their sentiments about the chickenss

“The love jug always won,” says Peavey.

So, naturally, Fitzgerald wants to celebrate its favorite feathered friends.

“They’re way more interesting than squirrels,” Peavey says. “To my knowledge, no one eats them for food. That’s not to say that one of them hasn’t landed in a pot.”

Something to Crow About
Fitzgerald will have something to crow about when the Wild Chicken Festival kicks off Friday night with a dance party and a concert featuring The Bushmen.

However, if you’re going to a festival in praise of prized poultry, then you might as well wake up with the chickens for the 6 a.m. pancake breakfast on Saturday as well.

Other activities include a 5K and 1-mile fun run; pine wood derby; an artisan market with upscale, handmade wares; a juried art exhibit called Wild Chicken Soup (because, why not?); classic car cruise; street vendors; bungee jumps; kids’ characters and of course, a chicken crowing contest.

Judged by local dignitaries, the crowing contest has a children’s and an adults’ division.

“You should see some of the adults get into it, complete with theatrics and strutting,” says Peavey. “And there’s nothing like seeing a five-year-old girl with curly blonde hair walk out on stage and say, ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo.’”

The Poultry Palace, a traveling trained chicken “Eggzibit” based in the Albany, Georgia area, will be on hand as well. “They will bring a portable chicken coop full of exotic chickens that you don’t see in the barnyard like silkies and a Rhode Island red rooster,” Peavey says.

People can have their pictures made with the chickens and watch the birds peck out tunes on a piano.

This year, to lessen the chances of transmitting covid-19, vendor booths will be more spaced out. Masks and social distancing also will be encouraged. Otherwise, the festival should carry on as usual.

“We’re going back to our roots and have some local musicians and a good, old-fashioned downtown street festival,” Peavey says. “Folks seem to be shifting their travels to smaller towns. We’re going to celebrate small town life, get together and have fun, and eat funnel cakes and sausage dogs.”

Small Town Charm
Families and their broods can perch overnight at one of several area motels or a variety of Airbnbs. In the future, a giant chicken topiary that is under construction also will include a rentable room for overnight stays. At more than 62 feet in height, the steel-framed chicken with a copper wattle and crest will be the world’s tallest topiary upon completion.

“He hasn’t grown in yet,” says Peavey, “but he’ll put Fitzgerald on the map.”

Rich in history and small town charm, Fitzgerald isn’t just chicken-centric.

“Fitzgerald has brick streets in the historic district and varying architectures because the founders were from all different parts of the United States,” says Brandy Elrod, the director of Tourism, Arts & Culture. “We also have a lot of cute Mom and Pop shops downtown.”

Visitors can take a self-guided walking, biking or driving Architectural Treasures Tour or see the 1936 art deco Grand Theatre. The Depot houses the Blue & Gray Museum, which has been renovated and redesigned to tell the founding story of Fitzgerald and its Civil War roots. The Vintage Kitchen Museum displays kitchens from the mid-1800s to the present day.

“Fitzgerald is a quirky little town. The people are friendly, and there is a lot to see and do here,” Elrod says. “It’s worth the drive.”

The Wild Chicken Festival just might be the perfect catalyst for a road trip.

“I want to see friends and neighbors and strangers. Eating a funnel cake in a mall just isn’t the same. It’s way more fun to spill powdered sugar down the front of your shirt at a festival,” Peavey says. “After 24 years, we’re an overnight success.”

If You Go:

What: Wild Chicken Festival

When: 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. Friday, March 19 and all day Saturday, March 20

Where: Historic Downtown Fitzgerald, Georgia

How Much: Free admission

More Info: wildchickenfestival.com or fitzgeraldga.org

By Morgan Davis




Open House

In The Home

Photography by Sally Kolar

Designed for equal parts of entertainment and R&R, this recently remodeled contemporary home in Martinez is a place where family and friends are always welcome.

When it comes to home renovations, one thing often leads to another. And another. And another. Just ask Amy and Bryan Tuschen of Martinez. They started renovating their home in Highview Acres in October 2018 and didn’t finish until March 30, 2020. The process began simply enough, however.

“This whole renovation started as ‘Let’s get rid of the wall-to-wall carpeting and popcorn ceiling,’ and then it went way beyond that,” says Amy.

‘Hospitality Bug’
The Tuschens completely changed the look of the house, where they have lived since 1998, from traditional to contemporary by following a carefully orchestrated plan.

“We established the color scheme with lots of grays and whites first,” Amy says.

They purchased new furnishings for the house before they started the renovations, giving away most of their previous furniture to family members.

Decorative elements such as wallpaper and tile are repeated in different places in the house. In addition, Amy says, “All of the hardware and all of the cabinets are the same throughout the house. It simplifies everything.”

Instead of draperies they opted for darkening, pull-down shades to cover the windows. And, even though the Tuschens – parents to three grown children, Maygen, Morgan and Matthew – are empty nesters, the house still needed to accommodate a crowd.

“We entertain regularly, so it’s nice to be able to share the house with friends and family,” says Amy. “We have that hospitality bug.”

Their home has been the site of retirement, graduation and murder mystery parties – some of which Amy has written herself. In December, they had a rehearsal dinner and wedding reception for Morgan and her new husband, Tim, and drop-ins on three different days so the get-togethers could be properly social distanced.

Their affiliation with Fort Gordon keeps them busy as well. Amy, who served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany from 1990 to 1998, is the Fort Gordon Historical Society director. Bryan, a financial advisor and self-described South Dakota “farm boy” who loves singing and karaoke, volunteers as the national director for the Signal Corps Regimental Association.

“We host a lot of events because of the Signal Corps,” he says.

To accommodate their guests, the Tuschens have two different driveways on their three-acre property that overlooks a lake. The rear driveway is for their personal use, and a ramp leads to the lower level of the house.

The long drive in front of the house serves notice that people are arriving someplace special. American flags are mounted on a wooden privacy fence alongside the driveway, and another American flag is raised on a pole by the house.

The exterior of the home features a double cupola, and pre-fabricated rock separates the brick of the original house from the brick of their new addition.

“We wanted to bring the house forward and tie in the rec room,” says Amy.

Travel-Inspired Décor
Statement-making features continue in the entryway where wallpaper from China, which has stacked triangle shapes, covers a wall that extends to the lower level of the house. (The same wallpaper is used on accent walls in the prayer room and the rec room.) Three pulleys with an Edison lightbulb hang in front of the wall.

The bedrooms are upstairs, which is the street level of the house, and they open onto a covered deck. The Tuschens converted the former master bedroom into an office for Bryan, and before the renovation, the two walk-in closets with built-in drawers in the now master bedroom were two of their children’s bedrooms.

The master bedroom is furnished with a suite of distressed white furniture and a Singer sewing machine – exhibiting another one of Amy’s talents.

As part of the addition, the master bath also includes a spa area. The bath features ceramic tile flooring, a tile walk-in shower with two rain showerheads and two rectangular vessel sinks.

“We travel to Cancun and Mexico a lot, so this room was inspired by our travels,” says Amy. “We bring our vacations to our home.”

Seems only natural. In addition to their “hospitality bug,” the Tuschens, who have been married for 30 years, also have a “travel bug.” After all, they met in college on a spring break trip to South Padre Island, Texas in March 1989.

Amy and Bryan, who attended different Midwestern schools, were among a busload of students that got stranded in Dallas because of snow – yes, snow – and mechanical problems on one of the buses.

“We were stuck at a Denny’s Restaurant for 18 hours, so we had a lot of time to talk,” says Bryan. “Our ninth time together, we got engaged. Our 13th time together, we got married.”

To commemorate their various excursions, they have a Tuschen Family Travels map, where small round-headed pushpins mark the places they have been, in their new garage. The garage, also part of the addition, features an epoxy floor that allows them to expand their entertainment space, and it adjoins the rec room.

The house originally had a detached garage, which they never used as a garage, and the Tuschens converted it to a rec room in 2001.

“We knew we still wanted the play space. We just had to attach it,” Amy says. “It’s been a great hangout for kids and adults.”

Some of the artwork in the room features two girls and a boy, representing the Tuschens’ children. One of their teachers painted a picture of the three children that hangs on one wall. Another painting, which they found in Asheville, North Carolina, shows two girls and a boy from behind walking on a beach. “They literally could have been our kids,” says Bryan.

The rec room also includes a pool table, ceiling fan, tile flooring and a sitting area with a TV and an electric insert fireplace.

Functional & Fun
However, the rec room isn’t the only entertainment area in the house. Open stairs lead from the main entryway to the living and entertainment space downstairs.

“This was the last open staircase built in Columbia County,” Bryan says. “They don’t allow them anymore, but it was pre-approved.”

To take advantage of every bit of available real estate, a built-in wine rack and a small wine fridge are tucked behind the stairs.

The open living room, dining area and kitchen offer plenty of room for guests – even in this day and age of social distancing. Before opening up the spaces in the renovation, walls divided them into separate rooms.

The living room previously featured a stone wall with a gas fireplace. However, instead of ripping out the stone, they covered it with a blue accent wall where the wood is placed on the diagonal. They installed an electric fireplace, which features a marble tile surround, on the wall. Depending on the occasion and the mood, the Tuschens can change the colors of the flames and the rocks in the fireplace.

A grandfather clock that the couple got when they were married fits perfectly into a wall nook, and a cuckoo clock from Germany hangs on a wall in the living room.

Other décor includes Leyk Lighthouses, handmade ceramic houses that are fashioned after the famous German Fachwerkhaus, or half-timbered house. They are referred to as “Lighthouses” because they hold tealight candles.

The dining area separates the living room and kitchen. “We can seat up to 12 people at the table,” says Bryan. “We just turn it longways.”

The kitchen features a large island with a built-in microwave and a sink with filtered water, a warming drawer, a stainless steel farmhouse sink and a confection stovetop. Cabinet doors to the refrigerator blend into the wall, and horizontally stacked subway tiles make up the backsplash. While the island countertop is quartz, the perimeter countertops are ceramic tile.

Doubling as a catering area for parties, the walk-in pantry features a fresh coffee maker where Bryan grinds his beans every morning, a second refrigerator and an ice machine. For variety, the subway tile in the pantry is arranged in a staggered, or running bond, pattern.

Two sets of double doors, which provide plenty of ventilation when they’re open, replaced sliding doors in the living space. The doors lead to the outdoor kitchen and sitting area of the covered patio.

Constructed with individual stones, the outdoor kitchen includes a Kamado Joe grill, gas grill, compact outdoor refrigerator and ceramic tile countertops.

The sitting area, where the Tuschens watch football games in the fall, features wicker furniture and an antique chest. A double-decker, raised-hearth, stacked-stone, wood-burning fireplace extends from the lower to the upper level, which are connected by a spiral staircase with wide wooden steps.

Quiet Time
As much as Amy and Bryan enjoy company, they relish their quiet time as well. And their house is full of spots to take in a little R&R.

A prayer room includes two comfortable chairs, a small refrigerator, cabinets and a window that overlooks their gardens.

“I like to sit there with a cup of tea,” says Amy. “It’s a nice way to start my day with the quiet.”

Her late mother made the angel quilt that hangs on one wall. She also cross stitched an angel for each of her four daughters, and Amy’s framed angel hangs on another wall in the prayer room. Porcelain angels in the family room, artwork and vases also belonged to Amy’s mother.

A sliding barn door leads to the spa area, which includes a sauna, steam bath, exercise room and massage table. “We have massage therapists that come to the house,” says Bryan. “When we work out, we can head to the steam room afterward.”

They also relax outside in their backyard gardens or by the pool. Amy enjoys working in the raised beds that include a berry, an herb and a vegetable garden. She grows blueberries and blackberries as well as mint, parsley and rosemary.

The Tuschens renovated the outdoor area for their 25th wedding anniversary, adding the outdoor kitchen and redoing the swimming pool, which is 4 1/2 feet deep from end to end. They also added a raised deck and built a hot tub, which is illuminated by a pair of solar-powered lights.

A statue of two girls and a boy, which they found in New Orleans, sits beneath a pine tree near the pool. Several potted plumerias, tropical trees whose flowers are used to make Hawaiian leis, are placed around the pool. A tea olive tree grows by the deck.

They added a waterfall feature to the koi pond and replaced a wooden bridge between the two with a metal bridge. A deck by the lake, where they keep their kayaks, includes a gazebo and benches.

“We’re so close to everything. But when we’re in the back, we feel like we’re all alone,” says Amy. “Even with just the two of us here, there’s not a lot of unused space.”

By Betsy Gilliland

A Love Story to Remember


(From left) Abigail Johnson, Abigail Jessee and Georgia Martinez share the bonds of friendship and the appreciation of a good love story. Through their businesses, they held a contest, which was open to all CSRA residents, to highlight the love stories of four local couples. The winners received a complimentary photo shoot from the business owners and the opportunity to tell their stories in Columbia County Magazine.

As the brainchild of Abigail Jessee of Abigail Marie Creative, “A Love Story to Remember” tells the love stories of four local couples. She started her business to share people’s lives, and particularly their love stories, through photography.

“I love a good wedding photo, but I started thinking, ‘Where are all of the other love stories?’” she says.

Enlisting the aid of her friends, Abigail Johnson of Rosilie’s Rentals and Georgia Martinez of Georgia Miller Photography, they launched the project with a contest to showcase the love stories of local residents. The winners received a complimentary photo shoot and the opportunity to share their stories in Columbia County Magazine.

Abigail Jessee and Georgia shared photography duties; Abigail Johnson provided vintage props for the photo shoots.

“The best part about this process was reading all of the submissions,” says Abigail Jessee. “I was so encouraged that every story was unique its own way.”

With her camera, Georgia loves to peek behind the scenes. “Taking part in this project was an enriching, beautiful experience for me. Although I am often photographing what is visible to the eye, I truly believe it is the story behind a photograph that gives it meaning and life,” she says. “Our love stories are timeless, unique, and they connect us all.”

Abigail Johnson is fascinated by every detail of people’s lives. Her interest in their histories grew out of the mementoes and memories that her grandfather saved of her late grandmother, Barbara Roselie, whom she never met.

“I’m so thankful my PaPa kept their love story alive through her things, photos and his memories. It made me realize how captivating history and memories can be,” she says. “It was through my grandparents and their epic love story that my love for all things sentimental, unique and antique really began.”

The contest was open to all CSRA residents. Couples could nominate themselves or be nominated by someone else.

The featured couples include an engaged pair that is getting married in May – pandemic or not, a husband and wife that finally admitted their true feelings for each other and eloped after a 12-year friendship, fun-loving empty nesters who make the most of every moment they spend together and mentor other young couples, and great-grandparents (and great dancers) who have been married for 51 years. Enjoy.

Near Misses


Augusta residents Brynn Allen and Nick Woo don’t plan to let covid-19 or anything else stop them from getting married on May 8, especially after a lifetime of near misses.

Both of them attended elementary school at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School. Even though each grade had only two classes, they never were in the same one. Growing up, they knew lots of the same people, but not each other. “When we got older, we continued to just barely miss each other,” says Brynn. “Nick and I had so many mutual friends and were at so many of the same events together, it is almost laughable how we just kept missing each other.”

Those circumstances finally changed after a day at Clarks Hill Lake with friends the summer before their senior year in high school — Nick at Greenbrier High School and Brynn at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School. “I think we might have been the only two that didn’t know each other,” Brynn says.

For their first date—which ended up being spread over two days—they sat on the dock at Savannah Rapids Pavilion and talked for hours. They had planned to get takeout food from Toki, but it didn’t work out. When they went back to the dock the next day to “finish” their date, they had Toki to-go boxes in hand.

Once they finally started dating, they also had to overcome the challenges of a long-distance relationship. Brynn went to Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, while Nick recently graduated from Augusta University. The separation wasn’t easy, they agree, but it allowed them space to grow as individuals.

Nick and Brynn have been together six years, but after a few months, she knew he was the man she wanted to marry. He proposed to her in July by recreating their first date with another Toki picnic on the Savannah Rapids dock. “To pop the question, there couldn’t have been better spot to do it,” he says.

They call communication the foundation of their relationship.

“You need to be vulnerable with that person you care about, open up and have the hard conversations,” Nick says.

“She pushes me to be the best I can be, and she supports me  in any endeavor.”

In addition, they simply have fun together and enjoy each other’s company.

“Every single year we have been together has been like a new year and a new adventure,” Brynn says.

At Last


All it took for Kayla and Jake Sasser to elope to Edisto Beach, South Carolina in December 2018 was a dozen years as best friends and a “what if?” or two along the way.

They met in 2006 when Kayla moved from her native West Virginia to Statesboro to pursue her master’s degree. She later moved to Millen to supplement her income with a job at BB&T after a bank employee – who is now her mother-in-law – told her about an opening there.

Kayla, who also taught gymnastics, and Jake met at a community talent show where she went to watch one of her students and he went to see his brother play in a band. Afterward, they ran into each other at a gas station.

“We ended up riding around together that night,” says Kayla. “What a small town thing to do.”

They remained friends, even after she moved back to West Virginia and then to North Carolina. Whether they talked every day for a week or went for a month without talking, they always picked up where they had left off.

“At some point in our friendship, I realized that if we ever dated and got serious, that would be it. And that’s why we never dated,” says Jake. “I didn’t want to commit to anything — I had to grow up.”

In February 2017, while living in North Carolina, Kayla emailed Jake and told him how she felt about him. Once she hit “send,” she knew they would be together or their friendship would end.

When he received her email, Jake says, “My first thought was, ‘I don’t know how to deal with this right now.’ I knew if I responded, that was going to be that. I wasn’t ready for that.”

“That,” of course, was a lifelong commitment.

After he didn’t respond, Kayla thought she had her answer. She eventually heard from Jake, and he said, “You’re my best friend, but I’m not good at relationships.”

Kayla started dating someone else that summer, and they got engaged. She kept wondering “what if,” though, and two months before the wedding she called Jake to tell him she was having doubts.

“She caught me off guard with a phone call one afternoon. And that was that,” says Jake. “You can avoid the inevitable for two years before it really starts to nip at your heels.”

Taken aback or not, this time he was ready. He told her, “You aren’t supposed to marry him because you’re supposed to marry m

Covid & Campus Life


Four university freshmen from Columbia County share their experiences of going off to college during the coronavirus pandemic.

The first year of college can be a time of excitement, anticipation, adventure, challenge, trepidation, self-discovery and personal growth all at once.

For the college Class of 2024, however, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic added one more layer to these students’ introduction to campus life. Not only did they have to finish their senior year of high school online. They also had to start their freshman year of college amid the uncertainty, rules and regulations of the pandemic.

These freshmen approached their first semester with strength and resilience, however, to make the most of their college experience. If life as we once knew it hasn’t returned by the end of their freshman year, here’s hoping they can start their sophomore year under more normal circumstances.

In this Q&A, which has been edited for space and clarity, they described what life on campus was like during their first semester of college.

Sara Blake Tully
Augusta University freshman, business major

Did covid influence where you decided to go to college?
Covid didn’t affect my decision to go to AU. I want to transfer to UGA next year, but with everything being so crazy, I’m glad I decided to stay home and live at my parents’ house.

What kind of rules or restrictions did you have to follow on campus because of covid?
We had to wear masks in every building we went in. If we were walking outside, we could bring our masks down. The majority of time that I was on campus, I had to have my mask on.

In the classrooms, the chairs and desks and tables were set up six feet apart. There were a lot less people in class than usual. At the food court, we had to stand in line six feet apart. We had tables, but only a limited number of people could sit at each table.

What happened when someone tested positive for covid-19? And did you have to isolate or quarantine for any reason?
I am not quite sure what would happen if a student tests positive for covid-19, but I did not have to quarantine or isolate for any reason.

Were your classes online or in-person?
I had two online classes and two in-person classes. I went to campus every morning. I took biology and history online, and public speaking and pre-calculus in-person. For biology, we got handouts to answer questions that went along with videos.

Did finishing high school online help you adjust to online classes in college?
It kind of helped. When we first went online in high school, no one knew what to do at first. It’s different now. Teachers are better at doing online lectures and working with all of the technology. 

Have you had to adjust your learning style because of online classes?
Online learning for me is a lot harder than in-person because I can’t grasp the information as well. I had to study more and change my focus. It was all on school. I was juggling two things at once with online and in-person classes.

What were you most looking forward to about going to college?
Getting a fresh start, being more independent and meeting new people.

What was reality like?
It was very isolated because of the masks. It wasn’t as personable. You couldn’t meet people in class. You couldn’t really talk because of the masks. It made things a little lonelier since most of my friends went off to school. Corona didn’t make it any easier.

I rushed, though, and joined a sorority – ADPi. It was supposed to be in-person, but we did it over Zoom. It was awkward because you’re talking over a computer screen. Sometimes there were awkward silences because of the internet connection.

We had chapter meetings over Zoom, but we did some sisterhood events. We wore masks for them. We had to have a limited number of people at the events, but I could still hang out with some of the girls. We did things outside. We would go to a park or have a picnic. We social distanced.

How do you date during covid?
(laughing) You don’t. it’s really difficult to do that.

What has been the biggest disappointment or challenge about going to college during covid?
It’s not getting the full college experience. I still went to campus, which I loved. But it was not the same because there was hardly anyone there.

Was anything better than you expected?
Deciding to stay home for school has been better than I thought. It’s been nice living at home. It’s been a good stress reliever from school.

Ten, 15 or 20 years from now, how will you look back on this experience?
I’ll definitely have many stories I can tell my kids. And it has been character building. I had to learn how to interact with people and teachers differently. I have learned not to take anything for granted. I know everyone wants to go back to how life was before corona.

Bryant Thomas
Clemson University freshman, pre-business major

Did covid influence where you decided to go to college?
No. My dad went to Clemson, so I’ve always wanted to go to Clemson.

Where are you living this year?
In a dorm with my roommate. We can only have a limited amount of other people in our dorm. And when they come in, they have to wear a mask. We don’t have any rules with our roommate because we’re around each other so much. But if we have other people in, they have to wear a mask.

What kind of rules or restrictions did you have to follow on campus because of covid?Any building you went into, you had to be wearing a mask. When you were outside, if social distancing couldn’t be guaranteed, you had to wear a mask. You had to make appointments to go into the campus gym or the library.

There weren’t as many dining options. Some of the dining halls were closed because of covid, and there were a lot less food options than there normally would be. For football games, they didn’t give out as many tickets to students, and there was social distancing. I didn’t get to go to any games.

What happened when someone tested positive for covid-19? And did you have to isolate or quarantine for any reason?
Anyone who tested positive for covid-19 at Clemson had to enter 10-day isolation, and his or her roommate had to enter 14-day quarantine, even if they tested negative. I did have to isolate around the beginning of October because I tested positive for covid-19. I had a fever and body aches for about three days, and then a cough and a sore throat for about a week.

Were your classes online or in-person?
Most of them were online. For some, I only went in-person on certain days of the week. I had an economics and a geology class that were all online. My sociology, math and business classes and an entrepreneurial elective were online and in-person. The professors posted video lectures.

How did taking classes online work with a roommate?
We just ignored each other, I guess. 

Did finishing high school online help you adjust to online classes in college?
It helped. It was still kind of frustrating, though, having to sit in your dorm all day.

Have you had to adjust your learning style because of online classes?
I think of myself as more of a hands-on learner, and that’s just difficult to do through Zoom. I’ve had to switch to a more visual, auditory learning style.

What were you looking forward to most about going to college?
I was looking forward to being independent, living on my own and making new friends. That’s been a lot harder this year because of covid, but I still found ways to meet new people by getting involved in campus organizations and through my dorm.

I didn’t join a fraternity. I might next semester, but I’m not sure. Because of covid, we’re all hesitant. They can’t really do many events. We would have to go through rush on Zoom. But everyone here is sick of Zoom calls because that’s what we do for most of our classes.

How do you date during covid?
As long as you keep your group small, there isn’t really any problem. And a lot of the businesses and restaurants are still open.

What has been the biggest disappointment or challenge about going to college during covid?
I guess not really being able to go out and do anything. There are, of course, restrictions on gatherings or parties. I only saw a few situations where big groups got busted up. It was frustrating that we couldn’t have people in the dorm or go to class in person.

Was anything better than you expected?
Despite all of the covid, I think the university tried really hard to make this semester as normal as it could be. By not sending us home when our cases went up, that made it easier to go out and make new friends.

Ten, 15 or 20 years from now, how will you look back on this experience?
It’s like being part of history. I think a lot of things are going to change even after covid goes away. If I can live through this, I can make it through anything.

Sanders Hackett
University of Georgia freshman, civil engineering major

Did covid influence where you decided to go to college?
No. I told my mom when I was 4 or 5 years old that I wanted to go to UGA, and that’s what I worked for all throughout school. When I got accepted – worldwide pandemic or not – I wanted to go to UGA.

What kind of rules or restrictions did you have to follow on campus because of covid?
At UGA, the rules are pretty strict. Anytime you’re inside any sort of building, even at the gym, you have to have a mask on. Everywhere is marked off with little dots six feet apart. Anywhere you go, there’s always hand sanitizer and wipes. If you touch something that other people may touch, you wipe it down afterward.

In the dorm, it’s you and your roommate. Other than that, there are no visitors and no guests. Not even people from your own hall are supposed to be in your room.

The meal plan and the dining halls have been one of the biggest changes. When we started school, it was takeout only and the options were limited. The lines were long. Some people dropped their meal plan, but I didn’t.

I give UGA a lot of credit for asking students what they could do to better serve us. It became a more efficient process, and there were some dine-in options. The food variety got much better.

What happened when someone tested positive for covid-19? And did you have to isolate or quarantine for any reason?
When someone tested positive at UGA, they were immediately sent to isolation in a specifically designed dorm for people who test positive for covid-19. They were then given the option to go home or to stay in the isolation dorm. However, they were not allowed to return to campus for a minimum of 14 days after a positive test. This proved to be extremely effective in getting those who tested positive out of the general student body and allowing them to return to full health. I have not had to quarantine or isolate for any reason yet. I been extremely blessed and fortunate that I have been able to stay healthy.

Were your classes online or in person?
I had two classes that met in-person once a week and one that met in-person every other week. The other two were online. Calculus and world geography were online. I took two different introductory engineering courses. One met in-person once a week, and the other one met in-person every other week. My public speaking class met in-person once a week.

How did taking classes online work with a roommate?
That was one of several struggles we had. Luckily for us, we only had one class at the same time. We usually weren’t trying to do Zoom classes at the same time. It was a lot of headphones in and “please be quiet” from the other side of the room.

Did finishing high school online help you adjust to online classes in college?

As terrible as it is and was – yes. The way that we had to end high school in an online forum, it did help with the transition to online classes in college. For me, it helped with time management for online classes. You don’t have to go to class every single time it meets, but there are still deadlines for quizzes, tests and other assignments.

Have you had to adjust your learning style because of online classes?
Yes. I like being in-person and having that interaction with the teachers. I like being able to ask questions or go up to them after class.

What were you looking forward to most about going to college?
I envisioned I would be living out my dream and participating in some of the great things Athens has to offer – dorm life, going to football games and making new friends. I have been able to do some of that, but not on a large scale.

I have gotten involved in Greek life. I joined Theta Chi, and we were able to have some small events as long as we followed all of the state rules and school rules and regulations.

But with covid, I knew that the social aspect was going to be hard. I had prepared myself for this and for the challenge of earning a degree.

I also am employed part-time at RW Allen as an intern in project management and estimating. I carried that piece of home with me, but we have limited in-person interaction.

How did you go through rush?
It was a lot different. There were not any big events. When we did the house tours, everybody had to wear their masks. Only a limited number of people could be in a house at one time. We had to social distance for everything. 

How did covid affect your social life?
It tore apart my social life. I am an extremely, extremely social person. I haven’t had some of the social gatherings I thought I would have when I came to college. It has affected going on trips.

I have only been to two football games, and it was very, very different. I’ve been to UGA games all my life. I’m used to being there with 100,000 people. It’s usually loud with lots of energy. It’s hard to recreate that same experience with only around 20,000 people there.

How do you date during covid?
It’s tough. I’m not going to lie. My roommate has a girlfriend, but they have been dating a long time. You can’t date traditionally. There are not as many opportunities to go out to eat or go to a football game. There are limited social opportunities right now.

What has been the biggest disappointment or challenge about going to college during covid?
For me, I’m a very social person. There have not been very many social events or as many social gatherings as we would normally have. It’s been nothing like what I used to hear about from my other friends or when I would visit. That has been the hardest aspect for me.

Has anything been better than you expected?
The bathrooms in my dorm. Friends had told me the bathrooms are awful. I’m not saying they’re nice, but they are not as awful as everyone made them out to be.

Ten, 15 or 20 years from now, how will you look back on this experience?
That’s a tough question. Looking back on it, I hope I’ll be able to say I made the best out of the situation. I want to be able to say I had a good, positive freshman year, but I also followed the rules and regulations that are in place.

Everybody here understands that we all want to have a good time, and we all want to be able to have the normal freshman experience. But we’re not able to do that right now. The only way to get back to normal is to follow the guidelines and rules from the government and the school.

Grace O’Neal
Georgia Southern University freshman, nursing major

Did covid influence where you decided to go to college?
Not really. It hasn’t made me change my mind about my major, either. Not yet, anyway.

 What kind of rules or restrictions did you have to follow on campus because of covid?
We always had to wear a mask on campus and in class or when we went in any building. We were not allowed to have any visitors in our dorms. We had limited capacity in our classrooms, and it was optional for us to go to class in-person. If we were uncomfortable, we could go on Zoom for our classes.

What happened when someone tested positive for covid-19? And did you have to isolate or quarantine for any reason?
We have an online Georgia Southern portal with a CARES (Covid-19 Answers Resources Evaluation and Self-reporting) Center, where we were supposed to report our sickness and let our professors know. The dining hall had to-go boxes, and you were allowed to get two of them. So, if your roommate was sick, you could get one for them.

For the first couple of weeks of school, most of the people I know had covid, including me and my roommate. We had it at the same time. It wasn’t that bad. The only thing that happened to me was I lost my taste and smell, but we couldn’t do anything then.

Were your classes online or in-person?
I had three classes in-person – universal justice, government and English. One was only half a semester, though. I took chemistry and a first-year experience class that all freshmen have to take online.

How did taking classes online work with a roommate?
In our dorm, we each have our own room. I could sit in my room and shut the door.

Did finishing high school online help you adjust to online classes in college?
To a certain extent. It made me realize that I had to wake up every day and see what I had to do. At the end of our senior year in high school, they were pushing us across the finish line. It has been a lot harder in college, though. The load of work is definitely a lot more, and it’s a lot more difficult.

Have you had to adjust your learning style because of online classes?
I definitely have had to adjust my learning style due to online classes. I’ve had to get used to emailing my professors often with questions and figuring out a lot of things on my own by googling videos to explain topics I don’t understand.

What were you looking forward to most about going to college?
I was really excited to get away from home, branch out and meet new people, and live on my own. I have been surrounded by the same people my whole life.

What was reality like?
At first it was super difficult because of covid. I didn’t get to meet as many people as I thought. Over time, things got better, and I met new people. I’m in a sorority, but we weren’t getting to do anything at first. Later we could do more activities, but we had to have our masks on.

I joined ADPi, and we did rush on Zoom calls the whole week. We had a different Zoom call for each sorority every day.

How do you date during covid?
I have a boyfriend, so I’ll go to his house and hang out there and eat dinner there. Most of the restaurants in town are still open, so we can go out to eat.

What has been the biggest disappointment or challenge about going to college during covid?For me, I wanted to rush, and I was really excited about the things we would get to do with our sorority. But we haven’t been able to do much. And my parents can’t really come to visit me.

Has anything been better than you expected?
The number of friends I have been able to make has been better than I expected. I wasn’t sure I would be able to meet new friends at first.

Ten, 15 or 20 years from now, how will you look back on this experience?
It’s definitely going to be something I’ll remember. I’m glad I’ll have this story to tell that I was a freshman in college and a senior in high school during covid. Those are two really big years, and covid has altered them.

‘The Language of the Heart’


Photography by Sally Kolar

A Jones Creek couple celebrates the spirit of the season with string instruments, song and the occasional surprise at their annual Christmas party.
When people move from one city to another, it’s customary to pack up their belongings and bring them to their new place. Then there are Evans residents Monica and Paul Dainer.

Each time they have moved through the years, they have taken their annual Christmas party, featuring live music, with them. Last year the Dainers, who live in Jones Creek, held their 38th annual party.

“It’s something we’ve always done,” says Monica. “It always comes together.”

Unfortunately, they had to change their tune this year and cancel the party because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, they still might find a way to strike the right note for the times.

“We’re so disappointed that we can’t have the party, but we may do something virtually,” says Paul. “And we hope to have the party again next year.”

Traveling Show
Paul started the Christmas party tradition in the late 1970s when he was single, serving in the U.S. Navy and stationed in San Diego. In 1979 Paul, a hematologist and oncologist at Georgia Cancer Center, was transferred to the naval hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, where he first met Monica and told her about the party.

“I thought it sounded like a lot of fun to celebrate the season with live music,” she says.

Paul, who also played viola for the Charleston Symphony, enlisted some of his symphony colleagues and the organist/pianist from St. John’s Lutheran Church to play with him at the party. He also had bought a new baby grand piano just in time for the occasion, so he couldn’t let that purchase go to waste.

He made an even better family addition when he and Monica married shortly after the second party.

They took their party with them when they moved to Bethesda, Maryland and Jacksonville, Florida, where Paul played in their symphonies.

In Maryland, Monica says, “We attracted musicians from local orchestras and had already begun adding vocalists to the parties.”

They held two parties in Jacksonville with fellow members of the Jacksonville Symphony and other local musicians. “The first chair of the second violins delayed her Christmas vacation a day just to play first violin in a piano quintet with us,” Monica says.

From Jacksonville, the Dainers moved to Greenville, North Carolina, where their daughters, Erin and Caroline, started singing and performing on the piano and violin, respectively, during the four parties they had there. Monica began singing at the parties as well.

The Dainers settled in Evans in 1992, and they started hosting their annual Christmas party here the following year. Until this December, they had skipped the party only three times – the years they moved to Evans and Greenville and in 2009 when they had to cancel it after Paul had an accident a couple of days before the event. In 1982, the party was subdued after Monica had a miscarriage the night before and a heavy snow fell on the day of the party.

“We couldn’t reach everyone to cancel the event. In spite of the snow, a few people arrived, only about 10. We couldn’t turn them away,” Monica says. “It was a quieter and somewhat somber evening. However, we did manage to sing some favorite Christmas carols.”

Strings Attached
The black tie-optional party is a Christmas highlight for many of the Dainers’ friends, and the guest list has grown through the years.

“We started out with about 30 guests and have increased to over 70. We never know who will come because many of our friends have family commitments or have travel plans formulated months before the invitations have been sent,” says Monica.

Several years ago, more than 100 guests attended the party during a three- or four-hour time period. Some people stay for the entire evening; others drop in.

No wonder the party, which includes Christmas, religious, classical and popular music, is one that people don’t want to miss. With their ties to the local arts community, the Dainers can invite any number of talented musicians and vocalists to perform.

Paul, who plays viola for Aiken Civic Orchestra (and played with Augusta Symphony for 15 years) has enlisted many of his fellow musicians to appear at their parties.

Monica, a former nurse who now presents programs at the USC Aiken DuPont Planetarium, also has been active with Augusta Players as a performer and board member. “Through my connections with that organization, we have invited a number of very talented singers over the years,” she says. “And we always like to invite children and young people as guests and performers.”

Last year, for instance, Laura Doss, organist at Christ Church, Presbyterian and accompanist for Augusta Youth Chorale, played the piano and was accompanied by her three sons (ages 15, 10 and 9 at the time) on the violin and cello. The played “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “See Amid the Winter‘s Snow,” both arranged by Kristen Campbell.

Other performances included a piano solo by Moscow native and Columbus State University adjunct faculty member Ksenia Kurenysheva, who also accompanied Taiwan native Sho Ane Seaton as she sang the arias “Ombra Mai Fu” by Handel and “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Puccini.

Melissa Schultz, a voice and piano teacher who has performed throughout the United States and Canada, sang “Gesu Bambino” by Pietro Yon and Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum (k.339).” Members of the Christ the King Lutheran Church choir sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Mark Dickens, who has played the piano and organ in many area churches, and Stacy Reynolds, who has played piano for local musical theater groups and contemporary Christian music for churches for decades, also played the piano at last year’s party.

The Dainers pulled double duty as hosts and entertainers for the festivities. Monica sang with her choir from Christ the King, and she sang an Austrian Christmas carol, “Es wird scho glei dumpa,” with their daughter, Caroline Dainer Osburn, in Austrian-German dialect. Paul played the viola both as a soloist and in a chamber group.

He played Hoffmeister’s “Viola Concerto in D major”, third movement (Rondo) with Mark Dickens on piano. He performed “String Quintet No.4 in G Minor” (k.516) by Mozart with Adam and Andrew DePriest on violin, Janis Krauss on viola and Robert Gibson on cello.

He also played the fourth movement (Minuet) by Dittersdorf, a duet for a viola and string bass, with Adam DePriest. Finally, Paul played Christmas carols, arranged by Stan Pylant for three violas and the audience, with Stan and with Carl Purdy.

The program offered plenty of levity as well. Steven Hansen – a local actor, Greenbrier High School music and theater teacher, and Christ the King choir director – brought some fun to the occasion by singing “We Need a Little Christmas” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

Tyler Cook, a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance graduate of Augusta University who has won numerous state, regional and national musical theater competitions, sang the Christmas folk song, “River,” by Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, and “She Used to Be Mine” from the musical, Waitress.

Rabbi David Sirull of Adas Yeshurun Synagogue in Augusta, another performer at last year’s party, received classical training in the art of Eastern European Chazanut and Yiddish folk music. However, he sang several “redneck” songs from his collection, some of which can be found on YouTube.

The guests got into the act as well. After the scheduled performances, they joined in singing Christmas carols.

Expect the Unexpected
The Dainers never know what to expect at their party, except that it will be one for the ages – all ages, in fact. Last year, three babies were in attendance, which Monica says is unusual.

“They ranged in age from 5 weeks to 8 months, and they were perfect angels. We never heard them cry,” says Monica. “I guess they were mesmerized by the music.”

One year Paul’s 93-year-old father came to the party shortly after losing his wife. However, the music lifted his spirits. “He even was inspired to play some familiar songs on our piano as the party concluded,” Monica says.

On occasion, the Dainers have been surprised by the people they have found on their front porch. About 15 years ago, the doorbell rang during the party and they opened the door to a group of about eight college students singing Christmas carols. Naturally, the Dainers invited them inside to sing.

The couple loves to share the joy of the holiday season, and some aspects of the evening are entirely predictable. For instance, fellowship with good friends and good food from Silver Palm Catering Company – plus sweets, cookies, cakes and other treats made by Monica – are the perfect accompaniments to the party.

Still, the music is the star of the evening.

“Music transcends spoken language and has the power to bring people from diverse backgrounds together,” says Caroline. “You don’t have to sing or play an instrument to understand this language, because music is the language of the heart.”

By Sarah James


A Little Fitness, a Lot of Fashion

Community Groups in Action

Photos courtesy of Emma Kohtanen, @emmakohtanen

A local Instagram influencer has built a loyal following with her savvy sense of style and creative content.
At first glance, a flair for fashion, a penchant for walls and a tiny dormitory mailbox would seem to have little in common.

Well, not so fast. The unlikely combination has played a role in the success of Instagram influencer Emma Kohtanen of Grovetown.

An Instagram influencer is someone who creates content about a particular topic (say fashion, food or travel) to share on the visually driven social media platform and builds a community around that niche.

In the last five years, Emma. a 23-year-old Augusta University graduate who works as a marketing coordinator in Evans, has built an Instagram following of 20,000-plus and counting. Her content, like any good influencer, reflects her passions – a little fitness, a lot of fashion.

She uses the social media platform to promote clothing brands and to provide her followers with a source of inspiration for quick outfit ideas.

“I have clothing crises a lot,” says Emma. “I don’t know what to wear sometimes, and I want to eliminate that problem for other people.”

Sense of Style
Emma got her start as a fashion blogger as an 18-year-old when she wrote her first post about her personal style while sitting on her parents’ living room couch.

“I really love clothing and pulling pieces together,” she says.

She always has had an interest in fashion, but her style has evolved in the past several years.

The native of Finland, who moved to Georgia 10 years ago with her family because of her father’s job, used to wear a lot of simple black, white and gray clothing. Her tastes have changed, however, after living in the American South.

“My style is simplistic. It’s a mix of Southern and European,” Emma says. “I like florals, bright colors and girly clothes.”

She has shifted her social media preference as well. Once she started posting photos on Instagram, she never looked back. “Nowadays, people don’t feel like reading long blog posts,” says Emma.

One thing that has never varied, however, is her love of shoes – especially statement heels.

“I like simplistic outfits, but I like to wear shoes that bring the look altogether,” she says. “Accessories can dress an outfit up or down.”

It took Emma about six months to get her first Instagram collaboration, which was with HandPicked, a jewelry store in Augusta. “I styled outfits with their jewelry and got to keep a piece,” she says.

(For the uninitiated, a collaboration is when one Instagram user teams up with another for promotional purposes to increase their audiences or reach in a mutually beneficial arrangement. It can be paid or unpaid.)

To find collaborators, Emma exchanges emails with companies and constantly posts photos to attract the interest of clothiers. About 80 percent of time, however, retailers contact her first to see if she would like to wear their outfits in her posts. Companies pay her to model their clothing.

In addition, she says, “I get to keep the clothes, which is a nice bonus.”

Emma typically tags the products in her photos and links the outfits or accessories she wears to the LIKEtoKNOW.it app, where people can shop the looks of influencers, stylists and celebrities. She gets a commission when someone buys a piece of clothing from that app.

The collaboration is a win-win-win. The retailer makes a sale; the influencer gets a cut of the profits; and the followers gets access to items they otherwise may not have known about.

“There are so many online boutiques,” says Emma. “The clothing companies give me discount codes, and my followers can use them.”

She usually takes photos on weekends, and she tries to post something two or three times a week. Her younger brother, Eemeli, and her fiancé, Brent Pruitt, are her photographers.

“When I first started, I didn’t know anybody. They’ve been a huge help. I just go with it, and they click the button,” says Emma, who was interested in modeling when she was younger but has no formal experience.

They do photo shoots at random locations such as business buildings, Augusta Mall and downtown Augusta. However, the settings typically have one element in common.

“Wherever I see a wall,” says Emma. “I like the whole urban look with no trees.”

Relatability & Authenticity
Emma first realized she was on to something when she was a freshman in college at Kennesaw State University in 2017. Since tiny dormitory mailboxes can’t really accommodate large packages, she had the clothing from her collaborators mailed to her parents’ house.

“I would get 20 packages a day, so I realized I had to move back home,” says Emma, who transferred to AU.

Her influencer status also gave Emma a leg up on her education. “When I was taking marketing classes in college, especially digital and social media classes, I already knew 70 percent of the material,” she says.

Now that she has graduated and joined the work force, her side gig helps her in her marketing coordinator position as well.

Her Instagram audience is made up primarily of college coeds and clothing shoppers on a budget, and they can interact with her by sending her direct messages or commenting on her posts.

“I want to be relatable,” says Emma. “I don’t post $200 shirts. I post $20 clothes.”

She also has found a foolproof way to build her social media community.

“You have to be yourself and have a passion for whatever you do,” Emma says. “Followers can tell if you’re authentic.”

She posts Instagram stories nearly every day as well.

“I try to post something in live time to keep it relevant,” she says. “I’ll post things from my daily life like walking my dog or going to the gym. I want my followers to know that I’m not only about fashion.”

While free clothing has been a tangible benefit of being an influencer for Emma, she has enjoyed intangible perks as well.

“I get to be creative,” she says. “If I have an idea, I don’t have to run it by somebody else.”

She hopes to build on her success as an Instagram influencer in the future.

“I definitely want to have my own clothing boutique one day,” says Emma. “I would want to make the experience at the boutique relate back to my blogging and integrate my experience into the boutique.”

In the meantime, though, expect to see more of Emma and her fashion sense on Instagram. After all, she says, “My stories and posts have been good to me.”

By Leigh Howard


Ivey Homes

Faces of Success

Mark and Matt Ivey of Ivey Homes have long been trusted names in residential, multi- family and development in Columbia County. The award-winning builders are committed to constructing 100% Energy Star Certified new homes and townhomes, and their cutting-edge Ivey Wise homes, developed exclusively by Ivey Homes, are healthier for the families that live in them and for the environment. More cost-efficient to operate, an Ivey-Wise home reduces monthly utility cost to save homeowners money each month. Ivey Homes have communities in Evans and Grovetown, GA and North Augusta, SC.

672 Industrial Park Dr Suite 200
Evans, GA 30809
(706) 868-9363

Augusta Plastic Surgery

Faces of Success

Introducing the faces behind Augusta Plastic Surgery. Board Certified Plastic Surgeons, Dr. Christopher Ewart and Dr. Michael Tarakji, specialize in transforming patients’ lives and providing amazing results. You will find them perfecting their craft in Augusta Plastic Surgery’s onsite operating rooms at their new, state-of-the-art surgery center.


569 Furys Ferry Rd • Martinez
(706)  724-5611

Magic Touch

In The Home

Photography by Sally Kolar

A Grovetown couple deftly weaves wit and whimsy, texture and timelessness into their eclectic Grenelefe Park home.

A place for everything, and everything in its place. Just don’t expect to find things where you think they belong in the Grenelefe Park home of Imogene and Chuck Ford.

Imagination reigns in this Grovetown house where the Fords have a piano in the breakfast room, a hutch in the master bath and a sideboard in the master bedroom. And why not?

After all, the breakfast area doubles as a game room where the Fords play cards and board games; a hutch can hold towels just as easily as it can hold dishes; and the sideboard is the perfect complement to the other bedroom furnishings.

“I like to take pieces and use them in a different setting,” says Imogene.

Right Place, Right Time
The Fords were ready for a different setting of their own after living in the same house for 28 years, so they decided to build a larger house with a smaller yard. They fell in love with Grenelefe Park and built one of the first houses in the neighborhood six years ago.

“We had never built before. I had heard nightmares about building, but it was fun. We thoroughly enjoyed it,” Imogene says.

Chuck agrees. “This was our one and only house to build, and we hit the jackpot,” he says.

The Fords feel blessed to have found the neighborhood, and they gave the home their own special blessing as well.

“When the house was going up, my cousin gave me the most wonderful idea,” says Imogene. “She suggested we write scriptures on the framework.”

The scriptures include two of their favorites – Philippians 4:13 and Micah 6:8. Although they can’t see the writing on the walls, many cherished mementoes – from Imogene’s cross stitch pictures to Chuck’s collection of clocks –  are on full display in the house.

The 102-year-old – and still functioning – clock on top of the chest in the foyer belonged to Chuck’s paternal grandmother. “She kept it on the mantel in their house in downtown Augusta,” he says. “My grandfather gave it to her on their second wedding anniversary.”

Imogene and Chuck gave each other a clock for their 10th anniversary, and it hangs in the living room. Chuck’s father bought the Ridgeway grandmother clock in the back hallway 60 years ago. “I had it redone and got it back in shape,” says Chuck. “It has a beautiful sound to it.”

In his study, he has a replica of an old DuPont clock like the ones in schoolhouses along the Delaware River in the 1800s. Chuck winds the clocks about every four days, and when they start chiming at night, the Fords don’t even notice.

The Fords also have lots of insects in the house, but they’re no cause for alarm. In fact, they’re a feature, not a bug. “I like little creatures,” Imogene says.

Of course, her little creatures – from dragonflies to bumblebees to grasshoppers – aren’t real. The bugs might be strategically placed decorative metal pieces, or their likenesses might appear on pictures or pillows.

“The house is very eclectic,” says Imogene. “I like the cottage-y, garden look. I don’t do formal at all. I like a little whimsy.”

Other common features in the house include heart pine flooring and five-paneled doors. “Chuck picked out the doors because the doors in his grandmother’s house were like this,” says Imogene.

The arched front door, which is framed by an arched, stacked stone entryway to the front porch, makes a statement as well. “We designed the porch around the door,” Imogene says.

With the potted plants, mixed textures and charming décor of the porch, some visitors might feel content to stay put and never go through the front door. Two black rockers offer the perfect place to sit a spell, and a round wrought iron table is sandwiched between the chairs.

A distressed lantern and a lamp with a tan and beige buffalo-checked shade sit on the tabletop. Greenery spilling out of a planter catches the attention of a metal turtle and a metal dragonfly.

A black turtle-shaped footstool rests between the two rockers. “That is a treasure for me,” Imogene says. “My Uncle Charlie made it for me when he was 93 years old.”

The front porch also features shake shingle walls, a bead board ceiling and acid-washed concrete flooring – a fond reminder of Charlie, who passed away last year, as well.

When he saw the “stains” on the concrete floor, he generously offered to find a pressure washer to clean it. “I said, ‘I think we paid good money for that,’” Imogene says.

Defined Spaces
Inside, the charm and creativity continues from the foyer to the screened-in porch on the back of the house. Although the Fords didn’t need a lot of new furniture for the house, they bought something for the foyer.

Imogene, who likes to shop at consignment and antique shops, found the perfect piece – a wood chest, which features drawer pulls carved into the shape of grape clusters. She also made a decorative “F” out of Styrofoam and faux boxwood and hung it above the chest with a ribbon of burlap. A spindle chair with a low, rounded back is tucked at the end of the hallway.

The adjoining living room features a raised hearth fireplace with a slate surround. “There were two things I wanted that I never had – a fireplace and a screened porch,” says Imogene. “We use both of them a lot. We use the whole house.”

Two woven seagrass chairs and a matching footstool are mixed in with an upholstered couch and a leather chair, and a natural woven rug lies on the floor.

The Fords have a number of paintings of rural churches throughout the house, but the one in the living room has special significance for them. This painting depicts their church, Liberty United Methodist, which was built in 1804.

“To put that in perspective, Thomas Jefferson was president at the time, and a year earlier, he sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition,” Chuck says.

An Appling man, who made furniture in the 1980s and early 1990s, built the pine coffee table in the living room. In fact, the Fords have several pieces that he made for them.

“We could take him a picture of a piece of furniture that we liked, and he would build it,” says Imogene.

A wide entryway leads from the living room to the dining room.

“The original house plan called for this to be an open space,” Imogene says. “But I like defined areas, so we put up walls with big openings so the house still flows.”

In the dining room, an old farmhouse pine table is lined with a trio of Windsor chairs on each side. A woven seagrass chair sits at each end, and another woven natural fiber rug lies beneath the table. A pinewood server with a drawer and two open shelves provides plenty of storage space, and Imogene made the hydrangea wreath that hangs above it.

A striped wing chair with a dragonfly pillow is nestled in a corner of the room, and the iron chandelier features branches, crystals and six candle lights.

“I just love the branchy, woodsy look of the chandelier,” Imogene says. “And I love pillows. You can change a room instantly by putting different pillows in it.”

Open-Door Policy
The kitchen features granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, a tile backsplash and a walk-in pantry.

“I like the open area of the kitchen. So many people can be in it at the same time, and we love the bar,” Imogene says. “I like people sitting and talking to me when I’m in the kitchen, but Chuck is more of a cook than I am.”

Baskets for everything from dish towels to pairs of glasses line the countertop. “I love baskets. I love woven things. I love texture,” says Imogene.

Her cousin painted the oil still life of pears in the kitchen and gave it to them as a housewarming gift.

More artwork can be found in the breakfast room, where a trio of oil paintings by their late friend and Augusta artist Maggie Meldrum is stacked on a wall. The scenes were painted on cutting boards that are hung by a loop of thick rope. Another “Maggie” on pegboard, a scene from the corner of Broad and Eighth streets in Augusta, was a wedding gift to the Fords.

A church painting hangs above the piano in the breakfast room, and Imogene made the hydrangea arrangement on the piano.

“I’ve always enjoyed decorating. When I was growing up, our house was always nicely decorated,” she says. “As a girl, I loved looking at house and garden magazines.”

The Appling furniture maker built the pine sideboard in the room, which also features a natural woven rug. A green wreath hangs on one of two double doors leading to the screened-in porch, but the Fords usually keep the door open.

The study, which includes a built-in desk and built-in book shelves, is Chuck’s favorite room. A Civil War buff, Chuck has two prints of the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse and another print from the war on a wall. The shelves are full of biographies and Civil War books.

Furnishings include a leather recliner and a TV. “This is the most utilized piece of furniture in the house,” Chuck says of the recliner. “A chair, a remote and a television. That’s all I need.”

Imogene made sure she got what she needed from the room as well. “He can close the door, but I put glass panes in it so he can’t hide too much,” she says.

Quiet Places
One of the guest bedrooms includes a pine two-poster bed and a pine desk that were crafted by the Appling furniture maker. A wicker storage trunk sits at the foot of the bed, which is covered by a yellow and white buffalo-checked comforter.

A wheat sheath wall hanging is behind the bed, and more “Maggie” paintings hang on other walls.

A second guest room features a four-poster bed with a black and white buffalo-checked skirt and a gray and white floral comforter. A chair upholstered in black and white buffalo checks and a floor lamp occupies one side of the bed, and a chest that belonged to Chuck’s mother sits on the other side.

“Chuck painted the chest black for me, and I put glass knobs on it,” says Imogene. “His nephew couldn’t believe that we painted it black. Now the joke in the family is that Joey will not be at my funeral because he will be stripping the chest.”

A pocket door from this bedroom leads to the guest bath, which includes tile flooring, a vessel sink, an oil-rubbed bronze faucet and a transom window above the shower/tub. A chair rail tops bead board on the walls.

Another rural church painting hangs across from the sink, and rolled towels fill a vintage metal laundry basket on wheels.

The master bedroom features a four-poster bed and a sitting area with a couch and a butler’s table. Prints of Squeaky’s Tip Top and Augusta Coca-Cola Bottling Company hang above the couch, and Chuck’s bronzed baby shoes stand on the sideboard.

In the adjoining master bath, the Fords installed the walk-in tile shower where a garden tub was supposed to be. The pine hutch, also made by the Appling furniture maker, occupies the original spot for the shower.

“In our old house the hutch was in the kitchen and filled with dishes,” says Imogene, “but I always imagined it with towels in it for some reason.”

With hardy board walls on two sides, the screened-in porch also includes wicker furniture, a ceiling fan, acid-washed concrete flooring and lots of plants. Chuck’s daughter painted the floral acrylics on canvas that hang by green ribbon on one wall, and a “man” made out of terracotta pots occupies the top of a wicker plant stand.

“The screened-in porch is one of my favorite places in the house,” says Imogene. “We can use it year-round.”

The Fords have a beautiful backyard garden enclosed by black wrought iron fencing, and they call it “Sadee’s Yard” in honor of their Jack Russell and rat terrier mix that died in January at age 13.

Filled with plants such as hostas and zinnias, the garden also features a brick patio, brick pathways, a bistro table and chairs, a red Adirondack chair and a tall white birdhouse.

Chuck enjoys taking care of the yard. “I’m meticulous about everything. I like for it to be neat,” he says. “Doing the yard is a real joy for me. I can do it in 30 minutes. The responsibility is small, yet we have a nice, roomy house.”

By Betsy Gilliland

‘All About the Storytelling’


Photos courtesy of Mark Albertin

Regardless of the type of camera he has in his hand, a local documentary filmmaker and photographer loves to preserve special moments in time.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Augusta resident Mark Albertin knew little about the South other than the often distorted portrayal he saw of it on film and television. However, his maternal grandmother was born and raised in Augusta, so he had a connection to the region.

He moved to Georgia in 1986, but he strengthened his ties to the South even more when he made his first video – a tribute to his grandmother – as a birthday gift for his own mother years ago.

“It all comes back to the roots of where it started,” says Albertin. “I never met my grandmother, but I wanted to know who she was. My mother talked about us like we were soup. She said we came from good stock.”

As it turns out, that dive into his ancestry was a gift to himself as well. After making the video, Albertin started Scrapbook Video Productions in 2000 to produce documentary films. He made a $30,000 investment in equipment, including a high-end video production camera and editing equipment, to start the business.

“I was bitten by the bug, and I wanted to do bigger and better things,” he says. “It allows me to do the projects that I want to do.”

Many of his productions, which range from stories of towns to noted individuals, have aired on PBS and received awards from film festivals across the country. His newest film, Finding Home – 20th Century Voices of Augusta is slated to premiere late this year or early next year. Albertin had planned to hold the premiere in August at Imperial Theatre, but it has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This film is a revised version of Augusta Remembers, which aired on Georgia Public Television in 2000. For the original documentary, Albertin interviewed his grandmother’s contemporaries about life in Augusta from the early 1900s to the 1940s. In Finding Home, Albertin has added interviews with local residents about living in the area from the 1950s through the 1980s.

“The documentaries that include oral histories are essential. We need as a nation to listen to our older people,” Albertin says. “It gives us comfort and support and makes us feel better to know that other people lived through hard times.”

School of Hard Knocks
Albertin, who also is a professional photographer, is a self-taught filmmaker. His original skill set is in color separation for the four-color printing process. That process is flat and two-dimensional, he says, so he started attending video boot camp training classes in Atlanta and Charlotte in his spare time.

In addition, he says, “I went to the school of hard knocks where you’re up until three in the morning trying to figure something out.”

Like many documentary filmmakers, Albertin says, he followed the lead of celebrated documentarian Ken Burns, who uses archival footage and photographs, to transform a film from a product with boring narratives and static images into something more compelling.

“Ken Burns showed us that you can use voices, sound effects and music from the time period,” says Albertin. “The key is to pull people in, and you can do that with writing, sound effects, voiceovers and real people. The audience needs to engage with the film and feel a connection to the people and the subject matter.”

Albertin enjoys every aspect of filmmaking from adding movement, sound and sound effects to conducting interviews and writing the scripts. “It’s a blast to do this stuff,” he says. “It allows me to really be creative.”

He spends 80 percent of his time on video, 15 percent on photography and 5 percent writing. “I love all three of those things, and I find ways to mesh them together,” Albertin says.

He also likes to meet people and talk to them, and he has learned firsthand from people’s oral histories what it was like to live through trying times such as the Dust Bowl or the Holocaust.

“If these people are good storytellers, they take you somewhere you’ve never been,” says Albertin. “I can feel their pain when they tell me their stories. People in the twilight of their lives want to talk about their experiences for posterity.”

He spends a lot of time doing research and tracking down people, and he wants those he interviews to feel like they have been heard and respected.

“The people that know that history are the ones that are going to come and watch a premiere,” says Albertin. “The main audience that I’m appealing to is age 70-plus. To capture their stories and preserve them is a wonderful thing to do. The feeling that I get in my heart and soul is something I can’t explain.”

He often relies on narration early in his documentaries to set the stage, and he says the narrator can “make or break” a film.

“Each film has a different formula, depending on what the storyline is,” Albertin says. “Sometimes you start with the ending first. They’re not always chronological.”

Feeding the Senses
Some of his other documentaries include Displaced: The Unexpected Fallout from the Cold War, about the development of the Savannah River Site that displaced more than 5,000 residents in rural South Carolina communities, and Discovering Dave: Spirit Captured in Clay, about a literate slave potter who lived in Edgefield, South Carolina and wrote verse and poetry on his pots. He also has done a Remember series about various towns such as Augusta and Savannah in Georgia, St. Augustine and Jacksonville in Florida, Beaufort, North Carolina and Topeka, Kansas.

He made the award-winning War Stories – Augusta Area Veterans Remember World War II, in which he spent four years interviewing local veterans from all branches of the military to highlight their World War II experiences.

This project began as part of the Veteran’s History Project, which was undertaken by the Augusta Richmond County Historical Society to add to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. To collect these oral histories, Albertin went to Brandon Wilde and interviewed 20 veterans a day.

“You’re not going to get rich making documentaries,” says Albertin, who also does promotional spots and commercial videos. “It’s the satisfaction of preserving something and creating something that makes people laugh or cry.”

The reaction to his work is something that Albertin usually experiences secondhand, however. He says he never sits in the theater when his films premiere. Instead, he dispatches his wife to join the audience while he settles in the lobby.

Maybe he should rethink that plan, however, because his wife usually tells him he should have been in the theater to see the positive reaction to his films.

“When I’m gone, I will have hopefully left something behind that people can learn from,” says Albertin. “Film was, and hopefully one day, will become a social event again. I love film because you’re seeing two things happen. You hear and see, so you’re getting two senses fed at once.”

Documentaries need to be fair and balanced, he says, and he covers difficult issues such as racial injustice in his films.

“It’s something we need to see and hear. We need to understand that it can happen again, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” says Albertin. “Everybody has their own angle on what happened.”

Blending In
When he photographs a subject, Albertin approaches it from different viewpoints as well.

“Photography is an extension of video,” he says. “It’s trying to tell a story with pieces in an artistic manner. It’s all about the storytelling. Sometimes one picture is all you need. Sometimes you need multiple pictures with multiple angles.”

His love of photography dates back to his childhood when he would borrow cameras from his father, who was a medical illustrator. And that interest “never went away.”

“I love going out and playing with old cameras. The results you get are totally different from digital,” says Albertin.

He prefers photographing landscapes to people because he finds it less stressful. “Those places are where I find peace,” he says of landscapes. “They’re getting harder and harder to find.”

He says it’s pleasant to go outside – other than having to lug all the gear around. He likes to capture the light or early morning dewdrops on leaves. When he goes into the woods, he usually is alone.

“You have to sit still for a while to blend into a setting,” Albertin says.

He is just as likely to shoot in black and white as he is in color, depending on what he wants to accomplish.

“To me, color is really at its best in the spring,” says Albertin. “Black and white is a more spiritual medium. I use black and white when I want people to notice the object and the composition. Black and white can do amazing things if you use the right filter.”

Whether he is making films or photographs, Albertin hopes his work provides people with an escape.

“I want people to be able to leave their stress, their worries and their problems behind and get into another place and see what I saw,” he says. “To me, that is another way to do something good.”

By Leigh Howard