Moulton’s “Reading in The Garden” sparks new career for local women

New owners of Seacoast Publishers, Duane and Alice Evans, and Martine and Ottis Fairbanks, pictured with books from the Alabama Roots series. 

When Alice Fulmer and Martine Griffith were children they shared a love of reading that has lasted well into their adulthood. 

Alice, who grew up near Florence, remembers soft summer nights, sitting with her parents on the porch.  “Mother would usually be shelling peas, peeling vegetables to be canned or silking corn from her rocking chair, while daddy and I always shared the porch swing,” said Alice. “I loved listening to that old swing’s soothing creak, but I loved listening to daddy tell his “when I was young” stories even more. I never tired of listening to him and to so many others. My neighborhood was filled with porch-sitters who took the time to share their own “I remember when” stories with me, and I can still hear the sweet little voices of Sunday School teachers who talked about amazing characters from the Bible and what these lessons meant to them.”

“Now, this may seem odd, but one of my favorite things to do was to go with my parents throughout the year as they cleaned and decorated the graves of loved ones resting in cemeteries all over our county, and of course, this led to more reminiscing about family members who were no longer with us - people I would never meet - but I knew them because someone took time to share bits of their lives with me. And visiting nursing homes was always a treat - more recollections, more memories shared.”

As a writer, Alice says that she recently realized that more than reading influenced her as a child, “I attribute my love for stories and preserving our history to being blessed with adults in my life who took the time to pass along their memories,” she said.    

As an adult, Alice Yeager Evans, a petite brunette with a vivacious, engaging personality, and expressive eyes, often thinks of those precious words shared by others and as a writer she definitely finds a way to weave these into her own stories. 

Martine Bates Fairbanks, an energetic blonde whose effervescent smile flashes intermittently through the conversation, recalls that she was also an avid reader in childhood, recalling that her mother often had to come in her room and make her put away whatever she was reading and turn off the light. As she got a little older, she would pull the covers up and read by the glow of a small flashlight. Later, she would learn to push a towel against the bottom of the door to keep any light from spilling out and alerting her mother.

Although these two book lovers didn’t meet until they were adults, Alice and Martine shared this passion of reading when growing up. Martine was born in Nebraska to parents who were from Alabama; they moved back to Morgan County when she was six.  “I’ve lived in the Hartselle/Priceville area ever since,” she said.

When she was in the third grade she recalls having a teacher who noticed that she didn’t really fit in with her classmates reading levels. “My third grade teacher didn’t think I fit into a reading group, so she told me instead of reading with a group, I could just get books from the classroom and school libraries and read while the groups were going on,” Martine explained. “She provided guidance on what I might want to read and turned me loose. I loved it!” 

This teacher, like so many others, played a pivotal role in Martine’s life. The educator took the time to help the child find her niche by encouraging her to read a wider variety of books. Is it any wonder that she became an educator herself? 

“I already loved reading as a result of a strong influence from my mother and her father and grandfather,” said Martine.    

“When I was very young, my dad worked in construction. In the summer, we would travel to wherever he was working. When we got to a new town, mother would locate a grocery store, the closest thing to a Baptist church she could find (there weren’t many Baptists in Nebraska), and the local library. She made sure we always had books to read, and I remember being thrilled when I turned six and was old enough to have my own library card!”

Books filled a large part of her young life, especially the Nancy Drew series, which still hold a special place in her heart, and has literature continued to be a constant thread throughout her adult life. 

“There were also some wonderful Sunday school teachers in my neighborhood who played a role in my love of reading,” said Martine.  

 Alice has semi-retired from a leadership role in education, and Martine, an administrative educator in Morgan County, and a former mayor of Priceville, never met while writing books as part of a series called Alabama Roots, but their career paths did coincide for a brief time. 

They began the assignment in 2003 at the request of the original visionary publisher of the series and founder of Seacoast Publishing, Tom Bailey. They worked along with several other authors, as a project to get these short, historical, biographical novels in schools all over Alabama. The books for the series turned out to be approximately 100 pages each. “When you read books about people it shows you the whole person, not just the brief paragraphs in a history book,” Martine explained.  

Alice wrote about former Alabama governors, Guy Hunt, George and Lurleen B. Wallace and musician W.C. Handy.

“When I was researching my first book, the curator of the W.C. Handy museum in Florence, Mrs. Pearley Woods, shared lots of articles and photos, as well as taking me to the actual site where W.C. Handy had lived as a young child,” said Alice. “The log cabin where Mr. Handy was born now serves as the museum, but the cabin had been moved from its original location only a few blocks away. We visited the actual home site on Handy’s Hill and as we walked the creek banks Mrs. Woods told me, how as a small boy, this talented musician listened closely to every single sound from the woods surrounding their cabin - sounds made by creek water dripping over rocks, by chirping birds and croaking frogs, and even grunting animals from the nearby fields.”

According to Ms. Woods, W.C. Handy collected those sounds (and more), stashing them away in his young mind, and later in life as a musician, he found ways to mimic many of these sounds and include them in his songs. “Thanks to Mrs. Woods, I gained a much better understanding and appreciation for this talented musician from my home town,” said Alice. 

The next two books in the series that Alice was to write turned out to be none other than former governors, Lurleen B. Wallace and George Wallace, and their son, George Wallace, Jr. who was very helpful.  “He shared family pictures and stories, and arranged for me to visit with Mary Jo Ventress in her home.  Mrs. Ventress was a precious friend of the family who stayed by Governor Lurleen’s bedside during the last few months before losing her battle with cancer.  Each day Mrs. Ventress tried so very hard to encourage her friend to eat, and the two friends worked jigsaw puzzles and knitted to help take their minds from the constant pain caused by cancer. My visit with Mrs. Ventress took place more than thirty years after Lurleen Wallace died while in office, but her love and respect for the small lady who served as Alabama’s first governor deeply touched my heart,” said Alice.  

The last book from the Alabama Roots series that Alice wrote was the biography of Governor Guy Hunt.  

“Again, I had the great pleasure of meeting several friends and family members of the man from Holly Pond who surprised everyone by being elected the first Republican governor since the Reconstruction years,” Alice continued. “Mr. Edgar Weldon was a tremendous help - Mr. Weldon was Chairman of Alabama’s Republican party when Guy Hunt was elected. He and Governor Hunt remained close throughout Hunt’s life.  Mr. Weldon introduced me to a dear family friend, Mrs. Edna Hicks who made it possible for me to talk with Governor Hunt’s son, Keith Hunt, and to meet with the governor’s widow, Anne Smith Hunt, in her home.  All of the friends and family members that I had the privilege to meet were so very gracious to share their time as they told of the man who was not only Alabama’s first preaching governor, the first with a special needs child who lived in the governor’s mansion, but who was also a devoted husband, father and friend. I quickly learned that Governor Hunt’s loved ones are very protective of his memory, and often when speaking of him, they paused to choke back tears.” 

Martine wrote books about Chris Sheets, the Winston County schoolteacher who opposed Alabama’s secession and introduced a resolution declaring Winston County, ‘The Free State of Winston.’ “The wording of the resolution is especially interesting, said Martine, “We do not believe Alabama has the right to secede from the Union, but if it can, Winston County has the right to secede from Alabama.” 

Another of her entries was William Lowndes Yancy, who was on the opposite side of the secession question: he wrote the Ordinance of Secession and guided its passage through Alabama’s Secession Convention. 

The last book in her assignment was about the lovely and accomplished Miss Heather Whitestone, a former Miss Alabama who was the first deaf contestant in history of the pageant to win the coveted title of Miss America. 

Both ladies are champions of reading and the benefits it offers to children in expanding their vocabularies, broadening their knowledge of the world around them, and in the case of the Alabama Roots series, showing them glimpses of the people who helped to shape the world around them and provided role models for Alabama’s next generations. Although the books are intended for middle school students, they are equally appreciated by adults, as well. 

“This all started last year when a friend invited me to present my books at Moulton’s ‘Reading in The Garden,’ so I did,” said Alice. “In the process of looking for the distributor of the books I had written, I discovered that there was another author from Morgan County, who would also like to attend. We spoke on the phone several times about going and taking our books,” recalled Alice. 

When they finally met in person at the event, held in the Methodist Church fellowship hall, Martine and Alice were already fast friends.

Over the course of the following months, the two spoke occasionally about adding a few more titles to the series, but they never got further than the talking stage. 

Then, just as they were getting serious about adding a few other Alabama statesmen and famous women, along came the opportunity of a lifetime – the owner of the rights to all of the books in the series practically dumped the publishing rights into their laps. Alice was overcome with surprise when she opened his email a few months after she presented at “Reading in The Garden.”   

This was no small enterprise. There were in excess of 58,000 books in a warehouse in Florence, with authors who would be happy to write more, including Alice and Martine. 

Alice contacted Martine and the friends met to discuss the pros and cons of owning a publishing company. Tom Bailey, the original publisher, is currently working with them to help with the new enterprise.

Had they been runners it would have been the equivalent of owning Nike, had they been soft drink bottlers it would have been almost like being given the rights to Pepsi’s secret recipe, had they been musicians it would have been like inheriting Elvis’s favorite guitar. They were cautiously ecstatic. 

Both of them were on a path to seeing their dreams come true when they met at last year’s Moulton’s “Reading in The Garden”, but now the whole landscape of their lives had begun to change. 

“Writing the stories of these famous Alabamians and meeting their families are memories I will never forget,” said Alice. “It has been quite a journey. And now, Martine and I have yet another adventure ahead of us - I’m really looking forward to all that lies ahead!”

The new owners of Seacoast Publishing will focus on the books in their inventory, then invite new authors to submit their work for consideration. They are excited to be on tour throughout the state in September, attending trade shows for librarians and introducing their books to new venues. Their future plans include storytelling and writer workshops for middle grade students, as well as other special events for all ages.  

Martine is retired from the Morgan County school system as a principal. She went back to serve as interim principal later, then went back again to start a Pre-K program in Morgan County. She is currently Director of Pre-K for Morgan County Schools. She and her husband, Ottis, reside in Morgan County. 

Alice retired from public schools after serving as classroom teacher, guidance counselor, curriculum director and college instructor. She currently contracts with Alabama’s Early Childhood Education Department, working with preschool and kindergarten programs throughout the state. She and her husband, Duane, reside in the foothills of the Bankhead Forest near Moulton. 

 

Sidebar or breakout box:

 For more information on the series of Alabama Roots books, or about Seacoast Publishing, please visit Seacoast Publishing on Facebook, or contact them at Seacoast@yahoo.com or write to P.O. Box 1504, Hartselle, AL 35640.

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