As the lineman began his ascent to the top of a power pole at Citizens Lodge Thursday night, a hush fell over a crowd of some 3,500 people assembled there to remember the struggles and celebrate the recoveries wrapped around Hurricane Michael.
As he climbed, another lineman sank grips in the power pole and began climbing up below him. Another would follow, and then another. There were six of them in all. The jangling of the tools on their belts, and those bites into wood were the only sounds heard across the field. The men settled in place along the pole, suspended like limbs upon a tree. Their last act broke the silence. They handed up an American flag from the ground, the lineman at the top posting it to the pole. Members of the crowd, some of them in tears, began to cheer.
That “Tribute to Linemen” portion of the Spirit of Jackson event was the only point at which total silence descended. Even during the drawings for the many high-end door prizes donated by local businesses, a steady murmur could be heard on the field in what would be a very well attended event.
The band Heyword played throughout the evening in breaks between prize giveaways, honors, and other ceremonial portions of the program. A ring of information booths manned by local agencies and organizations attracted a steady stream of visitors, who filled goodie bags with items from those participants throughout the night.
The event was punctuated by the lineman tribute and also by the presentation of “Hometown Heroes” awards given to some individuals for the scope of their contributions to the recovery effort. They were Chipola Baptist Association representative Coba Beasley, Dezman Gray, Robert Arnold, Bud Baggett, Ali Wiggins, Judy Mount, Danny Melvin, Anita Hallings, MaryNell Griffin, Coe Spears and Brian Braxton.
But Jackson County Administrator Wilanne Daniels made it clear that many, many more people and organizations played vital roles in the recovery, and continue to do so.
After Thursday’s event, Daniels said the people who came out for the event were, themselves, doing something vital to it by the simple act of showing up that night.
“Tonight amazed me,” she said. “The community amazed me, the donors amazed me, and the overall success of the event amazed me. I am so proud of how far we’ve come and I’m excited about our next steps. I want to thank everyone that came out and supported this event, especially staff that committed to making the event a success.” She’d also pointed out during the event that Jackson County Tourist Development Council Executive Director Christy Andreasen had conceived and arranged for the lineman tribute that gave the ceremony its special touch.
Spirit of Jackson was just one of two events held Thursday to mark the hurricane’s first anniversary. Marianna hosted Be One Day, serving up free hot dogs and hamburgers for the crowed assembled in Madison Street Park, and also giving away many door prizes. Blues/soul musician Lil Jimmy Reed provided the entertainment, and the Riverside Elementary School Beaver Chorus led attendees in the National Anthem. Marianna Mayor Rico Williams welcomed the crowd, saying that the event was meant not only to mark the first anniversary of the storm, but, more importantly, was to also celebrate the date as the one-year anniversary of the city’s ongoing recovery in a united effort that continues today.