Pelham year in review: Looking back at top news stories of 2020

Published 5:24 pm Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


The year 2020 brought with it challenges most of us have never faced in our lifetimes. Most of the news, and life in general, revolved around one all-encompassing thing—the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we recap the top news stories from a year we will not soon forget:


City, Clemson to create parks and rec plan

The Pelham Parks and Recreation Department will be working closely with members from the Clemson University Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management in the coming months to help develop a master plan for the city of Pelham.

Cahaba Valley Road Starbucks opens in Pelham

Those near Cahaba Valley Road in need of a morning coffee fix, an afternoon pick-me-up or just a casual spot to work using Wi-Fi may now do so at the recently opened Starbucks Coffee Company in Pelham.

Samaniego to be on national commission

Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego was appointed to serve as a Commissioner on the Presidential Commission

on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town announced Wednesday, Jan. 22.

Teen vaping an alarming trend

As national laws continue to change regarding the manufacture and sales of vaping and e-cigarette products, many Shelby County officials are concerned about the use of such devices among teens.


Pelham Council approves upgrades for PRC

Several improvements will soon be coming to the Pelham Racquet Club following the approval of a resolution to authorize the upgrades by the Pelham City Council at the latest meeting on Thursday, Jan. 23.

Miller bids farewell to Pelham Oaks Elementary

Plenty of hugs, tears and goodbyes punctuated Deberah Miller’s last day as principal of Pelham Oaks Elementary School on Friday, Jan. 31.

Public meeting held about toll bridge

Lay Lake area residents and others will have an opportunity to voice their opinions about a proposed toll bridge over the Coosa River at a public involvement meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Flash flooding causes issues for Pelham

As rain moved through Shelby County on Monday, Feb. 10, the area was put under a flash flood warning, and it didn’t take long for flooding to take over many roadways.

‘A Night of Purpose’ event raises thousands for schools

The PCS Foundation hosted its first major fundraiser, “A Night of Purpose,” on Saturday, Feb. 8 to raise money for Pelham City Schools.


Community offers food assistance as schools close

The immediate closure of public schools in Shelby County in light of the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has raised questions about children having access to an adequate supply of food during the next several weeks.

Commission rejects proposed toll bridge

A proposal to build a toll bridge over the Coosa River connecting Shelby and Talladega counties was denied by a unanimous vote of the Shelby County Commission at its meeting on Monday, March 23.

Campus 124 to preserve old school

Many folks feel this same sentimental tie to Pelham’s Valley Elementary School. The building welcomed students and faculty beginning in 1964 and served the community well until newer schools were built just a few years back.

Celebrities, first responders read with kids at POES

Former Alabama and NFL running back Trent Richardson, comedian and YouTube personality Jermaine “Funnymaine” Johnson, former U.S. soldier and motivational speaker Noah Galloway and others stopped by Pelham Oaks Elementary on Monday, March 2 to help celebrate National Read Across America Day.

County has 36.67-percent voter turnout

With Super Tuesday came a busy day of voting for many residents across Shelby County, and at the end of the day, several candidates had won primary elections, while other races are headed to run-offs.

Entertainment district coming to Pelham

A new development plans to add new businesses in downtown Pelham, which will expand a growing entertainment district in the area. The development company, GenRev, plans to turn an area directly across the road from the Pelham Civic Complex into an area with housing and new businesses.

Alabama schools closed until April 6

Gov. Kay Ivey addressed the state of Alabama in a press conference on Friday afternoon, March 13, and declared a state of emergency, while also declaring that all public schools in the state will be closed for 2.5 weeks as of Thursday, March 19.

COVID-19 forces closures in Pelham

The city of Pelham has announced the closing of several public facilities between 5 p.m. Friday, March 13 and Monday, March 16 at the end of the business day due to the threat of coronavirus.

Pelham declares state of emergency

The Pelham City Council declared a State of Emergency for the city of Pelham in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic at the March 16 Council meeting via Resolution 2020-03-16-08.


Governor announces closure of ‘non-essential’ businesses until April 17

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday, March 27, announced a “Safer at Home” order that includes the closure of a list of businesses deemed “non-essential” until April 17.

Company produces needed sanitizing liquid

After almost having to leave the city of Pelham due to an expansion and water issue, Research Solutions was able to stay in the spot it has now been for almost 50 years, and now, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, they’re stepping up to help.

Grace community school sells snow cones to pay staff

During the COVID-19 outbreak many businesses have no income to pay for staff and expenses. The Grace Community School and Daycare is combating this problem by selling snow cones.

Oat Mountain State Park implements changes amid COVID-19

Oak Mountain State Park’s nearly 10,000 acres afford visitors ample space to spread out, whether they are hiking along the trails, playing a round of golf or picnicking in one of the grassy areas. In the days of COVID-19, space is one of the park’s biggest advantages.

PCS students, teachers begin virtual learning

After Gov. Kay Ivey announced that public schools in Alabama would not reopen on April 6 and instead would remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, educators throughout the state began working to come up with a plan that would allow students to continue learning at home.

Gold’s gym closures include Pelham location

Following a temporary shutdown due to the COVID- 19 outbreak more than 30 Gold’s Gym facilities will be permanently closed, including all of the Alabama locations.


Pelham holds graduation ceremony for Class of 2020

Despite the uncertainty and cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pelham High School Class of 2020 was granted some relief when it walked across the stage clad in cap and gown to receive diplomas and celebrate achievements at the end of their high school journey.

First responders, citizens surprise Riekeberg family with parade 

A homecoming parade like none other welcomed 9-yearold Destiny Riekeberg and family back to their Pelham home following a months-long stay in Children’s of Alabama.

Destiny was admitted to the hospital shortly after Christmas break, after multiple trips to the pediatrician revealed a rare form of liver cancer. Further complications kept her from being able to return home.

Pelham man makes masks for fellow residents

Donny Cook spent the majority of his time over the past weekend sewing more than 120 masks to provide an alternative to paying exorbitant prices for homemade masks.
Cook is a nurse working in hospice care, but he is currently unable to work because he is more susceptible to COVID-19 due to stage four cancer.

PHS seniors surprised with graduation yard signs

Pelham High School administration and Pelham City Schools Foundation members spent the day April 30 placing yard signs at the homes of the PHS class of 2020 celebrating their graduation.

Pelham businesses reopen under new guidelines

After Gov. Kay Ivey amended her recent safer-at-home order, many Pelham businesses began to reopen their doors to customers with limitations on May 11.

This allowed for restaurants to switch from offering curbside pickup and delivery, to allow a restricted number of dine-in guests. Also included in the order was hair salons and barbershops, which can now begin serving their customers again with strict guidelines for sanitation.

Unemployment rates rise, county better than most

As COVID-19 has taken the economy, shaken it up and thrown it to the wolves, the country and state have both seen record highs in unemployment rates. The country hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the lowest mark since the Great Depression era, while the state of Alabama had a 12.9 percent unemployment rate during the month, which marked its lowest since 1982 (15.5 percent).


Pelham CNP distributed 37k meals to kids

School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic did not keep Pelham City Schools staff from ensuring local students had access to meals for the remainder of the school year.

The school system’s Child Nutrition Program employees prepared and distributed more than 37,000 breakfast and lunch meals to students over the last two months.

Delta Blues Hot Tamales moving to Pelham area

Delta Blues Hot Tamales, a celiac and allergen friendly Cajun and creole restaurant, will be relocating from Birmingham to Pelham in early July.

The restaurant is owned by husband and wife team Adam and Fawn Freis, and was started as a way to not only provide a unique Mississippi spin on tamales, but to also create a space that is friendly to those with certain dietary restrictions.

I-65 project continues through Pelham

A lane closure was scheduled to begin June 7 in the southbound direction of I-65 starting approximately 1-mile south of Exit 242 and continuing through Exit 238. Re-striping will shift traffic where Exit 238 begins to accommodate a double ramp exit and double through lanes traveling south.

First phase of Pelham Greenway Trail opens to public

The first phase of the Pelham Greenway Trail officially opened to the public following a ribbon cutting ceremony at Pelham City Park on Thursday, June 18.

Residents can now walk along this beautiful first phase of the trail, which is a multi-million dollar project and was approved in 2016 with the intention of improving the health and livelihood of Pelham residents, and the added benefit of raising property values.


Forum addresses encounters with law enforcement

With several deadly encounters between minority individuals and law enforcement weighing heavily on the nation, residents of Pelham gathered for a citywide forum on Sunday, June 28, to bring city officials, law enforcement and citizens together to discuss how to avoid these situations.

The event called “Standing United for Progress,” was held at the Pelham Civic Complex.

Mackey: ‘Campuses will reopen in the fall’

In a press conference on Friday morning, June 26, State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey not only laid out the road map for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year amid the COVID-19 outbreak but said students will return for in-person instruction.

“Absolutely, our campuses will reopen for in-person instruction,” he said early in the press conference.

Shelby County surpasses 1,000 cases of COVID-19

It was another record-high week in Shelby County’s battle with COVID-19, as 239 new cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed, causing the county to eclipse the 1,000 confirmed-case mark.

The Juicy Seafood opens in Pelham, offering discounts

Lovers of seafood and Cajun cooking in Pelham can rejoice as The Juicy Seafood is now open for business. The restaurant held a soft opening on Monday, June 15, where customers got a chance to taste a wide variety of Cajun-style seafood and sides with special offers.

Kiel named Pelham High School’s principal

At a board meeting on Monday night, June 29, the Pelham Board of Education announced the newest principal of Pelham High School and it was a familiar face.

Kim Kiel, who was serving as the school’s athletic director as well as the systemwide athletic director, will now take over the job as principal at PHS, replacing Amanda Wilbanks.

Ivey issues mandatory order requiring masks

A lot can change in two weeks. During Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s last press conference she stated a mandatory mask order would be difficult to enforce, but when she addressed the media two weeks later at a press conference on Wednesday, July 15, she reversed course and issued a statewide mandatory mask wearing order.

Pelham fireman rewarded for heroic act

American Legion Matthew Blount Post 555 presented Pelham fireman Adam Moore with the 2019 Firefighter of the Year award on July 1. He also received the Pelham Fire Department Medal of Valor.

Moore was recommended for the awards after his actions during an operation in Lake Mitchell in Chilton County. Pelham Fire Department was called to assist with the recovery of the bodies of two law enforcement officers who were killed in a helicopter crash during the weekend of Nov. 17, 2018.

Pelham Schools releases reopening plan

Pelham City Schools released its plan to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year on July 16. The plan includes a variety of measures and guidelines to ensure the safety of students including alternative learning options and face mask rules.

This new plan is based on the “Roadmap to Reopening Schools” from the Alabama State Department of Education released on June 26. PCS’s plan titled “Press On” expands on this framework with solutions specifically decided by PCS officials.


Students make return for 2020-2021 school year

It was all about getting to that first day. On Wednesday, Aug. 19, Pelham City Schools welcomed students back to campus to kick off the 2020-21 school year.

Gary Waters will serve third term as mayor

Incumbent Pelham Mayor Gary Waters will serve a third term in the position after defeating challenger Eldon “Don” Green in the city’s Aug. 25 elections.

Waters received 1,716 votes (about 65 percent) to Green’s 908 votes (about 35 percent).

Pelham Civic Complex reopens to the public

The Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena officially reopened in a limited capacity on Monday, July 13 following months of being closed due to COVID-19.

As one of the only facilities of its kind in a two-hour radius, the facility is a staple of entertainment for not only the city of Pelham, but of ice skating and ice sport enthusiasts of Alabama and neighboring states.

Sanders named Officer of the Year

Officer Al Sanders, recently retired from the Pelham Police Department, was recognized as the 2020 American Legion Post 555 Police Officer of the Year on July 17.

Golden City’s Pelham location opens to community

Despite opening its doors in the midst of a global pandemic, Chinese cuisine and hibachi restaurant Golden City has seen a great start since opening its doors on May 25, while the restaurant’s other two locations in Chelsea and Columbiana are also doing well.

This new location marks the third Golden City restaurant, owned by Xin Qiang Wang and son Adrian Wang.

Health clinic provides more than 150 free COVID tests

A free COVID-19 testing event put on by Community of Hope Health Clinic on Tuesday, July 28, provided free testing to nearly 150 people in the community.

PPMS Principal Hefner named superintendent

Pelham Park Middle School Principal Dr. Justin Hefner was recently selected by the Homewood BOE to become the next Superintendent of Homewood City Schools.

PCS students start new school year staggered

Due to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s recommendations of students being 6 feet apart throughout the school day, schools have been forced to change how school will start this year, and Pelham City Schools is the latest system to make the change.

PCS announced on Thursday, Aug. 6, that they would be opening the 2020- 2021 school year with a staggered schedule.


Teen drowns at state park lake

A 15-year-old teen drowned at an Oak Mountain State Park lake on Monday night, Sept. 7, while spending Labor Day with her family.

The incident happened around 5:30 p.m., as Pelham Fire Department and other park officials executed a search for the missing teen shortly after.

PFD launches Community Paramedic Program

The Pelham Fire Department has partnered with Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging (M4A) to start what is called the Community Paramedic Program, which will connect citizens with a variety of resources and social services.

Pelham Ridge goes gold for childhood cancer

As September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Pelham Ridge Elementary School is asking students and faculty to wear gold and learn how they can help to find a cure.

Stokes retiring from ARC of Shelby

Karen Stokes, the Executive Director with the ARC of Shelby County, recently announced her plans to retire at the end of March 2021.


Residents come out for Music in the Park

Pelham City Park was lively with the sound of jazz on Sunday, Oct. 4, as many residents came out to enjoy the Music in the Park event sponsored by Pelham Parks and Recreation.

Kevin Finch is new Pelham Park principal 

Pelham Park Middle School officially announced a new principal at a regularly- scheduled board of education meeting on Monday night, Sept. 28.

Kevin Finch was named the new principal of the school after serving in the interim role recently and as the assistant principal for the last several years.

Shugah’s offers desserts, more in comfort setting

Lovers of desserts like pies, cakes, cookies and more now have a new restaurant to indulge their sweet tooth as Shugah’s officially opened in Pelham last month.

The restaurant was started by Bob and Judy Gross, who moved to Pelham from St. Louis, Missouri about five years ago to be closer to family.

Coram, Wash win City Council runoffs

David Coram defeated Scott Christian in the municipal election runoff for Pelham City Council Place 1, while Rick Wash picked up the seat for City Council Place 3 over Beth McMillan, according to unofficial results posted Tuesday night, Oct. 6.

Mike Reid takes over as new fire chief in Pelham

The Pelham City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Mike Reid as the city’s fire chief during an Oct. 5 meeting.

Reid will fill the position previously held by Tim Honeycutt, who retired after serving the city for more than 26 years.

Pelham Oaks working on 11 new classrooms

A construction project designed to add 11 new classrooms to the south end of Pelham Oaks Elementary School recently began on Oct. 6.

The project was able to move forward partially due to funding from a state bond issue for capital projects combined with Pelham City Schools local funding.


Shelby County ranks highest in final Census response rate

As the window for the 2020 Census self-response closed on Wednesday, Oct. 14, Shelby County came out in first place within Alabama’s 67 counties with a final rate of 78 percent.

According to County Community Services Manager Reggie Holloway, because of the efforts of the Complete Count Committee, the county was able to surpass all other counties, while many cities in the county ended with a completion rate greater than 80 percent.

County votes yes on aid amendment to support intercity help

Shelby County gave a resounding yes vote to the only local amendment that appeared on this year’s General Election ballot. The amendment, known as the mutual aid amendment, will allow cities to help those impacted by natural disasters or other emergencies throughout the county.

How did the county vote this year?

Voting lines topped two hours in some places across Shelby County on Tuesday, Nov. 3, as residents flooded to the polls to cast their votes in the General Election, overwhelmingly supporting President Donald Trump to be reelected to the position.

Taking on former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump received 69.41 percent of the vote, or 79,428 votes, while Biden received 28.87 percent, or 33,036 votes.

Proposal would add 1,600 acres to OMSP

Oak Mountain State Park could soon add more than 1,600 acres to its massive 9,000-plus acre area, if a proposal being considered by Alabama Forever Wild is accepted.

Ashly the Fire Dog joins Pelham Fire Dept.

After months of planning and trying out different dogs, the Pelham Fire Department has a new 33-pound, four-legged employee, Ashly the Public Relations Fire Dog.

Council approves contract for city manager

The Pelham City Council approved a new four-year contract with City Manager Gretchen DiFante during the council’s regular meeting Nov. 16.

DiFante, who was first hired in 2017, manages the daily operations of the city and its annual budget.


Specialty food mart Walnut Block opens in Pelham

Walnut Block LLC held its grand opening on Saturday, Nov. 14 where guests had a chance to see the wide variety of meats, cheeses and other offerings that the store has to offer.

According to Shelley Elam, the store was conceived by her nephew Cole Robinson, and the whole process of opening and running the business was a family affair.

Pelham man receives Vet of the Year award

Jerry McClain, a Pelham resident and veteran, recently received the special honor of receiving the Governor’s Veteran of the Year for the State of Alabama award, which highlights outstanding achievements by veterans.

Ivey extends order, talks vaccine

As expected, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey extended the state’s mask-mandate order on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at a press conference in Montgomery, but the more pressing news came with talk of a vaccine coming to the state.

CoreFit gym to be first business at Campus 124

One of the first tenants of the new multi-use development at Campus 124, CoreFit is set to open its gym facility to the public on Dec. 28. The gym is the second Alabama location of the franchise.

Drive-by visits replace Santa stops

The Pelham Fire Department was not able to have its annual Santa Stops tradition this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, they found a creative solution to this problem by having drive-by Santa meets at fire stations throughout the city.

Pelham kicks off Christmas with park concert

In a normal year, the city of Pelham would have a more traditional celebration to kick off Christmas festivities at the Pelham Civic Complex. However, in a year that is anything but normal, the city created a safe way for residents to celebrate together socially distanced in the city park. The scene was a crowd of lawn chairs spread out on the youth football field at Pelham City Park on Sunday, Dec. 6, as residents dressed in their warmest clothes to hear Christmas classics and other songs performed by the band Act of Congress.