A Silent Alabama Night: Helena Local Linda Wurstner has photo chosen for state Christmas ornament

Published 11:18 am Monday, December 11, 2023

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

Local Helena resident Linda Wurstner was recently received in Montgomery for a personal meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey as she was presented with this year’s state Christmas ornament on the morning of Nov. 21.

Wurstner, who has always enjoyed and partaken in the art of photography, is known by friends and family for her landscape photography taken during her hikes of national and state parks.

In 2018, she was encouraged by members of the Shelby County Camera Club to enter pictures into the Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest. Although she is often shy about her own work, and partakes in the activity for mostly her own enjoyment, two of her photos went on to place in the 28 spots available in the competition. In that process, her photos were selected over hundreds of other submissions.

“One photo was my son dwarfed by the huge crusher at Ruffner Mountain,” Wurstner said. “The other was my husband at King’s Chair at Oak Mountain State Park at sunset.”

That second photograph, featuring her husband at King’s Chair was almost never taken.

“We had signed up for a sunrise hike to the overlook, but found out the day before that 100 people were expected that next morning” She said. “(There was) no way would we get any decent photographs from such a small space with that many people, so we went that day and arrived at sunset.”

Using her cell phone instead of her professional camera, Wurstner snapped the picture just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon.

Those two pictures toured the state in 2019 and were subsequently featured on the Outdoor Alabama Flickr site. They both remained there until they were discovered by someone working with Special Projects at the office of Gov. Ivey.

“Lee Sellers is the Director of Special Projects for Governor Ivey, and she tracked me down in May to ask permission to use my picture,” Wurstner said.

In efforts to reach her, their office had messaged Wurstner on Facebook Messenger, called Helena City Hall and left a voicemail. Shocked at the renewed interest in her photo, Wurstner recalls that she had to google Sellers and the office to see if it was all real before responding.

“They wanted to use the picture for the ornament, but wanted to delete the person and add a star,” Wurstner said. “So, I guess my picture was the bases of a compilation project.”

After some of those initial alterations were made to her photograph, Wurstner was sent a rough draft mock-up for review and proceeded to give her permission for the state to use her photograph. Upon which time, she sent Special Projects the high-quality-original digital file and waited until fall, when she was again contacted and asked to come to Montgomery, where Ivey would be able to present her with the first ornament featuring her photo.

“I nervously drove through heavy rain to be there at the appointed time,” Wurstner said. “Luckily it cleared up as I got to Montgomery. I got to use a side entrance and was shown in to Dir. Sellers’ office. She took me down the hall to meet Gov. Ivey who was seated at the end of a long conference table in the most gorgeous office I had ever seen.”

Entering the office, Wurstner couldn’t help but take in the grandeur of the office. Tall wood paneled ceilings, comfortable chairs, and the governor’s desk all decorated the room.

Her staff photographer, Hal Yeager, Director of Photography, was there snapping away as I approached her,” Wurstner said. “After introductions she handed me the box for my first look at the ornament. They had done a nice job and even laser printed in gold a drawing on the lid of the ornament. She was gracious and not only posed for several official pictures, but a few on my cell phone that I had handed Mr. Yeager for immediate proof I was there.”

Wurstner did not come without a gift to present of her own either, as she presented Sellers and Ivey both with a box of her own cinnamon pecans she makes each Christmas.

“I had made them the day before and assured them they were delicious and did not need to be passed on to security,” Wurstner said.

Before departing, Wurstner returned to Sellers’ office and was further gifted several more ornaments for friends and family in addition to other official state gifts. Those gifts included a red inaugural blanket.

Wurstner has also been invited to visit the Governor’s Mansion once decorations for Christmas are fully completed next month. While there, she will be able to see her photograph on the Gov.’s Christmas tree.