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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for November 21, 2023


All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

UAW Ratifies Deals (thenewstn.com)

The United Auto Workers announced ratified deals with all of the Big Three automakers on Monday morning.

On Oct. 30, the UAW and General Motors came to a tentative agreement ending the nationwide Standup Strike that included workers at the Spring Hill GM plant.

That agreement, as well as the deals with Stellantis, which makes Dodge, Ram, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles, and Ford, were voted on by union members and have now been officially accepted.

64 percent of the UAW voting members from all three automakers were in favor of the agreements, according to a statement. There are 150,000 UAW autoworkers at the Big Three, including 4,000 manufacturing employees in Spring Hill.

“The members have spoken,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in the statement. “After years of cutbacks, months of our Stand Up campaign, and weeks on the picket line, we have turned the tide for the American autoworker.”

The Local 1853 in Spring Hill said in a Facebook post that members will see a pay increase this week. The local workers walked off their jobs on Saturday, Oct. 28 and a deal was announced Monday afternoon.

“The Stand Up Strike was just the beginning,” Fain said. “The UAW is back to setting the standard. Now, we take our strike muscle and our fighting spirit to the rest of the industries we represent, and to millions of non-union workers ready to Stand Up and fight for a better way of life.”

The agreement also brings commitments from the Big Three to allow electric vehicle and battery jobs to fall under the union’s national agreements.

That will allow Spring Hill’s Ultium Cells employees to join the union, which the UAW said it had been told would never be allowed. Ultium, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution of South Korea, first announced plans to build a battery plant in Spring Hill in 2021. In 2022, the company announced an additional $275 million investment expected to yield additional jobs for a total of 1,700 in Spring Hill.

The union also secured raises and a three-year wage progression to the top pay rate, down from eight years, among improvements to retirement for both active and already retired members.

“We are pleased our team members have ratified the new agreement that rewards our employees, protects the future of the business and allows us to continue to provide good jobs in communities across the U.S.,” GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “We can now move forward as one team doing what we do best - delivering great products for our customers and winning together.”

Speiss Remembered (CDH)

When a loved one dies, their legacy is often reflected in many ways, the number of people they impacted, or simply the example they set in how they chose to live.

For individuals like Columbia Central High School 11th grader Will Spiess, it wasn't just family and friends who knew and loved him, but anyone who crossed his path on a given day — friend or stranger.

Sporting a frequent cowboy hat, signature boots and having a love for music, made a pretty good ice breaker for the student fondly known as "rockstar cowboy."

Spiess passed away Sunday, Nov. 12 from smoke caused by an accidental fire at the Natchez Trace campgrounds in Lewis County, just a few weeks shy of what would have been his 20th birthday. As the community mourned the loss, it was a moment that brought hundreds of people together to support his surviving family, while honoring his memory.

He leaves a legacy of inspiring many friends and family say.

Spiess' funeral was Thursday at Heritage Funeral Home, which drew a capacity crowd, including family members, fellow students, athletic coaches, first responders, as well as those who knew him from the Maury County Best Buddies program of which he was a member.

The crowd was so large, in fact, that it temporarily jammed up traffic along Bear Creek Pike prior to the ceremony.

"I am overwhelmed by the love, and it's been humbling, a true blessing," Spiess' mother Heather Seibold-Speiss said. "I knew that my child was loved, but to see all of these people show up, for me, I don't even know how to put it into words."

On Friday following the service, CCHS paid its own tribute to Spiess, one that his family described as "uniquely Will."

At 10 a.m. Friday, hundreds of students, family and members of the Maury Best Buddies program gathered along the CHS bus ramp for a special balloon release ceremony in Spiess' honor.

The event featured multiple speakers, including CHS Principal Dr. Michael Steele, who wore a white cowboy hat in his honor along with a purple shirt, Will's favorite color; Maury County Superintendent Lisa Ventura and Speiss' former Best Buddies partners.

"We are on God's time and Will was on God's time. God created Will and gave us Will for a short time, but he made certain that Will, with all his challenges, blessed the masses of people," Steele said before donning the cowboy hat in tribute.

"Will has never known anything but overcoming challenges and being loving and kind. So much I wish I cared for everyone's happiness as much as Will did. God made sure Will was a warrior, filled Will with the love only he could provide, and this is a love that I hope represents, for all of us — that we love like Will loved, and that we want to see everybody happy and smiling like Will did."

While a balloon release is a common form of expressing remembrance, this release had a little something extra sentimental tied to it.

This was because balloons were one of Speiss' many passions, which ranged from listening to his favorite country artists like Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks to petting goats.

During his younger years, Spiess rarely went anywhere without clasping a balloon in his hand.

"It was just his thing, one of the many things that made him 'Will,'" his family said.

His persona as the CCHS "rockstar cowboy" came about as he was rarely seen without his signature cowboy hat and boots, and of course his favorite color purple.

During Friday's ceremony, many spectators donned cowboy hats, boots and purple shirts, which read "In loving memory of Will," featuring an image of his hat and boots. Many others shared sentiments on social media using the hashtag #LLWS for "Love Like Will Spiess."

"He made us want to be better, made us want to do better for all children," Ventura said. "He was a living, breathing image of what we all should be, and what we are all taught. He was the living embodiment of kindness, patience and love, and the greatest of these is love."

As an avid sports fan, Spiess was also often given the "celebrity treatment" when attending CCHS football games.

"When we'd go to football games, it would take us almost a half hour just to get from one end of the stands to the other," Spiess' uncle Kenneth Seibold said. "Everyone just had to come up and say 'Hi,' when they saw Will was there."

In addition to being known for his unique sense of style, Spiess was also an active member of the Maury County Best Buddies program, which partners students with children living with special needs.

At the time of his birth, Spiess was born prematurely, weighing only two pounds and spending many weeks under intensive care. For the first few years of his life, he used a feeding tube to receive nutrients, but overcame that obstacle after friends and family were told "he just needs to gain a little weight."

While much of Spiess' life was spent beating the odds to overcome multiple health struggles, he remained humble throughout, simply wanting to have fun, meet people and enjoy a good meal.

He was also synonymous as somewhat of a ladies' man, acquiring many "girlfriends" after reaching his teenage years and receiving his first phone.

"I was one of his girlfriends," CCHS sophomore Millie Vick said. "Being in Best Buddies was a good decision, and I was honored to work with Will."

Spiess first joined Best Buddies while a student at Whitthorne Middle School. Best Buddies Maury Director Julie Beck remembers how much the program meant to him and everyone he had the opportunity to work with.

"Best Buddies really meant a lot to Will, and he means so much to us. He was a very active member in Maury County," Beck said. "Everybody here knows Will, loves Will and he made school a fun place. Will is definitely a best buddy when you think of Best Buddies. That's Will."

Prior to Friday's balloon release, Kirk Shepard of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) shared a few final words about working closely with Spiess, and while a time of loss, his legacy will only grow stronger to anyone who ever knew the little man in the cowboy hat, whose spirit was ten times as big.

"Will is completely healthy and completely whole, and he's waiting for us," Shepard said. "He set an example for us here of how to love other people. Love like Will."

A GoFundMe account has also been set up with a goal to help support Spiess' family during this time.

Bernard Childress Honored (CDH)

The Columbia Peace & Justice Initiative held its second annual Legacy Luncheon earlier this month, honoring beloved high schools sports leader Bernard Childress.

The annual luncheon honors an outstanding Black community leader, who has impacted the Maury County community. Last year, Christa Martin, former Columbia vice mayor and government steward of almost 30 years was honored at the luncheon.

The luncheon drew hundreds of community leaders from city elected officials, to state elected officials and leaders in the field of athletics and education.

A Columbia native, Childress, now retired, served as the executive director of Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association from 2009 to 2022. He is the first African American to serve in a TSSAA executive position. He began with the organization as an assistant executive director in 1995.

Many spoke of Childress's influence on their lives at the Nov. 1 event, including Maury County Public Schools Athletics Director Chris Poynter, who was once a student of Childress in MCPS.

"Heroes are remembered, but legacies never die," Poynter said, remembering his middle school principal always dressed professionally in a suit. "There's no one more deserving than you."

Poynter explained that seeing Childress's professional and caring demeanor was like a "living reflection," or example.

"I thought, yes, you can do this too," he said.

Poynter also explained that Childress's example propelled him to be his best and go the extra mile, which ultimately resulted in his efforts to secure $28 million in upgrades to the school district's athletic program.

Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder also spoke of Childress's influence as an educator on his life as a middle school student at Whitthorne Middle School, describing him as a calm and inspiring figure, who exuded natural leadership ability. Molder honored Childress by declaring Nov. 1, 2023, Bernard Childress Day in Columbia.

President of the CPJI Board of Directors Trent Ogilvie said he remembers Childress as someone he always looked up to as well growing up as a student in Columbia.

"I always looked up to this well-dressed gentle giant, who was always calm, cool and collected."

When he missed honor roll by one point, Ogilvie said Childress encouraged him not to give up, but to work for extra credit until he achieved his goal. The lesson stayed with him for the rest of his life.

"I'm thankful for his contributions," Ogilvie said.

Childress said he was humbled in receiving the Legacy Award, emphasizing that he could not have made it as far without his deep faith in God and courage to follow his direction.

"You'll find me many times in my recliner reading Scripture spending time with the Lord," he said.

"Proverbs 3:5-6 says, 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.' That's my favorite Scripture verse. I carry it with me all the time. Because there's simply no other way.

"You don't choose to be a role model. You are chosen."

Childress said his greatest joy in his career is helping and encouraging youth to reach their potential.

"I think we should pray for our youth ... and reject all of the negative pressure on them today," he said.

Childress also thanked his family and wife, Pinkie, of 45 years for supporting him, during a demanding career that drew him away from home many nights.

Childress was instrumental in numerous milestones that have shaped the statewide association, including the InSideOut Initiative, a partnership between TSSAA, Tennessee Titans and the NFL Foundation.

Prior to joining the TSSAA, he served as a teacher, assistant principal and coach at Columbia Central High School his alma mater. Childress graduated from CCHS in 1973, when he was selected for the all-state basketball team his junior and senior years. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Belmont University, where he was an all-conference basketball player for three seasons and served as captain his senior year.

He retired from TSSAA in 2022 to spend more time with his family.

"For every decision, I talked to her and we prayed together. She'd tell me, 'You'll make a great decision. Whatever decision you make, I'm with you.' That meant the world to me," Childress said about his wife.

At the conclusion of the banquet, Childress ended with motivating words.

"Always strive to be kind, gentle and compassionate to others. God loves you unconditionally even through struggles and disappointment. Put God first. Set goals for yourself, and if you fall, get back up."

MRMC Offers New Heart Diagnostic (Press Release)

Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) has a new diagnostic exam available to help identify blockages in coronary arteries that, if left untreated, could lead to a heart attack.

Patients at the medical center now have the option to undergo a coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA), a noninvasive test that gives physicians a detailed 3D image of the coronary arteries to show abnormalities in blood flow, such as blockages.

“We’re proud to offer this new, vitally important exam to our patients at Maury Regional Medical Center as we continue our commitment to providing proactive, state-of-the-art heart attack care,” said Maury Regional Health CEO Martin Chaney, MD. “We encourage everyone to make themselves aware of the signs of heart attack and seek medical attention immediately if you’re experiencing any symptoms.”

CCTA is generally ordered for patients under 65 years of age who are showing initial symptoms of heart attack but have no prior history of coronary artery disease or who have unclear findings from a stress test. In certain cases, it may be considered for patients who have previously experienced heart attack, undergone coronary stent placement or had coronary artery bypass surgery.

Additionally, patients who are candidates for CCTA typically have a body mass index of less than 40, and they must be able to take beta blockers prior to the exam. A physician’s order is required.

“CCTA is one of our best tools to identify if blockages in the coronary arteries are present and their severity. It’s important to identify these blockages as quickly as possible in order to provide the most effective treatment,” said Jessica Joseph-Alexis, DO, a specialist in cardiology associated with Vanderbilt Heart-Columbia who spearheaded the program at MRMC. “The test has been given a Class 1 recommendation, the strongest recommendation for a medical test, meaning it has clinical trial evidence proving it is highly effective and beneficial for patients.”

During a CCTA, an iodine dye is injected intravenously to brighten the patient’s coronary arteries before X-rays are taken. The dye helps make blockages and other abnormalities more visible.

After the exam, readings are interpreted by members of MRMC’s medical staff to determine if the heart attack symptoms are being caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries and the severity of any blockages. The results are then shared with the patient’s physician.

It’s important to call 911 immediately if early signs of heart attack are present, including chest discomfort, discomfort in other parts of the upper body (arm, jaw, back or neck), shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, nausea, light-headedness or cold sweat.

Maury Regional Medical Center is southern Middle Tennessee’s only Heart Center, offering a team of physicians who provide an array of cardiac services that include interventional procedures as well as pacemaker and defibrillator implants. In addition to CCTA for those experiencing early signs of heart attack, Maury Regional Health also offers wellness screenings to detect vascular blockages and abdominal aortic aneurysm without a physician’s order.

The medical center has been recognized as a Chest Pain Center with PCI by the American College of Cardiology and holds certification in the treatment of heart failure from The Joint Commission.

For more information on heart services offered at MRMC, visit MauryRegional.com/Heart.

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Dorothy Marie “Dottie” Russell Musgrove, 88, retired bookkeeper for Dr. Cary Pulliam, retired employee of Middle Tennessee Bank, and resident of Columbia, died Sunday, November 19, 2023, at NHC Maury Regional Transitional Care.

 

Funeral services will be conducted Wednesday, November 22, at 12:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Rose Hill Cemetery in Giles County. The family will visit with friends Wednesday, November 22, 2023, from 10:00 A.M. until service time at the funeral home. Condolences may be extended online at www.oakesandnichols.com.

…And now, news from around the state…

New Ed Stats (Press Release)

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced the 2022-23 statewide graduation rate is 90.6 percent, exceeding ninety percent for the first time and achieving the highest graduation rate on record since 2012. 

 

“Tennessee's continuous commitment to ensuring students are successful in graduating from high school on time is demonstrated in this year’s statewide graduation rate and is a direct result of the hard work of Tennessee directors of schools, administrators, and educators have done with our families and students,” said Lizzette Reynolds, Commissioner of Education. “Earning a diploma and graduating high school is a milestone that unlocks so many opportunities for students as they begin their lives after K-12 education, and I am thrilled to see Tennessee’s graduation rate at a record high.”   

 

For the 2022-23 school year, the most notable takeaways from graduation data include:   

Alcoa City Schools, Clay County Schools, Fentress County Schools, Haywood County Schools, and South Carroll Special School District each had 100% graduation rates. 

61 districts graduated 95% or more of their eligible students on time. 

78 districts improved their graduation rates from 2022 to 2023, with nine districts improving by five percentage points or more. 

896 more students graduated in the 2023 cohort compared to last year, for a total of 65,476 students graduating across the state. 

29 districts improved graduation rates for the economically disadvantaged student group by five percentage points or more. 

37 districts improved graduation rates for the students with disabilities student group by five percentage points or more. 

The department continues to offer several initiatives to accelerate academic achievement and prepare students for postsecondary success, including summer programming, TN ALL Corps, Innovative School Models, and AP Access for All. 

 

For more information on graduation rates for individual districts and schools, please visit the department’s website at www.tn.gov/education.  

TSU Plans to Recup Held Funds (Tennessean)

Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover gave an update Thursday on where things stand after the federal government said the school was shorted $2.1 billion by Tennessee over the last three decades.

President Joe Biden's administration sent letters to 16 state governors pointing to $13 billion in total underfunding for their historically Black land-grand universities on Sept. 19. The $2.1 billion shortfall at TSU topped that list.

The letter addressed to Gov. Bill Lee called for a "substantial state allocation" for TSU, along with a two-to-one match for any future federal funds that flow into the school. The university is a land-grant school, meaning it is public and draws funding from state and federal sources. The University of Tennessee, with five campuses statewide, is the only other land-grant university in Tennessee.

Glover said students have come back to her in tears after traveling to UT campuses and seeing the disparities in the quality of the facilities and resources compared to TSU.

Underfunding is not a new subject for TSU. In 2021, a state estimate said the university had been underfunded by anywhere from $151 million to $544 million over the course of 60 years. In response, Lee helped pass $250 million in one-time infrastructure funding for the school last year.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Country star Garth Brooks is opening his own bar in Nashville on lower Broadway's iconic stretch, the highly anticipated Friends in Low Places Bar & Honky Tonk. The bar, located at 411 Broadway, will be opening on Black Friday, Nov. 24.

The 61-year-old Oklahoma native, known for his trademark country sound with tinges of rock and pop, is the best-selling solo artist in history. 

Friends in Low Places won't just be for dancing, drinking and singing... it will also be for shopping.

The bar will also have a retail store that will sell merchandise officially licensed by Brooks and his wife, country singer Trisha Yearwood. The full apparel line is accompanied by Brooks' CDs and cookbooks authored by Trisha Yearwood.

In October, Brooks announced he would be opening his new bar with a Dive Bar Concert. The Nashville event, which had 3 million ticket requests, is sold out. The concert will stream, however, on Amazon Prime Video.


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