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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 5-31-24


Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for May 31, 2024

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

We start with local news…

I-65 Interchange Opens Today (CDH)

A project that has been many years, not to mention dollars, in the making is finally near completion with Spring Hill's newest I-65 interchange.

On Wednesday, the city hosted local, state, and federal leaders for a ceremonial ribbon cutting for the interchange. This is also in conjunction with the adjacent June Lake mixed-use development, another major project designed to provide housing, hotel and office space to the city's growing population and workforce.

"The new interchange, located at Exit 55, will provide the city with a much needed second direct access point to the interstate, while also connecting to Lewisburg Pike on the eastern side of I-65," a press release states.

The interchange's design is also somewhat rare to Tennessee, one which is carefully styled to ease daily interstate congestion.

"The 'Diverging Diamond' design is the fourth such interchange in Tennessee. The design is meant to help ease the flow of traffic to and from I-65," the press release states.

“I’m grateful for the fantastic work of our city staff and elected officials, past and present, who were able to make this project a reality,” Mayor Jim Hagaman said. “Through their extraordinary work, and with partnerships at the local, state, and federal levels, we secured a major win for Spring Hill residents.”

This project has been a vision of the City of Spring Hill for more than a decade, and it would not have become reality without the help of many external entities.

“Thanks to federal investments focused on safety and innovation, I am pleased to celebrate the opening of this much-needed highway interchange that will spur economic development in the region, create new opportunities for the local community and positively impact travelers throughout Tennessee,” said Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt.

“This project shows how important federal highway funding is in delivering safer, more accessible, cleaner transportation infrastructure to communities large and small all across the country.”

The total cost of the project amounts to approximately $56.8 million — a cost shared by Spring Hill and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

Exit 55 on Interstate 65 and June Lake Boulevard will officially open to the public on Friday, May 31.

For more information, please contact Spring Hill Communications Director Lucas Wright at

City Receives Housing Grant (Press Release)

The City of Columbia has received a $750,000 grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) under the 2024 HOME Urban Rural Program. This funding will support the rehabilitation and reconstruction of single-family homes for low-income households in Columbia.

City Manager Tony Massey stated, "This funding from THDA is a significant step towards improving living conditions for our low-income residents. It underscores our commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all citizens of Columbia."

The HOME program, funded federally and administered by THDA, focuses on owner-occupied rehabilitation, including reconstruction. This program helps to ensure those most vulnerable in our community are able to live in code-compliant, safe residences. HOME funds can only be used for rehabilitating or reconstructing existing structures. Homes must meet all building codes and THDA standards upon project completion.

Assistant City Manager Thad Jablonski added, "The City of Columbia is continually looking for opportunities to access federal and state grants to provide the most value to Columbia taxpayers. HOME grant funds will allow us to impact Columbia residents at a time of high and rising costs to owning and repairing a home."

The program ensures no discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability, and includes policies to assist non-English speaking applicants.

Maury Regional Opens Orthopedic Center (WKOM Audio 2:47)

Yesterday, Maury Regional Medical Center held their ground breaking for their Orthopedic Surgery Institute. WKOM/WKRM’s Clayton Harris attended the event and spoke to Maury Regional CEO Dr. Martin Chaney about when the new facility will open and what it will bring to the community…

Maury Regional Recognized (MSM)

Maury Regional Medical Center has been recognized as a 2024 Patient Safety Excellence Award™ and Outstanding Patient Experience Award™ recipient by Healthgrades®, the leading resource consumers use to find a hospital or doctor.

These achievements place MRMC among an elite group of only 79 hospitals nationwide to achieve both awards — and the only one in Tennessee. MRMC was also named among the top 10 percent in the nation for patient safety and outstanding patient experience in 2024.

“This recognition reflects the dedication of our care teams to provide safe, high-quality care paired with a patient-centered experience,” said Maury Regional Health CEO Martin Chaney, MD. “From using best-practice clinical protocols proven to result in better patient outcomes to our investment in state-of-the-art technology, we are committed to being the trusted source for health and wellness in the region.”

To determine the nation’s premier hospitals for patient safety, Healthgrades evaluated risk-adjusted complication and mortality rates for approximately 4,500 hospitals nationwide. Healthgrades’ analysis revealed marked declines in patient safety throughout the country, particularly among the nation’s lowest-performing hospitals. As a result, patients who seek care at hospitals receiving the 2024 Patient Safety Excellence AwardTM like Maury Regional Medical Center have a significantly lower risk of experiencing one of the four leading patient safety indicators than patients treated at non-recipient hospitals:

In-hospital fall resulting in fracture (approximately 52 percent less likely)*

Collapsed lung due to a procedure or surgery in or around the chest (approximately 56 percent less likely)*

Pressure sores or bed sores acquired in the hospital (approximately 67 percent less likely)*

Catheter-related bloodstream infections acquired in the hospital (approximately 71 percent less likely)*

Similarly, MRMC outperformed its peers — based on feedback from its own patients — in order to achieve the 2024 Outstanding Patient Experience Award. Survey questions focus on patients’ perceptions of their hospital care, from cleanliness and noise levels to medication explanations and staff responsiveness. The measures also include whether a patient would recommend the hospital to friends or family and their overall rating of the hospital.**

“We’re proud to recognize Maury Regional Medical Center for their commitment to ensuring a best-in-class hospital stay for all patients,” said Brad Bowman, MD, chief medical officer and head of data sciences at Healthgrades. “Maury Regional Medical Center’s success demonstrates that patient safety and patient satisfaction go hand-in-hand, and we look forward to their continued leadership in these critical areas of patient care.”

Where you are treated matters, which is why Healthgrades is committed to providing the most scientifically accurate information about doctors and hospitals — with data insights not available anywhere else. To learn more about how Healthgrades measures hospital quality, visit

*Statistics are calculated from Healthgrades Patient Safety Ratings and Excellence Award Methodology, which is based primarily on AHRQ technical specifications (Version 2023.0.1) to MedPAR data from approximately 4,500 hospitals for years 2020 through 2022 and represent three-year estimates for Medicare patients only.

Local Church Feeds Many in Wake of Tornado (CDH)

What do you get when you mix food and faith? If you’re from Maury County, the answer might just be the South Gate Church of Christ Disaster relief ministry.

The congregation can trace its roots all the way back to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when ministry founders Randy and Melissa Jones, owners of Harris-Jones Greasy Branch Farm, packed around a half-dozen people into a van and drove all the way from Maury County to Louisiana to help supplement local church efforts.

“People were in need, the church down there was in dire need. They were swamped.” Randy Jones said.

After Katrina, the Joneses fell in love with the work they were doing. The first trip they organized as an official organization was in August of 2021, during the Waverly Flood.

“We had a popup tent, and we had a pretty good sized grill and about six or eight of us. And we took tables and chairs, and we went down there and set up in the church parking lot,” Randy Jones said. “And we took some food with us, a bunch of hamburgers, hotdogs and stuff, and we started grilling.”

While they were there, they ran out of food. Luckily, someone from Tyson food drove by and offered to donate around 50 lbs of frozen chicken thighs. Needless to say after that, they had no problem feeding people.

“We served over 2,000 meals in three days off a grill in a popup tent,” said Randy. “We spent about $2,000. We had enough donations come in, with food and everything, we actually made $2,000 on top of that. We fed 2,000 people and came out with a budget of a few thousand dollars.

"And I thought, you know, God’s telling us something. We gotta do this.”

Since then, the operation has only expanded. In spring of 2022, they purchased a mobile kitchen. In the years that followed, they made trips to Prestonsburg, Kentucky, Selma, Alabama, Readyville, Tennessee and Clarksville, Tenn.

The next disaster hit much closer to home.

On May 8, an EF-3 tornado hit eastern Columbia near Bear Creek Pike. Randy and Melissa Jones were both in town when the storm hit, eating before their church service at the local Chick-fil-A.

“Our phones started blowing up, you know, ‘Take cover, it’s right over you’, all this kind of stuff. And I’m looking out the window, the top of the trees, they’re getting beat up pretty good, even at Chick-fil-A,” Randy Jones said.

Melissa Jones looked out the window and noticed the dumpster across the street was rocking.

Randy Jones sprung into action, asking the manager if he had a headcount of his employees. He began formulating a plan in case the tornado hit them. Luckily, it passed over. Though they later learned the tornado had still hit nearby.

At 8 p.m., around two hours after their close encounter at Chick-fil-A, Randy Jones got a call.

“EMA called me, said, ‘Hey we’ve got 200 first responders up here, and they’re hungry. There’s nothing out here, can y'all come cook?’ We said yeah, we got you,” he said.

At 10 a.m. the next morning, their ministry was at work. The church group cooked 150 hamburgers for the first responders and over the next few days when their needs had been met — and hundreds more hamburgers later — they transitioned to feeding victims of the storm.

“I love my firefighters, but those guys are going home tonight. Their houses are fine. I’ll feed them while they’re working. We’re more than happy to do that, but our real goal is to reach people that are truly victims,” Randy Jones said.

He's all too familiar with helping people in need, being a retired fire captain of 25 years for the city of Columbia.

“There’s not much better than 2 in the morning, you know, near exhausted, you’ve been working a house fire all night and Red Cross or somebody shows up with a big sack of burgers,” Randy said.

In the end, faith is what drives the Joneses to do what they do.

They’ll frequently pray with storm victims, feeding both souls and stomachs. To the Joneses, their mission is simple.

“We want to give back to God and share the gospel through food. And if we can do that, we’re doing good,” Randy Jones said.

County Open to Broadband Grants (MSM)

State Rep. Scott Cepicky announced last week $2.56 million in grant funding will be used to expand broadband availability and access to high-quality, digital jobs in Maury County.

The four grants are part of $162.7 million in overall funding administered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD). The investments will provide broadband access and digital opportunity programs to more than 236,000 Tennesseans across 92 counties.

“It is essential that our communities have access to reliable, high-speed internet services,” Cepicky said. “These investments will strengthen education, improve workforce development and benefit our local economy. I look forward to the positive results they will have for Maury County.”

Local grant recipients include:

Spectrum Southeast: who received $191,788 to expand broadband access in parts of Maury County through the Middle Mile program

Maury County: $2 million to improve digital access by construction or renovation of facilities through the Connected Community Facilities (CCF) program

Maury County: $100,000 to expand digital skills training and broadband infrastructure through the Broadband Ready Communities (BRC) program

The Village at Glencliff: $272,897 to advance digital skills and workforce development by serving parts of Maury and 13 other counties through the Digital Skills, Education and Workforce (DSEW) program

TNECD’s most recent broadband infrastructure grants will provide access to more than 58,200 Tennesseans in 37 counties. In all, the department has invested more than $715 million to expand the state’s broadband infrastructure, connecting more than 689,000 Tennesseans across 275,000 residential and business locations.

All grant recipients must complete their projects by Dec. 31, 2026.

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

Mr. David Marshall Watkins II, 77, retired engineer for MARTA, former resident of Gallatin and resident of Columbia, died Monday, May 27th at NHC Columbia. A Funeral Mass will be conducted Saturday, June 1st at 10:30 a.m. at St Catherine of Siena Catholic Church. Inurnment will follow in Zion Cemetery with military honors provided by Herbert Griffin American Legion Post 19. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at St Catherine.

Mr. Walter Henry “Hank” Keller III, 46, of Columbia, Tennessee passed away at his home on May 5th.  The family will visit with friends on Saturday, June 1, 2024 from 11 until 1 at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home, with a graveside service immediately following at St. John’s Ashwood.

Elizabeth Gayle Petty Owens, 78, retired office manager for Dr. Sam Kuykendall, died Wednesday, May 29, 2024 at her residence surrounded by her family.

Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, June 1, 2024 at 2:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.  Burial will follow at Polk Memorial Gardens.  The family will visit with friends Friday from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM and Saturday from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM at the funeral home.  Online condolences may be extended at

Jo Ann Caperton Berry, 89, died Wednesday, May 29, 2024 at NHC Transitional Care Center surrounded by her children.   

Funeral services will be conducted Sunday, June 2, 2024 at 3:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home with Kenneth Jarratt officiating.  Burial will follow in Santa Fe Cemetery.  The family will visit with friends Sunday from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM at the funeral home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Blackburn Potential VP Pick? (WPLN)

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn was one of many Republican elected officials that attended a private lunch event at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort earlier this month.

The event was part of the Republican National Committee’s spring retreat, where Trump was the headliner. In attendance, along with Blackburn, were several GOP members who are considered potential running mates for the former president.

It’s not clear yet who Trump will choose as his vice president. But in audio obtained by Axios, Trump shares his reviews of each of his possible picks.

When it came to Blackburn, the former president likened her campaign skills to the “Energizer bunny,” saying that she would constantly be going from “stop to stop to stop.”

Political science professor John Geer is the co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll, a statewide survey of Tennesseans’ political opinions. He says there are other positives for Trump to have Blackburn alongside him on the ticket.

“She has a strong sense of loyalty — that matters,” said Geer. “Being a female, I think helps provide some balance to the ticket.”

Still, Geer says, there are a few reasons to not choose Blackburn.

“She would not come from a battleground state. Tennessee will be firmly in Trump’s camp come November,” Geer said. “It’s also true that Sen. Blackburn is not going to appeal to moderates and independents, and he does need some of those to be able to win.”

Blackburn is also in the middle of running for reelection. She faces Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson in the race for Senate.

The most recent poll done by Vanderbilt on that race shows Blackburn with an 11-point lead over Johnson.

If Blackburn were to win the race and become VP, the Senate seat would become vacant. Under Tennessee law, that’d require Gov. Bill Lee to fill the vacancy by appointment until a successor is elected at the next regular November election — in 2026.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Spring Hill Parks & Recreation invites you to Fischer Park at Port Royal for Carnival! Hill Fest 2024.

This free family-friendly event will run from 2-7 p.m. Saturday at Fischer Park, 4285 Port Royal Road, and will feature a wide assortment of activities, almost like a pop-up county fair.

These will include carnival rides, circus performers, as well as daytime fireworks starting at 6:30 p.m. The festivals live variety shows will feature a range of entertainers from magicians to stilt walkers, jugglers and other acts of amazement.

There will also be food trucks, inflatables, prizes and more.

For more information, visit


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