Pizza Chef

Someone once said that if you find a profession that you truly love, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. If the words of that particular adage have any truth at all, then Jessica and Anton Trifonov have been living the easy life for the past fifteen years. As owners of  Pizza Chef in Guyton, the couple have found a niche that has won the enthusiastic approval of locals and visitors alike with their own brand of Italian food. “We try to put our heart into every order,” says Jessica.  “Every salad, calzone, or pizza is made for that specific person, and our personality really comes through in the pizzas we make.” Originally from Kentucky, Jessica has lived in Savannah area since 1986. “I truly love the South and Guyton in particular. I moved here with the company in 2002. Three years later my husband and I bought the restaurant, so we’re getting ready to celebrate our fifteenth year. We’re really excited about that.”

Jessica began working for Pizza Chef in 2002 after a friend brought her into the company to only work part-time on weekends. Gradually she began working four days a week, and then a full week. “Before I knew it, I had become the manager, Jessica recalls. “The owner at the time was preparing to move the location from Pooler (to Guyton) due to a considerable amount of competition in that area and to simply be in a location that needed a new restaurant. Then when the opportunity came to purchase Pizza Chef, I just jumped at the chance since I love the company. Plus, who doesn’t love pizza, right?”

When the couple purchased the business in 2005, their first executive decision involved taking a pay cut. “We had to reduce our pay to get things started, but other than that it was a smooth transition. Other than making some minor changes, we closed on a Saturday with one owner and opened up on the following Monday with two new owners. We’ve  stuck with it because we love being in Guyton, meeting people and making pizzas,” recalls Jessica.

After moving the franchise to Guyton, the restaurant has been nothing short of a remarkable success, which Jessica attributes to a number of factors. “We make everything as much from scratch as possible. We make our own dough fresh every day, and we also start with a basic sauce, adding seasoning and spices to really make it our own. A lot of the bigger chains use a frozen dough, which is acceptable if you’re that busy,” she says. “We make every pizza to order; nothing is made ahead of time.” One local customer, Susan Altman echoes Jessica’s sentiments. “Pizza Chef is truly the best, and they are always happy to deliver right to your doorstep. All the employees are very kind and have become wonderful friends as well. My puppy, Sophia, also loves them and knows when they get here before I do,” she says.

As well as handling all the paperwork for Pizza Chef as its Chief Financial Officer, Jessica’s husband Anton is also the delivery driver. He says, “We feel that we give more personal customer service because we’ve known most of our customers for a very long time. It’s more like a family than a business and we do our best to make every order perfect.” Hailing from Bulgaria, Anton came to the South in order to join his father in the family trucking business. “A few people don’t know what to make of me because of my accent, but once they get to know me, we become great friends,” he says with a smile. As far as working with his wife, Anton says it’s not always easy but always worthwhile. “Working with my wife

has it’s challenges,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s proven to be a very successful combination. We’re in a very good place right now.”

As a self-described “people person,” Jessica says she’s comfortable overseeing the employees and greeting the friendly faces who grace their restaurant. “I love the people as well as the familiarity of working here. We have a great product and wonderful customers. We’ve had some of the same customers since moving here in 2002 and have watched some of them grow into adults. They’ve worked with us as teenagers and have moved on to various careers, so it’s really like seeing your own kids grow up.. For us, it’s really about the people, not the profits,” she says. Anton agrees, adding, “For anyone who hasn’t tried our pizza, before you go to one of the chain restaurants, give Pizza Chef a

chance, and you’ll never go back to them.”

Springfield Ebenezer Greenway Initiative

As a Georgia Scenic River and National Natural Landmark, Ebenezer Creek is both a natural and cultural asset to the state of Georgia. A tributary that feeds into the Savannah River just north of the Savannah, the creek flows from northern Effingham County through Springfield and then approximately thirteen more miles to the Savannah River, terminating at the historic settlement of Ebenezer. Springfield’s Community Development Director, Erin Phillips, says that the city’s new initiative, the Springfield Ebenezer Greenway, hopes to establish a connection between the two historic communities, thus promoting recreational use for the creek while preserving its historical significance for future generations. “Springfield is the county seat, and Ebenezer once served as the county seat and briefly as the Georgia State Capital. The two are connected via the Ebenezer Creek; therefore, the historical connections between Springfield and Ebenezer seemed to make perfect sense,” says Phillips.

One component of this initiative will include the development of a new website to promote natural, cultural and historical tourism along the greenway. The content for this site www.EbenezerCreek.com will provide information about launch points, guided tours, equipment rentals, historical significance and events, ecological facts, wildlife and landmarks that can be found on and adjacent to the creek. The website will be a critical tool to help increase local interest and awareness about the creek, which will be important in fostering and expanding local economic development opportunities. It will also help promote use of the creek to recreational users and tourists and will include professional photography and verified historical data. The city has used a professional design studio to develop new branding and collateral to use on the website. “This new website will be a hub of information regarding Ebenezer Creek and its surrounding ecology and history,” says Phillips. “It will also partner with a mobile self-guided tour app that visitors can download and use to explore the vast resources Ebenezer Creek has to offer. The new logo for the greenway will not only be used on the site, but will also be used as markers on the creek and in signage at launch points along the creek.”  The city has made significant investments around Jack’s Branch, a tributary to Ebenezer Creek, where the Effingham Historical Society’s Living History Site and Museum are located. In addition, the city has developed a plan for property that it currently owns at the corner of Stillwell Road and Ash St. that also borders Ebenezer Creek and can serve as another public area of the greenway.

As mentioned, one of the newest components of the project is the creation of a mobile app which will contain a georeferenced guide that will identify areas of interest, wildlife, significant landmarks, as well as historical events that took place along the creek. “We will consult with local tour guides and archaeologists who have been working on and around the creek to create a multifaceted guide that will appeal to tourists of all interests from history buffs to bird watchers,” says Phillips.

By closely relating Ebenezer Creek to Springfield, Phillips sees tremendous opportunity to increase interest and activity in the downtown area. “We envision Ebenezer Creek as a major  attraction to draw people to our community, thus increasing the demand for amenities of arts, dining and lodging to our visitors. Increasing awareness and the number of visitors to the creek will help Springfield enhance the Ebenezer Creek Greenway Project and help the community to promote conservation efforts at the historic sites along the creek.”

Springfield has a history of finding new and unique ways to promote tourism and business growth.  In 2014, the City took over the renovation of the Mars Theatre, a 1950’s one screen theatre that had been deserted for decades. The theatre has since been immensely successful and has attracted tourists and residents from Savannah, as well as providing entertainment to local citizens. Springfield has also used DOT grant funding to create new downtown streetscapes, which has increased overall business and foot traffic downtown. Effingham County is only fifteen miles from downtown Savannah, an international tourist destination, and Springfield hopes to capitalize on its proximity to Savannah to boost tourism opportunities in our area. Phillips says that the establishment and promotion of the Springfield Ebenezer Creek Greenway will also promote conservation and stewardship of this ecologically and historically-rich area.  To find out more about this initiative, contact Erin Phillips at (912) 754-7617 or via email at ephillips@springfieldga.org

Becky Marcussen Artist, Teacher

Story By: Susan Lee

Photography By: Tonya Perry

Rebecca Marcussen spent most of her life in Effingham, yet she is a newcomer to Effingham County. To clarify what might sound confusing, she moved to Effingham County, Ga., coincidentally from Effingham, Illinois.

Becky’s story is one of self-discovery and of finding your passion, no matter how long it takes. Three years after moving here, the talented and experienced artist, described as one who creates her own vision of reality, is comfortably settled in our Effingham.

Back in Illinois, Becky was just a few years out of high school when she went to work for the Yellow Pages, laying out ads by hand. Then one day a neighbor asked if she could hand letter a sign on his truck. It wasn’t long before she opened her own sign shop, a business she ran for many years until, in her early 40s, she went back to school to study art.

“My children were grown by then and I just decided it was time to do what I really wanted to do,” she said. “And while I was in school, it felt like being on vacation, enjoying myself and focusing on what I love.”

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in 2-D studio art, and went on to earn her master of arts degree in painting and ceramics. In 1997, she joined the faculty at Lakeland Community College of Mattoon, Ill., teaching painting, drawing, understanding art, and art history. In 2005, she became the art instructor and program developer for ARC Community Support Systems, where she developed the arts program and brought out the creativity and expression of physically and mentally challenged adults.

Becky also established her own art studio where she taught afterschool and evening classes to children and adults. “I usually had 25 students in my studio throughout the week, 4 or 5 at time,” she said, adding that she especially enjoyed teaching children. “It’s exciting when it really clicks with some of your young students and you see them get scholarships and go on to college.”

Her students now are mostly retired but nonetheless young at heart and always eager to learn. Once a week, Becky teaches art classes at the Pooler Senior Citizens Center to students who have become almost like family to her.

Dianne Klevinski is one of her regular students at the center and is also one of her biggest fans. “She’s an excellent teacher,” she said. “She knows art history, theory, color and composition. You name it, and she has a deep knowledge of it and understanding of it all. If you say you’re interested in trying another medium such as pastels or oils, the next class Becky has everything you need to give it a try. She is so willing to help you travel new artistic avenues. I feel I have grown substantially in my artistic abilities and overall knowledge of the art community this year because of her guidance.”

In addition to being a great teacher, Dianne said she’s a great person. “She’s fun and comfortable to be around,” she said. “Our class appreciates her sense of humor and loves joking around with her.”

Becky has also taught several workshops for groups in the Savannah area, including watercolor, pastel, calligraphy and painting in oil or pastel. She is an active board member of the Savannah Art Association and shows some of her paintings at the SAA’s new gallery on Chippewa Square. “Becky is friendly, outgoing and just a great gal to know,” said fellow artist and SAA member Andrea Stark. “She’s also an admired and well-respected artist. She does many mediums, including pastels, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal and clay. She loves art so much and is always trying new things as they come along.”

Continuing education is important to Becky, who still attends two or three-day workshops throughout the year. “There’s always something to learn,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken a workshop where I didn’t walk out and feel like I learned something.”

One of the workshops she splurged on was in New Hampshire with an artist named Koo Schadler, a world-renowned artist and instructor of egg tempera. “It’s an ancient medium that uses finely ground pigments, egg yolk and water,” explained Becky. “It’s done with lots of tiny strokes and layered so you can get a lot of depth and translucence with it. For me, this workshop was kind of like fulfilling a dream.” Since then, one of her egg tempera paintings won Best in Show at an Illinois show and another won Best in Wildlife at the Georgia State Fair. She also has several others hanging in the SAA gallery.

Among Becky’s favorite artists are Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth and John Singer Sargent. She also loves and is inspired by contemporary artists Chuck Close and Janet Fish. “I would be thrilled to watch any of these artists at work,” she said. “I find watching favorite artists at work is an inspiration and educational experience that enthuses me and encourages me to have new art experiences.”

The change in scenery from Illinois to coastal Georgia resulted in a shift in subject matter, from still lifes to the great outdoors. “I love the landscapes and wildlife in the area,” said Becky. “The outdoors climate here is so fabulous I’m just drawn to it. Effingham County is a cornucopia of subjects which I find exciting. I’ve painted the Ogeechee and many of the rustic buildings in the area.”

She moved to Georgia to be closer to her family:  her son, Brian Marcussen, in Canton, Ga., her daughter, Savannah nature photographer Jill Buckner, and her 5 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

Becky often spends mornings with Jill at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, quietly observing its inhabitants. “I love to paint light and color, especially the early morning light,” she said. “We also spend a lot of time looking for birds. We took a bird watching class out there and since then we bought bird books and make notes of what we see. It’s fun and doesn’t cost anything.”

She gets especially excited when she sees animals she would never have seen in central Illinois. Becky describes in great detail seeing six or seven black skimmers flying over, dragging their lower bills through the water to catch fish and leaving what looked like a jet stream behind.

The mother and daughter took a trip to Florida last year and Becky was thrilled to see Sand Hill cranes. “I’ve heard they can be a nuisance down there, but I had never seen them before,” said Becky. “It’s always great to have Jill with me because she started taking pictures and ended up with more than 500 shots,” photos that Becky could later use for inspiration to recapture the moment. They also visit Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge and anywhere else they can be close to nature.

Becky attended a workshop once and the instructor told her, “Some people just see it, and you see it.” And judging by the visual splendor so beautifully depicted in her paintings, she definitely does see it.

Iris Durrence Crafting Out Beauty One Stitch At A Time

Story By: Katrice Williams

Photography By: Shelia Scott


Iris Durrence, a Savannah native, has lived in Effingham for some time now along with her husband, Steve. The two moved to the area from Savannah nearly 13 years ago. The couple has two children—a daughter in South Carolina and son in Oklahoma, five grandchildren and one little great-grand bundle.

Iris has long had an incredible skill and passion for crocheting and knitting. In fact, she has been crocheting since she was about 25 years old. Iris is very confident of where her crochet talent derives—her mom Elizabeth. Elizabeth persisted to teach her daughter to crochet throughout her childhood and young adult life. However, Iris just did not quite have the knack for it.

She comments, “My mom tried for 24 years to teach me to crochet. It wouldn’t sink in.”

However, after moving away from her home area at age 24, Iris soon found herself exploring her interests. She remembered her mom’s tireless efforts to instill the art of crocheting within her.  Iris soon found herself buying a ball of yarn, as she decided to “give crocheting another shot.” She has been crocheting ever since.

Nonetheless, Iris’ knitting talent developed in a totally different way. Actually, she did not start knitting until around age 50. A friend taught her—a friend who often knitted her nice, comfy slippers. Iris was so impressed with her friend’s talent that she wanted to learn for herself.

As crocheting and knitting are often confused by those who do not have knowledge of the crafts, Iris explains that one hook is used to crochet; the hook interlocks loops of yarn or thread to create fabric, whereas two needles are used to knit. Crocheting is typically quicker. On the other hand, Iris feels that “knitting is prettier;” it, however, usually takes much longer for an individual to knit an item. She goes on to say that she can crochet an afghan (a blanket, throw or wrap of crocheted or knitted wool) in about three days but knit it in about 3 weeks. Further, a dishtowel or small blanket may normally be done by crocheting, while an item like a gorgeous sweater is knitted which is apparent in much of its intricate detail and patterns. All in all, Iris really likes her “fun projects.” However, like most impressive crafters, she is certainly partial to one art over the other.

“I just love to crochet; I really do,” she insists.

Iris has been a member of the Prayer Shawl Ministry at her church, Port Wentworth United Methodist, since 2004. The group unites once per month for nearly the entire day to crochet or knit prayer shawls and afghans. Though most of the group consist of church members, they graciously welcome anyone. They all pray and fellowship together and even pray over all the shawls. The ministry selflessly donates the prayer shawls and afghans to those “people who will benefit the most,” including church members in need, people who are ill, those who have suffered loss or even homeless individuals. Iris, along with the other members, does not want to receive any praise for her great deeds. She is sure to mention that God gets all the glory for what the group does.

Iris asserts, “It’s because of Him. This is just work for The Lord…for mankind.”

Whether in Hawaii, California, Germany or England, some of the prayer shawls have been sent to various locations around the world, depending on where the need has been.

She states, “They’re mailed out with love and prayer. Wherever the need is, that’s where they’ll go.”

Iris recalls a very precious and memorable time. A mother had just lost one of her little twin baby girls who had not been well. A prayer shawl had already been sent to the baby while she was alive. The mom tenderly buried the baby girl with her little prayer shawl, as the mother said that “one or the other was the only thing that was really hers.” In an emotional and heartfelt moment, Iris responds, “Talk about being touched…”

Iris is very proud to be a part of such a phenomenal group of ladies who are doing a whole lot of good in the lives of others.

She mentions, “They’re a good group; they really are.”

Iris feels that the ladies have a lot of talent. She even notes that unlike herself, several of them learn to crochet within their first year in the craft. Iris also jokes about a nickname that she has in the group.

“Some of the girls call me ‘The Machine,’ because I tend to crochet very fast,” she points out.

Iris is immensely grateful for the support that the ministry receives from their church family and pastor, Reverend Gary Boyles.

She remarks, “The church is totally supportive of us. The pastor is very active…he’s an activist; he really is.”

The Prayer Shawl Ministry also donates prayer shawls and afghans to the Hospice House; they normally give about ten at a time. The group is often blessed with thank you notes of appreciation from patients or their family members. They have even received photographs of some patients wrapped in their afghans. The ministry feels enormously privileged to help.

“It’s a blessing for us as much as it is for them,” Iris states.

Iris feels that the joy and fulfillment experienced when giving to such beneficial causes is a blessing in itself.

“I mean, the uplifting of spirit, of mind and of body…it’s all there,” she reveals.

Looking ahead, Iris aspires to donate to even more noteworthy causes—those sure to help others who are in need. She is also looking forward to the continued growth and success of the Prayer Shawl Ministry.

In some of her spare time, Iris likes needlepoint, cross-stitch, bowling and fitness walking. She really enjoys outdoor activities, especially yard work.

“I love working in the yard; I love being outside. I enjoy seeing what God has created. I like being close to what God has made—people and nature. He shows me things every once in a while that takes my breath away.” Iris recalls a breathtaking moment that she witnessed not long ago. In astonishment, she watched two splendidly exquisite golden eagles as they gracefully danced through the air together on a bright and beautiful day.

Iris Durrence is enjoying her life and the talents that she feels so privileged to possess. She is looking forward to a very bright future and “covering the world” with her beautiful gifts. Embodying such a kind, warm and welcoming nature, Iris likes being a wonderful blessing to others. She feels that she, too, has been abundantly blessed throughout her life. She will continue to give all the credit to He Who deserves it.

In her own words, “God gave me yarn; it’s everything to me…I hope it’s everything to Him.”

Madison Grace Carter Singing Her Way to Nationals

Story By: Karlee Anderson

Photography By: Tonya Perry

Did you know Maddison can sing?” a piano teacher asked Misty Sapp one day as her four year old daughter was finishing a lesson. “She has perfect pitch,” the teacher explained and began to unwrap the beautiful gift that Maddison Grace Carter had been given. “She started playing little keys on the piano and she had Madi sing,” Misty shares. “I was blown away.” Soon Madi began to sing for others. Through her singing ministry in church, she was led to sing in the statewide Fine Arts competition for the Assemblies of God Association. Out of the thousands of kids who were there to share their talents, eleven year old Madi won Superior in her age group. She is now preparing to go to the national competition in Anaheim, California this August.

Madi’s singing journey started in a fun-filled piano lesson and has progressed to an exciting competitive opportunity. There was a journey in between that grew her natural abilities into something extraordinary. Madi started to follow her singing mother’s footsteps, and at the age of six, she joined in a concert with her mother’s gospel group, Joyful Noise.

That first performance occurred at a Memorial Day concert, and the event led her to singing more and more in her home church, Maranatha Assemblies of God. Her experience in church has strengthened her confidence during her performances. “When I first get on stage, I’m nervous, but as I start moving around and singing, the nerves go away,” Madi says.

Altogether, Madi has participated in three singing competitions. At eight years old, she tried competing for the first time in an Effingham Idol event. “I was the only kid there and actually got third place,” she says. A third grader going up against a crowd of adults is a big deal, but Madi had a lot of support from family and friends. “All my third grade teachers came,” she shares. She even received some support from strangers. Because she did not win first prize, Madi was upset, but a kind lady decided to give a bit of encouragement to keep Madi’s spirits up regarding her beautiful singing voice. Misty shares, “The lady caught Madi in the bathroom, and handed her a hundred dollar bill.” From that point on, Madi had the attitude of “why not sing.”

Her youth pastor was the one that suggested that Madi do the Fine Arts competition and helped her to get signed up. This step started an adventure of practice. She began preparing with her mom and youth pastor as her coaches. “Before I went to perform, we did exercises like with my lips and my throat and mouth,” Madi explains. After working on vocal skills, the decision on what song to perform had to be made. Misty and Madi had a specific song in mind, but after a certain Sunday morning song service, Madi’s youth pastor strongly suggested a different song selection. She said, “That’s the song she’s gotta sing. We have to change her song.” Madi traveled to Columbus, Ga and performed “Jesus Loves Me” by the Gaither Vocal Band.

After her success at Fine Arts, many college recruiters approached Madi and began to question her future plans. Misty had to inform them that college was not quite the next step for Madi because she was only in sixth grade. “They thought I was older,” Madi laughs. Now, Madi and Misty are beginning to prepare for nationals. While awaiting the schedule for the big event, Madi continues to use her voice every chance she’s given.

Whenever the opportunity arises, Madi is ready to share her talent with others.

She recently sang during the intermission of the Effingham County Middle School pageant. “She got to sing in front of all of her friends,” Misty shares. For Madi, this was a little more “nerve wracking” than singing in the comfort of her own church home, but she did not let that stop her from sharing. “I like singing for my friends cause when I sing they’re all like, ‘Go, Madi, go!’” she says. Her friends don’t have to wait for a big performance though. Madi says that she has been asked to sing on bus rides during field trips. She uses her talent to bring joy in many opportunities.

Of all of her supporters, Madi credits her mom as the most influential person in her singing. “Mom is a singer,” she says. “If I have problems pronouncing my words or getting the right key, Mom helps me.” She is thankful for the leadership of her mother, and their close bond is heartwarming. In addition to her mother’s singing, Madi says that her entire family is musical. Her stepdad adds harmonies to her singing. “I’m the middle child and only girl,” she shares, and her brothers are musical as well. Nineteen year old, Brian, is on the road to becoming a rock star according to his mom, and Madi agrees that he is talented enough to get there. Seven year old, Noah, is experimenting with playing the drums and making some beautiful racket in the process. Misty says, “Music is pretty much what we do. We sing in church together quite often.” They are a family that, like Misty’s group name, wants to make a “joyful noise.”

In addition to the singing talent and love, Madi has many other activities that she enjoys. She lists Monopoly, Pie in the Face, and Uno as some of her favorite games. She has enjoyed playing softball with the recreation department for a few seasons, and she enjoys her connections classes at school where she can learn something a little different than her regular academics. She also enjoys working with children. “I love kids,” she says. “When I grow up, I want to be a pediatrician.” With a vocal talent like Madi has, her future dreams sometimes surprise people. She jokes, “I always say I’m going to be a doctor by day, singer by night.” In reality, she feels that singing is a gift, but it’s not everything. “I mean I could wake up tomorrow and not have a voice anymore,” Madi says. “I guess it just depends on where I’m at in life, whether I want to pursue it or not.” Even with a national competition on the horizon with a potential full ride music scholarship, Madi’s attitude is humble, and she says of her singing, “It’s one of my hobbies.”

Her mature, relaxed and wise attitude toward her future can be credited to her Godly upbringing in a home that is committed to serving God. Misty says, “I think it’s important that people know that we are doing this focused on our faith in God. That plays a pretty important role in our music and our family.” For Misty, Madi’s singing and the talents of her two sons are a blessing from God. “I want to teach my kids that that’s the most important thing,” she says. “I want them to grow up in a house knowing that our lives are centered on God and what’s best for them through Him…whether it be a pediatrician or singing or whatever.” Right now, He is taking little Madi on an exciting musical adventure, and she and her family are thrilled to follow Him through it.

AL LEVEY Leather Connoisseur

Story By: Cindy Burbage

Photography By: Shelia Scott

Art can be described as the expression of skillful creativity.  Craftsmen use their talent to illustrate the splendor of their creation.  Just as beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder.  Tucked away in rural Effingham County is a secret treasure that most are not aware is there.  With today’s technology and the world in a state of instant gratification, true artistry and hand crafted intricate details will soon be a trade of yesterday.

Meet Effingham resident and local leather expert, Al Levey. He and his wife, Sue, relocated their lives from Arizona to Georgia just under two years ago to be closer to their family living in Guyton. In Arizona, the Leveys owned and operated a horse ranch in the middle of town for over half of their lives.
The admiration of horses came at an early stage for Mr. Levey. At the young age of 15 years old, Al Levey was introduced to horses. “I was invited to a girl’s birthday party. Her mother took ten of us to the Illinois Forest where she rented us horses. I had never been on a horse before. That was it!” he remembered. From that moment on, the amateur horseman developed a passion for the majestic animals. Over the many years, Al’s love and respect for horses has evolved into a life changing adventure.

During his lifetime, Al has accomplished many aspects of equine sports.  In the 1983-1984 Olympics, he evented up to the Olympic level in cross country. “When I went out for the finals for the selection trial, the gentleman in charge critiqued everyone there when they were finished. There were 40 students that were out there trying to get on the team on different levels- intermediate, advanced, and junior. I was twice as old as everyone there. And he said the only reason he would not select me for the team was I was too old. He was trying to make the event for young people. Even though I was good enough for the Olympic team, I was told to stop because it was too dangerous.”

Cross country is not his only area of expertise for the equestrian. “I’ve done driving horses, riding horses, western, calf roping, mounted shooting and steer stopping. Everything you can do western, I’ve done. Everything you can do English, hunter, jumper and steeple chase. “I have done about everything you can do on a horse and I learned it from the ground up.”

Along with maintaining his ranch, Al also was the proprietor of a welding shop for more than forty years. “I knew it was time to retire, because radiators in cars went away; they are all plastic now. I put a note on my board that I was going to leave in 2000. On January 7 of 2000, I sold it to my employees,” he annotated.

At that point, he had a friend peak his interest in becoming a horse shoer. “Shoeing horses is the most lucrative thing you can do. There is very little expense and a lot of money on the other side. And that is why people do it. My friends were making a quarter of a million dollars shoeing horses. Yet they all smelled bad and had bad backs,” Al giggled. His friend began to teach Al how to complete this task. “Bend over, put your feet like this, and I said, I can’t, my back is shot and I can’t bend over,” he shared. “So I said well, the next best thing, I’ve made jumps for horses in the big shows and stuff. I’m going to try leather. I had a lady from Tandy give me about a half of dozen lessons and she told me where to go to learn how to make saddles. I went to three different saddle places that made them and only picked one. The others, I was better than them already and I didn’t even know how to make a saddle,” he chuckled. The instructor charged a fee of $50 an hour and Al proceeded to attend for three hours in a row, two nights a week until the saddle was complete.  Two weeks after finishing his first saddle in class, Al showed up at the instructor’s house with two different saddles and asked the teacher to critique his work. “He looked at them, turned them inside out, and said yeah I made these. These are mine, I’m not sure when, but they are mine. He showed me how the stitches were just perfect. And then he looked down at the top of the saddle. Saddle people will stamp their saddle with a cartouche, which is a leather stamp to know they are the maker and when it was done. He looked at the stamp and said, ‘that’s not my name.’ He then asked me when did I do this?  I said one last week and one this week. He then asked when was I taking his business and I responded that I will make my own business,” Al shared confidently. The artist then reminded his professor that he was there to learn how to make saddles and that is just what he did. He had a purpose.

Over the years, Al Levey has made over 60 saddles and more than 7,000 holsters. He got in on the ground floor of cowboy mounded shooting. “That’s when you ride a horse and you have two 45’s (guns) single action that shoot blanks. You shoot balloons throughout an obstacle course. It’s one of the largest games with horses. The world champion outlaw, Annie, got me started. I made a holster for her when the guy she had making hers couldn’t do what she wanted. The next thing I know, I’m starting three holsters a day, seven days a week.” Holsters and saddles is not where it all ends, he has an array of leather products including chaps, chinks, belts, cell phone holders, albums and bible covers to name a few. After moving to South Georgia, he admits that concealed weapon holders have been his biggest business.

Even though Mr. Levey finds great pride in his leather creations, that is not where the passion ends. He would love to teach others the secrets of leather and keep the artwork going.

Al Levey has lived a lifetime full of horses. From five World Championships in his various horse events to making horse saddles and other leather products. He is efficient in leather repairs as well. While in Arizona, he mended baseball gloves for a minor league baseball team. He is well rounded and is an expert in this field.

Al’s leather workshop is close to his home and heart. Upon entering his shop, you are greeted with that familiar fragrance of leather. The walls hold pictures of his beloved horses of yesterday. Along the shelves and tables are his exquisite leather works. Each one unique, each one made and designed for a particular person. All of the details on the leather is done free hand. No matter if it is a skull or a beautiful colorful hummingbird, each done perfectly by hand, Al’s hand. Many of the schemes are polished with bright vibrant colors. A must see!

He offers quick service on all western and English saddle repairs with very reasonable pricing. Custom unique leather tattoo carvings and saddle cleaning. If you are interested in learning this artistry or any of his leather goods, please contact Al Levey at levey1947@gmail.com or 912-921-9178.

Woodworker David Laumeyer: The Hobby That Heals

Story By: Katie Vandenhouten

Photography By: Tonya Perry

David Laumeyer never fancied himself a craftsman or woodworker. That is, until he picked up a drill and saw for the first time. Once he tried his hand at building, he was hooked. From fences to furniture, Laumeyer has excelled at his newfound hobby and has built some very special custom pieces for himself and for others in the community.

     He has built beds, desks, entertainment consoles, end tables, and even a beautiful kitchen island for his home. Even though he has only been crafting for two years, he has quite the knack for it.

When Laumeyer was stationed in Afghanistan, he suffered a traumatic brain and shoulder injury. Since he could no longer work out due to his injuries, he decided he’d take up woodworking as a hobby. He has been creating beautiful custom woodwork ever since.

“I had no experience at all in it, and so I thought this could be fun until I can get back to working out,” he recalls. “I never thought it could’ve taken off like it did.”

As it turns out, his unlikely hobby came into his life just when he needed it most. He had survived his deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan with non-life-threatening injuries, but the emotional and psychological stress of war became just as symptomatic as his physical injuries. Laumeyer was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

What started out as a hobby to replace working out became a way for Laumeyer to conquer his illness. “Once I started building, it became super therapeutic for my PTSD, so that’s why I continue doing it,” he explains. “I have a little shelter in the back yard-a carport that I built-and I can go out there for hours and, therapeutically, it’s what has helped me with my PTSD.”

“Being able to get outside that bubble and have my own area to just decompress and really let my creativity run wild is what I enjoy the most,” he adds. “It’s the therapy I get from it.”

His favorite part of making furniture is seeing how happy people are with the final product.  He once made a four poster bed and got to see a video of the owner seeing it for the first time; her reaction was priceless, and it really gave him the satisfaction of knowing his work had made someone so happy.

Christina Cocita was also a happy customer when Laumeyer created her custom coffee table. “I sent Dave a few pictures of what I was dreaming of for our coffee table, and within a few short weeks he delivered our beautiful custom made, real wood coffee table,” she says. “We couldn’t be more satisfied with the outcome and how it brought our living room together.”

He gets inspiration from websites and tries to replicate designer furniture with a rustic twist. He ultimately recreates high end furniture for a much lower price.

“I can do that a lot cheaper because I don’t have to go through a big company, so a lot of stuff I can recreate with cheaper wood, like pine versus maple, and save a lot more money that way,” he says.

His most treasured creation is the changing table he built for his new baby daughter, Ansley. “I probably put the most time into that, and it’s the first thing I built out of a solid oak,” he says. “It’s a little more pricey to build, but I took the time, and I was a little more tedious with it.”

His wife, Tiffany, agrees. “My favorite piece has to be the changing table he built for our new addition!” she says. “Having a child was difficult for us, so there’s a certain sentiment that is priceless.”

As a full-time college student, he doesn’t have as much time to build for others like he used to, but when he does, he does everything he can to save people money. “I try to make it more affordable for the person,” he adds.

As good as he is at woodworking, his ultimate passion is in the medical field.  As a medic in the army,  he found his passion for healthcare, and he plans to continue on that path. “I’m about to graduate nursing school in August and then I’m going to get my Master’s to be a Nurse Practitioner,” says Laumeyer.

He also wants to raise awareness for PTSD, and he wants to make it known that mental illness is a disease just like any other disease, and it should be taken seriously.

He urges anyone who thinks they have symptoms of PTSD to see a doctor and get help. “I got off active duty in 2014 and didn’t seek treatment until late 2016.  It’s the stigma of PTSD that, like many others, scared me from seeking help,” he says. “I’ve seen so many take their lives, both military and non-military, just because they didn’t seek help.”

During his first deployment, his team was hit with mortars, and his truck got hit with a grenade during the first day of missions, badly injuring a fellow soldier. “Second deployment, we lost six people in two helicopter crashes, and I was doing training on flight line when I suffered a TBI from a flying sheet of plywood,” Laumeyer recalls.

Even after seeing and experiencing such trauma, he still didn’t realize he was having symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder right away. But when his anxiety, fear, and hypervigilance started getting in the way of life, he realized he needed to talk to someone.

“I felt like there was a threat everywhere I went,” he explains. In addition to nightmares and anxiety, he developed a fear of crowds and felt a sense of danger everywhere he went, which finally lead him to seek help at the VA.

“I just dealt with it for a while like most people,” he recalls. “ A lot of people don’t really take the disease or the illness seriously.”  He thanks his wife for encouraging him to get help. “I owe my life to my wife who was a driving force behind me seeking treatment. Today I’m able to live a relatively normal lifestyle.”

He may have come back home with PTSD, but Laumeyer still feels blessed for the home he came back to: “It made me a much more humble person. A lot of people don’t realize how great, as Americans, even our people who are in poverty– how great they have it versus the average person over there.” He never takes a single day for granted.

He credits Nikki Bowers with teaching him about craftsmanship and helping him get materials, and he also thanks his wife for her continued love and support. He says he couldn’t have done it without them.

His new baby and studying are keeping him busy these days. He doesn’t have as much time for his woodworking as he used to, but he still plans to keep building as his favorite hobby.“I do plan to do it on the side to make extra money because I enjoy it,” he says.

Laumeyer’s motto in life comes from singer Jack Johnson, who says “don’t let your dreams be dreams.” It’s the motto he lives by to remind him to live every day to the fullest and go after what he wants. “It’s the signature in my email, and it’s something I’ve always lived by,” he says. “Do something you love every day for your job to not feel like it’s actually work. Not letting your dreams be dreams. Just going after it and making it a reality.”

Ultimately, that is exactly what David Laumeyer is doing: pursuing the career he loves, enjoying his family, creating beautiful woodwork, and winning his battle with PTSD. The fact that the hobby he loves happens to bring in extra money, well, that’s just a bonus.

Chandler Fritts Young Gun, Old Ways

Story By: David Pena

Photography By: Shelia Scott

Local country crooner Chandler Fritts would rather stick to his roots than follow the current musical crowd.


Musician Chandler Fritts has always been something of an anomaly. The recent Georgia Southern graduate says he doesn’t really listen to the radio much, preferring instead to listen to more “traditional” country music like Merle Haggard and George Jones. And with his easy, self-deprecating manner, he is quick to downplay his own abilities, opting to let his music speak for itself. Ah, if that attitude could only be bottled and sold to today’s artists. And although Fritts is not a huge fan of any of today’s country crooners, he feels that all artists should have the same basic goal in mind: to convey a genuine emotion to the listener. “Music has always been about ‘feel’ to me. A musician should try to convey to the audience exactly how they feel, while at the same time trying to evoke the same feelings in them,” says Fritts. “All the songs I play are true to who I am; that’s why I picked them to begin with. The first time I heard (each song), they had an immediate impact on me. That’s what I’m about, and that’s what I want my audience to experience with me.”

Aside from attending GSU in Statesboro, the twenty-three-year-old musician has always called Rincon his home and remembers getting bitten by the musical bug quite early in life. “As long as I can remember, I’ve always been musically inclined,” Fritts recalls. “I started out playing percussion in my middle school band and just went on to a full drum set from there. I practiced every chance I could at home.” Being more of an athlete, however, Fritts soon abandoned the drums for the grid iron. “After about the eighth grade, I really didn’t have too much time to play (drums) since I started playing a lot of sports in high school. Once he graduated, however, Fritts had something of a musical epiphany. “After I finished high school, I pretty much decided out of nowhere that I wanted to learn to play the guitar,” he says with a laugh. So he bought his first guitar before leaving Rincon to attend the University of North Georgia in Athens.

Despite the new and exciting change of scenery, the move to Athens actually helped Fritts as a musician. “There wasn’t much to do there, so I ended up playing a lot of guitar on my own. I’ve never needed any kind of music lessons because once I figured out the chords, I picked the guitar up pretty quickly. In fact, I started playing complete songs about three or four months after starting to play, and it just progressed from there.”

After playing guitar for only about six months, Fritts started to also develop his voice, so it was only a matter of time before he could play and sing songs well enough to perform for others. When he started developing his repertoire, Fritts didn’t have to look far to find musical selections that reflected both his taste and style; all he really had to do was break out the family record collection. “My parents and my grandparents really influenced me in terms of the music I listen to, especially my Papa. I know it’s kind of strange, but I really don’t listen to the radio. That’s because I grew up loving traditional country music with folks like Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings,” he explains. “But at my gigs I’ll throw in the occasional Alan Jackson song for good measure.”

After changing his major from agriculture to business, Fritts decided to attend Georgia Southern University, which was also closer to home. It was actually upon moving back that he started taking his music a bit more seriously.  “At first I did a few open mics before opening for local groups around Statesboro. I really just wanted to get my name out there. But beginning in my sophomore year (2013), I started playing professionally at venues like Retrievers Sports Bar, where I played my first real gig.” Despite having the butterflies that night, the young singer quickly knew he had found a calling once his first song was underway. “I got up there in front of my friends, which made it a bit easier. However, once I started playing the first song, I just felt a giant release of all my nerves. That’s when I knew that I was meant to do this. Soon I moved on to places like the Millhouse and RumRunner’s, where the audience response was amazing.”

About a year into his musical career, Fritts got involved with William Bridwell of Airbound Entertainment. That’s when he says his number of bookings increased dramatically. “I was playing three or four shows a week. After a while, it was a bit much, and I actually had to turn down gigs.” Although the number of gigs might have decreased, Fritts found himself playing to bigger audiences in more upscale venues. This culminated with an opening slot for national recording artist Corey Smith at South City Tavern in Statesboro. Around that time Fritts joined forces with guitarist Riley Lowery, who’d just returned from Nashville where he had been working steadily as a lead guitarist. “He’s such a fantastic musician and has become a really good friend. I was really lucky to get him,” Fritts says.

The pair played as a duo for few months until they picked up a drummer, then finally hired a bassist to round out their sound. The band played its first show during the opening week of school in 2016 to rave reviews. And although Fritts says he prefers performing with a band, there’s a new kind of pressure that accompanies making music with others. “It’s kind of unsettling because there’s so many moving parts within a band. Plus the band is named after me, so I want it to go well. I feel I’m responsible for anything that goes wrong, but it doesn’t help that I’m probably the weakest musician in the band by far,” he says with a laugh. Despite all the “moving parts,” he loves the reaction from the audience that only a band can evoke. “The crowds are usually more into the music, and you actually don’t work quite as hard being part of a band as opposed to being a soloist. You do a lot less singing and with all the camaraderie, it’s definitely way more fun playing with the guys.”

Lately, however, it’s not been all about picking and grinning for Fritts. The recent college grad will soon be working for Colonial Fuel and Lubricant Services in their management training program. “Even during my last semester of school, I had to pull back on the reins a bit. I didn’t really play nearly as many shows as I had in previous years. At this point, I’ll probably stick to weekend gigs and staying closer to home doing shows primarily in Statesboro and Savannah. I just do it for fun now,” he says. But although he now considers himself to be a part-time musician, Fritts is quick to point out that his passion for music has not subsided; he just prefers to be a realist about his music. “The biggest thing I’ve realized sadly is that the kind of music that I play doesn’t make the radio anymore, and I’m not really willing to change in order to be commercially successful. I’d rather stick to my roots and play music I love for people than become part of the (music industry) machine.”

With that said, Fritts is quick to point out that even though his musical schedule is a bit more limited at the moment, he’s not ruling anything out. He has the familial and financial support to take it to the next level. “My family has been super supportive of my music. They helped me get all my guitars, so they’ve been fundamental in everything. I couldn’t have done it without them.” In fact, when Fritts was thinking about going to Nashville, he said his folks were surprisingly positive about the move. “They said if it was something that I wanted to do, and my hang up was money, then they would do what they had to do to make that happen.”

Whether he’s playing a show at the Millhouse in Statesboro or the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Fritts is grounded in the fact that his purpose will remain true. “As an artist, I’m trying to evoke some really strong emotions from the audience. I love the fact that people can go to a concert and just forget about anything that’s negative in their lives, even if it’s just a couple of hours. They can feel good about life or themselves for that brief amount of time. The best songs are either going to make you smile, make you laugh, or make you cry. If you’re not doing that (as an artist), then you’re not really experiencing what music is all about.”

108 Ale House: “Kind of a Family Thing”

story by cindy burbage

photos by shelia scott

Comfort food traditionally is described as having a flair to produce nostalgic charm. It is prepared with ingredients such as hard work, great memories and most of all compassion for just great food. Nestled on Wisenbaker Road, just off Highway 21, is one of Rincon’s newest restaurants- 108 Ale House.

This establishment has been open for a little more than a year, however, New Jersey natives, sisters and owners Lizzie Keith and Kelly Douglas are no strangers to the restaurant business. Food and service have always been a major dynamic in their family. Their parents have owned and operated a few restaurants throughout the sisters growing up process. “Our Dad, Walter Keith, came back from out west for a quick little visit and was like hey let’s do it. I’m tired of seeing you guys do this for other people. You might as well do it for yourselves. So, he helped us get it started and stuck with us for a few months,” Kelly shared. “We still get a lot of help from our other sister, Kathleen Brian, Kelly’s husband, Jason Douglas, and our Mom, Patrica Keith,” Lizzie added.

The 108 Ale House menu gives their customers an array of appetizing dishes to choose from. From their hand patted Bangin Burgers and Specialty Burgers to their other mouthwatering sandwiches. The 108 sandwich is a popular local favorite version of the French Dip, and according to their menu: “Trust Me it’s Worth it!!!” Their Rueben, a family recipe, is a monstrosity of a sandwich. But choices do not stop there, they also offer quite a few different platters which include steak and seafood. And no meal is complete without a yummy dessert.

Like craft beer? No reason to travel to Pooler or Savanah, the 108 Ale House establishment offers an amazing selection of craft beer. “This was our main focus, we wanted to bring craft beer into Effingham County,” Lizzie admitted.  “We have a great happy hour”, Kelly offered. A few of the names include: Bold Rock Hard Cider, UFO White Wheat, Inshoreslam IPA, Hi-Wire Brown Ale, Pontoon No Pants Pilsner and Savannah Brown Ale.  Be sure to like their Facebook page for updates of their draft line up.

“We are just a small place with real food trying to keep it simple. We work hard and try to keep everyone happy”, Lizzie shares.

What is the secret to their success? 108 Ale House is a family style restaurant that has something to offer everyone. Yet, it is the behind the scenes actions that is the major contributor to this fantastic establishment. Lizzie and Kelly are hands on owners and are dedicated to all aspects of their business. “We have a really good staff that helps us out; I think because they see how hard we work,” Lizzie clarified. “We are always here, there is never a time one of us is not here,” she continued.

Over the past year, 108 Ale House has quickly become a household name. Within their short time of being open, they have been voted best burger and best wings in Effingham County; also have won the hearts and appetites of their patrons. This restaurant creates the atmosphere of home, with delightful aromas and tasty food.

Be sure to check out their daily specials which include oldies but goodies such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes, but also new favorites as a Fiesta burger that is snuggled in between two quesadillas with all the fixings.  “Fresh food, good portions, good price; it’s where you can go with friends or you can also bring your kids,” Lizzie explains. “We’re pretty serious about our food,” Kelly concluded.