It has been a year of small victories.
After unprecedented changes forever altered life in the year that preceded it, 2021 marked a gradual return to somewhat normal for Columbia and greater southern Middle Tennessee.
As the community recognized those lost to the virus, the year began with new hope as Maury Regional Medical Center distributed vaccinations to those most vulnerable to coronavirus.
“I am really happy to get it,” said retired teacher Mary Madeo, 75, as she waited in her car to receive the vaccine at a drive-thru event hosted by Columbia State Community College earlier this year. “I am glad to start on the new year.”
Following the civil injustices sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, the community took a step forward to ensure that Columbia’s own history of violence against Black Americans would not be forgotten.
Community leaders announced the formation of the Columbia Peace & Justice Initiative.
The undertaking establishes a united voice against racism and division and stands to serve as a model for the community’s future generations, the organization’s leaders say.
“It is founded to protect that history and make sure that history is taught in a way that brings about unity in Columbia,” Trent Ogilvie, a local pastor and one of the initiative’s founding members told The Daily Herald. “We want to make sure the history of African Americans is not forgotten. We are not trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong. We are trying to do the right thing and build a community that is best for everyone.”
The city also recognized the 75th anniversary of a social uprising in the Bottom, or East 8th Avenue, that paved the way for the Civil Rights movement. In 1946, an altercation over a broken radio between a Black U.S. military veteran and his mother and a white store owner sparked a court case that rocked the nation and brought awareness to civil rights.
More: How a dispute over a broken radio launched a civil rights movement
More: Display of flags honors Maury County residents lost to COVID-19
More: Drive-thru vaccinations bring relief to at-risk Maury County residents
More: ‘A game changer’: Maury County superintendent says vaccine to help with staffing shortage
Members of the community continued to plan a spring celebration for the community — an alternative to the second cancellation of region’s largest gathering Mule Day.
The alternative was supported by the county mayor as organizers of the longtime event shared concern that the alternative could negatively impact the tradition’s legacy.
When the summer months arrived, MuleFest became one of the most well-attended gatherings in Columbia in recent history, drawing a crowd of almost 30,000. It also also one of the state’s first major gatherings in the new year. The weekend celebration that culminated in a parade through downtown Columbia was preceded by a performance from country music star Trace Adkins.
More: Mule Day organizers, community group tussle over event’s moniker
More: A turning point: Columbia’s MuleFest starts new chapter in Middle Tennessee celebrations
The community then then watched as another notch was etched in its ongoing transformation with the closure of McDowell Elementary School. As the school year came to an end, the downtown public school campus with more than a 100-year legacy was permanently closed after its students rang its historic school bell for the very last time.
“I am at the end of this road, and I don’t want it to end. My heart does not want to say goodbye,” said Rose Ogilvie-McClain as she walked through the historic campus. Within its halls she became the first student to integrate the county’s public school district.
More: ‘A bright star’: Columbia says farewell to 138-year-old McDowell Elementary School
More: How to say goodbye: McDowell student who led integration in Maury County returns to closing campus
All the while Maury County, on the heels of announcing the state’s largest single investment in history the year prior, announced it would see that project double with the confirmation of a $2.3 billion plan to build a new manufacturing facility producing batteries for electric vehicles at the General Motors Spring Hill plant.
“This partnership with LG and General Motors really transforms Tennessee, in my humble opinion, as the place to be,” Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles said. “We’re open for business, and this plants a flag right here in the middle of the state.”
The momentum continued as the county was named the state’s fastest-growing county in the 2020 U.S. Census, marking a new peak for the region as the economy and home prices soar.
According to local leaders, people are moving to Maury County in droves because of the manufacturing industry, low taxes, home prices, rural open spaces and strong values.
More: ‘Secret’s out’: How Maury County became the fastest growing county in Tennessee
“We are located in Nashville’s Metropolitan Statistical Area, which plays a role in attracting businesses,” said Wil Evans, president of Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance. “We are close to a major city and an hour from the international airport. But we have more affordable options here and great local amenities.”
From 2014 to fall 2021, Maury County had attracted 37 economic projects, bringing over 6,400 jobs and $5.5 billion in capital investments. Of those investments, almost $4.3 billion has been generated in just the past 18 months.
Seven new economic projects were announced in Maury County around 2020, bringing 2,373 jobs and creating $4.23 billion in capital investments, Evans shared.
As the community celebrated its new height in economic progress, tragedy stuck as the greater Middle Tennessee community was ravaged by severe floods including neighboring Hickman County.
Amid the disaster the community, rallied and gathered support for those displaced by the devastating floods to the point that representatives of the Hickman County Emergency Management said they could no longer accept additional supplies.
“Thank God we have this problem,” said Jim Tanner, the director of Hickman County Emergency Management.
More: ‘Life goes on’: Pinewood community reflects as flooding cleanup moves forward
Children ride in the Columbia Main Street Christmas Parade travel down West 7th Street in Columbia, Tenn., on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
As the year comes to a close, the community saw the return of the Main Street Christmas Parade and downtown tree lighting.
A crowd of 20,000 spectators watched as 74 parade entrants marched in the city’s holiday parade for the first time since 2019 when coronavirus led organizers to cancel the event for the first time in its more than 30-year history
“We are thrilled with the success of this year’s parade combined with the tree lighting,” said Kellye Murphy, Columbia’s Tourism & Marketing Director.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn speaks at the Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance’s education lunch held at Puckett’s Restaurant & Grocery in Columbia, Tenn., on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
The celebrations will continue into the new year as the city prepares to host its downtown New Year’s Eve Mule Drop. A celebration with a countdown to midnight, fireworks and confetti cannons and food trucks and other vendors to celebrate the hours leading up to the new year.
During these past 12 months, our team at The Daily Herald has remained dedicated to bringing you these stories with the ultimate goal of celebrating the successes of your neighbors and keeping a watchful eye on those in leadership.
It is a responsibility that we first took on 173 years ago with the very first edition of the publication.
As we head into the new year, we thank you for reading and continuing to supporting the work we do.
Reach Mike Christen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeChristenCDH and on Instagram at @michaelmarco. Please consider supporting his work and that of other Daily Herald journalists by subscribing to the publication.
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