Homecoming: Officer return is center of 1st Founders Day
May 18, 2003

HANCEVILLE - Leaning on his rolling walker, Chris Anderson took a few measured steps toward his fellow police officers standing in front of city hall. He turned to face the hopeful faces of the people of his town and basked in the beaming smiles that were reflections of his own.

It was his first day home. The young Hanceville reserve police officer has gone through months of rehabilitation therapy at UAB hospital following a gunshot wound that left a bullet lodged in his spine. Doctors had not been certain that he would ever walk again, so his halting steps were greeted like a gift from God by the people of Hanceville. Chauffeured to city hall in a police cruiser, Anderson was the star of the show at the first annual Hanceville Founders Day, which also celebrated Armed Forces Day on Saturday.

Anderson was shot twice on Jan. 31 when he attempted to investigate a suspicious vehicle on Stout's Mountain Road. The subsequent midnight manhunt - involving 40 police officers and resources from many area law enforcement agencies - resulted in the capture and arrest of the shooter. For Anderson, the life-changing incident meant months of recovery and rehabilitation. But Saturday, he could talk only of the joy of homecoming.

"It feels great to be back," he said. "I've been coming home on weekends, but I'm home for good, now. I start therapy Monday at CRMC (Cullman Regional Medical Center) five days a week."

Agreeing that he was lucky to be alive, considering the injury to his spine, he said, "I don't know how that bullet stopped from going all the way through. God had a big role in that."

His therapist told him she wouldn't have expected him to come as far in six months of rehab as he has in two months, he said. He plans to "just go to therapy and try to get through that," he said. Then he will go back to work at Pepsi-Cola, Morgan Oil Co. or the Cullman Police Department - all three have offered him a job, he said, adding that he'll probably stay with Pepsi, his full-time employer before the shooting.

"I would like to thank the people of Hancevile and the police department for all they have done for my first day home, the event they put on for me and all their prayers," he said.

"It's an honor to welcome him home today," Hanceville Police Chief Ed Potter told the crowd. "It's Founders Day for the town, but for the police department, it's Chris coming home where he needs to be.

"He's a great guy who was hurt in the line of duty," Potter said, with a quaver in his voice. "I've known a lot of officers who were hurt and killed in this job. It's a real sentimental time for me, because I've been in this job so long."

Anderson's fellow officer, Capt. Steve Conner, said he could empathize with the wounded policeman because of an experience which put him in the same bed Anderson used at UAB. Conner suffered a near-fatal accident while en route to a traffic fatality on April 24, 2002. He sustained multiple injuries in the crash, including a punctured lung, ruptured spleen, multiple fractures and neck and spinal cord injuries. He still has steel pins in one hip and pins holding his pelvis together. But on Saturday, he was walking tall.

Like Anderson, Conner attributed his recovery to "the good Lord, the people of Hanceville and my family, especially." He is back on active duty "doing what I can; if I can help, I help," Conner said. "I have good days and bad days, but more good than bad."

The town's first annual Founders Day was spearheaded by Betty Dover and organized by the local merchants' association and the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce's Hanceville Business Development Committee. The day-long event featured a tractor show, pony and carriage rides, arts and crafts, a dunking booth, cake walk and horseshoe toss.

Early settlers came to the Hanceville area in 1820 and operated grist mills. The town was established in 1872 and incorporated in May, 1879, as "Gilmer." When the first postmaster, P.H. Kinney, learned there was already a Gilmer, Ala., he changed the name to honor his father, Hance Kinney.

City Councilwoman Joann Walls said she thought the Founders Day idea was "wonderful, because Hanceville has a history that goes back farther than Cullman's, actually. This is something we've needed to do, and I hope it will grow."

Chamber of Commerce Director Alan Arnett said the initial benefit of holding such an event is exposure. People will drive through, see the American flags lining the streets and the decorated storefronts, and say, "What a neat place," Arnett said. "Getting people to realize what's here in Hanceville will encourage them to come back to shop and see tourist attractions. People from other places may decide they want to live here."

It's a good thing for communities to strut their stuff, he believes, noting, "It's good for community spirit and community involvement. I have to commend the members of the committee for everything they've done to get this organized."

Todays News Headlines
Homecoming: Officer return is center of 1st Founders Day - (May 18, 2003)
Classes of 2003 graduate - (May 17, 2003)
Commissioners reluctant to match up local hospitals - (May 16, 2003)
Final curtain?: Extras no longer to be funded by city schools - (May 15, 2003)
Go Ruben: 256 rooting for the man from the 205 - (May 14, 2003)
City property tax voted down: Defeat comes as blow to supporters - (May 14, 2003)
Both sides of tax issue rally up last minute - (May 13, 2003)

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