Shelby County's Fabulous 5 for 2012

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The Sentinel-News since 2008 has honored at year’s end five Shelby Countians we think have had a significant impact on our community during this year. Again this year, we asked for your nominations on our Facebook page, and we believe each person selected for what we call Shelby County’s Fabulous 5 has in his or her own way left an imprint that merits our honoring and emulating, represents a broad spectrum of a diverse society and truly form the best of our best.

Tony Carriss


Magistrate, community leader

Many in the county know Tony Carriss, a lifelong Shelby Countian, as the longtime magistrate of District 6, which encompasses Waddy and Mount Eden along with much of the southeastern portion of the county.

Many recognize Carriss as leader in the county, for instance his willingness to step up and organize some informational meetings about the late-November and early-December animal attacks in the Waddy area. Most also know him as a big sports fan and memorabilia collector.

But Carriss also has a soft heart and is willing to rally support when a member of the community needs help.

This year, Carriss spearheaded a committee at his church, First Christian, to acquire a new wheelchair-accessible van for Margaret Hall and her son, Glenn, who was born with a rare chromosomal disease that has left him resigned to a wheelchair.

For several months, Carriss, along with the help of Shelby County Community Charities, organized 18 fundraising events, and more than $40,000 later, he was there to present the Halls with their new van.

But that was not the end for Carriss.

He secured a year’s worth of insurance and $1,000 in gasoline for Hall and her son.

“It has been a labor of love to see how supportive our community is for truly worthy projects,” Carrisssaid. “We are blessed to live in a community that is so caring. There are so many caring people involved, and they each played a critical role in our success.”


Jessica Carter

‘A Place to Sleep’ creator


As a 9-year-old, Jessica Carter saw the movie The Blind Side and couldn’t believe that football star Michael Oher grew up without a place to sleep.

So that year she decided to get involved with helping children who don’t have beds find them by donating a bed to a child in need. Working with the family resource officer at her school, Painted Stone Elementary, Carter identified that first child.

And since then she has continued to find more and more children to help.

Carter first got her church, First Presbyterian, involved and then moved on to local businesses, working with Tracy’s Home Furnishings and the Shelby Merchant Association of Retail Trade, and she even has worked with a family resource center to receive a grant.

But the majority of the beds have come from the donations from friends, family and church members.

And at about $250 per bed – which includes a bunk bed, mattress and bed clothing – that means a lot of donations.

This past October, former Gov. and Shelby County native Martha Layne Collins visited Carter to name her a Commonwealth Ambassador. And Jessica, now 13, the daughter of Marlee and Jason Collins, celebrated like any 13-year-old would, with a party.

But instead of simply celebrating her own efforts, Carter had a party to celebrate the work being done by her mission, A Place to Sleep. Many of the more than 100 people in attendance brought bedding and pillows to donate, as a thank you to the friends, family and community volunteers who have helped Carter’s mission become a success.



Betty Jean Chatham

Virtuoso musician


Betty Jean Chatham retired in October after brightening and enriching the lives of Shelby Countians through music for 60 years.

Her farewell concert at First Baptist Church, where she played piano, included two performances to a packed house, something that touched her very much, she said.

“I was just stunned that so many came,” she said.

Chatham, a gifted and much-loved piano teacher, had a distinguished musical career that included some milestone achievements, such as establishing numerous choirs at churches and schools for both children and adults, as well as her choir for teens and young adults, the Life Singers Choir, that spanned two decades in the 1970s and ‘80s. Chatham is known far beyond the boundaries of Shelby County, for her talent as an accomplished pianist, having performed hundreds of concerts around the world in both secular and non-secular music, including touring the United States with the Life Singers.

Chatham said her dedication to bringing the gift of music to both her community and the world springs from her desire that everyone should benefit from the joy that music can bring to one’s life.

“Music is a wonderful healer,” she said. “It knows no language, and it has the ability to make peace and beauty. All art forms are important, and when they’re pure, the way they’re meant to be, they are a great asset to the human race.”

Chatham said she has enjoyed all aspects of her career, which also included a lot of interaction with the community theater and the school system, doing musicals and other types of performances.

“It was such a joy for me to work with so many talented young people who were trying to bring something good into their lives,” she said.


Clay Cottongim

Parks director


For nearly four decades Clay Cottongim presided over Shelbyville/Shelby County Parks and Recreation, and for the majority of that time he was much more than just the leader – he was the parks system.

Cottongim, who grew up in Shelby County, graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 1977 with a degree in parks and recreation administration and came on board in Shelby County in 1978 as the parks director. At that time there were only a few basketball courts and baseball fields. And even Clear Creek Park was just a shell of itself.

“When I started here, all we had was three baseball fields, and everything that you see today has come about since I’ve been here,” he said.

Cottongim was faced with the challenge of changing the idea of what people thought the parks system should be.

And Cottongim never looked back. He has added Red Orchard Park, which was donated to the parks system by Clarence Miller and has been turned into an educational center, and Shelby Trails, an almost 400-acre park at Todds Point, donated by Roger and Diane Shott, that boasts riding trails and an equestrian center.

With more than 812 acres under the parks umbrella, the system has become so much more than just a few ball fields.

But now, at 58, Cottongim is retiring, perhaps looking to rest under the many shade trees he helped preserve in those parks, and he said he hopes the original mission doesn’t stop.

“The number one priority to me would be to acquire more land adjacent to Clear Creek Park for more expansion of the athletic fields, softball, baseball and even football and lacrosse, and to expand Clear Creek Park because it's so centrally located,” he said.


James Neihof

Schools superintendent


As the leader of the county’s largest employer, Shelby Count Public Schools Superintendent James Neihof is almost squarely in the middle of the public’s bull’s-eye.

However, he hasn’t let that stop him from doing what he believes is in the best interest of his students and fighting for district’s best interests as well.

The year started with the removal of the multipurpose field at Collins High School, which Neihof and the school board have been pursuing for more than two years. The district believes that poor installation caused defaults that kept students from using the field in 2011. However, instead of immediately pointing fingers, Neihof worked with the contractors to get the field repaired for the 2012-13 school year. Late this fall – as the Titans’ soccer and football teams secured successful seasons on their home turf – the process moved on to mediation with the contractors, as he continues to fight for the district.

He and the board then turned their attentions to a bleak budget forecast as the state continues to cut funding to local districts.

While the county’s number of students continues to grow, Neihof and the administration are charged with continuing to trim funds from everywhere possible. For the 2012-13 school he instituted a furlough week in December for administration, cutting four days out of district and principal pay. That week is expected, along with energy savings, to generate enough to cover the cost of one teacher.

He also urged the board for a 2.6 percent tax increase. That was an unpopular request, but with a plan laid out to increase teacher development and use the funds to cover state cuts, it was approved.

Not all of Neihof’s efforts have been tough decisions. He has been at the helm for the introduction of the Accelerated Academy and the introduction of the new state standards and accountability testing system.

As more and more cuts are made and the district and student responsibilities continue to grow, Neihof has shown that he is willing to fight for what he believes are the right decisions for student growth.

Other nominees

We couldn’t pick everyone, but you nominated these others as possibilities for Shelby’s Fabulous Five 2012:

  • Lee Bean
  • Shawn Doty
  • Jamie James
  • Carlen Pippen
  • Bonnie Roberts
  • Ashley Shelburne
  • Gary Walls