Hollie is the mayor of Montevallo and a professor of special education. She moved here from Texas 16 years ago to teach at the university and start her family.
The culture of the town
"One of the taglines that emanated from a planning session we had years ago was “college culture, country charm.” Most recently, we’ve used the tagline that we’re an unconventional oasis. That spurred off the university’s unconventional wisdom tagline. Another is 'we are intentionally Montevallo'. The best way we could describe ourselves is as this great cross-section. We’re in a state where you see a lot of people who are very conservative and may not be supportive of different populations. As an example, the supreme court has approved gay marriages in the United States. Well, Alabama had a lot of push-back, and there’s been a lot of roadblocks for gay individuals who want to get married. We don’t see those kind of roadblocks in the city of Montevallo. We are supportive of everyone- we have a lot of gay couples in town, they have children, we’re all friends, and I think people feel safe. If I had to describe Montevallo, I would describe it as a safe place. It’s safe in terms of crime, but also socially. People are safe to express their opinions, people are safe to walk around at night, and people are safe to be who they are, which is what I love about this city."
"I’ve seen it change a lot. When I moved here, I was told that we’re a sleepy little town and we are what we are. The governance at the time didn’t want to see a lot of change. I was surprised when we got here that we didn't have recycling. Texas has an amazing recycling program, and I thought maybe I could get on city council and try to influence the town to get a recycling program. I got connected with Dr. Jill Wicknick and her students, and they created this amazing recycling program on campus. Between Dr. Wicknick and the students on campus, we were able to develop a recycling program in the city as well.
That’s just one example of how this city has changed- I think I’ve seen this town become more forward thinking and progressive over the the time I’ve been here. There’s more of a focus on sustainability initiatives and a greater bridge between the town/gown divide, which is nice. You see a lot more interaction between the university and the city. We’ve developed an organization called the MDCD [Montevallo Development Cooperative District], which is a partnership between the city, the university, and the county to develop different economic initiatives in order to help the city progress. For example, UMOM [the University of Montevallo on Main Street, a university building] is an MDCD initiative. From that, we get about 1,000 students on Main Street every week. Those students now know we have a main street, whereas in the past, the students appeared to be more isolated."
The Arts in Montevallo
"I am 100% committed to the arts. In fact, my main focuses have been the arts, education, the environment, and utilizing those three in order to further support our economic development. My husband is an artist, so I love the idea that we now have Montevallo ArtsFest. We didn’t have that when I first got here; that started in 2006 from grassroots efforts. That has spurred on a lot of other things, like the ArtWalk, for example. A colleague and I went to Fairhope ArtWalk and said, ‘we’ve got to have this in Montevallo,’ so we came back and talked to the right people. We formed the ArtWalk posse- we didn’t want to be a committee, so we were the ArtWalk posse- and from that, we were able to start the ArtWalk in 2011. It’s been huge, and people now associate Montevallo with the ArtWalk. It’s another way to bring people together; not only have we been able to feature the arts, but we’ve been able to bring the arts to a population that may not have necessarily embraced them before. Others arts initiatives I’ve been involved with are the mural initiative with Collin Williams’ class [in which university students and local children collaborate on murals around town] and Ted Metz’s bike racks [in which sculpture students designed artistic bike racks that were then developed and placed around town]. I could go on and on about the arts because they are so important to me. We promote ourselves as an arts community, because that’s who we are."
Montevallo at its best (and worst)
"I think we’re at our best when there’s someone in need. People run to their aid. For example, people find out the kids at the schools are in need, everybody steps up, and they don’t step up to put their name on a piece of paper somewhere. They step up quietly, they support people, and there’s very little judgement that I’ve noticed. We can put our judgement aside and band together. We had a little boy who passed away a few years ago. His name is Ollie and his mother was a professor on campus. She hadn’t been here very long, and to see the way the community came out to support them... it just warmed my heart. That, I think, it truly representative of who we are. We’re at our worst when we fail to communicate and when we don’t listen to what someone is saying."
Montevallo's hidden treasures
"I’m deeply appreciative of what the students offer to the city. They offer a young outlook, a whole different perspective, and they also offer their time and energy and effort. They volunteer everywhere and they work here, so they do a lot to support the city in general. I want to extend my appreciation to the student population. But It’s amazing to me that we have so many attractions here that students may not be aware of. Some may not have even been to Orr Park, and that’s such a pivotal feature of Montevallo. We have university-owned property such as the swamp, the observatory, the kiln, the lake, and the trail system that connects the city to the university and beyond. There is a beautiful creek that runs all the way through town that a lot of people don’t get out and enjoy. I love to see citizens aware of that. We have Aldrich Coal Mine Museum and Shoal Creek Park, which is a park in development, and the National Cemetery. I think that’s what’s unique about Montevallo- we have so many hidden treasures hidden all around the town."
Raising a family in Montevallo
"I think it’s the ideal place to raise a family. Because of the close proximity to my job, I’ve been able to attend pretty much every event that my children have. You also feel like your children are safe. Our kids can go over to their friends’ houses, I know all of their friends’ parents, and they’ve known all of the same kids since they were born. It’s fantastic. Sometimes I want to broaden their horizons and I want them to have additional experiences, but that’s what traveling is for. I’ve taken them to Mexico and my oldest son has been to Japan with the sister city. Our relationship with Echizen, Japan is another connection that demonstrates our diversity. It's also something else in Montevallo that they wouldn’t have if they were anywhere else. I do think it’s important, particularly when kids grow up in small towns, that they’re also able to see big cities and have other opportunities. Still, I’d much rather raise my kids in a small town."
Montevallo in the future
"I want to keep moving forward. We have this great momentum right now, and I want to keep the party going. We’re on the cusp of a complete downtown renovation that will start in July, and that will be a new streetscape, sidewalks, light posts, and decorative lighting. We’re also looking at becoming a designated main street community, which means we will fill our storefronts on Main Street with the right businesses. Those are things I’m excited about in the short term. In the long term, I want to see us focus on becoming an even more walkable community and more appreciative of bicycle infrastructure. Highway 25 is not very accessible for walkers, so changing that is a long-term goal as well. I also want to focus on cleanliness. Whenever I see a piece of garbage lying around, I feel like it’s in my front yard. It's embarrassing. I want community pride, and I think that starts at home and with our youth, so I’ve been working very hard to get our youth more involved. If they understand this is our community, they’re going to have more pride in it, and they'll pick up that piece of trash on the street. I want to continue to connect the community more, both physically and culturally, and avoid becoming divided."
Life in this community
"In a way, Montevallo has shown me all the different layers of people. You can’t ever define somebody by one occurrence or perspective because there’s so many different sides to people. That’s been uplifting in a lot of ways and sometimes disappointing. I think that’s just with growing up, not necessarily just with Montevallo. But because Montevallo is so small and our population is just over 6,000, you get to know people so much more intimately. That’s been enlightening. Personally, it’s important to note that I have my family, who have been incredibly supportive. It’s been amazing to see the way my husband is so hands-on with the kids and does so much behind the scenes that’s not as acknowledged. As far as the city goes, we have such a great team. People in the city don’t realize how much it takes to service our community and provide what we provide for the city. We have a public works director, we have a parks director, we have a city clerk, the police chief, the fire chief, our library director, our golf course… just in general, the city staff works together so well and they work so hard. They do a lot of things with a smile on their face when people are complaining to them. That’s what’s been wonderful about being Montevallo- seeing how everybody pulls together."