City schools recognize distinguished alumni, teachers of the year


Image shows Cullman Middle School Teacher of the Year Brent Hill, center. Photos by Jay Betts

CULLMAN – Cullman High has ample reason to be proud of its alumni, as evidenced at Friday’s Cullman City Schools Foundation Distinguished Alumni Awards luncheon. Among those honored this year were professional entertainers, retired military and FBI employees, CEOs and, of course, teachers.

The talented students who will be a part of next week’s “Shrek: The Musical” performed excerpts from the musical, one of the many highlights of the noon event.

In its ninth year, the luncheon recognized several people who graduated from Cullman High School who went out and changed the city, county, country and the world for the better.

One of them is Danny McAfee, a champion of local charities, notably the Cullman Regional Foundation, where he spearheaded the successful $3 million project, Restore A Room, giving the hospital’s rooms a comfortable, attractive and technically modernized look, as well as offering CRMC’s doctors and patients the latest innovations in hospital equipment.

The awards ceremony was both informative and sentimental, with a few of the recipients returning home for the ceremony from other states.

McAfee, vice president of Cullman Cabinet and Supply, graduated from Cullman High in 1967. McAfee was lauded as a man who works tirelessly behind the scenes to help in various civic organizations. “When McAfee assumes a leadership role with an organization, then that organization can rest assured that excellence will be achieved,” said Master of Ceremonies, Suzanne Harbin.

McAfee is a member of the City of Cullman Architectural Review Board and the City of Cullman Industrial Development Board, and has been involved in the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce. He is a past recipient of the Emma Marie Eddleman Citizen of the Year Award. He is well-known and respected by the entire community for his kindness, willingness to help others, his faithfulness to those who depend on him, his friends and family, employees and all who have contact with him.  McAfee is a man of integrity who certainly deserves the award bestowed upon him today.

Jim Gray was also honored. Gray graduated in 1982 and went on to pursue a musical career. Over the years he has had the pleasure of working with many stars of the screen and stage. Among those listed are Jennifer Nettles, Trace Atkins, Josh Groban, Steven Curtis Chapman and Amy Grant.

Gray is the winner of 19 Grammy Awards, and was nominated for eight others. Two of his musical scores have been featured on Super Bowl commercials, but, perhaps what is most near and dear to his heart are his students.

His orchestra, The Jim Gray Orchestra, is comprised of many of Nashville’s finest studio recording and nation-wide musicians who have been featured on thousands of albums and live performances in all varieties of genres.  This year, Jim and his orchestra were honored to participate in providing the music for two events for the 58th Presidential Inauguration: an invitation-only candlelight dinner for the president and vice president and the Liberty Ball on the evening of the inauguration.

Jonathan Green, who also graduated in 1982, is the son of former Mayor of Cullman, Donald Green. The honoree spent his career in the military, serving in several capacities, including the FBI. He earned many accolades during his time serving in the military, serving with men who made a lasting impression on him. However, he credited his father with making the most lasting and meaningful impressions on his life.

Last, but not least of the alumni, Paige Harbison-Clabo, a more recent graduate, 2010, was given the Most Promising Alumni Award. Harbison – Clabo is currently on staff at Dollywood, where she sings on stage, impressing visitors with the amazing, huge voice that comes from her tiny frame.

Teachers who were honored this year were:

  • Cullman City Primary School & Overall Elementary Teacher of the Year – Erica Rutherford
  • East Elementary School Teacher of the Year- Laura Tokar
  • West Elementary School Teacher of the Year – Keenan Fowlkes
  • Cullman Middle School Teacher of the Year- Brent Hill
  • Cullman High School & Overall Secondary Teacher of the Year- Elizabeth Pylant

One very important part of Cullman High who could not be present for the ceremony is someone who has become an important part of the day-to-day working of the school, but in addition, has taken on extra tasks, emergency work in the drama department, (e.g. she prevents 'wardrobe failure' on a regular basis) and is a general 'go-to' person for a million things that happen in the course of daily life at the school.

That's what Holly Hirsbrunner, who won this year’s Service Award, has done for CHS, and the students as well as faculty and staff have come to depend on her for everything from sewing a rip in a costume to making an animated pet skunk.

This year's event raised approximately $10,000, which will be made available for teachers’ grants for the coming year.

See a full photo gallery from photographer Jay Betts here.


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