12/22: Amtrak trip; Academy’s top midshipman; more

GwinnettForum  |  Number 16.72  |  Dec. 22, 2017

A GRADUATE of Gwinnett County Public Schools is now the commandant of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He is Austin Harmel, here saluting at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia this year. For more on this young man, see EEB Perspective below.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The next date for publication of GwinnettForum will be Dec. 29, 2017 –eeb

TODAY’S FOCUS: Resident Has Great Experience Riding Amtrak on Visit to Daughter
EEB PERSPECTIVE: Gwinnettian Is Commander of All Midshipman at Naval Academy
SPOTLIGHT: Gwinnett Medical Center
McLEMORE’S WORLD: Checking Email
UPCOMING: Trash Hauling Cost Reduction Coming To Unincorporated Areas
NOTABLE: County Introduces Bicentennial Torch for Coming Year’s Activities
RECOMMENDED: Column of Fire by Ken Follett
GEORGIA TIDBIT: Only Five of Original 15 Lighthouses Still Operate along Georgia Coast
TODAY’S QUOTE: Here’s An Interesting Idea of What Christmas Is
MYSTERY PHOTO: Colors and Reflection May Give Away Location of This Myster
LAGNIAPPE: Lawrenceville DAR Chapter Visits William Harris Homestead in Monroe

Resident has great experience riding Amtrak on visit to daughter

By Robert Hanson, Loganville, Ga.  |  Visiting my daughter and son-in-law in Grand Forks, N.D., over Thanksgiving, I first flew to Chicago and since I like trains, then took Amtrak’s Empire Builder from there to Grand Forks, a distance of 738 miles.

From my first contact with Amtrak’s people, everything went beautifully well.

The Empire Builder departed on the dot at 2:15 p.m. Soon after, my car attendant, Angela, knocked on my door and said she was going to the lounge car and asked if she could get anything for me.  I asked for a soft drink and gave her the appropriate cash for it, plus a tip.

The dining car steward came by to take my request for a dinner seating (meals are included in Amtrak’s sleeping car fares.) At the appointed hour, I went to the dining car and had a very nice steak dinner.

Sometime later, Angela came by to ask when I would like my bed made down.  As I had been on the go since 4 a.m. Eastern time (3 a.m. Central), I told her she could make it down right then.  I waited in the corridor while she performed this duty as the bedroom is a bit cozy when one is trying to make up a lower berth.

I asked Angela to wake me 30 minutes before the train arrived at Grand Forks.  She would not be on duty then, but would advise the conductor of my request.

At about 4:15 a.m. there came a knock on my door.  “Grand Forks in half an hour.”

The train came to a stop at the platform at Grand Forks at 4:41 a.m., right on the advertised time.  The latest it had been at any stop throughout the trip was 15 minutes, and most of the time it had been on – or close to – schedule.

This was a textbook trip on Amtrak.  The train was clean, the crew was courteous, friendly, and helpful – not a grouch among them.  The food in the dining car was good, and the train was on time.

This was not a “set up.”  Amtrak did not know who I am, other than a name on a passenger list, and did not know I would write about the experience.  (Heck, I didn’t know I would write about it until a day or so ago!)  This was a random trip with no advance special preparation on the part of Amtrak.

Amtrak is not the nationwide system it needs to be.  There are many places with no rail passenger service at all, and others with only minimal service.  Atlanta, a metropolitan area of almost five million people, is among these.

Atlanta has only one train each way – north to New York and south to New Orleans – each day.  While the Crescent is a fine train, it hardly represents adequate rail passenger service.

Atlanta needs a Chicago-Florida train via Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Macon. Such a train is needed if Atlanta is to have anywhere near adequate rail passenger service.  The market is there.  The last time I rode the Crescent it was booked very nearly to capacity.

If my experience is typical, and I have every reason to believe that it is, I believe that, if Atlanta had the same level of Amtrak service that Chicago enjoys, many people would discover that the poet John Godfrey Saxe got it right when he wrote:

“….Whizzing through the mountains,

Buzzing o’er the vale, –

Bless me! This is pleasant,

Riding on the rail!”                


Top midshipman at Naval Academy is a 2014 Brookwood High graduate

Harmel, right, introduces U.S. Sen. John McCain

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher The highest-ranking midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy is a 2014 Brookwood High graduate from Snellville. He is Austin Harmel, son of Danita and David Harmel of Snellville, who is in charge of all 4,400 students at the Academy. He has a sister, Helen, a freshman at the University of Georgia.

On Christmas vacation at home this week, Brigade Commander Harmel, 22, is a mathematics and economics major at the Annapolis academy, and anticipate making the Navy his career. He attained his cadet appointment by being tops in his class and through his leadership skills, after an extensive interview process.

As the brigade commander, he works closely advising the commandant of the academy, Navy Capt. Robert Chadwick II, whose father was also a commandant of the academy, the first father-son to hold the office.

Harmel’s duties has him coordinating policy and decision making on a day-to-day life of the midshipmen at the academy. “We’re more focused on how we shape the leadership development of the brigade and how to make them better leaders.”

Meanwhile, he’s a student, too, majoring in mathematics and economics. In addition, he’s a walk-on swimmer on the Navy varsity team, on the 200- and 500-yard freestyle relay team.  The swim team has done well this year, including winning the 27th straight swim meet against the U.S. Military Academy. He’s proud to wear the “Beat Army” sticker on his uniform.


Harmel won an appointment to the academy. He is among about 120 Georgians who are there. Only a few Georgians have been the brigade commander before him.  At Brookwood High, he was on the swim team, played “a little baseball,” and was a member of Swim Atlanta.

A typical day has him arising at 5 a.m. for swim practice. Breakfast is at 7 a.m., and then it’s classes or Harmel meeting with the commandant or his assistants.  There’s a daily Meal Formation open to the public each day at 12:05 p.m., and then Harmel leads the parade of midshipmen into King Hall for their lunch. (“Half the student body meets on the back side of King Hall in formation, which the public doesn’t see. This second formation helps speed up things a bit.”) The entire brigade eats family style at the same time, relaxing with one another. “The staff does a phenomenal job in feeding us.”

After lunch, classes continue until 3:20 p.m., and then it’s more swim practice before dinner at 6 p.m.

Among his course work the previous semester were econometrics, international trade and finance, bio-statistics, law for junior officers and engineering in the zone close to shore, basically navigation.  Next semester he’ll take his capstone course on national defense economics.

At swim practice

Naval Academy students get free time after classes on Friday until Sunday at 6 p.m. Many grab a meal or see a movie, but for Harmel, there’s still swim practice daily.

The students are members of the military, and get 35 percent of the basic pay of an ensign, but have to pay off loans for their uniforms and meals.  That works out to about $100 a month for freshmen, and increasing to about $400 to $700 monthly for seniors, depending on how fast they pay off their loans.

As the top student, he gets a “slightly larger room,” but mainly opportunities to meet dignitaries, such as U.S. Sen. John McCain, who he introduced to the students recently. “When dignitaries come on campus, I’m one of the first to get to meet and interact with them,” he says.

How’s that for a graduate of Gwinnett County public schools?


Gwinnett Medical Center

The public spiritedness of our sponsors allows us to bring GwinnettForum.com to you at no cost to readers. Gwinnett Medical Center’s parent company is Gwinnett Health System (GHS), which also includes Gwinnett Medical Group and Sequent Health Physician Partners.  GMC employs approximately 5,000 associates and has 800 affiliated physicians serving more than 600,000 patients annually.  Gwinnett Medical Center (GMC) is a nationally-recognized, not-for-profit healthcare network with acute-care hospitals in Lawrenceville and Duluth. Additional facilities include: the Gwinnett Women’s Pavilion, the Gwinnett Extended Care Center, Glancy Rehabilitation Center, outpatient health centers and surgical centers, imaging centers and outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy facilities.

  • To learn more about how GMC is transforming healthcare, visit org.
  • For a list of other sponsors of this forum, click here.

Send us your thoughts

We encourage you to send us your letters and thoughts on issues raised in GwinnettForum.  Please limit comments to 300 words.  We reserve the right to edit for clarity and length.  Send feedback and letters to:    elliott@brack.net



  • For more of Bill McLemore’s cartoons, see his page on Facebook.
  • Have a comment? Send to: elliott@brack.net

Trash hauling cost reduction coming to unincorporated areas

Gwinnett Commissioners recently approved an amended eight-year agreement with the residential trash haulers currently operating in unincorporated Gwinnett County. The revised agreement will reduce the cost of residential trash and curbside recycling services in unincorporated Gwinnett County, improve recycling and provide continuity of services. The amended agreement begins July 1, 2018, and replaces the current eight-year contract that is set to expire June 30, 2018. City residents will not be affected by the plan.

As part of the approved program, residents will retain their current hauler. In addition, the 17-gallon recycling bins will be replaced with a larger, covered 65-gallon cart on wheels. The haulers have cut their fees, reducing the overall monthly fee from $19.16 to $17.91. The senior discount will change from 15 percent to 25 percent, reducing senior fees from $16.47 to $13.75 per month.

Residential trash and recycling service will still include weekly trash pickup of household waste and more than 30 types of recyclables. Collection on each street will be on the same day of the week with exceptions for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Service will continue to include bulky item and white goods pickup; residents will still need to contact their assigned hauler to schedule pickup. Yard waste collection will also continue to be offered as an elective service, but at a 25 percent reduced cost for those who elect the 12-month plan.

Unincorporated Gwinnett County residential solid waste customers would see the price reductions on their next billing, scheduled for summer 2018. New recycling carts will be delivered later next year.

Tenth annual Duluth L.E.A.D. program accepting 2018 applications

The tenth installment of Duluth’s L.E.A.D. (Learn, Engage, Advance Duluth) Academy is set to begin on February 8, 2018 and will consist of six Thursday evening sessions held from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be one Monday evening session when the class will join the City Council for the regularly scheduled Work Session at 5:30 pm. All meetings will take place at City Hall. A light dinner/snacks are provided each week.

Citizens engage when they are armed with good information and L.E.A.D. provides that foundation. Participants will be empowered to help address community issues to understand ways they can help. This program seeks to spark interest in local issues, provide insight into the decision making process and provide an avenue for participants to help advance the community to a better future.

Lawrenceville police plan second “Bridge the Gap” Forum in January

The Lawrenceville Police Department will host its second ‘Bridge the Gap’ Forum, an event to establish communications with citizens, strengthen community and police relations and discuss the roles, rights, and responsibilities of both parties to assist with this important project. The Forum will begin at 7 p.m. on January 4, 2018, at the Lawrenceville Police Department. Members of the public are invited and encouraged to attend this Forum.

Melvin Everson, director of Business and Industry Training at Gwinnett Technical College, will moderate this Forum. The Forum will also employ a four-member panel comprising two law enforcement officials and two civic members.

The Lawrenceville Police Department expects to conduct future Forums building a dialogue to bring the community together. For more information on the Lawrenceville Police Department and for information on City operations in general, visit www.lawrencevillega.org.  For further information contact:  Capt. Tim Wallis at 770 670-5033


County introduces Bicentennial Torch for coming year’s activities

Gwinnett County’s Bicentennial Torch made an appearance at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center (GJAC) for a special presentation during the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners’ business session on Tuesday.

The LED-powered torch was carried into GJAC by a group of 12 students representing various county high schools.

The bicentennial torch made its debut on Dec. 15 at the Bicentennial celebration’s first official event held at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse.

The bicentennial torch relay was first suggested by Bicentennial Advisory Committee member and Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson as a way to promote Gwinnett’s Bicentennial Year of Celebration, which will span from Dec. 15, 2017, to Dec. 15, 2018.

She says: “Light, whether it be from a candle, a Christmas tree or a torch, illuminates. As the torch is carried to historical sites, I hope the past is illuminated; when the torch stops at city halls, I hope the present is illuminated; and as the torch is carried by young runners, I hope the future is illuminated.”

Like the torch of the Olympic Games, the bicentennial torch represents goodwill and the connection between communities. The relay represents the journey that Gwinnett County has undergone from 1818 to today, from a largely agrarian community to one of the fastest growing, most diverse counties in the Southeast.

Mayor Johnson recruited cross country and track teams from Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools to serve as torchbearers in the yearlong relay.

Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlotte Nash welcomed the high schoolers to GJAC and thanked them for volunteering to be bicentennial torchbearers. She says:  “My fellow commissioners and I are very excited about the bicentennial’s potential to get our residents involved with their local government,” Nash said. “The torch relay gives our high schoolers the opportunity to contribute to the celebration, and we love seeing them excited about the important role they get to play.”

The runners will carry the torch to various historic sites, public facilities and cities in Gwinnett throughout the bicentennial year. A traveling Gwinnett County history exhibit will accompany the torch to many of these locations, including the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The exhibit will be on display at GJAC for self-guided tours from Dec. 19 to Jan. 29.

The torch relay will culminate at the County’s 200th Birthday Celebration on Dec. 15, 2018, at the Infinite Energy Center.

America Recycles Day produces another cache of activity

On November 18, hundreds of cars streamed through the sprawling parking lots just outside of Coolray Field to take part in Gwinnett County’s celebration of America Recycles Day 2017. A Keep America Beautiful initiative, America Recycles Day was instituted in 1997 as a community-driven national awareness event designed to promote and celebrate recycling in the United States.

Gwinnett County Fiscal and Solid Waste Management Division and its partners at Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful organized the event which – in addition to the collection of difficult to recycle items that are not accepted curb side – included kid-friendly activities, touch-a-truck, opportunities to meet local haulers, refreshments and giveaways. The results of the event have been calculated and over the course of just three hours, more than 150 volunteers helped collect the following items from 3,100 America Recycles Day participants:

Collected at the 2017 event were:

  • 1,726 pounds in clothing and textiles;
  • 242 pairs of sneakers, which will either be donated to those in need or recycled into reusable surfaces for playgrounds and running tracks;
  • 581 printer cartridges;
  • 3,676 gallons of paint;
  • 15 tons of tires;
  • 33 tons of electronics; and
  • 5 tons of paper for secure shredding on-site.
  • To register as a volunteer or learn more about future Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful events, visit gwinnettcb.org.

Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Reviewed by Karen Harris, Stone Mountain  |  The third novel in the Kingsbridge series, Column of Fire covers the turbulent years of 1558-1620. The death of Mary Tudor begins the struggle between English Catholics and English Protestants. It pulls lovers Ned Willard, a Protestant, and Margery Fitzgerald, a Catholic, to opposite sides of the conflict which alters the course of their lives and the lives of the English, Spanish, and Dutch populations are impacted. Over 25 years there are rebellions, battles, turns and twists along with  many memorable, multidimensional characters. This book is very long, 909 pages, but well worth the effort.  This story can actually be read apart from Pillars of the Earth, Kingsbridge 1 and World Without End, Kingsbridge II because the past is only vaguely referred to late in the story. Still I recommended reading the first two novels which along with Column of Fire are a history lesson in story form.

  • An invitation: what books, restaurants, movies or web sites have you enjoyed recently? Send us your recent selection, along with a short paragraph (100 words) as to why you liked this, plus what you plan to visit or read next.  Send to:  elliott@brack.net

Only five or original 15 lighthouses still operate along Georgia coast

Photo by Andy Brack.

When British general James Oglethorpe landed on Georgia’s coast in 1733, he realized that the success of his new colony, Savannah, depended largely on its establishment and development as a commercial port. Only three years later, in 1736, the first lighthouse was built in Georgia. Of the 15 lighthouses built along Georgia’s ever-changing coastline, only five remain, three of which have functional lights.

Tybee Island Light

Located at the mouth of the Savannah River, the Tybee Island Lighthouse was the first on Georgia’s coast. Erected in 1736 and standing only 90 feet high, this structure served as a day mark for ships coming into the port of Savannah. It was, unfortunately, built too close to shore and was toppled by a severe storm in 1741. Rebuilt in 1742 again too close to the sea, this second structure suffered the same fate.

A third tower, 100 feet high and constructed of brick, was completed in 1773 at a site farther back from the ocean. In 1790 the Tybee Lighthouse joined the federally operated U.S. Lighthouse Establishment. Using large candles with large metal discs as an illuminate for the lantern room, Tybee changed its status from day mark to lighthouse.

In 1822 a second, shorter lighthouse was built on Tybee Island adjacent to the first. By sailing to a position where the two lighthouses were aligned, a mariner could accurately approach the Savannah River channel. This system of two lights is called range lights.

By 1857 a second-order Fresnel lens was installed in the main lighthouse. Invented in 1823, the Fresnel lens produces a bright beam by concentrating and magnifying light, which can be seen up to eighteen miles out to sea. First- and second-order lenses (the largest) are used on seacoasts and are called landfall lights; third- and fourth-order lenses signal harbor entrances; and fifth- and sixth-order lenses (the smallest) mark rivers and channels. The light produced by the Fresnel lens was so brilliant that in 1861, when Union troops occupied Tybee, Confederates stationed nearby at Fort Pulaski were sent to burn the lighthouse’s wooden stairs and landings. The Union soldiers repaired the damage, however, and used the tower until the surrender of Fort Pulaski in 1862. Four years later a new lighthouse was built, using the lower 60 feet of the 1773 structure as a foundation. Activated in 1867, this 154-foot tower was reclassified as a major aid to navigation and required three keepers to staff the station.

Once the light was converted to electricity in 1933, there was no longer a need for three keepers. Maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard until 1987, this lighthouse remains one of America’s most intact light stations, with all its historic support structures still on site. The station is now maintained by the Tybee Island Historical Society and is open to the public.

Cockspur Island Light

Located two miles west of Tybee Island Lighthouse on Cockspur Island, the first Cockspur Lighthouse was built in 1849 and used to mark the entrance to the south channel of the Savannah River. This structure proved inadequate and was rebuilt in 1857.

A twin channel-beacon was constructed at the same time on the north channel of the Savannah River. Built of Savannah gray brick, the lighthouse was fitted with a fourth-order Fresnel lens and illuminated by a sperm oil lamp. Unlike many lighthouses of the South, this small beacon received only minor damage during the Civil War (1861-65). After the war, the light resumed operation until 1909, when ships with deep drafts were no longer able to use the south channel. The U.S. Coast Guard abandoned the property in 1949, and control was transferred to the National Park Service.

(To be continued)


Colors and reflection may give away location of this Mystery

Here’s a Mystery Photo that we find particularly pleasing, mainly because of the colors and the reflections in the water. Figure out where it is and send your idea to elliott@brack.net, and be sure to include your hometown.

In the last edition, George Graf tried to make a Mystery Photo difficult for Forum readers, cropping a photograph showing the word “Indiana.”  Yet his submission of a mystery photo was from Indiana, Pa., and George didn’t fool as many readers as he thought he might. In fact, several readers easily spotted the photo, as Ross Lenhart of Pawley’s Island, S.C.: wrote: This is a statue of Jimmy Stewart in front of the courthouse in his hometown of Indiana, Penn. He was class of ‘28 at The Mercersburg Academy (Pa), and I was class of ‘58. I saw him once or twice at reunions.”

Marlene Buchanan, Snellville, contributed: “The minute I saw it, I knew it was Jimmy Stewart, one of my favorite actors.  The statue is in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  My favorite movie is Philadelphia Story, with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Ruth Hussy (You had to love her name,  She was such a huss(e)y!).  It has one of the best grouping for actors ever and Jimmy Stewart is perfect for his role.   Stewart was active in the Air Force in WWII and in Viet Nam.”

Alan Peel, San Antonio, Tex. Wrote: “The statue of Jimmy Stewart is in front of the Indiana County Court House, in Indiana, Penn., a coal-mining town where Jimmy was born. An original fiberglass version of this statue was erected on his 75th birthday in 1983, while the town was waiting for the completion of the bronze version of this statue.  The statue depicted here was eventually completed and the fiberglass version was moved next door as a display inside the Jimmy Stewart Museum, which opened in 1996. Both statues show Jimmy in his ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ suit wearing a fedora hat. Incidentally, I wish now that Mr. Smith was still in Washington!”

Others recognizing included Jim Savedelis, Duluth; Lou Camerio, Lilburn; Tim Sullivan, Buford; Lynn Naylor, Atlanta; Monica Woodard, Lawrenceville; Ruthie Lachman Paul, Norcross; John Titus, Peachtree Corners; and Bobbie Wilson Tkacik, Lilburn.


Lawrenceville DAR chapter visits William Harris homestead in Monroe

Recently the Philadelphia Winn Chapter National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution visited the William Harris homestead in Monroe, Ga.  The farm and Homestead have been owned and farmed continuously by members of the Harris family since William and Harriet first set up housekeeping in 1825. The homestead is one of the few early Georgia plantations which remains sufficiently intact to depict the culture and lives of Walton County’s first settlers.  Tours are available for groups to enjoy “A Day in the 19th Century.”  For more information,  contact dotty@harrishomestead.com. The members saw, among other activities Candlemaker Dottie Harris Zazworsky.  Looking on are Sandi Christman, Regent Kitty Watters, Carol Pangle and Lynn Jacques.


GwinnettForum is provided to you at no charge every Tuesday and Friday.

Meet our team


  • Location: We are located in Suite 225, 40 Technology Park, Norcross, GA 30092.
  • Work with us: If you would like to serve as an underwriter, click here to learn more.

Subscriptions to GwinnettForum are free.

  • Click to subscribe.
  • We hope you’ll keep receiving the great news and information from GwinnettForum, but if you need to unsubscribe, go to this page and unsubscribe in the appropriate box.

© 2017, Gwinnett Forum.com. Gwinnett Forum is an online community commentary for exploring pragmatic and sensible social, political and economic approaches to improve life in Gwinnett County, Ga. USA.