Profile Response: Michael Cooper, CEO Weems Memorial Hospital, Apalachicola FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowOne of the most unique projects of my architectural career was a replacement facility for Weems Memorial Hospital, a hospital near the mouth of the Apalachicola River at the tip of Florida’s Big Bend. Six years after our initial concept sketches, the project is still nothing more than a drawing on a wall, but Mike Cooper, Weems’ new CEO, is confident construction will begin next year.

“Before I came here, we started with a replacement facility, then developed a conversion and addition scheme, then a smaller addition. All were over budget. The Board of Commissioners set a $10.2 million budget, thinking we would not be able to meet that and they wouldn’t bear the blame. But our latest iteration, which includes renovation and some addition, comes under budget and achieves critical operational changes we need to stay in business.”

img_8797Mike’s review of the process requires clarification. A hospital is point of pride, and safety, and jobs, for any community. Weems is the only hospital in Florida’s Franklin County. In 1997 Congress passed legislation establishing ‘Critical Access’ designation to rural hospitals that are at least 35 miles from another facility, run a 24/7 emergency department, and have 25 beds or less. Critical Access designation provides some financial cushion for small hospitals, but it does not guarantee they will stay in business.

Mike explained the unpleasant reality of Weem’s business model. “Forty percent of our business is indigents or Medicaid. We get fifty cents on the dollar for Medicaid patients, zero for indigent care. When I spend a dollar on direct care, I’m only taking in sixty cents.” What keeps Weems in business is a one percent county sales tax designated for healthcare. The County Board of Commissioners controls that purse; they have established Mike’s $10.2 million capital budget. “There’s enough money to make the project happen; this area has rebounded from the recession pretty well.”

img_8799Mike has worked in rural healthcare in Kentucky, Indiana and Idaho prior to coming to Florida. He appreciates rural life, though doesn’t consider it as unique as local folk imagine. “People say their part of Americana is special, and it is, but all of these places are essentially the same good place.”

From Mike’s perspective, Weems needs this facelift in order to stay alive. The current facility, which hasn’t been updated in over fifty years, requires multiple staff at ED and inpatient areas. The new layout will streamline staffing. “With a patient census in the two to three per day range, and variable ED traffic, we need to have all clinical activities controlled from one point.”

However, Weems’ largest challenge is probably not the location of its nurse station. Twenty-three miles to the west, the Sacred Heart System recently opened a new hospital in Port St. Joe, close enough to lure patients seeking a new facility even though it is in another county.

It is very costly to maintain a full service hospital in a community as small and remote as Apalachicola. If the county wants to keep Weems afloat, and improve the healthcare Weems can provide, it will require subsidies as far as anyone can see.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8801“I think we are going to be very much defined by technology. Look at education. In Florida and Kentucky you can get a high school diploma and never step foot in a classroom. It is only going to increase as the Millenials have children. Traditional schools will go away and be replaced by a YMCA or Boys’ and Girls’ Club for focused activities.

“From a healthcare perspective, technology will be the order of the day. Small hospitals will go away as we do more with remote procedures and diagnoses. The technology already exists. Right now hospitals would jump on it, but there are no reimbursements for it.

“We’re going to see the demise of the family practitioner. You want a relationship with a doctor, you’ll have a relationship with a mid-level – a nurse practitioner or a PA – who will refer you to specialists. You’re going to see a change in credentialing for nurse practitioners. They’re going to need a doctorate degree. Pharmacists now need a doctorate; physical therapists need a doctorate. Right now, nurse practitioners are the only ones at that level that don’t need a doctorate, and they can prescribe medication.”


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Profile Response: Adam Collier, Panama City FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowBefore Adam Collier took me out on the town and introduced me to the Bacchanalian delights of Ms. Newby’s bar, we leafed through The Universe, a super-size coffee table book of photos of our galaxy and beyond. Adam purchased the book for $19.99 back in high school and carted it from his hometown of Sarasota, to FIT for degrees in oceanography and engineering management, then on to Groton CT where he worked in nuclear submarine design. “Those projects were going to take thirty years to bring to life. It was my first job. I was not ready to make that commitment.” After six months in Connecticut Adam came to Panama City, where he designs life support systems at NAVSEA for Navy divers. “They tell me it can take two to three years to get the parameters of what we design, but after four months I already like it.”

img_8778Adam’s technical bent is balanced by a counter-cultural, spiritual vibe. He’s mostly vegetarian, practices yoga, campaigns against tossing cigarette butts, intones the didgeridoo he hand crafted, and studies Eastern religions. “People ask me all the time if I’m from California.”

Like all good sons of the South, Adam is well versed in the The Bible, a subject I never tire of discussing with people across our land. He explained how, even though he’s no longer a strict believer, The Bible is still holds a unique position among texts. “Shakespeare may be inspired writing, but it doesn’t have near the scope of The Bible. The Bible tells a great story and it outlines how we are supposed to live and it describes a future. If you believe in it, it includes everything you need to know.”

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But even the scope of The Bible falls short of the magnificence Adam and I encounter in The Universe. Humans are simultaneously insignificant among the stars and remarkable in all that we can conceive. As we contemplated bursting nebulae and collapsing galaxies Adam looked beyond Christianity’s primary text. “Ancient Buddhists believed that the sky was filled with gods that expanded and then contracted to sleep. How did they know that?”

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8777“I was just watching Cosmos. We have to have something dramatic to force ourselves to reevaluate how we live. We will have to have a disaster to take us to the fundamentals so we can start from scratch and restructure society from the ground up. By then I hope we will be living on other planets. I’m hoping to be part of that transition. I want to be an astronaut; I am getting there by first being an argonaut. I give us two generations until we live in space.

“Commercialization is powerful. Why do so many people thank we need so much stuff? I haven’t had a TV in six years. I watched too much as a kid. I fear addictions; I was addicted to TV. Someone asked me my biggest fear and I said, ‘dying before I make an impact on the world.’ But really, I’m afraid of an addiction. Actually, my biggest fear is a bar of soap. I figure it’s because my mom put one in my mouth when I was a kid. I cannot stand to touch a bar of soap.”


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Profile Response: Bethany and Dave Garth Montgomery AL


HWWLT Logo on yellowThere’s nothing more rejuvenating than spending time with kindred spirits, folks with whom you don’t have to edit or explain because we’ve had so many common experiences. We can talk in shorthand and find humor in events that leave other people puzzled.

So, it was quite a treat to spend an evening with Bethany and Dave Garth on the day I rolled over 20,000 miles. In 2011-2013, the young couple logged over 22,000 bicycle miles on a worldwide trek that encompassed four continents and too many countries to list. To be sure, their experience – more camping, cross-cultural hijinks, and periods of lingering in favorite places – has different parameters than my journey’s pulse of continuous movement, intentional interactions and couchy creature comfort. Still, the fundamental joys of bicycle touring are the same regardless of terrain or language. As Dave put it, “There’s something profound about showing up in a place on a bicycle.”

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The couple wanted to travel the world and they wanted to have children, and decided to do it in that order. They quit their jobs, took a train up to Maine, cycled to Niagara Falls and down the Appalachians. They flew to Guatemala, cycled Central America, flew to Patagonia, cycled up the Andes to Peru, flew from Quito to Oslo. “Going from Peru to Norway was a shift in every respect.” They meandered through Europe to Istanbul, flew to Hong Kong, toured Southeast Asia to Singapore, flew to Vancouver, and pedaled back to Alabama.

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Now Bethany and Dave are on an adventure of a very different sort – raising two young children. Some days the perils of crossing rivers on rickety rafts in Laos or waking up to frozen chains in China seems less daunting. But each has its unique rewards.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8710“With purpose.” – Dave

“I will do the next right thing. My new position as Director of our non-profit is a little overwhelming. I keep reminding myself to just keep doing the next right thing. I’ve read some of your blog, and no matter how people respond, I come back to, if we all just do the next right thing we’ll be all right.” – Bethany


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Profile Response: Chip Spencer, Marion Junction AL

HWWLT Logo on yellow‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in.’ This Greek proverb is painted on one wall of the greenhouse at Spencer Farm, next to a map of the world illustrating the home countries of WWOOFers who’ve worked there, their signatures and painted handprints.

Chip Spencer has never lived more than fifteen miles from this spot. He explains how the world comes to his door. “We got happy and content living simply, so we started sharing. We began having teenagers stay with us, then had an intern, now we’ve had WWOOFers for three years. Being sustainable farmers, we cannot leave the farm. Through the WWOOF program, the world comes to us. My children wouldn’t be the independent, smart people they are if they weren’t exposed to WWOOFers. They are the reason I am optimistic. What you found out at age 58, and I found out at 45, they are finding out in their 20’s.”

img_8682But I’m getting ahead of the story, just as Chip does when he walks his farm, more interested in describing his latest endeavor than how a measly 160 acres of over farmed and neglected Blackbelt land became a showcase for small-scale, profitable, sustainable agriculture.

Chip had an excavating business in Marion; his wife Laura was a school teacher who liked horses. Business was good so they started looking for twenty acres or so to raise a few horses. Chip heard about a foreclosure; more land than they needed, but at $335 per acre, a bargain they could not resist. “I had the tools and the desire to make this place work.” They wire cut access from the country road, hauled mounds of trash locals had dumped over the years, and nurtured the bald soil. They built fences and pens, eventually a barn and a house. They worked their jobs all day and built their place nights and weekends. Along the way they had a child, then two.

“Fifteen years ago, we had two toddling children, they had some allergies. One night our son almost died. That was a pinnacle experience. Your question was the one we were trying to answer when we changed the way we lived. I was busy working hard to make money for school, for shoes, for food. My kids only wanted my time and attention. Nobody was getting what theyimg_8689 needed or wanted. We decided to focus on our environment and our health. We began to grow our own food. Everyone’s health improved.”

Chip quit his business to focus on the farm, a dubious proposition for a young man with two small children. “My plan was, if we don’t have to spend money, we don’t have to make money.” They started farming for themselves: chickens and pigs and cattle and gardens. They grew enough to sell. “We still need some money; this place can’t give us salt.” They rejuvenated the land, putting more nutrition into the soil than they removed. Planting trees.

Chip’s focus is local, but his perspective is global. “Forty-one percent of the economic input of Perry Country occurs once a month – that’s how much this county receives in direct federal assistance. Once a person swipes their EBT card at Wal-Mart that money has gone to Arkansas. If we can help people spend that money here, it will stay in the local economy.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-6-42-38-pm“The average family of four in the United States will contribute the comparable amount of greenhouse gas as 2500 tress will absorb. So we planted 5,000. There are trees all over the farm. As they planted, and prospered, and appreciated their relationship to the earth, Chip decided to celebrate and give thanks by planting the world’s largest peace sign. “We are twelve miles from Selma, we need to show the world that peace can exist here. Chip planted 59 cedars over seven acres at 43 foot intervals. Cattle graze in and around his work of art and hope.

“We do not get up in the morning and go to work. We get up in the morning and we live.”

How will we live tomorrow?


“To be sustainable we have to live simply. We have to learn to cut back, that cutting back can increase the quality of our lives.

“I was chasing the wrong thing, making good money, buying the things I thought I was supposed to have. But something was missing. I didn’t figure it out until I was in my forties; living a simpler life with the people I love the most. Less is more.”

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Profile Response: Natalie Butts-Ball, Auburn Rural Studio, Newbern AL

HWWLT Logo on yellowHale County Alabama is representative of many rural areas of our nation. The county’s population has fallen by fifty percent over the last century, and continues to decline. The tenth poorest county in Alabama has a median family income under $30,000; almost 30% of the population lives below the poverty line. Yet Hale County has something no comparable place can claim: Auburn Rural Studio.

Since 1993, third year architecture students from Auburn University spend one semester living, designing, and building in Hale County; the other semester in Rome or Istanbul. Although they may enjoy their European experience, they revel in grappling with design at its most fundamental level.

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“Students don’t come here to change the community. They come to become part of the community.” That is certainly true for Natalie Butts-Ball, who came to Newbern ten years ago as a student, stayed on as an intern, left for a stint in a New Orleans architecture firm, and then returned to Rural Studio with her husband. They are raising their family in a place with a satisfying pace. “In an isolated place, you’re always busy but not too stressed.”

img_8669Auburn Rural Studio problems are too modest to even register among the design challenges students encounter in most architecture schools. Instead of designing a community center, school, museum, or entire neighborhood as I presumptuously did in school, students at Auburn Rural Studio tackle simple projects in great depth.

The 20K project began in 2005: design and build a house that can be built on virtually any site for $20,000, materials and labor. To date, twenty different prototypes have been deigned, seventeen built. This year’s fifth year capstone students are designing iteration 21. Several students will remain beyond graduation to build the house that will, most likely, replace one local family’s trailer. The level of concern they invest in an 800 square foot, two-bedroom house that’s inexpensive to build, cheap to operate, handicapped adaptable, and functional, is impressive.

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20K houses have evolved from trailer-proportioned tiny houses to high-concept volumes of questionable functionality to livable places that embody satisfying architecture. Carly, one of the students, said, “When you build a tiny house you radicalize the way people have to live. People don’t want that.”

“There are other design-build programs, but we are the largest in terms of scale and number of projects.” In addition to the 20K project, another group of students is renovating a former medical office / town hall in Faunsdale as a community center. Meanwhile, this semester’s third year students just completed framing a house for a local resident. They will install the roof joists before semester’s end, then fly off to Europe. In February, students returning from Rome will complete the finish work. After studying the Pantheon and the Coliseum, they will try their hand at siding.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8672“Funny to think how your answer changes over time. I thought one way as a student. Now, as a parent, my thoughts are different. And our politics are so divisive. Post election, there’s a lot of wounds to be healed on both sides; it doesn’t seem to be going away.

“I hope we spend the future taking care of each other and the world we live in.”


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Profile Response: Kelle and Waid Barfield, Vicksburg MS

HWWLT Logo on yellowThe force field that pulls us back to our hometowns cannot be charted or measured. Some of us rocket away and never return, others never venture far from our nest. Still others explore the wider world and wind up back home through circumstances that could never be predicted.

Kelle Barfield grew up in Vicksburg, daughter of a Corps of Engineer man in a city where engineers have wrestled Old Man River for generations. Kelle went to University of Texas, moved to New York City and worked for the Museum of American Folk Art where she met someone seeking writers for Southern Living. Thirty-one years ago, she returned to Vicksburg for a friend’s wedding and met her husband, a nuclear power engineer. They raised three children, assembled 900 acres of beautiful hunting forest five miles east of town, and hand-built an impressive house festooned with equally impressive mounted deer. img_8639Kelle redirected her career as a communications writer for Grand Gulch Nuclear Station, and works with the International Atomic Energy Commission on nuclear power strategies in developing countries.

Son Waid followed his mother’s footsteps at University of Texas. He is home for a gap year before attending law school; study for which this nuanced young man is well suited.




Our dinner conversation centered on communication. Kelle is fascinated by Rachel Botsman’s recent TED Talk about how we have stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers. Does that bode well or ill for our society? Kelle also wants to take her lifelong interest in communication in a new direction. “I am interested in studying listening. People are not trained to listen.” We become entrenched in our ideas, often based in incomplete or inaccurate information, and we cease being open to new input that can affect our positions. “When was the last time you changed your mind on a major issue?”


How will we live tomorrow?

img_8637“There’s so many ways to approach that. Technologically: self-driving cars; virtual reality headsets; social media. There’s a digital and technology age developing.

“I also think about politics coming off the election. I watched an interview on The Daily Show of a woman who’s very conservative. It turned into a debate. After it was all over, everything was about ‘who won.’ Debate ideally is an effort shape opinions and find common ground. If the future is ‘my opinion vs. your opinion’ and one is right, we are not going in a good direction.

“The cynic doesn’t see good signs ahead. But morally, we are making many strides with interracial couples, gay and transgender issues. I think people are more accepting, but then, I did live in Austin for a few years.” – Waid

“I’m interested in how we view the past versus the future. In St. Augustine’s Confessions he writes about time. People find happiness and contentment in their past and are fearful and anxious of the future. There is no golden time, except in our minds.” – Kelle


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Profile Response: Rosalie Gould, McGehee AR

HWWLT Logo on yellowRosalie Gould has striking grey hair, perfectly cut, clear skin and strong features. She is a handsome woman for any age. At 91, Rosalie Gould is a marvel.

Rosalie’s family emigrated to the Arkansas delta from Italy in 1895 when a priest brought twenty families to Lake Village to build the railroads. When she was six her father moved the family to a farm in Tillar, where the other school children had never seen an Italian or a Catholic.

imagesRosalie married a man with a heart defect. In 1955, news of an innovative surgery drew them to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Rosalie figures the procedure gave him ten more years, though he died in 1965, leaving her with three children and a farm in Rowher, near site of the former World War II Japanese-American Internment Camp.. “Joe bought 1,000 acres of good land three months before he died. We cleared it ourselves. I’ve just been working all my life. I’ve had some downs, but if anyone hears me complain, they can wallop me upside the head.”

Rosalie moved the children to the nearest big town, McGehee, and got involved in that community. In 1976 she met the young man running for Attorney General, Bill Clinton. “When you talk to Bill you think he’s the smartest man in the world. Then you turn around and think, now what was that about?” The two have enjoyed a long relationship; Rosalie considers him a friend.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-9-28-10-amIn 1983 her daughter Lie suggested Rosalie might enjoy being mayor. It seemed a fun idea. Rosalie filed the papers, ran against “three fine men” in the election and won. “I enjoyed it, but I got in a lot of trouble. We had a police force that was not the best; they didn’t like me.” But the voters liked her. Rosalie served until 1995.

During Rosalie’s tenure, the monument at the Internment Camp up in Rowher was not well tended, so she sent a maintenance crew up there every so often. She began hosting Japanese-American visitors for lunch. They gave her keepsakes from the camp, including artwork created by the internees. Rosalie was impressed by these quiet people. “They do not hold anything against the government. They lost face because they were considered traitors. I tell them they should stand up and say, ‘Yes, we were in the camps, that was our part in winning the war.’ I have learned so much from these people and their outlook on life.”

In 1989, after the railroad consolidated and the depot sat empty, Rosalie suggested the town turn it into a museum about the interment camps. The people of the Delta were not ready for that. Rosalie received hate mail, even death threats. But she continued to champion the idea of honoring the Japanese-Americans who lived in the Delta against their will.

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Time passes. Rosalie’s art collection was appraised at over $1 million. She donated it to the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock with one stipulation. “Any time any descendent of any internee visits, he can see and hold any piece in the collection.”

Money gets appropriated. Three years ago, McGehee turned the depot into a museum honoring the two intern camps in Arkansas.

But not all wounds heal. Rosalie will not allow any of the art entrusted to her to be displayed in McGehee. She speaks highly of the effort, though she’s never stepped foot inside the museum. I am confident she never will.

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“When we make mistakes, atone and learn from it.” That is what Rosalie learned from Japanese-American Intern camp descendants. But it is difficult to apply to the hate she received from her own neighbors.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8587“I have a dim view of what’s going to happen. I’m 91 years old. The two or three generations after me are the ‘me’ generation. They want instant gratification. First, they want a nice house, lots of stuff, and when that doesn’t satisfy they pick up marijuana. They are not satisfied.

“Last year I was asked to speak to the seventh and eight grade. Half of the children were asleep, the other half on their phones. I quit talking and left.

“There are good things. Some young people are giving their lives to help others. They are a ray of sunshine.”


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