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Pets and their People



It has been a trying year, to say the least. Unprecedented circumstances have forced us to stay inside and stay apart to stay safe. Many of us have relied on the love of our pets when there hasn’t been much else that feels stable right now.

Through these challenging times, our pets understand us. They can sense when we’re feeling down and they can even mend a broken heart.

Mister Rogers taught us that in times of turmoil, we should look for the helpers.

The helpers at PetSuites

PetSuites offers dog and kitty boarding, training and daycare. General Manager Jo Lynn McGhee, proud pet-mom of a Basset Hound and a Pug-mix, couldn’t help but gush over her loving staff. She maintained that in these trying times, “pets are essential.”

PetSuites is here for the community to take care of “the babies,” as McGhee calls them, when we can’t. The business was named essential by the county and kept open during the quarantine for front line workers and other essential business owners to drop off their pets whenever they needed.

It’s comforting to know that while nurses and doctors are working so hard for us, PetSuites is working hard to see that their babies feel right at home. “The team cares about the love of pets and proper care,” McGhee said. “They have the TV on Animal Planet during the day and will even take shifts going to sit with a baby just to be with them.”

She looked back at confusion earlier in the year and remembered taking in pets for the long term when a resident’s house burnt down, or when people had fallen ill from the pandemic and had to bring their babies in until they got better.

McGhee recalled one family that brought in an older dog when they could no longer care for him; one of her team members ended up adopting the dog and taking him home.

But the most heartwarming story of all occurred when McGhee’s mother fell ill during the time of COVID. Her mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. McGhee was saddled with the unfortunate task of rehoming her mother’s three dogs.

Eventually, the doctors were able to stop the disease from spreading, McGhee said, and “in the end, we were able to get her babies back to her, which was really special to me. She is doing so much better now.”

The positive power of pets

Peachtree Corners resident Susan Highsmith had a similar situation with her mother. For Highsmith, and most people would agree, COVID-19 has been a topsy-turvy experience.

She first realized the power of pets when her mother was living in an assisted living home. Highsmith wanted to do something special for her mother that included the family’s dogs that her mother is so fond of — her two Schnauzers and her daughter’s Whippet.

So she organized the “Pets and Peeps Parade” for residents of a local assisted living home. She brought together residents’ families, as well as the community at large, to give the elder residents a bit of cheer.

Some residents were brought outside and socially distanced while others watched from inside through the windows. The families paraded by with their pets in costumes. There was music, balloons, decorations and signs of love. The Sandy Springs Fire Department also joined in to show their support.

Highsmith chuckled, remembering how one woman didn’t have a pet, so she dressed up a stuffed animal dog and gave the crowd a good laugh!

After the assisted living home went into full lockdown, her mother’s health worsened. She lost more than 30 pounds and was sleeping for 22 hours a day; ultimately, she was diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension, a condition in which a person’s blood pressure drops when they stand up or sit down.

Highsmith made the decision to bring her mother home so she could be with her family, including the two Schnauzers. She got a bed through a hospice service and set up a bedroom in what was once her dining room. She really thought her mother was nearing the end.

But then something miraculous happened — her mother started to get better almost immediately. “She loves my two dogs; they sit by her bed constantly and they give her hope,” Highsmith said. “When we brought her home, we thought she was dying, and now she is coming back to life.”

Her mother is sleeping less, gaining weight and is expected to make a full recovery. The dogs not only helped her mother, but they helped Highsmith and her family through those sad days when they didn’t think her mother was going to pull through.

Pets — and people — have the power to help

McGhee pointed out that pets offer healing in many ways. Besides offering love, they keep us on a routine even when everything is falling apart around us. They get us up and out of the house even when we don’t want to go.

“They don’t have a bad day,” she said. “They play and do something funny that can always get a laugh out of us no matter how bad our day has been.”

During the current pandemic, Highsmith and McGhee have seen that the power of pets can get us through. But more importantly, both of them made decisions to be helpers and reach out to fellow community members in need. They’ve shown us that we can look for the helpers, like Mister Rogers taught us, or we can choose to be the helpers.

Kris Bird is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who specializes in Marketing and Communications. After earning her degree from Stony Brook University, Kris has been working as a science fiction and fantasy novelist for the past decade.

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Norfolk Southern gifting historic Marco Polo railcar to Southeastern Railway Museum



The newest addition to the Southeastern Railway Museum , the Marco Polo! Photos courtesy of Southeastern Railway Museum

Norfolk Southern Corporation gifted the historic Marco Polo rail car, a car President Franklin D. Roosevelt used while in office, to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, Georgia.

The Pullman Company built the Marco Polo in 1927 as part of a small fleet of cars named for world explorers, reserving them for VIPs who chartered their own railcar. Roosevelt traveled in the car when he was governor of New York and later as president, using it on trips to and from Warm Springs, Georgia.

John Friedmann, Norfolk Southern VP Network Planning & Optimization, hands the keys of the Marco Polo to Southeastern Railway Museum Chief Mechanical Officer Andrew Durden.
Photos courtesy of Southeastern Railway Museum.

The car arrived at the museum at 11 a.m. on Nov. 14, and a brief unveiling ceremony followed. 

The museum displays the car on its 35-acre campus alongside the Superb, a Pullman car used by President Warren G. Harding.

“The Marco Polo is a critical piece of railroad history, and we are honored Norfolk Southern has entrusted us to help preserve the railcar and its story for future generations,” said Sue Kelly, interim executive director of the Southeastern Railway Museum. “Railroads played an invaluable role in transporting presidents across the country. President Roosevelt had a unique connection to Georgia, and on his trips to Warm Springs, he regularly passed through Duluth and by what is today the museum, and we’re excited to welcome the car back home.”

The car also transported many dignitaries over the years, including Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, the wife of China’s wartime president. She used the Marco Polo during a United States tour in 1943.

“The Marco Polo holds a unique place in Norfolk Southern history, and we couldn’t think of a more appropriate location for the car to be displayed than at the Southeastern Railway Museum,” said John Friedmann, Norfolk Southern VP Network Planning & Optimization. “As we move our headquarters to Atlanta, forging relationships with surrounding communities like Duluth and organizations dedicated to preserving railroads like Southeastern Railway Museum will be critical to making Atlanta feel even more like home.”

The Central of Georgia, a Norfolk Southern predecessor railroad, bought the car in 1944 and converted it into an office. The Southern Railway assumed ownership of the car in 1963 after it merged with the Central of Georgia.

Over the years, the railroad has displayed the car, which was later renamed the Savannah, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and at Union Station in Washington, D.C. For more than 25 years, Washington commuters walked past the Marco Polo, most not knowing the railcar’s history as a predecessor to Air Force 1.

For more information about Norfolk Southern, visit norfolksouthern.com/. For more information about the Southeastern Railway Museum, visit southeasternrailwaymuseum.org/.

Source: Press Release from the Southeastern Railway Museum

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Lawrenceville and Aurora Theatre celebrate “Topping Out” of new Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center



To commemorate the placing of the final structural beam for the expanded Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center (LPAC), the City of Lawrenceville Mayor and Council; Downtown Development Authority; representatives from the Aurora Theatre; Carroll Daniel Construction; Croft and Associates; and Community leaders gathered for a Topping Out Ceremony at the site of the new facility in Downtown Lawrenceville.

“The completion and grand opening of this facility will be a visual representation of Lawrenceville’s commitment to the arts,” said Mayor David Still. “A 15-year partnership with Aurora Theatre and many years of hard work on the part of numerous determined individuals have delivered a one-of-a-kind project placing Lawrenceville in the spotlight as an arts-centered community.”

Construction began on the $35-million facility in June 2019 and continued throughout the recent pandemic. The 56,000 square-foot Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center will house a 500-seat theater; Cabaret; indoor and outdoor civic spaces; and rooms for office and educational programming. It will be home of the second largest professional theater company in Georgia and Gwinnett’s only professional performing arts organization, Aurora Theatre. In October 2020, the City of Lawrenceville approved an additional $4-million in facility upgrades to improve air quality, offer hands-free devices, create a safe physical environment and provide appropriate sanitizing equipment for patrons, performers and staff.

Anthony Rodriguez, Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Aurora Theatre shared, “The City of Lawrenceville believes in the power of art as a force multiplier that can transform community, and as the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center prepares to open, the region will see that vision tangibly expressed … none of this would be possible without what is truly a remarkable and unprecedented partnership with the city that should serve as a model for communities nationwide.”

Aurora Theatre is home to the highest level of artistic excellence in the region, serving communities and offering performing arts experiences that nurture a love of theatre in a multigenerational space. Leading the way as a performing arts venue despite industry challenges posed by the 2020 landscape, the regional theater has managed to find new platforms and open-air venues to host meaningful live events at a safe distance. While the theater is currently dark due to coronavirus concerns, Aurora Theatre continues to engage with audiences through alternative programming, including its Digital Series and Our Stage Onscreen performance initiatives.

Construction on the expanded facility is expected to be complete in the spring with a target date for opening in May 2021.

For additional information about the City of Lawrenceville, please visit lawrencevillega.org or follow the City on social media. For more information on Aurora Theatre, call the Box Office at 678.226.6222 or visit auroratheatre.com

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Peachtree Corners New Town Center Pedestrian Bridge Opens



Late afternoon on November 17, Peachtree Corners celebrated the opening of its new pedestrian bridge. With a quick snip from a pair of oversized scissors by the mayor, the ribbon that stretched across the 14-foot walkway of the city’s new pedestrian bridge fell away as he, along with the city council and invited dignitaries looked on.

Peachtree Corners bridge dedication at the Town Center (JASON GETZ/GETZ IMAGES)

And with that, the city’s long-awaited Town Center pedestrian bridge was finally officially open. It brought applause all around from Mayor Mike Mason, Council members Weare Gratwick, Phil Sadd, Eric Christ, Alex Wright, Jeanne Aulbach, Lorri Christopher, invited dignitaries and guests who had gathered in the center of the new bridge for the official celebration.

“We’ve waited a long time to experience this moment,” said Mayor Mike Mason. “We are thankful that the city now has a safe way for our residents and visitors to cross over Peachtree Parkway to the Town Center. It was a real challenge to cross the road on foot, especially for families with young children in tow. Now everyone will be able to cross the road safely.”

Prior to the bridge’s deployment, pedestrian safety was a major concern for city officials.

“On the south end of Peachtree Corners, this corridor carries nearly 100,000 vehicles per day.  That is second only to Interstate 85 as the heaviest volume roadway in Gwinnett County,” Greg Ramsey, the city’s Public Works Director.

Peachtree Corners bridge dedication at the Town Center (JASON GETZ/GETZ IMAGES)

As a nod to the original Jones Bridge that once spanned the Chattahoochee River nearby, the new pedestrian bridge was designed to reflect the style of the historic bridge that a century ago carried traffic and pedestrians from Gwinnett to Fulton County. Taking a page from its history, the color of the old and new bridge are also the same.

While the city’s new thrust arch style bridge is a reminder of days gone by, that’s where the old and the new part ways. Designed by the local engineering firm of Michael Baker International, the new pedestrian structure features two elevators and two sets of stairs and connects the city’s Town Center with The Forum shopping center. The Town Center bridge is approximately 45 feet high (from ground to the top of the arches) with a 190-foot walkway.

Peachtree Corners bridge dedication at the Town Center (JASON GETZ/GETZ IMAGES)

“The completion of this bridge not only provides a safe connection between two prominent shopping and entertainment districts,” said City Manager Brian Johnson, “but it also provides an expansion opportunity for the city’s multi-use trail system.”

The idea for a pedestrian bridge evolved from one of the goals established in the city’s first Comprehensive Plan. Adopted in 2013, the Comprehensive Plan identified five major goals
including the development of features that would “unify and connect” key parts of the city.

City leaders had already been discussing developing a Town Center on the 21-acre undeveloped property fronting S.R. 141 near the intersection with Medlock Bridge Road.

One major concern was how to safely connect what would become the city’s downtown area with the existing Forum shopping center and the many residents whose homes were located on the west side of Peachtree Parkway. A pedestrian bridge would solve that dilemma and serve as a key link to Peachtree Corners’ emerging multi-use trail.

“The bridge team is very happy to see this segment of the overall Corners Connector trail open
and available to the community,” said Greg Ramsey, the city’s Public Works Director. This is
now a safe and efficient crossing over a very busy highway, and its placemaking will serve the
community well into the future.”

On-site construction began in fall 2019. By this time next year, the bridge will connect to a trail along the stream that is adjacent to the Town Center. That part of the Corners Connector Trail system will provide connectivity to existing trails along Peachtree Corners Circle and Medlock Bridge Road. Those trail segments connect to existing path infrastructure that stretches north to Duluth and beyond.

For the thousands of pedestrians who will use the new elevated walkway with its expansive view, the city’s new bridge was well worth the wait.


Press release by the City of Peachtree Corners

Gregory Ramsey, PE, Director of Public Works & Engineering

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