Leadership takes many forms, but at its essential core is a willingness to step up and take decisive action to tackle an issue that needs attention. Leaders may also be followers who still stand out and do great things by virtue of volunteering to take on projects and advance worthy causes that make our community a better place.

As we do each spring, The Times-Journal is honoring 20 outstanding individuals whose contributions deserve special recognition. We think it is important to celebrate those who put in the hard work to make a difference. Among DeKalb’s Top 20 Leaders and the reasons why they deserve this honor, in alphabetical order:

Laran Adkins - As director of the Fort Payne City Schools Child Nutrition and Transportation programs, she made sure thousands of local children kept getting nutritious meals after a public health crisis caused schools the close for months. Adkins also wrote the grant for and received money for two brand new100% electric school buses, distinguishing Fort Payne as pioneers of the green frontier.

Donna Carlin – After surviving a terminal cancer diagnosis, she made it her life’s mission to help others through programs and has been a tremendous advocate with the Henagar Public Library, which went from hosting 7 programs to 120 a year. Patrons rose from 500 to 1,500. They even named the library a “safe place” for domestic violence victims and held classes there with the DVCS to help victims get out of situations. They also host family and parenting classes and so much more.

Anthony Clifton – As chief at the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency, he keeps an ever watchful eye on the skies and spends his days preparing for threats the rest of us can barely even conceive. Knowing he and the rest of the EMA office are ready with a plan enables the rest of us to relax.

DeAnn Cobble – With COVID-19 creating such an impact this year, health care workers are prominent on our list of leaders. As a CRNP at Encore Medical Spa, she has restored wellness to countless patients. She’s also heavily involved at First United Methodist Church, where her faith is expressed through action and compassion.

Stuart Douglas – Although many know him for his songwriting, he’s also devoted to DeKalb County’s animal population and started Daisy Spay, a nonprofit to drastically reduce the number of stray animals and reduce euthanasia for unwanted pets.

Daniel Duncan – When the pandemic abruptly interrupted our lives, the owner of VaporCraft and NextGen in downtown Fort Payne used his resources as a business owner to donate hand sanitizer to the area’s first responders. This was a major feat when protection from a contagious new disease was in short supply.

Sandy Goff – As director of the Rainsville Chamber of Commerce, she works every day to beautify and enhance the community.

Fred Johnson – As head of Farmers Telecommunications, he pushed to make fiber and public wifi hotspots available countywide. Because of his efforts, many of our children were able to get online and continue their education so they wouldn’t fall even further behind.

Tracy Jones – This local realtor and business owner has always had a love of Fort Payne in her heart, and she demonstrates it through her various contributions to the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce and other efforts.

Tara Harris Kirby – She leads the DeKalb County Parenting Partners program that encourages parental involvement and is sponsored by the county school system. She teaches at Henagar and was elected to the city council for the first time in 2020. She is constantly applying for grants for the school, city and public library.

Michelle Norwood – This wife, mother and educator from Geraldine touched hearts when she wrote a book about the journey of her son, Hunter, who was born with Down Syndrome. It has inspired others to recognize how special every child is. She’s also an entrepreneur who started an ice cream business employing special needs children.

Katie Owen – She was nominated for this award because of her success as a local entrepreneur and for her efforts helping the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce. In a rebounding economy, running a successful business and helping others do the same is absolutely heroic.

Debra Rhodes – Being a town clerk is more than her job. She’s bettered the Valley Head community as a whole, provided stability during tough times, taught other clerks how to get started and pursued grants to help the local school children and community.

Paulette Sanford – Being the court clerk for the City of Henagar put her in a position to reach out to local veterans to make sure each and every one of them received a letter of appreciation for their service to our country. We can never thank these heroes enough and she helps us remember their sacrifices.

Mike Shirey – As an athlete, he’s been a leader his whole life, an easygoing family man with a fascinating side-job as a college football referee. But local leaders have noted how smoothly things are developing in the area with him in charge as the general manager of the Fort Payne Improvement Authority.

Anthony Sims – We’ve learned he’s a good old-fashioned country doctor who always goes the extra mile at Henagar Family Care to offer his patients compassionate treatment during a public health crisis.

Charlotte Turner – She’s yet another healthcare figure we are recognizing. In addition to her devotion to local women and children, she also deserves praise for her volunteer work over the years with the March of Dimes.

Sharon Gilbert Wigley – In addition to her longtime association with DeKalb Regional Medical Center, she’s contributed greatly to the Race to Embrace, dream team basketball and her Rainsville church’s puppetry ministry.

Jennifer Wilkins – She is an advocate for Collinsville’s historic downtown area and goes out of her way to learn her town’s needs and methods to improve by attending not only locally available events but out in the area as well. Director of the library, she has also organized various events, including the Collinsville Quilt Walk, the annual Hallin’ Up the Gap 5K and the Collinsville Turkey Trot.

Rayne Jaycie Zabava – This Mentone resident, transplanted from Texas, organized Lookout Mountain Community Meals and partnered with Fontana’s to feed others such as the entire staff of DeKalb Regional. She has donated much of her own time and money to help local law enforcement, fire departments and rescue squads to purchase gear they need. Herself a songwriter, her Magic Music Charitable Foundation has put musical instruments and supplies in the hands of many.

We will tell you more about their efforts in the June issue of DeKalb Living magazine.

— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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