3 Inspired People

Stories Carmen K. Sisson | Photographs Whitten Sabbatini

Tavetia Hughes, Columbus
Tavetia Hughes leans her head against the wall and smiles dreamily, a million miles away from the cacophony of a Friday afternoon at Beans & Cream in Columbus. She laughs, suddenly bashful. Her relationship with music is one of fire and passion, and like her Barry White ringtone, her words are drenched in the ardor of the hopelessly smitten.

She remembers the first time she saw The Nutcracker as vividly as if it were her first kiss. She was a junior in high school, and when the curtain closed, she had to hold on to herself tightly to keep from climbing into her seat and yelling, “I like this! I LIKE this!”

Hughes credits that early exposure for her lifetime love of the arts — a love she has spent her life trying to share. She taught music for 32 years at South Side Elementary in West Point, earning Teacher of the Year in 2001. She served on the Columbus Arts Council’s Board of Directors and its education committee and was named director of the Young People’s Artist Series. She has taught free music lessons and given concert tickets to countless children.

It’s all about opportunity, she says. Because she was given so much, she feels a duty to give back. And because the arts are so vital to her life, she spares no time or expense sharing it with others.

“My goal is to give every child the opportunity to experience the arts in all forms,” Hughes said, “even if it’s just a performance.”

Her calendar remains packed, and her dreams grow bigger every day. If she won the lottery, she would use the money to open a fine arts school and offer free lessons to students.

Until then, she’ll keep singing the gospel of music education — one note, one child, one concert at a time.

Yingmei Yang, Starkville
He didn’t have to put his phone number on the door. She didn’t have to answer the phone when it rang. And they definitely didn’t have to open their shop on a cold, rainy Sunday for a customer they knew would not be making a purchase.

But Yingmei Yang and his wife, Nancy Yang, believe in customer service. And their goodwill paid off in a big way for the Golden Triangle.

The Yangs opened Starkville’s Asian Market three years ago, and since then, they have become known for not only their eclectic inventory but also their dedication to their customers.

That’s why Joey Deason, chief operating officer of the Golden Triangle Development Link (GTDL), was so disappointed when he and “Tex” Murakami pulled up to the door that day and saw the market was closed. Deason and other members of the GTDL had spent weeks courting Murakami and other top executives from Yokohama Tire Corporation, hoping they would open a plant in the area. The executives had spent all morning touring Columbus, Starkville and West Point by helicopter, but when everyone else went home, one remained — Murakami. He wanted to see more, and Deason wanted to impress him.

He dialed the number on the door.

“I’ll be there in eight minutes,” Nancy Yang said. She arrived in four.

Murakami spent nearly an hour walking the aisles, examining the merchandise, asking questions, taking pictures. A few weeks later, Yokohama officials signed an agreement to bring their tire plant — along with 2,000 jobs — to West Point.

Deason believes the Yangs’ courtesy may have been the tipping point.

“In the big scheme of things, the Asian Market played a huge part,” Deason said.

As for the Yangs, they just shrug and smile. When people need things, they’re always just a phone call away.

Major & Darlene Cox, West Point
In a world of need, there are doers and there are talkers. And then there are those too busy doing to do much talking. In the city of West Point, there are Major and Darlene Cox.

If Major is tired today, you’d never guess. He has just returned from his weekly, 600-mile truck-driving route, but his eyes are ablaze as he talks about his passion for volunteerism. Nearby, Darlene finishes his sentences, filling in the gaps he is too humble to mention.

Almost every weekend, the couple can be found manning their antique popcorn machine, serving up nachos, or smoking turkeys and hams for community events. Wherever there is a need, they are the first to answer the call.

Pastor Quincy Patterson of Gospel Temple Missionary Baptist Church wasn’t surprised when the Coxes took over the church’s community-wide Thanksgiving meal. For more than a decade, the couple has not only provided the food, but cooked and served it as well, feeding more than 2,000 people this past holiday.

Together, they spent all night cooking, with Darlene handling the dressing, sides and desserts and Major commandeering the barbecue pit, smoking 20 turkeys, 15 hams and 50 pieces of chicken.

The meal is for everyone, not just the needy, they say. And no one is asked for a dime, not even a donation.

Every year, they wonder how they will pull it off, and every year, the magical alchemy of good wood and selfless love permeates, filling the community with the blessings of fellowship.

They have a heart for God and God’s people, Patterson said. As Christians, they not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. The Lord leads and the Lord provides.

“I call it planting seeds,” Major said. “When you give, you are blessed.”