3 Inspired People

Stories Carmen K. Sisson | Photographs Masa Hensley

Karen Johnwick, Columbus
Karen Johnwick has always loved animals, but her career in animal rescue began slowly.

Johnwick, director of the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, grew up on a farm in Bushnell, Florida, and had many opportunities to interact with the farm animals and local wildlife.

But something clicked inside the day she saw an injured turtle struggling to cross the road after being hit by a car. She was only 6, and it broke her heart to think the turtle might die, so she brought it home.

It was the first of many animals Johnwick nursed back to health and returned to the wild — hedgehogs, flying squirrels, chinchillas, sugar gliders and, of course, dogs and cats. There were even two orphaned possums — one of the few animals she doesn’t particularly like.

“I never realized how nasty they are,” she says, laughing. “I just want to give everything a chance.”

Today, she oversees operations at the Humane Society’s new, 12,000 square foot building. She is still amazed when she thinks about the years of knocking on doors, holding fundraising events and gathering spare change to fund the construction.

The employees and animals moved into the $1.2 million facility in August 2013. It is cleaner, safer and more inviting for potential adopters and the 3,500 animals that come in each year, Johnwick says.

But no matter how much she accomplishes, Johnwick is always looking for more ways to help more animals. She is quick to give credit to the board members, employees, volunteers, and community and says anyone can help, from donating supplies to working one-on-one with the animals.

Meanwhile, if you see a woman with eight dogs, two cats, one foster dog and four foster puppies, say hello — and be prepared to leave with a new best friend.

Ron Caulfield, Starkville
Before he was “CANDYMAN” CAULFIELD, he was just Ron, a shy Mississippi State University student majoring in business. He liked sports but didn’t play on any team. He wanted to be a cheerleader but didn’t have the grades. He liked people but couldn’t look them in the eyes. In 1975, he received his diploma and disappeared into the annals of MSU history.

Except that’s not where Caulfield’s story ended.

In 1998, lost in a fog of depression, MSU’s biggest sports fan threw the Hail Mary pass that saved his life. He lobbed a sackful of candy to a handful of baseball fans, and a legend was born.

Sixteen years later, Caulfield is still handing out candy at MSU sporting events, from football to ladies’ soccer.

He’ll be 61 in July, and he’s had two hip surgeries, but that just stoked his fire. He spends approximately $2,000 a year on candy and keeps a book of his regulars’ names, seat positions, and favorite sweet treat, including sugar-free candy for the diabetics.

He doesn’t charge, and he isn’t paid. He lives to spread happiness. His mother died when he was 6, and it taught him to savor life’s moments, the good with the bad.

He passes out candy to all fans (except Ole Miss) and attends most away games (except the ones in Oxford). He leads the cheers. And he listens to anyone who needs to talk.

In darkness, he found light. In pain, he found compassion.

“I wouldn’t trade my life for anything,” Caulfield says. “You can’t dwell in the past. Deal with what’s given to you, go forward, and make the best of it. Get with people who enjoy what you enjoy. Talk to them. Listen. Everybody has a story if people would just sit down and listen.”

Tim Brinkley, West Point
When times get hard, Tim Brinkley turns to God. And things could not have been harder for the West Point police chief than they were in late August.

The summer heat lay heavy over Mississippi and all eyes turned to Ferguson, Missouri, where law enforcement officers struggled to quell racial unrest. And then, the unthinkable happened — an altercation in a West Point parking lot left one man in a coma and many asking whether the assault was racially motivated.

Three decades in law enforcement had taught Brinkley one thing: He needed to take control of the situation, and fast.

The rumor mill churned and the national media banged its drums of war. Brinkley launched an investigation into the assault, calling state and federal law enforcement agencies to assist.

And then, he prayed. He prayed alone and he prayed with his church family at Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist, where he serves as pastor. Then he prayed with all of West Point as citizens gathered for a community-wide unity service. And slowly, a situation that was “perilously close” to spinning out of control came to rest.

Brinkley, 53, takes no credit, attributing the renewed tranquility to the leadership of West Point’s mayor and board of selectmen, the support of local residents and the power of prayer.

He sees wearing a badge as an extension of his ministry, allowing him to help others while dispelling negative views of law enforcement. He wishes people trusted police more and were more courteous toward each other.

But times like these call for encouragement, so Brinkley spreads it far and wide. In a world filled with hatred, his antidote is his Bible.

“I am a man of God,” he says. “I hold on to my faith, because at the end of the day, that’s all I have.”