Time to get Jolly: Santa makes seasonal arrival at Lakeshore Mall

Christmas arrived Saturday at Lakeshore Mall when Santa Claus made his seasonal arrival riding on a big red fire truck.

By 10 a.m., the crowd around the mall entrance facing Pearl Nix Parkway was filled with anticipation as the first sounds of Christmas music were heard in the morning air. Led by a police escort, the Johnson High School Marching Band made its way around the corner in a parade that led to Santa’s arrival.

People cheered as the band continued inside, followed by Santa who boarded the mall train, circling the perimeter to ensure everyone could catch a glimpse.

“It was crazy. When we got out of the car the parade was going, and then we saw Santa and we were excited because we got to see Santa, and then the train,” said Denise Nylander of Gainesville.

The event also included performances by the Magical Mr. McClure and “Those Funny Little People” from America’s Got Talent.

Christy Elliott of Gainesville came with several family members to see her nephew in the marching band.

“It was cool the way (Santa) came in on the fire truck and the band was there leading him through,” Elliott said. “It was neat. I didn’t realize they did that.”

Though she had to wait to get pictures of her grandson with Santa, she hopes to return to the event in the future.

“I do like (being so close), because we’re just 10 minutes away. That’s nice,” Elliott said.

Larry Crane of Gainesville was with his grandson, Hunter, and shared the same sentiment.

“It’s excellent,” Crane said. “I’ve been in Gainesville all my life and I like it over here.”

It was the first time he had been back to see Santa since he took his son nearly 30 years ago.

“We were in the back when (Santa) came in, they did a good job. I like that train,” Crane said.

Although his grandson was not a fan of Santa, making the picture taking experience difficult, Crane was happy to see his hometown come out to welcome St. Nick.

Linda Turner of Lula was there with Gracelyn Merck, 6, who had chosen to see Santa’s arrival over other events happening Saturday.

“(It was) fun. My favorite part was taking pictures with Santa,” Merck said.

“It turned out great. I think she’s excited,” Turner said. “We’ve seen Santa before but we haven’t seen him actually come in.”

With all the activities and events scheduled, she said the rest of the day was already booked.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to get out and have family time together, and that’s most important now,” Turner said.

Valorie Pressley of Gainesville was with her 18-month-old daughter Violet and several other family members.

“It was really nice, I liked it a lot,” Pressley said, adding that the atmosphere was more relaxed than other places this time of year.

After watching her sister perform with the band, she was pleased with the quick wait time for pictures with Santa.

“The Santa was extra nice, and (Violet) gave him a big hug,” Pressley said.

The Lakeshore Mall Santa will be available for photos most days until Christmas Eve. For more information about upcoming events and holiday hours visit http://ift.tt/1gCsafV.

Time to get Jolly: Santa makes seasonal arrival at Lakeshore Mall

Illegal fire damages mobile home; no one hurt

A double wide mobile home caught fire Saturday afternoon in what Hall County Fire Services Capt. Zachary Brackett called an illegal brush fire “that got out of control.”

Firefighters responded to the Flowery Branch residence on 5164 Oliver Road shortly after 3 p.m. and found a mobile home with “fire underneath it.”

Brackett said nobody was injured, but the blaze caused about $5,000 in damage to the exterior siding, interior wall and underpinning.

Illegal fire damages mobile home; no one hurt

Man killed, woman injured in Buford shooting

Two people were shot, one fatally, overnight at a home in Buford.

Gwinnett police responded at 2:55 a.m. Saturday to 4637 Vintage Lane, about three miles south of Friendship Road near Interstate 985.

A man was found dead from apparent gunshot wounds and a 45-year-old woman was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center with a gunshot wound to her arm.

Gwinnett County Police report “there were several people inside the residence when an altercation occurred and several shots were fired.”

Police are working to notify the man’s family before releasing his name. The man’s name. Gwinnett County Police homicide detectives are investigating.

Man killed, woman injured in Buford shooting

Flowery Branch family writes, illustrates children’s book

When the Lunt girls fall asleep, they dream of being heroes and princesses — or artists and authors.

Flowery Branch High School students and sisters Savannah Lunt, 14, and Bella Lunt, 16, have been writing and drawing nearly their entire lives. The sisters are now co-creators of a children’s book “When I Fall Asleep,” which tells the story of Benny, a little boy with big dreams.

The book was a project assigned to Savannah and Bella’s mother, Diana Lunt, a student at Savannah College of Art and Design.

“Every project I was assigned, I asked myself, ‘What can I actually do with this, instead of just doing it and never seeing it again?’” Diana Lunt said.

Diana Lunt said she had to create the typography for a 32-page book or booklet, and thought of incorporating her daughters’ talents into the project.

“She came to me with this idea, and with her school stuff, we’ve always been the focuses of these projects,” Savannah said. “So she came to me and asked if I had a poem that might work. I had a few I’d written that I had in mind, and she said, ‘OK, let’s make this one longer.’”

Originally, the poem was inspired by Savannah’s own dreams, and it became a story of the many places people can go when they dream big.

It was only natural, Diana said, to have her other artistically talented daughter then illustrate the story.

“It’s about if you’re having an adventure, or a scary dream or a sad dream,” Savannah said. “Then, when Bella illustrated it, she added the more personal effect of having a boy named Benny in it, who actually experiences these things.”

Bella said she’s loved drawing since she was very young.

“In fact, when she was little, she would color on the TV screen because she thought she could color the characters on the screen,” Diana Lunt said.

Bella said as she read her sister’s story, she pictured the images in her head.

In one scene, Benny wields a sword and fights a fire-breathing dragon guarding a princess.

“We had to have meetings and go through, ‘OK, I think we should have this part on one page, and use this picture for that,’” Bella said. “So it was about talking things through, and it was really a collaborative effort.”

Lunt, who has her own design company and was first a student at SCAD 15 years ago, has years of print and publishing experience. So when the book “When I Fall Asleep” was complete, she decided they could print it and put it to good use.

Savannah, who attended World Language Academy last year, is passionate about learning Spanish and is saving for a class trip to Puerto Rico at the end of the year. The book sales will help her pay her way to Puerto Rico.

“I grew up with a single mom, so anything I ever needed growing up, I had to work for,” Diana Lunt said. “It was really important for my husband and me to teach our kids, if you want something, you have to work for it.”

The girls also sell homemade cookie cakes to raise money.

The Lunts sold 100 copies of the book in just one week. Now, the book is available online, and Savannah is writing a Spanish-translated version that will soon be for sale.

Proceeds exceeding the trip to Puerto Rico will go to charity, the Lunts said. And they are working with Children’s Miracle Network, to have a portion of each sale donated to the organization.

“We definitely see it as some way to give back,” Savannah said.

Flowery Branch family writes, illustrates children’s book

Gym of ‘36 renovation complete in Gainesville

The historic Gym of ‘36 is fully renovated and open for business.

Hall County native Wes Hunt, who built Homestar Financial from the ground up nearly 14 years ago, bought the building in October 2013 for $1.75 million, and has been renovating it ever since. A nearly $1.5 million face-lift is finally complete, and the three-story brick building at the corner of West Academy and Washington streets is the fully-operational headquarters for Hunt’s 400-employee corporation. Nearly 200 of those employees work in Hall County now.

“We’re already out of space again,” Hunt said, laughing. “What amazes me the most about this building is that it’s 80 years old, and now it will probably be here for 100 more years.”

The structure’s conversion to a single-tenant building was the most recent of countless overhauls for the Gym of ’36. It was originally the old Gainesville High School gym, but it’s also served as an entertainment venue for touring musicians. In the late 1970s, it was a 150-seat restaurant.

The gym holds much history, including a tragic beginning.

On April 6, 1936, it was under construction — along with a GHS auditorium, library and additional classrooms — when a tornado tore into downtown, destroying buildings around the square and killing some 200 people. The construction site survived major damage from the storm.

Having survived the disaster and its many reinventions over the years, the building remains a local landmark.

Melody Cooley, an administrative assistant with Homestar Financial, said it’s “exciting to be in a place that’s historical and old but fresh and new at the same time. It’s really something to see the old photos and know there was once a school over here and a gym.”

Added Cooley: “I work on the second floor, so I’m where the original basketball courts used to be. I walk on the floors every day. You can still see the outlines of the free-throw lines.”

Claudia Campa, an underwriter at Homestar Financial, said she, too, loves the new building.

“I like the atmosphere around here, and I watch a lot of restoration shows, so this (renovation) has been very interesting to watch,” Campa said.

Cooley said the building’s history is “part of the draw. A lot of people like coming to work here, because this place has personality. It’s not your standard office park.”

Gym of ‘36 renovation complete in Gainesville

New Academy Sports store sends local kids on shopping spree

As the last of the merchandise was put on the shelves with the clock ticking down to the grand opening Friday of North Lake Square’s Academy Sports + Outdoors, the first customers to the store arrived Thursday.

Exiting a familiar yellow school bus, 30 lucky children of the Boys & Girls Club of Hall County entered the store as part of a give-back program, with each child receiving a $100 gift card and an associate to help them spend it.

“It’s really a touching event for our associates to be a part of, and as Academy that’s a great give-back that we like to bring to the community,” said Russ Hilsher, store director.

With the gift cards to spend, each associate tried to help direct and assist each child as they made their way around the store.

“I got a person to shop with, and then I shopped,” said Patience Palomino, 7.

“It was just a cool mix of what they purchased when you looked in their baskets,” Hilsher said, pointing out that while some went for the bicycles, and some directly to the toy aisle, one of the most popular departments was shoes.

Luis Velez, 9, went directly to the soccer balls and shoes, but like the others from his club, thought the experience was awesome.

“I was talking to a guy. Me and him were having fun then he took me to get a soccer ball and some shoes,” Velez said. “(I was) happy, because I never knew we were going to a place like that.”

It was up to unit director Arizaid Guzman to choose the seven lucky children from the Joseph F. Walters Club at 2094 Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville, and it came down to pulling names out of a hat.

“(When they were told) they asked ‘Why us?’ (I said) because you always come into the club and you have a positive attitude, you do your homework, you never have any complaints from the tutor or from school for you guys. You’re the lucky ones,” Guzman said.

“To see all 30 kids, the faces when they went to the store, they have the store for them, have a person there with them as they walk around helping, it was a dream for them,” Guzman said.

Seeing each child get the attention and special treatment from the Academy team members was something Guzman had never seen before.

“That time was for them and (Academy) made that happen,” she said.

New Academy Sports store sends local kids on shopping spree

Riverside seeks to add late cadet to civil lawsuit over 2014 assault

Gainesville’s Riverside Military Academy is facing a civil suit filed by a cadet who was assaulted last year, and has filed a notice to include the estate or representative of the alleged attacker, who has since died.

Stephen Wechsler, who graduated from Riverside in May 2014, filed the suit Sept. 11, claiming the school should have intervened further before the attack, in which Wechsler suffered a concussion.

The incident, Wechsler claimed in his lawsuit, started in the dormitory hallway, where a fellow cadet with a history of violence knocked him unconscious.

The lawsuit claims Wechsler was punched and kneed “until he was eventually pulled away by Riverside staff.”

Wechsler claims he suffered a concussion, broken nose, deviated septum and fractures in his bottom and front teeth.

Responding to the suit, the school’s president Col. James Benson said the perpetrator, Christopher Mcateer, was immediately expelled.

“Unfortunately, fights break out in every high school, and Riverside is no exception,” Benson said.

On Oct. 27, the academy and its attorney, Jason Darneille, filed a notice of intent to apportion fault in the lawsuit.

“Based upon (Wechsler’s) complaint, unnamed party the late Christopher Mcateer is at fault for the injuries alleged in (Wechsler’s) complaint against Riverside Military Academy Foundation, Inc.,” according to the lawsuit. “At this time, we are unaware of any estate or representative being established on behalf of Mr. Mcateer.”

Darneille and Wechsler’s attorney Laurie Speed did not return calls for comment.

Wechsler and his counsel have asked for a jury trial and are seeking damages and court costs.

Riverside seeks to add late cadet to civil lawsuit over 2014 assault

Frost advisory in effect for North Georgia tonight, Saturday morning

Bundle up, North Georgia: The first chill of autumn is on the way this weekend.

The National Weather Service has issued a frost advisory in effect from midnight through 9 a.m. Saturday as temperatures drop into the low 30s by morning.

Residents are advised to bring sensitive plants indoors or cover them to protect from the frost.

Saturday will be sunny and clear with a high near 60, but the chill will return overnight, dropping temps back near freezing or below in some areas.

A gradual warmup follows Sunday night and into Monday with seasonal temperatures and a chance of showers returning Tuesday.

Frost advisory in effect for North Georgia tonight, Saturday morning