Maria Taylor was born and raised in Peru and spent several years in New York and New Jersey before calling Athens home in 1988.

She said her move to Athens felt “like embracing family.”

“No one in New York and New Jersey said, ‘Good morning,’ to you,” Taylor said. “I moved to Athens, and it was so nice to see people waving at you as they drove by, and hear people saying, ‘Hello,’ to each other. From the very beginning I felt this city was my family.”

Taylor is now representing her City of Athens as this year’s Athena – Grease Goddess for the third annual Athens Grease Festival, hosted by the Spirit of Athens. The community nominated Limestone County women who give back to the city, and the festival’s two main sponsors, Fox 54 and WZYP, scored the nominations.

The sponsors based their scoring on the premise that Athena of Greece was known as a wise goddess who loved and protected the City of Athens, could be a warrior, had a creative side and had interest in the arts, crafts and agriculture. The Athens, Ala., version is someone who protects her city through her willingness to give back to Athens through community service.

As Athena – Grease Goddess Taylor will lead the opening ceremonies at 11 a.m. on Saturday during the Sept. 27 festival in downtown Athens. She will meet and greet guests and rest on a wooden thrown bedecked with laurel and red felt. Festival organizers will also provide Taylor with a toga, a torch, and for a Southern touch, a beauty queen sash made from burlap.

“This is such an honor,” said Taylor, who is so community minded, she has plans Saturday to volunteer with an event in Huntsville. “I guess I can take a few hours to be Athena and then go work.”

Shirley Crutcher, the Red Cross Disaster Program Manager, said Taylor is a perfect choice for Athena because she is a wonderful volunteer. Crutcher works with Taylor, who serves on the Red Cross board.

“She is a superwoman,” Crutcher said. 

Although born in Peru, Taylor was not allowed to join the Peruvian Army. She immigrated to America and joined the military. She served 4 years in the Army and 20 years as the International Programs Manager for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville. Her service took her to Afghanistan and Iraq, where she received several awards. 

Since moving to Athens, she has become a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Hispanic Ministry at St. Paul Catholic Church, an instructor with Learn-To-Read and a member of the Athens-Limestone Public Library Board of Trustees.

For Red Cross, Taylor serves on the Disaster Action Team, a group that rotates responding to house fires to provide for victims’ immediate needs. Taylor also conducts community presentations on tornado and fire safety and serves as a Spanish interpreter for Red Cross. Crutcher said Taylor goes to other counties during disasters to help, such as when Marshall County had a tornado about a year ago.

“She truly does feel like Athens is family, and she believes that people should treat each other like family,” Crutcher said.

Although Taylor calls Athens home, she strives to remember her heritage while embracing the customs of her Southern city.

Taylor helped organize the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration in Athens. The festival has been held the past two years during October as a way to encourage sharing and understanding of Latino cultures with the community. 

Mayor Ronnie Marks said Taylor promotes diversity by encouraging the Latino community to become involved in Athens through volunteering and by sharing Latino customs with Athens citizens.

“She is an asset to our city, and I am thankful she decided to call Athens home,” Marks said.

Taylor said the friendly actions such as waves and hellos are not the only reasons she loves Athens.

“I love The Square, all the trees and flowers throughout our city, our schools, and that there is so much to do like the Grease Festival,” Taylor said. “When I moved here and my kids started school here, they told me I did the right thing choosing Athens. They said going to school here helped put them on a good path.”

Since the Athens Grease Festival is a celebration of all things fried in addition to the Greek origin of the city’s name, those nominated were given extra points for having a best fried dish. Taylor’s best fried dishes are chicken, empanadas, which is like a fried pie, and milanesa, which is a thin cut of beef or chicken that is breaded and pan fried.

“I am amazed at the women like Maria who live in our community and work to enhance our already wonderful city,” said Athens Grease Festival Chairwoman Betsy Hyman. “We received nominations that included an Athens High student who works in many programs at her school, another lady who spends nearly all her weekends cooking stews for fundraisers, and other women who volunteer on multiple projects.”

Toga Tidbits

● What: Athens Grease Festival
● Where: Downtown Athens
● Time: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
● Opening Ceremony: Starts at 11 a.m. with short parade led by Athena – Grease Goddess.
● Guinness Book of World Record Attempt: This is for largest toga party. Must wear white toga. Line-up at 2 p.m. at corner of Marion and Washington streets. Attempt starts promptly at 2:30 p.m.
● Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for ages 3-12 and free for 2 and younger. $1 off for toga wearers.
● Out of the Frying Pan VIP Party: 7 p.m. at The Loft 1880. Go to $20.
● Vendors: Food, beverages, crafts, etc. Vendor prices are not included in ticket purchase.
● Parking: Public lots around and near The Square and marked side street parking. Handicap parking will be designated on Jefferson Street.
● Major sponsors: Fox 54, WZYP, City of Athens, Limestone County Commission, Athens-Limestone Tourism Association and Athens State University’s Livingston Concert Series.


by Holly Hollman

Savor a spoonful of blues. Relish a helping of reggae. Sample the soothing strains of classical.

The third annual Athens Grease Festival will offer music lovers a feast for a variety of tastes. 

“We are a food festival, but we offer so much more including musical entertainment,” said Festival Chairwoman Betsy Hyman. “Our festival appeals to all your senses.”

The festival is Sept. 27 from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in downtown Athens. It is hosted by the Spirit of Athens as a celebration of all things fried and the Greek origin of the city’s name.

This year’s line-up involves:

● Steelism
Nashville-based instrumental duo Steelism comprised of guitarist Jeremy Fetzer originally from Ohio and pedal steel player Spencer Cullum originally of England. Steelism blends an eclectic array of vintage and modern influences to create instrumental music that truly sounds like nothing else.

“Steelism allows us to musically explore in our writing and take performance chances we couldn’t get away with in any other project,” Fetzer says.

Their debut EP “The Intoxicating Sounds of Pedal Steel and Guitar” was met with critical acclaim with American Songwriter’s Sean Maloney calling Steelism “instantly recognizable – surf, country, blues, all steeped in soul and heavy on the grooves – but astoundingly outside the contemporary vernacular.”

● Promised Land Sound 
This group emerged from the Nashville garage scene and developed a country and soul sound. Bassist and singer Joey Scala and his younger brother Evan (drums) moved to Tennessee from Virginia. Joey connected with guitar player Sean Thompson while hitchhiking after high school. Keyboard player and pianist Ricardo Alessio was classically trained in Michigan. Luke Schneider sometimes guests on pedal steel. 

● KUSH  
This Huntsville-based reggae band formed at the request of a DJ when a group of friends and family met to play for a Bob Marley birthday celebration program. The group performs across the Southeast. KUSH’s influences include Sade, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Sean Paul and Santana.

● Microwave Dave and The Nukes
This band has performed for 20 years in the U.S and Europe on cruises, in soccer stadiums and at neighborhood saloons. As Microwave Dave puts it: "Blues is America's first-and still best-self-help program."  The band received the Alabama Blues Society’s Blues Achievement Award in 2001, "for accomplishments in performing, writing and preserving blues music." 

● Huntsville Symphony Orchestra string quartet (in collaboration with Athens State university's livingston Concert lecture series and the huntsville symphony orchestra)
The orchestra owes its beginnings to the Wernher von Braun and his team moved to Huntsville in 1950, they found lush surroundings and agreeable weather in this cotton mill town with a population of some 16,000. While their professional lives were dedicated to realizing visions of flights into space, many of them were skilled amateur musicians who shared a deep-seated passion for classical music.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Here are some contacts if you would like to interview and feature some of the bands. Please do not release this contact information. Thanks

For Steelism contact Matt Bury at 615.664.1167 (ext. 27) or by email at
For Promised Land Sound contact Reece Lazarus at 
For Microwave Dave call 256-519-9993 or email

Toga Tidbits

What: Athens Grease Festival

Where: Downtown Athens

Time: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for ages 3-12 and free for 2 and younger. $1 off for toga wearers.

Out of the Frying Pan VIP Party: 7 p.m. at The Loft 1880. Go to $20.

Vendors: Food, beverages, crafts, etc. Vendor prices are not included in ticket purchase.

Parking: Public lots around and near The Square and marked side street parking. Handicap parking will be designated.

Major sponsors: Fox 54, WZYP, athens limestone tourism association, athens state university's livingston concert lecture series, City of Athens and Limestone County Commission

The Loft 1880 at Village Pizza
222 West Market Street
7 PM
Tickets: $20 (limited quantity)

Join us after the festival to celebrate another successful event.  Rub elbows with sponsors, kick up your heels with festival organizers, and enjoy live music.

Click here to purchase tickets.

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks will declare the week of Sept. 21, 2014, as Greek Week to honor the Athens Grease Festival, which brings thousands to downtown Athens. It is a celebration of all things fried and the Greek origin of the city’s name. Money raised supports downtown projects. As part of Greek Week, the festival’s Promotions Committee wants to hold a FACS Fried Food Contest among our local schools. Here are the details:

Date/Location: Sept. 25, 2014, at noon at the Limestone County Career Technical Center. Sheila Lightfoot has graciously offered the use of her facilities.

Participants: Any junior and senior high Family and Consumer Science class from the Athens City and Limestone County school systems, Athens Bible School, and Lindsay Lane Christian Academy

Awards: Will choose first, second, and third place in the junior division and senior division.

First Place: First place will receive: a quirky trophy; a hamburger and/or hot dog lunch made by the Athens Gas Dept. Grillers (will work out a lunch date in October with junior and senior high winners); and free vendor space at the Athens Grease Festival on Sept. 27, 2014, held from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. You can use your space to sell your winning food item as a fundraiser, sell other fundraiser items, and hand out information about your program.

Second and Third Place: Prizes to be determined. May get gift certificates so you can shop at a local store for items your class needs or to buy items to throw your class a small celebration party.

Judging: Submission can be a dessert, vegetable, fruit, meat, etc. Use your imagination. Item must be fried. Will judge based on taste, appearance, and creativity. Our judges are Mojo from the Mojo Radio Show on WZYP, Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks, Superintendent Tom Sisk and Sheriff Mike Blakely.

Recipes: Please include your recipe with your submission. Local media will cover event and may run winning recipes.

Togas: Since this event helps sponsor the Athens Grease Festival, presenters are asked to please wear a toga.

Sign-up: If you plan to participate, please send an email to Holly Hollman at or call her at 256-262-1399. Please notify her by Sept. 19, 2014.