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Hall of Pride inductees selected

Staff Report

The 2021 class of inductees for the Tallassee High School Hall of Pride has been revealed. The induction ceremony is scheduled for Thursday March 18 at 10 a.m. in the THS Auditorium.

This year's honorees include; Michelle Hayes Cole (Class of 1992), Olivia Pienezza Solomon (Class of 1955) and Sylvia Phillips (Class of 1974). The service award will got to longtime coach John Edward "Hot" O'Brien.

Biographies are listed below.


Michelle Hayes Cole - was born in Tallassee and attended Tallassee City Schools.  She graduated from Tallassee High School in 1992.

Michelle Cole attended Alabama A&M University and earned a B.S. in Forestry Management in 1997.  She earned a master’s degree in Adult Education from Auburn University in 2010 and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Auburn University in Adult Education with an emphasis on Higher Education.

She is currently the Outreach Director for the Center for Environmental Studies at the Urban-Rural Interface (CESURI) at Auburn University and an instructor for Urban Forestry at Auburn University.  CESURI is housed at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and supports research, teaching, and outreach related to managing urban growth and our natural resources.  She manages the Center’s website and most of its online presence through various forms of electronic communications, including an online newsletter.

She plans many educational events for students and, through her work, thousands of grade school children are able to see first hand what university scientists are doing. 

Michelle Cole is the Auburn University advisor for MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences).  Through this program, Cole helps students in the School of Forestry and Wildlife make connections in their field of study.  MANRRS “provides many mentorship and networking opportunities.  MANRRS offers students opportunities to enhance leadership, organizational, public speaking, and networking skills, and to experience professional critique of scholarly works” (Auburn University website).

She also directs the annual Resume and Interview Day for Tallassee High School.  As the coordinator, she brings business owners and other professionals to Tallassee High School to simulate real interviews, which helps prepare students to college and job interviews.  She conducts a “Dress for Success” presentation for all the seniors.

She is married to Kerry Cole, who is Chief of Projects for the VA hospitals in Montgomery and Tuskegee.

She serves as a Sunday school teacher and director of the Dance Ministry at Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, where Kerry is the minister, and has served on the Tallassee Community Development Corporation.

Michelle Cole is the daughter of the late Warren Hayes and Della Hayes.  Her sister, Jessica, and brother, Scott are also THS graduates.  Michelle and Kerry have three children, Jacoby and Sinclair, THS graduates, and Micah, a current THS student.


Olivia Pienezza Solomon - educator, author, historian, beloved Alabama short story writer and folklorist, was born on June 1, 1937 in Tallassee, Elmore County, AL and died on January 3, 2008, in Tallassee. She was the daughter of Harry Merrill Pienezza (1910-1953) and Mackie Irene Hornsby (1912-1993).

Olivia Solomon graduated from Tallassee High School in 1955, where she served as editor of the Talla-Hi News, a member of the THS Long Blue Line, and Glee Club. Olivia was also a brilliant oratorical and debate champion.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Alabama in 1958 and 1962. While at the University of Alabama, she worked in the Department of Theatre and Dance and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa Society, which recognizes academic achievement in the arts and sciences. In the summer of 1959, Olivia worked summer stock in New York City, Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Conn., and the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine.

Olivia Solomon and her husband, Jack Payne Solomon (1927-2012), married on February 5, 1960 in Camden, Wilcox County, AL. Their children are Jacqueline Solomon Payne (1960-2019), Suzannah Solomon Wilson, and James Marion (Will) Solomon.

In her professional career, she taught English, for 14 years, at Troy State College (now Troy University) in 1959-1960 and 1968-1971; Auburn University from 1963-1968; and Auburn University at Montgomery in 1971-1972.

Olivia Solomon was a meticulous researcher and prolific writer. She and her husband Jack Solomon wrote and published more than 20 books on folklore, short stories, and local histories. They also wrote and directed many children’s plays. During their writing years, Olivia and Jack focused on revealing Alabama culture through folklore, graveyard epitaphs, ghost stories, and homegrown recipes and remedies.  Their folklore works include Cracklin’ Bread and Asfidity, Ghosts and Goosebumps, Zickary Zan, Sweet Bunch of Daisies, Honey in the Rock, and Gone Home.  A collection of her short stories, Wild Wildwood Flower, was published by Portals Press in Tuscaloosa.

Her most cherished work, Our Bethel, is an extensive history of her beloved First United Methodist Church of Tallassee, which was founded in 1853. She was instrumental in the erection of the historical marker for the First United Methodist Church of Tallassee and wrote its text. Olivia also wrote Tukabatchi Sketches, the life and times of the Muskogee (Creek) Indians and their seat of government at Tukabatchi, for the Upper Muskogee (Creek) Nation. Her book, The Tallassee Armory 1864-1865 is a record of the Civil War history of the Tallassee Confederate Armory and the Tallassee carbine.

Some of the Solomon Family Papers (1969-1990), manuscripts, research notes, tapes, videos, folklore class teaching materials, and correspondence are housed at Auburn University Special Collections & Archives Department.


Sylvia Farrow Phillips - was born in Birmingham.  Her family moved to Tallassee when she was three years old.  She attended school in Tallassee, first at R.R. Moton School (1st-8th grades) and then Tallassee High School.

When she was in the 7th grade, Tallassee City Schools started its integration plan, and students were given a choice to stay at R. R. Moton or attend THS.  The Tallassee chapter of the NAACP decided that it was best for Syliva to stay at R.R. Moton.  During her 8th grade year, the name R. R. Moton was changed to Southside Jr. High School, and she began her journey at THS in her 9th grade year.  At Tallassee High School, she was on the Talla-Hi News staff, Student Council, and was the first black Spirit Representative, elected her freshman year.  She was one of the coordinators of the first student walk-out at THS.  Minority students were concerned that there were no black students on the Student Council or the two cheerleader squads.  Working with THS principal Mac McArthur and counselor Paul Taylor, their efforts led to a change in the school’s constitution requiring at least two black students on the Student Council and cheerleader squads.  She and Twanna Miliner Brown were selected to be the first black speakers at commencement their senior year.

Sylvia Phillips attended Alabama State University and earned a B.S. in psychology with a minor in education in 1979. She holds two master’s degrees, one in Mental Retardation from Alabama State University (1993) with certification from the University of Alabama in Specific Learning Disabilities and one in Education Leadership from Alabama State University (1994).

In 1990, she accepted a job at Holtville High School in the Elmore county school system, and began a 17 year career of not only teaching but mentoring and guiding students.  She served as textbook committee chairperson, cheer coach, volleyball coach, and senior class sponsor for the classes of 1993 through 2006.  She wrote the Elmore County school system Alabama Occupational Diploma curriculum in 2002.  She also developed the Lee v. Macon faculty training program for Holtville High School in 1999 and served on the faculty courtesy committee, the crisis management team, and was student council sponsor.

From 2007 to 2017 Sylvia Phillips worked in the Bullock county school system as Special Education coordinator.  Her responsibilities included managing the special education budget for the county, supervising 17 teachers, and coordinating and conducting administrative evaluations and professional learning programs in Bullock and Macon counties.  She served as chairperson of the disciplinary committee for the central office, and developed universal precautionary presentations for teacher professional development.  She served on the Teacher of the Year selection committee and was a member of the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools.

Her service to community extends beyond the classroom to her church, Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church.  She serves as superintendent of Sunday School and as President of the Women’s Auxiliary in the Elmore Rehoboth Baptist District and is a member of the Southwest Missionary Baptist Convention where she serves as chief lecturer for mission education.

Sylvia Phillips and her late husband Eddie Phillips were married for 38 years and they have two children, Monica and Nicole, both graduates of THS, two grandchildren, Roderick and Broderick, and three great grandchildren, Skye, Kinsley, and Promise.


John Edward (Hot) O’Brien - teacher, coach, athletic director, principal, and revered mentor, was born on March 16, 1906 in Dadeville, Tallapoosa County and died on Jan. 18, 1977 in Tallassee. He and his wife Clara Lee Tillery (1907-1998) are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Tallassee. O’Brien was the son of William Doss (Will) O’Brien (1875-1938) and Wallace Mildred Black (1875-1909).

He graduated from Dadeville High School, Dadeville in 1924, where he excelled in baseball, basketball, and football. He earned 12 athletic letters (“D”), in grades 9-12, and was the quarterback in 1924, his senior year.

Coach Hot O’Brien earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, AL in 1930 and a master’s degree from the University of Alabama in 1958. While at Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), he played football, baseball, and basketball for the BSC Panthers. He got his nickname “Hot” at BSC. Basketball coach Ben Englebert called O’Brien from the bench and said, “Get in there, O’Brien and get hot.” The crowd heard the admonition and took up the chant. He excelled in the game and the press picked up the nickname and the legend endeared.

He married Clara Lee Tillery (1907-1998)), daughter of William Austin Tillery and Lula Mable Jones, on November 29, 1933 in Dadeville.

In his professional career, he taught and coached at Falkville High School (1930-31), in Morgan Co., AL; New Site School (1931-32) in Tallapoosa Co., AL; at his alma mater Tallapoosa County High School (now Dadeville High School) (1932-35); and Tallassee High School (1936-1969). He was a positive motivator and has had a lasting influence on his students/players and Tallassee.

In his 33 years at THS, he was a teacher (math, physical education, diversified occupations), coach (football, basketball, baseball), athletic director, and THS principal (1959-1961). Coach Hot O’Brien coached the undefeated THS Tiger football teams (Oct 1941-Nov 1947), who won 57 consecutive games and established a national record. It stood for almost 20 years until it was broken in 1966 by Jefferson City High School in Missouri. For many years, O’Brien directed the Tallassee summer recreation programs for the Tallassee Mills. In 1946, the people of Tallassee gave Coach O’Brien a new Chevrolet sedan, in appreciation for his service to Tallassee.

In 1969, Tallassee’s Stumberg Field was renamed “J. E. (Hot) O’Brien Stadium,” in his honor. Eight years after his death, in 1985, the Birmingham News named him the Best All-Time High School Football Coach in Alabama. He was inducted into the Alabama High School Athletic Association Coaches Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2008, he was inducted into the Birmingham-Southern Hall of Fame.