#039;Sisters#039; recognized by tourism bureau

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 15, 2003

"Alabama the Beautiful" is more than a place of mountains, beaches and scenic vistas. It is also the home of many remarkable people with a richness of life experiences - "Alabama's Beautiful People."

Sisters Pat Rogers and Geraldine Umbehagen were added to the prestigious list of "Alabama's Beautiful People" Monday at the Governor's Conference on Tourism in Huntsville.

Rogers and Umbehagen, owners and operators of Sisters' Restaurant were among eight recipients of the awards presented by the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel. The "Beautiful People" were honored during a special assembly at the conference and received certificates of recognition, presented by Lee Sentell, director of the bureau of tourism and travel. They will be featured in the 2004 Official Alabama Vacation Guide and serve as unofficial ambassadors for that state.

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Umbehagen said being named to "Alabama's Beautiful People" was one of the greatest things that has happened to her and her sister, Pat.

"It's a real honor to be recognized by the state tourism and travel bureau," she said. "We were told that over 300 people were nominated and that a committee picked those to be recognized. We are just very honored that they picked us. We want every person that comes to our restaurant to want to come back again. We try hard to make sure they do."

Sisters' and the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel have the same goal - bringing people back again.

The Sisters, however, have the advantage of enticing folks with fried green tomatoes and banana pudding, along with a big helping of Southern hospitality. And, that's exactly what Rogers offered the audience in her acceptance remarks.

"We are very excited to be named to 'Alabama's Beautiful People.' This is a real honor for us," she said. "And, if you come to Sisters,' we'll treat you right - with fried green tomatoes and banana pudding."

Rogers said she and her sister love Alabama and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. "Wouldn't live anywhere else."

"We love Alabama, we love people, and we loved what we do," she said. "We're proud to be some of 'Alabama's Beautiful People.' That's a real big honor. We thank Shelia Jackson for nominating us. We had a wonderful time at the conference and met a lot of people that love Alabama just as much as we do. Alabama is a beautiful place and I don't want to be anywhere else."

Jackson, Troy's director of tourism, said Rogers and Umbehagen were an easy choice as nominees.

"Geraldine and Pat turned an old motel into one of the best and busiest restaurants around," Jackson said. "They have people who eat with them six days a week. They have others who come several times a week or once a week. Then, here are a lot of tourists who just happen to see all the cars and stop. And, like all the locals, they'll make it a point to come back if they're within 50 miles. It's just that kind of place."

Jackson said, it's usually difficult to say exactly what makes a business a success, but not when it comes to Sisters.

"It's the sisters," Jackson said. "That's not to say the food's not a draw because it is. But the sisters make their restaurant more than a place to eat. They make it a home away form home and people always want to go home at dinnertime."

Alabama's other "Beautiful People" were:

James Armstrong, Birmingham, an icon of the Civil Rights movement.

Jerry Brown, Hamilton, a ninth-generation potter who uses a mule-powered mill to grind the clay.

Bill Finch, Mobile, the environment editor of the Mobile Register, who explores the uniqueness and beauty of the Alabama landscape.

Deborah Gray, Tuskegee, the director of Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center.

Jim Long, St. Stephens, who helped establish a museum that focuses on the history of St. Stephens.

Eva Honolka Newman, Montgomery, runs tours in the Alabama State Capitol complex.

Verta O'Neal, Ken Ogelsby and Donald Smith, Tuscaloosa, lead start-to-finish tours at the Mercedes-Benz plant.

Russell Nolen, travel bureau public information specialist, said "Alabama's Beautiful People" recognitions were originally called Alabama's Unforgettable Faces."

"The program began in the early 1980s as a one-time thing," he said. "Now, it's an annual recognition.

Some of the people who are recognized are not well known until now, but they are neat people. When we find out about them, we want to recognize them. Sisters did not show up on my radar until recently. It's there to stay now."

Marilyn Jones Stamps, calendar editor for the Alabama Calendar of Events, said the Governor's Conference on Tourism brings together people from all facets of the tourism industry.

"We have about 400 people from different areas of tourism here to share ideas and trade information," she said. "'Alabama's Beautiful People' will be a part of our advertising campaign for 2004. They are a part of the reason that we call our state 'Alabama the Beautiful.'"

Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford was nominated for the tourism advocate of the year in government. The advocate award will be among those presented at the close of the conference.