Joy to the World

There are those among us whose countenance radiates joy and whose kindness lingers long after the encounter is over. MB speaks with seven such locals to find out the secret behind their smiles.

Emily Muncaster // Photos by Matthew Coughlin

Emily Muncaster

Server/bartender at The Noble South, server at Red or White, server/chef’s assistant for chef Cassie Powers

Emily Muncaster knows there’s more to being a good server than listing off the day’s specials and taking down orders correctly. “Everyone has their own story,” she says. “I try to relate to people as best as I can.” With more than 10 years of restaurant experience and a background in theater, a lipsticked and charmingly tattooed Muncaster can’t help but serve your dish with a side of personality and know-how. It’s not unusual for her to spot her most regular customers walking down Dauphin and have their orders placed before they enter The Noble South. “I love taking care of people, bonding with regulars and complete strangers and connecting through our love of food,” she says. “People are my passion. They keep me going.”

Sandra Johnson

Sandra Johnson

Community Resource Officer, traffic guard at Gilliard Elementary School

One of Sandra Johnson’s most prized possessions is a ziptop bag of shells, each shell a gift from an adoring student to the soft-spoken traffic guard. “I’m going to keep these forever,” she says. For the past two years, Johnson, who has worked traffic for 18 years, has been helping Gilliard Elementary students cross D.I.P safely. “I like to make the kids feel good going to school and leaving,” she says. “Sometimes they have bad days, so I’ll do something to pep them up, and they just give me that big smile.” Passing drivers say she is “all smiles, all the time” and they often stick a waving hand out the window. “That makes my day, and it’s great if I’m having a bad day myself,” she says. Her secret to staying positive? “I pray on the way to work and pray when I leave because I’m so thankful that God has seen me through it.”

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Cecil Christenberry

Cecil Christenberry

Owner of Old Thyme Feed & Garden Supply in Fairhope

Cecil Christenberry is something else. After 32 years of running Old Thyme Feed & Garden Supply, the Fairhope staple he operates with wife Linda, Christenberry has become a bit of a local icon, a jolly hurricane with the energy and growling voice of a pro wrestler, searching for somebody to body slam with kindness. “I love dealing with the customers. Sometimes, a customer’s spandex might be a little tight, so they come in a bit grumpy. I like to kill them with kindness,” he says. “I try to act the same all the time, even when my feet are hurting.” Christenberry says it helps to keep a routine; he starts every day with an early-morning devotion. “I’m a man of prayer. God is with me every step of the way, no matter what.” This month marks the 22nd year that the popular business owner will don the Santa suit for the Fairhope Christmas Parade.

Ora & Michael Steber

Ora Steber & Michael Steber

Unit secretary, postpartum floor, Mobile Infirmary
Security officer/valet attendant, Mobile Infirmary

Wife and husband duo Ora and Michael Steber know the importance of making a good first impression. Michael, known around the hospital as “Cowboy” thanks to his trademark broad-brimmed hat, lets his energetic personality fly while greeting visitors, working valet and doing whatever needs to be done.

“He’s jumped off my car battery, removed a snake from underneath my vehicle, run in the rain to fetch my umbrella, the list goes on,” says one hospital employee.

Ora, unit secretary of the postpartum floor, is the first face seen by anyone approaching the unit. It’s a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly. “She is always smiling, always greeting you and is literally the most pleasant person,” a former patient says.

“Patients come to the hospital for help, and they need our optimism,” Ora explains. “If we come to work grumpy, then what hope will our patients have?”

Michael couldn’t agree more. “Every day is an opportunity to make a difference because, usually, people aren’t coming to our facility for a good time.”

“Our optimism is part of their healing, too,” Ora says.

Endora (Dora) McCreary

Endora (Dora) McCreary

Preschool teacher at Dauphin Way Baptist Church, Child Development Center

Endora McCreary, better known as Mrs. Dora, says her preschool students make her “laugh all day.” The world is a much better place for it; her laugh and smile have brightened many lives and put countless anxious parents at ease. “Everyone adores her,” one parent says. After 12 years at Dauphin Way Baptist Church, McCreary has helped raise an impressive number of tiny Mobilians. “I teach the 1-year-olds, so I get to help them learn to walk and to say some words — there’s a lot to start with them!” she says. “I often get texts on the weekend from the parents — videos of their babies saying, ‘Dora’s house!’ as they drive past the daycare.” As for her upbeat manner, she says, “If you’re having a bad day, keep on smiling. I don’t go to work with an attitude. I just put my music on and dance with those babies.”

Claude Thomas

Claude Thomas

(aka Artist DJ Wildlife) Artist and DJ

Claude Thomas, also known as Artist DJ Wildlife, is the walking, often dancing, definition of contagious joy. On the sidewalk outside BackFlash Antiques, the Joachim Street shop owned by his cousin, Thomas can be seen on Saturdays and Sundays jiving to his own mixes, arms outstretched and feet spinning on the pavement. “I love seeing the reactions of people when they hear something they like,” he says. If his Bobby Jones-esque outfit doesn’t draw your attention, his spikey hair certainly will. “I wanted dreadlocks, but I wanted to do them in a different way,” the DJ, painter and sculptor says. Asked where his joy comes from, Thomas says he couldn’t even begin to explain. “It’s just me being the individual that I am and just feeding off of a crowd.”

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