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Whelchels, Wilkies; what’s in their name?

POSTED: July 18, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Whelchel, Wilkie, Gilkie?

An ad in an Atlanta paper in the late 1800s promoted "Whelchel's Never Say Die" potion that supposedly was a cure for several ailments. The ad noted that "Whelchel" should be pronounced "Wilkie."

The two names don't sound that similar, nor is the spelling close. Apparently, however, the Wilkies and the Whelchels are from the same family tree.

Nell Whelchel Wiegand of Gainesville said family research shows that the "Wilkie" pronunciation probably comes from Gilkie Creek in Cherokee County, S.C., from which the Whelchels migrated to North Georgia. She also remembers her father talking about Whelchel being pronounced Wilkie by some. One of the family's ancestors is Dr. John Whelchel, who came here from Virginia and is buried at New Bridge cemetery.

Her father also told her a story about one man asking another about whom he was going to vote for when Wendell Willkie was running for president against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. "Whelchel," the man replied. "But no Whelchel is running," the other man responded. "Yes, there is," came the reply. "He's Wendell Whelchel."

In the "Never Say Die potion" ad, Moses Whelchel of New Bridge, Ga., was listed as its manufacturer. Tim Anderson of Dawsonville said Moses was in the Hall County census from 1830-80, and he believes he lived in the Bark Camp/Yellow Creek area. Numerous Whelchels lived in the Yellow Creek/Martin's Ford areas of Hall and Lumpkin counties.

Tim says his father told him that when he was growing up in Lumpkin County in the 1920s and '30s, all the Whelchels were referred to as Wilkies. Wilkie Bridge over Lake Lanier on Ga. 136 replaced one by the same name over the Chestatee River.

Both Tim and Nell say the Whelchels came from Germany, then Virginia and the Carolinas to North Georgia. Nell says some came from Holland and that one spelling of the name was "Vehell."

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Ty Cobb, the notoriously famous baseball player from nearby Royston, once hit a home run in Gainesville.

Cobb was just a few years into his fabulous career with the Detroit Tigers, when his team came to Gainesville in 1913. It apparently was a part of a spring training tour because it was in March when the Tigers played a Gainesville team before 500 fans and won 3-1.

Cobb was known more for his base-running and consistent hitting, but he accumulated quite a few home runs, too.

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Star athletes often come from the same environment. Atlanta Braves pitching great Phil Niekro grew up in the same neighborhood as John Havlicek, Boston Celtics basketball legend. They played sports together in Bridgeport, Ohio. Both made the Hall of Fame in their respective sports.

Some of the current Atlanta Braves played youth ball near each other in Venezuela.

Closer to home, some members of the 1949 state baseball champions Gainesville High School Red Elephants lived on the same street or played against each other in youth sandlot games. At the time Industrial League or mill village teams were going strong. Children in the villages watched their daddies playing in the competitive adult leagues that produced some star players, some of whom went on to advanced professional leagues.

Of the nine starters on that 1949 team, seven came from mill villages: Bobo Smith from New Holland, Curtis George and Curt Moore from Chicopee, Marvin Free, John Hulsey, Larry Pardue and Harold Griggs from Gainesville Mill. Free, Pardue and Griggs all lived on Dunlap Street.

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Chattahoochee Methodist Church, which is celebrating its 150th year in Robertstown, got a letter signed by President Barack Obama congratulating the congregation on the historic occasion. "I wish you continued success and blessings in the years to come," the president wrote.

Ron Hill, church member who contacted the White House to request such a letter, said it took about four months, but he understood because it answers about 10,000 letters a day five days a week. Ron should know because when he worked in the Pentagon in the nation's capital, cabinet members, members of Congress, the president and vice president all had "automatic pens" that would affix their signatures to the tremendous volume of letters responding to constituents' mail.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published July 18, 2010.


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