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Natives, transplants leave their marks on Gainesville
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I married into a family that has generational roots in Gainesville. They go back long before the War of Northern Aggression.

For 28 years, I have lived here. That’s longer than anywhere else in my life.

I lived in Forsyth County for a while, but had a Gainesville address. That counts for something.

Many families here have roots going back to when anything north of the river was Indian territory. Some folks can go back to the time when the city limits of Gainesville were basically within a one-mile radius of the square.

I have one friend who was baptized in the old First Baptist Church, where the former First National Bank building now stands. He and his wife were one of the first couples married in the current First Baptist on Green Street, which some folks considered to be way out of town.

But so many people have left their indelible mark on Gainesville, and came here either by choice or as a child.

Philip Wilheit, a well-known civic leader, moved here when he was just 4 years old. Jim Walters, known for his philanthropy, moved here as an adult.

Poultry czar Abit Massey was originally from Athens, but has been a part of our community for more than half a century.

We have ministers whose community involvement stretches far beyond the walls of their respective churches. Tom Smiley is now in his 25th year at Lakewood Baptist Church. He is readily identified with North Hall High School and other community endeavors.

Bill Coates has been here for more than a decade and a half. He, too, found his way into the very fabric of our community.

So has Terry Walton at First United Methodist. He asked me not to say he has been here 11 years. For goodness sakes, please don’t tell the bishop. Keep it to yourself.

That’s just a sampling.

One person who left fingerprints of good work on our town was Nath Hayes, who died recently at the age of 81.

I came to know Nath when I was co-hosting the radio show with the legendary Bimbo Brewer, a true native.

At first, Nath could come off a bit gruff or curmudgeonly. But his was a heart of gold that loved kids. It was obvious because he and his wife, Joyce, had six of them.

Nath’s father, the Rev. Zach Hayes, was the pastor of First United Methodist in the 1950s. Nath’s obituary gives a glimpse of the nomadic life of a Methodist preacher’s family. He was born in Atlanta and graduated high school in Augusta. By the time he finished college and service in the Army, his dad and family had moved to Gainesville.

He went into the insurance business and fell in love with Joyce when she asked him to help start a Sunday school class.

The life of a preacher’s son gave him a taste of several Georgia communities, but he chose this one. We are a better place because he did.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.

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