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Johnny Vardeman: Christmas 1970 brought a few big changes to our region
Johnny Vardeman

The Christmas season in Georgia and particularly Northeast Georgia in 1970 was one of highs and lows, triumphs and tragedy, politics, people and significant change.

Jimmy Carter the previous month had won the state gubernatorial race and chose North Georgians to important positions in his administration. Dahlonega Councilman Hoyt Robinson was named state purchasing director, and Calhoun banker Bert Lance would lead the highway department. Lance, whose father Jackson Lance was president of Young Harris College, was a native of Gainesville, having been born in the old Downey Hospital. Dahlonegan Frank Moore became Carter’s legislative liaison, a position he continued when Carter advanced to the White House.

In local politics, Don Carter, a distant relative and strong supporter of the new governor, didn’t seek re-election to his Gainesville first ward commissioner’s seat. That was when radio personality Jim Hartley won the race to succeed him, defeating his former colleague at WGGA, Bill Sellers.

Amilee Graves had been mayor of Clarkesville in the 1960s but wasn’t on the ballot in the 1970 election. However, she earned 134 write-in votes to win the post over Pierce Short, whose name was on the ballot but gathered only 110 votes.

Down the road in Cornelia, Ben Crow, who previously served as mayor, regained that office.

Pete Whiten served 12 years as Gainesville city manager but resigned at the end of 1970, to be succeeded by his assistant, Ray Keith.

Gainesville voters also that year voted down a proposal to float $475,000 in bonds to build a new football stadium at Gainesville High School. Meanwhile, the school’s football team lost to Dykes in the North Georgia AA championship at City Park. Former Gainesville Coach Graham Hixon had better luck, his Woodward Academy team beating Dykes for the state championship the following week.

That same year, Gainesville Parks and Recreation Board ignored the city school board’s request to not develop a park on Wessel Road because it wanted to build a school there. The park at the corner of Wessel and Holly Drive eventually was developed.

Hall County would vote in a referendum in January to provide fire protection for its residents. This came after a private, nonprofit fire department had to turn in its three trucks because it couldn’t keep up the payments. The fire department, led by Larry Williams, began in 1962 with one truck and four firefighters. It had four stations when it went out of business.

Tragedy during the 1970 Christmas season included a car-train collision in downtown Lula on Christmas Eve. One of the four killed was a hitchhiker who had just gotten into the 1950 Chevrolet, which was pushed a mile down the track by the 155-car freight train’s engine.

Three days later, one person died when a train hit a car in downtown Cornelia.

On the merrier side of the season, store parking lots all around North Georgia were filled with Christmas shoppers. Belk’s still had stores in downtown Gainesville and Sherwood Plaza. Roses was in Lakeshore Mall and Sherwood Plaza.

Gibson’s Discount Store on Thompson Bridge Road advertised heavily in The Times, selling oranges for a penny apiece, bicycles for $32.88 and Hoover vacuums for $24.88. Its main competitor of the day, Dixie City on West Broad Street, now Jesse Jewell Parkway, where J&J Foods is today, advertised men’s suits for $25.

Meanwhile, Hall County Hospital, now Northeast Georgia Medical Center, raised the minimum wage for employees from $1.50 to $1.70 for employees.

Christmas 1970 was the first year First United Methodist Church of Gainesville had a Chrismon tree, members of the church making ornaments symbolizing various aspects of the Holy Birth. The tradition continues today in several churches.

And Helen Short won Belle of the Ball at the Junior Service League’s Charity Ball.

Old adage: A rainy Christmas Day means bountiful crops next year. The 12 days after Christmas predict the weather for the following year, each day representing a month of the year. For instance, if it rains on the second day after Christmas, the second month, February, will be a rainy month, according to the legend.

And for those who still churn their own butter or who remember that chore, some wise veteran churners had this advice: If butter won’t come when you’re churning, put a penny in the churn. Just be careful when you bite into your buttered biscuit.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; e-mail

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