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Column: The ‘lost’ Georgian who was key to passing FDR’s GI Bill, and other trivia
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Speaking of local history trivia, Abit Massey, president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation, is full of it — local history trivia, that is.

For example, he refers to a full-page ad from the Gainesville Eagle hanging in a frame at Johnny’s Barbecue in Gainesville. It advertises the Sept. 25, 1942, season-opening football game between the Red Elephants and West Fulton High School.

Players on that team included center Ed Nivens, Henry Ward, Mark Ham, Glenn Gilreath, Charlie Strong, Fred Powell and Charlie Frierson, among others. Nivens said he is the only surviving member of the team. Ward, former Gainesville mayor and county commission chair, was the father of Tharpe Ward, who with his wife Judy ran Johnny’s for many years. They had found the newspaper in Tharpe’s mother’s belongings after her death.

J.W. (Mickey) Babb was coach of that 1942 team that went undefeated and won the North Georgia Interscholastic Conference championship. The Red Elephants had only three touchdowns scored on them all season but settled for a 0-0 tie against North Fulton. They registered a 1-0 forfeit against Toccoa.

As for that West Fulton game, Gainesville won 20-0.

It was Babb’s only year in Gainesville. He became head coach at Greenwood, S.C., High School, where he won nine state championships and compiled a 336-81-23 record over 38 years.

Grateful for GI Bill

Loran Smith, legendary jack-of-all trades for University of Georgia athletics and prolific author, passed on this story about how a Georgia congressman was instrumental in passing the GI Bill, which provides financial and other support to military veterans furthering their education.

Rep. John Gibson of Douglas in Coffee County was home taking a break from Washington when a House committee deadlocked over President Franklin Roosevelt’s Servicemen’s Readjustment Bill of 1944 (the GI Bill of Rights). He was nowhere to be found when his colleagues tried to summon him back to the Capitol to break the 3-3 vote and get the bill out of committee. Radio stations broadcast an appeal to find him, the State Patrol stopped motorists, and friends hunted for him until he finally arrived home and answered the telephone call from Washington.

Gibson drove to Jacksonville, Fla., to catch a flight that put him back in Washington at 6:37 a.m. the next day. There he voted to pass the bill out of committee, and it eventually passed Congress.

Many veterans still today credit Gibson’s vote and the bill for their successful education and careers. Among them, Bill Hale, a University of Georgia executive and friend of Smith, made a trip to Douglas to place flowers on Gibson’s grave every Veterans Day. Hale, grateful for the GI Bill, earned a doctorate that helped him advance in his career.

Now for the more local angle, Gibson was the father of the late Anne Gibson Wofford, who attended Brenau College and afterward lived in Gainesville. She married Gainesville native Lawton Wofford, and they also lived in Demorest before retiring in Hiawassee.

Down by Riverside
Riverside Pharmacy
A 1950s photo shows Riverside Pharmacy and Green’s Grocery under construction. At right is George Forrester’s Sinclair service station in the triangle where a fireworks store now sits at Park Hill Drive and Ronnie Green Parkway/Riverside Drive. - photo by Courtesy of Hall County Library

Riverside Pharmacy on Ronnie Green Parkway across from City Park was the first Gainesville drug store to move off the downtown square in the 1950s. It has remained in the same area since its founding, although it moved from its original location next to Green’s Grocery a few yards down the street.

When the little shopping center was built, Riverside Pharmacy and Green’s Grocery were next-door neighbors. Green’s was operated for years by founders Lillie Mae and Frank Green.

During that same time, George Forrester ran the Sinclair service station in the triangle across the street. His nephew, Reggie Forrester, used to wash cars there during the summer. George Forrester later operated a Phillips 66 station on Thompson Bridge Road.

The Sinclair service station building stood vacant for a while, then was occupied by a Subway and now a fireworks store.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, vardeman1956@att.net or johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly.

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