Godfrey Funk and his wife Patty are practically landmarks in Clermont, having lived in the same house on Main Street for 63 years, almost all their married lives.
The street also is Ga. 284, which once was U.S. 129, the main route north to the mountains. The traffic isn’t as bad since they rerouted 129 around town, but still traffic is about the only negative Funk can think of about living on a small town’s Main Street. That’s only because some drivers resent the four-way stop at King Street and speed after stopping.
Funk said a blinking light preceded the four-way stop, but some “mean boys” dragged it down and abandoned it around Brookton, a few miles away.
Clermont’s park used to be home to several businesses and a gas station. Funk even remembers when Clermont had its own movie theater. Ezekiel Floyd ran a grocery store downstairs in what houses the Masonic lodge upstairs. Customers could pay their electric bills at his store.
Mary Haynes lived in the old Clermont Hotel, once had a stand that sold hamburgers and hot dogs and also served as postmaster.
Funk, 87, grew up with eight siblings on a 40-acre farm near Mount Airy in Habersham County during the Depression. But the family didn’t want for life’s necessities. His father worked for Southern Railway, and the mother and children helped keep the farm going with livestock and crops.
“We never went hungry,” Funk said. “We had it better than a lot of other folks.”
An enterprising young man, he’d sell rabbits he had harvested for a nickel to a neighbor who was fond of rabbit stew.
After graduating from Cornelia High School, he served three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed as a ship’s boilerman in Jacksonville, Fla. Two years at Piedmont College followed, and he earned a bachelor of science in agriculture at the University of Georgia in 1950, sometimes hitchhiking from Mount Airy to Athens.
His long career in education began with teaching veterans about farming, but he ended up at Clermont School. County school Superintendent. H.G. Jarrard sent him to Tadmore for a year, then to Brookton and finally back to teach seventh- and eighth-graders at Clermont until school consolidation opened North Hall High School. He taught eighth grade there till retirement in 1982.
One of his sons, Gary, said former students occasionally remark to him how his father “used to wear them out” in the days when paddling was common.
While Godfrey Funk never strayed from his farm roots, he really dug into the dirt in retirement. His prime Clermont lot had room for a large garden, as well as livestock. The family might visit a grocery store occasionally, but most of the food on the table came from fruits and vegetables from their garden.
His yard is filled with shrubs and trees he planted, a story behind each. Some of them he bought, but most grew from transplants or sprigs he rooted. Gary remembers going with his father to New Holland to dig up a water oak that was about to be cut down and transplanted it in their yard.
When Patty and Godfrey Funk called their children to mealtime growing up, they were called by numbers rather than names, Gary said. He was No. 3. Other sons are Wesley, Mark and Loren. Their father passed his work ethic down to them, and as youngsters, they were all over Clermont doing odd jobs for neighbors in addition to their family chores. All are married now and provided their parents with 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Godfrey Funk has been a pillar of Concord Baptist Church in Clermont since he spied his future wife playing the piano there a few months before they married.
“I decided then she would be the mother of my children,” he said.
He has taught Sunday School, led Royal Ambassadors and served as a deacon. He is especially proud that all the Funk sons are deacons in their respective churches and that their children also are active in church.
Recently, Clermont honored Godfrey Funk as its oldest living veteran. The Funks hold P.O. Box No. 1 in Clermont’s post office. Many hold them No. 1 in their hearts.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.