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A new kind of savings for Mathis
Retired banking leader installs water recycling system
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If James Mathis Sr. puts his mind to something, there's a pretty decent chance it's going to happen.
In the 1960s, Mathis went against the odds to help Hall County land what is now Gainesville State College.

He oversaw the development of Home Federal Savings & Loan into a regional bank that is now a part of SunTrust. Mathis had a long and distinguished career as a respected banker and has been a noted leader in his community and church.

But at age 83, Mathis now is wearing a new title: Water-conserving environmentalist.

From his rural upbringing in Klondike, Mathis has always enjoyed things that are fresh and growing.
In his banking era, Mathis created what was then called a curb market where farmers brought their wares for sale. It grew and expanded into what is now the annual Mule Camp Market on the Gainesville square.

But in his own yard and small greenhouses, Mathis has enjoyed things that grow. His yard includes roses, herbs, several varieties of ferns and assorted vegetables, including a fall crop of collards. When the state implemented a ban on outdoor watering, Mathis was concerned about the survival of his many plants.

He began looking at options for collecting rainwater and using gray water, the water drained from bathtubs, sinks and washing machines. "Man, I've really studied this thing," said Mathis, who has compiled two large loose-leaf notebooks of information on alternative forms of irrigation.

Along with Cecil Dorsey, who works for him, he began designing two water systems. He first bought a pair of plastic 55-gallon drums to drain water from a couple of downspouts on his home. They quickly filled in a brief rainstorm, but did not hold enough water to sustain the plants for long.

Mathis found the answer in 100-gallon fiberglass horse troughs. He has bought six of them and had Dorsey install an overflow line which begins filling a second trough when the first one fills.

To get the water to the plants, they have built a network of pumps connected to plastic pipes and valves to distribute the water to their needed locale. It is a odd arrangement that is part Rube Goldberg and part Mr. Wizard.

Wednesday night's rain gave the reservoir system its first test. Thursday morning, Mathis and Dorsey were quite pleased with the results.

"We've got more than a thousand gallons," said Mathis, who raised his walking stick in an expression of enthusiasm.

His giddiness about his rainwater is in direct opposition to the bureaucratic red tape he has encountered in his efforts to build a gray water system. Mathis has obtained designs for a system which would, when filled hold 100 gallons of drain water which could be used in his yard and gardens.

He was joined in his research by his wife, Frances, who he refers to as "Mama."

"Mama has found out the right detergents to use in the laundry and in the dishwasher," Mathis said. One of the drawbacks of a gray water system is the amount of additives from household products which could harm some plants.

In an effort to obtain a permit to build his system, Mathis has called and visited with a number of city officials, right up to Mayor Bob Hamrick.

He found that no one has ever sought such a permit in Gainesville. The city referred the matter to the Hall County Health Department, because it involved wastewater. He has the design and a plumber ready to install, he's just waiting for someone to give him the go-ahead.

Meantime, Mathis has not stopped in his effort to be more environmentally friendly. He has replaced all of the toilets in his home with low-flush models that use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons for the older, less-efficient models.

He said that he reads and watches everything he can find on television about ways to conserve water and other resources. He also frequents "green" areas of stores to see the latest in products.

"This is my new hobby," Mathis said. "It keeps me busy. It keeps my mind going and I'm not going to stop."

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