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History Center event honors James Mathis Sr.
Late Gainesville banker remembered as community giant and friend
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Ladye Grace looks at one of the displays honoring James Mathis Sr. during a reception Thursday evening at the Northeast Georgia History Center. - photo by Tom Reed

Dozens of friends poured into the Northeast Georgia History Center on Thursday night to recognize Frances and James Mathis Sr.

Situated in the rotunda of the museum, glass cases displayed just a portion of what the Mathis family has contributed to arts, education, banking and leadership in the community.

Lines of guests hugged Frances and son James Mathis Jr., and old friends talked about Home Federal Bank, Boy Scouts and the early Gainesville Junior College in memory of Mathis Sr., who died July 12, 2009 at age 84.

"There's always a tinge of sadness to things like these," Frances Mathis said while smiling at the cases. "But you move on. It's a lot of fun to see these friends, these people who I don't see every day anymore."

A case by the entrance displayed the Mathis' sense of community, and it featured a letter from Jimmy Carter dated Oct. 15, 1975.

"I really appreciate your having the dinner for me at your home October 22nd," Carter wrote. "This will be helpful to me in my campaign, which is going well and will let me renew many friendships in Gainesville."

In a nearby case, pictures and plaques documented James Mathis' service to education in the community as a member of the Gainesville-Hall County Educational Task Force and creator of Gainesville Junior College, which later became Gainesville State College.

"He was very key to the founding of the college and was always involved," said Pat Guthrie, CEO of the Gainesville State College Foundation. "One time he came in and sat for students to draw him and told stories the whole time. The students loved him, and he was a dear, dear friend of mine."

Another case displayed Mathis' involvement with the banking community, first with Gainesville National Bank and then Home Federal. The case included a bowl and plate set from the Skippy's Savings Club, which Mathis established to encourage children to save money just as a squirrel stores nuts for the winter.

"He was a tremendous force in our lives and was a mentor who brings out the best in you," said Lynda Gastley, who began working for Mathis in 1965. "There are endless things in the community he started, all kinds of nonprofits and organizations. He was involved in and behind everything."

Other cases featured James Mathis' Purple Heart from World War II, a 1991 proclamation of recognition from former Gov. Zell Miller, Frances Mathis' passion for folk art and recognition from both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in Gainesville.

"I met Jim after World War II and after his father passed away, and we did a lot of sitting up at that time," Gene Bobo said with a smile. "We led (Scout) Troop 26 together, and we'd drag our wives and children to overnight camps together. We were good, good friends."

Glen Kyle, director of the museum, said ideas for the reception began at the beginning of the year. Family donated all of the items, and there were so many that the museum couldn't display them all.

"We have a finite amount of space here, but we could have lined the hallways," Kyle said. "These are just touches of what there is, but they speak to the breadth and depth of how the Mathis' have given back. This museum, for instance, wouldn't be here without them."

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