Mordecai Wilson’s home bears the evidence of a happy life.
The walls of the cozy Lula house are adorned with snapshots and framed photographs, certificates and letters. The kitchen is consumed by the smell of three freshly baked pineapple upside down cakes.
Though he recently had his hip replaced, Wilson cooked all morning to make food for a funeral.
"I’m trying to do what I can," he said.
And it seems Wilson has spent his life doing what he can for others, always giving to friends in need and fostering emotionally disturbed teenage girls and mental patients.
"We are people persons," he said of the way he and his wife have opened their home. "We’ve always shared our living quarters with other people."
And when he found himself alone recovering from his hip replacement, the people in his life came out to make sure he was as comfortable as he could be.
"It’s been amazing the number of people that come help me out," he said. "Out of nowhere there comes that ram in the bush."
The ram he speaks of is from the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. In the book of Genesis, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faith. Just as Abraham raises his knife to strike Isaac, an angel stops his hand, and Abraham sees a ram in a bush, which he sacrifices instead.
Wilson said he often parallels his own life with stories from the Bible.
"I was here all by myself and didn’t know what I was going to do," he said of the time after his surgery when his wife, Mary, was away.
People from the community came out to buy groceries, visit and make sure he was all right. Wilson said people he barely knew showed up to help, unasked.
An old friend even flew in unexpectedly from Arizona for the weekend to help him get settled into his house when he was released from the hospital.
"God works through people," he said.
Wilson was born into a family of nine in a small Ohio town.
Right after he graduated high school, Wilson moved to Boston to work and joined the military."Our house in Ohio wasn’t that much to look at or brag about," he said. "But I didn’t realize the value of having good parents, stable parents."
When he talked to others about their families, he said he realized how well his parents raised him. "The stability and the love and concern, that’s when I learned the difference between a house and a home."
Wilson said one of the most important decisions he made in his life was marrying his wife.
He said when he met her, she was living in Washington, D.C., and was in Boston visiting family. Because the chance of them meeting was so slim, he believes they were brought together for a reason.
"God knows what we need," he said.
Wilson and his wife were foster parents to about 30 girls and lived with mentally ill people teaching them life skills.
"We don’t have any biological children, but we had everybody else’s," Wilson said. "They just took me to be their second father."
Wilson and his wife of nearly 59 years retired to her hometown of Lula in 1996 after spending 25 years in Boston working with the mental health system.
But Wilson didn’t settle there.
"If I set down here and don’t do nothing, I’ll go stark raving crazy," he said.
He went through the Gainesville Citizens Academy to learn about the government, and the Gainesville Police Academy and the Hall County Sheriff’s Citizens Academy before becoming a member of the Lula City Council, where he has served for six years.
"He is the epitome of what a husband and a community person should be," said Maj. Ramone Gilbert, the director of the Hall County Sheriff’s Citizens Academy.
Wilson "has been a tremendous volunteer for us. ... He has been a true blessing to our department."
Gilbert said while Wilson was in the class, which teaches Hall County residents about police work, he would cook food for the 30 to 40 people in the class. After he completed the course, he continued to feed the next few classes.
While he was recovering from surgery, "we took him some food up there to return the favor," Gilbert said.
"You can sit down and talk with him and an hour will pass before you even know what’s going on. That’s how much you enjoy speaking with him."
Connie Stephens, director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, where Wilson is a volunteer, was among those who helped Wilson during his recovery by inviting him to spend Easter with her family.
"He truly has a compassion for the underprivileged. As a CASA volunteer he is absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t say enough on how much he has done in his lifetime to give back."
Among the frames on his wall were letters from men like President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy. But the one that means the most to him was one written by a teenage girl.
"I realized you don’t need to have a reason to celebrate Mr. Wilson," she wrote, "because he is such a wonderful person every day."