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5 Questions for Charles E. Whalen Jr.

About Gus Whalen

Age: 67
Hometown: Michigan City, Ind.
Length of time in Gainesville/Hall County: 55 years
Education: Gainesville High School, Emory University, LaGrange College
Occupation: CEO, Warren Featherbone Co. and chairman, Warren Featherbone Foundation
Most interesting job: Outside of my work with Warren Featherbone, while I was in college, I was complaint manager for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. ... in Atlanta!
Family information: Married 45 years to Janelle Rollins Whalen, son, Charles Whalen, a composer living in New York City; daughter, MaryAnn Campion, a genetic counselor and educator living in Boston; two grandsons, Mason and Emery

Each Monday, “5 Questions” asks someone in our community to answer five questions about their lives. If you know someone who would be a good subject for this feature, send their name and contact information to

Charles E. Whalen Jr. — known to everyone as “Gus” — had a long, successful career with the Warren Featherbone Co., maker of baby clothes. Since the company sold out in 2005, Whalen has tried to make his mark improving the community.

He and others formed the Featherbone Communiversity as an intergenerational learning community, and from that has sprung the Masters Series that honors the best of the best in several fields of work.

Today, The Times asks Whalen five questions about his vision for making his community a better place.

1. How did Featherbone Communiversity come about?

In 2005, Warren Featherbone Co. sold its baby clothes business rather than move its manufacturing to China. For 129 years, the company has adapted to change and the idea of a future in education was somehow appealing.

My good friend Jim Whitlock of Brenau University says the “perfect life” is lived in thirds: First, we “watch,” then we “do.” Finally, in the highest and best sense, we “teach.”

We began to look at Warren Featherbone as part of a learning community. The company and six local visionary investors, who were open to those possibilities, created Featherbone Communiversity to provide collaborative learning that was intergenerational. In a way, every citizen is a student.


2. Who were the founding organizations in Featherbone Communiversity?

Lanier Technical College, joined by the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center and Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute were part of our founding group. The Lanier Tech Manufacturing Development Center today incubates 10 small businesses. In the last 36 months, five companies have graduated, two patents have been received and 266 jobs have been generated by companies in the MDC.

We are also proud of Interactive Neighborhood for Kids. INK is a wonderful and extremely popular children’s museum. INK has created a unique kid-sized village where children of all ages can imagine, create and explore beyond their dreams. In the past 12 months, more than 65,000 guests have visited INK.

And finally, Brenau University is an important part of our group. Brenau operates its School of Nursing, School of Occupational Therapy as well as classes for theater, dance and Brenau University Lifetime Learning Institute.

Brenau has installed a significant state-of-the-art patient simulation center that greatly enhances student learning.


3. How did the Communiversity’s Masters Series originate?

Featherbone Communiversity, comprised by its founding members and others, created the Masters Series to better understand career mastery. Four public programs are held annually that explore this mastery in teaching, nursing, entrepreneurship and craftsmanship.

Each program seeks to honor these masters, learn from them — their story — how they do what they do and why they have dedicated their lives to these professions, and encourage young people to consider being masters in these careers and others.


4. Why the effort to honor so many professions with your masters series?

As a society, we sometimes fail to understand how important everyone is in their profession. We depend on so many people to bring mastery to their work. This series deals with the very human commitment to attain mastery and share that unselfishly with the world.

Many careers could be featured. We have started with just four and these programs have been very popular with the public, including high school students who attend all masters programs as part of Featherbone Communiversity Academy, which was established last year.


5. What key trait do you see possessed by “masters” regardless of their field?

True “masters” seem almost called to their work. The profession “finds them.” When it does, these individuals respond with all they have — talent, focus, time and energy. The result is awesome to behold.

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