Mordecai Wilson arrived in Lula in 1996, a little wary at first.
After all, the native of the North had vowed, after experiencing racism firsthand some 40 years earlier, not to “be caught dead in Georgia.”
“But look where I am,” he said, leaning back in a recliner at his home a stone’s throw from Lula’s downtown. “I’m happier than a pig in slop, and I hope to die here.”
But Wilson isn’t just content with being content. No front-porch rockers or watching cars travel past his modest single-story home on Moon Drive.
From the start, he got involved in the northeast Hall County community. At 90, he’s still active, including some 15 years and counting on the Lula City Council.
And, in no small feat, Wilson completed requirements last year to receive the Certificate of Achievement from the Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute, operated by the Georgia Municipal Association and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
To get the certificate, a city official must complete at least 36 hours of required classes, with the program consisting of more than 50 courses.
“There are classes that are three hours and six hours (in length) ... and he would have had to travel to take (them),” said Aileen Harris, GMA training manager.
Wilson, who is scheduled to be recognized at Monday’s City Council meeting for the accomplishment, was happy to pursue the certificate.
“Either you want to make things better or you just want to stand still and do nothing,” he said. “Standing still is like water getting stagnant. I owe it to my community and to myself to keep on learning and improving.”
Wilson has certainly impressed City Manager Dennis Bergin.
“He’s a bright individual and very knowledgeable,” he said. “He’s done us a good job — no question about that.”
And, at his age, Wilson has got “a number of stories to tell, probably (ones that are) more interesting than his tenure with Lula,” Bergin said.
It’s almost a tale of two lives for Wilson — one before and one after settling in Lula.
The native of Bidwell, Ohio, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Later, he and his wife, Mary, ran group homes for mental health patients in Boston.
A lifetime of accomplishments — documented in photos, letters, newspaper clippings and awards — cover two walls in his home.
Among them is a letter from the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, praising the Wilsons for playing a “vital role in the lives of men and women who are in great need of a warm and supportive environment.”
And a letter from President George H.W. Bush states: “I commend you for claiming society’s concerns as your own.”
The couple retired after 25 years, moving to his wife’s native Lula.
When they arrived, “I told her I wasn’t going to sit still,” he said. “I was going to get involved in something that was productive and uplifting.”
He first joined the Lula Area Betterment Association then later took part in the Brenau University Learning and Leisure Institute. He also worships at Missionary Baptist Church in Lula.
In his first few years in the area, however, the pains of earlier mistreatment still lingered.
“Every black man is always concerned, particularly when they come South due to the (region’s) history,” Wilson said. “But things change, you know, and that’s why I say you can’t shoot all the dogs because some have fleas.”
Life has its sad goodbyes, and for Wilson, his wife’s death June 1, 2014, after their 64½ years of marriage was the toughest. The couple had no children, but photos and framed letters in his home show they had many friends, including people they served in the mental health system.
One of the letters, addressed to famous advice columnist Dear Abby, talks about a foster child’s experience in the Wilsons’ home.
“They somehow convinced me I could be a positive member of society,” the letter states.
Wilson believes his service continues to impress.
“I think I’ve made a tremendous difference,” he said, adding that he maintains a 24/7 open-door policy for constituents.
Looking ahead, he sees a promising future for Lula.
“Improvement is moving this way — this is virgin territory for growth,” Wilson said.
He said he hopes to see much of it take place, including expansion of industry and recreational opportunities.
But particularly, Wilson said, “I want to see younger people get involved in government and the community. Old folks like me are passing on.”