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Owner of Gem Jewelry continues football watch tradition
Orenstein attends the banquets
Marvin Orenstein, 90, owner of Gem Jewelry in Gainesville, will be giving this timepiece to eight deserving area football players. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For 65 years, Marvin Orenstein hasn't missed a single Gainesville High School football awards banquet.

And each of those year's the 75-year owner of Gem Jewelry in Gainesville has donated a timepiece to a selected football player from the school.

Over the years, Orenstein's donation has grown to include seven high school football players every year — each from a different county school.

Orenstein's father-in-law opened Gem Jewelry in 1936 shortly after the famed tornado devastated the city.

"When I came to Gainesville, (my father-in-law) ... would go down to the University of Georgia and go down to (Georgia) Tech and get all the equipment they were going to dispose of and bring it back to the Gainesville High School team," Orenstein said.

Right in the middle of the Great Depression and immediately following the tornado, many people were short of money including the football program.

"At that time, things were rough. People in the mills here were making $15 to $18 a week," Orenstein said.

Following the death of his father-in-law in 1946, Orenstein approached Gainesville High School requesting to set up an award in his memory.

Orenstein's idea was to present a player, selected by coaches, with a brand-new watch. And not a cheap one.

The awarded timepiece is usually worth in the area of $300 to $400.

"It's not just a watch," Orenstein said. "It's something they can be proud to wear."

Following the consolidation of the county schools in the 1950s, Orenstein was asked by East Hall High School if he could help motivate the football players.

"I got a call telling me that the boys are used to playing basketball and they're having a hard time getting them to come out to practice, and they don't realize how much time you have to put into the football program," he said.

School officials and coaches felt if players had something to work toward they would put forth the extra effort.

"I said ‘If you think it's going to build your program, you've got it,'" Orenstein said.

Each public school in the county with a football program is given a watch provided by Gem Jewelry to present to the player it feels is most deserving.

"I give a watch to every school whenever they call me and tell who the most valuable player is," Orenstein said.

"They invite me to the banquet, and I'll make the presentation," he added.

Occasionally different high schools will have a banquet on the same night. In that case, one of his daughters will present the timepiece at one banquet, while he will attend the other.

Because of Orenstein's involvement with Gainesville High School, he was awarded with an honorary certificate during a graduation ceremony two years ago.

Orenstein said he was proud to be honored and he's proud of the tradition he's carried on after his father-in-law began it so many years ago.

"I did it in honor of what my father-in-law did to Gainesville High School, but it's branched off to county schools," he said.

The long-living tradition has been supported by the county high schools and people involved with the football programs, and Orenstein said it's grown beyond what he imagined.

"To be honest with you, I never dreamed that it would create that much attention," he said. "I didn't know I was that smart. It's turned out to be that the people respect me for it."

"It's turned out to be one of the greatest things I've done in my life — the most important thing I've done in my life."


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