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Praise continues to pour in for the late James Mathis Sr.
James Mathis Sr. is pictured among a group visiting then-Gov. Carl E. Sanders during a trip to the state Capitol. On Monday, Sanders said Mathis was “everything you would want in a human being ... he was just a super individual.” Mathis died Sunday at age 84. - photo by For The Times


Longtime Gainesville City Councilman Bob Hamrick remembers James Mathis Sr., a business and community legend in Hall County. Hamrick worked for Mathis for 20 years.

Tributes continued to pour in Monday for James Mathis Sr., the longtime Hall County businessman who died Sunday at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

He was hailed as a visionary, with visible signs of his tireless work thriving today, including Gainesville State College, Interstate 985 and the lush Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.

Mathis also was remembered as doting on his customers, serving up homemade peach cobblers or ice cream at his bank, Home Federal Savings & Loan Association, and as an avid storyteller.

"He’ll be missed, but look at all the rewards we have," said Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

"What he has done for this community is immeasurable," added Dunlap, who worked as a marketing director at Home Federal for about 10 years. "... He sowed the seeds in so many ways for us to reap the many benefits."

Mathis, 84, died Sunday after a brief period of declining health, said his granddaughter, Katie Dubnik.

He arrived about noon at the hospital and died peacefully several hours later, she said.

Survivors include his wife, Frances, three sons, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation is set for 6 to 8 tonight at Little & Davenport Funeral Home in Gainesville. A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

Mathis was born in the Hall County community of Klondike.

He attended Young Harris College and became active in preservation of the history and environment of the North Georgia mountains.

A World War II veteran and devout history buff, he was involved in the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University.

Bob Hamrick, a longtime Gainesville city councilman who worked for Mathis as a branch manager, recalls the detail put into the construction of Home Federal’s College Square branch off Mundy Mill Road in South Hall.

"It was a replica of buildings you’d see in Williamsburg, Va. He went to Williamsburg and recorded all the minor details of the structures there," he said.

Home Federal Savings & Loan Association later became a bank and subsequently merged with what is now SunTrust.

Mathis also served as Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 26 for many years and was an active member and supporter of First Baptist.

He created what is now called the annual Mule Camp Market and also was one of the driving forces in the creation of what is now Gainesville State in Oakwood.

Gainesville State began as a strictly two-year college, and now the institution offers several four-year degrees and has a bustling campus in Oconee County.

Mathis’ name graces the college’s Dunlap-Mathis Building, which houses a testing center, offices and classrooms.

"James Mathis was a fine individual. Not only was he a good businessman, he was a citizen who was involved in many aspects of the Gainesville area," said former Gov. Carl Sanders, who served from 1963 to 1967.

"He was outgoing, very attractive, a good businessman, a good family man. He was everything you would want in a human being ... he was just a super individual."

Sanders, who chairs Atlanta’s Troutman Sanders law firm, also recalled Mathis’ work on getting a four-lane connector built between Interstate 85 and Gainesville — what is today known as the highly traveled I-985.

"He was just involved in every aspect of city and community life," he said.

Mathis’ family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the James and Frances Mathis Charitable Fund through the North Georgia Community Foundation, which is at 615 Oak St., Gainesville.