There is nobody like Nell Whelchel Wiegand.
To the Gainesville community, she embodied all the qualities of a truly fantastic woman. Many describe her as a symbol of southern hospitality, faith, friendship, tenacity, commitment and wit.
Most of all, it was her smile. That was her trademark.
"I never saw her when she wasn't happy about something, and she always made whoever she was talking to feel better," said John Ferguson, former CEO of North Georgia Health System. "Nell has always been considered a very unique and special person. It's hard to believe not everyone in the community knows her."
Wiegand, a Gainesville native, died Monday evening. A graveside service will take place at 10 a.m. today at Alta Vista Cemetery, and a celebration of her life will follow at 11 a.m. today at Gainesville First United Methodist Church.
Wiegand is most remembered for her volunteer service and her two devotions — Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Gainesville First United Methodist Church.
As a founding member of The Medical Center Auxiliary, she made sandwiches and cakes for the staff in preparation for the opening of Hall County Hospital in 1951. She served as president of the auxiliary, and in 2001 the auxiliary's Patient Friend Award was named in her honor.
Wiegand also served as a member of the Hospital Authority, including a term as chairwoman. She was the founding chairwoman of the Medical Center Foundation and was chair emeritus before she died.
In April, Gov. Nathan Deal recognized her 60 years of service to the health system.
"It's hard to imagine a Wednesday where she wasn't there doing volunteer work," Ferguson said. "She was always attentive to what was going on at the hospital, or as some would call ‘her' hospital. She knew how to serve the needs of patients and stay attentive to visitors."
She never lost sight of her goal. Patients and their family members were the most important people in the hospital.
"She had a genuine concern for people and had such a sincere interest in them. There are so many good memories," said Lynne Allen, director of volunteer services for the health system. "She hosted a lot of luncheons in her home, many times for the volunteers at the hospital. She was always interested in building friendships among the volunteers."
Wiegand was also the person to seek for advice, Allen said.
"She was always someone you could go to, and you knew if you went to her for advice, you would never go wrong," Allen said. "She always had very thoughtful, wise counsel. She was just an extraordinary lady."
Wiegand was a lifelong member of the First United Methodist Church. She taught Sunday school classes, was a Bible buddy and headed up the Memorial Committee. She also served on the church's council, the children's council and the History Committee.
"She's a gracious southern lady and what I would call a balcony person. She was always cheering for you," said Terry Walton, who was Wiegand's pastor for seven years. "She made everybody feel like they were the most special person in the world, and she had a way of bringing the best out in you."
Everybody felt like her best friend, Walton added.
"She made hundreds of people feel that way," he said. "It has been quite an honor for my life's path to cross hers, and I'm a better person because our lives' paths crossed."
Wiegand's volunteer efforts spread across Hall County. She also served on the Brenau University Board of Trustees and was president of the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County, the Gainesville Study Club and The Book Club.
"Nell represented all that is good in our community. Her glass was always half full rather than half empty, even in the face of adversity," said longtime friend LeTrell Simpson. "Her cheerful word and warm smile immediately conveyed her genuine love of people. She was the epitome of southern grace and hospitality, and I am a better person because of her friendship."
Wiegand was recognized as a Rotary Woman of the Year, a Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction and a Boy Scouts Ralph Cleveland Distinguished Citizen Award.
"I've known her for 60 years, and we lived next door for 30 years. I can't imagine not being able to talk to her every day. That's what we did," said Carrie Hatfield. "She just brought so much fun and love and wisdom to so many people, and we created many, many memories together."
Wiegand was preceded in death by her husband of 50 years, Frank Wiegand. Many in the Gainesville community shared their lives with Wiegand's daughters Mary Beth and Ginny, her six grandchildren and her great-grandson.
"Ginny and my son Felix were born two days apart in the Hall County Hospital, and another one of our friends had a baby at the same time," said Joan Jackson, a Gainesville native who grew up with Wiegand. "We roamed the halls together and broke every rule in the book."
Wiegand, Jackson and others would also take trips to Atlanta, spend time on Lake Lanier and share the tales of being a parent and grandparent.
"First and foremost, she was fun to be with. We all got together a lot and cooked and partied and had fun," Jackson said. "Nell was also very witty and was just like her daddy. We always laughed about how much she was like him."
Friends and family want to celebrate her dedication to life. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Medical Center Foundation/Radiation Oncology or Gainesville First United Methodist Church.
"She will be sorely missed, but her life was well-lived," Ferguson said. "She spent her life living it."