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Saluting true masters
Communiversity programs continue Whalens legacy of honoring unsung professional heroes
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Today’s society puts a great premium on rewarding those who excel in fields that play out in the public arena.

Politicians earn votes and get buildings and bridges named for them. Athletes earn trophies and Hall of Fame honors, with statues immortalizing them outside of ballparks. Actors and musicians fete each other at an endless array of televised award shows, filling the airwaves with breathless speeches and wide-eyed red carpet gawkers.

These celebrities get their due, and then some, in addition to massive paydays. But where is the recognition for the regular working folks who perform tasks less noticeable but much more vital to the flow of a civil society?

After all, we could live without a movie or a ballgame to bide our time, and politicians come and go like a fall breeze. But where would we be without dedicated public safety professionals, nurses, teachers, tradespeople and business entrepreneurs? It is their efforts, skills and genius that make our free enterprise system work at many levels by keeping us safe, healthy, educated and prosperous.

And in our community, there is a program aimed toward honoring these dedicated superstars of their chosen vocations. The Featherbone Communiversity’s annual Masters series continues to expand into new areas to acknowledge those who shine at their crafts.

Communiversity is an educational partnership between schools and businesses founded by the late Gus Whalen, who died June 21 at age 70. Whalen was former CEO of the Warren Featherbone Co., a maker of children’s clothing, among other business interests, at a factory on the east side of Gainesville.

When the company was sold in 2005, Whalen converted the site into his new venture, which serves as an incubator for businesses and other vocational training by providing real-world learning environments.

Partners operating on the site include Brenau University’s East Campus; Lanier Technical College Manufacturing Development Center; Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute; Georgia Small Business Development Center; and the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids. The Gainesville and Hall County school districts are also involved in the programs.

Each year, Communiversity holds a series of Masters events honoring local standouts in several occupations, the folks who keep things running without fanfare often given to higher profile work.

Last Thursday’s event honored Master Craftsmen and cited Tracey Phillips, for sitework; Michael Carew, mason/stone; Steve Shaw, plumbing; Bob Cornett, HVAC; Ira Woodard, electrical; Elmer Hopper, residential building; Jerry Chambers, machinist/toolmaking; Aaron Wortman, welding/fabricating; Don Morgan, carpentry; and Harold Kilgore, specialty construction.

Masters of Nursing were honored Sept. 25 and included Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for the Hall County School District; Robin Dudley, retired nurse and current Brenau University trustee; Shannon Garner, manager of nursing clinical support services at Northeast Georgia Medical Center; Deborah Schulte Long, UnitedHealthcare HouseCalls practitioner; Kevin Meyer, interim director of invasive cardiology at Northeast Georgia Medical Center; and Alan Satterfield, Hall County Public Health nurse manager.

Upcoming programs in the annual Masters series honor Entrepreneurs, Masters of Innovation, set for Nov. 11; and next year’s Masters of Safety, Builders of Community Trust and Masters in Teaching, Life Changers at Work.

Whalen may be gone, but his efforts live on in Communiversity and the Masters series. His positive energy and encouragement for education were still very much in evidence at the recent events held since his passing.

“He is so much here that we keep thinking he is going to walk in the door,” said Gale Starich, dean of the College of Health Sciences at Brenau said during the Masters of Nursing event. “We feel his spirit here, and that warmth and vision he had.”

“Gus Whalen embodied grace,” said Deb Bailey, a registered nurse and moderator of the event.

He was just as warmly remembered at last week’s Craftsmen event.

“Gus once said to me, ‘We don’t spend nearly enough time honoring the true heroes among us,’” said Will Schofield, Hall County schools superintendent and Thursday’s keynote speaker. “‘What about the guys and gals who can build something with their hands, who can do something none of the rest of us can do? We need to honor them.’”

Thanks to Whalen’s vision, that effort will continue, and we hope include even more professionals who make our lives safer and better in so many ways.

Sure, a statue, a trophy or a Hall of Fame plaque are nice ways to be recognized and look good on the mantle. But nothing is worthy of more respect than the deeply held belief that what we do matters by changing lives in a meaningful way.

Gus Whalen started that ball rolling. Let’s keep it going and remember to pay tribute to those who are the real superstars in our everyday lives.

Entrepreneurs, Masters of Innovation

When: 8:30-11:30 a.m. Nov. 11

Where: Brenau East Campus, Communiversity, 999 Chestnut St., Gainesville

Website: featherbonecommuniversity.org

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