Sam Burnham, Curator
College football is back. Those are just delightful words to string together. The sport of football is ingrained into the culture of Georgia and the South in general. It is hard to imagine life here without football.
But that’s exactly what almost happened.
In 1897 the University of Georgia played the University of Virginia in Atlanta. During the course of the game, a young Georgia player from Rome named Von Gammon was seriously injured. He was transported to an Atlanta hospital where he later died from his injuries.
in the aftermath of such a terrible tragedy the state legislature decided to do what governments so often try to do - legislate away the possibility of tragedy. They passed a bill banning the game from the state.
This would be a huge shift in state history. In retrospect we can see there would have never been Bulldogs, particularly Uga. There would be neither Sanford nor Bobby Dodd stadiums. No teams at Georgia Southern, Ft. Valley State, Morehouse, or Wedt Georgia. No Friday Night Lights. All of that would be wiped out before it even started.
But something unpredictable happened. The legislation had already passed the state house and was headed to the governor for his signature, which he had already pledged. That’s when a Southern woman, Rosalind Gammon, mother of Von Gammon lobbied on behalf of the sport her son loved. In an spirited plea to the governor she laid out her case saying “it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause [Von] held so dear injured by his sacrifice,” She also added she said football was “the most cherished object of his life.”
Keeping in mind that Rosalind Gammon would not be legally allowed to vote for over 20 years later when the 19th Amendment secured the vote for women. She had no political weight to throw around. The governor could not be voted out of effectively taken down by a woman. But Mrs Gammon laid out her case eloquently and effectively. The love of a mother and the strength it possesses carried more influence than a lot of powerful men who tried to budge the governor and the assembly.
Governor William Yates Atkinson vetoed the bill. The University of Georgia fielded a football team in 1898 and the rest is history. Rosalind Gammon saved football in Georgia. To this day monuments tell her story in Downtown Rome as well as on the 3rd floor of Butts Mehre in Athens.
If you enjoy football, take a moment to remember this amazing woman, the love she had for her son, and her fight for the game he loved.
Stuckey’s: Don’t Call It a Comeback
Sam Burnham, Curator
Stuckey’s is very much alive.
You may not see them in all the places you used to but reports of their demise are quite premature. In fact, what is going on with the company is one of those stories that ABG just can’t get enough of.
In the first part of this story we saw that W.S. Stuckey didn’t just build a company. He realized the power of people, his customers and employees and these two groups built the company. Oh he played a part. As a visionary, a marketer, as the kind of manager who trusted and counted on his employees, he built the system. But he couldn’t run every store. He couldn’t greet every customer. He needed his people to do that and he recognized that fact.
When a family builds a business it’s their name on the sign out front. When employees hold an interest in the company they want to see it succeed. But these aren’t concepts that modern businesses follow. Sure, you’ll come across Chick-fil -A or Southwest Airlines but for the most part large companies are cutting costs by using as few employees as possible and paying them as little as possible. And when outsiders take control of a family business they don’t see their name on the sign. They see their money on a spreadsheet. And things fall apart. Remember Sears, K-Mart, Toys R Us?
Stuckey’s has an ace in the hole though. The family recently regained control of their company. Stephanie Stuckey, granddaughter of founder W.S. Stuckey is now the CEO. She’s a vibrant, energetic leader who has studied her grandfather’s philosophies, methods, and concepts. She knows where all the right decisions were made. She knows what it’s going to take to get those teal roofs back on those highway exits.
The best way to promote something is to lead by example, to do it yourself. So if road trips are what you’re promoting, hit the road. That’s exactly what Stephanie Stuckey did. She’s on a quest to visit every store location this year. She wants to meet the people working in the stores. It’s an endeavor to be personally involved in the company And developing relationships rather than being a distant entity emailing out instructions to the rank and file. It’s the approach her grandfather would take.
The road trip has another purpose. Many of the old store locations are still in existence. Stuckey is identifying which operational stores need upgrades, repairs, etc. she’s learning which former locations might be salvageable, and what is gone for good. This all leads to the goal of making needed improvements to stores and revamping the franchise program that made Stuckey’s a household name.
That name is what’s driving the renaissance. The new CEO is driven to protect the brand. She told me, “that’s my name on that sign.” There was passion in her voice. Even as an outsider I could easily see this is bigger than money or property. This is about legacy and a sense of responsibility to both future and past generations.
And so she has enacted an aggressive plan to return the company to the place it once was, the place you remember it in. The plan isn’t all that new. W.S. Stuckey built the framework eight decades ago. It’s a system this world is hungry for.
For all it’s other wares, Stuckey’s was built on the pecan. So it only makes sense that the pecan is a major part of the plan. At the beginning of September the company announced that it had acquired Georgia pecan company Front Porch Pecans in a merger that made Front Porch’s R.G. Lamar the new Stuckey’s president. This is a move that will benefit both brands.
There are plans to for a candy plant, either by purchase or construction. The company’s old plant is still standing but years of disuse have left it unviable. So a modern plant is in the plans.
I don’t think you would call what is in the works a small business by the strictest of definitions. With stores spread across the country this is a sizable business. It is, however, a true family business. The business model is exactly the sort of concept we champion. How could we not rally around a granddaughter reviving her grandfather’s struggling business? How could we not adore a people-centered enterprise with nationwide reach from its headquarters in small town Georgia? This is the story of the year as far as I’m concerned.
So I’ll continue to watch as Stephanie Stuckey aims to make every traveler a friend, to take a bunch of good country folks and have them do the finest job you’ve ever seen, and to be honest with the public. She’ll have to work. Of course good luck won’t hurt. But that’s the example she saw while visiting Stuckey’s stores as a little girl. I think she’s quite prepared for what lies ahead.
A Boy Becomes a Man
Sam Burnham, Curator
Being a dad is, by far, the most rewarding roles I’ve ever been blessed to fill. Over the past week I’ve found myself going through so many emotions as I say goodbye to my oldest son for his first deployment with the US Navy.
Due to operational security, I can’t really say where he’s going. Suffice to say it’s far away and in every way different than his home here in Georgia. He’ll be immersed in a different culture, a different climate, a different topography, different everything. It will be hard for him to find anything that reminds him of home.
What I can say is that he is committed to duty. He is well trained, well equipped, and well prepared. He knows what is expected of him and he is eager to serve his country. While I still think of him as my little boy. I now see in him the man he has become. He has a confidence that soothes my nervousness. He treasures the camaraderie he has built within his group. For the better part of two decades it was my job as his dad to see that he had a safe and secure place to sleep at night. In the coming months I’ll lay my head on my pillow with the knowledge that I can sleep peacefully because he and his crew stand the watch. The roles have reversed exponentially.
I would be lying if I said I had no apprehensions about this. I can’t help but worry with my child in another hemisphere and in harms way. I can’t protect him from anything. I pray for his safety. I hope he never needs to use the skills he has so effectively developed. I hope he never has to take action to take the life of another. And I hope his life is never endangered. I hope he has a peaceful deployment and returns with nothing but fun stories and a pivotal life experience.
And so my son begins a grand adventure. He will return a changed man. He’ll be wiser, more educated, more experienced, and a bit more prepared to face this world as a man. He will always be my son but he’s a man now.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire