SMITH COLUMN: Hometown of Wrightsville

Published 10:35 am Friday, December 31, 2021

WRIGHTSVILLE – This laidback town of 2,237 is one of the many economically challenged communities across our state (and also the country). 

Over the years, it became a familiar stopping place for travelers moving up and down state highway 15, most of them headed to Athens for University of Georgia football games.  Or returning home from a sojourn to UGA’s famous hedges.

For years, Wrightsville has been a rural outpost which has seen businesses come and go.  There have been storefronts boarded up and the textile flight caused the shuttering of an apparel manufacturing plant.  That was debilitating, but Wrightsville survived. 

Then along came Herschel Walker, the biggest, fastest running back in America.  Many football aficionados, including countless college scouts, came to see Herschel run.  

Today, Herschel is still running, this time to become a member of the most exclusive club in America, the United States Senate.  Sportswriters are interested in his political venture.  Political columnists are being drawn here to research his background and early life.   Just like the Florida game in 1980, the outcome is in doubt.  Will it take a miracle for him to win the day?   Nobody knows.

Herschel brought “on the map” status to the seat of Johnson County forty-plus years ago, but it remains something of a sleepy small town dominated by agribusiness. 

In the last fortnight, I spent a midday in Wrightsville and was excited with what I learned about my hometown.  The people I knew, principally my classmates, have retired or passed on.   That includes Hodges Rowland, an attorney, my best friend growing up. He died during peak COVID times, and I was unable to attend his funeral, which will always be regrettable.

The ties in the community with the University of Georgia—directly or indirectly—have always run deep and that has not changed.  Donnie Sweat, a highly regarded accountant, and Allen McMichael, whose firm Electro-Mech, produces scoreboards, are seasoned Bulldog fans and have always had Georgia on their minds.

There are three women in Wrightsville’s mainstream who made my day and make me believe that there will be economic sunshine in Wrightsville if more young people follow in their footsteps.

Janibeth Outlaw, a graphic artist, is the mayor, the town’s first female official.  She goes through her day thinking of ways to make things better for the town and community.  She gave me one of her sketches of the water tank which offers a welcome to those passing through, proclaiming that Wrightsville is the “friendliest town in Georgia.”   Can’t wait to get it framed for my office wall.

One of the projects she has in mind is a Herschel Walker Museum.  She has had conversations with the principal, the man who wore No. 34 between the hedges, and while he can’t give it priority at the moment, he is appreciative of her objective and will support the project.

Then Janibeth introduced me to sisters Stephenie Reagan and Allie Lee—pharmacists, who grew up here and were graduated from Georgia Southern and subsequently South University School of Pharmacy in Savannah.   From the outset, they planned to return home and take up residency here and raise their children in the environment with which they are passionately familiar.  

They both hold the view that their hometown offered a pleasant experience for them when they were coming along, and they want the same for their kids.  With their winsome smiles and ebullient personalities, they are doing their part to confirm that Wrightsville is, indeed, the friendliest town in Georgia.

Their story is such a beautiful one.  They worked part time through their high school years at Sumner’s Pharmacy, owned by Joe and Jean Sumner which influenced them to become pharmacists professionally.   They came home and purchased the business as their former employer was segueing into retirement.

There is a buzz in the atmosphere with their customer friendly manner.  They are all about teamwork, helping hands, pride in hometown and being good neighbors.  

Serendipity lashed me repeatedly on my most recent visit to my hometown.  The next time I need a bottle of aspirin, I may drive home and ask Stephenie and Allie to take care of my pharmaceutical needs.