SMITH COLUMN: Athens in Summer

Published 9:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2024

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It’s summertime in Athens, and the living is easy.  Virtually no students, no traffic and reservations at the most popular restaurants in town are easy to come by.

This laid-back time is for summer jobs and internships for most college students, sabbaticals for professors, downtime for many businesses.  Yet there is a vibrant atmosphere, and the Classic City is far from dead.

This year, it has been different with the Georgia baseball team’s success hosting regional and super regional games.  Then there are camps for all sports which brings many young kids to campus, many of whom aspire to someday play their chosen sport in Athens.

When I was in high school in the fifties, I came to 4-H Club and FFA (Future Farmers of America) functions and was smitten by the UGA campus. It was so refreshing and beautiful, green and kempt.

I was a provincial country boy and did not know about the University’s illustrious history.  That would come about when I became acquainted with the late Dan Magill, Georgia jack-of-all trades, devout historian, and loyalist nonpareil.   I am among the many who believe that there will never be another one like him.  Then I got to know personalities such as the late Dean of Men, William Tate, Dean John E. Drewry of Grady College along with many other characters—some truly unforgettable.

Like most universities over the years, there have been abundant husband-wife teams who enjoyed a life of enlightenment and excitement, especially when the football team caused the chapel bell to ring.

They worked hard but did not bring home the greatest salaries. Making do was a way of life which meant that professors and administrators could take advantage of canning vegetables, buying milk at a cheap rate through the Dairy Department and everybody in town would go to the old creamery for the best ice cream in town.

During the school year, the drama department produced some commendatory theatrical productions.  Monte Markham, who later became an accomplished actor—stage and screen—served meals at Memorial Hall cafeteria.

I still hear from Monte on occasion from his home at Malibu where his neighbors included Johnny Carson and Barbara Streisand among others.  His latent work has been producing documentaries which have turned critics’ heads.

Now that the University is one of the top ranked research universities in the country, there is the reality that many of its exalted researchers often travel to distant parts of the world for research purposes, but a preponderance of them is ensconced in their labs during the lazy days of summer.

Summer is a time for orientation.  Students from down the state, metro communities, and faraway places make their way to Athens where they spend time checking out the campus and grabbing an armload of apparel from the bookstore.

I remember on one trip before I enrolled, I met Pud Mosteller, a Bulldog lineman at the Memorial Hall cafeteria.  He was taking classes to accelerate graduation and working out on South campus in the afternoons.

Little did I know that we would later become good friends.  He was one of the hardest working players on the team and was a passionate and devout disciple of his coach Wallace Butts.  Today, living in retirement in Macon, he has ailments that affect his mobility, but his profound loyalty for all things Red and Black remains intact.

He spent his post graduate career as a football official, working with Southeastern Conference crews for decades, once lamenting that while he enjoyed all those SEC Saturdays, it kept him from following the Dawgs between the hedges.

During those brief trips to Athens, before enrolling, I had no idea that I would be able to make the Classic City my home and enjoy not only the school year, but the summers as well.

Athens gets the highest of marks for visitors and prospective students who rejoice without ceasing when they learn they have been admitted to the state university of Georgia.

The Classic City of Athens is a great place to be, whatever the season. Or reason.