Highway renamed after Wingate

Published 3:02 am Friday, December 8, 2006

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2006 issue of The Post-Searchlight.

The local highway which leads to Decatur County’s portion of Lake Seminole is now named after Jack Wingate, the fisherman who helped make visiting the area popular.

About 200 people—including Wingate’s family, friends, business and government leaders and local citizens—were present at Wingate’s Lunker Lodge in Recovery on Tuesday, May 30 to commemorate the Georgia legislature’s resolution to rename Georgia 97 South to Jack Wingate Highway. The renaming applies to Georgia 97 South, formerly known as Faceville Highway, from the U.S. 27/84 bypass southward to the Georgia/Florida border.

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Georgia House Representative Gene Maddox, State Senator John Bulloch and Georgia Department of Transportation board member Billy Langdale joined Wingate in unveiling one of the highway signs bearing his name. Maddox presented Wingate with a legislative resolution citing his service and skills as a fishing guide, his longtime operation of a fishing lodge which has grown in popularity over the years, his positive influence on local youth and his service to the community as reasons he was deserving of the honor.

Wingate ran the “Lunker Lodge” for many years and helped recruit fishing associations to hold the first major competitive tournaments at Lake Seminole in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Wingate has also shared fishing reports, jokes and fishing stories in his “Seminole Ramlins’” column, which he has regularly contributed to the Post-Searchlight for approximately four decades.

Bulloch said he believed Wingate had made a name for himself many years ago, so in his view recognition was long overdue. Bulloch jokingly said Maddox’s original idea to honor the local legend was to rename Lake Seminole after Wingate but found out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t allow it.

Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce President Cile Warr echoed the resolution’s statement that Wingate had greatly contributed to the state and local economies by boosting tourism through his work as a fishing guide and lodge owner. Warr said Wingate has made Bainbridge and Decatur County nationally known as a great destination for hunting and fishing, family visits and raising a family.

Decatur County Board of Commissioners Chairman Palmer Rich said he believed naming the highway which connects Bainbridge to Lake Seminole was appropriate because Wingate had given many people a reason to travel down it.

Bainbridge Mayor Mark Harrell said he appreciated what Wingate had done for local tourism and shared a story of how he met the fisherman as a six-year-old. Harrell said Wingate allowed him and another boy to attend a week-long fishing camp—despite the fact they were too young—and personally watched out for them after he noticed a frown on the boys’ faces when they came to drop off Harrell’s older brother Mike at the lodge.

Before reading the resolution aloud, Maddox shared a joke he said tomato farmer Greg Murray of Faceville had told him. According to Maddox, Murray joked that Wingate intended to turn the highway named after him into a toll road. Maddox said he jokingly replied that was fine with him, as Wingate would give half the proceeds to him.

Langdale, who has represented Southwest Georgia on the state’s highway board for many years, said he first met Wingate about 40 years ago. He said he admired Wingate for being an ardent advocate of personal freedom and states’ rights over the years.

“I love Jack…the things he has done should be with us forever,” Langdale said.

After hearing others talk about him, Wingate expressed his thanks.

“In the words of Elvis, ‘I’m all shook up’,” Wingate said.

Wingate said he was deeply moved and joked he intended the highway to become a four-lane toll road. His voice choked with emotion, Wingate recognized family and friends, including those who had helped him run the lodge and youth camp and those he had shared food, drink and fishing stories with.

Ten-year-old Anna Beth Goodman of Bainbridge sang the national anthem and Rev. Ken Gainous of Faceville Baptist Church gave a prayer. Wingate and the Recovery Community Club hosted a barbeque reception at the lodge following the resolution’s presentation.