Jack Wingate profiled

Published 3:58 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

Editor’s Note: This article by Carolyn Iamon originally appeared in a September 2004 issue of The Post-Searchlight.

With the exception of four years spent in the U.S. Navy aboard a destroyer, Wingate has spent his entire life in the Faceville area of Decatur County he loves so much. He fishes the waters, hunts the woods and studies the history of its people.

The man who built Wingate Lodge remembers traveling the world in the Navy thinking, “If God would let me get back down here to Faceville, Ga. and this river, I wouldn’t bother him no more about leavin’.”

We all know he came back and has made his life and living with the hunting and fishing camp on the river’s edge, with direct access to Lake Seminole. But, that is only the beginning of his interests and accomplishments.

The man who can remember where he was when he saw and heard his first radio, has become a radio personality. He starts each day at 6:05 a.m. with broadcasts from the lodge. He appears on Bainbridge, Donalsonville and Thomasville radio stations, including a 6:30 a.m. broadcast on Dothan’s Channel 18 TV. This makes for a full morning as the last broadcast is from 11:30noon, “with time out for naps,” according to Wingate.

He has been a columnist for The Post-Searchlight since 1966, writing about the land and water he loves, telling fish stories, giving updates on the river, and dotting his conversations with personal observations on local events and people.

A local historian, “thanks to Daddy. He drug me through swamps when I was 8 and 9 years old, showing and telling me things I wish to God I could remember.” He has remembered enough to write 8 books on history of the local people and happenings. His favorite subject is the history of native Americans and he still has the first arrowhead he ever found. He is intrigued with how they lived and worked, the tools they used and how they made their crafts. He has shared this knowledge by making presentations to youngsters in the school systems.

Wingate’s own family history tells of his ancestors making a 3-day wagon trip from Lost Creek, between Meigs and Moultrie, moving the family into a completely round house. His father eventually went to work for a large sawmill that cut all the lumber for the area. His grandfather made his living selling mullet fish out of the back of a barbershop after going broke farming.

“I’ve lived three-quarters of a century and seen some of the most outstanding things happen in my lifetime,” says Jack. He remembers the first radio he saw at a night watchman camp. It was a home built crystal set that could pick up one station. The first TV seen was from a sidewalk in front of a furniture store in San Diego in 1948. He also remembers the first airplane, “down below Faceville, a red bi-winged plane,” recalls Jack.

He believes the biggest change he has seen in his lifetime was brought about by the automobile and paved roads. He remembers helping pave the road from Faceville to Bainbridge and recalls when Rt. 27 was paved to Attapulgus.

The lodge and camp have played host to governors, senators and other celebrities, including Bobbie Knight, who came there to fish. But, the accomplishment of which Mr. Jack is most proud is that he ran a boys camp for 33 years. The 10 week sessions were for boys, ages 8-14, who came from as far away as Washington state, New York, Tenn. and Ky. as well as nearby southeastern states.

Bruce Kirbo, Jr., one of the local boys spent 5 summers at the boys camp and remembers it was a wonderful experience. “When I was a boy I was in awe of Jack because of his legend. Now, as a man, I know his heart and I’m even more in awe of him,” says Kirbo. “He taught us boys responsibility, ethics, to love God’s creation and how to fish.”

Mr. Jack says his passions in life are fishing, hunting, teaching kids, his family and his wife. His wife Joyce is from Oklahoma and he first met her when she came to visit her sister and brother-in-law who were stationed at the Bainbridge air base. “First time I laid eyes on her, lightnin’ struck,” exclaims Jack. They have been married nearly 52 years and have three daughters, Kathy Kent, Peggy MacDonald, Jackie Wingate; and two grandsons, Jason, age 20 and Jackson, age 12.

Wingate sold the lodge 4 years ago, but he still hangs out there. He and his family live nearby in a log house. It is well worth the trip to spend a few relaxing hours at the lodge with Mr. Jack, observing the love people have for him as they drop by to sit and rock a bit, exchange fish stories or talk about the weather. While this author took a lazy boat trip around the lake on a sunny day, Mr. Jack was heard to say “Ain’t this a hell of a way to make a livin’? People ask me when I’m going to retire, and I ask them, from what?” Asked what there was that people don’t already know about Jack Wingate, his quick response was, “that I’m the luckiest man alive.

“I wake up every day lookin’ for what kind of devilment I can get into,” says Wingate “I’m shootin’ for 100.” He plans to spend his birthday sittin’ in a rocker on the front porch with a fan and visitin’ with all his friends that come by. That is likely to be a big crowd.