Unexpected Connections: Alumni Links to an Historic Preacher and Nashville Legends

Nashville skyline
by Chantel Dunham

I wrote this article for the Libraries’ magazine, Beyond the Pages, to illustrate all the different ways we can engage alumni and friends as we truly seek to understand what inspires our potential donors. There are so many collectors out there along with people who have incredible historic family materials that will enrich the Libraries’ collection and enhance learning opportunities for our students. These collections also become ways that we can further engage prospective donors. Our library has so many wonderful treasures – there is truly something for everyone!

It has been a pleasure to share with readers of these pages some of the highlights of the Sam Porter Jones collection. In case you missed our last issue, the Ryman Auditorium was originally built to attract Jones, a traveling preacher from Cartersville, Georgia who ended up traveling the world sharing his message about the evils of alcohol.

As previously noted, my interest in this collection was spurred by the 125th anniversary of the Ryman to learn more about the man for whom the Union Tabernacle was built. The collection includes correspondence mostly from 1863 to 1907; writings, sermons, lectures relating to his work in prohibition; and diaries, journals, and notebooks belonging mainly to his wife Laura McElwain Jones as she documented her social and daily activities in Cartersville. The correspondence contains mainly letters requesting Reverend Jones to speak and remarks of individuals who had attended a sermon or lecture. The collection was donated to UGA by Jones’ daughter in 1966.

Samuel Porter JonesThere are so many fascinating tidbits and it is inspiring to see such a vast amount of correspondence he received in 1885 from all over the country and around the world begging for his “visit for a week or 10 days.” He even received pleas for help from children. Thirteen year old Estelle Sandiford of Hazelhurst writes, “ I guess you will be quite surprised to receive a letter from a little girl 13 years old away down in the wire grass, but as I am trying to put down whiskey I think you will be quite willing to help me. I belong to a Debating Society and they have chose [sic] for their question a very good one I think [sic] here it is Resolve that Whiskey Will Kill More People Than War. I want you to write me a nice peace [sic] if you please and get to me by Friday Oct 11th it sure will be a favor.” We’ve enclosed in this magazine a copy of a fascinating letter all the way from Australia!

The journals of his wife depict a dynamic, determined, driven, and drained man, and a wife who was lonely but ultimately a supporter of her husband’s mission. In her daily diary she addressed him as Mr. Jones, and in an entry dated July 1, 1892 says, “Mr. Jones came from Augusta at 10 o’clock and left at 11:20 for Mo. I am so lonely without him. I am real sick and May is in bed. Her baby is not at all well. I am so lonely without my precious husband.”

Following my last article that shared discoveries from the Jones collection, I have had the pleasure of meeting Sam Jones’ great-great-grandson thanks to connector extraordinaire, Peggy Galis.  Exciting possibilities abound to enhance this fascinating Georgia and Tennessee connection!

In addition to this historic connection, through the family of alumnus Walt Green ’71, the Library received materials belonging to Chester Green that were donated by his daughter. Green, originally from Albany, Georgia, rose through the ranks at Kraft Foods to become the Corporate Senior Vice President of Marketing, Advertising and Sales worldwide. A marketing visionary, Green led Kraft to launch the Kraft Music Hall and it was his idea to televise the Country Music Association Awards, sponsored by Kraft of course, for the first time in 1968. This brilliant plan led to wider exposure for country music, leading to increased sales. We are honored to be the home to his story, the man who put country musicians into the mainstream.

Many might be surprised to learn how many connections there are between Athens and Nashville. There are more than 3,700 alumni living in the Nashville area and many students from UGA find valuable internships in the Music City. In addition to the Jones collection, the UGA Libraries special collections are also home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame collection, which include materials from a variety of country music’s biggest stars.

Building on our already rich music holdings, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame collection has allowed us to build relationships with some of Nashville’s and UGA’s superstar songwriters. Whisperin’ Bill Anderson ’59, donated his collection in 2015 and in February of this year the Library welcomed Steve Dorff ’71 back to campus for a program to promote his new book I Wrote That One, Too: A Life in Songwriting from Willie to Whitney. Bill’s autobiography, Whisperin’ Bill Anderson: An Unprecedented Life in Country Music, was published to critical acclaim by the University of Georgia Press in 2016. I’m pleased to share that both gentlemen will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame this June in New York City.

We so appreciate the individuals and families who have invested in the Libraries’ teaching and research mission by entrusting us with their collections. We also appreciate the donors who have given monetary gifts that allow us to preserve our collections, that allow us to share them with a broader audience, and that allow us to use these materials in engaging new ways in the classroom.

The library is the one place that impacts all of campus providing a safe place 24 hours a day and access to nearly anything students need in one, actually five places on campus.  Our students are supported by professionals that are there to help them navigate through this very full “world of information” and who are teaching and reaching thousands of students monthly. The Library is always there.

Hoping you’ll keep the library on your mind!