A history of hard work has defined Wayne County’s past and present. You can never discount sweat of the brow, but a dash of good luck goes a long way, too. And there is no better example than what I wrote in 2004:
“As American troops dug trenches on the Western Front in 1916, Jim Harper’s mules pulled plows, cracking through North Georgia’s red clay. The Allied Powers eventually would win World War I, but Jim was fighting a losing battle in Gilmer County.
“There had to be a better way for a hardworking farmer to feed his wife, Florence, and their five children. Word was the soil was rich with opportunity in Southeast Georgia, so he loaded his plows and household wares onto two wagons and headed toward Wayne County.”
If his daddy had unhitched his mules elsewhere, our community would not have had the good luck of James Harper’s 96 years of positive influence. He’s been gone since 2013, but his legacy lives through his daughter, granddaughter and two great-grandsons.
James proved you don’t have to be 9 feet tall to be a giant. And his family proves “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Peggy Harper Riggins—wife of Jiggs, mother of Jodi Riggins Ammons, and grandmother of Riggs and Rhett Ammons—is not much over 5 feet tall. But don’t tell her that. Peggy is a giant in our David-and-Goliath battle to keep Republic Services from harming our environment. Peggy’s organizational skills and devotion to the No Ash At All group have been priceless. She is an all-star among a legion of unselfishly devoted volunteers.
I can attest: Peggy has not rested and will not rest until Wayne County is safe from additional risk being proposed by the second-largest waste-management company in America. She must sleep fast, because her computer keyboard rarely stops clicking. There’s no way to log all the calls she makes and receives in a day. The back of her station wagon is a rolling warehouse of No Ash At All materials.
We reminisce—regularly—about her father. Peggy knows he was one of my heroes. James demonstrated that if you worked hard and treated people fairly, good things will happen. He made good things happen for Wayne County.
His only grandchild, Jodi, is following his example, as a civic leader and as president of Harper Industries Inc. Thanks to her vision and efforts, the Cherry Street City Center has been brought back to life. James’ let’s-make-it-better DNA is also reflected in his two great-grandsons: Riggs, 13, and Rhett, 11, sons of Steve and Jodi Ammons. They are emerging as leaders, speaking out for the safety of their hometown. You need to see their video on why protecting our community’s environment is vital: https://www.facebook.com/pg/bittersoutherner/videos/?ref=page_internal.
There was no doubt, James Harper was pro-business. He spent a lifetime building multiple businesses, creating jobs and paying taxes. His work on the Wayne County Industrial Authority is legendary. So how would he feel today about the business plan Republic is proposing for its landfill? Peggy and I agree: James would be standing tall against anything that could harm our region. Republic’s dangerous proposals for the rail-spur and toxic coal-ash dumping far outstrip the monetary reward.
I am confident, if James were here today, he’d be doing all he could to protect Wayne County. But once again, aren’t we lucky? Jim Harper unhitched his mules, 101 years ago, outside Jesup on Highway 203. And Peggy, along with her family, proves “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”