From the day they met at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), Sandy NeSmith and Rick Bostelman have been inseparable. What started in Tifton—in 1964—has stretched to 2023. And their love for each other just keeps getting stronger.
That’s what a brother would want for his sister.
The year before they were married, I got to really know my future brother-in-law. In 1966 Rick and Sandy came to the University of Georgia. Rick and I shared room 212 in Oglethorpe House. We had two other suitemates, Tony Price of Louisville and Bill Cabaniss of Maxeys.
In those days, UGA freshmen couldn’t have cars. Rick was more than my roommate. He was my chauffeur. His vintage, bottle-green Nash Rambler station wagon took me everywhere, including home to Jesup. Mother asked me about Rick. My report: “He’s the brother I never had.”
Rick grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, where his physician dad was Thomas Edison’s doctor, when the famous inventor wintered in the City of Lights. While at UGA, Rick—an animal husbandry major—worked part-time on a beef-cattle operation, which was owned by a Fort Myers businessman. Ironically, the heart of that property is now our Oglethorpe County farm in Smithonia.
Rick grew up a cowpoke on his dad’s ranch, but his career sights shifted when he developed a special relationship with Big Dink, his father-in-law, who was a funeral director. After a stint as an Army officer, Rick attended mortuary college and eventually purchased Paulk Funeral Home in Fitzgerald and Ocilla. He quickly engaged himself in the community and emerged as a highly respected civic leader.
Sandy followed her career passion into the classroom. Sandy said, “I never got up a day in my life that I didn’t want to go to the schoolhouse.” Along the way, she earned a stack of degrees. In 1994 she was named Georgia Curriculum Director of the Year.
The 1974 move to Fitzgerald forged Rick and Sandy’s future. Sandy told The Herald-Leader, “We came here to love it.” Ben Hill County is where they raised their son, Blaine, and where they poured their energy into helping make their adopted hometown better, much better.
Fitzgerald also put them 25 miles from another special place—ABAC. For more than a half-century, Rick and Sandy opened their hearts and wallets for their alma mater. Dr. Tracy Brundage, ABAC’s president, offered this praise, “They are the epitome and the very best example of what it means to give back to your alma mater as dedicated alumni.”
In 2022 ABAC bestowed upon Rick and Sandy one of its highest accolades: the Distinguished Alumni Award. If you had a week, Dr. Brundage could tell you what Rick and Sandy have done and continue to do for the place where they fell in love with each other and with ABAC. And where grandson Will Bostelman recently graduated.
But I’ve saved the best part for now.
In September, at the Atlanta History Center, Rick and Sandy received the ultimate alumni recognition. Out of 26 state colleges and universities, the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents presented the Bostelmans with its 2023 Regents’ Hall of Fame Alumni & Distinguished Friends Award. Chancellor Sonny Perdue, Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp were among the dignitaries saluting Rick and Sandy.
And where was I on that Saturday night?
Reading a book at the farm.
My humble sister and brother-in-law were too modest to tell me of their high honor. Later Sandy said, “I didn’t want you to have to make the trip.”
Of course, I would have been there.
But my big sister’s reply is an example of how she and Rick live their lives, always thinking of others.