Wingate’s legacy continued through summer outdoors camp

The City of Bainbridge is working hard to preserve the legacy of Jack Wingate, “The Sage of Seminole,” through a summer day camp that teaches children and youth about a variety of outdoor activities, as well as our local history.

Wingate was a local legend, known as much for his personality and love for life as his great knowledge of fresh water fishing, a pastime he helped develop into a professional sport. He passed away in December 2011 at the age of 82.

“He had a passion for this region, its history and the importance of Lake Seminole as a resource,” said Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds. “It was obvious how much he loved fishing and talked about how it benefited the community and its culture. He loved the people in this area and it showed in everything he did.”

Each year, starting around 1962, Wingate held a summer camp at Wingate’s Lunker Lodge, a marina and campgrounds he ran for many years and remained a fixture at even after selling it.

Former Mayor Mark Harrell, now with Bank of the Ozarks, remembered when he and Reynolds — who were in the same school class — tagged along with their older brothers one summer when they were going to Wingate’s youth fishing camp.

“I think we were only about 6 at the time, and the camp was supposed to be for boys who were a little older,” Harrell said. “It always stuck with me that he let us stay and attend the camp after he saw how disappointed we were. Of course, we had a good time and learned a lot about fishing.”

Among the more well-known local leaders who attended Wingate’s camp along with Harrell and Mayor Edwards were Georgia Forestry Ranger Rodney Heard, Bainbridge Public Safety Deputy Director Frank Green and local banker Melvin “Tuffy” Nussbaum.

While Wingate hosted his last summer camp in the 1990s, he continued to mentor young fishers and hunters for the rest of his life. City of Bainbridge officials began discussing an idea to hold a new summer camp, styled after Wingate’s, in 2012. With the permission of Wingate’s surviving family, the city government held the first Jack Wingate Summer Outdoor Camp, in June of this year.

The new camp was conceived as a way to honor all Wingate had done for Bainbidge and the surrounding area, explained Adrienne Harrison, director of the Bainbridge Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of the camp’s main organizers.

“We had just built the megaramps for boats to launch from at the Boat Basin and if it weren’t for Mr. Jack, we wouldn’t be known as the ‘Bass Capital of Georgia,’” Harrison said. “We wanted to use the camp as a way to honor him, his legacy and the impact that he had on our community.”

The camp’s headquarters was in the Earle May Boat Basin for the week of June 17 to June 21. However, many of the camp’s daily activities took the campers to interesting sites around Bainbridge. Thirty-four campers, ages 7 to 12, participated in a variety of activities each day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The weeklong camp was sponsored by West Side Bait & Tackle, Walmart, Southern Trading Co., the YMCA and Cedars Farm Plantation. The campers also ate lunch at several local businesses.

Campers learned about variety of topics

On Monday, the camp began with a dedication of an oak tree overlooking the megaramps in the Boat Basin in memory of Jack Wingate. The city also dedicated an outdoor classroom, consisting of eight benches and a podium placed around the base of the oak tree. The classroom will be available to school classes and whoever else would like to use it to teach about nature or related topics.

The youth learned about water safety from Marlene Love Jones of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and about boating safety from Jase Heard, a ranger with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Decatur County EMS paramedics and city employees Diane Atkinson and Stanley Bell, who are both certified CPR instructors, taught campers how to perform CPR.

Monday concluded with a session on archery and proper use of BB guns, taught by Matt Stuart, who works for DNR as a shooting sports team instructor.

On Tuesday morning, campers learned about hunting safety from Tony Cox, who is also a ranger with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Cox’s safety class was split into two sesssions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kevin Dowdy, who shares Wingate’s love for Native American artifacts like arrowheads, talked to the campers about Native American history. Dowdy is a member of the Tri-State Archaeological Society.

Tuesday’s theme of history continued with a presentation on the history of Bainbridge and Decatur County by Kathryn Lillethun and Clayton Penhallegon. The campers then took a field trip to the Decatur County Historical and Genealogical Society’s museum in downtown Bainbridge.

Wednesday afternoon, Harrison told the campers about the history of Jack Wingate himself. Harrison said she got to know Wingate when she began organizing bass tournaments with the Chamber of Commerce in the 2000s.

“The first bass tournament I ever ran, Mr. Jack shows up and brings a folding chair and puts it there by the tournament officials’ trailer,” Harrison said. “I had never met him before, but he told me about everything that was going on and said, ‘Girl, I’ll teach you right.’ And from then on, I always had a seat next to him at every tournament we hosted.”

Wednesday wrapped up with environmental awareness education and a project led by Suzanne Brandt of Keep Decatur County Beautiful.

On Thursday, Captain Ryan Wimberley of Bainbridge Public Safety and other BPS officers talked to campers about firearms safety. Each of the campers also had the opportunity to fire a small firearm at a target on the city’s firing range.

After that, the campers took a trip to Faceville, Ga., to visit Jack Wingate’s home off Hutchinson Ferry Road. There, Wingate’s daughter Jacquie and local historian Chuck Lynn told campers all about Camp Recovery and the Battle of Fowlstown, which played a part in the United States’ conflicts with the Seminole Indians.

Thursday afternoon, campers got to go fishing with pro and semi-pro fishers such as Pam Martin-Wells and her husband—Lake Seminole guide Steven Wells, Matt Palmer, Matt Baty, Lance Reynolds and Brad Reynolds.

Friday, the last day of camp, began with a fishing trip at Cedars Farm Plantation with the help of several BPS officers.

Back at the Boat Basin, BPS Captain Shannon Dunaway gave the campers a crash course on how to operate Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and use them to find specific points, such as the hidden location of objects in the popular “geocaching” hobby.

Friday afternoon, local taxidermist Gary Braswell showed the campers how he mounts a deer and the campers also got to sample some deer sausage.

As the day grew hot, campers got to wind up camp by going swimming at the Bainbridge Aquatic Center.

Then it was back to the Boat Basin, where campers and their parents attended an awards dinner at the Smokehouse.

“The community really supported us and got behind the spirit of this camp,” Harrison said. “We talked to a number of people who had attended or helped Mr. Jack with his camp to see exactly how he ran it.”

The spirit of his camp will live on — a second annual Wingate Outdoor Summer Camp is planned for 2014.

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