Jim Garner campaigned for new high school
by Margaret Anderson
Special to The Star
Nov 26, 2013 | 1262 views |  0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jim Garner enjoys a relaxing moment. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
Jim Garner enjoys a relaxing moment. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
In the early ‘80s, after giving it a lot of thought, Jim Garner decided it was time to throw his hat in the ring and run for mayor of Piedmont, the town in which he was born and reared. He ran and he won. He was mayor from 1980-84.

A lot of things were on his agenda, but none more important than Piedmont’s youngest. He had felt for a while that Piedmont’s students needed and deserved a new school and a place for their recreational activities.

Talk had been going around about building a new school for a few years, but Garner wanted to get the ball rolling.

“The idea had been tossed around since the late ‘70s,” he said. “But we couldn’t get anybody to support the idea. So I ran on that platform.”

After his election in the fall of 1980, the subject of construction of a new school became more serious.

“When I was elected, I was pro education,“ said Garner. “That opened the opportunity to work with the school board and get the new school started, and that’s what we did. We worked with the school superintendent and the city council to make all that happen.”

At that time, Dr. John R. Kirkpatrick was superintendent, and Garner’s wife, Martha, was on the school board.

In the beginning, Garner faced a lot of opposition. Not everyone thought the city needed a new school. He and the school board never let up and soon plans were set into motion to get a new school built on the 200 Bypass. Construction began in the spring of ’81, and the new school opened its doors in the fall of ‘82.

PHS was one of the first schools ever financed by funds from beer tax.

Kindergarten through six grades are now in the old school building.

Garner was company commander of the Army National Guard’s Co. C, 151st Engineer Battalion while he was mayor. That proved to be beneficial for everyone, because he had something else in mind for Piedmont’s children.

He’d nursed a dream for years about a place where youngsters could congregate and play sports. He knew he had one more thing to do before he left office.

Garner was instrumental in building a sports complex off the Old Gadsden Highway, not far from the new high school.

“Serving as mayor and guard commander at the same time enabled me to do a lot of things with the city and national guard,” he said. “The sports complex was my little pet project.”

Brent Morrison, who was city clerk at the time, was hired to handle the finances, and Garner was able to get the state to authorize the national guard to do a lot of the work on the sports complex. The city street department also helped.

“It was a joint effort,” said Garner. “We got a grant, and that was the beginning of it. Later on, they built a scout house and pavilion.”

Garner ran for a second term but was defeated by James Bennett.

Garner was born in 1941 at his home, 216 S. Center Ave. He was delivered by the late Dr. Thomas VanSant. His parents are the late Hoyt and Corene (Davis) Garner. His sister, Jan, lives in Signal Mountain, Tenn., where she is a realtor.

After graduating from Piedmont High in 1959, Garner attended Auburn for a year. Homesick for his family and friends back in Piedmont, he came home and attended Jacksonville State University for a while. He eventually ended up back at Auburn where he received a degree in business, with a specialty in accounting.

It was at Auburn where he met Martha. He remembers the first time he saw her.

“Oh, she was gorgeous,” he said. “I had a mean wolf whistle, but that’s the only time I ever used it. A lot of other things didn’t work out, but that worked right off the bat, so you never know.”

Garner had been in the ROTC and, not long after they married, he was sent to Korea. That was during the Vietnam Conflict. He spent a year there, working at the army ordnance in shipping, receiving and ammunition. After leaving Korean, he was sent to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville to finish out his two year obligation.

He spent the next three years as a supervisor at Goodyear in Gadsden. Then, for two years, he was assistant to city clerk Bill Little. He was offered a job with Allied Mills as a traveling salesman in the feed and poultry business. He did that for the next three years.

During the time he was assistant city clerk, he worked on his master’s at JSU. After getting that degree, he thought he’d do something that he’d grown up in. He opened a hardware store, Garner Hardware and Supply in 1975. 

Garner’s father ran a hardware store for 40 years in Piedmont.

“I grew up in it,” he said. “I eventually came back to my growing up. Someone told me one time that if you want to succeed in doing something, you should do something you know about. So having grown up in a hardware store, I thought maybe I should pursue that.”

He kept the store open for 32 years. He retired and sold it to Dustin and Cheryl Reid in 2007.

For a while he was a business instructor at Gadsden State and Faulkner State. This had a special meaning for him because as a veteran himself, he was able to teach a lot of veterans who attended his night classes.

Garner is proud of a lot of things, including his 50 year marriage to Martha, their daughter Kelly and his affiliation with the First Baptist Church where he has been chairman of the deacons, chairman of the building grounds and now serves on the personnel board.

“We’ve done a lot of construction,” he said. “We’ve built a new fellowship hall and a children’s wing. Martha and I are involved in the Net Casters. We go out every Monday night and minister to people who might not be in church. We like to find people who don’t go now and tell them about Jesus and what it means to be a Christian.”

Garner enjoys gardening and his pine plantations.

He’s more than pleased with the city’s schools and, looking back, can’t help but smile at what he was able to accomplish.

“I think Piedmont has one of the best school systems in Alabama,” he said. “Martha and I are just proud to have been a small part of it over the years. We love Piedmont and we love the people.”

Contact Margaret at pollya922@gmail.com.
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Jim Garner campaigned for new high school by Margaret Anderson
Special to The Star

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