by Bryan Lindenberger
The University of West Georgia has inspired generations of alumni to stand out from the crowd. Since its inception as a two-year agricultural and mechanical school in 1906, students have felt supported and empowered in their personal careers and life goals.
But there is a rich, long-standing community service aspect to achievement at UWG as well. It reaches deep into communities small and large, global and local.
Take, for instance, the West Georgia Museum of Tallapoosa – a hidden but powerful gem.
A visitor to this quaint town northwest of Carrollton will certainly expect to find hospitable people, outdoor recreation and an array of historic homes. What may come as a surprise is that this small town boasts a 15,000-square-foot history and wildlife museum.
Much success is owed to two key figures, both currently serving on the museum board of directors. Each has ties to UWG, illustrating how the university has inspired the community across generations.
Robert (Bud) Jones knew the value of continuing education back in the 1950s. A biology and science teacher at Buchanan High School, he attended courses offered at what was then known as West Georgia College to channel best classroom practices and to maintain his teaching certificate.
In 1988, the city asked Bud to serve as the chairman of a cultural committee. They wanted to discover how to enhance Tallapoosa for its citizens, museums and possible tourism.
Jones told them, “We need a museum.”
A vacant building was secured, refurbished and stocked with artifacts donated by community members. On July 4, 1990, the West Georgia Museum of Tallapoosa opened to the public.
“We had a crowd of nearly 2,000 people,” Jones said. “It was a big hit. The museum prospered, but got so crowded that over time we knew we needed to expand.”
The Tallapoosa Lions Club provided seed money by purchasing the old building, offering a critical commitment and contribution when the community needed unity to continue.
A West Georgia alum stepped up to the plate.
Richard Davis received his bachelor of business administration (BBA) from West Georgia in 1980. That degree allowed him to work for six years in public accounting before joining Wayne Davis Concrete Company in 1987, where he still serves as chief financial officer.
“We donated materials over the years to aid in the construction of the new facility,” Davis said.
The museum opened at its new location on its 10th anniversary – July 4, 2000.
The celebration, as expected, drew quite a crowd. Such success, of course, depended on the personal accomplishment and social values of the community members who built it.
“West Georgia was instrumental to my career success,” Davis said. “My instructors were of great inspiration to me. They took me beyond the basics of accounting to learning how to succeed as an innovative manager.”
A museum board member now for six years, Davis sees the role as a means to invest back into his community. He and the other seven members continue to manage operations, volunteer on weekends and plan new exhibits.
Current displays feature reconstructions created from authentic, period articles and include a general store, dentist office, barbershop, bank, drug and soda store, and other businesses. Vintage cars, including a 1923 Model T fruit peddler’s wagon, and accurate representations of a settler’s cabin and a Creek Indian village add to the interesting mix of displays.
There’s even a 30-foot tyrannosaurus rex, courtesy of Bud Jones and his local shop, Bud Jones Taxidermy.
“We created all of the museum’s dinosaur, wildlife and bird exhibits,” said Jones, whose work is also displayed at the Anniston Museum of Natural History and hundreds of Longhorn Steakhouse restaurants.
The wildlife exhibits – ranging from buffalo to birds – are so lifelike, they have inspired UWG art students to visit on their own or with their professors to sketch nature up close in an inspiring and comfortable setting.
This big museum in a small town may come as a welcome and inspiring adventure. Yet not surprisingly, it shares many deep connections with UWG. Honoring history, while making it, has become a hallmark of the University of West Georgia and what it means to Go West.