Sarah Ostuw, director of the Gordon County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the organization will get a new look and feel in early 2020 thanks to an ongoing rebranding effort.
A new logo, website and “cohesive marketing strategies” will all be part of the effort, she said, as the CVB works with a company called Orange 142 to update the appeal of the area.
Ostuw, who joined the CVB earlier this year, said there are a few reasons for the project, including a website that is five years old and essentially piggybacks on the look and feel of the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce’s branding, including the use of the chamber logo for the past 30 years.
“With websites, after about five years, it’s time to upgrade with the latest technologies,” Ostuw said.
The goal is to separate the convention and visitors bureau from the chamber, and to create a focused marketing effort that best represents what the area has to offer. “Really, Calhoun and Gordon County need a brand. We don’t have that right now,” she said.
Along with Orange 142, the CVB surveyed about 100 actively involved people in Calhoun and Gordon County, including chamber members, business owners, members of the 2020 Calhoun/Gordon County Leadership Class, and others.
Ostuw was pleased with the results of the survey, as the takers generally seemed to share the same ideas and feelings about the area, but she said it also showed there is no clear identity for Calhoun and Gordon County, even among those people that live and work here.
“Is it rural? Is it urban? Is it history? Is it industrial? We’ve got to figure that out,” she said.
The survey posed questions about local activities, needs, opportunities, appeal and even asked what color best represents the area. One thing that was clear from the survey is that all the takers seemed to feel like Calhoun is a “classic small town” with traditional values, Ostuw said.
“We felt really great about the answers we got,” she said.
The CVB will roll out the rebrand in either January of February.
Karl Porfirio hopes others will remember his son as the energetic, athletic young man who volunteered to serve his country by joining the Air Force in 2007. He hopes they will remember him for his patriotism and sacrifice, rather than for the medical procedures that made him famous.
In November 2009, Air Force Senior Airman Tre Porfirio was shot three times in the back at point-blank range during an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan. Doctors at two different base hospitals worked to stabilize his condition before sending him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland. There, surgeons removed Tre’s injured pancreas and completed a groundbreaking surgery through which they injected insulin-producing islet cells into his liver, making it possible for that organ to produce insulin itself.
Looking back, his father said he is thankful for the sheer amount of work and dedication that the medical staff at Walter Reed put into saving his son’s life. He is also thankful for the extra time he had with Tre in the months after the procedure.
“There were days when he was good and there were days when he wasn’t so good after the surgery,” Porfirio said. “But he got to see (his son) Landon’s birth and we were able to spend time together. I honestly hoped he might go back to work.”
Tre did not return to work. He passed away in November 2010, just three months after receiving a Purple Heart. Purple Heart is a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving as a member of the United States military.
Tre’s son, Landon, was just 8 months old at the time. He is now 9 years old. He does not yet know much about his father or the circumstances surrounding his death, but Karl Porfirio has worked hard in the years since his son’s death to make sure that when Landon is old enough to search out information on his father there will be no shortage of it.
“When you lose a parent or family member it is forever in your heart, but it’s not forever in the hearts of your coworkers or your friends. They come and pat you on the back and give you a hug, which is fine and good, but then they expect you to move on,” he said. “I can understand that, but I want my son to be remembered. I want other soldiers to be remembered, and I especially want Landon to know his father loved him. He didn’t just walk away from him.”
His words are not just lip service. Porfirio has dedicated himself to keeping the memory of his son alive. In 2016, he successfully had the Exit 6 interchange off of Interstate 95 in South Georgia named in his honor. The road, now known as Senior Airman Tre Francesco Porfirio Memorial Interchange, goes right by the high school where Tre was a member of the JROTC program.
He has also created a scholarship in Tre’s honor called ‘Let Us Never Forget.’ He said it is not just about not forgetting Tre, but about reminding others to never forget any fallen soldier.
Last year, he published a children’s book titled “My Daddy’s Heart is Purple.” He dedicated it to his grandson and included a memorial page in the back for Tre — “In loving memory. My son, my hero,” it reads.
“When I wrote it I didn’t realize the emotional repercussions of it. I’m not an author by nature, I don’t think,” Porfirio said. “Once I started, I couldn’t get the words out quick enough for this book. They were all there.”
Even so, it took nine months from putting pen to paper to publication. In June 2018, the book was available for purchase by the public.
“My Daddy’s Heart is Purple” tells the story of a grandfather, called Nonno, and his grandson, referred to as “little one.” The child sees a Purple Heart sticker on a car and asks what it means. Nonno explains the meaning to him and explains that the child’s own father had a Purple Heart as well.
Porfirio said he wrote the story this way in the hopes that the book will help children understand what the award means. He also hopes that the book will help young children deal with the loss of a military parent.
“That’s why I call the grandson in the book ‘little one.’ I want it to be relatable to any child that picks it up, boy or girl,” he said. “Little boys and little girls can lose both mommies and daddies in the service. I hope that this book brings them a little comfort. If it can help them understand the sacrifices their parents made for them and for this country. That’s all I want.”
A copy of the book was donated to the Dawson County Library last year, shortly after publication. Porfirio said it took two months to be placed on shelves. Earlier this month, he donated a copy of the book to the Calhoun-Gordon County Library. The reaction was entirely different.
“I walked in and offered them the book, and they were immediately interested in it,” Porfirio said. “Elizabeth Howard asked me to sign the copy I gave them. She also arranged a book signing and put the book out on a table right at the front of the library.”
Howard is the children’s librarian and assistant branch manager at the library. She said loved the book because it was both tasteful, touching and heartbreaking all at once.
“It touched my heart because I have a son and son-in-law in the military. My son has four children, and I know when he was deployed it affected the children, just him being gone. They didn’t understand it because they were too young,” Howard said. “I can’t imagine if they lost their dad. I can’t imagine losing a son or what that would be like.”
Porfirio said her response to the book came as a great relief for him. Not everyone has responded well to it, he said, particularly those who disagree with the idea of war in the first place.
“Some people don’t want kids to learn about war. They don’t want them to know about soldiers or the military because they don’t agree with what they do or the politics,” Porfirio said. “I don’t think that’s right. Kids should know what our servicemen and women do for them. We should be teaching them that.”
For most marathon runners, simply crossing the finish line of a 26.2-mile race is kind of a big deal, an accomplishment worked toward and strived for over months of pavement pounding training.
When Calhoun’s George Southgate crossed the BG26.6 finish line in Bowling Green, Kentucky, last weekend, he did so for the 400th time. And if that weren’t impressive enough, Southgate is 73 years old and had only completed four marathons before the year 2000, which means he’s ran that iconic distance 396 times entering his 50s.
“It went well, but I was a few minutes slower than last year,” said Southgate of last weekend’s race.
He was the second oldest person in the race, but finished first (out of two runners) in his own age group. Because it was his 400th marathon, race organizers slotted him the No. 400 bib number, and because he and only one other person have ran all editions of the BG26.6, officials gifted him a special medal holder.
Southgate has ran 92 marathons in Georgia at 18 different events, and one of his favorite is the Snickers Marathon in Albany (he’s ran that one all 13 times they’ve had it) because the race shirt is fashioned to look like a Snickers bar.
“I get more comments on that shirt than anything,” he said, adding that he also qualified for the famed Boston Marathon in Albany (he’s ran Boston twice).
A more impressive race shirt, though, is the one he received after running a marathon in all 50 states ... which he’s done twice. Actually, he’s only a few states away from completing that challenge a third time, but the remaining states are all in the north or northwest and don’t host winter races. Meanwhile, Southgate has already ticked off 28 states as he makes his way toward a fourth round.
“My goal was originally to do the entire Southeast, because we where we live we can reach 10 states within an eight-hour drive,” Southgate said, noting that he’s raced all the southeastern states 10 times.
As if his list of accomplishments wasn’t extraordinary enough, many of his marathon finishes came after Southgate suffered a heart attack and had triple bypass surgery in June of 2017.
He was running in the Hatfield McCoy Marathon in Williamson, West Virginia, when he started feeling a little lightheaded with about a half mile to go. Southgate finished the race and didn’t think much else about it until the following weekend when he tried to run in a 5K back home.
“You know how you get sore sometimes and you feel like you can’t lift your arms over your head? It was kind of like that,” Southgate said.
He couldn’t finish that race, or another 5K he was signed up for the next day, so he finally decided to visit a doctor. Turns out he’d had a heat attack and required bypass surgery to clear up blockages ranging between 70% and 100%.
“There were no other symptoms at any time,” Southgate said of the initial event.
He was forced to miss five weeks recovering, but as if he were banking races ahead of an extended downtime, the whole event came one month after Southgate had completed six marathons in seven days in May of 2017.
Looking ahead, Southgate says he doesn’t know how many more marathons he has left. He wants to get to 100 in Georgia, which means at least eight more in his home state, and he’s eyeing those three remaining cold-weather states for spring races to wrap up his third lap around the United States.
As it were, the travel is part of the appeal, especially since his wife has retired and joins him on many trips.
“I enjoy doing it. I enjoy meeting the people. We’ve seen parts of the country you wouldn’t see otherwise,” Southgate said.
He also still enjoys the shorter races too. Just last weekend, after notching number 400, there was the Impossible Run, a race that began at 1:50 a.m. Sunday — 10 minutes before the Daylight Savings Time fall back.
“If you do a 30 minute 5K you finish 20 minutes before you start,” Southgate explained.
When he’s not wearing out his running shoes, Southgate is the director of Gospel Ministries to Children of North Georgia. He also writes the “TOBI Says” column intended for younger readers that publishes in the Calhoun Time’s Wednesday edition. For more information about that, call 706-629-4152 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Calhoun City and Gordon County school systems are seeking input into next year’s school calendar and have distributed an online survey in the effort.
Officials say the systems are partnering together to provide stakeholders, community members, teachers, students and staff an opportunity to share their thoughts ahead of the 2020-2021 school year.
The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5ZGRJ58.
“Both superintendents and school boards were open to the idea of a joint school calendar planning committee to discuss how we could better align the school calendars to meet the needs of students,” said Kim Fraker, superintendent of Gordon County Schools, who joined the system on June 1.
Calhoun Superintendent Michele Taylor concurred.
“It’s been great working with Dr. Fraker, who brings some new perspectives about calendar planning, having worked in a few neighboring districts. We both see the value of collaboration, and I’m looking forward to working with her on this initiative,” Taylor said.
Fraker received initial feedback about the district’s academic calendar from various stakeholder groups during her Superintendent’s Advisory Council meetings conducted earlier this fall, which included representation from each school’s Governance Team.
Calhoun City Schools recently conducted a similar System School Governance Team meeting to gather feedback about the school calendar, and the idea of stronger alignment of the two calendars was mentioned as a priority for the group.
“Our school board was there to hear the discussion and they are certainly open to working together to accomplish this goal,” Taylor said.
The superintendents met last week to discuss the planning initiative and a timeline for the calendar planning process. The survey, which has also been shared via email, social media and other parent communication tools, is intended to assist officials going forward.
“A joint school calendar planning committee, consisting of student, parent, teacher, administrator and community representatives, will review the survey feedback and offer insights for next steps. Both boards of education will be represented to hear the discussions as well,” Fraker shared.
The chairs for both boards approve of the process.
“Any time we can work toward a common goal for our students and community, we’re all in,” said Charlie Walraven, chair of the Gordon board.
“I certainly agree with that,” said Eddie Reeves, chair of the Calhoun board.
The calendar committee is scheduled to meet on Friday, Nov. 22, in the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce Conference Room.