When Rome Mayor Bill Collins was getting started in the auto detailing business more than 45 years ago, he was surprised to see Joe Twyman working at First National Bank of Rome.
“When I walked into the bank, I had to do a double take when I saw a black man standing there,” Collins said of Twyman during the annual Black History Month celebration at the Feb. 24 city commission meeting.
“He has been so instrumental to so many of us. I so appreciated the conversations we had when I was struggling to come up. You were part of my path that led me to where I am today.”
Collins and Twyman were among the 10 residents honored with city proclamations for their contributions to Rome’s African-American community. The event was organized by retired Main Elementary School Principal Esther Vaughn.
Vaughn told the standing-room-only crowd that Twyman took part in the city’s first segregation protest sit-ins at local lunch counters, with Main High School classmates in 1963.
“He said before retiring from banking he realized he’d come full circle — from being denied service at lunch counters in downtown Rome to being a bank president in downtown Rome,” Vaughn said.
Twyman — honorably discharged after serving four years in Vietnam — thanked the city for continuing to honor those who have taken positive steps over their lives to raise up the community.
“I see a lot of people here who were my bank customers over the years,” said Twyman, who worked his way up in the banking business until retiring in 2006.
Collins’ wife, Faith Collins, was recognized with him — for being part of the first African-American auto detailing business and the first black couple in Rome to be elected to public office at the same time.
Faith Collins chairs the Rome City Board of Education.
Former Rome City Schools superintendent Jesse Laseter and the late city manager Bruce Walter Hamler were both recognized for helping improve city relations during desegregation.
Also known as “Mr. Rome,” Hamler came to town in 1937 to supervise construction of the city’s water filtering system, which is now named after him. He ended up becoming superintendent of Public Works and in 1961 was appointed city manager.
“He guided Rome through three wars, desegregation and vast expansions with respect and integrity,” the proclamation read, adding he retired in 1979 after serving the city for 41 years.
When Commissioner Jim Bojo stood before the crowd with Laseter, he began to get a little emotional.
“He taught me ninth grade biology,” Bojo said of the longtime educator who also worked as a football coach and associate professor of education at Berry College.
Laseter created a legacy when he hired the largest number of African-American school administrators in the history of Rome during integration.
Collins said he appreciated those administrators and the teachers they hired for “the discipline they taught us and the demand they put on us everyday.”
Collins said he also wanted Pastor Carey Ingram to know how much the community loves and appreciates him.
Ingram was the first black president of a senior class at East Rome High, bringing harmony to the school during a racially divided time. He later became active on several community boards and wrote four books.
Businessman James Wright was recognized for his hard work since the age of 10, delivering groceries on a bicycle in Old East Rome. He served in the U.S. Army after high school, becoming a military police officer in Japan during the Korean War.
He later opened Wright’s Service Station and Wright’s Taxi Cab on East First Street in North Rome in the late 1950s before opening a furniture store and a bonding company that’s still in operation.
Two native Rome women who worked their way up in the banking industry — Connie Bonds and Paula Jasper — also were honored Monday night.
Bonds, also known as “The Bank Lady,” served many roles for Synovus during her life, becoming assistant bank manager before her current position as relationship manager.
Jasper was bused between Anna K. Davie and Main Elementary schools until eighth grade before attending and graduating from Model High. She majored in early childhood education at Shorter College before serving in the U.S. Army for 18 years, retiring as a senior chief petty officer in 1993.
It was then she began her banking career as a teller at Nations Bank and worked her way up to vice president of consumer lending at Greater Rome Bank.
“She’s a great example of what you can do with your life,” Collins said.
Native Roman and business owner Connie Newman was honored for seeing her lifelong dream of being a hair stylist come true and opening “The Finishing Touch Salon” on Maple Avenue, which is still in operation after 30 years.
Newman employed over 20 people at the salon and received numerous awards, including The Outstanding Women’s Award from the NWGA Minority Business Association.
“She truly served as a role model by giving people a chance to grow and become licensed cosmetologists,” Commissioner Craig McDaniel said.