A - chatWITH… Harry Moses
A chatWITH… Harry Moses
Harry Moses has found the perfect balance for his best life, and the common denominator for all of his priorities is growth. As he retired from the successful construction company he founded in Vidalia, Moses planned to redirect his energy into what was most important to him: family, community, and continuing his grandfather’s legacy.
Moses speaks often of his grandfather, Walter Morris, and clearly considers him a role model. Morris was an educator and school superintendent who struggled through the Great Depression to earn two college degrees — one from Mercer and the other from Columbia University in New York. It is at the Montgomery County farm Morris and his brothers built that Moses and other family members still find tranquility and inspiration.
Morris named the little piece of Heaven near Petross “Hasawaca,” and it was here, after his retirement at age 55, that he propagated camellias from the 1950s until the 1970s. He also grew and sold azaleas and boxwoods, maintained a vegetable garden, and was active at the nursery until the age of 88.
“Everybody thinks it’s an Indian name,” Moses said of the moniker his grandfather chose for his nursery. “It’s actually an acronym for Hannah, Sara, Walter, and Carolyn.” These are the names of Moses’ aunt, his grandparents, and his mother.
Five descendants of Walter Morris, including Moses’ brother, Rusty, and their deceased sister Mary Ann Moses King’s children, cousins Cissy Comer Alderman and Dan Comer, all now jointly own the place which has grown from its original 100 acres to about 180 acres. The property is located in a 500-acre parcel once owned by Frank Sharpe. Originally, it was part of the land grant received by pioneer Matthew Sharpe, who is buried in a private cemetery nearby.
At Hasawaca, a house originally built of pine logs sits at the front of the property, commanding a view of the road and fields beyond. It is not the house that Morris and his brothers built right after World War II and where Moses’ parents married. That structure burned in 1970 and was rebuilt. Morris lived there almost until his death at age 93. Now, several times a year, family members gather for meals and fellowship, often taking advantage of the cool breezes that circulate through the screened-in porch, strolling through the pine-shaded acres bisected by Buckhorn Creek, or fishing in a pond stocked with bream and bass.
Several days a week, Moses and his wife, Jackie, can be found at Hawasaca, tending plants or maintaining the grounds. “We’re sort of the main caretakers,” he said. Hasawaca is only a few miles from the Moses’ home in Vidalia, so they are frequently at the farm. Moses focuses on the 400 mature camellias that are part of his grandfather’s legacy as well as the newer plants he has propagated.
Most of Morris’s massive garden is still intact. His plantings are now 8 and 10 feet tall or more, and some are 70 years old. Amazingly, under the right conditions, camellias can live for centuries. “Jackie and I went to a camellia show in Italy where there were camellia plants that were 300 years old,” Moses attested.
“My grandfather had 400 plants — 225 varieties. He grafted most of them and labeled them with tags.” Over time, many of the tags have disappeared. “We don’t know what a third of them are, but that is the story of old camellia gardens,” Moses lamented, assuring, “If we can identify them, we will put permanent tags on them.”
“Grafting plants is an art and a science,” Moses affirmed. “When you graft, you have to exactly match the top and bottom piece. It’s sort of a simplified version of sewing your thumb back on, but if you do it right, you have a new plant. I am getting about a 50% success rate.” Jackie likes growing zinnias, and always has a large summer crop. She also propagates hydrangeas, among other varieties, and helps her husband with the camellias. The couple considers the plants a hobby that they love to share. “I mostly give them away. Every now and then I sell some,” Moses said. Several times a year, the farm hosts visitors who like to browse the massive plantings. “The best impact for camellias is early winter when they are in full bloom,” Moses said.
“We feel sort of obligated to pass on and share what we inherited,” Moses said. The couple has three children and six grandchildren. Their oldest son, John Collins, manages a theater company in Brooklyn. Their daughter, Allison Collins Meyer, a former IT technician for Oxford Industries in Atlanta, lives in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Daughter Caroline Moses Butehorn, an elementary school teacher, lives in Spartanburg, S.C.
Every two years the Moses family takes a trip together. They have been to France, Costa Rica, the Grand Canyon, and this year to Italy. “We wanted the grandchildren to appreciate travel,” Moses said. As a memento of these treasured times, a favorite photo of the family gathered on the beach at Normandy graces the office wall in the Moses home.
Moses is a native of Vidalia whose roots run deep in the community. The son of Carolyn Morris and Harry Moses, Sr., he is the oldest of three children. When he was in high school, both he and his brother, Rusty, worked at Georgia Tire in Vidalia that was founded by their father. The store is in its third generation and recently marked 75 years in business. Rusty, now the store’s owner, is partially retired and is turning the business over to his son Morris.
After graduating from Vidalia High School, Moses went on to attend continued from page
Georgia Tech where he earned a degree in engineering. Right out of college he went to work for Georgia Power as a construction engineer. Later he worked for a local construction company as supervisor. He started Harry Moses Construction Company at the age of 26 and retired at 55. “I had been running my business for 29 years and three people were prepared to take over, so I was able to phase out and retire.” He enjoyed the construction business. “It was enjoyable, all about projects, so you don’t get bored.”
The Moseses believe in investing in the place they call home. Because of their devotion to the community, both have been honored. Harry was named Man of the Year in 2016, and Jackie was named Lady of the Year in 2013. The honor is based not on the honoree’s profession but on a track record of community service that covers a wide spectrum of activities over several years.
The couple, who live in a historic Dutch Colonial house built by Vidalia attorney D.C. Patillo in the 1920s, have been active in the Jackson Heights Neighborhood Association where their home is located. Their house has had only four owners in its lifetime, including historian Moses Coleman. It is an unusual design for this area with its gambrel roof, Moses admitted. Now painted a crisp white, there is tell-tale evidence that the home’s stucco exterior was originally painted pink. The Moseses are strong advocates for preserving the community’s past and protecting the integrity of its historic buildings and neighborhoods.
As a preservationist, Moses is interested in the city’s historic Pinecrest Cemetery and has become vice chair of a committee whose purpose is to preserve and sustain the cemetery. He is also informally contributing his construction expertise in the renovation of the Toombs County Library.
Among Moses’ other contributions to the welfare of the community are his work with Habitat for Humanity, his membership in the Optimist and Kiwanis Clubs, and his affiliation with the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Vidalia.
But he said that one of his most challenging — and rewarding roles to date — was his five-year term on the Toombs County Development Authority. “I see the Development Authority and the Greater Vidalia Chamber, and how they work together, as a hub for lots of things going on in city and county government,” he said. Development Authority
During his term on the Development Authority, Moses recruited local businessman Chris Hopkins to join the Authority. “Chris is already very busy. I told him that I knew he was doing a lot for the community, but this role on the Authority would be the most rewarding for what you put into it. What I meant was that there is a lot of bang for the buck in this organization because of the supporting staff at the Chamber. What former Chamber President Bill Mitchell and current President Michele Johnson have done to build such a successful Authority makes it easier for the volunteer Board. The Board’s efforts are multiplied.”
Moses served on the local Chamber Board about 30 years ago, as he ran his construction business, and he once worked for the Development Authority as the builder of two spec buildings at the Industrial Park. He also built structures for the Emanuel and Liberty County Development Authorities. “I built the spec buildings Trane occupies (in Vidalia),” he said. After he retired from his construction company, Harry was recruited to join the Authority Board by Tommy Rollins and Mike McKinley, both of whom who were serving on the Authority at the time. “It was a transition year. Bill (Mitchell) was leaving and Michele (Johnson) was moving into his position.” He joined the Authority on January 1, 2017.
“I learned quickly that our Authority is the envy of small communities in South Georgia. You give the (Chamber) staff a direction and set guardrails, and they take it and run. The reason the Chamber and Authority are successful is that they have a good relationship with the County Commission and the municipalities in Toombs County. They all work together.”
Moses said that because he grew up in Vidalia, he understands the progress that has been made in the last few years. “We are in the best situation now that we have been in during my lifetime, and a lot of that is due to the Development Authority getting a job done. We are standing on the shoulders of people who made a big difference, like John Ladson and Preston Truett, who also served on the Authority.'
He explained that the Development Authority has gone through several changes over the years. The Vidalia Development Authority bought the land and built the spec building where Trane would locate and later expand its footprint. This Authority later merged with the Toombs County Development Authority (TCDA), and thereafter the Industrial Park in Lyons was created and four more spec buildings were constructed there. “We built six spec buildings,” Moses noted. All but one is occupied and the TCDA has good prospects for that one, he said.
In recent months, Lyons has reactivated its Constitutional Development Authority and Vidalia has revitalized its Downtown Development Authority, all in the interest of facilitating development that specifically benefits those municipalities, but also complements the work of the Greater Vidalia Chamber and the TCDA. “They all have different purposes, but they are all working toward the improvement of the community,” Moses said.
The TCDA has enjoyed many successes in recruiting new businesses, Moses pointed out. Fueled by a one percent local option sales tax, the Development Authority has created an environment to attract new businesses. The latest success story is East Jordan Plastics that located in spec building number 4 at the Lyons Industrial Park. Previously, Chicken of Sea settled into two spec buildings on the site, so with Trane occupying two spec buildings at the old Vidalia Industrial Park site, only the 11-year-old spec building number 3 at the Lyons Industrial Park is available. Moses said he understands it is the only spec building south of Macon that has not been claimed. With the Vidalia Park full and the Lyons site almost built out, the Authority is looking at expanding to other locations within the county, Moses said.
“Vidalia is pretty well built out and it’s getting tight in Lyons, so we’re considering what to do next,” Moses said. He has not finished his role with the Authority just yet because he has been brought back as an ex-officio member to assist the Authority with its next endeavor. “I think the expansion of the Savannah port will ultimately affect us directly. Development is pushing up I-16, and it will get here sooner or later. We need to be prepared to serve businesses and people that want to come here.” The community is only 12 miles off of the Interstate and should already be engaged in longterm thinking about the benefits that could come this way, Moses advised. The recent location of a major automobile manufacturing plant in Pooler has illustrated that the port is attracting major development and its influence is spreading over South Georgia. The primary focus of the Development Authority is to support existing industry and workforce training, to work with school systems, to recruit new industry, and encourage entrepreneurs and small business development, Moses explained.
“It takes a lot of effort. What makes a community viable is not just spec buildings. We need to have the Boys and Girls Club, the hospital, the Onion Festival Committee, active civic clubs, strong churches, and community volunteers. They make the community prosper.”
“We are threatened by the demographics of the state. Atlanta is sucking the resources out of South Georgia,” Moses said. He referenced the shocking loss of 19,000 citizens from Sen. Blake Tillery’s Senatorial District 19 in the last Census. “The scope of that scared people.” He emphasized that Toombs County and the adjoining counties can still succeed by supplying the goods and services needed for not only its population but those outside the area. “Education, retail, medical, everybody cannot go to Atlanta for that, but we won’t be guaranteed of success unless we do everything well. All of the components are important. That’s what makes a community healthy.”
He emphasized, “You can have a great Development Authority, but if you don’t have a good quality of life that other communities can offer, you won’t succeed.” The components of a community are like a finely-tuned machine with gears that are meshed. “If you remove a gear, the machine doesn’t work,” Moses warned.
“We have issues. We don’t have enough midrange housing and that is an economic development issue. I used to think the housing market was crazy in the 1990s. It is not the same this time around. Experts say there is a massive shortage of homes in the United States. We have got to find a way to fill that need, and it is going to take a communitywide effort,” Moses insisted.
He noted, “I have been thinking about it, and I don’t have a solution yet, but we will work it out, because the issue ties into economic development and quality of life. We want young people to stay here or at least come back after they get their training or degrees. We are not just recruiting industry; we’re also recruiting young people. Will there be a good job available and a place to live?”
Broadband is another issue that must be addressed in order to attract industries and people. “Broadband will become an absolute necessity in the next few years,” Moses predicted.
But he is optimistic and has praise for the Development Authority and the Chamber. “I challenge you to find a Chamber and Development Authority as strong as ours.
“It is an amazing organization. They are knocking it out of the park. The Chamber is a connection point for civic organizations, educational institutions, and business and leadership development. It has been said that comparisons are obvious, and they are, but you have to have a benchmark. Only a few Chambers are comparable with ours.”
An example of how well the Toombs County community is progressing can be found in how it is helping its citizens, Moses said. “It used to be when you talked about a recue shelter, you were referring to shelters for women. Now we have two shelters for men that are primarily supported by volunteers. These are the resources that are selling our community. As long as things like that are thriving, our community is thriving.”
And Harry Moses is looking forward to being a part of that forward momentum.