By Norma Kirkpatrick
Jerry Williamson was raised in a small community with a small school. During that period of his life, his agriscience teacher, Mr. Larry Justice, was an ever present mentor to Williamson; encouraging and inspiring him. He graduated from Beulah High School in 1976 as Valedictorian. When he took the ACT college entrance exam, the students were to list three schools where they might attend, and they would be given their percentage possibility of maintaining a C average in those schools. He was ranked at having a zero percent chance of maintaining a C average at Auburn University.
A tenacious person, that evaluation only motivated Williamson to work harder just to prove the results wrong. He graduated from Auburn University in 1982 with a degree in Agriscience Education and with a 4.0 grade point average. Williamson said his motto has always been “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I might remember; involve me and I’ll learn.”
The same year of his graduation from Auburn, he began teaching horticulture at Opelika High School with an enrollment of 36 in his first class. The program took on new life and began to generate increased interest. Within four years, the OHS horticulture program was right up at the top, or near the top, of all programs in the state of Alabama. Enrollment had increased from 36 to 350. His students won numerous state and national awards; and so did Williamson. He initiated a scholarship program for his FFA officers which usually ranged from eight to $10,000 per year.
Always stressing that the only way to do a job was first class, Williamson diligently encouraged his students to get involved in their community, to make a difference and to take pride in their work. They initiated a service project named “Pitch in for Pups” that benefitted Rescue K911. The project brought in over $50,000 worth of goods and cash for the no-kill animal shelter in the seven years it was a project. During that time, they also volunteered one Saturday a month. It is still a continuing program.
Williamson spent his entire teaching career at Opelika High School, retiring in 2010, later establishing Williamson’s Lawn Maintenance. Retiring for the second time, he recently turned the business over to one of his former students. Williamson is an avid NASCAR fan and has a room in his home dedicated to Jeff Gordon #24 memorabilia. Always community minded, he does volunteer work for Rescue K911, is a member of OHS Career Tech Advisory Board and continues to serve as a board member for Keep Opelika Beautiful. He was also recently a volunteer at the driving range for the Barbasol PGA Golf Tournament at Grand National Golf Course of Opelika.
An avid gardener, that and his lawn keeps him busy; but also gives Williamson a lot of pleasure. He and his wife, Donna, are world travelers; having been to Europe many times, occasionally taking groups with them. They just returned with one of their groups from a two-week trip to Alaska. Jerry and Donna have four grandchildren, and another one on the way. With a grandfather like Jerry, there is a very good chance they will all grow up to appreciate the gifts of the good earth, and will also follow his example of making a positive difference.