Former state Senator George Hooks, a newly appointed member of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, was featured speaker at the Americus Kiwanis Club Friday. Hooks, who served for 32 years in state government, retired on Jan. 14.
Hooks said he was “deeply honored” to have been tapped by Governor Nathan Deal to serve on the Board of Regents (BOR).
Of the 18 members of the BOR, five are appointed at-large and one each from the state’s 13 Congressional districts.
As of Jan. 1, the university system had 335 campuses and 300,000 students with over 40,000 faculty members.
“It is an awesome responsibility,” Hooks said.
Created in 1931, b y then Governor Richard Russell, the BOR University System is unique, he said.
“Regents are given a lump sum and run the university system out of that. BOR is the governing body for the entire University System, rather than individual boards of directors.”
Hooks pointed out some of the “positive things and things we build on in this community.”
• “Foremost and faraway, leading is Georgia Southwestern State University,” he said. “It is a major economic engine for Americus. To have South Georgia Technical College and Georgia Southwestern State University both in the same town is a unique thing ... South Georgia Tech is the oldest technical college in the state of Georgia and one of only two that has dormitoried students. ... ”
• “One of the new things we’re doing through confidence in the TSPLOST ... among other projects, there is a massive new highway that will go by South Georgia Tech (now called Southerfield Road). That will be a major connector and take it all the way over to U.S. 19. It will be a truck route and a major thoroughfare to draw on that campus.”
He also mentioned another TSPLOST project, construction of another two-lane bridge across Lake Blackshear to make it four-lane.
• “City leaders needs a pat on the back for their leadership and partnershp with Archway and Chamber of Commerce in spearheading the redesign of Tripp Street which has become the major highway into the GSW campus,” Hooks said. Construction will start in June to be funded by TEA (federal) money and City funding through the Georgia Department of Transportation which will redesign tree line arbor and other improvements, making “a beautiful drive” into the Georgia Southwestern campus.”
Hooks also applauded the City for putting mixed drinks on ballot on Sunday on the ballot, which was approved by voters. He said this creates jobs for students at GSW
• Tourism. “We are unique,” he said. “There are three places in the state run by the National Park Service: Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site, Andersonville and Plains. The Windsor Hotel is one of only two hotels in the state that are on the National Register; the other being the Jekyll Island Club on Jekyll Island.”
• SAM Shortline Railroad. “This a great success story,” he said, “bringing in tourists from all over. The more support we can put into it, the better.”
• The Rylander Theatre. “One of the most unique in the state,” he said.
• President Jimmy Carter. “President Carter is the only president in the 20st and 21st century to move right back home into the same house he had lived in and go right back to begin part of his community. Harry Truman did exactly the same thing. President Carter is probably the greatest asset we have locally. For whatever reason he decided not to serve on any corporate boards but to spend his time with Habitat and his church and his community.”
• Souther Field. “The airport, now known as the Jimmy Carter Regional Airport,” pointed out Hooks, “is not only where Lindbergh made his first solo flight and bought his first plane, it is the oldest, continually operated airport in the English-speaking world. There’s not another airport in North America or anywhere in Europe that speaks English. There’s only one in France that equals Souther Field in age, 1916. Somebody in tourism, the City, County, the Chamber needs to play that up ... that would be a great tourist attraction. In my opinion, for these weekend fliers ... fly in and out of the oldest airport in the English-speaking world.”
On the negative side, Hooks touched only on the decrease in population between the 2000 to 2010 censuses, but he mentioned that the Young Gamechangers, working through Georgia Forward, has taken on Americus as a case study and will be coming to Americus April 26 to share their findings with community leaders.