All posts by Tim Gathany

The Blue Candles

Note from Tim Gathany for the Holiday Season:

The Blue Candles

This is a personal family story, but I felt it was appropriate for the Christmas and New Year Season since the attached poem illustrates the lives of Leon and Rachel Gathany in their Toccoa home.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, my family and I would often travel to Georgia for the holidays and spend Christmas with Leon and Rachel. One of my children’s favorite memories was arriving at their grandparents’ home in Georgia and seeing a candelabra in the front window lit with blue bulbs. The blue candles fascinated my oldest son, Nicholas, since he thought the blue lights were not the colors you would expect from candles.

Grandma Rachel had obtained the candelabra years ago when she lived in Pennsylvania and family friends were moving to Florida and downsizing. These Christmas decorations included many items that today would we considered vintage. Apparently, the donated candelabra always had blue candles and Rachel continued using this blue color for the bulbs in her several homes in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Georgia.

These blue candles took on a special meaning for the family, as a memento of our visits to Georgia and the excitement of reuniting with my children’s grandparents. Even when we could not make the holiday trek to Georgia, the question in our telephone calls was always asked, “Are the blue candles in the front window?”

The poem was written in commemoration of those visits to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s home and the sights and events surrounding the holiday season. For example, Leon traditionally read the poem, “When Father Carves the Duck,” before we sang a seasonal hymn and were finally allowed to enjoy Rachel’s delicious holiday feast. Rachel would sit down at the piano to play and sing Christmas songs with her grandchildren.

Our visit would not be complete without a tour of the log barn to view the progress in restoring this vintage building and in organizing Leon’s mounted animal displays and other collections. Many of those items are now in the Leon & Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History on the Toccoa Falls College campus.

Rachel wasn’t fond of one line in the poem, the one about gag gifts. However, she had a mischievous side to her and we expected that at least one family member would get a “white elephant” gift, something unusual that would cause much laughter.

So, whether or not you ever visited Leon & Rachel Gathany in their Toccoa home, read this poem and imagine you’re there during the holiday season. What would you see and hear?

The Blue Candles

Christmas 2004

Grandma’s in the kitchen
cooking pumpkin pie,
Grandpa’s getting wood
and stoking up the fire.
Later she’ll be singing
while her grandkids play along.
He’s got that duck poem ready for
the reading and the song.

Fox is playing loudly as
the talking heads profess.
Then there’s knocking at the door
from unexpected guests,
Still someone’s calling on the phone
with roadkill to be mounted.
There’s much to hear, see and learn
and blessing to be counted.

Outdoors the winter wild birds
feast and gladly sing
While compost sets the garden
right for the coming spring.
The chimney smoke paints
backdrops for this winter wooded view
And God watches over house and
barn and surely these precious two.

Inside the tree is lit and garnished with
their vintage memories.
The gag gifts have been chosen,
wrapped and placed beneath the tree.
They’re thinking of their loved ones
both near and far away.
Grandma’s blue candles are brightly lit
and everything’s OK.

Copyright 2004 TAG

Jon “JT” Thorne, Taxidermist

The Gathany family just recently learned about the passing of Jon “JT” Thorne.

JT was a dear friend of Leon & Rachel Gathany and he played an important part in the development of the Museum.

Leon mentions JT and his family in his autobiography as helping to care for their dog when he and Rachel were traveling.

More importantly, JT was the taxidermist who originally mounted many of the animals on display in the Museum.

When the Museum displays were being setup, JT also helped clean and spruce-up each of the mounted animals.

The Gathany family is saddened to learn of this loss and wish to express their sympathy to the Thorne family and thanks for JT’s contribution to the Museum.

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Obituary for Jon “JT” Thorne

Mr. Jon Edwin “JT” Thorne, of 2757 Starrs Bridge Road, Canon, Ga., husband of Linda Woody Thorne, went to be with the Lord on Saturday morning, April 30, 2016 at his home surrounded by his loving family.

Born February 24, 1956 in Bronx, NY., he was the son of the late Richard A. Thorne and Evelyn Pearson Ferzoli.

He was a taxidermist and a member of Zidon Baptist Church of Royston.

He is survived by his wife; daughters, Anna Thorne of Athens and Kacie Thorne of Canon; adopted daughter, Farzin Avari of Marietta, Brothers, Richard Thorne of Opelika, Al and Larry Thorne of Royston, and sister Michelle Ferzoli of Adairsville, GA. Step Mom, Vera Thorne of Lecanto , Fl., 2 Step Brothers, Brian and Keith Svendsen, Step Sisters, Pam Svendsen and Claudia Manzella, and his beloved dog “Jack.”

A memorial service celebrating the life of Mr. J.T. Thorne was held on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 2 pm at Zidon Baptist Church in Royston, GA.

Pastor Andy Bond officiated. Burial was in the church cemetery.

Coile-Hall-Spagnoli Funeral Home in Hartwell, 333 E. Johnson St. Hartwell, GA was in charge.

Online condolences may be sent to the family by visiting


Nature Awareness Programs

The following abridged excerpts from “The Old Man of the Mountain: An Autobiography by Leon B. Gathany” describe his experiences as a park naturalist and presenter of nature awareness programs.

“By the time the Toccoa Falls high school closed, I was thoroughly into the business of doing nature programs. I had a fairly good display of mounted mammals, birds and fossils from Florida, North Carolina, and even some from Wyoming. I also had an extensive assortment of insects and a very good collection of rocks and minerals. I used the collections with posters that summarized the characteristics of the artifacts I was displaying.

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In the summer of 1977, a friend of mine recommended that I take the position of summer Naturalist at Tugaloo State Park. A park naturalist’s responsibility is to present nature programs to the campers vacationing at the park. Subsequently, I began doing nature presentations at the park, which was the start to my adventures as a naturalist.

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Tugaloo Alaska

When I completed my programs for the summer, the Park Manager, expressed his appreciation and indicated that whenever I retired from teaching, I could work for him as Park Naturalist. So in 1983, I started working at Tugaloo State Park regularly in the summer months during the camping season. I would present morning and evening programs, especially on weekends. Also, on a few occasions I did presentations for other organizations, such as civic clubs, schools, scouts and churches.

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Through my programs at Tugaloo, I met the most interesting people and learned a great deal about various places in the United States.  One of my favorite friends was Dr. Don Griffith, the Superintendent of Decatur GA City Schools.  He attended my nature programs frequently when he camped with his family at the park. One day Don asked me, “Have you ever done programs at schools? I’d like for you to come down and start doing programs for the City Schools of Decatur.”

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So I began doing regular programs for City Schools of Decatur high schools and middle schools. Eventually I limited my programs to the elementary schools with kindergarten through sixth grade classes. These younger students’ desire for knowledge made my work there a true joy. The spring and fall programs at the eight elementary schools continued for several years.

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When I ceased to be a naturalist at Tugaloo State Park, I became a free-lance naturalist programmer and actually presented even more programs, including seventeen different Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites. My wife, Rachel, also presented programs and we worked together and conducted over two-hundred programs per year for schools, state parks, civic organizations, scouts, churches, home schooled children, Elderhostel groups, and much more.

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We had a repertoire of eighteen unique programs including: Mammals, Birds, Snakes, Insects, Creatures of the Night, Beaver, Oceans, Producers and Consumers, Composting, Bats, Fossils, Rocks and Minerals, and Indian Ways of Life. Also our color slide programs included: Alaska the Last Frontier, Wild Flowers, This is My Country, Autumn Leaf Color, and Hawaii the Beautiful.

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Among the many nature programs we presented, the Alaska Program was always one of the favorites.  As a result, I traveled to Alaska thirty times and forty-two different folks joined me on these trips. Many of these fellow travelers have gone back again and also inspired their family and friends to take an Alaska vacation. How rewarding!”

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Debra Ramsey Interview

Debra Ramsey currently conducts group tours of the museum. She has been integrally involved in the development of The Leon & Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History, working with Leon Gathany and the Gathany family to organize, label and maintain the museum displays.

Note: The Gathany Museum is currently open by appointment.  To schedule a tour click here on our –> Visit/Contact Us link.

Interview with Debra Ramsey:

Tell us about yourself – – anything you wish to share. For example, how did you decide to be a teacher?

I have wanted to be a teacher as long as I can remember. I used to get the old discarded school books thrown out by the school and take them home and play “school” with them. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher but after I got started classes at Piedmont College, I just wasn’t satisfied. I decided to transfer to Brenau College and take special education classes. I felt like that was what the Lord wanted me to do. It was my calling.

Tell us about your connection to Toccoa Falls and the museum.

I attended Toccoa Falls High School in the early 70’s and graduated from there. Mr. Gathany was my Principal and Science teacher. He was always my favorite Principal, and when I retired from education, I was approached by his daughter to assist him to write his book. About the time his book was finished, we got word that the President of Toccoa Falls, Dr. Myers, wanted to get the museum open to the public. So he and I worked together to move the artifacts to the museum building on campus. Together, we all arranged the displays and got the museum ready to open. After the museum opened, I assisted Mr. Gathany in giving tours to various groups.

What are the types of groups that have toured the museum?

We have had a variety of groups coming to the museum. Home school groups and individuals have made up the most of the groups. Special education groups have enjoyed the tours, and well as community groups, such as 4-H, Senior Center groups, Clary Center, and special interest groups. Also, we have had afterschool programs and day care programs bring groups out to enjoy the displays.

What was the largest group you hosted?

Regional Home School Educators group has been the largest group that has been to tour the museum. They had a total of 54 people, including children, adults and teachers. The home school groups usually have the largest numbers or participants to visit.

What was the most interesting question a visitor asks?

“How did he manage to find so many different and unique items?” is the question that many adults ask but the most interesting question the children ask is “Did you shoot all these animals?”

What is your favorite artifact in the museum?

It’s hard to say what my most favorite artifact is, but if I had to choose one it would be the loggerhead turtle. It was donated to the museum by Andy Beckman and he brought it to Mr. Gathany in a box, in pieces. I had to lay it all out on my kitchen bar and piece it together for it to take the shape it has today. It took me three weeks to complete the task of putting it together.

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How do you introduce the visitors to the museum?

I give a quick overview of the man behind the collection and a history of his life and how the museum came to be. I tell them about how Mr. Gathany wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the things that he had collected since he started at age 13. He wanted the museum to continue his legacy of education and learning about the world around us.

Leon Gathany often said there is a story for everything in the museum. What is your favorite story?

Yes, there is a story surrounding each and every item, but my favorite story is about the bear head and paws hanging on the wall. One night Mr. Gathany received a phone call telling him that a bear had been found over near the Trestle, thought it had been hit by a train, and did he want to come and get it. He said he would love to have it so he got up, dressed (even though it was the middle of the night), and went to pick it up. He wasn’t sure what he needed to do, so he took it by the police station and told them that he had it and what did he need to do to report to authorities that he had it. They didn’t know what to do either, so they told him to just take it on home. When he arrived at home with the bear in the back of his truck, the DNR game warden was already at his house. They wanted to take the bear to do a necropsy on it to see why it had been hit by a train. Generally bears do not get that close to train tracks. Well, he convinced the DNR guys to let him at least have the head and the paws, so he agreed to that. Later on, after they finished the necropsy on the bear, they discovered that she had eaten polk berries that were fermented and she was drunk.

What would tell someone who asks about the museum and wonders if they should visit it?

The museum is a very unique collection of unusual items that you will not see in other museums. So are very rare and priceless. Others are beautiful and interesting. There is something in the museum that will appeal to all ages, children to adults.

What would you like to see for the future of the museum?

I would love to see people coming from all over just to take a tour. I would also like to see the classroom set up for educational instruction for teachers to have access to. There have already been people visiting from other countries. I would love for the museum to be open to the public all week so that more people would have access to the wonders that the museum holds.

Useful Again

Rachel Essie Pritchard Gathany was born on August 17, 1926 in rural Hart County, Georgia, the daughter of Rufus Almond and Flora Johnson Pritchard.  She went to meet the Lord on July 8, 2007 at Emory Hospital in Atlanta from complications associated with treatment of lymphoma.

Visitation will be at Whitlock Mortuary on Friday, July 13 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM.  The celebration of her life and home going to Heaven will occur on Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 2:00 PM at Grace Chapel at Toccoa Falls College.  Internment will be thereafter at Stephens Memorial Gardens.

After the death of her father when Rachel was three years old, her mother moved the family to Asheville, North Carolina in 1935.  Rachel graduated from Lee Edwards High School in Asheville.  In 1943 she entered Toccoa Falls Institute where she met her future husband, Leon Gathany.  On December 31, 1946 Rachel and Leon were married in Great Bend, Pennsylvania and moved to Nyack, New York where her husband completed his degree at Nyack Missionary College.

In 1948 Rachel and Leon moved to Birmingham, Alabama where Leon became the pastor of the North Birmingham Gospel Tabernacles and Rachel became a pastor’s wife.  In 1950, expecting their first child, Rachel and Leon moved to Great Bend, Pennsylvania where Leon became minister of the Great Bend Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.  While serving in Great Bend, Rachel and Leon had four children, Richard, Timothy, Rebecca and Deborah.

After eleven years in Pennsylvania and four years in Minnesota, Rachel and Leon returned to Toccoa Falls where Rachel completed her Bachelor of Science degree in 1972.  She continued on to the University of Georgia where she completed her Masters of Education in 1975.

She became the Director of the Stephens County Mental Retardation Service Center in 1973 and continued in that position until her retirement in 1988. She was a lifelong working mother, having always worked outside the home as an accountant, teacher and administrator.

In retirement she worked tirelessly with the local Association of Retarded Citizens, the Child Evangelism Fellowship, the Toccoa Falls Women’s Auxiliary, and other activities with the First Alliance Church of Toccoa where she was a member. In 2006 Mrs. Gathany and her husband received the Toccoa Falls College Alumni Association Service Award. She often assisted with her husband’s nature programs at Tugaloo State Park, schools and churches around the state.  She was a mother and grandmother figure to hundreds of children throughout the United States and perhaps the world.

Rachel Gathany is survived by her husband, Leon Gathany of Toccoa; two sisters, Bonnie Denson of Toccoa and Mary Haynes of Hudson, NC; a brother, Waymon Pritchard of Jacksonville, NC; four children, Richard Gathany of Stone Mountain, GA, Timothy Gathany of Kennett Square, PA, Rebecca Gathany-Bailey of John’s Creek, GA and Deborah Gathany-Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA; five grandchildren, Stephen and Nicole Gathany of Stone Mountain, Nicholas and Philip Gathany of Kennett Square, PA, and Erin Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA; two daughter-in-laws, Jessie Gathany of Stone Mountain, GA and Eleanor Gathany of Kennett Square, PA; two son-in-laws, Don Bailey of Johns Creek, GA and Rick Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA;  three step grandsons, Ricky Keeney, Andrew and Anthony Bailey; and a host of nieces and nephews.  She was preceded in death by two brothers, George Pritchard and Joseph Vaughan.

Memorials may be made to the Northeast Georgia Child Evangelism Fellowship or the Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum Foundation at Toccoa Falls College.

Speech and Poem at Service / Richard Gathany (Son)

Here is the text of my speech and original poem at the Celebration of the Life of Rachel Gathany

Hello and Greetings to you from the family of Rachel Gathany.

As most of you know I am Richard Gathany, the oldest son of Rachel and Leon Gathany, and was blessed to have been around my mother for over fifty-seven years.

This can be a solemn time as we reflect on the past few days. But we are here to celebrate the life and the home going to Heaven of Rachel Gathany. The family would like this time to honor Rachel Gathany and her accomplishments. We want to remember the wonderful and caring person that she was.

While we mourn our loss we must remember to rejoice that mother has lived her life to the fullest and has now entered Heaven. If we are a sad perhaps it is because we will not have her here to do those things that she once did for us.

Certainly we were all touched by her caring personality and her generosity. We received much benefit from being around her, by being near her. She was always asking if we needed something, if we were comfortable, if we were hungry. And if we had a need she would what she could to help.

She was always looking out for others and sometimes paid little attention to her own needs. When she was in the hospital she thought not about herself and that she might never return. She was concerned that she be able to serve others and desired to get better so that she could “be useful again.

So here is a small poem in tribute to my mother that expresses how I feel about her life and recent troubles.

Useful Again

Mother’s life was a message of service,
For her family, her church and the world.
Many were touched with her concern,
And thoughts and deeds for others,
She made herself useful again and again.

While mother was laid up with illness,
She told us to the very end,
That she had to soon get better,
And continue to serve others,
To make herself useful again.

So there is no doubt in our minds.
She has gone to a better place.
For she has gone to Heaven,
To be with God; and to serve,
And to make herself useful again.

This time is not for sorrow,
This time is not for pain.
For Mother has gone to Heaven,
To be with God; and to serve,
She has made herself useful again.

Copyright 2007, RSG

Stephens County Nature Collector

Per copyright laws the article below has been republished verbatim with attribution from its original source or internet link, which may or may not be active. For the most recent and accurate information, please use our Visit/Contact Us link.

Georgia Journey: Stephens County Nature Collector

Scott Myrick     WNEG NewsChannel 32    Friday, December 1, 2006

Take a walk through Leon Gathany’s back yard, and he’ll show you some of his special things.

It’s just like Lincoln Logs. There are no nails or pegs or anything,” Gathany tells NewsChannel 32.

Things like the 90-year-old barn he moved from Mt. Tabor and put back together himself. It took 15 years to get it the way he wanted. You’d better set aside some time if you want the grand tour.


“I appreciate that. So many people are in such a big rush,” he says.

Around back, he’ll show you the fireplace he built –by hand — a few years ago, with stone he collected on cross-county trips.

“This is a piece of Pennsylvania Blue Stone. This comes from where I was brought up in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” he says.

The stonework is impressive, but his real treasures are inside. His most prized collection: 4,600 arrowheads. But there’s more to see ? like fossils.

“My wife says I’m a fossil. She’s about right,” he says.


Gathany started collecting all this stuff when he was a young man. At 86, he’s still going, but he didn’t find all this stuff himself.

“For instance, the Arctic Fox that was sent to me and given to me,” he says.

Friends have helped him all along the way, finding new, interesting things for his backyard museum.

“You didn’t know this, did you? I also collect insects,” he laughs.

But he wishes he could share his collections with more people, and the old barn can barely hold what he has.

“All of this has a story — I’m just giving you the top of the list,” he chuckles.

Gathany taught at Toccoa Falls when it still had a high school. Now the folks at the college want to make sure they keep a part of him around forever. They’re building the Leon B. Gathany Natural History Museum so all of Northeast Georgia can see his collections from nature.

“There’s a history behind everything, and I enjoy sharing this with other people,” he says.

He’s got mixed feelings about having his name on a museum. It’s an honor, but he wishes it could be named for his friends. It’s friends, after all, that make him — and his collections — what they are today.

Toccoa falls still needs about $27,000 to build the $140,000 museum. Contact the school if you want to help. Project organizers hope they can break ground in a year.

Note: The Gathany Museum is currently open by appointment. To schedule a tour click here on our –> Visit/Contact Us link.

This story was oringinally posted at:

Singing in Heaven

Photo 58 Leon and his guitar 1

In his later years Leon recorded an album of his favorite songs called “Singing in Heaven,” where he shared his vision of heaven. He suggested that the one thing we can all take with us when we depart this world is the gift of music and singing. Today Leon is likely leading his own chorus of angels and fellow departed souls and urging them to sing with more gusto! We here on earth will always remember his passion for singing.

Obituary: Leon Benjamin Gathany: Minister, Educator, Naturalist


Leon Benjamin Gathany went to be with the Lord on March 30, 2015 after a long and fruitful life on this earth.

He was born in Walton, NY, on October 4, 1920, the first son of John William Gathany and Florence Marilla Rice Gathany. His father was the pastor of the Walton Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) Church.

The following year the family moved to Attleboro, Massachusetts, where his father was a minister and caretaker of the Mount Hebron Conference Ground of the C&MA. It was in Massachusetts where some of his first memories were formed including visits to the ocean and his father’s Model T Ford sedan.

Photo 3 Dad's First Car

In 1926 the family returned to the Halstead/Great Bend, PA, area and in 1927 Leon entered school in Great Bend, PA. It was during the 1930’s that Leon began his love of the outdoors spending many hours on the Susquehanna River boating, canoeing and fishing. At the age of thirteen he found his first of thousands of Indian projectile points in what began a lifelong hobby.

Leon’s love of reading was fostered in the Great Bend school and he voraciously read many of the classics while in school. He also played basketball and baseball and ran track where he medaled in middle distance races. In shop class Leon also built an end table and a piano bench which are still in his home. He also assisted in the building of a row boat and a canoe and used them in trips on the Susquehanna River.

He graduated from Great Bend High School in 1939 and applied to Toccoa Falls Institute. Since it was the height of the depression and he had no money he was drawn to Toccoa Falls by the influences of his cousin Ruth Gathany Klinepeter who described the opportunity that students had at Toccoa Fall working in the LeTourneau plant. Leon and his brother Don were accepted at Toccoa Falls and enrolled in the fall of 1940.

Leon attended Toccoa Falls until he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Education in 1945. During his time at Toccoa Falls he worked for two years at the Letourneau plant and in the kitchen at Toccoa Falls. It was at Toccoa Falls that he met his wife Rachel Pritchard who was from Asheville, NC. In addition to studying and working Leon and his brother Don sang in quartets representing Toccoa Falls in evangelistic meetings in Alabama and Georgia.


Upon graduating from Toccoa Falls, Leon and Don enrolled in 1945 at the Nyack Missionary College in New York. Their goal was to obtain the necessary credentials for a C&MA minister. Leon and Don and their sister, Julia, all graduated from Nyack with Leon obtaining a Bachelor of Religious Education in 1947.

Photo 14 Rachel and Leon at Toccoa Falls (2)

Leon and Rachel were married on December 31, 1946 in Great Bend, PA, and then lived at Nyack while Leon completed his degree. After Nyack they moved to Birmingham, AL, where Leon was the pastor of the North Birmingham Gospel Tabernacle. In 1949 they moved to Great Bend, PA, where Leon became the pastor of the C&MA church started by his father. While serving in the Great Bend Alliance Church, Leon and Rachel had four children, Richard, Timothy, Rebecca and Deborah.

Photo 25 Gathany Family in GB2

During his time as a minister in Great Bend, Leon Gathany was approached by the local school superintendent to teach a sixth grade class in the neighboring town of Hallstead, PA. That event began Leon’s career in education. In 1960 the family moved to Mountain Lake, MN, where he became the principal and the sixth grade teacher of the Mountain Lake Christian Day School. He completed his Master of Education at New York University by returning to New York City for two summers.

In 1964 the family moved to Toccoa Falls and Leon became the principal of Toccoa Falls High School. When the high school closed he became a teacher in 1976 in the Stephens County Schools at Big A Elementary and Stephens County Middle School.

Upon retiring from teaching he became a naturalist at Tugalo State Park where he provided nature programs for the campers and public from 1983 until 1995. During that period of time he traveled with his wife and others to the state of Alaska with thirty trips and 45 different people. He attended the Iditarod Dog sled race three times and assisted in the operations by feeding sled dogs and taking photographs for mushers.


Leon Gathany was an avid musician having played the trombone and tuba in his younger years and later the guitar. For years he led the singing at the Toccoa Alliance Church. In the last few years he continued his singing regularly at nursing homes and churches and by singing duets with his son, Richard.

MrSingALong (<- Click on the link to read about Mr. Sing-a-long.)MrSingALong

Leon was a member of the Georgia Retired Educators Association and the Stephens County Retired Educators Association. He was also an associate member of the Marine Corp League. Having given his heart to Jesus at age nine he was a Member of the First Alliance Church of Toccoa and an associate member of Allen’s Methodist Church.

Today Leon Gathany’s legacy continues with the Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History at Toccoa Falls College, where many of his collections are housed.

Funeral services were held at two o’clock Saturday, April 4, 2015 at Grace Chapel on the campus of Toccoa Falls College with Dr. Scott Borderud, Dr. Jon Tal Murphee, Dr. Robert Myers, and the Rev. Johnny Ray officiating.

Leon is survived by a sister, Eloise Biggin of Marmora, NJ; four children, Richard Gathany of Stone Mountain, GA, Timothy Gathany of Manteca, CA, Rebecca Gathany-Bailey of Johns Creek, GA, and Deborah Gathany-Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA; two daughters-in-law, Jessie Mayfield Gathany of Stone Mountain, GA and Eleanor Gathany of Manteca, CA; two sons-in-law, Don Bailey of Johns Creek, GA and Rick Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA; eight grandchildren, Stephen Gathany of Tucker, GA, Nicholas Gathany of Christiana, PA, Nicole Gathany of Stone Mountain, GA, Philip Gathany of Collegeville, PA, Erin Keeney of Atlanta, GA, Ricky Keeney of Atlanta, GA, Anthony Bailey of Johns Creek, GA, and Andrew Bailey of Kennesaw, GA; two great grandchildren, Eva and Wesley Gathany of Tucker, GA; three step-great grandchildren; and a host of nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Rachel Gathany; brothers, Don Gathany and Lysle Gathany; and a sister, Julia Elliot.

These gentlemen served as pallbearers: Kelly Vickers, Jerry Snell, Keith Smith, Lyle Salzman, Philip Gathany, and Anthony Bailey.

Burial followed at Stephens Memorial Gardens with Dr. Robert Myers officiating at the graveside.

The family received friends at the mortuary from 6pm – 8pm Friday, April 3, 2015.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum Foundation, Inc., 860 Crest Valley Dr. NW, Atlanta, GA 30327.

Whitlock Mortuary of Toccoa GA was in charge of the arrangements.

A Fitting Tribute

Note: The Gathany Museum is currently open by appointment. To schedule a tour click here on our –> Visit/Contact Us link.

Rachel connection to the Museum runs deeper than just her role as Leon’s wife. Like Leon, she served as an educator, teaching Business Math and substitute teaching at Toccoa Falls Academy. She was instrumental in raising significant funds for construction of the Museum, much contributed by her family. She traveled with Leon on his adventures which served as inspirations for the Nature Awareness programs he conducted for schools, civic clubs and state parks. Rachel assisted regularly in these programs and also presented several programs by herself using the mounted birds that are now displayed in the Museum.

Appropriately the Museum bears both Leon’s and Rachel’s names. Also, there is a special remembrance of her in the Museum building, that you will likely notice when you first enter the foyer of the Toccoa Falls College Outdoor and Environmental Education Center.

First some background…

Rachel’s father, Rufus A. Pritchard, passed away when Rachel was only three years old. He was the song leader for his church and for other area churches during revival services. The family was quite poor when Rufus died, so the grave was marked with simple white marble pieces, right next to the grave of another daughter that had died very young.

Years later Leon and Rachel met at Toccoa Falls College and embarked on a journey of service to the Lord through ministering and teaching. When Leon and Rachel returned to Georgia in 1964 to serve at Toccoa Falls, they visited the grave of Rachel’s father at the Bethany Baptist Church Cemetery in Hart County, Georgia. They discovered that the graves were not well marked, only with the original primitive markers that were now worn and dislodged.

Rachel and her sister, Bonnie, had the markers replaced with headstones and Leon kept the original white markers with the other rocks and stones he collected over the years. His collection of stone was eventually used in building a fireplace in the log barn Leon reassembled in the back yard of their Georgia home.

When the Museum building was under construction Bill Bryson, the general contractor, visited Leon’s barn and was fascinated by the fireplace. He proposed adding a similar fireplace to the foyer of the new building.

Leon offered stone from his pile and was able to acquire additional stone for the Museum fireplace. Also a sizable amount of Pennsylvania “blue stone” was donated for the fireplace by Leon’s cousins, Dick and Sandy Button. Charlie Denson (now deceased), son of Rachel’s sister Bonnie, transported the stone from the Pennsylvania quarry to Georgia in his pickup truck.

The marble stone markers from the grave of Rachel’s father were in Leon’s pile of leftover stone. Bill Bryson told Leon he had an idea about how to use it, but he wouldn’t divulge his plan to Leon.

As the Museum fireplace was constructed, Leon had the opportunity and pleasure of assisting in laying the stone. This experience was special for Leon, since it brought back many memories of his experiences working with stone.

Dad working on Museum fireplace

Bill Bryson’s secret was to cut the marble markers in half and construct a cross in the middle of the fireplace above the mantle. It was a beautifully executed idea. He also placed pinkish geodes, fashioned from bookends, at the bottom of the cross. Leon has said that the marble cross and geodes remind us of the blood that was shed for our sins.

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The gorgeous mantle over the fireplace also has an interesting history. Bill Bryson’s neighbor lost a sizeable cherry tree during a storm the year that the fireplace was built. He visited the neighbor and asked what was going to be done with the tree. The neighbor intended to cut it up for firewood.  Mr. Bryson asked if he could take the tree off of his hands. The neighbor agreed and Bill was able to fashion several amazing mantles out of it for his clients, including the Museum.

When you visit The Leon and Rachel Museum of Natural History next time, stop to view the fireplace in the foyer and recall the special history and message it represents.

A Visit to the Mulberry Phosphate Pits


The following text is an excerpt from the soon to be published autobiography, “The Old Man of the Mountain: An Autobiography by Leon B. Gathany,” in which Leon recalls collecting fossils at the Mulberry Phosphate Pits in Florida. The photos above were published in the book “Images of America: Around Mulberry,” a project of the Mulberry Historical Society. Click on the image to view the description where Leon is mistaken for a mine worker holding a dinosaur bone from the pits. The collections obtained during his visits there are a part of the many artifacts on display in the Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History.


Actually I did not collect fossils until I was in my forties.  It happened this way.  I was in Dr. Bandy’s office one day, but I don’t remember the reason I was there.  I was the Principal of the high school so he probably was talking to me about some of the issues in the high school.  As I got ready to leave he said, “By the way, here is a letter from a man down in Florida.  He wants to give our school a fossil collection, but we really don’t have any place to house that collection on the Toccoa Falls campus, so I’ll let you take care of the letter”.  When I read the letter, it was from Bill Smith who lived in Lakeland.  He was a former student of Toccoa Falls.  He had become a fossil collector in his area and he wanted to give Toccoa Falls a portion of his fossil collection.  It is very easy to teach creation with the fossils that you find.  I wrote to him and said, “It appears that the school doesn’t have a place for the fossil collection, however I do nature programs at schools and at the parks and I would be very happy to have you share some of your fossils with me”.  So he wrote me back a short letter and said, “Come and get the collection”.

I believe Richard (my eldest son) and I went down to Lakeland where Bill lived and he gave us a very interesting collection that I could use in my programs.   Then he said, “Stay here and tomorrow we will go out and I will show you the places where these fossils are found”.  Just south of Lakeland is an area of phosphate mining called Bone Valley.  At the beginning of this valley is a place called Mulberry and then there is another place more off toward the east by the name of Bartow.  Let me explain to you about phosphate mining.  Actually, these big drag lines would go in and they would clean off sometimes as much as ten feet of over burden.  Over burden is the layer of soil directly over the fossil layer.  Believe it or not the very next layer was a fossil layer.  The people who ran the mines were interested in phosphate ore which was the next level and they processed this ore and it was used as fertilizer for plants.  It was my fortune to meet a man by the name of Wood that was the manager out in the field.  His wife worked in the main office of this particular phosphate company so they were able to get me passes to the phosphate pits.  That first day, Bill took Richard and me out and we went down there and we were thrilled by what we found even that day.  From that time on, a couple of times a year, I would return to that area and Mr. Wood and his wife would get me a permit to the phosphate pits.  It is amazing the things that I found and I can’t even began to enumerate them at this point, but the best I remember is these huge drag lines would scoop up over burden layer and many times it would include fossils.  They would put it in a pit where there was a strong flow of water that would wash out the phosphate ore and then they would send the ore back to the processing plant. When they abandoned those pits, we would just find all kinds of beautiful things.  So I kept adding to my collection.  After Bill had given us these beautiful fossils, I took them back to my home.  I don’t remember exactly all of the items, but I remember one was a mammoth tooth, a mastodon tooth, pieces of petrified wood, sea cow ribs, and huge sharks’ teeth and no telling what else he gave me.

Well, as the years went on, Bill got to the point where he was not too well and he had a personal collection of his own.  One time, when he was out in the pits, he found a unique specimen and he didn’t know what it was.  He was pretty good at identifying what he found, but he couldn’t identify this object, so he took it to the Florida paleontological society department, which they had at the University of Florida.  The man said, (the head honcho) “I don’t recognize what this is, but I’ll do some research on it”.  He couldn’t figure out what it was either.  “If you will leave it, I will find out what it is.  I’ll name it and I will put your name on it”.  In other words, sometimes when a unique specimen is found, they name it after the technical name, and then they put the name of the finder.  About three years later Bill had not heard from this man, so he went up to see the professor personally and would you believe the man said, “I don’t know what you are talking about”.  That really disturbed Bill to the point where he told his wife, “When I pass away, I want Leon Gathany to have my collection”.  Well, Bill did, I believe, have a heart attack and passed away.  His wife called me and said, “Come and get the fossil collection.  The University of Florida wants it but Bill wanted you to have it”.  Most of the fossils that I have in the barn were gifts from Bill Smith.  I’m very thankful to Bill Smith, who is my fossil mentor.

I think I will say, once I became interested in fossils, I found that there are fossils in a lot of different places in the United States.  Actually there are sea fossils, shells down quite deep in Great Bend where I practically had been raised up.  In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, we found fossils on the beach.  There was a site in North Carolina, known as the Texas Gulf where they processed the ore phosphate.  There was a huge pit and I went up there several times.  For a time, I was a member of the North Carolina Fossil Society and I hunted there several times.  Then, when I moved to Minnesota and went to Wyoming to hunt deer and antelope, behold there were fossils out there.  One unique specimen I found had four attached vertebrae.  I showed this fossil to an expert paleontologist and asked him to identify it.  He said, “Oh my goodness, that’s easy.  Those are the vertebrae of an extinct marine fish”.  I found this while I was mule deer hunting.  If you know the term marine, you know that that means ocean.  I said, “My friend, how does it happen that I am finding a marine fossil at an elevation of 8,000 feet?”  He was actually an evolutionist.  I said, “A marine fossil at 8,000 feet?” and he said, “Well, yes.  You know the whole earth was covered with water at one time”.  I said, “Yes, I know that”.  He looked at me kind of sideways and he said, “How in the world did you know that?”  I said, “It tells us in Genesis, where it talks about Noah’s flood.”  He turned on his heels and, in disgust, walked away from us.

Toccoa Falls has its myths and its history

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The Chieftain            Toccoa, Georgia         Tuesday, September 5, 1989

By: ANGIE RAMAGE                                                    Special to the Chieftain

Toccoa20Just like most areas, Toccoa Falls has its myths and its history.

Some of the tales we hear come from well meaning old-timers who have lived through a noteworthy era of time.

Other stories are simply passed down generation by generation through moms and dads to wide-eyed children at bedtime.

One particular tale has captivated my attention over and over again — so much so that I began to research the individual involved and found a beehive of information.

I won’t lay claim to the details surrounding the story. I do know that the subject of my research did exist, and that he made his home in Stephens County part of which is now Toccoa Falls College~

So history buffs get ready — this one’s for you. On the other side of a small lake, three individuals moved through a clearing. Their footsteps are periodically interrupted by the pushing of low-lying brush out of the way. It was mid-June and sweat ran down their faces.ToccoaFallsFrom time to time the travelers stopped to remove invading ticks from pant legs as their shadowing journey continued.

Finally, the search ended under two leggy pine trees. “This is the spot!” called the older man to his two younger companions. Hurriedly, the three began to clear away the years of undergrowth beneath the pine trees. A lone grave marked by two odd shaped stones peered up at them, and for several seconds the only sound that was heard was that of a small hawk as he stretched out his wings in flight across the pond area.

“We are here,” said Leon Gathany, bending over the grave. “I haven’t been here since the late 60s, and who knows what lies beneath these stones.”

Like children caught in a fascinating tale, their minds studied their surroundings and wondered what life would have been like here in these backwoods in the early 18OOs.

Gathany’s word finally broke the silence. The house is near here up on the ridge,” he said.

The three began to move back toward what once was the old post road.

There they separated and while remaining in eyesight of each other, they continued the search. Again it was Gathany who found the treasure. The foundation of the house was still visible after more than 150 years. Together they stood near the remains of what was a crepe myrtle tree — “A sure sign of an old home place,” says Gathany.

“A true mystery,” said one of his younger cohorts.

“Yes,” said Gathany. “He was 95 when he died and was buried alone.”

“But how did he get to this area and why?” they wondered.

Col. William Wofford, Revolutionary War hero and American patriot, was born on Oct. 5, 1728 in Maryland. He was among some of the first known white settlers in what is now Habersham and Stephens counties.

He and his relatives and friends settled on Nancytown Creek and Wofford’s Creek as early as 1783. Wofford Creek feeds Nancytown Lake which lies next to Lake Russell near Mt. Airy.

When the line between the state of Georgia and the Cherokee nation was surveyed by Benjamin Hawkins, a U.S. Indian agent, in 1797, it was discovered that the Wofford settlement was located just over the boundary on Indian land. This generally was the original north boundary of Franklin County from which Stephens County was later formed.

Since the US government felt that Wofford had “ignorantly” placed the settlement with the Indian Nation, they did not ask him to move from the land. Wofford petitioned for a cession from the Cherokees to include this land in Georgia, and the government went along with this plan. A treaty was established on Oct. 31, 1804, for a tract of land that ran 23 miles and 64 chains in length and four miles wide.

However in 1811, J. Meigs wrote to the Secretary of War stating that the treaty was never ratified by Congress. The Indians did this so no mistake would be made by the white man in the future. Later reports from the state department show that the treaty of cession was mislaid for nearly 20 years, and was not ratified until 1824 by the United States.

William’s father, Absalom Wofford, had moved to America from England and settled in Pennsylvania. He had five sons and among these were William — who became a man of “great enterprise.”

Wiliiam Wofford built a noted ironworks at Lawson pork on the Pacolet River in Spartanburg, S.C., and was one of the leading citizens of the area. He served as colonel in Williamson’s Cherokee Campaign in 1776. Later in 1781, Wofford saw his ironworks destroyed by “Bloody Bill” Cunningham during a raid that is still noted in the gages of Revolutionary War history.

“A leading patriot” is the title give Wofford by today’s historians. While fleeing from North Carolina to Georgia in 1779, he was linked to the likes of Lt. Col. John Moore.

Wofford and Moore were part of a group that pursued the Tory party in the Battle of Stono Ferry. It is often noted that both Georgia and South Carolina suffered great persecution at the hands of the Tories.

It was after this particular campaign that Wofford sold what remained of his ironworks to a man named Simon Berwick.

He, along with his family and other friends, moved to Turkey Cove on the Catawba River in North Carolina where he purchased 900 acres of land and built a fort and grit mill. There was safety in the shelter of this man’s shadow, and the settlements he established grew under his watchful eye.

After the Revolutionary War Col. Wofford moved to Franklin County at which time took in the counties that are now Stephens and Habersham, as well as several counties in South Carolina.

According to Mrs. Lillie Isbell, in her book on the Wofford family, the Wofford settlement was squeezed out of Franklin County during the original survey. She writes, “Wofford was a man without a country.”

It was true after all his service to the country1 Wofford did feel “put out” by his exclusion from the surveyed land.

Legend has it that he mounted his horse and rode to Washington to talk with authorities about his land holdings in Georgia. Because of Wofford’s credibility, the United States agreed to pay the Cherokee Indians $5,000 and $10,300 per annum for the property rights. Eventually Wofford would own close to 2,000 acres of land around Toccoa, including what was then called the “High Falls” to the middle fork of the Broad River. Wofford was the progenitor of the Wofford family in Georgia. Family tradition says his son, Nathaniel, was the first white child born in this area.

Other grants of land were acquired by Wofford over the years according to records made by John Gorham, who surveyed close to 1,000 acres of land for the colonel. He was married three times. His first wife, Sarah Camero, died in 1772 and is buried in Spartanburg, SC. Little is known about his second wife, Nancy Greenleaf, though records show that she married Wofford in 1773.

Mary Bobo was his third wife who died the same year as Wofford, in 1820. The National Archives has deeds with Mary’s “X mark on them from 1790 and 1794 concerning her husband’s will. Though he married three times, all of Wofford’s known children were by his first wife, Sarah.

His seven children who later became heirs to the Wofford estate were Mary Wetherspoon, Ann Clark who after the death of her first husband married William Bright, Benjamin Wofford, Nathaniel Wofford, Charlotte Baker, Sarah Gilespie and James Wofford.

The original abstract of title for the land around Toccoa Fall shows William Wofford as its third owner behind Coy. James Irwin and Joshua Catcher.

The Toccoa tract of land, including the falls, was said to him on Aug. 23, 1817 — only three years before his death.

The Toccoa Falls property changed hands 23 more times before it fell into the hands of E.P. Simpson in 1898. Names listed in the deed throughout the years include such entries as the Bakers, the Jarretts, the Dooleys, the Mathews, and the Haddocks.


The land was first separated and broken down through family heirs. Later it was sold and purchased through land deals until it became the property of Dr.R.A. Forrest in 1911. Today it is the home of Toccoa Falls College.

Mary Wofford died shortly before her husband but records of her actual place of burial have not been discovered.

Records at the Georgia Archives in Atlanta do show that Wofford is buried near Toccoa Falls. James Puckett Jr., the past chairman of the Revolutionary Graves Committee S.A.R., wrote in 1966 that “Wofford is buried on the campus of Toccoa Falls College in Stephens County1 Georgia.”

Puckett later determined the location of the gravesite, as well as the home site, through long hours of research in which land deeds and maps of the area were used to paint a final picture of the Wofford saga. The first census of Habersham County in 1820 shows Col. Wofford living alone near the falls with three young slaves.

“So no one knows what his last years were really like?” asks one of Gathany’s companions.

“No. not really. He died when he was 95 and was alone except for his servants,” said Gathany as he stirred the leaves that covered the only remaining evidence of Col. William Wofford’s life.

The rock foundation of the house was still evident even at a distance.

Gathany bent over and picked up a large stone that was burnt orange in color.

“I wish these stones could talk they would tell us all we need to know. See the color of this one? When a rock is this color it usually means there was a fire,” he said.

“I wonder if his house burned right after his death or if vandals burned it much later?”

“No way to know that today but maybe later after some research,” concludes Gathany.

In turning to go, they all found themselves talking at once about this man, Wofford.

“I’ll bet he was a brave soldier,” said one. “Yes, he would have to be — well, just think he was one of our first white settlers,” said another. “And from what I understand some of his sons followed in his footsteps and became soldiers also.”

“All fighting for freedom and their rights as American citizens,”

I wonder what he thought of this land, this country.” There was a pause as the three looked out over the ridge at the tall hardwoods and the young energetic pines.

What of Toccoa?”

“That’s Toccoa — the Indian word for beautiful.” There was a smile, then came the reply. “Well, beautiful, of course.”

Originally published at:

Update on Wofford grave site: Recently Professor David Jalovick of Toccoa Falls College was instrumental in cleaning up and documenting the William Wofford gravesite up Deadman’s Branch at Toccoa Falls College. The picture is of the group who volunteered to work on the site.

Wofford Gravesite

Note: The Gathany Museum is currently open by appointment.  To schedule a tour click here on our –> Visit/Contact Us link.