Category Archives: About Leon Gathany

Stephens County Nature Collector

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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

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 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.