Category Archives: Museum Personalities

Charles Warren Smith, Pharmacist

Photo: Charles Warren Smith (left) and Leon B Gathany (right) at the Grand Opening of The Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History in 2013. Today they are celebrating together in Heaven.

Mr. Charles Warren Smith, age 91, of Addington Drive in Toccoa, Georgia passed away January 30, 2020 at the Oaks at Scenic View in Baldwin, GA.

Charles was a local pharmacist and dear friend of Leon Gathany.

CWS Photo

Photo: Smith Pharmacy Staff Photo from 1969 Toccoa Falls Forrester yearbook.

He was a major player in the effort to establish the Leon & Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History on the Toccoa Falls College campus.

Following are some excerpts from the autobiography of Leon Gathany describing Charles’ role and expressing Leon Gathany’s appreciation for his efforts.

Those of us who knew Charles respected his accomplishments and contributions, but also enjoyed his personality. The second excerpt here from the autobiography is an example of his unique character.

Excerpt 1:

The Museum

Occasionally, Charles Warren Smith said to me, “What is going to happen to all of your collections when you are gone?” My response was, “I hadn’t even thought about it.” However, Charles’s question triggered some serious consideration in my mind, and the concept of housing all my collections in a Museum of Natural History was born. Shortly after that, some friends hosted a “get together” in my honor, and the idea of a museum was discussed at that ceremony. From that point on plans began to materialize, and today the museum has become a reality.

Charles came up with a unique idea for raising funds for the building of the Leon and Rachel Gathany Natural Museum. He was able to have medallions “struck” by a firm up in Alberta, Canada, I believe. The idea was that when someone gave a donation, we, in turn, would give them a medallion. One side of the medallion is stamped with a picture of Toccoa Falls, and the other side has a picture of the “Old Man of the Mountain”; none other than me. The manufacturers gave me quite a “stash” of the medallions, and I have given them to many of my friends. At the time, I tell them that these medallions are normally given to people who donate to my museum. I do not verbalize this, but my hope is that they will do the same.

I have great appreciation for the efforts of Charles Warren Smith and Jerry Snell, who were instrumental in raising funds for our museum. Most of the contributions came from the enthusiastic local community and the Toccoa Falls Alumni Association.”

Excerpt 2:

Hunting in Wyoming

Here is a humorous hunting story. Ken Deitle, a friend of ours, was a hunter. We hunted together on numerous occasions. He had been a former student at Toccoa Falls, but now was a Methodist pastor. One day he said to me, “Come over tomorrow morning early, eat breakfast with me, and then we’ll go out hunting.”

When I got to his house, I noticed that there was a gentleman sitting over in the corner. Ken introduced him as Charles Warren Smith. I acknowledged him and promptly forgot his name. The man sat there quietly, not saying a word, while Ken and I sat at the breakfast table. I was telling Ken all about my many hunting experiences, about the times when I hunted deer and antelope in Wyoming. This gentleman spent quite a bit of time with us as I was telling about all these exciting experiences. I didn’t think any more about it, but we headed out to our hunting place; the stand we were going to occupy. This gentleman rode with us. Then he disappeared, and I didn’t see him again.

Some weeks later there was a chicken-que at Toccoa Falls Elementary School, and since a couple of our kids were attending at the time, we decided we certainly ought to go and support it. When I walked through the door at the Chicken-Que this gentleman came up to me. I didn’t remember ever seeing him before in my life. He said, “Oh, there you are, do you remember when you and I hunted together in Wyoming?” I said to myself, “I don’t think that I have ever seen this guy before. What is he talking about?” Then he proceeded to tell several interesting experiences that he claimed that he and I shared. He went on like that, and I was absolutely dumbfounded. I didn’t know what was going on, and suddenly he stopped, looked at me and laughed, and he said, “Don’t you remember me? I was sitting in the corner at Ken Deitle’s the morning you were telling him all about your experiences in Wyoming.” It was then that I learned that Charles Warren Smith was quite a character.

Joe Berry, Nature Photographer

The Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History is pleased to have been the beneficiary of a collection of nature photographs taken and contributed by Joe Berry. Joe Berry is an extraordinary Wildlife Photographer and a Certified Georgia Master Naturalist. His photographs of plants and wild animals in their natural habitat are amazing.

The following information was adapted from a bio used with the prints he contributed for an annual fund-raising auction at the Elachee Nature Science Center ( in Gainesville GA.

Photo 58 Leon and his guitar 1

“Wildlife enthusiast photographer Joe Berry has lived in Northeast Georgia for most of his life, being raised hunting and fishing by his Dad. He replaced his gun with his first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) in 2012.  Joe credits his success in wildlife photography to his hunting skills and use of camouflage.  In 2015 his “Still Waters” took second place in a Georgia Nature Photographers Association ( contest to be in a display at Fernbank Science Center ( in Atlanta. Since then his prints have been sold at local galleries and a limited edition featured in a fund-raising auction package that went nationwide. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has used his images on their web-site, Facebook page, and a cover on an annual fact sheet. Joe has contributed images to Elachee that have been used on their website and some printed items. In 2019 his three submissions for the Georgia Nature Photographers Association’s “On the Banks and Shores of Georgia” contest were chosen for the twenty-image display at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell GA, where one photo was awarded second place.

Photo 58 Leon and his guitar 1

As a young boy in a single parent home Joe would often slip into the woods across the road to explore. This led to encounters with wildlife in nature and neighborhood kids that are good memories, but also some encounters with other youth and teens that are not good memories. While getting his Georgia Master Naturalist certification at Elachee, Joe saw the great outdoor education that the children were getting in a very safe environment and made a personal commitment to promote and support Elachee with his wildlife photography.”

Additionally, Joe has responded to several questions and shared these thoughts about his work and experience:

Q: What training does a naturalist typically need and how did your background fit with this training? What types of educational activities do naturalists do?

A: The Georgia Master Naturalist certification is an unbiased community outreach and awareness program created by the University of Georgia ( . It was a breath of fresh air to get good information without a political agenda being woven into it. We were aware of the political diversity that was present, but it never came up once in our group to cause distraction.

As I became involved with Elachee I learned of the Master Naturalist certification on their web site. It appealed to my hunter component: “Learn your quarry.” And my photographer component: “Learn your subject.” It just seemed like the next step to getting more pictures of wildlife, but it broadened my subject matter beyond hunted wildlife that initially drew me into the hobby.  

Q: What inspired you to take up nature photography?

A: As a youth I saw documentaries by Marty Stouffer and dreamed of being able to do that type of work as an adult. Back then getting film developed made photography an expensive hobby. Later in life after my kids were grown up, I delved into digital photography. My first real camera, a point and shoot, took amazingly good images without formal training or expense. I was able to learn what I needed from the forums on the internet and see the results without paying for prints.

Photo 58 Leon and his guitar 1

Q: What are some of your favorite nature photos that you have taken? Why?

A: I guess my favorite images are ones that turned out good because of ideal lighting and being in a good location for composition. A few were pure blessing of being at the right place at the right time. It takes many hours to find where the chances of the encounter are possible, then plan the blind location for lighting angles and background/foreground composition. And finally getting up in time on a good weather day and getting in place to increase the odds of getting the shot.

Photo 58 Leon and his guitar 1

Q: What is your dream location that you would love to visit to do nature photography?

A: I would probably like to return to Alaska where my Son, Dad, and I went fishing many years ago to do wildlife/nature photography.

Q: What would you like folks to think when they see your nature photos?

A: What I hope people realize when they see my images is that this Earth and all the natural beauty in it is not by chance. It took a divine creator to put it here. It is fragile, and we must be good stewards of what God has blessed us with for it to last so that generations to come may also be sustained and blessed.

Q: We appreciate your photographic contributions to the museum, since they will enhance the educational mission of the museum.

A: I want to thank you and your family for allowing my images to be displayed at the Gathany Museum. Your Dad began a legacy that is now a legacy thanks to his children’s time and efforts. I’m honored to be a part of it.

For an interesting feature on Joe Berry and his work, check the following link:

All Photographs © Joe Berry and used with permission.

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.

(Click on the image for a larger view)


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


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.

(Click on the image for a larger view)


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.