Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mayor Summey's Mentor

In 1962, my family moved back from Atlanta, GA into the Windsor neighborhood of the Neck Area. At that time, I had no friends or acquaintances and felt somewhat alone with no real direction. I could have very easily created mischief, but luckily for me I accidentally met my mentor.

One Saturday, I was walking by the old Government Employees Exchange (GEX) Grocery next to the window where customers could pick up there groceries. I knew I needed a job and saw a tall gentlemen with short hair and glasses that worked there. I casually asked if he was hiring. He replied, “Son, are you interested in actually working?” I prompted replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!” The tall gentleman replied, “If you are willing to work hard, I will give you a job.”

Little did I know, the tall gentlemen, Mr. F.W. “Gunner” Ohlandt was the owner of GEX Grocery and the former Southern Conference Boxing Champion while attending the Citadel.

Mr. Ohlandt gave me the nickname “Butch,” probably because of my short hair. A name he would call me until his passing years later. After I began working at GEX, Mr. Ohlandt would always take time to talk with me, offer encouragement, and guidance.

I still remember the day he gave me a lesson in work ethic. I was pricing the canned goods with a hand stamper and placing them on the shelf one by one. Mr. Ohlandt appeared behind me and said, “Butch, how much am I paying you an hour?” I replied, “One dollar sir.” To which he said sternly, “That’s fifty cents per hand, so try using both of them.” I gave him a quick nod and never stocked shelves again with one hand.

While working at the GEX with other high students, everyone always wanted Friday and Saturday nights off to go to the ballgames and on dates. As our relationship became strong, Mr. Ohlandt would ask me first if I needed the days off prior to granting it to the others. It was the small things like this that created mutual respect and developed a father-son relationship; a bond that I wish everyone has the opportunity to enjoy.

Mr. Ohlandt was the one that encouraged me to go to college. While he of course wanted me to attend the Citadel, much to his dismay I selected Baptist College. I continued to work at GEX into my third year of college, but at this point I felt as if I was working with, not for Mr. Ohlandt.

Being an important man and operating several businesses, Mr. Ohlandt had plenty of things to occupy his time, but being the caring person that he was he took the extra time to mentor me. He taught me how to work with the public and understand that others have needs, just as I have needs, but most importantly how to have a long lasting and meaningful relationship. For this I have never forgotten his kindness.

In the early stages of my public service career while serving as Chairman of County Council, the County Boxing Commission had a vacancy. I immediately thought of Mr. Ohlandt and his past boxing experience while attending the Citadel. I asked the Clerk of County Council to send him an application to complete. Mr. Ohlandt did so and mail it back addressed to “Butchie” Summey, Chairman of County Council. When I saw Butch and Chairman of County Council on the same envelope, all the memories returned and brought a smile to my face. It seemed to validate all of the lessons he taught me and the values I learned from him.

Mr. Ohlandt had an intrinsic aspiration to help others, and in doing so made them better people. He was a profound inspiration and gave me the desire to achieve and give back to others. I truly believe it would be wonderful if every young man had a “Gunner” Ohlandt in their lives.

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