By Diane Wagner
In the old cemeteries of Henry and Clayton counties, tombstones carved with tree stumps and crossed axes mark the resting places of past Woodmen of the World.
New flags at local government buildings, and American history award plaques at schools, testify that the 113-year-old organization still thrives.
What started out as a western insurance cooperative in the rough-and-tumble years of the railroads infancy has matured into a national service group with a strong focus on patriotism.
We love the Woodmen, Hampton City Councilman Bobby Jacobs Jr. said. They're good to us.
Jacobs said the lodge donated both a flag and a pole for Bobby McBrayer Park during the Sept. 11 commemorative ceremony last year, and a pole is also promised for the new city hall that opened in March.
The thing that appealed to me was the fraternal side, said Sharon Betsill, vice president of Lodge 491. Were not a company, were a society. Once the bills are paid, all the money is funneled into the community.
Betsill came from a family of seven boys and seven girls, and all her brothers served in the military.
My mother and father taught us that the flag is important, our country is important, she said. So this society exemplifies how I was brought up.
This week the lodge secretary, Lottie Greer, will present a plaque to the outstanding 11th grade American history scholar at Lovejoy High School. Last week she delivered 12 new flags to the Henry County Fire Department.
We give them flags at least once a year, and when they need them, she said. We also do flags for all the schools and classrooms.
Greer became a Woodman in 1958 when her husband Billy started selling the insurance, but she continued her participation long after he retired and passed away.
We sponsor two youth ball teams, we take Christmas gifts to the nursing home, she said. There are a lot of things to do in our community.
Field Representative Ann Rape said the organization makes sure all Henry and Clayton county schools have copies of the American Patriots Handbooka compilation of historical texts and presidential biographies in addition to awards and flags.
We have a big rapport with the school systems, she said.
Betsills nephew, 10-year-old Kyle Betsill, is a Woodmen Ranger along with his brothers Kevin, 7, and Kyle, 5. The youth program celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, which means it is seven years older than the Boy Scouts of America.
Rape said the Ranger program is designed to instill independence and a love of country in future community leaders. Kyle, who took second place in the summer camp archery competition last year, said hes made lots of friends.
We go to meetings every month, he said. Sometimes we do fun things and other times we do fundraisers. After the meetings we go out to eat or play tag and run around. We really have fun.
The youth camp and a senior citizens camp are two of the organizations highlights, said Billy Groce, the new state manager for Georgia Woodmen of the World. Members also recognize local conservation efforts, outstanding citizens and those who have saved lives.
Local lodges are currently choosing community projects to sponsor for the national Join Hands Day annual event in June.
Its just a good organization, Groce said. When you think of business today, you think of WorldCom and Enron. But Woodmen has stood strong through the years.