Remembering a community icon
When Brittany Padgett remembers her grandmother, Annetta Burgher Bunch, one story in particular comes to mind.
“When I was seven or eight years old, Netta was reading to me,” she recalled. “The main character in the story was afraid of everything — therefore, never experiencing anything in life because they were too afraid of a negative outcome. I remember her specifically looking at me and saying, ‘Just because things may be scary, you always have to try. Never go through life expecting a bad outcome or you will miss out on some pretty amazing things.’ This has always stuck with me, and I will always remember that moment. I often refer back to that moment.”
Mrs. Bunch, former Times-Courier owner and associate editor, passed away Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at the age of 97. As they think back on her life, her family members agree that she put her own advice into practice.
“I never saw her down,” shared daughter Lou Anne Nunn. “She woke up with great expectations for every day … I always admired that.”
‘Good friends of the people of Gilmer County’
A Tennessee native, the late newspaperwoman married George N. Bunch Jr. in 1946 in Russellville, Ky.
“Mrs. Bunch was a beautiful lady and the love of Mr. Bunch’s life,” recalled former Times-Courier news editor Al Summers. “Their relationship was one of the great love stories of all time. He often told the story, ‘I met this lady back in the 1940s and asked her to dance. I have been dancing with her ever since.’ I considered Mr. Bunch (who passed away in 2004) the epitome of a true Southern gentleman, and Mrs. Bunch was a true Southern belle. They are both missed here in Gilmer County and the Georgia newspaper community. She was a special person who cared about her family and community and used the Times-Courier to promote harmony and growth in Gilmer County.”
The Bunch family purchased the Times-Courier and Ellijay Printing Company in 1967. Prior to coming to the north Georgia mountains, George Jr. worked for the Augusta Chronicle-Herald and the Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S. C. He also served as publisher of the Cherokee Scout in Murphy, N. C., from 1956 to 1957.
In their inaugural Times-Courier issue, which appeared Sept. 7, 1967, George Jr. wrote, “Mrs. Bunch and I are delighted to move into such a nice community. We are looking forward to becoming good friends of the people of Gilmer County and being of service to them. We plan to continue our church and civic work here.
“I believe there is a great future in store for Gilmer County, and I hope that we will be a part of that future. I pledge the support of the Times-Courier and my own efforts to the progress of this county. I ask your help, advice and guidance in maintaining the Times-Courier as a good newspaper that is a compliment to its community.”
Summers described the couple as a team and applauded them for molding “an award-winning weekly paper.” While George Jr. sold and designed ads, Mrs. Bunch wrote news articles and proofread.
“My earliest impressions of Mrs. Bunch when I first started working at the Times-Courier in the early 90s, were of a smart and formidable business woman,” shared graphic designer Keli Fredrickson Parker. “She was a powerful presence in the newspaper office with a smiling face who knew and loved her community.”
Heartbeat of the newsroom
During her tenure, Mrs. Bunch witnessed many changes in the newspaper industry. The couple produced their first two issues on a manual, flat-bed press in the office before switching to a newer printing method, which involved photographing page layouts that had been pasted together by hand in order to create a metal plate that would be used in the press.
“Today it is all digital,” recalled her son and former publisher George N. Bunch III on the occasion of the Times-Courier’s 140th anniversary in 2015. “The only ink at the Times-Courier’s office today is that which fills our ball point pens.”
While advances in technology streamlined the process of putting the paper together each week, when it came to her own writing, Mrs. Bunch much preferred using her tried and true typewriter instead of moving into the computer age. The sounds of her keystrokes were a mainstay around the office for many years.
Former Times-Courier advertising representative Aby Burnett recalled, “One of my biggest memories of her is that every time she’d come to the paper, she would only use her typewriter to either write a story, send a letter or (respond to) any other correspondence, and I loved that she did that.”
The keys of her green IBM Correcting Selectric II typewriter have been still for several years now. They no longer hammer out the rhythm that is the heartbeat of the newsroom. Their owner’s influence and legacy, however, can still be seen in the office, those with whom she worked and the community at large.
“When I started working, she said, ‘Always look presentable’ and (reminded me) to say, ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon,’” recalled office manager Rhesa Chastain. “She was like a grandmother to me.”
For proofreader Alice Adkins, the things that come to mind when she thinks of Mrs. Bunch are “her mentoring me when I went to work (and) the patience and time spent with me. I have great respect for her.”
During her many years of service to “your hometown newspaper devoted to the progress of Gilmer County,” Mrs. Bunch authored a regular column titled This ‘N That, which faithfully appeared on page 2A. She shared information from books she enjoyed, funny anecdotes, snippets of Ellijay history and details about upcoming events. She also expressed support for such projects as the construction of a community auditorium and took time to applaud young people in the FFA and scouting programs.
And always, she was a proponent of the local community.
In the days leading up to Christmas in 1981 she wrote in a This ‘N That column, “The plea goes out every year to shop with local concerns who support the schools, churches, pay the taxes and offer services in many other ways. First, let us determine if there is any real savings or reason to drive away from our benefactors to give our money to another county. Think what it would be like without them!”
It was this spirit of enriching the local community and positive promotion that led to Mr. and Mrs. Bunch being named Gilmer County Citizens of the Year (COTY) for 2002.
Fellow COTY Morris Parks applauded them for “selling Gilmer County all over the state of Georgia” through their efforts with the Times-Courier and for their teamwork and ongoing support of the community. The late Avary Dimmock, who also was a past COTY recipient, described the Bunches as a “handsome couple” and noted he always felt proud to have them representing Ellijay when they travelled on newspaper business or participated in Georgia Press Association activities.
Ken Buffington described her as a “wonderful lady (who) did much with her family to make our county a better place to live.”
“Annetta was a great Southern lady and huge asset for Ellijay and north Georgia,” observed Joe McCutchen, who expressed thanks for Mrs. Bunch nominating him as COTY in 1992. “Annetta loved the people of Ellijay, and they loved her back … She was always a fine leader who promoted Ellijay and the people of Ellijay. She will be greatly missed.”
‘A kind word to all who knew her’
Nunn noted that while many people went to newspaper conventions for the social aspect, her mother especially looked forward to the classes and workshops.
“She just enjoyed learning new things. I think that’s what kept her going as long as she did,” Nunn said. She then described her mother as a “you kind of person” who was intentional about asking others about themselves. “She carried the five Ws (who, what, where, when and why) when they travelled. She wanted to know about other people.”
Her interest in others also was evident in what Ashley Waddell described as her “beautiful, genuine … contagious” smile.
While speaking of her commitment to Ellijay First United Methodist Church, Dr. Thom Shores remembered how in her later years she never failed to compliment him on his choice of tie on Sunday mornings.
“It didn’t matter what tie I was wearing; it was a nice tie,” he laughed. “But I could tell the kind of person that she had been in her life — always caring about others, always making them feel welcome, always having something nice to say about them. The world should be filled with people like that.”
“Mrs. Bunch was a Southern charm. She was truly beautiful inside and out. Always had a smile on her face and a kind word to all who knew her,” added Karen Slep.
Her grandson, Nixon Bunch, shared, “One of the things that I remember most is how selfless her relationship with me was. She always wanted to know what’s going on with me, what I was up to, why I was doing this or that and how I’ve been. She always had insightful things to say and great questions for each and every time that I saw her. Her demeanor toward me was always one of desiring me to be forward thinking. Although stern when she needed to be, she was one of the most loving people that I know. As a family, we will deeply miss her humor and especially her smile.”
Mrs. Bunch loved travel, spending time with her family and friends, gardens and, of course, playing bridge, even well into her 90s.
Her son, George, recalled one humorous story about the game that took place during his sophomore year at North Augusta High School.
“I had a horrible case of strep throat and a week out of school,” he said. “Mom was quite the bridge player, so she suggested I learn the game. On the second day of instruction, I fell asleep. She nudged me and said, ‘You are not paying attention.’ I responded, ‘Mom, I don’t think this is a guy game. Let me teach you to play poker.’ She shrugged her shoulders, got up from my bedside and remarked, ‘That game is the work of the Devil.’ Needless to say, I never played bridge and do not think she ever played poker.”
“Netta was an extremely strong-willed woman and always gracefully spoke her mind. I respect her immensely for that,” stated Padgett. “She was never too tired to play with her grandkids, even after a long day at the office. We would play baseball in the front yard of her house with my cousins, Nixon and Jessica. She always cooked the best meals. She would sit me on the counter in her kitchen and let me mix absolutely anything together, and then she would bake it in the oven! I felt so special. She would put it on the table with the other appetizers and brag on how good it tasted. She always made things seem so special and important. The way she would set the table for family meals and decorate a room. There was always a spark of magic in everything she did.”
Caregiver Donna Roper shared she was “very honored and privileged” to have known such “a remarkable lady” who even in her later years did not let Alzheimer’s dampen her spirits or rob her of her poise and elegance.
“She lived life to the fullest even until the end,” Roper said. “She was a pillar of the community and a pioneer for women in the paper and in business … The Times-Courier and her family were her life.”