A life dedicated to telling the stories of the people and communities of Hart County came to an end July 31 when long-time editor of The Hartwell Sun, Juanelle “Wassie” Vickery, died from complications with COVID-19. She was 91.
Vickery stumbled into her 44-year career at The Sun in 1959 as a clerk who sold office supplies, typed notices and proofed articles before publication. She soon took on the challenge after picking her daughter up from school one day of writing a feature story about a janitor at Hartwell Elementary. She never looked back. The Sun’s owner and publisher at the time, Buddy Hayden, submitted the piece for an award and the article earned Vickery the National Award for Feature Writing. She knew she had found her calling, son Terry Vickery said.
Terry said Wassie was somehow able to manage a demanding newspaper publishing schedule and being a mother at the same time and made it look easy.
“It always amazed me that she worked so hard, and did everything for everybody, but still at the same time she was a perfect mother,” Terry Vickery said. “I can’t ever remember not having a big, hot meal at supper. She never missed anything I did, never missed a ball game.”
And that was after sometimes getting home as late as 3-4 a.m. on Thursdays after The Sun’s Wednesday evening deadline.
Terry said his mother was a great caretaker and like a mother hen for her immediate and extended family. She also approached the same way, he said.
“She just loved doing things for everybody else,” Terry said.
Wassie also was dedicated to keeping The Sun moving forward and making it the best it could be.
By the time she retired in 2003, Terry said Wassie was still coming up with ideas for local stories of interest.
“She was still saying, ‘I need to write about this person.’ Or, ‘I need to write about that person,’” Terry said.
Terry’s wife and Wassie’s daughter-in-law, Peggy Vickery, remembers that well. Peggy worked with Wassie at The Sun from 1986 to 2003, calling her a great mentor, mother-in-law and friend.
“I was very fortunate to work with her for so long,” Peggy said. “Wassie did everything out of passion for this community.”
She would be the first one to work and the last one to leave and she was always dedicated to telling the truth in her reporting, Peggy said.
“She was a wonderful mentor,” Peggy said. “She taught me that (the newspaper) is about the people in this community.”
Wassie illustrated as much in 2006 when she told Northeast Georgia Living Magazine that, “I love to find out who people are and find out what they’re about. Working at a community newspaper is different from daily papers. Everything is of interest to someone. I always thought everybody was a story. Even after I left the paper as editor, I still worked three days a week. It’s always in you. It just never leaves you. Newspapering was good for me. I loved my work, and life is too short to do something you don’t like.”
That attitude earned her legendary status with the likes of Dink NeSmith, president of Community Newspapers Inc., owner of The Sun.
“Wassie Vickery was newspaper royalty,” NeSmith said. “She was a classy lady and a fine journalist. She meant so much to The Hartwell Sun and this community. I was among those blessed to have had the opportunity to work with her. She’ll be remembered as a hometown legend.”
Wassie Vickery earned several accolades throughout her newspaper career, including a General Excellence Award for The Sun from the Georgia Press Association, among others. She advocated to name the Louie Morris Bridge after the man who worked to make the lake be called “Lake Hartwell.” She was also an avid supporter of the local education system and twice won the State School Bell Award.
Additionally, Wassie was an honorary charter member of the Hartwell Rotary Club, earned the club’s Four Way Test and Jan Harris awards and was a Paul Harris Fellow.
The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution honored Wassie with the Women in History Award.
As a member at Hartwell First Baptist Church, she served in many capacities and started the church’s library, now known as “Wassie’s Library.”
She was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hart County Chamber of Commerce and served as the grand marshal of the annual Christmas parade.
Wassie was married to the late Maurice Vickery, longtime Hartwell Fire Chief. She leaves behind her son Terry, who also served as Hartwell Fire Chief, and his wife Peggy; her daughter Laurie Vickery Childs and her husband Terry; as well as four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
The family is planning a private graveside service at Northview Cemetery where Wassie’s ashes will be interred beside Maurice. A public celebration of life ceremony will be scheduled for a later date.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to First Baptist Church of Hartwell, 81 E. Howell St., Hartwell, GA 30643.
Strickland Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.