The late Stanley Gambrell was affectionately called “Stan the Man.” He was the city manager for Vienna, Georgia, for 30 years. He founded The Big Pig Jig, Georgia’s official barbeque contest, and left a trail of notable accomplishments. It is, however, the humor and creativity he scattered along that trail that I recall most fondly.
Much of Stan’s career overlapped with my own. I saw him on a regular basis at Bank of Dooly. Sometimes we’d talk about business. More often he’d just share something he knew I would enjoy.
Stan was involved in numerous pranks, both as an instigator and a recipient. He’s the only person I know who had a cap that was kidnapped. He met regularly for early morning coffee with men at the American Legion. Those fellows were behind the cap caper and were privy to many others.
Frank Morgan, Jr. knew that Stan loved the Indianapolis Colts and their quarterback Peyton Manning. On a business trip to Indiana he bought Stan a bright blue Colts’ cap with the horseshoe insignia. Stan began wearing his lucky cap to the Legion and bragging about the success of his team. He bragged too much and the cap mysteriously disappeared. Ransom notes were sent picturing three masked men and a hostage cap. Cryptic messages demanded that $20 be left with Frank at Forbes Drug Company. Serious consequences were threatened if Stan didn’t comply.
Stan had suspicions of the culprits’ identities but no evidence. He ran an ad in the local paper offering a reward, but eventually paid the ransom. Two heavily disguised men on a borrowed golf cart returned the cap. They watched from a distance as Stan played the ninth hole at Lake Blackshear. When he was too far from his cart to give chase, they drove past and threw the cap toward him. Fred Walls, Derald Woods, and Andy Colter denied Stan’s accusations. Frank Morgan, Jr. kept their secret well.
I believe it was Stan and Derald Woods who had a memorable outing while fishing at Lake Blackshear. Two of their coffee club friends were nearby in another boat, watching in amazement as Stan casually pulled countless bream from a bed. Their friends kept edging closer, hoping to get in on the action. After about a half hour Stan showed them his technique. He only had one very confused fish. He had been lowering him over the side and bringing him back up.
Stan and his wife, Ann, had S&R Shell Station and Restaurant near I-75 in the 1980s. The Stanburger, a homemade hamburger with a delicious chili topping, was their highly acclaimed specialty. The chili recipe was, according to Stan, kept in a safety deposit box at Bank of Dooly. He figured if Coca Cola needed to protect their prized formula, he should do the same for his.
The station’s marquee gave Stan an outlet for his creativity. One of his most enduring slogans was, “TWO KIDS IN COLLEGE- PLEASE STOP.” His creative talents also included song writing. He planned to title an album, “The Road Signs of Life.” The lead song was, “Sharp Curves and Soft Shoulders Made a Wreck Out of Me.” Stan the Man was full of ideas.
Stan also used his creative talents in his role as city manager. Years ago, when Cargill decided to build a poultry processing plant in Vienna, Stan told me about a problem that threatened to sidetrack the project. A small area of wetlands had been identified as a potential site for Carolina Gopher Frogs, a federally protected species. Cassette tape recordings of such frogs were provided to the city. They were instructed to play the tapes on seven consecutive nights during the summer mating season. If the frogs were in the area, their distinctive croaking response could be expected.
Rather than hiring an outside firm, Stan asked the Vienna Police Department to assist. After receiving the required training, the VPD was scheduled to begin the week-long process later that week. I asked Stan what would happen if the police heard the croak of a Carolina Gopher Frog.
“Three officers, spaced 20 feet apart, will each fire five rounds of buckshot toward the sound,” he said. “They’ll wait 30 minutes then play the tape again.”
I ran out of space before I ran out of stories, but there are plenty of people around who’ll gladly share some more if you ask. To honor Stan’s memory I have one request of the readers: If you ever hear a Carolina Gopher Frog in Vienna, please don’t say anything about it.
Stanley Gambrell – November 25, 1939 – October 12, 2010