Georgia Rotary Student Program celebrated 75 years with a gala January 21 and dedication January 22 in historic Thomasville, home of GRSP founder Will Watt for the GRSP Peace Plaza and Will Watt Memorial Fountain. The celebrations were originally scheduled for August 2021 at Conclave and moved to the Winter Trustee Business Meeting in 2022.
GRSP Chair Bert Guy said, “When we reflect on the past 75 years, we are aware of the many leaders who played a vital part in the history of GRSP. GRSP is credited for connecting many smaller Georgia colleges with international students, often their first in the college or town.”
The gala featured a spotlight on student success and GRSP Foundation Fellow award recognitions for Trustees. Johnny Dukes, Rotary Club of Valdosta North; Michael Emanuele, Rotary Club of North Atlanta; Al Homebroek, Rotary Club of Lawrenceville; William “Billy” Kidd, Rotary Club of Hartwell; Gerald Smith, Rotary Club of Dublin and William ‘Bill’ Smith, Rotary Club of Brookhaven, were honored for their distinguished service, presented with resolutions and named Trustee Emeritus.
The GRSP Foundation partnered with the Rotary Club of Thomasville and the Courtyard® by Marriott® Thomasville Downtown in the GRSP Peace Plaza and Will Watt Memorial Fountain. The landmark will preserve the history of the program and provide a permanent marker for GRSP. Former GRSP Chair Emeritus and Treasurer J. Terry Gordon initiated the Generations of Generosity fundraising campaign, which raised more than $160,000 for the project. The Rotary Club of Thomasville led the way with more than $60,000 in contributions.
GRSP Foundation President Joe Jones recognized donors to the project, including a 1965 Alumnus from Israel who graduated from Georgia Tech, Dr. Shlomo Barnoon. Barnoon made a donation in memory of GRSP Chair Emeritus Hue Thomas, Jr of the Rotary Club of Savannah and Founding Committee Member Kendall Weisiger, an Atlanta Rotarian whose support of international students through the Rotary Education Foundation of Atlanta was merged into GRSP. Barnoon considered Thomas and Weisiger to be a visionaries who inspired him to support more than 300 international students of his own.
The Rotary Club of Thomasville made a $1,000 contribution in honor of Jeremy Emmett, the chief executive officer of Southern Lodging, the Thomasville business that owns the Courtyard Thomasville Downtown. Emmett was named as a Will Watt Fellow, which was presented at the dedication ceremony. Thomasville Mayor John H. ‘Jay’ Flowers read a resolution and dedicated January 22, 2022 as GRSP Day. Teri White served as the local event coordinator for the GRSP Gala and the Peace Plaza Dedication.
Will Watt III, grandson and namesake of GRSP Founder Will Watt, addressed the crowd, which included more than 20 members of the Watt family. He said Will Watt Sr.’s house at 714 North Dawson Street had an open-door policy for the Georgia Rotary Student Plan, the initial name for the Georgia Rotary Student Program.
“There are some wonderful pictures from the Thomasville newspaper of him enjoying the company of the kids,” Watt said. “He even served as a stand-in ‘Father-of-the-Bride’ for one student who couldn’t return to her country to get married due to civil unrest that had just broken out. So he walked her down the aisle and she was married here in Thomasville.”
Guy closed the weekend with a toast stating, “We honor the legacy of our Founder Will Watt and the more than 3,692 alumni from 108 countries who have shared in the success of this program. We lift our glasses to honor the program that provides leadership, scholarship, excellence and service.”