52 S G M A G A Z I N E | FA L L 2 0 1 8 Hal W ile y & T o d d D a m a t o Matt Seale From Willacoochee to Monticello, Ocilla Mayor Matt Seale is highlighting life in rural communities through his Small Town Podcast series. Giving small towns a voice is the primary goal of the podcasts. Seale travels to small towns across Georgia and sits down with local officials to discuss various aspects of the community. Not originally from Ocilla, Seale moved to the community of approximately 3,400 people after meeting and marrying his wife, Roxie, who owned a local downtown shop. In 2015, he was elected as mayor in a special election and ran again in 2017 for a full four-year term. Seale’s leadership as mayor was put to the test earlier this year when the community of Ocilla was faced with losing its only major grocery store. “It is hard to imagine a town without a grocery store,” Seale said. “It is one of those things you might take for granted until something like this happens. It’s not just a hub of commerce in a small rural community, it is where you run into friends and neighbors.” Seale, along with other community leaders began working to recruit another grocery store chain to invest in Ocilla. Within a few weeks, Ocilla had a commitment from owners of the Piggly Wiggly in nearby Ashburn to open a store in the vacant space. “If we had not been able to turn things around quickly, I’m afraid it could have resulted in some real downward momentum for our community,” he said. “The blow to morale was felt throughout the town with the closing announcement, but the sense of pride when we were able to resolve it quickly felt like some kind of victory.” Jacque W h e e l e r Matt Seale Jacque Wheeler From her performance in the title role of “Hello, Dolly” to Ouiser Boudreaux in the play adaptation of “Steele Magnolias,” Jacque Wheeler has been delighting audiences for years. When not acting or teaching, Wheeler, who is a professor of theatre at Valdosta State University, also serves as the creative director for Peach State Summer Theatre! (PSST!), which recently completed is the 29th season of producing professional summer stock theatre. As artistic director for PSST!, Wheeler, is an advocate for the arts, not only for her students but also for improving the quality of life in the South Georgia region. In 2011, Wheeler received the nationally prestigious Kennedy Center Stephen Sandheim Inspirational Teacher Award for mentoring and inspiring hundreds of students during her career at Valdosta State. She is also a recipient of the Leighton Ballew Award for Distinguished Service to Theatre from the Georgia Theatre Conference. Hal Wiley & Todd Damato It’s concert time in Fitzgerald. Hal Wiley and Todd Damato started Grand Concert Promotions with three goals: provide quality entertainment for the community, bring visitors to Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County, and provide an opportunity to promote local talent. Through the past few years, Wiley and Damato have organized a variety of concerts and events that have achieved their goals. From the Bellamy Brothers to the band Shenandoah, concerts in the historic Grand Theatre are packed. In addition to the concerts, Grand Concert Promotions recently hosted a rodeo and a summer music camp. “The music camp was more of a rock and roll style camp,” Wiley said. “Not only did the kids get to work with local musicians but at the end of the camp they were the opening act for one of our concerts.” Wiley explained that as part of the camp experience, the children performed as the opening act for Grammy-nominated blues artist Kenny Neal. “We have a lot of talented musicians in our community, so for the other concerts we give them an opportunity to be the opening act,” Wiley said. “This was a big part of our goal in starting the concerts.” The concerts also generate tourism and economic development. “We sell tickets online for the concerts and we can track what cities people are coming from” Wiley said. “With the Shenandoah concert we had about 45 different communities in South Georgia represented. They come and eat dinner and some stay overnight.”