Joel B. Gunnells of Athens, formerly of Hartwell, Georgia, died peacefully at home November 10, 2015, after an extended illness. In his later years he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and had multiple strokes.
Mr. Gunnells was born in Hamtramck, Michigan, April 27, 1935, where his father worked for General Motors. His parents, Joel Boyd Gunnells, Sr., and Mozelle Caldwell Gunnells, returned to Hart County when he was three years old. He graduated from Hartwell High School in 1953 as a member of the first twelfth grade class. He attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and graduated from the University of Georgia in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, majoring in agronomy. He received a Master of Science in Agronomy in 1965 and a Master of Education in Educational Administration in 1980.
He was married to Emily Sanders of Hart County for 58 years. He is survived by three daughters, Gail Gunnells (John Wickson) of Decatur, Glada Horvat (Michael) of Athens, and Ginnie Baskin (Joel) of Smyrna. He has 10 grandchildren: Alexandra, Sarah and Patrick Wickson; Ian, Kala and Michael Horvat; Brantley and Harrison McAdoo; and step-grandchildren Amanda and Pierce Baskin. He is also survived by a brother, Jimmy Gunnells (Erwin) of Asheville, North Carolina, a sister-in-law, Faith Sanders of Watkinsville, and three nieces, Cheryl Sanders Luker, Carol Sanders Dellinger and Hannah Gunnells Whitlock.
His first job was as a soil scientist with the Soil Conservation Service in Hall County. He spent eight years with the Cooperative Extension Service in Sylvester, Georgia, as a 4-H Leader and as the County Agent of Worth County. In 1968 he was the first Director of the Lower Savannah Regional Planning Commission. In 1972 he became Director of the Central Iowa Regional Planning Commission. He later moved back to Hartwell where he enjoyed raising beef cattle and built a house on his family farm. Mr. Gunnells taught high school science in both Elbert and Hart Counties. He retired from Gold Kist Corporation in 1992.
He had a passion for the Masonic organization. He was a dedicated member and held many offices across multiple Masonic bodies, including, Scottish Rite, York Rite and the Shriners. He was a member of both the Sylvester and Bowman lodges serving as Worshipful Master five times. He became a Master Mason in 1956 in the Primrose Lodge in Bowman, Georgia. He served as Lodge Secretary for more than 20 years at Primrose Lodge in Bowman. In 2006 he received his 50-year Masonic pin and in 2011 he was awarded the Order of the Purple Cross in Nashville, Tennessee.
He was active in civic organizations including, Kiwanis in Sylvester, Rotary in Hartwell, The Samuel Elbert Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, Hart County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and the Hart County Cattleman’s Association. He was also active in the Democratic Party at the county and state level.
Mr. Gunnells grew up in the Congregational faith at Liberty Congregational Church in Dewy Rose, Georgia, which was established by his grandfather, Reverend Gordon Fleming. He became a Baptist in 1958. He served as a deacon, Sunday School teacher and Sunday School Superintendent. He was a member of Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens since 2007.
Memorials can be made to Nancy Hart Literacy Council 501(c)(3), 110 Benson Street, Hartwell, GA 30643; Good News for India, P.O. 7576 La Verne, CA 91750 or Milledge Avenue Baptist Church Foundation, 1690 S. Milledge Ave., Athens, GA 30605
The family received friends at Strickland Funeral Home in Hartwell.
A funeral service was held at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens. The family received friends at the church with a luncheon reception following the service for all attendees. Burial was in Hill Crest Cemetery in Bowman, Georgia.
The Strickland Funeral Home of Hartwell was in charge of all arrangements. On-line condolences can be sent to the family at www.stricklandfh.com.