From singer to actor
Originally from Nebraska, Marty Winkler is the ninth of 14 children. From the beginning she was destined to stand out from the crowd, performing her own work in public for the first time at age 13. The envy of many who relegated their interests to hobbies and after-work avocations, Winkler, 61, parlayed her passion into a music career. She has performed nationwide, everything from jazz to opera and is most at home in the spotlight. With an exuberant personality and fearless drive, she enjoyed success as a singer, songwriter and voice teacher. When she moved to New York as a young woman, she was one of the rare few that got off to a good start. “I had a job, a place to live and a gig in the first week,” says Winkler.
But, by 2005, at the start of a second marriage and smitten with the Classic City, Winkler and husband, journalist and author Noel Holston, left Long Island to build a home together in Athens. It was in the middle of relocating that Holston suggested she try acting.
“He said, ‘You’re like the It Girl. Have you ever thought you should be a serious actor?’” With that seed planted, Winkler made a leap into a new kind of entertaining. Her motivation?
“After 40 plus years I had reached a point where I didn’t like having to do marketing, what I really like is the performing,” says Winkler. “I don’t want to promote and make phone calls. Some of the love for doing music was gone because it was too hard.”
And while acting isn’t easy, Winkler says it’s different from a singing career where “you have to have a team – an agent and a manager. And in acting, I don’t have to have a duo or trio – I can submit an audition tape all by myself.”
In 2012, Winkler and Holster both took a series of classes in the film program offered by the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Her acting instructor had advised her to “offer to be background twice for free. Just doing background you’ll learn a lot. After two times, tell them they have to pay you.”
Winkler describes background as “walking furniture.” It’s a non-speaking role that involves a lot of walking back and forth for multiple takes, and a lot of waiting around. And Winkler did learn. “Never look at the camera. Know where the cameras are. And don’t wear distracting clothes.”
Now Winkler has gone beyond the walking furniture stage. She has had some significant roles in independent films being produced in north Georgia.
Along with the work of learning lines and delivering lines, acting is also a process. Winkler is registered with three different casting websites in Atlanta where she lists her profile, head shots, audition tape, film excerpts, and skills. “I know judo; I’ve played volleyball; I know my way around a kitchen, I can shoot a gun – in the world of acting, all of that counts as skills that can be useful in a production.”
She has an agent and she’s created a small studio space in her house where she can record a scene and email it to a casting director. But beyond the technical aspects of acting, Winkler says that success comes from building relationships, being professional, and networking. “Sixty projects a day are filmed in Atlanta. More are filmed here than in LA.”
Her debut as a stage actor was in the lead in the play “Winterglow” at the Morton Theater recently. She says the experience was phenomenal, complete with her first moment of blanking on stage. “It’s like having a car wreck – it’s only two seconds, but it goes on forever.”
One of her advantages, she says, is that she is jumping in at an age when many others are leaving. Launching a second career when others are retiring gives Winkler a freshness and energy that veteran actors may lack. She thinks she has the energy for a third act as well.
“My last big project will be something with the environment. I went to New Zealand four years ago and I fell in love with it. At some point I plan to return and teach people how to sing while I study how they do things environmentally. I’m at that point in my life where I feel like the world has given me so much…I’m in a give-back stage. This is last chapter of my life. It can be a long or short. I’m a breast cancer survivor so I know tomorrow is not promised.”
While some may think starting a second career late in life is too risky, Winkler says, “Do what you want to do – if you’ve gotten to 50, over half of your life is gone. If you have a passion, try it. Don’t put it off.”
From hobby to profession
Blane Marable has called Athens home all his life, and he is enjoying a second career photographing the events, people and places of the community he loves. After 30 years in education, Marable took the skills he learned as a hobby, practiced in the school setting, then shaped them into a thriving business.
As a faculty member for Oconee County High School, Marable spent 20 years in the classroom teaching the sciences. Ten years ago, he wrapped up his education career at the state level before deciding he was ready for a more flexible schedule.
“I always enjoyed photography, and I would photograph students for end-of-the-year slide shows and publicity.” What started as occasional graduation or wedding photos for former students evolved rapidly into a full-time business.
He attributes that to social media, which was just starting about the time he was. The business took off when he began posting photos on Facebook and Instagram. Now his days are filled with weddings, senior photos, events, banquets, UGA events and sports.
“In the Athens community, a lot is happening with weddings and graduation. There is opportunity here for a working photographer to capture moments.”
“My favorite part of the work is weddings. I do engagement photos and then bridal sessions all the way to the day of the wedding.” Following bridal parties as they do hair and make-up throughout the big day, Marable captures the range of emotions with friends and family. “I’m usually the last person to say good-bye to them. I really enjoy getting to know the couple and the family.”
When asked to compare his careers, Marable says he’s enjoyed both and that he sees photography as an outreach of his career in education. “I’ve enjoyed both equally. A lot of the skills I developed working with students has helped in photography.”
Like any new endeavor, Marable says there are challenges to starting something new, and he recommends being well informed before taking the plunge into a second career. “It is a challenge to develop the business portion of it. I’ve taken several continuing education workshops and I continue to take classes to focus on the business part – how to market yourself and set up a business. Developing a successful small business is totally different from education.”
But it’s a challenge that Marable is happy to face, and he is eager to grow this project for years to come. “I’ll continue to develop the business until I decide I need to slow down.”
Property management and a little mothering
Susan Beaumont turned 65 last year, and decided it was time for a change. She had been working out of her house at Lake Oconee following the death of her husband in 2011.
“I was working myself to death and bored,” she says. Ever since her husband had been diagnosed with cancer 20 years before, she had been in educational publishing sales.
But when an opening came up for a house director for Delta Gamma sorority, she discovered she was a perfect fit, with her outgoing personality, and the experience of raising two daughters and renovating a house.
Finishing up her first year, which included a major renovation of the historic house, she describes the position as “a blessing and a privilege.”
Susan Reinhardt, 64, spent her career mostly in the field of education, as a secondary school teacher and then as program director with the UGA College of Agriculture in the Tifton field office. Following the death of her husband and the graduation of the last of her three children, she moved to Athens in 2013. Not ready to retire, four years ago the perfect position came open – house director for Alpha Delta Pi sorority.
“There’s a to-do list every day,” she says, and that keeps her on the move, which she likes.
Ann Winger, 66, began her ‘second act’ with a sorority in Austin, Texas when she divorced at age 49 and found herself with no marketable skills.
“I had not worked in years but I shadowed the outgoing director at UT, and I felt confident developing menus because I had a degree in nutrition and training at the Culinary Institute. The position gave me a roof over my head, food, and the girls kept me going.”
Twelve years ago, she was looking for a change and a new start when she moved to Athens to oversee the Phi Mu sorority.
“It’s getting paid for what I love – managing a household,” says Winger. She says she feels she was called to the position.
On average, most of the 19 sorority house directors are from 55 to 65 years old although several are over 65. The job is typically a second career for a divorcee or widow.
All three women had been in sororities as young women, so they knew the “Greek world.” Although that world has changed. “We dressed for dinner every night; we raised our hands to request seconds,” recalls Beaumont. “I would never have stepped foot in my house mother’s apartment, and she was always dressed to the nines.”
All three women have apartments in their sorority houses, which is included in their compensation package as are meals, and some health benefits. A local corporation board, comprising volunteer alumnae is the governing body of each house except for some that have national oversight.
While they are on-call 24/7, the women say they are rarely awakened in the middle of the night. The students elect officers who are charged with running the organizational and disciplinary aspects of the sorority, with the help of an advisory council of younger alumnae, and the corporation board. It’s primarily sophomores who live in sorority houses so each year, dozens of new students transfer in.
“We’re the go-between for the staff and the girls,” explains Winger. Depending on the size of the house, each house director typically deals with contracted food service, a couple of housekeepers, a maintenance man, and in some instances, a security guard. Daily, there are menus to be planned, food ordered, shopping and sometimes payroll to manage.
Property management has become a large part of the role as the job duties have evolved over the years. Given that many of the houses in Athens are historic, even ante-bellum, the task is not always simple. Reinhardt says her most recent challenge was getting her 1868 house wired to be wifi-compatible.
“Our job is to safeguard the property, oversee security, and keep the girls safe,” explains Winger, noting that serial killer Ted Bundy changed everything in 1978. Today, sorority houses have alarm systems, cameras, or uniformed guards, and sometimes all three.
The group of house directors meets once a month to share issues, concerns or advice. Beyond sharing work issues, “It’s a built-in social group,” says Beaumont. And the job itself “keeps us young,” says Winger.
Nancy McNair, 81, grew up in a Quaker household in Swarthmore, Pa., so activism came early for her, even in the conservative 1950s.
“My mother had converted to Quakerism and was very committed to peace issues her entire life,” recalls McNair. Both parents worked to integrate swimming pools in the affluent suburb of Philadelphia. In 1958, as part of a Quaker fair housing effort, her uncle tried to sell his house, two doors down, to an African American family. That resulted in midnight phone calls and threats to burn down his house.
As a college student, McNair continued her family’s tradition when she volunteered as part of a racially diverse Quaker project in Louisville, Ky. When the group of blacks and whites went for a social gathering at a member’s house in the suburbs, they were forced to leave when neighbors called and threatened to kill the host’s dog, then shot at them with a BB gun as they left.
Following marriage to a college professor, McNair and her husband, Ray, moved for his job to Tuskegee, Ala. As a poll worker in 1968 when George Wallace was running for president, McNair removed Wallace’s segregationist literature from inside the polling place, whereupon a white probate judge had her removed. Luckily, she could call the local sheriff, who happened to be the first black sheriff in the state of Alabama and he escorted her back in.
Adopting two bi-racial children, the McNairs encountered the effects of prejudice through their children’s eyes. “It was painful and challenging at times but eye opening, wonderful and heartwarming most times.”
1986 brought another cause into McNair’s life. She had been hired to be coordinator of Sex Health/HIV/AIDS Education at the UGA student health center. In that role, she trained peer educators and spoke in hundreds of classrooms. In 1987, she helped found AIDS Athens and co-chaired three exhibits of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. She ran a support group from 1989 to 1993.
“My role during the early era of the epidemic was the most compelling experience of my life,” she says. “I am honored to have been part of that struggle.”
Today, despite the loss of her husband and one child, and various physical ailments, she continues to be active in a variety of causes, including immigration reform.
Writing and Marching
Journalist and activist Ed Tant says that the Vietnam antiwar movement was his initial foray into activism. Starting with a Spring march in Atlanta in 1968 that began at the draft board on Eighth Street to Piedmont Park, Tant’s journey as an activist has progressed over five decades.
“Every war comes with dissenters and protestors – if nothing else we made people question the act of war.”
A writer in Athens since 1974, Tant has encouraged people to exercise curiosity and pay attention to social issues, especially those related to war, from Vietnam to Iraq. Although he is now retired, he says he has not retired from activism.
From the days of his first march when bystanders threw things, Tant has endured harassment and hardship but has remained steadfast in his convictions to stand up for his beliefs. In 2004, he and others were arrested and jailed in a demonstration at the Republican convention in New York City. The incident resulted in a successful class action lawsuit won by demonstrators and bystanders reporting false arrest. In an article in the local newspaper in 2015, Tant wrote that the $1,000 he received was “finite and fleeting, but the vindication is priceless and eternal.”
Tant’s activism has taken on many forms from protestor to volunteer. He has attended or volunteered at every Athens Human Rights Festival for forty years. The festival is held each spring to promote “equality, justice, peace, and goodwill.”
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., Tant says a quote he keeps in mind as an activist is: “There is nothing more powerful to dramatize a social evil than the tramp, tramp of marching feet.” Those marching feet, he says, can be effective both at demonstrations and at polling places.
“In my newspaper columns I have documented protest marches with pen and camera for more than 40 years, but I also remind people to exercise their hard-won right to vote.”
Wielding a pen and camera has perhaps been Tant’s most persuasive and powerful form of activism. In hundreds of articles appearing in both local and national publications, he has used the written word to stir public awareness and effect social change. His column, Street Scribe, appears twice a month in Flagpole, and he has a wealth of writing and photographs at his website: www.edtant.com.
“As an activist I encourage people to be skeptical, not cynical,” says Tant. “My goal is to incite insight.”
Two Corrections in Part 1 of Activism Then and Now: Clarke Central, previously named Athens High School, was built in the early 1950s. The name was changed in 1971. Bryson Tanner, one of the first graduates of the new school in 1953, notified us of the error, and we thank him for it. In addition, Alvin Sheats, notified us that Ms. Florence Diggs worshipped at First AME Church on the corner of Hull & Dougherty St.
Many baby boomers were swept up in the tides of change beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, marching, protesting, meeting, boycotting, organizing, letter-writing, petitioning – getting arrested. It was a heady time but as the years passed with marriage and family and career, attentions shifted. Today, some recall the exhilaration and some the trauma of those early years. And with age, engagement is different. It’s more likely to include activities such as running for office, donating money, applying for grants, manning telephones, with a little marching thrown in, and hopefully no jail time.
Stand your ground
When Alvin Sheats’ family moved from Atlanta to Athens in 1972, he was 14 and the total integration of the Clarke County school system had finally and recently been enforced and implemented. Two new high schools had been built, Clarke Central, previously named Athens High School, was built in the early 1950s, and Cedar Shoals in 1972. Previously, black students had attended Burney-Harris High School and white students Athens High. With the rezoning of school districts, Sheats decided he wanted to enroll in Cedar Shoals.
“The climate in Athens was challenging,” he reflects. “There were cultural/ethnic adjustments.” But the kids mostly got along, he says. In fact, in 1977, his senior year, Tamara Weaver, of a prominent family, was elected the first black Homecoming Queen. The sticking point was the choice of the music for the Prom – black students wanted a band to suit both cultures. Their suggestion was an Atlanta-based band that later became famous as Mother’s Finest, blending R&B and hard rock. When the white principal wouldn’t budge, a group of students began meeting at the Weaver’s house to decide what to do.
“I hadn’t paid much attention the homecoming queen situation,” recalls Sheats. But when the students decided they would boycott the prom, Sheats was elected to meet with the principal. He threatened that Sheats wouldn’t graduate in June, that he’d never hold a job in Clarke County.
“I was a struggling student,” so when Sheats walked out of the principal’s office, he was visibly shaken.” Dr. Walter Allen, one of the three vice principals, and African American, was standing nearby and called to Sheats. “Stand your ground.” And later he called Sheat’s father, who also was supportive, advising his son, “Just be careful.”
In the end, one of the matriarchs of First AME Church, Ms. Florence Diggs, called Sheats and said, “Have your prom right here.” Which is what they did.
Sheats continued a leadership role in the Navy, which he joined right after high school. “The Navy was going through a racial transition also,” he says. When Klan stickers were found plastered around the ship, Sheats organized the first MLK Day program on board the USS Moinester. “The command supported it because you don’t want unrest on a ship out at sea.”
After returning to Athens, joining his father’s construction business, and marrying (his prom date, Brenda), Sheats eventually ran for school board in 1993. Losing, he decided he was “through with politics.” But not for long. He was encouraged to run for the county commission and served from 1995 to 2003. Today, Sheats continues his social justice work in his role as executive director for the Hancock Community Development Corporation.
A connector of people and causes
Pat Priest says her maiden name is Joyner, and she believes that moniker helped set the course for her life. She loves being a part of groups and organizations and, with a heart for inclusion, she has spent her energies working to bring people together.
“I want to scoop up the person who doesn’t know anyone and say, ‘Come here, we’re talking about this.’ I think that comes from being in a military family and learning skills of sociability. I’m interested in helping people find a sense of place and belonging,” says Priest.
It is this passion for people that motivated Priest, 60, to become a social activist. For her, activism typically takes the form of education and fundraising. While she does believe that there are benefits in attending rallies, Priest devotes most of her effort to making people aware of resources.
Her first endeavors in activism were in 1990 as a volunteer at the Rape Crisis Center, now known as the Sexual Assault Center. One encounter at the time solidified in her mind the need for widespread information and awareness. An older man who was helping at the center asked a question that stunned her: “Are there rapes in Athens?”
“I realized, then, the importance of getting information out there,” Priest says of that experience.
At one time Priest was on the front lines dealing with rape crises, often taking calls in the middle of the night. Today she works behind the scenes for a variety of causes, supporting other people in the trenches, organizing events and hosting awareness classes for everything from domestic violence to environmental issues.
Athens, says Priest, is a wonderful town whose citizens have a lot of interest in social issues. But it can be challenging to stand out. “I try to use a lot of creativity in activism. So many cool things are happening here, it can be hard to get attention.”
Among the creative projects in which Priest has participated or helped found are Dancing with the Athens Starsand Stomp Out Domestic Violence. Stars has been going strong for 11 years, raising over a million dollars. In its ninth year, Stomp raises money by teaching stomp dancing. Both events help support Project Safe, a local women’s shelter.
“I like to start new things,” Priest says. “I think, ‘What can somebody teach other people that others want to see?’”
Although protests and rallies have never been Priest’s major focus, she says there is value in showing up to support significant causes. “I try to go to rallies,” she says. “I believe it’s important to put your body out there to show concern – that can matter to press coverage. And you meet people that share the same concerns.”
Racial justice is at the top of Priest’s concerns. Currently her passion is Athens in Harmony,an organization she founded that works with local musicians, pairing African Americans and whites for a night of music across the color line. Likewise, Priest supports the Artist-in-Residence programs that raise money for WUGA, and she is one of the organizers of Rabbit Box, a monthly storytelling series. “There are so many talented people in this town, I’d like everyone to meet everyone else in Athens.”
Does she believe the world is becoming a better place due to activism? She answers “Yes. By meeting and getting to know each other we can find resources that help improve quality of life.”
Arrested at 14
Hattie Thomas Whitehead began her activism at age 10, attending NAACP meetings with older friends. By age 14, she was marching with other young blacks on downtown Athens’ sidewalks. Growing up in one of Athens’ segregated neighborhoods, she says she and her friends were taught by their parents “what we should and should not do.” That would include not entering a downtown store by the front door. Don’t walk by yourself. Be home before the street lights come on.
“If somebody drove through our neighborhood and threw something at us, we knew we couldn’t call the police,” Whitehead explains. “We had to take care of ourselves.”
But in the summer of 1963 when she was 14, NAACP organizers came to town to show Athens residents how to create change. It fell to the children to march and protest inequality, because their parents had to work, many as maids or cooks in white households. It was also part of the civil rights strategy throughout the South.
“We always felt there could be a change – there was hope,” recalls Whitehead.
The children met at Ebenezer Baptist West on the march days that summer. “We had to dress a particular way. We had to carry appropriate signs, and it was all about nonviolence.”
Most of the protests were in downtown Athens or the Varsity on Broad. Whitehead remembers vividly those terrifying times. “Buses and cars would unload us near the Methodist Church downtown, and then we would line up single file, walk down Lumpkin and turn left at the corner by the drugstore that’s still there.”
That’s when they would encounter a gauntlet of screaming men on both sides of the line of children – not just yelling, but spitting, pushing, calling names. They had been instructed to stare straight ahead and keep walking up Clayton and back, with women hitting them with pocketbooks if they happened to pass.
On some days, the police rounded them up and took them back to the old jail where Boulevard Ave. dead ends and which is now the Leisure Services maintenance facility.
“They locked us up in the yard for a while, then let us go home for dinner,” she explains. When they came home on protest days, “We couldn’t tell our parents the details.” Parents had to work, and it was a fight that had to be fought, even by children.
Whitehead says she didn’t really heal until she went to the 50thanniversary of the Selma March in 2015 with the predominantly white Unitarian Universalist fellowship. That’s when she allowed herself to cry.
“Crossing the [Edmund Pettis] bridge was a kind of re-enactment. Instead of being pushed and surrounded by meanness I felt embraced by the whole bus load of people. They understood how I was impacted.
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