When Barry Sheehy was contemplating donating property he owned in southern Effingham County, he considered several local agencies as recipients.
However, his good friend Richard Cooler kept encouraging him to donate the land to the Effingham County School System.
Sheehy is glad he took his trusted friend’s advice.
“The reason Richard and I decided to give this land to the school board rather than to other agencies was because Effingham is blessed with arguably the finest public school system in the state,” Sheehy said. “If it’s not the best, no one has shown me anything better.”
Sheehy made those remarks Saturday as Effingham County school officials dedicated a sign on the property, known as the Lisnacullen Conservation Area. The sign honors the gift from the Sheehy family and the memory of Cooler, who died Sept. 8.
“We’ll always have that memory of him really starting the whole process (for the donation),” said Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “He talked to me many times about how he respected the school system here in Effingham County and he thought that the children of Effingham needed this property, so he kept talking to Mr. Sheehy about it.”
Sheehy stood with Cooler’s widow, Melanie, as Shearouse unveiled the sign. Sheehy put his arm around her as he spoke fondly of his friend and confidant, and she wiped a tear at the end of the ceremony.
“Richard loved him like a brother — and I know that’s the way Barry thought of him too,” Cooler said.
“Richard was the soul behind this project,” Sheehy said.
Sheehy’s donation to the school district totaled 270 acres and was finalized last year, he said. It includes 100 acres the county swapped with the school district in exchange for the old Central School site.
The school district is still working out its plans for the Lisnacullen Conservation Area, but Shearouse sees several possibilities. He envisions the site hosting science class field trips and being used by students in programs such as CTAE (Career, Technical and Agricultural Education), FFA or ROTC.
“We really want to give our kids the opportunity to get out here and experience it,” Shearouse said. “Mr. Sheehy cares for kids and doesn’t want this area to become so developed and commercialized that kids don’t have the opportunity to see greenspace. Having a piece of land like this, on the south end of the county especially, will be vitally important for our school system.”
Sheehy lived in Effingham County for 20 years and now calls Nova Scotia home. After he moved to Canada, Sheehy said, Cooler put his heart into maintaining the Lisnacullen property.
Sheehy credited Heritage Construction with doing “all the heavy lifting” such as putting in roads and ditches along the property. Meanwhile, Sheehy said, Cooler meticulously performed the routine maintenance as he lobbied Sheehy to give the conservation area to the school district.
“I just wish that the example gets emulated and people don’t take this quality of school system for granted,” Sheehy said. “I understand the value of a good public school system and how it brings people to the community. You can’t take all that quality for granted without reinvesting in it.”