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Grand Old Man of Effingham had a remarkable record
John Walter Reiser was once a former of Georgia’s General Assembly, representing Effingham County. - photo by Photo provided

Born in 1855, John Walter “Johnnie” Reiser was one of 17 children born to Christopher Frederick and Charlotte Rahn Reisser. Although he died June 7, 1951, after an extended illness, Reiser left his mark on Effingham County and his state by serving several terms in the Legislature and on the Effingham County Board of Commissioners.

He was noted as a financial leader in the county, a charter councilman of the Ebenezer Lutheran Church, and chairman of the Ebenezer Trustees Fund. A pioneer citizen of the county, Reiser was a direct descendent of the Salzburgers and was a charter member of the Georgia Salzburger Society. He was buried at Ebenezer.

The following sketch captioned “A Remarkable Man” was prepared by State Sen. Clarence T. Guyton of Guyton and published in the Savannah Morning News when Mr. Reiser was nearly 87:

“Honorable John Walter Reiser, born in Effingham County, Georgia on May 30, 1855, a descendent of the Salzburgers, who were the original settlers of what is now Effingham County. First known as the Ebenezer settlement made in the year 1734, at first located on the land lying in the fork of Ebenezer and Little Ebenezer Creeks, but two years later the colony moved, about six miles eastward to a point on the banks of the Savannah River just below where Ebenezer Creek sluggishly flows into that river.

Mr. Reiser was the twelfth child of Mr. and Mrs. Christopher F. and Charlotte Rahn Reiser, they having reared all of their seventeen children to years of maturity. Christopher F. Reiser was born in the year of 1813, the son of David Reiser born in the year of 1765, the son of Michael Reiser, a member of the colony in its early years. Charlotte Rahn Reiser, wife of Christopher F. Reiser was the daughter of Emanuel Rahn, whose father was Jonathan Rahn, a Salzburger who fought for American Independence. John W. Reiser was brought up in Jerusalem Lutheran Church at Ebenezer, which was organized in 1733 while the Salzburgers were making their long voyage to this land of freedom. The temporary church buildings were replaced in 1767-1769 by the substantial brick edifice, which is yet in use by a large and active congregation. In early young manhood Mr. Reiser united with the congregation and has been a faithful and useful member serving the most of the time as an official of his church.

One of the most useful services to the church was as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Evangelical Lutheran congregation of Effingham County. He has served in this capacity from 1906 to the present time with the exception of the year of 1933, serving for the greater portion of this long period as chairman of the board. This corporation is owned by the Lutheran Churches of Effingham County, which has a fund, the nucleus of which dates to the earliest days of the Salzburger Colony. The Trustees of this fund have been lending money on farm and timber lands for more than one hundred and fifty years. Part of the income is distributed among the Lutheran Churches in Effingham County to aid in the support of the ministry and other church needs; some is given to help build Lutheran churches in Georgia, the latest of which were substantial contributions to the building of the Lutheran Church in Garden City near Savannah and the building of a Lutheran Church in Elberton, Georgia. Under Mr. Reiser’s help and guidance all these things were carried on and sufficient amounts passed to the surplus to increase the holdings of the Trustees more than sixty percent.

One of the outstanding characteristics is his ready willingness to help others as individuals or collectively; always taking part in civic affairs. In 1908 he took a leading part in the organization of the present Exchange Bank of Springfield and was one of its early presidents. He helped organize the Springfield Herald and the Farmers Telephone to carry on the voice.

Mr. Reiser has never been unmindful of the duty he owes his country and state in serving political positions. He was elected and served as Justice of the Peace of the Eleventh District, G M of Effingham County one term from 1885 to 1889; he served by appointment as a member of the Effingham County Board of Education from 1890-1894; he was elected and served as Commissioner of Roads and Revenues of Effingham County from 1895 to 1899, having been elected as Chairman by other members of the board; in 1912 he was elected Representative of Effingham County in the General Legislature of Georgia and was successively reelected until he had served four terms of two years each, 1912-1920, after which he voluntarily retired from the Legislature. In 1932 he was again elected to serve another term in the House of Representatives, 1933-34 term; he declined to offer for reelection; in 1940 he was again unanimously chosen to again represent Effingham County in the General Assembly for the term 1941-42.

Throughout the years of his life his chief occupation has been that of farmer at which he has been successful. Upon reaching young manhood and beginning to make his way in life he saw that it was best to operate on a cash basis and avoid debts. To this rule he has strictly adhered.

On December 21, 1882, he was happily married to Miss Mary E. Gnann, daughter of Captain Frederick Gnann and of this union there are six children: Christopher F. Reiser, Rev. Walter A. Reiser, D. D., Mrs. Homer P. Helmey, Mrs. Bertie M. Dasher, Mrs. E. R. Helmey and Mrs. Edwin H. Seckinger. Mrs. Reiser departed this life on September 26, 1916, after having lived to bless the world with these noble sons and daughters and to bless all with whom she came in contact. His present wife was Mrs. Alethia Metzger Mallory of Effingham County whom he married on October 2, 1917.

Although he passed his eighty sixth year on the 30th of May in 1941, he continues to lead an active and useful life and his friends wish for his continued health and happiness.”

This article was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have comments, photos or information to share contact her at 754-6681 or email: