James Exley Edwards was born Oct. 9, 1925 to parents Marshall Irvin and Helen (Honey) Exley Edwards. He was the second child joining a sister Charlotte. Later a sister Victoria and brother Leroy would join the family.
He was reared on a farm on Highway 119 North between Clyo and Springfield. James had chores to do and learned to farm in the fields at an early age as was the custom of the times. The family was not well off but was provided for. The family dealt with hardships: his mother died of a brain tumor after going blind, his sister Charlotte died as a young nurse and his sister Victoria had polio.
James grew up in the neighborhood near the Reiser family who had several boys his age. Fishing and swimming in the Runs Creek were some of their pastimes. He was good at pulling pranks when he was growing up. James and his first cousin Elliott Groover, who lived just down the road, often rode the mules to Deep Branch near his grandfather’s house near Clyo to swim with his Exley cousins. Deep Branch was a favorite swimming hole for the neighborhood.
As a young boy, James attended school at Berryville, which was a short walk through the woods. Sometimes he rode a mule, unlike some who were better off and rode ponies to school. It suited James to ride the mule as he was not a “fancy” person anyway. James earned the nickname “Spot” because of a tuft of white hair growing on the back of his head. His friends and family called him that for the rest of his life.
James went on to Springfield to Effingham Academy and graduated high school there. He occasionally drove the school bus to school.
In 1944, James joined the Army for two years and served in Italy near the end of World War II. After he returned from service he and his father purchased a tract of land a half a mile from his home place from some of the Rahn cousins. This is where he established his home.
Some time in the 1950’s he started dating his future wife Jane Seckinger. Their first date was to a ball game at MOED Stadium, on the outskirts of Springfield. In 1954, James and Jane were married in Jerusalem Lutheran Church followed by a reception at the home of her mother, Effie Seckinger. They honeymooned in Florida and set up their first home in Springfield. Their first child Julie was born in 1956.
James went to work for the railroad. He and his father and uncle Billy Edwards began to build a modest home on the land that he and his father had purchased. They moved into the new home having worked along on it while his railroad work was not too steady. The railroad schedule became more regular and James and Jane added to their family. Janice was born in 1957, Kerry in 1959, Marty in 1960 and in 1962, Dennis completed the family.
With seven in the household James had decided to add on to the house. While this project was under way, he was in a terrible automobile accident at Highway 275 and Highway 21 on his way from work. His injuries were very serious and it was a long recovery. Later, he was able to complete the house project.
A lifetime member of Laurel Hill Lutheran Church, he was baptized and confirmed there. James and Jane were faithful members with all the children baptized and confirmed there. If James had to work on Sunday, Jane faithfully saw that the family all made it to church and Sunday school. The children had many perfect attendance certificates. James served on church council.
He was a big tease playing tricks on his family. He taught the children to swim at Davis’ Swimming Pool in South Carolina. His method was to throw them into the deep end. It worked on the children but he only tried that once with his wife Jane. She never learned to swim nor did he ever attempt to” teach” her again.
With farming in his blood, he farmed part-time. He raised cattle, hogs, goats and chickens and planted corn and peanuts. James kept a horse for the kids to ride. They butchered a cow or hog for meat and later he shared the meat with his married children when he butchered.
An avid gardener, he planted more than was needed and shared his bounty with the family. He always had beautiful tomatoes and bumper crops of grapes and blueberries.
He added property to his home place and built a fishpond. James taught his children and grandchildren to fish. Lumber salvaged from his father’s tobacco barn built a little fish camp by the pond where he fried fish or chicken or made catfish stew to share with friends or family.
He was a member of the American Legion, Farm Bureau and Effingham County Fair Committee, where he was in charge of the gate for many years at the fair. A member of the Georgia Salzburger Society, he was in charge of making the barrel of lemonade for the Labor Day festival for decades at Ebenezer.
In addition to fishing, he loved to hunt and was a member of the Berryville Hunting Club where he camped some of the time. He enjoyed playing a card game, Set Back.
After he retired after 41 years on the railroad, he and a few cousins and friends began to play Set Back weekly at his camp. After plumbing issues and the crowd outgrowing his space, the Wednesday meal and card games moved to his cousin Arthur Exley’s camp. He faithfully attended and played until his health no longer allowed. The group he began continues today.
His retirement years were spent fishing, hunting, cooking, gardening, farming, playing cards and spending time with his family. He enjoyed his seven grandsons and lived to see one great-grandchild, a little girl.
By his mid 80s, James’ kidneys began to fail and he spent his last few years on dialysis. James died in his home on May 7, 2013, and was buried at Laurel Hill Lutheran Church where four generations of Exleys, including his mother Honey Exley Edwards (and his father Marshall Edwards), grandfather James Augustus Exley and great-grandfather James Jonathan Exley are buried. He is survived by his wife Jane, with whom he shared 58 years of marriage.
Note by Exley: James was one of the “Greatest Generation” who fought in World War II. He was a Christian man of honor and integrity who was a strong role model for his children. James instilled a strong work ethic, Christian values, community service and generosity in each of his children. His legacy of love and service to others lives on in the growing generations of his family.
This was written by Kerry Edwards and compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.