Three locals honored for community contributions in summer ceremony.
A 12-year-old who raises money for cystic fibrosis, an 88-year-old who constructs wheelchair ramps for the needy, and a barber who serves the homebound share one thing in common: They were all honored as Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass in late July.
Eleanor Guilford, Harold Southerland, and J.B. Clary respectively represent the February, March, and April winners of the honor, which is the result of a partnership between Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) and WTVY News 4. The designation nets each of them a $1,000 gift from WEC’s Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation.
“Even though the pandemic halted our ability to present the Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass awards for a few months, we know people like our honorees continued to work selflessly in their communities,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC’s chief operating officer. “We are quite pleased to resume these presentations so we can honor selfless acts that benefit our community.”
“It is always an honor for us at WTVY to recognize people like Eleanor Guilford, Harold Southerland, and J.B. Clary, who show selfless spirits in serving their respective communities,” adds WTVY anchor Reginald Jones. “You just sense that they don’t do things for recognition but because they genuinely care about the people they help. They indeed are ‘Silent Heroes.’”
Guilford enjoys many of the things girls her age do, especially dance. She’s proficient in styles like lyrical, jazz, and tap and performs on the dance line for Geneva County High School’s band.
For her, those hobbies serve as an opportunity to further a family tradition.
“It’s in my family. My aunt was a cheerleader, and two of my cousins are dancers,” she says.
Another legacy she carries on is that of her grandmother, the late Patricia Guilford. When Eleanor was diagnosed with the genetic lung disorder cystic fibrosis, the elder Guilford embarked on several fundraisers for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) until her death about a year ago.
The younger Guilford now spearheads some of the fundraisers these days, designing T-shirts for sale and organizing sandwich sales. The family also participates in a variety of run/walk events that benefit CFF, and Guilford makes yearly presentations to a civic club in Hartford to raise even more funds.
“From the time Eleanor was born, we started fundraising, and Eleanor’s always been the face of our fundraising,” mother Coleen says. “As soon as she was old enough, she’s been helpful.”
Coleen Guilford says they have lost track of how much the family has contributed to CFF via fundraisers but notes the Guilfords raised $20,000 in one year. Eleanor Guilford reaps the benefit these days as a new medicine developed through CFF research has dramatically improved her lung function this year.
Guilford is the youngest Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass winner in the program’s three-year history.
Even though Southerland retired in 2003 after selling his automotive repair business, the Ashford-area resident has contributed to Houston County — and the country — through several faith-based programs and initiatives.
For several years, he served with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams, attending to the needs of those impacted by Hurricane Katrina and other perilous events. He has also contributed labor to several construction projects during WIRED, a local missions-focused youth camp.
Into his 80s, Southerland has constructed wheelchair ramps for those who needed them and couldn’t afford them. He plans to apply his Silent Heroes proceeds to the next wheelchair ramp project he encounters.
“In the past, I have used my money most of the time. I’ve had churches to furnish the money sometimes,” he says. “God has blessed me with many years of service. God has given me the strength and the longevity. He’s made the way for me to be where I’m at today.”
Those who practice psychiatry have long noted the value a good haircut has on self-esteem, and Clary has uplifted the spirits of Florala-area residents for decades.
Even though Clary is semi-retired, he practices his profession in customers’ homes or in nursing homes for no fee since not everyone can make it to a salon or beauty shop. He feels indebted to those who provided him business for more than 60 years.
“Florala is an old town with a lot of old folk. They get down where they can’t get out,” says Clary, who has lived in Florala since the early 1950s. “They helped me make a living at one time, and that’s just a small thing I feel I can do for them.”
Additionally, Clary has been known to transport people to their doctors' appointments and mow lawns as needed.
Clary appreciates WEC and WTVY for establishing the Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass award.
“I don’t know of anybody else that does it,” he says. “I think it’s a good thing that they do.”