Leaders: Mitchell left legacy in Pike County

Published 11:25 pm Monday, February 6, 2012

Former state Sen. “Walking Wendell” Mitchell died Saturday in a Montgomery hospital but he left his handprint on everything in Pike County.

Mitchell represented Pike County as a part of Senate District 30 from 1974 until 2010 and few county residents have not been positively impacted, directly or indirectly, by the programs he supported.

“Sen. Mitchell was not a friend just to Troy and Pike County, he was really good to the entire district,” said Hank Jones, former superintendent of Troy City Schools. “He was a great public servant. He obviously had money that could be used for projects. While he couldn’t fund everything, he made sure that the projects he did support were going to benefit the schools or the community as whole.”

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Jones said a part of Mitchell’s legacy will be in the projects that he supported but also in the advice that he provided and the doors he opened to the right person who could provide the assistance needed.

“I can’t say enough about Sen. Mitchell,” Jones said. “There aren’t many things in Pike County that he didn’t support in some way. He was a friend to all.”

Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford said Mitchell was always good to Troy.

“He was someone I could meet with on a moment’s notice,” Lunsford said. “So many times, he assisted me on the state level. He would go with me to see the appropriate people – the governor, the head of the highway department – whoever I needed to see. He would go with me.”

Lunsford said Mitchell really cared about people and was a conscientious public servant.

“He was always interested in what was going on in his district and willing to do anything that he could to help move a project along,” Lunsford said. “He did a lot for Troy, for Pike County and the entire district.”

Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage said he couldn’t think of a project in Brundidge that Mitchell didn’t touch.

“The Wal-Mart project, our library, the We Piddle Around Theater, the schools, whatever we needed and when, he was there to lend his support. I don’t think there was a project he didn’t touch,” Ramage said. “And, he didn’t just find ways to help financially, he supported the projects with his presence.”

Ramage said discretionary funds weren’t always available.

“Sometimes he would tell us to hold tight until the next budget,” Ramage said. “And we were always confident that, when the next budget came around, he would still remember. Sen. Mitchell was a good statesman and had the interest of his constituents at heart.

“And, he was as good as his word. He always said, ‘I’ll go for you or I’ll go with you.’ There are so many times that he went for the city of Brundidge and then there were times when he went with us. But either way, we knew Sen. Mitchell was in our corner and he would do the best he could for us when we had a need. He was a great senator, a fine man and a friend to Brundidge and all Pike County.”

Dan Smith, Troy Parks and Recreation director, said the first time he met Mitchell was in the early 1990s.

“He came walking into my office on Elm Street and wanted to know what he could do to help children through recreation,” Smith said. “I didn’t call him. He approached me. Sen. Mitchell was genuinely interested in helping our young people. He gave to the Murphree Park playground project, to the high school baseball field and his contribution to the Miracle Field was above and beyond what we expected.”

Smith said that, without question, the $87,000 Mitchell helped secure for the Miracle Field was crucial.

“We probably would still be raising money,” Smith said. “Sen. Mitchell had a big heart and we benefited from his generosity in so many ways.”

But it wasn’t just recreation, school kids, libraries and access roads that Mitchell sought to find funding for. He was a strong supporter of the arts.

Mack Gibson, chairman of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Foundation, said Mitchell was on board from day one.

“Wendell was a good friend to the arts,” Gibson said. “He bought into our mission and supported it personally and professionally. He made a contribution to the Art Bridges program that offers summer workshops for teachers where they learn ways to use art across the curriculum.”

Gibson said Mitchell supported the arts programs of the Troy Arts Council and the Brundidge Historical Society, which provide arts opportunities in all areas of the arts – music, theater, dance and the visual arts.

“Wendell Mitchell was a good friend,” Gibson said “We went to school together in Luverne and he was the kind of person that really cares about other people and wants to make life better for them.”

The funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Vaughn Park Church of Christ at 3800 Vaughn Road. The family will receive visitors from noon until 2 p.m.