IN ABBIE’S HONOR
Abbie DeLoach was one of five Georgia Southern nursing students who died in 2015 when a semi-trailer crashed into their vehicles on I-16 west of Savannah. Abbie’s father, Jimmy DeLoach, Jr. is a University MBA alumnus and former Eagles coach. Through a foundation established in Abbie’s honor, he has created three scholarship funds at Georgia Southern and has made major gifts to his church and other organizations
Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jimmy DeLoach had been on the road, pushing hard to lock down Georgia Southern’s 1987 class of football players, but on this day back on campus he strode into the legendary Erk Russell’s office.
“I called him up on a Thursday and told him I needed to talk to him when I got back to Statesboro. He said, ‘Come on in and we’ll sit down and talk.’ I went to his office and I said, ‘Coach, you won’t believe this, but I’m going to leave coaching because God is moving me in another direction.’ He said, ‘Well, coach, what are you going to do … cut grass for a living?’ “I said, ‘Yeah.’”
Within weeks, DeLoach joined his brother, Eddie, and Eddie’s company, TideWater Landscape Management. “I went with him in `87 and I haven’t looked back,” said DeLoach who serves as TideWater’s vice president. Now the TideWater Group, has become a multi-service company that is not only responsible for green spaces, but designs and builds landscapes, maintains parking lots, and installs holiday décor for towns and businesses in seven states.
When DeLoach left Georgia Southern, Coach Russell told him that if there was anything he could do, he’d be glad to help. “He really meant that,” said DeLoach, who saw Russell frequently helping others. “He had a rare ability to teach, to give and to unify young men who were from diverse backgrounds,” DeLoach said. “Every year he had the capacity to bring them to a goal. That’s what I took away from him to the business world.”
DeLoach said he and Eddie, who now serves as mayor of Savannah, always had a dream of working from the east coast to the west coast. “It’s hard to believe,” he said, “but you can actually make that statement today because all the way from Virginia to New Mexico, TideWater is working every day.”
One crucial attribute of the company is its commitment to employees beyond a paycheck. “We try to provide our guys with some kind of educational backgrounds. That’s what we do every day because those guys need the same opportunity that you and I have had to support their families,” explained DeLoach. “That’s what my dad taught me, and Coach Russell gave me that team concept that the group is always bigger than individuals.”
DeLoach has made it his personal commitment to help aspiring students reach their potential with the establishment of scholarships in honor of his late daughter Abbie. He recalled an incident 30 years before Abbie’s tragic death that factored into his decision to create the awards.
While serving as a student assistant coach at Gainesville High School, he developed a relationship with two brothers, Sammy and Lamar Williams. Sammy, the younger brother, drowned while swimming with friends before he could return to Mississippi State for football camp.
That was 1984. DeLoach joined Erk Russell’s staff as a graduate assistant at Georgia Southern that year. “I happened to remember that when Georgia Southern started recruiting kids. I remembered the environment that those two kids lived in and that the only escape they had was an education through athletics,” said DeLoach. “I’m talking about doghouse hard — just very hard. The only thing they had was their willingness to get out and claw and fight and do whatever it took to have that opportunity.
“I remembered that and I thought, ‘If I ever get in a position where I can help someone become better today than they were yesterday, I’m going to do that.’ When Abbie died, I thought about that family and their sacrifice to get their children to a point of being successful only to have one of them taken away. It reminded me so much of Abbie, just how something can be snatched from you,” he said.
Even today, he said, “I look at the people that I see on a daily basis knowing that they might not be here in a day or an hour. It really gives you a sense of the value of people and the value of organizations and the value of relationships and the value of education.”
A 2012 graduate of Savannah Christian Preparatory School, Abbie was an excellent student and standout athlete, lettering in basketball, volleyball and track. At the time of her death, she was a junior nursing major at Georgia Southern, a member of Kappa Delta Sorority and an intramural champion.
Through DeLoach’s efforts, the Abbie Lorene DeLoach Foundation was established to honor Abbie and provide philanthropic support to help improve lives and through them, families and communities. Last December, the Foundation created three scholarship funds at Georgia Southern: the Abbie Lorene DeLoach Memorial Nursing/Kappa Delta Scholarship, the Tidewater Landscape Management Male Scholar Athlete Scholarship, and the Abbie Lorene DeLoach Female Athletic Scholarship.
The annual awards will begin this fall and support a University nursing student, a male scholar-athlete and a female scholar-athlete.
DeLoach wants the scholarships to help ensure sound futures for promising young people and, in turn, allow them to provide for their own families later in life. DeLoach’s other daughter, Anna, is a junior at the University of Georgia and holds a 3.85 grade point average. “She can be anything she wants to be,” DeLoach said. “Abbie was that way, too. Abbie could have been anything she wanted to be because people at Savannah Christian took their time and made sure my girls were successful. That’s the same thing Coach Russell did and the same thing Georgia Southern did when I was there for my master’s.
“The professors took their time to make sure when you left Georgia Southern you were prepared to be one of the best professionals that you could possibly be. And that’s priceless, because everything starts with a good paycheck and an education is just a springboard to that.” — David Thompson
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