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 Local News  -   Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Amistad: Boat is centerpiece of Bagwells' giving

Times regional staff

Ron Logan Times regional staff

The Amistad, one of the largest crafts on Lake Lanier, has been used by many community groups for fundraising cruises.

Ron Logan Times regional staff

Tommy Bagwell and his wife, Chantal, have supported many charitable endeavors through both personal contributions and allowing others to use their boat, The Amistad.

When Tommy Bagwell launched "The Amistad" in 1975, the first party held aboard his three level houseboat was a Super Bowl party.

"I remember that the boat wasn't completely finished and in the morning it was so cold that the frost on the inside from the breathing was so frozen that you could scratch your name in it," said Bagwell, who is chairman and CEO of American Proteins.

The boat grew out of Bagwell's love for water that was honed in the days of his youth on Lake Allatoona in Cherokee County.

"It was such fun growing up and living on the water in the summers that I wanted a facility here," he said. "I picked out the name, Amistad, which means friendship in Spanish."

As his business grew, Bagwell decided to share the boat with the community. It was used for civic clubs and charitable organizations for fundraising cruises.

The use for charity events grew as his family's usage of the boat declined. On numerous occasions, Bagwell has donated a rental of the boat as an auction item for various fundraisers, including the annual Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce dinner.

"For the last 10 years, we have had between 25 and 40 cruises a year. Those events have helped to raise about $30,000 a year for the sponsoring group."

Bagwell said that some of the events are for special guests who are in need of a time of relaxation.

"I got to know some people with a support organization for families with children who required constant care. The lives of the mothers were devoted to caring for their children. I did a mother's day out on the boat, while the dads took care of the kids and the mothers enjoyed a time on the lake."

Others have included a cruise for Big Brother and Big Sisters and their little friends.

Friday night, the boat set sail for a cruise to benefit the Lanier Technical College Foundation. Bagwell, who serves as a trustee of the foundation, was not only host for the group, but also presented a $50,000 donation to fund a position for a literacy instructor.

"His philanthropic vision is very focused on education, and he truly wants to give back to the community," said Dr. Mike Moye, president of Lanier Technical College.

Bagwell's late parents were both educators. His father, Leland, was a vocational agriculture teacher while his mother, Clarice, taught both English and special education. A gift from Clarice Bagwell, prior to her death, helped fund the College of Education which was named in honor of the couple.

Leland Bagwell went on to found what is now American Proteins, a rendering plant which opened in 1949 to serve the poultry industry.

Tommy Bagwell assumed leadership of the company following his father's death.

The company, which has headquarters in Cumming, now includes operations in Cuthbert and Alma, as well as two plants in Cullman, Ala.

"Tommy always responds to needs in this community," said Dennis Stockton, publisher of The Times and past chairman of the Lanier Technical College Board of Directors. "He is especially attentive to needs in education and once again, he is there to help."

This is the first time that the foundation has provided funds specifically to address the needs of adult literacy, GED completion, and for English classes for non-English speakers.

"It means a great deal to the college to be given an opportunity to better serve the citizens of Forsyth," Moye said.

Bagwell's association with the college goes back a number of years, officials said.

"The college has been privileged to have Tommy Bagwell serve as a trustee," said Carol Spires, executive director of the foundation. "Now, he is stepping up to personally jump start one of the initiatives, adult and international literacy."

A community needs study conducted by United Way of Forsyth County identified adult literacy and GED training as a major need in some portions of Forsyth. The literacy instruction will be conducted in conjunction with the Certified Literate Community Program, a statewide initiative aimed at addressing literacy needs within Georgia communities.

Bagwell said that some of his giving, through his company, is a part of being a good neighbor.

"We're in a business that is more of a heavy industry," said Bagwell. "We have the problems of impacting on the community in both traffic and odor. We are like airports and junk yards, we are not the most highly recruited business. So, I felt like we should give where we make our money and that's close to the factory."

Bagwell said that his philanthropy is based on the concept of giving back to the community.

"I don't feel like you can buy your way to heaven," he said. "I get pleasure at seeing people have a good time. I guess every charitable act has a selfish component and that's mine."

Both Bagwell and his wife, Chantal, have interests in contributing to selected environmental causes, programs for at-risk youth and for scholarships for those in need.

"I feel no need to contribute to scholarships for those who are coming out of the highest income zip codes," he said, adding that some of the scholarship funds have included a provision that the recipient will return an amount equal to the value of their scholarship during their lifetime.

He also has been a major contributor to Eagle Ranch, a children's home in Hall County's Chestnut Mountain community, and is working with organizers of Crossroads Lodge, a boy's shelter currently under development in Forsyth County.

E-mail: harrisb@forsythnews.com.

Originally published Tuesday, August 16, 2005

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