Odoms honored as Gold Rush royalty

  • Larry and Shirley Odom have been crowned as Gold Rush royalty for the 2019 festival.
    Larry and Shirley Odom have been crowned as Gold Rush royalty for the 2019 festival.
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The Dahlonega Jaycees chose Larry and Shirley Odom as this year’s King and Queen of Gold Rush. Larry and his wife are following in the footsteps of both Larry’s Parks and Brackett ancestors, who were also Gold Rush royalty.
“My great-uncle Woodrow and my great-grandparents on the Brackett side of the family were Gold Rush kings and queen,” Larry said.
Benjamin Parks, the storied discoverer of gold in Lumpkin County, was Larry’s third-great-grandfather.
Shirley was raised in Dawson County, but can claim Lumpkin County Nugget-hood. She was born here.
“I am a native,” she said, “born in Dr. William’s office where Dahlonega City Hall used to be, right next to the calaboose.”
The two met in 1970, right after Larry returned from his Army service as part of a helicopter unit in Vietnam.
“We were cruising in different cars. Larry was with another boy who wanted to talk to me, but Larry kept annoying me,” Shirley said.
Larry took the boys who were with him home—then came back to find Shirley. They talked and talked, she said.
About a year later, Nov. 23, 1971, the two were married.
“It will soon be 48 years. I wouldn’t put up with another 48,” Larry joked.
The couple was married on a cold, sleety night just off the square in the little brick house next to Park Place Hotel—formerly Park Place Restaurant. It was Justice of the Peace Millard Shelton’s first wedding. But it nearly didn’t happen.
“I backed out. He had to talk me into it. I’ll never do it again,” Shirley said, invoking laughter from the both of them.
A shared sense of humor, Larry said, “is one of the strengths of our marriage. We’ve kept each other laughing through the years.”
For Shirley, one of Larry’s best attributes is “his crazy sense of humor.”
Those meeting Larry for the first time in his role as President of United Community Bank might not have seen that side of him. You would see a pleasantly smiling, dignified gentleman. But his friends can testify to his funny side.
The Odoms best friends are Danny and Bea Phillips. The two couples were married just four months apart, and Larry and Danny acted as each other’s best men.
Both Bea and Danny have known Larry most of their lives.
“We ran around together when we were teenagers. We were best friends all through high school,” Danny said.
When their children were little, they would share a part of every Christmas together.
“Larry would always put potted meat and Vienna sausages on the table when we’d come over,” Danny said.
“And crackers,” Bea added. “Larry could keep you laughing all the time.”
“He had a can of Spam on his desk at the bank all the time,” Danny laughed.
And Shirley, according to Bea, “is a hoot. I wish you could have seen us at Larry’s and Danny’s 70th surprise birthday party. We blindfolded and handcuffed them and led them into the room—and they let us do it.”
In addition to his funnier side, Larry also has a crazy side. It started a good ways back, Danny said.
Larry he said was never one to experiment with the the forbidden—cigarettes, beer or anything “most other teenagers wanted to try,” Danny said. “He would be our driver when a bunch of us were out together, but he got this nickname—‘Killer’—because he drove like a maniac, speeding and squealing around corners.”
That crazy streak hasn’t lessened with age. The Odoms and Phillips took  a cruise to Alaska together to celebrate their 40th anniversaries.
“We got to go out on the ice and there were these big cracks that went down and down. You’d drop a rock and it would take forever to hear it hit the bottom. Everybody stayed way back from the edge—except Larry. He stood right on the edge of the hole. He’s a daredevil,” Danny said.
Then there’s the time Larry zipped lined across Niagara Falls …. Of course, on that trip Danny joined him in his adventure.
Larry held several jobs before settling down as a loan officer for the Bank of Dahlonega in 1982. Shirley was already working there, and  actually had seniority over him. She spent 20 years there, first as a teller then as a loan officer. She retired when the bank was sold to BB&T.
Larry chose to stay with BB&T, “for about four years. Then I went to work for United Community Bank (UCB) and was there 15 years,” he said.
He became President in 2004 and retired in 2017. He still holds an advisory position on its Board of Directors.
Larry’s impact on the community spread far and wide during his years at UCB.
“I always tried to be sure we supported the community in my role at the bank,” he said. There was seldom a time UCB turned down a request for a donation to a local charity. Its annual participation in the local Relay for Life is well known. He was a strong supporter of veterans events, “both personally and at the bank,” he said.
He was also generous with his time, serving as chair of Gideon Camp, a Christian camp and conference center; clerk of Siloam Baptist Church; past chair of Rainbow Children’s Home and Chestatee Regional Hospital Boards of Directors; chair of the Downtown Development Authority for three years; working with the Boy Scouts of America and United Way during the time it functioned in Lumpkin County; and currently serving as Vice-Chair of the Lumpkin County Airport Authority. He is also the current secretary of the Lion’s Club, where he has been a member for 30-plus years.
Other than work, raising the couple’s two children Matthew and Emily and enjoying her five grandchildren, Shirley said she has left the community involvement up to Larry.
“He loves people,” she said. “He never met a stranger.”
“That comes from the Parks’ side of the family. Woodrow was like that, always interested in people and their families. He loved to talk to people. He’d say, ‘Now who are you? Who are you related to? Oh, I used to do this or that with your father.’ I do that too,” Larry said.
While Shirley may not have been active in the community, “She can get out of anything,” Larry said, she “loves her family and grandkids to a fault, and she’s always supported me in anything I did, always there to encourage me. I appreciate her loyalty.”
“And you do like my gravy and biscuits,” Shirley jokes.
One other thing Shirley is, according to Bea—a good friend.
“She’s the best friend I’ve ever had. We have early morning talks every day, but it wouldn’t matter if we skipped a whole week, we’d pick back up just like it was yesterday. I don’t know how to describe it in words. We’re closer than sisters. There’s a loyalty between us, and more. It’s good old fashioned friendship, caring about each other,” she said.
Both Larry and Shirley were surprised to be chosen King and Queen.
“And it’s hard to shock me,” Larry said. “But I love Lumpkin County.  I’m honored, and proud—proud of my heritage, of being from a long line of goldminers, sawyers and moonshiners.”
The Odoms will be crowned King and Queen of Gold Rush Saturday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m. on stage in front of the Visitors Center.