By Sheron K. Smith
Middle Georgia State University
Wanda Barrs, co-owner of Gully Branch Tree Farm in Bleckley County, is the 2018 recipient of the Legacy of Leadership honor, while Edward D. Lukemire, the chief judge with the Superior Court of Houston Judicial Circuit, is this year’s Outstanding Alumni in awards that the Middle Georgia State University Foundation recently announced.
The Legacy of Leadership award recognizes an individual, persons or group who has given exemplary service to Middle Georgia State University (MGA) and the Foundation. It is the highest honor that the MGA Foundation bestows. The Outstanding Alumnus award is given to selected alumni who have distinguished themselves academically, professionally, or through community involvement – and achieve positions of influence and regional or national reputation.
Barrs, a 1972 graduate of Middle Georgia College (now part of Middle Georgia State University) has served her community, state, and nation as an active parent, educator, and family business associate for more than 40 years. Over the years she has committed countless hours to ensure children and youth had access to quality learning experiences within the school setting and beyond.
Her service began as a middle school educator and continued as a charter member and past chair of the Cochran/Bleckley Family Connection Collaborative. She served four terms on the Bleckley County Board of Education, including six years as its chair. In 2003, Barrs was appointed to the Georgia Board of Education, serving as chair for nine years. Her efforts focused on challenging educators, communities, and policymakers to find the best avenues for enhancing the educational process and specifically improving student achievement. She has also served on the MGA University Foundation Board of Trustees.
Barrs and her husband, Earl, own Gully Branch Tree Farm, which supports the nationally recognized Project Learning Tree environmental education curriculum with students, youth, and adults. She has led educator workshops reaching hundreds of educators and youth leaders. Each year for the last 24 years, Gully Branch Tree Farm has hosted Project Learning Tree-based field days ensuring 12,000+ students experience hands-on learning. Barrs has served nationally on the American Tree Farm Woodlands Committee and Foundation Board and now serves on the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Education Operating Committee reaching education professionals and students across the nation with exceptional environmental education programming. These efforts resulted in her selection as Georgia Project Learning Tree Outstanding Educator and Facilitator as well as a National Project Learning Tree Educator.
Among her numerous awards, Barrs has been named one of the University of Georgia College of Family & Consumer Sciences 100 Centennial honorees and, with her husband, is a Georgia Forestry Association Wise Owl award recipient.
The Outstanding Alumni award recipient, Lukemire has devoted his life to public service in the courtroom and the community for more than 35 years. A 1974 graduate of Macon Junior College (now part of Middle Georgia State University), Lukemire went on to Mercer University to complete a bachelor’s degree. He earned a law degree from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University.
Lukemire started his law career in 1980 serving as a law clerk in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. After two years, he went on to become an assistant district attorney with the Houston Judicial Circuit. In 1987, he became an assistant United States attorney with the Federal Drug Task Force for the Middle District of Georgia. After his service with the United States Attorney’s Office, Lukemire went back to Houston County to serve as the district attorney for the Houston Judicial Circuit. Since 1996, he has served as a judge of the Superior Court of Houston Judicial Circuit and has presided over many important cases in Middle Georgia. He has also served as an administrative judge for the 3rd Judicial District.
Over the years, Lukemire has been a member of numerous committees devoted to strengthening Georgia’s families by preventing abuse and speaking up for those who could not do so for themselves. These memberships include the Georgia Commission on Family Violence; Georgia Supreme Court Committee on Substance Abuse and the Courts; Georgia Child Fatality Review Panel; and the Judicial Council Committee on Domestic Violence. Lukemire’s publications include articles that have appeared in the Georgia and Eleventh Circuit Surveys of the Mercer Law Review and the Journal of Southern Legal History.