NEWBORN, Ga. – Newborn mayor Gregg Ellwanger has always had a heart to help others. From being a collegiate swimmer to coaching the next generation of athletes, Ellwanger sets an example of selflessness and compassion both as a mayor and citizen of the community.
“Life still takes hard work. It’s not easy. Enjoy what you do,” Ellwanger said. “Do the best you can, and that’s all you can do. Always try to uplift other folks around you when you’re in the line at Aldi’s, thank the cashier, say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate you being here.’ Try to leave a better thought than you take. So that’s about all you can do.”
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, and relocating to Atlanta in 1963, Ellwanger’s love of swimming began as a toddler, taking swim lessons from the YMCA at the age of 2 and swimming competitively by the age of 5.
Ellwanger’s talent for the sport landed him a spot on the University of Georgia’s (UGA) swim team, where he studied biology. Experiencing the tragedy of losing his father from a drunk driver and nearly losing his mother during his freshman year of college gave Ellwanger a wake up call.
“That was tough and seeing that really woke me up,” Ellwanger said. “The one thing my parents instilled in me was hard work and [to] work at your academics and enjoy it. Those first two years at Georgia were tough. Getting up early in the morning, I was a non-scholarship swimmer. Working summers trying to make money to where I could go to school getting through that. [It] was a blessing to be able to have that opportunity.”
Following the conclusion of his collegiate swimming career in February 1981, Ellwanger went on a field trip to UGA’s Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, where he met his wife, Denise, an animal behavior major. Their three sons Drew, Joey and Robbie, who are twins, followed in their father’s footsteps and pursued competitive swimming.
“They’ve all told me how much they appreciated their childhood,” Ellwanger said. “That was a blessing to watch them develop. I couldn’t ask for anything more than watching them blossom and be a better man than I am.”
Succeeding his graduation from UGA with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Ellwanger continued his studies at Georgia State University where he earned a physical therapy degree and his master’s in athletic training and exercise physiology.
The Ellwanger family found themselves citizens of Newborn in 2001, when Ellwanger left his clinic in Stockbridge for better educational opportunities for his sons. In 2005, four years after settling into their farmhouse, the Ellwanger family, by the direction of Denise, made the decision to open Country Critters, an educational petting zoo consisting of Pygmy goats, babydoll sheep, miniature pigs and horses, quail and more.
“We did a lot with kids, tried to make it handicap accessible [to] children with disabilities,” Ellwanger said. “Did [things] with Camp Sunshine, had a lot of private school groups out… Kids that would never get to really experience a farm, much less one that was something that they could touch and feel. Kids could see animals as they need[ed] to see them. I was passionate about continu[ing] opportunities for our youth and our community to have the opportunities my sons have had.”
As a result of Ellwanger’s sons moving off to college, the Ellwangers closed Country Critters in 2015.
“That’s just another chapter in life. We love our farm,” Ellwanger said. “We still have the animals. They’re slowly aging. We’re down to four goats, three sheep and two potbelly pigs.”
In addition to being Newborn’s mayor, a role he stepped into in 2014, Ellwanger still practices physical therapy as Piedmont Rockdale’s senior clinic outpatient therapist. Aside from his hobbies, Ellwanger conducts home health visits due to the lack of coverage in the rural areas of the county in his free time.
Ellwanger’s dedication to improving the health and well-being of his community is made evident through his time spent as a swim coach along with his advocacy for the walking trails and an aquatic center in the county, something he has spent a decade trying to jump-start.
“That’s what I’d love to see, this community continue with opportunity for its citizens. For everyone,” Ellwanger said. “And not do what some of the other metro counties have done and be so overwhelmed with growth, that’s really gonna be tough. Hopefully citizens can continue to be engaged. I think the most important thing is to realize what gifts you’ve been given and don’t take it for granted.
“There’s been a lot more folks on this earth before us, and God willing, there will be a lot more after us. We need to try to pass the torch [so] that they’ll have the same opportunities that we can have to just have a good life. I’m excited about the future for this county and I think some of the growth that’s coming in will be positive, but we have to remember to do it right.”
When reflecting on the legacy he hopes to engrave on the Newborn community, Ellwanger strives to solidify his impact as a helper.
“That’s what I want to be remembered [as], hopefully as a citizen of Newborn that helps to keep this community continue to remember its heritage. I want to listen more than I talk, and that’s not always an easy thing to do, but God gave you two ears and one mouth, so I think he wants you to listen more.”