COVINGTON, Ga. — State Sen. John K. Wilkinson took stock of the kind words that had flowed about his life and decided the day had been serious enough.
“I look around and this is overwhelming,” he said. “This is about as close as I’ll ever come to sitting through my own funeral.”
Hundreds of relatives, former students, legislative colleagues and friends and about 300 current agricultural, career and technical students laughed in the dining hall that now bears Wilkinson’s name.
The hall, thought to be among the largest in the state east of Atlanta, is part of the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center in Newton County.
Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, is retired as the program manager at the Georgia Department of Education. In that role, he had oversight of agricultural programs in the state. He also was the executive secretary of the Georgia FFA Association.
Todd Teasley, the director of development at the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center, called Thursday “a great day” for the center with the dedication.
He said state officials from Gov. Nathan Deal down have helped improve the center, and noted Wilkinson’s keen personal interest in the children who attend it.
“He wants their experience to be spectacular,” Teasley said. “Today we are honored to be able to dedicate this building to Mr. Wilkinson.
Dennis Sheppard, of Georgia Agricultural Education, said Wilkinson has had an outsized impact on the field.
“A man can have no better friend than John Wilkinson, and I applaud him,” Sheppard said.
He noted 20 consecutive years of growth in the FFA program in Georgia under Wilkinson’s watch, to more than 42,000 members today.
Wilkinson has taken his passion for agriculture education to Atlanta since being elected to the General Assembly in 2011. This year he introduced the Green Agricultural Education Act, which codifies the model for agricultural education in Georgia and extends it to elementary-age pupils.
Deal signed it into law on April 27.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said Wilkinson “has given to agriculture education in a wonderful way” and noted a facility “that’s going to stand the test of time.”