Aubrey Sego Whelchel, 85, who died in a house fire on Saturday morning, is being remembered by many of his peers as a consummate athlete and fixture in Newton County his entire life.
A retired P.E. teacher, Whelchel grew up on Anderson Avenue in downtown Covington and served in World War II as a member of a bomber crew on a B17. When he left the Army he made use of a GI loan to attend the University of Georgia where he was on the first gymnastics team to win a national championship, as well as on the swim team.
According to lifelong friend Samuel M. Hay III, Whelchel bought a used military Harley and rode the motorcycle from Covington to UGA and back rain or shine. After receiving his education, Whelchel taught at Newton County High School as well as in the city of Atlanta. He also taught ballroom dancing and was a ski instructor in Colorado for a time.
Hay remembers Whelchel would come to the old Covington pool and show off for the younger kids.
"He would put on a show on the diving board and people would just stop and watch him," Hay said. "We thought he was Tarzan."
Whelchel participated in the Senior Olympics until he was 78-years-old, even going so far as to drive himself to Chicago one year and sleep in his car just to participate. He stopped when he felt he wasn't able to compete as well as he should.
"He was a consummate athlete," Hay said.
He was also fond of attending country music shows in Newborn and had recently been to Washington, D.C. to attend a Veteran's Day program, driving his old Toyota truck that, according to Hay, didn't go over 40 mph. to Fayetteville before flying out.
"He was a unique individual, there's no doubt about that," Hay said. "Anyone who knew Aubrey could tell you that."
According to Hay, Whelchel left his entire estate, which has been in trust for a number of years, to various charitable organizations in the area. Though he would not elaborate on the amount of the estate he would say it was considerable.
"Saturday night after everything happened I was really thinking about why in the world he was not willing to ever spend any money," Hay said. "And I think I finally figured it out. The reason he was always so conservative with his money is because he wanted to be able to accumulate enough assets to leave a legacy. Not so his name would live on, but so that he could do something to help the people of Newton County. He was born and raised here and he wanted to help."