George and Babs Holtzman have done a lot together.
Built a thriving real estate and insurance business. Raised a family. Helped Hinesville grow and helped start the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.
Now the Holtzmans, who are moving to St. Louis to be closer to grandchildren, are serving as grand marshals of the Chamber’s 20thannual Christmas parade on the organization’s 40thanniversary.
“As part of our 40th‘birthday’ celebration this year we could think of no better representative than George and Babs as they were part of the group that started our Chamber,” Chamber CEO Leo Poole said.
It’s an honor they didn’t expect, according to Babs.
“We’re shocked and honored, and we hope we represent Hinesville and the Chamber well, because it’s such an honor,” she said. “We feel like we are ordinary citizens that have given back to their community.”
Not many have given on the scale of the Holtzmans. They recently donated more than $70,000 to the Veterans Memorial Walk project in Bryant Commons, a project they both feel strongly about.
Babs’ father, a career Navy submariner was wounded at Pearl Harbor.
George is a Vietnam veteran and earned a Purple Heart after he was nearly killed.
“I came within about two feet of not being here,” he said “My buddy was killed and I was not, and my mission has always been to see soldiers recognized. Being in Vietnam, there was no recognition, no fanfare, no one to greet you as you got off the plane or to help you get reintegrated in society.”
The war changed George’s life. He went in as an E-1 armed with a degree in entomology from North Carolina State and left it as an E-5 with the Purple Heart.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I could barely speak, and I thought I had a speech impediment,” he said.
Instead of stopping talking, George took Dale Carnegie speaking classes – and he’s been in one leadership role or another ever since, but never without Babs.
“You had the both of us. George was the sail, and I was the rudder,” she said. “I kept us going in a straight line, he was the one out in public.”
The Holtzmans start from scratch after moving from their home in North Carolina to Atlanta, and then to Hinesville in 1975 when they heard the 24thInfantry Division was being reactivated. By then, they had a son, Greg, now a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
At the time, the Holtzmans didn’t have the money for deposits to get power and a telephone.
“We were broke,” Babs said.
They didn’t stay broke.
Babs, who has a degree from the Troutman School of Cosmetology, went to work as a cosmetologist. George started selling real estate. In 1976, he was elected president of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce. Babs’ mother, Violet “Matuce” Summerall, moved in to help look after Greg. She stayed for the rest of her life.
Hinesville’s population when the Holtzman’s arrived was about 7,500. Fort Stewart had about 1,500 soldiers.
There are more than 34,000 people living in Hinesville today. Fort Stewart has a soldier and dependent population of more than 50,000.
“Fort Stewart is that extended part of Hinesville,” George said. “It unifies all the people of Hinesville.”
The move to Hinesville came 11 years after Babs met George. Babs was at the Troutman School of Cosmetology, one of a string of them owned by her grandparents. George was at N.C. State, but his cousin taught at Troutman. She asked Babs if she could bring George to a Christmas Party.
By the spring of 1965, they were serious enough for Babs to invite George home to meet her family in Wilmington, N.C. Turned out, her father, retired Navy chief William Troutman, already knew the family and had put both George’s brothers in the Navy, Babs said.
What’s more, Babs’ father went to George’s family on Saturday to buy raw milk, eggs and butter while they were in junior high school.
“But we never met each other until we were in college,” Babs said.
Since then, the Holtzmans have met generals and governors and business leaders and more, and George has served on state real estate boards and commissions in addition to working hard to grow his family business. They’ve prospered, though always through ahrd work.
Their son graduated from Bradwell Institute and went on to Emory, then Washington University, one of the country’s elite schools. He’s now married to a pediatrician and they have two children, both of whom are “brilliant,” said Babs, noting one is a cross country standout, the other a talented musician.
The Holtzmans are selling parts of their business, but they’ll hang on to a portion. They’ll keep a house in Hinesville, too, and come back from time to time when they’re not busy being doting grandparents.
And they’ll always be a team. Ask Babs to use one word to describe George and she gives you two, and then a few more.
“Honest to a fault, and sincere to a fault,” she said. “If George agrees to take on a job, he will do it, often to the detriment of his health, to get it done, and get it done right.”
Ask George to use two words to describe Babs, and he gives you four.
“Dynamic,” he said. “And very loving.”
The Chamber of Commerce’s 20thannual illuminated Christmas Parade begins at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 2. The Holtzmans will be there.