All Hail The Cotton King

Patrick Yost Featured, News

In 1956, when Earl Nunn was cycling out of his commitment to the U.S. Navy, he had a meeting with a superior who was going to explain Nunn’s options for the rest of his career. Nunn says he had enjoyed his time in the service, had enjoyed the exotic ports of call he had experienced in the Far East, but he cut the man, and his sales pitch, short.

“I told him there was no use talking to me anymore cause I’m going home.”

Of course he was. Home was Bostwick. Home was the family farm his father, Columbus Flournoy Nunn, had started in 1929 when he purchased 63 acres off Wellington Road and started farming cotton. Home was the “Big House” where four of the six Nunn siblings all had been born. That’s John in 1930, Earl in 1933, Sara Ann in 1935 and Frankie in 1945. Older brothers Edward and Eugene were both born on property near the Apalachee River in 1925 and 1927 respectively.

Home was were he would meet his wife of 61 years Sybil – first when Sybil and her family came to the “Big House” to visit Sara Ann’s new baby, Sally, and later at a concert at the Good Hope gymnasium where he was smitten. When Sybil arrived at the house, “I gave her second look,” Earl, now 84, says with a smile.

Home is where, in 1954 when Earl got word while on a Navy ship in Japan that his father had died at 61 years of age, Earl spent the next six days getting back to for a 30 day leave. He missed the funeral, he says, but not the love of the community.

“There was just an incredible outpouring of affection,” he says. “Everybody just hugged my neck.”

While Nunn admits he is not the oldest Bostwick resident (former Bostwick City Council Member Troy Dobbs is 90, he says), he is one of a handful of Bostwick royalty.

And this year he is going to be a king.

He laughs. When he found out he was selected to be the Cotton Gin Festival king his first thought was “they done got to scratching the bottom of the barrel.”

Hardly. Earl Nunn graduated from the University of Georgia with a BS in agriculture in 1960 while commuting back and forth to Athens while working on the family farm.

He also was sent to Young Harris Academy in Young Harris, Ga., at the age of 14 to enrich his education. At the time, he said, going to a boarding school was “a no brainer because I got out of picking cotton and milking cows.” However, he hitchhiked home most every weekend. On Sundays, he would get an older brother to drive him to Athens so he could start hitching a ride back to school.

At six years old, he can remember his father hooking him up to the mule and letting him run a plough down the middle of a row of cotton. “They called it ‘busting the middle,’” he says now. “I felt like I was a man.”

At 11, he remembers the first time he picked an entire burlap fertilizer sack of cotton. At the end of the row, he says, the bag weighed 220 pounds.

At eight years old, without telling his parents beforehand, he joined Gibbs Memorial Baptist Church, were he remains a faithful member. He has been a leader of the Wellington Masonic Lodge and has been one of the backbones of that group’s annual Fourth of July BBQ for the past 60 years.

He and Sybil raised four children in their brick ranch house on Wellington Street where those children begat seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. All four sons live nearby, a grandson lives across the street. His youngest, David (Madison’s city manager) purchased the Big House years ago and completely renovated the property. He lives next door.

“My roots are deep here,” Earl says.

Next Saturday, Nov. 4, King Earl will get to ride on a wagon in the annual Cotton Gin Festival parade. “I’m going to throw kisses until I get kicked off,” he says. He’s offered a slot on the wagon to all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For a day, at least, he’ll get to ride slowly down the main street of Bostwick under the yellow caution light in this town of 300 people and, hopefully, people will have the opportunity to wave back, maybe throw a kiss or two towards a man his sister Sara Ann calls “the best man in the world, you’d better believe it.”

This Saturday, for a day at least, a prince of man gets to be king.

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