It was just another ordinary choir rehearsal at Madison Presbyterian Church last Wednesday, or so W.H. Ashburn thought. But Ashburn was in for one of the most touching shocks of his long life. He had no idea that over 200 family members and friends awaited his arrival inside to pull off a grand surprise party to celebrate his 80th birthday. Instead of practicing hymns with his fellow church friends, W.H. Ashburn blew out the candles to his birthday cake surrounded by everyone he loves most in this world “It was a total surprise,” said Ashburn. “I didn’t have a clue that anything was going on. I went to church prepared for choir… It was the most pleasant evening.”
Ashburn’s wife, Barbara, worked with Ray Merritt and Jan Wilbanks, Ashburn’s fellow choir members, to orchestrate the party. “The hardest part was keeping it a secret,” said Barbara. “I told so many lies in the last couple of weeks before the party!” But Barbara’s well-intentioned fibs paid off when W.H. was floored to discover a sea of friendly faces from his present and his past ready to celebrate his life. “I would like everybody to know I really do appreciate the turnout, there was lots and lots of folks there. It was so good to see everyone together, how wonderful of everybody, especially of my wife, to do all of this for me,” said W.H.
The Ashburns, who just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary, have spent the majority of their lives in Morgan County, relocating here almost 51 years ago when W.H. filled a vacant band director position. “It turned out to be a great decision,” said W.H. Ashburn. “This ended up being the place we stayed the longest and this is truly our home,” said Barbara. Among those gathered at W.H. Ashburn’s surprise party were the Ashburn’s three beloved children, Mike Ashburn, Amanda Durden, and Bill Ashburn, who is the Madison Police Chief, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. “My father is the most honest person I know. I have never seen him lose his temper and we keep threatening to put him on a game show because he knows a little bit about a ton of things…He says he has a lot of useless information that take up space in his head, but we are always impressed with the knowledge he comes out with,” said Amanda Durden.
“We are so appreciative to everyone who came out to wish him a happy birthday.” According to his son, Bill, W.H. has lived a full and rewarding life in our small community. Bill and Barbara put together the following details of W.H. Ashburn’s life for the community to become familiar with—a life marked by service, dedication, and integrity. W.H. along with wife, Barbara, children, Amanda and Bill moved to Madison in 1964. They moved from Clayton where W.H. started the band program at the Rabun County School System. He accepted the job as Band and Chorus Director for Morgan County Schools. Mike was born in 1966. The High School Class of 1970 dedicated the School Yearbook to Mr. Ashburn.
W.H.’s tenure with the Morgan County School System spanned for more than 30 years. Before his retirement he had accepted the job as Assistant School Superintendant. “He has been very active in the community. During the summer he ran the City Pool, which was located at Hill Park. He taught swimming lessons to many people in the community. W.H. found out that the Recreation Director, Bill Wood, could not swim, so he gave him private swimming lessons while no one was around!” said Bill Ashburn.
W.H. joined the Madison Baptist Church, where he was very active in the choir. He was also elected as a Deacon in the church. Kathleen Reid, pianist at the Madison Presbyterian Church, asked W.H. if he would help organize a choir for the Presbyterian Church. Mrs. Reid told him they would be looking to hire someone as a full time choir director. It took them 12 years I guess to find one. In the meantime He became a member of the Presbyterian Church and was elected as a Church Elder. He was an active member of the Kiwanis Club and the Jaycees. He also served as president of the Jaycees. He is still a member of the American Legion. Because of his many years of teaching band students how to march, he was tasked with organizing the Color Guard for the American Legion. At the age of 18 W.H. joined the Army National Guard. He served his country in that capacity for 41 years and retired as a Full Colonel.
As his sons, Bill and Mike, grew up participating in sports with the Morgan County Recreation Department, W.H. coached many seasons of baseball. Bill remembers a time when the best team was the Kiwanis senior league team. The year that Bill moved up from Little League to Senior League, the division expanded and created a new team that was sponsored by Wellington Puritan. Bill was selected to be on the new team, so W.H. agreed to be the coach. Wellington Puritan went undefeated that year, to include beating the Kiwanis team! W.H. showed great patience, and the willingness to “teach” the game of baseball to the boys. W.H. has a great appreciation for “good music”. He has always loved directing choirs. This love, along with some prodding from his wife, led him to start what has been known in the community as “The Ashburn Choral”. For the past 40 years The Ashburn Choral has been performing for fund-raisers, Civic functions, and concerts. The venues include The Madison/Morgan Cultural Center and churches within the community. They were even asked to perform at a church in Macon.
“There is no doubt that through his teaching and his involvement in the community, that W.H. has touched many lives. I think it is safe to say that there are people who would go so far to say that their lives were greatly impacted in a positive way by Mr. Ashburn,” said Bill Ashburn.