By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor
Toni Terrell, an accomplished business-woman who is also devoted to the ministry, was the first ever African-American employee to be hired at the Bank of Madison. Back in the summer of 1986, Toni was preparing to come home to Madison from Georgia College in Milledgeville, when the opportunity for a job arose at the Bank of Madison. That summer, Toni worked as a bank teller, unaware of the positive impact she would have on the African-American customers who encountered her. “I was only 19 at the time, so I wasn’t really thinking about being the first black person to work there,” said Terrell.
“When you are young, you aren’t really thinking about race relations, you are just trying to do your thing, make some money, and live your life. But I started to realize that it meant something when the black customers would come in and they had big smiles on their faces and were so glad to see me working there.” Terrell only spent that summer at the Bank of Madison, but learned during her time there, how important cultural and racial diversity in employment is for a community. “Children need to see people who look like them in positions of influence, to know they can achieve it, too,” explained Terrell. “We are encouraged when we see other people bettering themselves. We are then encouraged to try, to do better and be better. But if you look around and don’t see people that look like you, you wonder about that, you start to wonder if you are really welcome, or if you a really able to ever be in that kind of position yourself.”
Terrell hopes Madison continues to work toward creating a more diversified workforce, especially in the downtown district and in the schools. “I would like to see the downtown businesses having people in positions of influence that reflect the citizens of this county. There are a lot of businesses that do not have any black people working up front, but have a lot of black customers. There are a lot of black students in the schools, but not a lot of black teachers. I think Madison needs to better reflect the citizens they serve.” Said Terrell. “Madison has put a lot of investment into the beautification of the city, into looking nice, but as far as pulling every facet of the citizens and taxpayers together, it has a long way to go,” said Terrell.
After Terrell finished her summer as a Bank of Madison teller, she returned to Georgia College, where she earned her Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Psychology and a minor in Business Administration. When she returned to Madison after graduation, she became the export manager for Wellington Leisure Products, becoming the first African-American salary employee at the local company. She stayed with Wellington for four years. In 1997, she married Robert Terrell Jr., who owns Terrell Enterprises, an expanding logging company, and who eventually became the senior pastor of Union Springs Baptist Church in Rutledge. Toni got bit by “the business bug” and helped run Terrell Enterprises after the couple was married. “I have seen the business triple since my time there,” said Toni Terrell.
Toni and Robert attended school together all their lives, and Robert says he first noticed Toni all the way back in second grade. “He loves to tell everyone that, but the universe just took a long time to finally get us together,” joked Toni. Now Toni’s life is marked by her service in ministry. “Ministry takes up most of my time,” said Toni Terrell. ”It’s not anything you can turn off. At any given time there is something going on with someone. It bleeds into every part of your life. “ Union Springs Baptist Church has about 700 members on the books, with about 300 active members on any given Sunday. “I look at the church as a spiritual hospital,” said Toni Terrell. “Union Springs has been so blessed to have a good pastor…when you have good leadership you produce good things.” Toni hopes to continue working for the betterment of community and guiding the youth of the county to shape it. . “I would say to our you, pay attention to what’s going on around and get involved so you can create the community that you would like to live in and work in that,” said Terrell. “I love living in Madison because it’s my home. I would love to see in my lifetime Madison reflect all of its citizens.”