Interview by Gainesville High School intern Grady Vardeman
Meet Johnny Vardeman! Johnny is a retired journalist and local historian who has lived in Gainesville for most of his life. A Gainesville High graduate, he started his writing career at a weekly paper here in 1953 and later became one of the state’s youngest managing editors while working at Gainesville’s Daily Times. Through the years, he proudly mentored a long list of successful journalists, including two Pulitzer Prize winners. Johnny closed out his career in 1993 as editor of The Times but continues to write his popular Sunday column on area history. Johnny has been married to Peggy, a Brenau alumna and former teacher, for 63 years. The couple has three children – John, Kirk and Jennifer – and seven grandchildren.
We want to thank Mr. Vardeman for taking the time recently to tell us more about his life and love of Hall County.
Question: What was your first job?
Answer: “My first job was sacking groceries at the Big Apple SuperMarket.”
Q: Did you grow up in Gainesville?
A: “I grew up in Gainesville, but I was actually born up in Porterdale.”
Q: How many children do you have?
A: “I have three children, two sons, and a daughter. John Vardeman who still lives in Gainesville just down the road, Kirk Vardeman who lives in Hiawassee, and Jennifer who lives in Savannah.”
Q: Did you have any siblings growing up?
A: “Yes, I had three brothers, I was the youngest.”
Q: How long have you lived or worked in Hall County?
A: “I’ve lived in Hall County since 1948.”
Q: What inspired you to work in journalism?
A: “I had a journalism teacher who put me to work for the school newspaper and annual. She really pushed me and made me believe I had enough talent to go into the newspaper business. It wasn’t until I started working for the newspaper that I found out I really liked journalism.”
Q: What was the first thing you wrote about for the newspaper?
A: “My senior class trip to Daytona Beach, Fla.”
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
A: “I’ve been to Norway and Japan, but I’d really like to see Australia and New Zealand.”
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Hall County and what do you love to get there?
A: “I really like 2 Dog Cafe and I love to get the shrimp and grits.”
Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?
A: “Be persistent and find your goal and make a plan to get to that goal and then achieve that goal.”
Q: What current/former local business makes you most nostalgic about Hall County?
A: “Whatley’s Pharmacy which isn’t in business anymore and also Nicholson’s Drive-In, which is where I proposed to my wife.”
Q: What is your favorite thing about Hall County?
A: “Lake Lanier.”
Q: What three words or phrases that come to mind when you think of the word home?
A: “A place to relax, peace and quiet and family.”
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
Q: What were your favorite events you covered while working at the Times?
A: “One of the most interesting things I covered was the 1998 Tornado that hit in North Hall. Also, there was another tornado in 1973 that I saw coming back from lunch. Fortunately, I had my camera with me and was able to take pictures of the damage right after it happened.
Q: Besides writing a column for The Times since retirement, what other projects have you worked on recently?
A: “I did a short Podcast series on local history for The Times.”
Thank you so much for following this community project, The Faces of Hall County! If you have a positive member of our community that you would like to nominate please email Brad Abernathy at email@example.com.