Dykes remembered as preservationist, avid volunteer

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Mary Gene Sims Dykes, who passed away recently, was remembered by friends as a tireless volunteer for groups and projects in Dalton and Whitfield County.

Mary Gene Sims Dykes, who passed away recently, is remembered as an advocate for historic preservation in Dalton. Although in recent years Dykes was absent from active volunteering due to declining health, friends recall that in her heyday, Dykes had no equal.

"No job was too little for her to do," explained Whitfield-Murray Historical Society (WMHS) trustee Tim Howard. "She'd do anything: work with community service workers, work in the cold and rain, make pictures, load newspapers, do publicity, run a meeting, scrub a toilet, haul garbage, pick up rummage. She also was patient and tactful enough to work out the details that resulted in the WMHS acquiring the Wright Hotel with an endowment fund to help maintain it."

"Mary Gene saw the big picture, set her goals and went after whatever it was," said Joanne Lewis. "She not only secured the Wright Hotel but also the Blunt House. She knew how to delegate, and her committee members handled the details. She was a worker, worker, worker and expected everyone else to labor as hard."

Jean Manly, who worked with Dykes on many historical projects, described her friend as "very generous. She gave time and energy to lots of projects, and her positive attitude sold her ideas to people. She'd say, 'Here's what we're going to do today.' If I couldn't help today, she'd say 'That's OK; we'll do that tomorrow.' She was able to inspire other people's interest in what she was doing, and she didn't say no to anything or anybody. If she couldn't help the person, she suggested avenues they could try to work on their goals."

Judy Alderman remembered that Dykes served for years on the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee of the Regional Development Center, plus led the 1976 Bicentennial Committee.

"Much was done," said Alderman, "a book, the pageant, a driving tour of historic sites (some signs still exist) and headquarters in a downtown vacant store."

"I remember her fondly for getting the Murray Hill/Thornton Avenue district accepted as a National Historic District and Local Historic District," said Kathryn Sellers. "She encouraged and worked with scouts to survey and analyze all the properties in the district for the application. To me, that was a great way to encourage young people with preservation and with learning more about our town's history."

Dykes served as WMHS president from 1982-83 and continued to maintain interest in the Crown Gardens & Archives, the WMHS headquarters, the brainchild of her uncle Pete Sims to focus on local history. Dykes received the historical society's Historic Preservation Award in 1995.

Alderman also recalled that Dykes instigated the Holiday Houses and "organized school tours galore," emphasizing the area's tufting industry. At that time, the bedspread exhibit -- now at the Hamilton House -- was upstairs at the Archives. Dykes learned her knowledge of the bedspreads from her grandmother, Eugenia Bitting Jarvis. When Dykes was 12, she drove her entrepreneurial grandmother around the countryside to the homes of hooked table mat makers. Dykes ultimately handled all the business, corresponding with department stores and mail order companies and filling their orders. (A collection of these mats is at the Archives).

Dykes' can-do leadership was evident in other areas of her community as well. She was chairman of the Red Carpet Festival and was recognized Woman of the Year twice. She had tremendous pride in knowing the community was going to be better off for her work.

She was born in Dalton, the daughter of the late Vivian Jarvis and Warren M. Sims, Sr. A 1948 graduate of Agnes Scott College, she was named 1987 Alumna of the Year. She was a lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church/ChristChurch Presbyterian where she was the first woman deacon and then the first woman elder in the church.

Bitsy McFarland said that Dykes and Mary Ryman "were my first Girl Scout troop leaders back in the 1940s. They started us out right, and most of us became troop leaders when we became adults." Dykes was a member of first Girl Scout Troop in 1941 and remained active in scouting as a leader, a district board member and a state board president. She helped maintain the local -- now defunct --Girl Scout camp, Camp Maynard, in the Five Springs area. Many Boy Scouts also recount her help with their Eagle projects.

In addition to volunteering, Dykes was a golfer. She competed in tournaments in surrounding states, winning several titles throughout the region, including club championships at both The Farm and The Dalton Golf & Country Club. She was a member of the local women's golf group, "The Cat Fight Club."

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