Wayne Jackson is a man of many interests.
The Savannah native and Bryan County resident since 1973 likes nothing better than to get involved in his community.
"The only way to make a community better is to roll up your sleeves and get in there and do your part," Jackson, who’s lived in Richmond Hill since 1990, said.
And he’s rolled up his sleeves over and over when the need was there.
"I’m a blessed person so I want to give back to our community," he said.
If you’ve seen a 40-foot barbecue grill rolling the streets of Richmond Hill, then you’ve witnessed first hand some of Jackson’s benevolence. He is the former owner of what has become fondly known in Richmond Hill as "Grillzilla." The rolling eatery has served, by Jackson’s count, thousands of Bryan countians, and others, to a free meal on wheels.
"We used to serve the Relay for Life participants a hearty breakfast to help in their fund-raising for cancer awareness and to find a cure. A few of us would get up at 3 or 4 a.m. and cone down and fix them a breakfast second to none. It was our way of thanking people for taking the time to help. It was a small thing we did but people loved it," he said.
The rolling restaurant also served soldiers at Fort Stewart every July 4 as a way of thanking them for their service to the country.
"Again, Grillzilla would roll up on Fort Stewart and thousands of soldiers and their families would be given a free meal. Just a small thing, but we wanted them to know how much we appreciated their service to our country. Those men and women have a hard job. It’s the least we could do."
Other culinary recipients of Jackson’s Grillzilla include the attendees to the annual Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival, where he worked with and donated the money made to the mission of the Richmond Hill YMCA and an organization called "Special Blessings," to help special needs children. His heaping plates of boiled crawfish at the Seafood Festival have reached mythological proportions and he says people come back year after year for his highly secretive recipe of spicy crawfish and sausage.
Jackson, now semi-retired, is on the board of the Richmond Hill YMCA and was president of the Bryan County Homebuilders Association. He also served as president of the Kicklighter Resource Center, another organization that benefits special needs children, for two years. In addition, he continues to donate time and money to the Family Resource Center, an organization dedicated to battling alcohol and drug addiction in adults.
On a lighter side, Jackson was also instrumental in opening Richmond Hill’s first family fun center ‘Jumpin Jacks.’
"It was a place that kids could hang out and have a good time. We didn’t allow no cussin or smoking. It was a place for the whole family," he said.
Although the business has been sold and moved down Highway 17 near Walmart, he says people still ask him about it.
"It was a fun place," he says with a smile.
Jackson says he has been a businessman for the past 30 years and never drew a paycheck from someone else.
"I have been very lucky. For the past 30 years, I’ve had to generate my own income. Along the way, I’ve been lucky and been able to generate income for others. You can call that a businessman or whatever, but I’ve always down it myself."
Jackson says while he has immersed himself in the community since he has arrived, the community is changing quickly, more so in the last few years.
"I look at it from the business end. From 27 years ago, the business community has grown. But business growth comes slowly. From a residential standpoint, growth has come quickly. Lots of homes have been built but the business growth continues to come but at a slower pace."
Jackson, a former developer and home builder, has left his mark in many local communities.
"We always built a quality home at a fair price. I’ve never been ashamed of anything I’ve built."
Jackson said the physical characteristics of the area — being bordered by the ocean, etc., — have affected the growth and development of the area.
"The ownership of a lot of the land was involved with the paper industry on probably 90 percent of the land. That has affected our growth. Our growth has been restricted by who has owned the property.
"That has been changing and will continue to change. One of our biggest industries here is home building and creating places for families to live. Commercial growth always follows residential growth and that is happening here. Industry is coming and so are the large restaurants everyone is always asking for.
"The companies are watching Richmond Hill. They know the growth is pretty constant. They will be here when the growth fits their model."
"Our growth has come so fast that the school system, for example, couldn’t keep up. We’ve done a pretty good job of catching up but that’s just one of the problems that come with fast growth. Traffic, of course, is another area that needs to be addressed. The widening of Highway 144 is a big step in that direction."
Low crime and good schools have a large affect on the continued growth of the area, the business entrepreneur said.
"Everybody wants to live in an area with low crime and good schools to send their children to. That’s the big reason our area sees constant growth. People want to be here.
"We have our problems, but everywhere does. Out of all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never heard of a major issue with our police department or sheriff’s department. Our former police chief Billy Reynolds really raised the bar on law enforcement. He and Clyde Smith have done a lot for our community. Just look at their track records. If a criminal gets off I-95 in Richmond Hill, the first thing he is likely to see is a police officer and he’ll likely get right back on I-95 and keep moving."
Another reason people move here, Jackson says, is the quality of people.
"I’ve made some good friends since I’ve lived here. An example is the late Johnny Carnes. He was one of my best friends and a big influence on me and the way I’ve lived my adult business life. He was a home builder, too, and loved being able to give a family a quality place to live. He used to tell me that our biggest asset in this community were the people. It wasn’t the land. It wasn’t the businesses. It was the people.
"I’ve never forgotten that. That’s the reason I’ve been so involved in our community. Because of the people. If I ever had a problem, I could go to Johnny for advice. He would listen and give me his best thoughts. He would tell me to look at the situation in a way I hadn’t thought of. And he was usually right. I really miss him. There have been many times since he passed that I could have used his wise advice.
But I’ll never forget. With Johnny, it was always about the people. We have a lot of good people in our community, but not many as good as Johnny Carnes was. He was a big influence on my life. I really miss him."
Jackson also keeps a close eye on local politics. "We always want to be sure that our local leaders are listening to us. There aren’t many people on the city council and county commission so, as residents, we need to make sure we talk to them and they are hearing what we are saying. What they say or do affect our lives every day. As voters, we need to be talking to them."
Jackson is married to Becky, and together they have seven children and 14 grandchildren. He has one sister, Brenda, who lives in Black Creek.
He is an avid reader and his office shelves are lined with hundreds of books. Deeply religious, most of those books deal with some aspect of religious belief.
"God plays an important part in my life. I try to learn as much as I can about the church and the workings of God. I’m always learning something new." He is a member of the Compassion Christian Church, in Savannah.
Another subject of the books on those shelves are motorcycles and classic cars.
"Over the years I’ve owned a lot of classic cars. I’ve always liked older cars and vehicles. There’s just something about them that I like. He likes to work on them himself and prides himself on keeping them in top running order."
He says he recently traded for a 1987 Chevy S10 that sounds like a race car, when started.
"It’s a real nice vehicle. It is just about finished. It has new paint, new interior. It is fun to drive. I’ll start going back to the local car shows. I’ll put my mark on it but it basically has everything I need."
Riding motorcycles is another one of his favorite things to do.
"That’s right up there at the top of my list," he says with a smile.
"It relieves stress and is a lot of fun. I rode with a few guys from here up through the Colorado mountains a few years ago. We rode about 1,700 miles. That was really one of things on my bucket list. We also rode through the Badlands in the Dakotas. It was a great trip."
He also likes shooting guns at the target range.
"I like shooting .40 caliber pistols. I also have a 9 mm. I used to do some quail hunting with my friends here in Richmond Hill and still like going out to the range to shoot the pistols.
"Another thing is the older you get the more you get into history. When I was 30, I didn’t care too much about history. But now it means so much. I like learning about how our country got started and how it got to this point. I’ve got some history books on my shelves, too. I have a lot of reading to do. I like to dig down deep. I’m running out of room on my bookshelves.
"I’d like to go to where our country’s history is."
Jackson’s resume is long and varied. His involvement in the community is important. His family is important and his church family is also important. He’s a big man with a big heart.