Si Waters, leading downtown Statesboro businessman, championship horse owner and birddog handler, a standout student athlete of the 1950s – and he who played a pivotal role in bringing the great Coach Erk Russell to Georgia Southern in 1981 – stars in a new video produced by the Bulloch County Historical Society.
Waters, now 89, and his wife Ida are the second generation of Waterses to own and operate L.A. Waters Furniture, where a fourth generation is now involved in the family business. Nearly a dozen members of the family attended the Oct. 23 lunchtime meeting of the Historical Society in the Pittman Park United Methodist Church social hall to see the debut showing of the video, which was also the debut of a planned series of videos of local people sharing stories from local history, explained the society’s executive director, Virginia Anne Franklin Waters, a friend but not a member of the featured family.
She acknowledged two Historical Society members who led in launching the video series. The first was Tyson Davis, lecturer in the Multimedia & Film Production program at Georgia Southern University.
“Tyson Davis, my dear friend, has just rejoined our board of directors, and Tyson is supplying the knowledge, equipment and editing skills to make this happen,” Virginia Anne Waters said. “We’ve all heard of oral histories. Well, we’re doing video histories.”
The other member she credited with a key production role was Si Waters’ grandson Lee Waters.
“He told me that his granddaddy, Si, had some wonderful stories about Statesboro, and he wanted him to tell them,” she said.
In fact, Virginia Anne Franklin Waters and Lee Waters also appear in the video, but are heard more than seen, asking his grandfather questions as they sit in his office at the downtown L.A. Waters Furniture & Mattress Center store on West Main Street. Virginia Anne got to sit in the “Erk Russell chair,” and why it is called that becomes obvious during the video.
The Dirty Dozen
Si Waters recalled that that he and his friend the late Bruce Yawn led in organizing the “Dirty Dozen,” a group of businessmen and other contributors from Statesboro and the surrounding area committed to supporting the effort then underway to bring football back to Georgia Southern.
That would have been around 1980-81. They had raised money for the program, but needed a coach. By ’81, Erk Russell had been the Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator for 17 years, earning renown with his “Junkyard Dawgs.”
“We had decided that that was who we wanted, and Erk was at the University of Georgia and they had just won the national championship. … Ric Mandes was kind of the P.R. man out at Georgia Southern, and he pulled up in the back and he said, ‘I want you to call and let’s see if we can get Erk Russell for our football coach.’ I said, well give me his phone number. …”
When Waters called the UGA Athletic Department and asked for Russell, a woman who answered, “right snappily said, ‘Well, he is not available!’ because they knew what we were doing,” Waters recalled.
But he heard Russell ask who it was and then that the call be put through to the back office.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to come, but we’ve been here for 17 years and I’ve got a house and the payments I can take care of, and I don’t know whether Jean (his wife) would want to come or not.’”
They agreed that a house would probably decide the matter. “I said, well Erk, you come down and we will provide you with a house. … Be in my office at 10 o’clock in the morning and I’ll have somebody go show Jean the houses. You go pick what you want.”
So, Russell was standing at the door of the office in the furniture store the next morning. Meanwhile, Waters had arranged for the home loan from the Sea Island Bank, with Ronnie Pope, Morris Lupton and Waters agreeing to make the payments, he recalled.
Si’s office; Erk’s chair
“Every Saturday when we played a game, Erk would come in here and sit in that chair, and we would go on with whatever business we were doing and wouldn’t pay him any attention, but he was getting in mindset for that football,” Waters recalled, sitting in his office. “And he always smoked a cigar … and I said, ‘Erk, you come in here anytime you want to, but leave the dadgum cigar at home.”
Waters’ stories in the video actually begin decades earlier, with his family’s activities in and beyond the furniture business.
Loy Anthony “Si” Waters Jr. was born in 1934, the same year his parents, L.A. Waters Sr. and Ruth Waters, went into the furniture business, not in Statesboro at first but from their home at Twin City in Emanuel County. At that time it was a delivery business. Drivers drove routes as far as Claxton and Sylvania, taking orders from people at their homes and delivering items the next week.
World War II rationing put a halt to this business model.
“We actually ran routes and would sell off of trucks, and World War II came along and you couldn’t get gas, you couldn’t get tires … so we had to move to town,” Waters said.
Besides establishing a store in Statesboro, his parents made Bulloch County their home. Playing football for Statesboro High School on a team that advanced to the South Georgia championship game, he received multiple scholarship offers. Waters first went to play for Furman University but was lured away to play for Georgia Military College. He ultimately attained his engineering degree from the College of Agriculture at the University of Georgia.
After returning to the furniture business, he bought the former State Theater Building and some neighboring buildings to establish the current West Main Street store in the early 1960s, rebuilding after a fire gutted the building the second year.
Horses and birddogs
Waters had kept and ridden a horse from childhood. Later, he would make trips to Kentucky to buy horses at auction. He acquired one special gray pony for his daughter Laura, continuing to bid and bid again at his father’s insistence that they buy it for her.
“And we did, and we won the world championship with that horse,” Waters said. “We showed him at Lexington, Kentucky. We would start showing at Miami, and end up at Louisville, Kentucky, where they had the world championship. I mean, we would win them all.”
At one point, he and his family kept as many as 55 horses as a side business, he said.
He also kept dogs for bird hunting and won the birddog championship at Waynesboro, the “Birddog Capital of the World.”
Si and Ida Waters have two sons, Anthony and Fred, and a daughter, now Laurie Muldrew. Anthony Waters and his sons, Lee and Loy, are the third and fourth generations leading the business. In addition to the two L.A. Waters locations in Statesboro, the family owns I Save More Furniture & Mattress store here and a franchise store in Jesup.
Both L.A. Waters Furniture and Si Waters will celebrate their 90th birthdays next year.
The Historical Society is looking for other local history makers and true-story tellers for future videos.