Valdosta Daily Times

December 25, 2013

A woman of Christmas cheer

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Throughout the Christmas season, Margie Blanton keeps an envelope in her top desk drawer.

The envelope is plain. No return address. Inside there is no note, just a blank, white piece of paper folded around a $5 bill. In spindly letters, the envelope contains the address to the Empty Stocking Fund.

Every year, this simple, anonymous envelope arrives with its $5 bill donation.

This annual envelope among all of the thousands of dollars donated to the generations-old drive sponsored by Guardian Bank, the Salvation Army and The Valdosta Daily Times reminds Blanton of the Empty Stocking Fund’s hope each year: That no child in Valdosta or Lowndes County will awake to an empty stocking this morning, Christmas morning.

For the past several years, Blanton has managed the funds in the Empty Stocking Fund. She is the human resources officer for Guardian Bank. She has collected, managed and distributed the Empty Stocking Fund since 2007. Her involvement with the fund started two years earlier when Jim “J.R.” Hennly asked her to help him manage the fund.

Hennly handled the Empty Stocking Fund account for nearly 40 years and was looking for a successor. He knew he found one in Margie Blanton. After all, Hennly had given Blanton her start in banking.

The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Spearman, Margie was the youngest of three siblings growing up in Hahira. Her father was a hard-working man who taught her never to judge a man by his overalls. Often, she says, people who give the most are the people who seem to have the least.

By high school, Margie Spearman had a good idea what career she hoped to pursue. She was interested in banking. In 1976, at the age of 17, she received a life-changing opportunity.

Lowndes High School teacher Linda Todd assigned her students to go out and get a job. Margie Spearman met with Hennly, who was then with First National Bank. He gave the teenager a bank job operating the telephone switchboard and typing the bank’s cookbook.

That’s how Blanton started her nearly 38-year career in banking, with National for about 10 years, Commercial for about 20 years, and Guardian Bank for the past 10 years. She is married to Jeff Blanton.

The Empty Stocking Fund has become something to cherish within a job she already loves.

Each day, during the weeks leading to Christmas, envelopes addressed to Blanton arrive at Guardian Bank. These envelopes contain checks and cash for the Empty Stocking Fund. Some contain messages, too.

Most list the donors’ names. Some say simply from Santa. Some share some Christmas wish for area children. Some are from adults who identify themselves as folks who received the benefits of the Empty Stocking Fund years earlier when they were children and now they have the opportunity to give something back.

A stack of envelopes sit on her desk as Margie Blanton shares these stories. They are Empty Stocking envelopes. They are messages she has saved through the years. Speaking of the fund, Blanton fairly beams. Her face radiates a certain Christmas cheer. She says of the Empty Stocking Fund, “If I could do this every day, throughout the year, I would.”

Christmas could have become a time of bitterness for Blanton. In 1992, Blanton lost the man who taught her the overalls philosophy, the man who taught her by word and deed to be dedicated to what you do in life. On Christmas Day 1992, her father died.

She honors her parents by being dedicated to her job and to the Empty Stocking Fund. And she cannot bring so much joy to so many children on Christmas morning without being filled with Christmas cheer herself.