Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

July 16, 2013

Remembering a man who made it his way by the highway

ADEL — To many people, John L. Williams was The King Frog.

King Frog wasn’t his name, of course. It was the name of his business located off the Adel exit. King Frog was the name that greeted travelers from dozens of billboards along Interstate 75 for miles as they drove both north and south.

A past article referred to Williams as the “King Frog of Interstate 75. He started out with nothing. Except for the will to work and the knowledge of free enterprise. ... If you pass through Georgia along that route, you’ll probably sleep in one of his motels. Or gas up at one of his service stations. Or buy clothes at one of his discount outlets. Or eat in one of his restaurants. As with so many others like him in Georgia, he rose from rags to riches. He did so because he had the freedom to do so.”

That belief, along with a larger-than-life style and business savvy, led to Williams founding a business in 1963 off I-75 in Cecil. Ten years later, he moved the Williams Investment Company to Adel where he opened the King Frog while expanding his businesses to more hotels, restaurants, franchises and other enterprises, into Lowndes and Tift counties.

He often spoke of the gas crisis of the 1970s, describing his service stations as among the few, if not the only ones, to survive along the interstate. The family-operated business is regarded as the second oldest tourism business along Interstate 75.

On Saturday, July 13, John L. Williams passed away following a sudden illness. He was 78 years old.

Several years ago, Williams explained in a Times article how he rose to prominence on the promise of I-75. In the early 1960s, he began developing his business as the interstate’s asphalt was being paved in Lowndes County.

“When I started, Lowndes County at I-75 was barricaded at the Cook County line and not yet open,” Williams recalled in that article. “No one knew then what to expect, as far as business development on I-75. My personality has always been adventurous and risky. I’m not afraid of change. My motto is remember yesterday, live today and plan for tomorrow.”

“Travelers along I-75 may not realize that much of the development through Lowndes County has Williams and his family’s hands attached to it,” according to The Times article. “Williams lived in Adel in the early 1960s and when he learned that the new interstate connecting Michigan to Miami was coming through Cook County, his business acumen kicked in.”

With wife, Joyce, and a young family at home, Williams opened what has been described as a “lean-to gas station” off the Cecil exit.

“We took down two barn doors and propped them up on two-by-fours and painted ‘Stop Now For Gas’ on them as a billboard on the exit,” Williams said. “I guess that’s how our billboard business started, too.”

From there, Williams opened the family business’ first motel, the 13-room Del Plaza Motel, which eventually led to a family hotel business that now includes the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Valdosta.

Developing enterprises along I-75 has been regular business for decades now, but in the early years, banks were uncertain of the interstate system’s prospects.

“It took me five days to convince the bank to loan me money to open my first business on I-75,” Williams said at the time in the mid-2000s. “You could walk into a bank 44 years ago and say you want to open a business on I-75, and they’d throw you out. Now they come to you wanting to loan you money.”

While his family became more involved in operating the business, John L. Williams remained active in his enterprises throughout his life, but the business has always been a part of the family’s life.

“The company is where it is today because of what we’ve accomplished as a family and what I did to prepare us as a young man,” Williams said. “All that we did, they were a part of, in grade school through college. They’ve done it all. I’m very enthused and proud of what we’ve done and have been able to put together as a company. And I’m very, very proud that this was a family achievement.”

John L. Williams’ funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m today, July 16, Adel United Methodist Church. Interment follows at Woodlawn Cemetery Annex.

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