Tree of Life
When Chad Wiggins was around 11 or 12-years-old, he moved with parents, Robert and Anita Wiggins, and his brother, Bryan, from the Grove Lakes subdivision to the “farm” on U.S. Highway 80 West. The move took Chad from city life to life in the country. The year was 1979 and Chad’s father set about involving his sons in the crop he had chosen for the boys to work with him in producing - Leyland Cypress trees – one of the South’s most popular Christmas tree varieties.
The boys worked along with Mr. Wiggins covering the acreage adjacent to their home with rows and rows of the small cypress seedlings. It was a good way to teach the boys responsibility and that hard work pays off, life lessons that Mr. Wiggins wanted to instill in his sons.
“It was good family time. We learned responsibility, how to engage people, how to sell,” said Chad.
“Bryan took to it a little better than Chad,” Mr. Wiggins stated, “Chad was busier with other activities, but he helped out a lot, too.”
It was a good way for the boys to raise a little money for Christmas.
“I disliked it as a kid,” Chad admitted, “But, now I really appreciate what it did for me.”
It takes about four years for a crop of trees to get high enough to cut and sell. Meanwhile, Chad attended Bulloch County public schools: Sallie Z., Julia P., Northside, William James, and Statesboro High School. He was a good student who excelled in sports, becoming a baseball standout in high school. Senior year, he was recruited by South Georgia College, winning a scholarship to play the outfield for the Tigers.
After one year, Chad moved back to Statesboro to attend Georgia Southern. He pledged ΣΧ fraternity and majored in finance, graduating with a BBA in the summer of 1995. Chad also started dating another Statesboro native, Nancy Yawn, whom he married after college. “She was the one,” he said.
In 1996, Chad was hired by Sea Island Bank as a management trainee. “That allowed me to see all facets of banking,” he said, “I worked as a teller, in customer service, loan operations, and collections. I started doing underwriting and credit analysis after my initial training.”
For a couple of years, Chad did business analysis for commercial loans. “Then, when Johnny Deal retired, I moved up as a lender,” he said. In 2007, Chad was promoted to Senior Vice President maintaining a client portfolio while leading the Statesboro Commercial Lending Team. This coming January, Chad will have been with Sea Island for 20 years.
Chad has not only grown professionally, during his tenure at Sea Island Bank, he has also grown spiritually. A member of Statesboro’s First United Methodist Church, at age 27, Chad did the Emmaus Walk. “It really opened my eyes,” he said. “By my faith I was called by the Lord to be a servant leader. I realized that the Lord put great people in my life, great Christian parents, a Godly wife, Mr. Bruce and Carol Yawn – great in-laws.
“At work Wayne Akins had a great influence both personally and professionally. He embodies servant leadership and so does Synovus, encouraging employees. I’ve experienced the same solid leadership with Darron, too,” he said.
“What was planted in me is that you do what you’re called to do,” Chad said.
Another influential relationship for Chad and Nancy was brother-in-law and friend, Brandon Williams, pastor of Connection Church.
“We were trying to find our way together,” he shared, “We were defining who we wanted to be as men. We were surrounded by good men to model.”
“My life became more about selflessness instead of selfishness,” he said, “It changed how we do things and how we treat people.”
Always involved in the community, Chad has served as Downtown Rotary President, Treasurer of the SHS Boosters, and past chair of the Red Cross. He served on the board of the Wesley Foundation, and has been stewardship chairman of First Methodist. Chad is chairman of the Bulloch County Public School Foundation as well. In 2014, he was honored with the Deen Day Smith Humanitarian of the Year Award for his service to the community.
Through all Chad’s associations, he always returned to the farm each Christmas season to help his dad with the trees. Chad and Nancy’s three children: Davis, Avery, and Mollie, have grown-up planting, trimming, cutting and selling trees on the Christmas tree farm too. The girls sell cookies and hot chocolate. There’s a long list of young people who have worked on the Wiggins Christmas Tree Farm.
“It’s neat to see it through the next generation,” Chad said.
Chad’s children are also active in the Statesboro Bulloch Parks and Recreation Department sports teams. Chad has coached baseball, softball, soccer and football. Brother Bryan often helped coach teams. “It was great to have Bryan around, we got to be together again as brothers,” he said, “So enjoyable to do sports, hunting – it was really good for us. Bryan would always bring Blizzards from Dairy Queen to the kids. They called him “Manny” instead of Nanny.”
On Sunday afternoons, Chad started meeting with 15-20 young men at the William James gym to play basketball for a couple of hours. This was another “eye opener” for Chad.
“A lot of people don’t have the roots or the foundation, or the good people to show them the best way to live and have a meaningful life,” he said, “They don’t understand there are consequences to our actions. They have no real male role model. I learned so much from those guys. I have learned more from sharing with them about who I needed to be. For some the cards are so stacked.”
Chad has been known to help the young men he mentors find a job and even get a haircut. “The Lord reworked my heart. I can see how real He is – if He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone,” said Chad.
At the Wiggins family reunion, when Robert’s eight siblings, their children, and their children gather, it’s a very large crowd with many first and second cousins.
“Dad is most proud of starting with nothing, working for Brooks Instruments for 40 years, always being conscientious about spending and saving, and now being able to enjoy retirement, being in good health, playing golf, fishing, restoring old cars,” Chad said.
“We’re thankful to live here with lots of friends and family. It is really something special. We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” he said, “Here there are good people who care about each other and the things we are involved in. They believe in giving back, in working hard, in living right, and in raising a close family.”