When Jeremy Turner decided to become a cop, bittersweet inspiration infused the law enforcement profession’s credo to protect and to serve.
U.S. Marine veteran John Turner had stopped to change a single mom’s flat tire along Metro Atlanta’s Interstate 985 on July 17, 1998. John squatted behind the rear driver’s side tire hub of the woman’s car with his back to busy traffic — and to the doped-out driver who struck and killed him.
Robert Turner was working on a needy family’s home in Atlanta’s West End as part of his faith-based Mission America initiative in November of that same year. An angry young man with a gun confronted Robert outside of the home, shooting and killing him over a watch and a pair of rings.
And so, in a span of four months Jeremy Turner lost his brother, John, and his father, Robert — two selfless men who died while protecting and serving others. Over the next several years, Turner would go from owner of a pizza joint to big city police detective to a man on a mission to serve the underserved.
These days, Jeremy Turner is a patrol officer with the Glynn County Police Department, director of a nonprofit outreach and author of a new book that chronicles the arduous journey that took him down this path in life. In “To Protect and Serve: How One Officer Sought to Change the World,” gritty crime scenes and struggles with personal adversity serve as the backdrop for his awakening to a higher calling.
“I just felt it was a story that needed to be told,” said Turner, 48, of the book, which has been about four years in the making. “My father’s legacy and my brother’s example have been a big influence on what I’ve tried to accomplish. And I felt like maybe my story could help others out, to let them see that there is a higher power at work out there. For those dealing with the loss of loved ones, death, divorce and other struggles, maybe this book could provide some healing.”
To Protect and Serve is presently available on Amazon and could be available in local book stores soon. His nonprofit organization, Contribute2America, has touched the lives of more than 100,000 folks from Atlanta to Brunswick and generated half a million pounds of food for the hungry.
“I hope this book will spread more awareness about Contribute2America,” said Turner, who lives on St. Simons Island with his wife, Nicol, and their two daughters, Mary Grace, 16, and Jamie Lee, 14. “I’m just a small nonprofit but if we all work together, we can address a lot of ills in society.”
Turner grew up in the Atlanta area while spending time in his father’s north Georgia hometown of Cleveland, never imagining he would one day wear a badge. But he looked up to big brother John for his commitment to ideals and to his father for the results he produced through his faith in God.
Robert was a lineman for Georgia Power who went on to obtain a law degree, though he never actually practiced law. However, the man did act on the calling he felt to serve God through the service of others. His nonprofit Mission America worked to feed and house families in need.
John left the University of Georgia during his sophomore year in 1989, choosing instead to serve his country as a U.S. Marine. John saw combat in the Middle East during the Gulf War against Iraq in the early 90s before returning home and earning autoCAD certification on the G.I. Bill. John was heading home from work on that summer afternoon in 1998 when he encountered the woman and her small daughter in distress on the side of I-985.
Jeremy would later learn that his brother had warned the mother to step farther away from the vehicle. It was not a safe place to be for her or the little girl, John warned. The man who struck and killed John was high on cocaine and meth. He would serve seven years in prison.
It could have been even more tragic.
“Had he not encouraged her to move, there very likely could have been three dead people on the side of the road that day,” Turner writes in To Protect and Serve.
Robert Turner’s calling to serve had sent him on pilgrimages as far away as Peru before he decided to help folks closer to home by forming the nonprofit Mission America. On that cool day in November of ‘98, he had returned to his truck for nails when a gunman approached him on Atlanta’s Cleveland Avenue. Police found the killer by tracking down the pawnshop sales of the rings and watch he stole after shooting Robert Turner. The man is presently serving life in prison.
“But what I wouldn’t give for the man to be free and my father to still be alive,” Turner writes.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Turner dabbled in sales and owned pizza restaurants in Atlanta. His first marriage collapsed soon after his father’s death, and he struggled to find time for his young daughter, Hannah. Nothing thus far in his life would suggest a career in law enforcement.
But in 2001, the newly married Turner found himself going through the grueling bootcamp of the DeKalb County Police Department. “They were preparing us for the life-and-death battles we’d soon be facing on our own on the streets of Atlanta,” Turner writes.
The next several chapters of Turner’s book contain enough police action and crime drama to fill a movie script: fisticuffs and falling down stairs with suspects in his grasp; bullets flying, one of which pierced the windshield of his patrol car; gruesome murders and the takedown of the dangerous people who did the killings.
Turner progressed from patrol officer to a detective in major felonies to the community policing unit within the DeKalb police force. Early on, veteran officers warned Turner not to become emotionally invested in those caught in crime’s crosshairs. He learned to be streetwise. He learned to be tough. But Turner never learned how not to care.
“I think we’ve always had this mentality within the police circles that all we do is make arrests,” Turner said. “We’ve got the protect down pretty good, but sometimes I think we’ve forgotten about the serving part.”
His quest to serve led him beneath interstate overpasses, bridges and other realms of Atlanta’s underbelly where the city’s burgeoning homeless community suffered in silence and neglect. These folks were veterans, like his brother. They were children, like his three daughters. Folks with dreams, like his father.
“I began to deal with homeless on the issues they were going through,” Turner said. “They’re human beings. Just go down there and talk to them, listen them. I just felt like there was more I could be doing for these people.”
His desire to do more led to the formation of Contribute2America in 2008. His efforts with the organization earned him the DeKalb County’s CEO Award in 2013. The group’s outreach efforts include feeding the homeless and needy and providing basic medical care, among other services.
“I kind of piggy-backed on what my dad was doing,” Turner said. “I looked at what he was doing and figured we could do the same thing. I looked on his legacy of doing something good, and have tried to follow in his footsteps.”
Turner and wife Nicol discovered the Golden Isles by chance on a weekend getaway. Like many of us, the couple fell in love with the place. They live on St. Simons Island with their two daughters; Turner’s oldest daughter is now in college. He joined the Glynn County Police Department in 2015. Contribute2America works locally with several organizations, including Safe Harbor, The Well and the Salvation Army in downtown Brunswick.
“I think law enforcement is changing and I want to be a part of that,” Turner said. “We need to spend more time serving, not just protecting. My faith continues to grow and it’s big part of what I try to do today.”
Glynn County Schools recently received an accreditation report that indicated the school system is moving forward in its practices and providing the best for its students.
A team from AdvancED, the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), performed a monitoring review of Glynn County Schools on Jan. 27-30. The team recently provided the school system with its final report, which highlighted the district’s demonstration of continued compliance with the accreditation standards as well as ongoing progress and improvement.
“Their comments support our focus on fostering a culture that values relationships, effective communication, trust, collaboration and respect,” said Virgil Cole, superintendent of Glynn County Schools, in a press release from the school system. “Moreover, their observations confirm our system’s strong belief that it will take all of us: teachers, leaders and community members working together as a team to promote high expectations and to deliver a quality education for all students.”
The school system had to complete on-site evaluations with the AdvancED team during the review process, which included school administrators, teachers, students, parents, board members and stakeholders. The team conducted interviews, completed classroom observations and closely analyzed school facilities and equipment.
“It gives us a chance to reflect back on how we’re doing as a system, but then to have an objective set of people that aren’t from here to come in and take a look at what we’re doing and give feedback,” said Valerie Whitehead, executive director of strategy and innovation for Glynn County Schools, during a school board work session on March 28.
The review process also relied heavily on feedback from teachers and students, Whitehead told school board members.
The AdvancED review includes three main standards — leadership capacity, learning capacity and resource capacity. To receive accreditation, the school system must provide evidence that proves it meets each section of each standard.
In the report, Glynn County Schools met and exceeded expectations on nine of 11 standards in the leadership capacity portion of the review. For the learning capacity, 11 of 12 standard expectations were met. For the resource capacity, the district met four of eight standards, exceeded three of eight standards and needed improvement on one standard — “integrating digital resources into teaching, learning and operations to improve professional practice, student performance and organizational effectiveness.”
Whitehead provided context on this slightly negative portion of the report at the school board work session. During the school site reviews, AdvancED team members randomly selected classrooms to enter, she said. Glynn County Schools has invested large amounts of money to equip its classrooms with technology and make devices accessible to students. But if the review team doesn’t happen to be in those classrooms, they won’t see the technology being used, Whitehead said.
To provide a holistic measure of overall performance, the report provided an “index of education quality” score.
Glynn County Schools received an IEQ score of 339.52, which indicates that the district is engaged in practices that are sustained over time and are becoming ingrained in the culture of the institution, according to the press release. This is the highest rating for IEQ.
Glynn County’s IEQ was 288 in 2014. The average AdvancED Improvement Network (AIN) five-year IEQ range is 283.33 — a calculation that the school system has surpassed in the report’s findings.
“The team’s objective feedback confirms the work of our schools to embrace and implement effective practices to support learning,” Whitehead said in the press release.
School board member John Madala said the report shows that everyone involved in the school system, from its leaders to its staff, students and parents, are engaged in the system’s continued success.
“I hope the media gets a hold of this,” he said at the work session.
The report shows that the school system is achieving the goals it’s stated to have set, Madala said.
“It’s just a good compliment to us,” he said. “… It shows that the whole system is working.”
Editor’s note: This article is the final entry in a series profiling the members of the Islands Planning and Mainland Planning commissions.
Glynn County doesn’t take as broad of a view when approving new development on St. Simons Island as Odessa Rooks, Islands Planning Commission member, wishes it would.
“I’m not against development, I’m against over-developing, and I’m concerned about the safety of these areas and our children,” Rooks said.
Born and raised in the Golden Isles, Rooks attended Paine College, Savannah State University and Armstrong State University before returning to Glynn County, where she’s remained since.
Since settling down, she’s worked with the Georgia Department of Labor job training division as program monitor and compliance specialist, taught a fifth grade self-contained class at Goodyear Elementary and currently helps run her family’s thrift store, Family Treasures.
But it was her work with the family construction business, Thompson & Associates Construction Co., that gave her the insight she needs now, she said.
“I was not aware of it at the time, but it would be beneficial. There I learned about zoning, and about the ordinances, mapping, subdividing properties,” Rooks said. “Learning about the do’s and don’ts of property and property rights.”
In particular, she said traffic is a concern the county should work harder at addressing in the development approval process.
While developers are required to look at the local impact of large developments, often they aren’t as thorough as they should be, Rooks said, and should take into account islandwide traffic safety and congestion.
“If you put 30 or 40 houses, you’re looking at at least two cars per family. When (developers) say the traffic is OK, that they’ve done a (traffic) study and there doesn’t seem to be a problem, I disagree with that,” Rooks said. “A lot of times they don’t take traffic safety into consideration, they do not take into consideration the area itself.”
The planning commissions and county staff should have to take such islandwide issues and the impact on the immediate area into account when approving new development, she said.
“In building, I think when a developer submits something I think we can take into consideration the area, the size, the number (of vehicles using the property) because I think the number is important,” Rooks said.
Many of these issues she sees with the county’s handling of development could be resolved in an ongoing overhaul of the county’s zoning ordinance. To that end, she said the county should have more local residents who understand such issues involved in the overhaul.
“I would like to see some local folks involved in that process because when you have total outsiders coming in it takes longer. They’ve got to become familiar with the area, with the setup that’s already in place, and then try to evaluate what the needs are in the area. Having locals involved in that, as well as consultants, would serve better,” Rooks said.
At present, consultants hired by the Glynn County Commission are handling the rewrite with input from community stakeholders and county officials, among others.
As an example of a situation she’d like to see remedied, she said the IPC had approved the subdivision of one lot on the corner of a major road into four lots, despite the impact she feared it would have on traffic and overall safety in the area.
“But I voted for it. I voted for it because it was in compliance with everything according to the (development approval) checklist,” Rooks said. “... Sometimes my gut feelings tell me differently, and I’m going to have to respect my gut.”
Serving on the IPC is a challenge, she said, and she commends planning and zoning staff for the work they do.
“With the planning and development staff, I think they will help make a difference and I like the idea of us working together,” Rooks said.
“Above all, I pray constantly for guidance in making the right decision overall.”
Woven into the fabric of stories about the well-known citizens of Brunswick’s past is the vital role played by the women in their lives.
Many of these women are laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery on Mansfield Street, alongside some of the most important names in Brunswick’s history books — including the city’s early founding father Urbanus Dart, the founders of Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation and famous families like the Nightingales and Dents.
These women will be the focus of an upcoming walking tour hosted by the Oak Grove Cemetery Society, a nonprofit whose sole mission is to protect and preserve the cemetery. The tour will be hosted May 4.
“This tour is going to be about ladies and beauty and Victorian customs of how the women had to live their lives back then,” said GuyNel Johnson, who helps lead tours at Oak Grove Cemetery and supports its mission as a member of the Magnolia Garden Club, one of the society’s partners. “It was very different from today, of course.”
Concerned citizens formed Oak Grove Cemetery Society in 2014 to restore the city of Brunswick’s first burial site, which had fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair. The society works closely with the city to maintain the cemetery, which was established in 1838 and is where many prominent Glynn County families from that time period are buried.
The society’s first order of business was to install bollards at the cemetery’s entrance to prevent vehicles from entering and driving over graves. Vandals also frequented the cemetery, and weeds gave it an overgrown look.
The cemetery society, which includes about 125 members today, celebrated its five-year anniversary March 28.
“To date, the society and our partner the City of Brunswick have invested over $50,000 in improvements and enhancements to Oak Grove Cemetery,” said Robert Gindhart, president and founder of Oak Grove Cemetery Society.
The cemetery society partnered with stakeholders to create a master plan of needed improvements. The plan is reviewed annually and used to prioritize the work the society will focus on each year.
“So the master plan drives the fundraising efforts,” Gindhart said.
So far, the society and its partners have restored the cemetery’s chapel, added two gardens and begun cleaning, repairing and restoring grave sites.
The work is being done in small steps, and a recent donation allowed for the addition of another improvement to the cemetery.
Bobby Roberts and the Magnolia Garden Club donated money used to purchased 13 walking tour signs for the cemetery. The signs will help those who wish to go on self-guided tours using the brochure maps of the cemetery, available at Old City Hall.
The brochure-led walking tour highlights some of the colorful and interesting stories of those who lay at rest in the cemetery.
Magnolia Garden Club became a supporter of the Oak Grove Cemetery Society’s mission many years ago, Johnson said.
Roberts donated $1,000 for the walking tour signs, and Magnolia Garden Club donated $400.
Johnson also currently leads a symbolism tour around the cemetery, educating participants on the meanings of the various Victorian symbols on the graves.
Some of those symbols will be discussed in the Spring Cemetery Tour on May 4. The tour will begin at 4 p.m., and suggested donations of $15 are requested. The tour will take about 90 minutes and will be canceled if it rains.
A walking tour like this has not be offered by the cemetery society for several years, due to issues caused by recent hurricanes.
The tour will raise money to continue the preservation work at the cemetery.
“Oak Grove Cemetery Society’s vision is that Oak Grove Cemetery is a public place to encounter history, heritage and tranquility,” Gindhart said. “And in order to promote that vision, we give guided tours, historical tours.”
The tours do not aim to create an illusion of spookiness, he said.
“These are true historical tours and the accounts of the lives of the people who built and dreamed all those Victorian structures in Brunswick,” Gindhart said.
The upcoming tour will focus on the cemetery’s women in celebration of Mother’s Day.
“We’re going to highlight some of the ladies, the amazing women, that are buried here,” Johnson said. “And we are going to highlight our three sculptures — the only human sculptures in Oak Grove Cemetery are three of our ladies that will be highlighted on this tour.”
Those with questions can call 912-222-8569 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.