PROFILE 2010: Terry Counselman
Published 5:47 pm Sunday, March 7, 2010
Terry Counselman jokingly calls himself a jack of all trades. In the same breath, he offers a hint of the self-deprecating humor that has served him well over the years as he relays the notion that he is also a master of none.
But to take that statement at face value is to miss so much about the life of a man who has been extraordinarily well rounded while still managing to keep things simple.
A Thomasville native, Counselman moved to Thomaston in 1974.
“I lived in the woods until second grade when we moved to Thomasville,” he says. Perhaps it was there, in the woods of southwest Alabama during the early years of his life, that Counselman came to appreciate simplicity. His aptitudes certainly would have allowed him to live find success elsewhere, but it the small community of Thomaston that has been his home for more than 36 years.
“I’ve lived in Birmingham, was in the army, lived in Mobile,” he says from his favorite chair in what he calls his “ham shack,” an old front porch he fashioned into a sun room that now houses his ham radio and a number of the pieces of art he has fiddled with over the years. “I’ve gotten used to this place and really don’t want to live in any other place.”
Counselman left Thomasville in 1961 after graduating from high school and enrolled in the military.
“I went into the army right after high school,” he says of a military career that narrowly missed the Vietnam conflict. “I went in in ’61 and got out in ’64. It was just getting hot when I got out.”
From there, he went to work building houses with his father and even spent some time working on a tugboat before deciding to further his education.
“I tried several different things,” he says of his young adult life. He ultimately enrolled at the University of North Alabama where he graduated in 1969. Five years later, he landed in Thomaston when he accepted a teaching position at A.L. Johnson High School and married the former Anne Martin a year later.
“I had taught a couple more years at other places,” he says. “I taught history. For a long time, I was the history person for senior high school. I taught history, economics, Alabama History, the whole nine yards.”
For Counselman, history was a natural fit. He always found an interest in the past, in learning of the things that came before him.
“I’ve always enjoyed it,” he says. “I used to hear my grandaddy and them talk about things that happened years ago and I’d go look it up and find out about it. That’s really how I got into it.”
So he spent 24 years teaching history in Thomaston before retiring in 1998. And even though his living was made from teaching, Counselman desired to never stop learning. That desire opened the door for a number of hobbies over the years. Among those has been his ever-developing interest in ham radio.
“When I was in high school, I had a friend who was interested in ham radio and I got interested in ham radio,” he says, recalling amateur radio classes that were offered at the now defunct radar base in Thomaston. “When I first went in, code was the key to it. I guess I thought somebody was just going to take off the top of my head and put the knowledge in. I finally realized if I was going to get my license, I was going to have to learn the code.”
He did just that and earned his first ham radio license in 1979. In the years since, he has continued to develop his knowledge in the field while also dabbling in a variety of interests that have included woodworking, astronomy, calligraphy, art and photography. But the area in which Counselman has likely made his greatest impact has been local politics.
After spending years as a city councilman, he received a mayoral appointment in 2002 when Thomaston’s mayor resigned before moving to Texas.
“I was a city councilman and I don’t know how many years I’d been on city council,” he says with a chuckle. “I was fixing to get out of running for city council and my wife talked me into running one more time and I ended up mayor. I used to tell people I was Councilman Counselman and then when I became mayor, I was Mayor Counselman.”
He finished out that term and was elected to one more before ending his political involvement in 2008, a brief career that again afforded him many opportunities to expand his knowledge.
“You always learn something,” he says plainly. “We had problems in Thomaston financially. I didn’t really plan it, but it kind of worked out for Thomaston to be able to do a lot of things it had never really been able to do before.”
Once he was done helping Thomaston expand its horizons, Terry Counselman got to go home and continue to broaden his. And he has managed to do most of it from the comfort of his favorite chair in a self-made ham shack, surrounded by the mementos of a variety of interests and experiences.