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Local graduate cares for high school

September 29, 2005

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

James Winters



Age: 61.

Occupation: Owner of James G. Winters Painting & Wallpapering.

Hometown: Hagerstown.

Where would you see Winters?: When Winters turned 50, he decided it was time for a change. He had long followed the example set by his mother, that of giving to others, but was ready to give even more.

Winters went into semiretirement so he could give back to an institution that helped him become a success: South Hagerstown High School. For the past 11 years, he's been a constant presence at the school he graduated from in 1963.

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"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't check in. Anything that needs to be done, any way to help," said Winters, including mowing, picking up trash after games, delivering bread to the concession stand before events and working in the concession stand.

He has a master schedule of all the school's athletic events and some days spends the entire day at the school if his help is needed.

Collecting on favors from others in the construction business, Winters had the press box and dugouts built for the high school years ago.

Winters is president of the Athletic Boosters, a position he held while also serving as Band Boosters president. It didn't take long to realize that was too much for one person to handle.

"I love doing it. I honestly don't think I could quit what I'm doing now. The impression I left on them and touched on them is important. I hope some of them will give back," he said of the students he helps.

With age, Winters said he came to appreciate how important his teachers at South High were in shaping him, especially his woodshop teacher, Al Hawkins.

"He said I had the hands and mind for construction and to stick with it," Winters said. "I admire that man. He did mold me."

After high school, Winters worked for Pangborn Corp., but felt confined working inside all day. When he was laid off, he went back to his main interest of working with his hands.

Winters got a job with a contractor where he learned to hang wallpaper. He then started his own wallpapering and painting business, which marked 30 years in operation last year.

He still checks in on jobs every morning, but credits his foreman and employees for the success of the business.

The greatest source of pride for Winters is the work he's done down the road. About four years ago, Callas Contractors Inc. had been hired to do some work for the White House and contracted with Winters' company to do the wallpapering and painting, Winters said.

When the project was completed, Winters was asked if he could do some additional work. In all, his company worked in the Lincoln bedroom, the formal dining room and the Bush family's living quarters, including their personal kitchen.

"It was the highlight of my business. I'm really, really, really proud of that," said Winters, who added that he's not allowed to advertise his work at the White House to promote his business.

One wall in the family room of the Guilford Avenue home he's owned for 38 years is covered with family pictures, appreciation plaques and framed photos and invitations of the presidential departure ceremony and Christmas at the White House.

Winters is a Hagerstown native and proud of it. He was born and raised at 327 S. Potomac St., the only other address he's had besides his home on Guilford Avenue.

"I'm truly a South End boy and everybody in the South End knows that, too," Winters said.

He had four children - two with his first wife and two with his second wife, Barbara, to whom he has been married for 27 years. The children graduated from South High, with the youngest in the Class of 2000.

Winters was a volunteer firefighter with the Hagerstown Fire Department for about 17 years, but found it too painful to go on calls after his only son was killed in a car accident in 1985, just months after graduating from high school.

Hobbies: Winters plays golf whenever he gets the chance and enjoys building furniture, but doesn't have much time for it.

He has season tickets to University of Maryland football games and loves to visit New York City, finding much to learn from the variety of people there.

What does Winters like best about Washington County?: Winters has always liked living here. He said when he was a child, the area was "self-contained," with jobs aplenty.

When some of the industry left town, people started commuting to jobs. Now the community is more transient, which makes it harder to get to know neighbors.

"I used to know everybody on this street," he said. "My neighbors mean a lot to me."

He is committed to helping his neighbors, whether it's mowing lawns or clearing snow.

Winters said he likes the feeling of coming over the mountains and looking at the valley after he's been away.

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