The man many credit with setting the stage for commercial development along the Ga. 400 corridor in Dawson County died Friday morning following several years of declining health.
Friends and family gathered Monday morning beneath the arbor at Lumpkin Campground to mourn the loss of Don Stephens, 74, and celebrate his contributions to family, church and community.
To friend David Hughes, holding the memorial service at the campground was a fitting tribute.
"Don's forefathers started this campground before Dawson was even a county. He served on the board as a trustee for 44 years, and he always paid respect for them passing down and providing this place," Hughes said.
A native and lifelong county resident, Stephens co-founded Byrd-Stephens Building Supply and is credited with paving the way for the county's first franchise grocery store. He also developed several other commercial and residential properties in the area.
"Don Stephens both understood and really enjoyed business," said Gary Evans, who along with Stephens was among the group that organized and established the First Community Bank of Dawsonville, now BB&T.
"His early efforts in developing a portion of the Hwy. 400-Hwy. 53 corridor were the springboard for all the commercial development that exists there today. [He] recognized early on the economic importance that both Lake Lanier and Ga. 400 would have in the growth of Dawson County."
In addition to his impact on the retail sector, Stephens' influence was felt in residential circles.
"Don Stephens made a huge financial impact on Dawson County by providing a number of long-term jobs both in the retail sector, as well as in residential construction," Evans said.
Hughes said he knew of no one who had created more jobs in Dawson County than Stephens.
"His developments helped countless numbers of people through charities and employment," Hughes said. "Don was without question one of the forefathers of Dawson County really evolving into a notable place of commerce."
Stephens is survived by his wife of 48 years, Edna Kelley Stephens; son and daughter-in-law, Russ and Felicia Stephens; and brother and sister-in-law, Roger and Marjorie Stephens, all of Dawsonville.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to: Bethel United Methodist Church Cemetery Fund, 100 Lumpkin Campground Road South, Dawsonville, GA 30534; or to Lumpkin Campground, c/o Brian Martin, 4945 Hubert Martin Road, Cumming, GA 30028.