Co-Lin Foundation Hall of Fame inducts twelve

The Co-Lin Foundation inducted 12 new members into its Hall of Fame at a banquet held May 20 at the Thames Center on the college’s Wesson Campus. Those inducted for the 2019 class were Steven and Deborah Ammann of Mendenhall, Mary Jane James of McCall Creek, Don Underwood of Brookhaven, Foundation for the Mid-South, and the Gene Haas Foundation. Those inducted for the 2020 class were George T. Mercier of Wesson, G.T. Mercier III of Houston, Texas, Bill and Martha Salters of Natchez, Phillip and Lacey Wheeler of Meadville, 2nd Chance Mississippi, Peoples Bank, and the Wesson Presbyterian Church.

Steven and Deborah Ammann

The Ammanns were honored for their contributions to the Simpson County Center and the Back the Pack Capital Campaign for Co-Lin Athletics.

Steven is a graduate of the University of Mississippi where he earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He is also a graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Banking, Louisiana State University Graduate School of Banking of the South, and the University of Oklahoma’s Graduate School of Consumer Learning. He has spent his career in banking at Peoples Bank in Mendenhall, where he has served as President since 2000. He is a member of the Co-Lin Board of Trustees where he serves as chairman of the budget committee, is a member and past chairman of the Simpson General Hospital Board of Trustees, and serves on the board of trustees for the Simpson County Economic Development District. He has previously served on the board of directors for The Mendenhall Ministries, Inc., Mendenhall Athletic Booster Club, Simpson County Country Club, and Mendenhall Area Chamber of Commerce, and is past president of the Mendenhall Lions Club.

Deborah is a graduate of the University of Mississippi where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She has worked as a Simpson County Title I Math Supervisor, and as senior vice president and compliance officer at Peoples Bank in Mendenhall. Since 2010, she has been the owner of On-the-Go Travel, LLC. She has previously served on the boards of directors and as an officer of the Mississippi Bank Compliance Group, the REAL Foundation, Mendenhall Elementary School PTO, Mendenhall Area Chamber of Commerce, Mendenhall Cemetery Association, and the Mendenhall Jaycettes.

The Ammanns are active members of First Baptist Church in Mendenhall. They have three children, Dennis Ammann, Alison Blanton, and Davis Ammann, and six grandchildren.  

Mary Jane James

James was recognized for her contributions to the James Gabriel “Gabe” Terrell Scholarship, which she established in 2020.

James attended Bogue Chitto Public School for 12 years, graduating as valedictorian of her class. She received an associate’s degree from Southwest Mississippi Community College and a bachelor’s degree in Professional Accountancy with highest honors from the University of Southern Mississippi. In 1981, she earned an MBA from Delta State University.

James’ professional career began in McComb with Kellwood Co. before moving to Cleveland, MS to work for Baxter International. She retired from Uncle Ben’s, Inc. in Greenville as Plant Service & Finance Manager.

James has four nephews and twelve great nieces and nephews who she considers her “children” along with Gabe’s two children and three grandchildren. 

Don Underwood

Underwood was honored for his contributions to the Underwood Family Scholarship and the Back the Pack Capital Campaign for Co-Lin Athletics.

Underwood, a lifelong resident of Brookhaven, graduated from Brookhaven High School where he was All Big Eight conference in football. He graduated from Co-Lin in 1976 where he was All-State and All-Star in football. He played Division 1 football at Arkansas State University.

He received a bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of Southern Mississippi and a juris doctorate degree from the University of Mississippi.  He received the designation of Certified Public Manager in 2008 and received a master’s in public policy and administration from Mississippi State University in 2009.

He retired in 2015 as executive director of the Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Commission. Before working at the Commission, he practiced law for 13 years, served two terms as a state representative, and was the municipal judge in Brookhaven for two years.

He is a member of First United Methodist Church in Brookhaven. He and his wife, Sarah, an Ole Miss graduate, have one son, Stone. Stone also played football at Co-Lin and was named All-State and All-Region while playing for the state championship Wolves, before playing for the WVU Mountaineers.

Foundation for the Mid South

The Foundation for the Mid South was honored for its contributions to Workforce Education at Co-Lin. The mission of the Foundation is to invest in people and strategies that build philanthropy and promote racial, social, and economic equity in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Celebrating 30 years of service last year, the Foundation has sought to increase opportunities for residents and communities by supporting and strengthening the skills and capacities of organizations and individuals working to bring about change. Specifically, the organization supports efforts that create high-quality education, encourage physical and mental health, promote financial security and enable communities to create solutions to enable their growth and prosperity—elements that together create strong and vibrant communities.

The Foundation for the Mid South works comprehensively to achieve impact in its priority areas. Some of its approaches include building partnerships and coalitions, providing grants and technical assistance, incubating new ideas and leadership, and funding research and innovation to help advance our region and increase social and economic opportunity for all people. As a result, the Foundation estimates it has been instrumental in attracting and leveraging over $750 million to expand knowledge and improve lives in the region.

Gene Haas Foundation

The Gene Haas Foundation was honored for its contributions to the Gene Haas Scholarship on the Wesson Campus, which is awarded to students in the Precision Machinery program. The Foundation was founded in 1999 by Gene Haas. Growing up with a strong social conscience instilled by his family, Haas initially formed the Foundation to fund the needs of the local community. 

Haas is the owner of Haas Automation, Inc., America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools, which he founded in 1983, and has grown into a billion-dollar company. Citing an imminent need for more skilled workers in the manufacturing industry, the Gene Haas Foundation’s primary goal is to build skills in the machining industry by providing scholarships for CNC machine technology students and NIMS credentials.

George T. Mercier

George T. Mercier, Jr. was honored for his contributions to the Dorothy Ragland Mercier Memorial Fund.

Mercier was born May 8, 1917 in Beauregard. After graduating from Wesson High School in 1935, he attended Louisiana State University and received a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1939. He was employed by the Ethyl Corporation in Baton Rouge, when the U.S. instituted the military draft, in preparation for World War II. Mercier was accepted into the Naval Officers Training School, and reported for duty at Fort Schuyler, New York in 1941. Upon completion of his training, he was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Naval Reserve. His first assignment was as an ordinance inspector at the Naval Inspection Office in Hamilton, Ohio.  After one year in Ohio, he received orders to report to Moffitt Field, California, to wait for passage to the South Pacific. His final destination was Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), near Australia.

For two years, Mercier and his U.S. Navy seaman provided maintenance and ordinance to ships and aircraft in this area of the South Pacific. After his New Hebrides tour, he was transferred to the Bureau of Ordinances for the Navy Department for a year in Washington, D.C., where he was stationed when the war ended. He was discharged as a Lieutenant Commander in 1946, but he continued to serve his country in the Navy Reserve for several years. While in Washington, he met and married Dorothy Ragland of Elmhurst, Illinois.

The Merciers moved back to his hometown of Beauregard/Wesson in 1972. They were married for 73 years before she passed away on December 10, 2019. They have five children, 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. On May 8th, 2021, George Mercier turned 104 years young.

G.T. Mercier, III

G. T. (Tim) Mercier was honored for his contributions to the Dorothy Ragland Mercier Memorial Fund.

Mercier was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After graduating from Bellaire High School in Houston, Texas, he attended The University of Texas at Austin and received a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1970. Prior to graduation, he was a student/engineer in training for Dow Chemical. Following graduation, he was employed as a chemical process engineer by the UOP Corporation in Des Plaines, Illinois for many years. Mercier eventually returned to Houston, Texas, where he worked for 33 years in various sales and management roles for Enjet, LLC in the petrochemical and refining industries.

Prior to his retirement, Mercier helped manage his family farm in Wesson as well as provide engineering consulting services for the oil and gas industries, mainly in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. He passed away on May 23. Mercier was married with four children and three grandchildren.

Bill and Martha Salters

The Salterses were honored for their many years of contributions to the Foundation, and recently to the Back the Pack Capital Campaign for Co-Lin Athletics.

Bill is a 1975 graduate of Co-Lin where he played on the Wolf Pack football team. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1978 and from the University of Georgia’s Executive Management School of Banking in 1985. He later earned a Master’s of Business Administration from Alcorn State University in 2002. Bill has worked in banking for more than 38 years, and currently works as the Chief Financial Officer for Concordia Bank in Vidalia, Louisiana. He is a longtime member of the Co-Lin Foundation Board of Directors, where he has served as past president and is chairman of the Foundation’s golf tournament in Natchez. He is a past member of the Board of Directors for the Mississippi Bankers Association and a past president of the Kiwanis Club of Natchez.

Martha is a 1974 graduate of Co-Lin where she was a cheerleader. She has held various secretarial positions over the years, but most proudly serves as a mother and Mimi. She is on the Co-Lin Alumni Association Board, the Longwood Governing Board, and is a Pilgrimage Garden Club member. She is past chairman of Historic Natchez Tableaux and is a Natchez Pilgrimage Tours certified guide.

Bill and Martha met at Co-Lin and married in 1974. They are active members of Parkway Baptist Church. They have three daughters, Sydney Salters Magee (Tony), Sarah Salters Loy (Jeremy), and Sunny Salters McGehee (Casey), and eight grandchildren.

Phillip and Lacey Wheeler

The Wheelers were honored for their contributions to the Arthur L. Boyte, Jr. Memorial Scholarship.

Lacey has worked in banking for 16 years and is currently a lender at United Mississippi Bank in Meadville. She serves as the secretary of Natchez Council 175 of United Commercial Travelers (UCT). Phillip has been an employee of the United States Forest Service for 24 years.

The Wheelers have been married for 14 years and have two children, Isabella and Nicholas. They are members of Gloster Church of the Nazarene, where Lacey serves on the church board.

2nd Chance Mississippi

2nd Chance Mississippi was honored for its contributions to Workforce Education at Co-Lin.

The organization was founded in 2016 by Dickie Scruggs, who knows first-hand what it means to get a second chance. As a federal inmate, he got his second chance by helping his fellow inmates prepare for the high school equivalency diploma. Then, and since his release, Scruggs has been working to formulate a plan to continue his commitment to help adult learners get the education they missed the first time around.

The focus of 2nd Chance is to help remove barriers that prevent adult students from obtaining a High School Equivalency and/or an employable workforce certification. By partnering with Mississippi’s community colleges, the organization provides tuition assistance, transportation assistance, stipends for satisfactory attendance, and a completion cash bonus. Its programs have also helped with other needs, such as school supplies, internet access, computer tablets, child care, utilities, car repair, food vouchers and apartment deposits.

Since its inception, 2nd Chance Mississippi has helped more than 1,000 adults in Mississippi to receive 283 high school equivalencies, 291 employable workforce certifications, and 239 career readiness credentials, and their work continues.  

Peoples Bank

Peoples Bank was honored for its contributions to the Peoples Bank Allen W. Gary III Annual Scholarship.  The bank was founded in 1908 by Mendenhall business leaders Col. Sidney McLaurin and Dewitt Enochs, with a commitment to providing service to rural Simpson County, which was largely ignored by the Jackson-based banks. At the same time, McLaurin and Enochs convinced A.S. Davis to assume the role of Cashier, beginning the long legacy of the Davis family’s involvement in the growth and prosperity of the bank.

As banks across the country closed during the Great Depression, Davis and Peoples Bank made a commitment to never lock their doors, and to this day the bank has never closed. Davis served the bank for 65 years and oversaw much of the bank’s growth beyond Mendenhall. Dennis Ammann, Mr. A. S. Davis’s great grandson, now serves as 4th generation CEO.

Peoples Bank has embraced the principles established by its founders and enhanced by the Davis family; traditions which begin with personal service and the relationships shared with customers, and traditions which evoke corporate citizenship in the areas it serves. The bank’s desire is to make the rural Mississippi communities they serve better by providing superior and responsible financial products and services that increase economic opportunity, create financial stability, and improve the quality of life for the people and businesses in its market. This philosophy has proven to be a formula for success and for the financial well-being of those who rely on Peoples Bank.

Wesson Presbyterian Church

Wesson Presbyterian Church was honored for its contributions to the Dorothy Ragland Mercier Memorial Fund.

Founded on December 31, 1871, the church was established by Captain William Oliver, a businessman from New Orleans who moved to Wesson to manage the Mississippi Mills. He, along with 26 applicants, organized to establish the first congregation of the church.

After meeting for the first few years in the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the church building was constructed on the corner of East Railroad and Collier Street, and was only the third church building established in Wesson. The church held its first service in the sanctuary on March 24, 1878.

Mary Oliver, wife of Captain Oliver, desired for the church to mirror the New England Christopher Wren style church and became the artist and architect of the church. To this day, the Wesson Presbyterian Church building is still distinguished by its simple design with a beautiful steeple and Gothic windows.

By 1889, the Church reached a membership of 215 members, and throughout the years has seen a rise and decline in attendance and membership. During its 130-year history, the Wesson Presbyterian Church was served by 11 different ministers, with Rev. A.W. Duck serving the longest tenure of 30 years from 1928-1958.

During the summer of 2019, the congregation agreed that they could no longer maintain the church. On March 15, 2020, the Wesson Presbyterian Church officially closed its doors as a church and will now function as a part of Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

The Co-Lin Foundation Hall of Fame includes individuals and businesses who have donated in excess of $10,000 to the efforts of the Foundation. Contributions can be made to Co-Lin Foundation, P.O. Box 649, Wesson, MS 39191, by calling (601) 643-8313, or online at

CUTLINE: Those inducted for the 2019 class pictured with Co-Lin President Dr. Jane Hulon Sims (left) were from left: Mary Jane James of McCall Creek, Deborah and Steven Ammann of Mendenhall, Don Underwood of Brookhaven, and the Gene Haas Foundation, represented by Hugh Sims. Not pictured was the Foundation for the Mid South. Those inducted for the 2020 class pictured with Dr. Jane Hulon Sims (left) were from left: the Wesson Presbyterian Church, represented by Camille Johnston, Bill and Martha Salters of Natchez, Phillip and Lacey Wheeler of Meadville, 2ndChance Mississippi, represented by Catti Beals, and Peoples Bank, represented by Dennis Ammann. Not pictured were George T. Mercier of Wesson and G.T. Mercier III of Houston, Texas.