Richard Wannall, who served in the Air Force until 1988 and moved to Marietta to work at Lockheed Martin, was awarded the Marietta Citizen of the Year by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
After leaving Lockheed, Wannall was a science teacher for 14 years at Sprayberry High School, northeast of Marietta.
When Wannall retired in 2005, he began volunteering at MUST Ministries’ Elizabeth Inn shelter, where he started by bringing clothes every week for the Back-to-Work Program.
MUST Ministries, a faith-based, nonprofit charity that serves people struggling in poverty, operates Elizabeth Inn, an emergency shelter off Cobb Parkway.
Wannall’s wife of 46 years, Celia, said she knew about the honor since Thursday of last week but helped keep the secret from her husband.
Wannall said he was told to come to the Chamber meeting, talk about MUST Ministries Thanksgiving Day fundraiser, the Gobble Jog, and wear a tie.
“There has been some serendipitous activity to get me here this morning,” Wannall said while accepting the award.
Wannall gave a short speech thanking his wife and the many volunteers from MUST Ministries that sat at a table nearby.
Jo Wagner, who has volunteered for MUST for the past 11 years, works the same day at the shelter as Wannall.
“MUST is a bare-bones organization, as far as full-time staff,” Wagner said.
Wagner said Wannall serves as an encouragement to both the homeless clients and the MUST volunteers.
“He is so patient,” Wagner said. “He has a wicked sense of humor.”
Wannall’s wife agreed, and added her husband is not afraid to be silly or tell a joke at his own expense.
Celia Wannall said after retiring, her husband had to do something constructive with his time, and seeing MUST on the inside “really opened up his eyes.”
A message from God
Out of seven nominees, this year’s Marietta Citizen of the Year was chosen by a committee made of civic organization presidents, representatives of business associations and members of the Marietta Area Council of the Chamber, said Tya Dawson, director of small business and entrepreneurial programs.
Wannall was nominated by Seth Tuttle, vice president of development at MUST Ministries, who said Wannall had gained “a real life understanding of the many obstacles that the homeless confront each day.”
In the letter, Tuttle points to Wannall helping clients search for jobs, get needed medical treatment or enter drug rehabilitation programs.
Wannall said he quickly began learning names of the homeless men that would come off the streets to the shelter for a weekly shower.
In 2011, Wannall started a personal mission to help the homeless obtain government-issued photo identification, which is necessary to apply for jobs, access public resources and social services.
“Living in homelessness and losing everything, including your ID, is widespread,” Tuttle said.
The process started with getting copies of a birth certificate, which required Wannall to contact counties across the U.S. in 2011, to assist 60 people from 22 states at a cost of $1,200.
Now Wannall’s congregation, at Stonebridge Church off Roswell Street in downtown Marietta, is helping meet the growing demand for identity cards by opening their doors for an assistance program every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Wannall said he had a “very distinct thought” that came from God, telling Wannall although he was retiring from salaried work, “there was still more work to do.”
Now Wannall said his focus is to give mercy and grace in service of others. In the past three years, Wannall has traveled to Kenya, Uganda and the Ukraine to help orphaned children.