By Ann Cipperly
At 11 years of age, K. Ted Wilson rode his bike up and down Magnolia Avenue in downtown Auburn to visit his mother at Waldrop’s gift shop. He knew every crack in the sidewalk on the way to the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia to pick up copies of the Birmingham News to deliver on his paper route. As he pedaled down Gay Street, he never dreamed that the corner he had visited so many times would become the site of a gas leak explosion and, later in life, the location of his business, Wilson Investment Group.
When Ted was 2 ½ years old, his father died in 1945 serving in World War II, leaving his mother, Lera Poole Wilson, to raise four children, with the oldest being 9 years old. After widows of servicemen became eligible for mortgage loans, Lera decided to move the family from Wedowee to Auburn for the children to attend API (Auburn University) after high school.
The Wilson family arrived in Auburn in 1950 in a 1940 two-door black Ford. Lera had a house built on Heard Avenue, and the family joined the Auburn Methodist Church. Although she did not have a high school education, Lera found a job at the Gift Shop on Magnolia Avenue.
When the Gift Shop was purchased by Richard Waldrop, he moved the business across the street closer to the corner. Lera worked there until 1956, assisting customers in selecting china.
When Ted was 11 years old, he started his first job delivering the Birmingham News. The narrow office where he picked up the papers was located on the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia.
When the Kopper Kettle opened on the corner in 1958, Lera was offered the job as their first manager. Lera thought she would receive better pay, but soon found the hours long at the only restaurant open 24 hours daily in Auburn. She would receive calls throughout the night about problems with students coming in after parties.
After a short time, Dr. Gilmer Brownfield, who had a dental office on the second floor of the same building, offered her a position to work for him, saying he would train her to become his chair side assistant. The hours and work were much better.
Meanwhile, Ted and his siblings were looking for jobs. The boys mowed lawns. In the fall, they sold programs at football games, while sister Jackie had an income selling yellow chrysanthemum corsages to students who dressed up in those days to attend games.
Ted, his two brothers and sister participated in sports. Ted’s Little League All Star team played in the 1955 Little League World Series and finished third in the nation.
The busy Wilson children took music lessons, and the boys were active in the Boy Scouts.
After Brownfield retired, Ted’s mother, Lera, worked at Parker’s where Hamilton’s and Behind the Glass are located, and then at the Clothes Rack.
Ted and his siblings attended Auburn University. While Ted was a student, he worked as a night operator for four years at the college switchboard in the basement of Samford Hall. He slept on a cot between calls coming into campus. He went to work at 10 p.m. and left around 8 in the morning to attend classes.
While at Auburn, Ted was a member of Sigma Nu. He later learned that the first Sigma Nu fraternity met upstairs in an old house that was once at the corner of Gay and Magnolia.
After he graduated with a degree in business administration in 1964, Ted served in the active reserves for six months. He returned to Auburn and began to work in banking in Columbus, Ga. During that time, he met his wife Gina. They moved to Griffin, Ga. for four years.
Ted received a call in 1973 to return to Auburn as president of a new bank, Auburn Bank and Trust Company, which is now Wells Fargo.
On a quiet Sunday morning at 8:13 a.m. Jan. 15, 1978, a natural gas leak in the basement of Waldrop’s caused an explosion, blowing up the Kopper Kettle, a dental office upstairs and an office for Andrew Gentry, who owned the building. Fortunately there were no deaths or injuries. Other nearby buildings had to be demolished because structural damage from the explosion made them unsafe.
When the building was rebuilt, a ladies’ clothing shop occupied the lower floor.
Ted left banking and started his own company in 1981, Wilson Investment Group, with the brokerage firm Transamerica Financial Advisors, Inc. In 1989 he rented an office space inside AuburnBank, allowing them to have an on-site investment advisor.
While he ran the company himself for a number of years, Hope Brackin was hired in 1990 as his assistant, and Richard Phelan joined the firm as an associate in 1991. They moved across the street to the corner in 1992.
Ted’s son, Brad, came on board in 1998, and Matt Clegg has worked there since 2002.
The Wilsons feels fortunate to have Brad and daughter Molly, along with five grandchildren living in Auburn.
For years, the firm rented the space at the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia for offices. Last year, Ted and six partners purchased the building. The firm’s offices on the lower level has been expanded and renovated.
“It is nice to know as much time as I have spent on the corner,” says Ted, “that now part of it is mine, and I am back on the corner.” It was where he visited his mother at work growing up and the location of his first job as a paperboy.
Over the years, Ted has been active in leadership roles, serving on the City Council for 10 years, and is currently chairman of the Industrial Development Board for the City of Auburn. Richard is a city councilman and mayor pro tem, while Matt is president of Auburn City Schools Board of Education. Brad currently sits on the Water Board, is past chairman of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce and an EAMC Foundation board member. “We all try to do our part in giving back to this great community,” says Ted.
“When Ted Wilson began renting the office space on the corner of Gay and Magnolia,” says Hope, “he was very familiar with the mark in history made on this corner. However, since working for him over the last 23 years, I’ve been able to hear the stories of just what this corner symbolizes to him in his own personal history!
“This corner marks history for one of the most devoted Auburn citizens I know,” adds Hope. “I’ve accused Mr. Wilson of being the Andy Griffith of Auburn. He has made his mother proud. The corner continues to be marked by steps of her son and grandson.”