By Pamela A. Keene

If you’ve ever traveled down Jim Crow Road toward Old Federal Park in Flowery Branch, you’ve seen Pop Stop. Owned by Butch and Josie Melton since the 1990s, it’s been a fixture for fishermen, sailors, boaters and lake-goers for years.

“My first experience with Lake Lanier was back in 1991 when I interviewed for the job that eventually brought us to Atlanta,” said Butch. “Josie and I were living in San Diego, where I worked for one of the largest trade show contractors in the country and Josie did office administration. We’d never lived east of the Mississippi. The interview took place at PineIsle Hotel at Lake Lanier Islands. What a setting; they knew how to get my attention.

“Josie had grown up in San Diego, and I thought it was going to be a challenge to get her to move, but once she heard about Lake Lanier, that’s all it took.”

“I told Butch that as long as we could be on the water, I was all for it,” she said. The couple and their three young children moved in early 1992, living near then-Starboard Marina. To connect with the boating community, they joined Lake Lanier Sailing Club, and becoming regulars with the clubs programs and activities.

Their three kids, Jesse, Jenny and Lacey, participated in youth sailing and Josie and Butch connected with the close-knit boating community.

The Pop Stop story

Four years later Pop Stop Bait, Tackle and Fuel on Jim Crow came up for sale. The house located behind the store was part of the purchase, so they bought the store and moved. For many people around Lake Lanier, Pop Stop has become synonymous with the Meltons. “It was the perfect time for Josie to leave her office administrator job and run the store,” Butch said. “The kids were teens and we were really getting involved in the community. The store was, at that time, the only place in the area to buy a gallon of milk or a bag of ice.”

Josie augmented inventory with fresh home-made sandwiches and breakfast items to anglers and dozens of sailboat racers. She also handled all the food and beverage needs for Lake Lanier Sailing Club, including lunches for the Junior Sailing Program, sailing regattas and special events. Butch continued to work in the trade show industry, traveling globally more tan 200 days each year.

The business continued to grow as the family became more immersed in the boating community. By 2002, they purchased the property and house next door to Pop Stop and added  boat storage. Pop Stop became a neighborhood gathering place and for nearly a decade, Butch and Josie held pre-Thanksgiving turkey fries.

“For several years we fried at least 30 or 35 turkeys. People just heard about what we were doing and dropped by with their Thanksgiving turkeys,” Josie said. “We’d start at 7 a.m. and go all day. We wound up with 50 or 60 people just hanging out and it became a popular annual event.”

A tragic turn

Then tragedy struck. Their middle daughter Jenny, 17, a senior at West Hall High School, was killed in a one-car wreck on the way to school one morning in March 2002. “She had been homecoming queen, was on the honor roll, and she was looking forward to graduation,” Josie said. “I still tear up when I talk about her. There’s no way to describe how much losing a child hurts your heart, deep down.”

The day Jenny died, classmates, faculty and staff established the Jenny Melton Scholarship Fund in her name.

Four months later, Butch, Josie and the community created the Jenny Melton Father’s Day 5K Road and Field Race at Gainesville College. More than 320 runners showed up to support the event, which raised money for the scholarship fund. It was sponsored by Friends of Jenny Melton, West Hall High School and the Gainesville Road Runners.

The race took place for several years, providing money for scholarships for graduating high school seniors at West Hall High School. The organization quickly became the Jenny Melton Scholarship Foundation, which now hosts an annual golf tournament.

For the first several years, it was played at a golf course near the Atlanta airport then at Stone Mountain and at Lanier Islands. About a dozen years ago, it moved to Legends at Chateau Elan Golf Club in Braselton and now attracts participants from the Southeast, including athletes and celebrities. Through the support of the Southeastern Chapter of the International Association of Exhibits and Events, the professional organization of the trade show industry, the Meltons have been able to further expand the reach of the Jenny Melton Memorial Golf Tournament.

Presented by the Southeastern Chapter of the IAEE, it takes place on the last Monday in August and is always a sell-out. “We had former Atlanta Falcons’ Morton Anderson play the event for three years,” he said. “The tournament brings in golfers from all the states the IAEE Southeast Chapter serves, including the Carolinas, parts of Florida, plus Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.”

The tournament is the foundation’s major fund-raising event, but it also accepts direct donations from individuals and corporations. Since 2002, the Jenny Melton Scholarship Foundation has been administered by the North Georgia Community Foundation.

Funds for community

“The North Georgia Community Foundation enjoys working with people who want to invest in the lives of others,” said Michelle Prater, North Georgia Community Foundation president and CEO. “Butch and Josie Melton have been fundholders at NGCF since 2002 when they established the Jenny Melton Scholarship Fund in memory of their daughter. The scholarships have been able to serve as a vessel for the Meltons to continue Jenny’s legacy and also support students in furthering their education. We admire the Melton’s giving spirit and passion and we appreciate this opportunity to work with them.”

Scholarships have been given to high school seniors at West Hall and Flowery Branch High School, and recently expanded to include a scholarship for a student at Cherokee Bluff, where the Melton’s granddaughter attends. The Melton Foundation also awards a scholarship to a graduating high school senior of a member of the Southeastern Chapter of the International Association of Exhibits and Exhibitions.

For Butch and Josie, the outpouring of community support has been amazing and overwhelming. “This has been a living testament, not only to how much the community cares about its own, but also to the ways that Jenny continues to touch people’s lives,” Josie said. “Our family is so grateful for all the support and love that we still feel. It continues to be a humbling experience, and frankly it helps us heal.”