Community to honor slain 72-year-old during funeral at Jefferson Civic Center

Credit: Facebook photo

Credit: Facebook photo

Calvin Varnum, or Mr. Calvin as many called him in the northeast Georgia city of Commerce, was larger than life. The 72-year-old impacted practically anyone who caught a glimpse of his warm smile outside the local Hardee’s.

More than a week after Varnum was shot to death in a killing that rocked the tight-knit community, family members and those touched by his kindness will gather Wednesday inside the Jefferson Civic Center for a celebration of his life.

The funeral will be held at 1 p.m. in the venue’s Belgrade Room, which can hold up to 500 people, according to the website. The family requested the large space due to the number of attendees expected to pay their respects, said Michele Head, the community development director for the city of Jefferson. The visitation will be held at 11 a.m.

Credit: Focused Photography by Beth

Credit: Focused Photography by Beth

“We kind of provide the largest space in the vicinity of Commerce for them to prepare for a larger crowd,” Head told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. ”So we are able to accommodate those needs.”

Varnum was a visible fixture in Commerce, located about an hour from downtown Atlanta just off I-85. He was known for getting breakfast at the Hardee’s, where he greeted fellow early risers each morning. He was described by his family as having special needs.

“He was just a sweet, harmless guy doing his thing,” Commerce police Chief Kenneth Harmon said.

On May 21, Varnum was standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant at about 7:30 a.m. when 23-year-old Xavier Clark allegedly pulled up in a dark blue Dodge Journey. Surveillance footage showed the SUV circle the parking lot and return to where Varnum stood, authorities said. A short exchange took place and shots were fired, according to Harmon. Varnum was resuscitated, but he later died at a Hall County hospital.

The bullets pierced the glass of the restaurant as several patrons were inside, including two kids, according to authorities. That evening, Clark was arrested and faces charges of felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault and two counts of second-degree cruelty to children.

As a youngster, Varnum attended J.L. Williams and Bryan High School, his obituary states. But after his mother died, he left school at the age of 16 to care for his younger brother.

“As Calvin got older, you could always see him walking in the Commerce community. He always said he loved to walk for exercise and to keep his blood pressure good,” the obituary added. “Rain or shine, you could find Calvin at Huck’s, or at Hardee’s, or even at the CVS getting his blood pressure checked. Calvin loved Commerce and always smiled and waved to people passing through town.”

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Skate A-Rama in Commerce accepted donations and raised more than $13,000 — enough to cover the funeral expenses and still have $485 left over that is being used to create a memorial in “Calvin’s Corner Area.” An anonymous donation covered the burial expenses.

Commerce and Jefferson are about 10 miles apart, so Varnum and his family were well known by residents in the area, Head said. During her morning commute, she was one of the many people who routinely saw him standing on the corner waving.

“He made an impact on a large, a large group of people,” she said. “So (his death) was a sad thing.”