BUFORD - Many of the Kenerlys in attendance agreed, constructing an office building is not what the late Tom Kenerly would have done with the land he bought on Hamilton Mill Road 20 years ago.
No, the former owner of Kenerly's General Merchandise was far too frugal for that, family members said.
All the same, a $1.5 million office building is how Mary Ann Kenerly has decided to honor her husband of 51 years.
"He would probably kick my butt for spending so much money," Mary Ann Kenerly said. "He never spent much money. But he'd probably be real proud, too."
Roughly 40 people, mostly family, were on hand as Mary Ann Kenerly, her two daughters, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren broke ground on the site of the future T.M. Kenerly Building on Thursday morning.
When Tom Kenerly bought the land, which is adjacent to Interstate 85, there was almost no development in the area.
"We thought he'd bought something way out in the wilderness," Mary Ann Kenerly said.
The only thing nearby was a sandwich shop, which Kay Kenerly said was too expensive for her father. She remembers packing her lunch before going to work on the Hamilton Mill site with her father because he couldn't justify spending a dollar on a pack of crackers that should cost 25 cents.
"The Lord punished daddy," Kay Kenerly said with a laugh. "He was such a penny-pincher and (the Lord) gave him all girls."
But Tom Kenerly did open his checkbook (although not that wide) to buy the property at Hamilton Mill. He knew one day it would be a sought after spot, Mary Ann Kenerly said.
"Tom always said, 'If you wait long enough, it's going to make something,'" she recalled.
Tommy Kenerly said he's sure his grandfather would have sold the property, when the price was right, rather than build on it.
As the Hamilton Mill area has grown, the Kenerlys have had more and more developers looking to purchase the property, Tommy Kenerly said.
But the family didn't feel it was right to sell a piece of land that was so precious to Tom Kenerly.
"We're real happy to keep the land and see something permanent done with it," Tommy Kenerly said.
The T.M. Kenerly Building, as it's to be known, will have 14,000 square feet spread among three stories. The building is expected to be completed by mid-December, said Mike Dominy, president of the company in charge of construction.
The Kenerlys, most of whom now live in Hoschton, are deeply tied to Gwinnett County. Their family-run business, Kenerly's General Merchandise, served the Lilburn community for 77 years before closing its doors and selling the land in 2002.
The close-knit family now lives together on a farm in Jackson County almost like when they made their homes on the same land as their Lilburn business. The main difference is Tom Kenerly, who died last August, is no longer there to watch their spending habits.
"Emotionally, it's been a draining year for (Mary Ann)," Tommy Kenerly said of his grandmother. "But I think if a person stays busy, stays occupied, I think that helps a lot."
Dealing with all the details of the T.M. Kenerly Building has certainly helped Mary Ann Kenerly stay busy, and it's also helped her stay connected with her husband.
"He was standing right there with me while I was making the speech (before we broke ground)," she said. "He's with me all the time."