"Dead People's Things For Sale" the sign at the base of the U.S. Highway 17 bridge proclaims. For years, the sign, the business and the man have been a fixture in Camden's county seat. This week, Briese's family and friends and local firefighters are mourning his passing. He died Saturday, July 5, at the age of 85.
"He loved to do things differently," said Lannie Brant, his close friend for nearly 40 years. Brant described Briese as "unique," adding that he might seem brash if you didn't know him, but he was really one of the most giving people Brant has ever met.
"His mother had a different word for him, and that was 'thickheaded,'" Brant said Wednesday just hours before Briese's funeral service in Woodbine. "I miss him so much already, and I know people in Woodbine are going to miss him as well."
Born in Pennsylvania to German immigrants, Briese met Jody - his wife of 57 years and "the love of his life," according to Brant -- while he was serving in the Air Force and she was attending a women's college in Valdosta. They traveled the country together and eventually settled in Woodbine, where Jody's father, Johnny Gooding, turned over management of his Gulf service station to the couple. Jody also taught in the local school system before she passed away in 2010.
After Interstate 95 was constructed and traffic moved away from Highway 17, Briese converted the service station into an antiques shop and fire museum that today houses one of the largest collections of antique firefighting memorabilia in the country. Much of it is already set to go to national fire museums, Brant said.
Shortly after opening the antiques business he planted the "Dead People's Things" sign in the parking lot outside, which immediately attracted interest on both local and national scales.
It has been featured on daytime and nighttime talk shows, and an Internet search of the phrase turns up dozens of images taken by road trippers meandering through the area.
And though many will remember Briese for the sign alone, his friends and family members will recall other details: how he and Jody always held hands in public, no matter the activity; how he served for years as assistant chief of Woodbine's volunteer fire department; his skill as a painter and illustrator.
"He was extremely knowledgeable on just about anything you asked him about," Brant said, describing Briese as an "avid reader" who loved to learn - particularly about history, a subject he and Jim Proctor both enjoyed.
"I can remember going to the Gulf station as a kid and airing up the tires on my bicycle," said Proctor, a lifelong Woodbine resident and now the Camden County sheriff.
And from that time, Briese was there.
"Windy's always been a very interesting person," Proctor said. "He was just a good person."
Services for Briese were held Wednesday in Woodbine. He was interred at Homeward Cemetery in Waverly.