Staff Blogger: Lexie Digby, Marketing & Graphic Design Manager

Tom Edwards editedThe Grand Marshal for this year’s Fourth of July Float Parade will be Tom Edwards, who served as Lakeside Executive Director from 1981-1988, a very transformational time in Lakeside’s history.

Edwards was born in Bay City, Mich. in 1939, grew up in nearby Port Clinton and spent summers at Lakeside as a child. He attended Bowling Green State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in business, as well as his Master of Business Administration. After graduating, he served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant in Fort Gordon, Ga.

During summers while in college, he opened and owned Tom’s Toggery, a clothing store in Lakeside, which he operated until he joined the Army. This was the beginning of a successful career that would continue when his time with the Army was completed in 1963.

In 1965, he moved to Monroe, La., to work for Cable Television Marketing, a job which later moved him to Florence, S.C. In 1966, Edwards married Debby Young, whom he met in Lakeside several years earlier. Like Edwards, Debby grew up spending her summers in Lakeside at the Young family cottage on the corner of Fourth Street and Elm Avenue. Edwards lost his beloved Debby to cancer in 2011.

After relocating to South Carolina with Cable Television Marketing, Edwards took a job in 1968 at Florence-Darlington Technical College, and in 1970, he moved over to the Darlington County School District working to desegregate the primary and secondary schools.

During those years, he garnered national recognition for his work in communications and education. Edwards received awards from organizations such as the National Cable Television Association, The Nation’s Schools Magazine, National School Public Relations Association and Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge, Penn.

However, some of Edwards’ greatest achievements occurred during his time as Lakeside’s Executive Director, which began in January 1981.

Coming out of the 1970s, the U.S. was on the verge of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and Lakeside was facing a number of challenges. Interest and mortgage rates were high, and leisure activity and real estate investments were low. Lakeside needed a number of repairs, a boost in revenues and a spiritual renewal.

Edwards, along with Don Caldwell and Frank Clegg, two other great leaders during this time at Lakeside, understood not only the challenges, but the work and foresight it would take to solve them.

Under Edwards’ direction, Lakeside underwent significant transformational changes. A mission statement and new short- and long-term strategic plans were adopted by the Lakeside Board of Trustees. All marketing materials were revised and updated, including the development of a new logo. In addition, Edwards worked to get Lakeside placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To honor and thank Edwards for his service to Lakeside, an open house will be held from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, July 9 on the Hotel Lakeside lawn. We encourage those that know him to stop by to say hello and remember his time at Lakeside. Light refreshments will be served.

Renovation projects, totaling $1.5 million, began on Hoover Auditorium, Orchestra Hall and the Hotel Lakeside, as well as to the water plant, sewage system, the lakefront erosion protection system and more. As a result of these infrastructure improvements, the value of real estate in Lakeside began to rise. Further, Lakeside experienced a spiritual renewal as it saw growth in the attendance at Orchestra Hall for Chaplain’s Hour and a Christian Speakers Fund was established.

In 1980, Edwards also launched the inaugural 5k Raccoon Run, a tradition that Lakesiders continue to enjoy to this day.
Perhaps the crowning physical achievement during Edwards’ tenure was the restoration of the Lakeside Pavilion, now a centerpiece for any visit to the Chautauqua community.

“The Lakeside of today is a reflection of the leadership and efforts of those who were entrusted with the responsibility to maintain Lakeside’s timeless heritage,” said Kent Johnson, former Director of Development during Edwards’ tenure. “Tom conducted the ‘orchestra’ that began the Lakeside transformation.”

After finishing his term as Executive Director, Edwards returned to South Carolina in 1988 with Debby to complete his retirement years teaching general business management courses in the South Carolina Technical College System. Edwards retired from Florence-Darlington Technical College in 2006.

In addition to all of Edwards’ professional achievements, he is a history enthusiast and dedicates much of his retirement time to Civil War research and writing, family genealogy and reading.

In 2003, he published “Raising the Banner of Freedom,” a historical narrative about the 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the American Civil War. Lakeside’s very own Heritage Hall Museum has been the recipient of some of Edwards’ research and historical treasures over the years relating to Lakeside’s past.

Today, Edwards resides in Greenville, S.C., where his daughter, Catherine Edwards Heigel, also lives with her three children. His son, Col. T. Jonathan Edwards, is currently stationed at the Pentagon and resides in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Donna, and their three children. Edwards’ greatest passion is being ‘Papa’ to his six grandchildren and watching them grow to love Lakeside as much as he does.

To honor and thank Edwards for his service to Lakeside, an open house will be held from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, July 9 on the Hotel Lakeside lawn. We encourage those that know him to stop by to say hello and remember his time at Lakeside. Light refreshments will be served.

Special thanks to the Lakeside Heritage Society Archives, Kent Johnson and Catherine Edwards Heigel for providing information for this article.