Loading…
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Current Weather
Loading Current Weather....
Published: Sunday, 6/15/2008

Sylvania entertainer from eastern Kentucky has carved a long career here

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Eddie Boggs Eddie Boggs
Enlarge

There s still a trace of the eastern Kentucky accent that almost got him kicked out of school in 1959.

But as he chats, sitting cross legged in the large, soon-to-be-redecorated living room of the Sylvania home he shares with his wife, daughter, three cats, two large dogs, and occasional visiting grandsons, it s clear that Eddie Boggs has traveled light years from those hard-scrabble hills.

Retired from 37 years of teaching and counseling middle-schoolers (he was named Sylvania Educator of the Year in 2004-2005), Boggs continues plying his gifts a passion for performing, a genuine love of people, and an ability to organize events for the greater good.

Everything you do, it makes other people s lives more meaningful and more happy, says Boggs, 63. And that aligns with his philosophy as a performer: My goal is when somebody comes out for music, that when people leave they feel a little better about life, about living. If I ve done that, that s all an entertainer should do.

He has opened for or played with the Mamas and the Papas, Ralph Stanley, Peter Yarrow, Tom Hall, Lee Greenwood, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Friday, he ll sing and play guitar and banjo with the folk group New Christy Minstrels at 2 and 7 p.m. shows in the Maumee Indoor Theatre, and will continue on the road with them for three more performances, filling in on guitar, banjo, and vocals.

Back stage and in the hotel. That s my favorite thing. I m getting a lesson in folk history.

If Boggs frame stretched another 6 inches north and carried a few more pounds, he d cause even more double takes than he already does, given his likeness to the 6-foot-2-inch President Bill Clinton.

He s been married for 17 years to Chris Boggs, former greenhouse manager at Toledo Botanical Garden, who he met in church, and they re raising 15-year-old Allison. They also reared Sara and Grace, her daughters from a previous marriage. He sold his Corvette to pay for their college tuition. It was a good investment, he says.

Belief in family and God are paramount to him. Without those two things, I don t see a lot of beauty. I think you d be empty.

He has struggled to reconcile his exuberance for music with what he sees as his modest ability.

I wonder why God gave me all this desire to do this and not the talent?

Randy Sparks is founder of the New Christy Minstrels. Eddie Boggs is the neatest guy, says Sparks. He once said to me Do you think I have enough talent to be in the New Christy Minstrels? And I said, I m not qualified to answer that. I ve lost my objectivity about you.

He was on a cruise with us and I had him do a John Denver song and the audience absolutely loved him. He was the best thing on the stage at that moment. And that s the name of the game. ... He could walk out and read the phone book and people would still love him.

Boggs has come to terms with his question.

I always know there s somebody out there who can play greater or sing it better than me, but nobody who loves it more than me, he says. I guess the music is the vehicle, the means to an end to reach out to people.

And reach he does.

Now that he s not spending five days a week at Timberstone Junior High, he gets his extrovert fix by boarding buses full of strangers and showing them the sights in Washington. He s taken local school groups there since 1974, but after his 2007 retirement, he became a licensed D.C. guide for Educational Travel Consultants. In April and May , he escorted 33 groups, sometimes singing with them as he did with a group from Nassau.

Two weeks ago he serenaded his former principal at Timberstone and long-time friend, Jack Smith, at Smith s retirement party, singing lyrics he wrote to Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Eddie s written songs for many, many people who have retired from Timberstone, Smith says. He s a very, very positive individual. ... Anything to help out people, this is Eddie. That s what he s all about.

Smith notes that Boggs and his fellow Timberstone counselor Rose Gaiffe, figured students would be more likely to talk to them about their problems if they got to know them informally, so the two spent lunches in the cafeteria, gym, and playground.

That makes so much sense to me, Smith says, because then a youngster could go up to them and talk about their weekend or whatever, and later approach them when they need to talk.

Outside of school, he s produced Eddie Boggs Old Fashioned Christmas Variety Show for 17 years, enlisting dozens of local musicians. It s raised about $250,000 for Family House and other local charities.

He established the Lake Erie West Hall of Fame for the performing arts in 1998. It flagged under the leadership of others, so he s reviving it.

In 2005, he organized First Light Sylvania, a family-friendly New Year s Eve event similar to First Night. Culminating with fireworks at 9:30 p.m., it drew 3,500 participants and more than 100 volunteers Dec. 31.

In April, he was named Sylvania s Volunteer of the Year.

One of his favorite gigs is serving as master of ceremonies for the annual My Fair Lady pageant at the Lucas County Fair, interviewing contestants, most of whom are in their 90s.

And he s an indefatigable community booster. In 1997 when the Toledo Jeep plant s future was uncertain, he wrote and sang Keep Jeep in Toledo for a commercial.

Eddie Boggs with his grandson, Landon Garcia, at Sylvania s 175th birthday celebration at the Sylvania Historical Village, where Boggs recently performed.
Eddie Boggs with his grandson, Landon Garcia, at Sylvania s 175th birthday celebration at the Sylvania Historical Village, where Boggs recently performed.
Enlarge

Eddie Boggs was the youngest of six, born in 1945 in tiny Soldier (named for a Civil War-era dog), Ky., 50 miles west of West Virginia; his father was a brickyard worker, his mother, a homemaker.

That he would attend college, earn two master s degrees, and perform with a slew of famous musicians was nearly unthinkable, especially considering that his mother, lacking shoes to wear in the winter, was forced to quit school after first grade, and his father, the oldest in a large family, dropped out in first or second grade because his father was gone working for the railroad and his mother needed help.

Kids were assets at that time, not liabilities, Boggs says.

When he took lunch to his father, he saw him carrying bricks from sweltering kilns to waiting train cars. It was a horribly hard job. I remember walking away from there, crying. He said he would never let any of the children work there.

Boys were often absent from school Mondays, laundry day, and young Eddie looked forward to being able stay home on the first day of the week, not realizing how tough it would be. He d draw bucket after bucket of water from the well on the hill, empty them into a galvanized tub heating on the fire, then carry it, with his mother, into the smokehouse where she d scrub clothes on a washboard, and after electricity came, in a wringer washer.

Most of his relatives had left Kentucky seeking work, but returned for family gatherings that always included gospel singing. It was there he played his Uncle Albert s guitar.

It was a family of fine voices. His minister father, mother, and two sisters sang four-part harmony at church meetings and tent revivals. He was 17 when one of his sisters left the group, opening a spot for him, and he easily found his place in the unwritten harmonies. Somebody would take the lead and it seemed we all just fit in.

When recession shut down Soldier s brickyard in the late 1950s, the family moved to Mansfield, Ohio, where a sister lived. But entering ninth grade at the large Mansfield Senior High School was sheer culture shock.

I never saw hallways so long. His older brother and sister were so intimidated, they quit school.

The family purchased a house in a neighborhood dubbed Little Kentucky. They called us dumb hillbillies. I felt really left out. Despite earning good grades, he came to understand the impact an accent can have.

It must have been so bad they called me down to the office and said, You re going to have to learn to speak good English or you ll have to leave school.

He so appreciated the kindness of a couple of male teachers, he determined to become a teacher himself, but the road wasn t smooth.

When I told my counselor I wanted to go to college she said. Eddie, you re not smart enough to go to college. I told her, You don t know how bad I want this.

For the next five years, he cleaned furnaces at the Empire Steel Mill, and eventually enrolled in Mansfield s branch of Ohio State University, taking classes by day and working by night.

My mom was my biggest cheerleader in a nice quiet way. I would come home and say, I can t do this anymore. And she would always say, Go to the end of the semester and then if you want to quit, quit.

He plodded through one semester after another, and at 23, with a loan from the local bank, struck out for OSU in Columbus to finish his last two years.

Boggs bought his first guitar, a Sears, from a pawn shop when he was 16, and played in a bluegrass group with a friend and the friend s father.

I played to songs on the radio and songs I could sing in church, like Amazing Grace. I found a love in the guitar. I could never, ever, ever get enough of it.

In the 1960s, when folk music was king, he d bring his guitar to campus, sit outside on the lawn, and strum with others. That s where I first heard the song, Today. A guy at school taught me. All the girls swooned when he sang it.

Little did he know that 40 years later, he d be performing with the composer of Today; Randy Sparks.

College opened the world to him cultures, ideas, religion, people from various backgrounds. You saw the beauty in all the differences, whereas before you were afraid of them. The world became richer for me.

He landed a teaching job near Mansfield and in the summer he lived with a brother in Toledo to pursue a master s degree at the University of Toledo.

A year-long stint at Ottawa Hills High School was followed in 1973 by teaching social studies at McCord Junior High School in Sylvania.

I had planned to go back to Kentucky; it was heaven. My growing up was like Huck Finn. But when I came to Toledo, I fell in love with Toledo; I don t know what it was. And a year later, I had no desire to go back.

He began playing gigs at night. Initially, the audiences at the Hathaway House in Blissfield were painfully small.

It made an entertainer out of me. I learned to look at people. I would judge the kind of music I d do based on what I was looking at. You d look at their eyes until you d find what music connected with them. After a while you just started reading eyes.

He built a repertoire of folk, bluegrass, country, light rock, the Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, even Broadway tunes. He loves Gentle on My Mind, Morning Has Broken, and the early songs of Neil Diamond.

He figures he can withdraw 1,000 to 2,000 songs from his memory. He burns a song into his brain by creating a visual story from the lyrics. He plays it two or three times and writes out the words once or twice.

But if it s a song I don t like I can t remember it. And I can t remember names.

For nearly a dozen years, he and singing partner Diane Scribner drew crowds to the Hathaway House. And for 23 summers, he entertained at Put-In-Bay with his niece, Karen Nickles Riddle, Doug Carter, and sometimes Kerry Clark. It was at the Crow s Nest in 2000 that Bob Dylan quietly came in, took a seat, and watched their show one night.

We took a break and I went down and talked to him. He was really nice. He talked normal. I was too scared to do any of his songs.

At his day job, he had a knack for talking to kids who often sought him out, so he studied for a master s degree in counseling and worked at Timberstone from the time it opened in 1996.

He s still active with students. A recent short video about bullying he shot with students at the Wildwood Metropark and accompanied with a song, Cross the Line, is on Youtube.com.

And he s got dreams and goals.

I would love to find somebody who would be as nutty as I am to start taking over some of the things I ve started, such as the holiday show, the hall of fame, and First Light.

He d like to fly like a bird.

And he d love nothing more than to leave a musical legacy.

Wouldn t it be neat to write a song that people would be inspired by and touched by for generations to come?

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. If a comment violates these standards or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report abuse. To post comments, you must be a Facebook member. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.