Eddie Boggs left lasting mark as musician, educatorWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Eddie Boggs’ voice carried him from the hills of his native Kentucky to stages nationwide, but it was his heart and humor that endeared him to nearly everyone he met.
The folk musician and retired educator died Jan. 9 in Sylvania after an eight-month battle with cancer. He was 68.
Boggs moved to Northwest Ohio more than 40 years ago, sharing the stage with dozens of local musicians, including Kerry Patrick Clark, Pat Dailey and Diane Scribner. He performed regularly at Put-in-Bay and brushed shoulders with national acts like Lee Greenwood, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Mamas and the Papas and more. He also toured with The New Christy Minstrels.
“Music is something I love,” Boggs told Toledo Free Press in August. “The rewards from it are just beyond description. The people you meet, the places you travel to are phenomenal.”
Boggs was born in rural Soldier, Ky., on Aug. 10, 1945, the youngest of six children of a brick factory laborer and a stay-at-home mom.
“Let’s just say we didn’t know how poor we were,” his oldest brother Carl Boggs of Memphis, Tenn., said, laughing. “But we had a good life.”
Eddie started singing at a young age, joining his parents and three of his siblings in a family singing group that performed at churches and venues across several counties.
“He was a constant entertainer and he was always smiling,” Carl said. “Eddie was always the bright place, the shining star.”
He later learned to play instruments, including piano, guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and harmonica.
“He had raw talent but really developed it. He was a self-made musician,” Carl said. “I guess it was just a gift that God gave him that he really fully appreciated and used to the utmost benefit.”
The family moved to Ohio when Boggs was a teen. A counselor told him he wasn’t smart enough for college, but Boggs enrolled anyway, taking classes at The Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus during the day while working nights at a steel mill. He went on to earn two master’s degrees from the University of Toledo and started coursework toward a Ph.D.
In 1997, Boggs penned a commercial jingle, “Keep Jeep In Toledo,” considered to be one of the motivating factors for Chrysler’s decision to keep Jeep production in Toledo. Boggs also founded the Lake Erie West Hall of Fame for the Performing Arts and was active with charity projects, including hosting an annual holiday variety show that raised more than $250,000.
‘A life of song’
Boggs seemed to be in perfect health until a lump discovered on his neck led to a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May. Doctors pronounced him cancer-free in November, but just weeks later, scans showed the cancer was back. Already weakened from months of chemotherapy, Boggs began another round of treatments and entered hospice soon after.
“Eddie never drank, never smoked. The strongest thing he ever drank was Dr Pepper,” Carl said. “That’s kind of what shocked us all. Just from being a picture of health to eight months later, it’s just unbelievable. But that’s life.”
“A life of song.” That’s how church leader Thayer Salisbury of Flanders Road Church of Christ described Boggs’ life during his funeral Jan. 13.
Boggs always put others before himself and “had an incredible ability to stand up for what he believed without making anybody mad,” Salisbury said.
His faith and humility allowed him to stay grounded, he added.
“One of the greatest Eddie Boggs quotes of all time was something I heard him say in various forms, several times: ‘Every time I perform, I’m aware that there may be someone in the audience who could sing it or play it better than I,’” Salisbury said.
“[He was] the most honorable person I ever met,” said Randy Sparks, founder of The New Christy Minstrels, in an email to Toledo Free Press. “Eddie Boggs lived every day of his bigger-than-life presence on Earth to the fullest, and there never was a better human being.”
In 1991, Boggs married his wife Chris, who had two young daughters, Sara Roemer and Grace Barton. Eddie and Chris later welcomed another daughter, Allison Boggs.
“He would always call us his daughters; he never separated it out like that,” Roemer said. “I think that’s just an added testament to him. We were his from the beginning.”
“He told us he fulfilled everything he wanted to accomplish in life,” Barton added. “And that was having three daughters be grown and sisters and happy.”
Connection to kids
Boggs retired in 2007 after 37 years as a teacher and school counselor, most recently at Timberstone Junior High School in Sylvania.
Boggs enjoyed an easy rapport with students, former colleagues said.
“I think it’s because he was still kind of a kid himself,” said Timberstone science teacher Diane Friedman. “He loved the practical jokes.”
Rose Gaiffe, who worked with Boggs as a guidance counselor, said he was a master at identifying students in need.
“I watched Eddie perform miracles every day with adolescents who needed a smile, a song, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on or just a safe place to sit and rock,” Gaiffe wrote in an email. “He went to the cafeteria for all three lunch periods every day, monitored lunch recesses and got to know the kids by playing ‘Horse,’ or volleyball or passing on the goofiest knock-knock joke.”
Boggs often used music to relate to kids, said retired Timberstone principal Jack Smith.
“It was not unusual to walk past Eddie’s office and hear him singing to and with a student,” Smith said. “Music opened doors for Eddie with students that may not have been opened otherwise.”
Gail Brenner, an eighth-grade math teacher at Timberstone, remembers Boggs stopping by the homes of chronically truant students to personally make sure they were awake and coming to school.
“That was the kind of person he was,” Brenner said. “He was so dedicated to the kids. And he cared about the whole kid — their background, where they came from, what struggles they had at home — and became a parent to a lot of kids who really didn’t have parents. He took kids under his wing and he was always the life force.”
He was also popular with fellow teachers, composing and performing personalized songs for the retirees at each year’s retirement party.
Former student Holly Williams of Toledo said she and Boggs bonded over poetry and their mutual love of playing the fiddle.
“For years I offered to teach him ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ and he would always tell me his fingers didn’t move that fast. Whenever he did the festivals in Sylvania I would heckle him and ask him to play that song. He’d laugh and tell me to pick something he could play,” Williams said. “One year he told me he figured out how to play it. We walked over to a case, but he did not pull out a fiddle. Instead he pulled out a cassette recorder. He pushed play and it was Charlie Daniels. He said that was the only way he could play that song.”
Retired social studies teacher Al Thompson also remembers Boggs’ impact.
“He always had an open door for the kids, and I believe they felt they could walk into his office any time and talk to him about anything and find a sympathetic ear,” Thompson said. “He did so much to make this little corner of the globe a better place.”
Clark and Scribner both met Boggs as students. Both joined the guitar club he offered and later started performing with him at regional events.
“He really took me under his wing and mentored me from an entertainment perspective,” Clark said. “He was an amazing human being.”
“He had the uncanny ability of performing or teaching to a group of people and making each person feel as if they were the most important person in the room,” Scribner said.
Dailey met Boggs at Put-in-Bay, where both performed for years.
“He was the kind of guy who when he talked to you and asked a question, you knew he would listen and actually wanted to know the answer,” Dailey said. “I thought he was one of the nicest fellows I ever met.”
On Jan. 12, Rep. Marcy Kaptur presented his family with a flag that had flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. On Jan. 14, she offered a tribute to Boggs.
“Eddie was a man held in particular affection by the thousands of people whose lives he touched so positively,” Kaptur said in remarks to the House of Representatives. “Eddie’s music will always play in our hearts. He lifted us to be a better and more caring people.”
During a phone call with Toledo Free Press on Jan. 15, Kaptur recalled Boggs leading student trips to Washington, D.C., where he would stop to sing and play guitar outside the Capitol.
“It just brightened the Capitol whenever he was here,” Kaptur said. “He was like a strolling minstrel. He would sing patriotic songs and American songs and he shared his talents so freely and so gently.
“He was uniquely gifted and he was uniquely generous,” Kaptur added. “He used his music to entertain, mobilize and uplift. He really shared his talent broadly. I always called him the music man. How many of us in our lifetime meet someone like that? You don’t meet many people like that in your lifetime.”
Tags: banjo, Blood, Chrysler, Diane Scribner, Dr Pepper, Eddie Boggs, fiddle, founder of The New Christy Minstrels, guitar, harmonica, he Ohio State University’s Mans-field campus, Kentucky, Kerry Patrick Clark, Lee Greenwood, mandolin, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Pat Dailey, Paul and Mary, Peter Yarrow of Peter, piano, Randy Sparks, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Sweat & Tears, Thayer Salisbury of Flanders Road Church of Christ, The Mamas and the Papas, The New Christy Minstrels, Timberstone Junior High School, Timberstone principal Jack Smith, Timberstone science teacher Diane Friedman, Washington D.C., “Keep Jeep In Toledo”