Thomas Eakin Who's Who record holder knows that everybody is a somebody
Thomas Eakin is man who took the lessons his parents taught him and put them to good use. His mother came from a steel family in Pittsburgh and his father was a country boy. He says they shared the same spirit and values and he learned so much form both of them.
Tom remembers growing up in New Castle Pennsylvania, where he was born. His dad had a clothing store until the Depression came and, like so many others, he lost everything. The family moved to Cleveland in 1934 and lived on Derbyshire Road in Cleveland Heights.
Soon after, they built a house on Fenwick Road in University Heights. "This was my type of neighborhood. It was filled with kids and families and I just loved it. We had all types of people… My dad thought it was important to all of us."
At eight years old Tom decided he needed to do something for the war effort. Tom's uncle (his dad's brother) died at sea in the Navy during the war. This tragedy affected them all greatly. Tom saw that when he and his family went on trips his dad went out of his way to help soldiers, providing them with a place to sleep and something to eat.
"This was my dad. His constant message to me was, 'This is a great country. How are you going to help your fellow man? What are you going to do to make it easier for other people?' But he never preached at me or harped on it. I got the message from the example he set. He thought it was very phony for people who acted holier-than-thou. 'Don't pose for holy pictures,' he would say. 'Just do your work.'"
Tom Eakin with Frances P. Bolton, the first woman elected to Congress from Ohio
So at eight he thought it was his turn. He started collecting scrap in the neighborhood; pots, pans, anything people had to give him. Then he held a Red Cross Fair at an empty lot and made $26.00. At the time $26.00 was a good amount of money, especially from the efforts of an 8 year old. The Mayor of University Heights recognized him for his work and as Tom says "That's when I started a life of helping people. Once I saw, I really could make a difference."
People used to bring knives to Tom's father to be sharpened and his father would invite them into the house to sit at the kitchen table while he worked. Tom could tell that not all of these people were the cream of society and mentioned this to his father once. "Tom" his father answered "you never know whose shoes Christ is walking in."
Growing up, Tom went to University School. Once again, it was a chance for his father to teach him. "He said to me, you have an opportunity here at University School, but don't think of yourself as a privileged character. You have to work and work hard."
Tom was the middle child of three. His older sister died in 1999 and he has a younger brother. "I was the one who was always into things. If something was going on the first question would always be 'where's Tom?' because they knew I was involved somehow."
Tom was always a collector of baseball items. The neighborhood he grew up in had quite a mix of athletic greats. Lou Boudreau lived around the corner. The coach of both University School and John Carroll lived next door, and down the street was the coach from Case as well as Mel Harder.
"So we were always going to one sporting event or another."
Casey Stengel and Tom Eakin
And Tom liked collecting things as he went. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of the Superman comics, lived right across from Lou Boudreau. "They moved out of the house and threw line drawings of the original comics into the trash when they moved. I got 20 of them out of the garbage." Unfortunately, his father threw them out and Tom learned later that a collection of about the same amount sold for a half million dollars!
Tom went to Dennison University. His family often vacationed in Hot Springs Va. His father would say "we're having cocktails at noon - would you care to join us?" Not pushing, just offering. In most cases, Tom would attend because the possibilities of who they would be joining were endless. His father seemed to know everyone.
One night his father came in and told him they were playing golf the next morning. Tom hesitated because he knew he was going out dancing that night and wasn't sure he wanted to get up early for golf. His father didn't tell him who they were playing with, just told him he thought Tom would regret missing the game. So he agreed.
Next morning on the putting green they met Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri. It was 1958. Finally their fourth arrived. "This tall, lanky, good-looking guy came up and put out his hand. 'Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy.'" Tom knew he was and was very impressed. Kennedy said "I guess I'm your partner. Don't call me Senator. Please call me Jack."
Danny Kaye and Tom Eakin at Cleveland Municipal Stadium
Tom asked Kennedy what they would do for money and Kennedy said not to worry - I never carry any. "And it was true. The Kennedy's never carried any money." They won the first hole and Kennedy put his arm around Tom and said "We got 'em". Tom says he was walking on air the entire nine holes. (Kennedy had a bad back and couldn't play the full eighteen, in addition to having to go back to work.)
He subsequently saw Kennedy at cocktail parties. He said Jack Kennedy would always remember everything about a person; when and where they met in addition to personal items that made you feel special. Tom saw Kennedy again at Hellriegel's in Painesville when he had a breakfast out there and of course, Kennedy remembered him.
He asked Jack Kennedy about the importance of service and Jack told him that since we've been given the opportunities we have an opportunity. "Of course they could do it. People idolized the Kennedys. It was a different era. Now I see too much of this 'I want fame for 15 minutes of work'. "
Dorothy Marshall, Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman with Brenda and Tom Eakin in April 1976
Tom met his wife Brenda while she was a nurse at St. Luke's hospital. His dad was starting to have health issues and Brenda helped care for him. Brenda wouldn't give him the time of day. She was very quiet and shy, having been raised with a Mennonite background. When he left he told her he would call her sometime - but never did.
About a year later he was at a party and felt sad and lonely. He told himself it was time to give up the life he was leading and settle down with someone of substance - someone he could spend the rest of his life with. Just like that he knew that that person was Brenda. He called the St. Luke's hospital dorm and lucky for him she was in. When he asked if she remembered him she instantly reminded him that he was about a year late with his phone call.
Their first date was a horse show at the old arena and a mere eight months later (October 21, 1961) they were married.
Brenda and Tom Eakin in 2008
They had two sons, Tommy and Scott. Sadly, Scott recently passed away.
He loves to kid with people - a little good-spirited "ragging" always goes far in ingratiating yourself to people. "Of course, you have to be able to be on both sides of the kidding, and I always am."
Tom doesn't really feel uncomfortable in any situation. He makes everyone feel like they've been friends for "50,000 years."
"I have found that it always pays off to talk to everyone you can and really get to know people. One time I went out to Treasure Lake for a Special Olympics event. There was a special dinner with about 800 people. [One of the event people] approached me and said their MC wasn't able to attend and asked me if I would do it. Of course I said yes. And the reason I was successful was because I could point to the audience and call people by name."
Many people talk about listening when opportunity knocks, but in Tom's case it was even more than that. He says "It was like I could see the door open. Really visualize it and see it open. Some people sit back and wonder what's happenning and I always tell them it's all around you. We've been given some wonderful opportunities. Everybody has something to offer - but you have to listen to them - really, really listen - to hear what it is they have."
In 1978 he and Brenda were in Mexico and came across Mike DeSalle, former Governor of the State of Ohio. They remembered each other from the Hellreigel's breakfast in Painesville.
"This is my point. You have to remember people. You have to take an interest in every person you meet. Talk to them. Learn about them. That's what Jack Kennedy did. People at cocktail parties often are looking over your shoulder to see who they can talk to next while they're talking to you and not learning or benefiting from what is right in front of them. I find people fascinating - and it pays off."
Tom Eakin at unveiling of model of the Superdome
Tom is always amazed at what some people attempt to get away with. "We have lost patience in running a task through and waiting our turn. We are racing to oblivion. No one wants to listen."
"We have the right to live in the greatest country in the universe - but we also have the obligations that go with it and that includes the obligation to treat people well. And respect for other people."
Tom is quick to point out he is not "a goody-two-shoes". He says he has been tested many times, not the least of which was the death of his son, Scott. Scott was engaged, with plans to be married in just four months, when he died. Tom gave the eulogy at the service, to the surprise of friends and family who didn't think they would have had the strength to do that. He says "My wife and I had an obligation to express our love for him publicly and to maybe help someone in the church who would hear and know they were not alone in this world."
"You don't get everything you want in life. But if you follow the rules and have a moral code, you can somehow go on through anything. Call it God, or whatever you want, but this is the only way to get through."
Tom is famous for an expression that he has patterned his life after "You are not a man or a woman until you have uplifted the dignity of another human being."
Of course, as a human being, Tom has his low periods too. But when he does, he lies down, thinks of the nicest things he has in life and focuses on them. He says it really helps. Sometimes he thinks of something as simple as an ice cream cone or a special person in his life. But it always helps him focus on how good he really has it.
As Tom went through life he continued his streak of answering the door when opportunity knocked and meeting interesting people.
Thomas Eakin receives Sport Magazine Award at ceremonies in Washington DC on Pro Baseball's 100th anniversary 7-21-1969. Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White, Joe DiMaggio, Tom Eakin, Baseball Commissioner Bowie K. Kuhn and Stan Musial
Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams would always be sure to greet Tom. Ted was a very confident man. He liked who he liked and didn't pretend with the others. And he liked Tom. Tom will always remember Ted, as Manager of the Washington Senators, flying home after losing a double header. He was on the plane cursing loudly, as he was often known to do.
One of the other managers told him there were two nuns sitting behind him and he should watch his mouth. Ted turned to the sisters and apologized and asked them to forgive him. They said they would. Ted reacted by cursing again and saying he had been afraid they would be mad and offered to "buy [the] girls a drink."
Tom sat on the bench with Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin. As far back as when he was only five (1938) and his dad was working for Richmond Brothers Tom had great opportunities to meet people. One day his dad took him to the store to meet the Yankees who were coming in to look at suits.
He met the great Lou Gehrig who he describes as "a really nice guy. We talked for 10-15 minutes, which for an adult to talk to a child for that long is really something." Because of his age, Tom wasn't overly impressed at the time, but his dad did get an autograph for him. Many years later, right before his sister died she called and said she found it in an old box of their dad's things. As an adult, it means a lot more than it did to the five year old.
Yogi Berra came to Cooperstown to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Tom was there with Mrs. Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and of course, Yogi Berra. It was a hot sultry day and when Mrs. Ruth congratulated Yogi she mentioned that he looked very cool considering the weather. He replied, in true Yogi fashion, "You don't look so hot yourself!"
It was not just sports figures Tom has spent time with. He has met and been honored by governors and presidents including Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush.
Tom Eakin and Gerald Ford at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio on August 5, 1967
In this short video, Tom Eakin tells a story about meeting then Congressman Gerald Ford at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and again when he was Vice-President
In 1957 the Cy Young Centennial was to be held in Newcomerstown Ohio - but it wasn't going well. Many of the people didn't share Tom's PR and marketing background. So when Tom was asked to step in, he didn't hesitate.
Cy Young was a native of Tuscarawas County and had played for the Cleveland Spiders. The year after his death the coveted Cy Young pitching award was instituted. As a baseball fan, Tom knew how important it was to keep alive the memory of this native Ohioan and claim him as Ohio's own.
Tom got some of the old Cleveland ball players together for the Centennial. He put together a three day event with Woody Hayes as the MC. Roger Peckinpaugh from Cleveland was going to be there. He was the MVP in 1925, but committed 5 or 6 errors in the World Series. He agreed to come to the event as long as the errors weren't mentioned.
Tom explained this to Woody, who agreed. Hayes introduced him, referred to his time as a Washington Senator and his MVP title. He went on to say "and we excuse you for making those errors in the World Series."
Tom realized how much knowledge and inter-action he had with the teams. At the centennial dinner he sat down next to Governor Rhodes and said, "Governor, with your endorsement I want to start a Cy Young Hall of Fame." Of course the Governor jumped at the idea.
Tom Eakin cuts the ribbon opening the Cy Young Museum
However, Tom realized that although he had tons of baseball memorabilia and historic artifacts, he didn't have enough for a museum. That museum didn't last long, but Eakin also started and ran the Ohio Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Hall of Fame began in 1975 and with the aid of Tom's personal collection of items, the Hall of Fame and Museum flourished.
Hard times eventually hit and in 1999 the final class was inducted into the Hall of Fame and Tom sold a big part of his collection. He is currently considering plans to once again induct members into the Hall of Fame, but without a physical structure in which to house it. This would allow the sports figures to be honored and remembered without the cost of maintaining a museum.
Tom Eakin at the first induction ceremony of the Ohio Baseball Hall of Fame in Newcomerstown, Ohio on July 5,1976
Tom is the very proud recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor which is given to people who have performed outstanding humanitarian feats. Tom still gets choked up when he talks about receiving the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. He flew to New York to receive the award. There were cocktail parties, luncheons and even a special Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
This was 2002 - the first class after September 11th. Security was tight, but all Tom could think of was how awesome this experience was. On the boat he noticed a man wearing the Congressional Medal of Honor and the name "Davis" on his uniform. Tom went up to him and addressed him. "General Raymond L. Davis? 5th Marines? Korea" Tom explained that although he was an Army man himself, General Davis was a legend and Tom was honored to meet him.
As they docked there were ethnic singers and dancers to greet them. The band was playing and a long red carpet was rolled out for the inductees. They called the names alphabetically and The National Anthem was played. It is difficult for Tom to recall this tremendous event without stopping to compose himself. He was announced as "A Great American" as his picture was shown on a large screen and he was presented with the Medal.
Also inducted in the 2002 class were Dr. Ruth Westheimer and former Oklahoma Governor David Walters.
Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients and spouses - Glenn Brown, Brenda and Tom Eakin, Jenny Brown, Carol and Alex Machaskee
Tom has helped hundreds of people and organizations who he believes are doing good work to uplift other people. For example, Tom realized there are hundreds of historical societies looking for funding. He created Ohio for History, combining the event calendar of all of the different groups into a poster. He paid for the printing and the posters were used as a very successful fundraiser.
Although Tom was in the life insurance business that was not really "his thing". In 1973 he started his own business putting out sports calendars with events. He made a lot of money for the teams. They call him the "Energizer Bunny" because he just keeps going and going.
He likes to do things on his own and is not fond of board meetings: "They bore me." He wants to know the plan and then act on it. Those actions are what has put Tom in the Guinness Book of World records with the record for the longest biography in Who's Who in America.
Part of Tom Eakin's World Record setting entry in Who's Who
He has received sports awards, humanitarian awards, volunteer awards, police awards, rotary awards, political awards - you name it. He received an award from the U.S. Marine Corps, even though he himself was an Army man, for his outstanding work for Toys for Tots.
Tom has been the recipient of literally hundreds of awards, citations and honors. A "Thomas C. Eakin" Day has been instituted in over 300 cities throughout both the United States and Canada. He is the only Ohioan on record as having a day named for him in every one Ohio's eighty-eight counties.
In this short video Tom Eakin tells about an unexpected letter from President Harry S. Truman
The list goes on and on, but more importantly, so does Tom. He reflects on his life and deems it to be a good life.
Many people have "a good life" many people enjoy the "finer things" in life. Tom Eakin has helped innumerable amounts of people make their lives better. He has challenged people to uplift the dignity of another human being and he has surely done that - over and over.
When Tom Eakin leaves this world he will be leaving it a much better place than he found it. His life has been one of service and commitment and we are all better off for it.