The following is one of several Collegeside member profiles written by Donna Smith over a period of several years. They tell the personal stories of some of our long-time members, some of whom are living and some of whom have gone on to be with their Lord. Their personal stories are an important part of the historical fabric of Collegeside.
If you visit Eldon Leslie on any beautiful Tennessee afternoon, you may find him and his wife, Carolyn, resting on their shaded deck built around a huge white oak and overlooking the waterfalls in what was formerly the Waterloo Girl Scout Camp near Hilham. He will be glad to talk about the blessing of his marriage to Carolyn in 2001 and about his nine grandchildren and their many achievements.
If you persuade Eldon to tell you about his life and service in Putnam and Overton counties, you will hear about what has been called “nearly four decades of selfless and sacrificial service to his community, region, state, and nation.”
Those words are official. They are part of the Resolution of the Senate of the 103rd General Assembly of the State of Tennessee honoring Eldon Leslie on his retirement in 2003 from his position as President/CEO of Cookeville Area-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
One of his many honors is the naming of the Leslie Towne Centre to honor his contributions and service.
His titles included President of Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executives and Chartering Director of the U.S. Southeast-Japan Association.
Other achievements recognized by the Tennessee Senate to honor Eldon include his role in:
• Attracting 35 new manufacturing facilities to Cookeville/Putnam Count
• Securing funding for State Highway 111
• Spearheading the drive to locate a Nashville State Technical Community College branch in Cookeville
• Working to establish the Nashville and Eastern Railroad Authority that provides rail service to Putnam, Smith, and Wilson counties
• Promoting industrial development along the Highway 111 corridor between Hamilton and Pickett counties
• Helping to found the Chamber’s Adopt-a-School program
• Supporting the formation of the Leadership Putnam program
• Working to establish the Putnam Travel Development Council
• Providing leadership for the development of the Cookeville/Putnam County Clean Commission
Listed on the Resolution were Eldon’s numerous roles in the nation as well as in his community: He was a citizen advisor to President Jimmy Carter on the Panama Canal treaties, was involved in discussions of the SALT II treaties, and was an appointee to the Ohio River Basin Commission during President Carter’s administration.
Not mentioned, he says, were his occasional duties as keeper of the dogs for President Johnson, which was part of an interesting time in his public service life.
He has given, as the Resolution continues, “meritorious aid to eight Tennessee governors through five decades, beginning in the 1960s.”
Awards listed in the Resolution include the Louis Johnson Award and the Business Leadership Award from Tennessee Tech’s College of Business Administration Foundation and the Community Service Award for his service to Tech. In 1987 friends and associates established the Eldon Leslie Endowed Scholarship in Engineering and Business, the largest endowment for a living person at the time. More than 70 students have been recipients to date.
He serves as trustee of the Upper Cumberland Education Foundation, which has awarded scholarships for 25-30 students. Also, a library at the Cookeville Campus of Nashville State is named for him.
He was the third recipient in the history of the prestigious Fred Harris Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tennessee Industrial Development Council.
Eldon’s story also includes his service to his country as an Army OCS commissioned officer, a member of the TNG serving two active duty tours, U.S. Army Medical Service Corp., in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
His business expertise, he is quick to explain, began with his nearly half a century of work with the family retail business in Livingston.
And his family is his joy.
His marriage to Nancy Morehead on June 2, 1955, was the first ceremony at Collegeside that resulted from the church’s college student group. Eldon met Nancy when they both played in the Tech band. Nancy played piccolo and flute and was an excellent musician, while he “was just a player” on the tuba. They began their family in Livingston and moved back to Cookeville in 1967 with their four children, Pam, Belinda, Mitchell, and Winston. They maintained their ties with the family five-and-dime in Livingston, which sold various items such as sewing notions and bolt goods. The store closed in 1987, and Nancy decided to finish her graduate degree. Her excellent record led to offers from Vanderbilt and from Ole Miss with scholarships for her doctoral work, but cancer struck and took her life in August 1996.
“Nancy was an unpretentious, wonderful mother and wife,” said Eldon.
Pam and Robert Toline and their three sons Robert Evan, Morgan, and Ben, are a part of the Collegeside family in Cookeville. Belinda has one daughter, Jessica, and has completed her graduate degree in psychology in Nashville. Mitchell, a judge, lives in Cookeville with his wife Genna. Winston and Amy have two sets of twins and live in Washington, D.C. He is a Commander in the Coast Guard. Eldon’s ninth grandchild is Crawford, the son of Carolyn’s daughter, Lisa Turner. Lisa and her family live in Mt. Juliet. Carolyn’s son David works with Averitt Express.
Eldon and Carolyn Meyer married in 2001. Carolyn’s husband, David, who was a minister, died in 1994. Eldon and Carolyn have known each other since 1967, when she was hired as Eldon’s first assistant. She later worked in mortgage banking and retired from First American National Bank in 1997.
Eldon remembers so many good people during the early years of Collegeside. He talks of the sound teaching of men such as “Uncle” Bob Lee Maddux, J.D. Anderson, and President Everett Derryberry. Harvey Draper, he remembers, was an expert historian with special knowledge of “our moment of Restoration.” Eldon took over teaching the senior men’s Bible class after Bob Lee Maddux retired. He also often served as a song leader at the church.
Eldon has good memories of Collegeside and Cookeville: “The goodness of the region reflected in the town of Cookeville, the call for development of this entire part of Tennessee, the college acting as an anchor. . . . Anyone is blessed who had the good fortune to be here during those early years.”
One can easily see why the Senate Resolution includes these words:
“Eldon Leslie exemplifies the spirit and allegiance to family and community that are characteristic of a true Tennessean.”