Oral History Project
The Rhododendron Festival has always been the major annual event for Florence. Tom noticed a decline in the enthusiasm and excitement for the festival in the 1970’s. Rather than see its popularity continue to dwindle, he was determined to do something about it.
Tom Sneddon is a well-known, long time resident of Florence, having moved from Baker, Oregon in 1955. His father worked for a Western Auto store there and received an opportunity to relocate to a store in Florence. With friends in Florence and his mother’s aunt living in Mapleton, the move was a welcomed one. At the time, Tom was 2 years old with a younger brother.
Dick Shollenberger, another Florence resident, was a close friend of the family. Throughout the years, he became a great influence on Tom. In fact, Tom recalls Dick drove 14 hours to apply for a position as principal of the local high school. He arrived early and realized he needed to become familiar with Florence in a hurry. His job interview was scheduled for later that day. He thought a barbershop might be a good resource. Dick stopped in at the nearest one and casually struck up a conversation, asking a few pertinent questions. Luckily, he was able to learn all about Florence and the schools before his scheduled interview. Needless to say, Dick made a favorable impression and got the job! Dick Schollenberger went on to become a school Principal, and the Superintendent of schools. By speaking with the Lane County Commissioners, he acquired land for the Elementary, Middle, and High Schools, and Community College.
Tom grew up and attended school in Florence while working with this father at Western Auto. He graduated from Siuslaw High School, and attended Oregon College of Education (later named Western Oregon University). He earned a teaching degree in 1975. Tom’s career spanned several occupations in Florence. He worked at the Emporium, Johnston Motor Company, Siuslaw News, and owned the Sears Hometown store (1998 – 2020). Throughout those years, he made significant contributions in community service, civic responsibilities, and being a volunteer fireman for 22 years
The Rhododendron Festival has always been the major annual event for Florence. Tom began noticing a decline in the enthusiasm and excitement for the festival in the 1970’s. Rather than see its popularity continue to dwindle, he was determined to do something about it. He convinced the Chamber of Commerce to take on a more active role in the festival. Tom found ways to raise money, and organized resources to restore it to the celebrated event it had been in prior years. He recognized a ‘celebrity headliner’ was needed to re-create the enthusiasm, excitement and interest of the 1950’s and 1960’s. He eventually became President of the Chamber of Commerce.
THE CLYDESDALES COME TO TOWN – Twice!
Tom was instrumental in bringing the Clydesdales to Florence first in 1988, then again in 2007.
In 1988 the town became enamored with the horses as soon as they arrived! The Clydesdales were comfortably ‘housed’ near Highway 101, and the public took advantage of photo opportunities with the visitors. However, on the day of the parade, unwelcomed rain replaced the previous day’s sunny skies. With wet weather threatening damage to the horses’ signature (and costly) harnesses, the Clydesdales’ Grand Parade appearance did not occur. Instead, the horses remained in trailers and were trucked through town during the parade. Their mere presence nonetheless made for an exciting and fun event.
For the 100th anniversary of the Rhody festival, Tom arranged for the Clydesdales to revisit and appear in the 2007 parade. With the previous visit’s success, it promised to be another special treat for the public to enjoy the celebrity horses. Everyone was encouraged to drop by and visit with the horses at the former Bert Chevrolet location on Highway 101. That weekend, Saturday was a bright, clear day. The Clydesdales made appearances with their wagon at Fred Meyer and visited Bay Street taverns. Luck was not with us, as rain came on Sunday, and again, the Clydesdales were unable to join the parade. Despite the disappointment, enthusiasm and excitement were restored in making the 100th Rhododendron festival a successful and memorable event.
Even today, Tom Sneddon continues to explore other ideas for future festivals or 4th of July events.
Vine Maple Savages
Tom was asked about the Vine Maple Savages (“VMS”). He explained the group began during WWII when civilians were given the task of guarding coastal beaches. Throughout the years, membership changed, but the VMS continued to organize to support community causes. Tom recalled such a time occurred in 1974 during the gas rationing era. The group organized to persuade then Governor McCall to consider an increase in gasoline allotment for the Florence area. On a wet rainy day, they boarded a bus to Salem with the intent of approaching the Governor. They succeeded in locating him as he sat down for lunch. Blame it on the day’s weather, but as they stood dripping wet, the VMS presented their proclamation. Unfortunately, the rain droplets from their coats found its way onto the Governor’s lunch, much to his chagrin. Whether it can be attributed to this VMS effort, in the end, Florence received an extra 22,500 gallons of fuel.
Tom Sneddon has many stories and memories of Florence, and we felt lucky to hear a few of them.