Earl Edison Gaylor (1927-2015) received the Pugsley Medal in 1971. He assumed leadership of the Wheeling Park Commission (WPC), Wheeling, West Virginia as the 1950s drew to a close. Over the next dozen years, Gaylor took Wheeling Parks to a new level, making a commitment to provide more quality facilities and better serve the needs of a diverse community and visitors from many states.
Upon succeeding the WPC's first superintendent, Homer Fish (Pugsley Medal 1959), Gaylor's administration became a bridge to a new era of professionalism, building on the dynamic growth that founded the WPC and its flagship property, Oglebay. It became one of the most respected public park systems in the country and was recognized as a prototype for first-class maintenance, revenue-producing facilities, and self-sufficiency.
Gaylor grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, coming to Wheeling after earning a degree from Ohio State University. While teaching and coaching at Warwood High School, he worked seasonally for the WPC. In 1953, Homer Fish enticed Gaylor to becomt assistant manager of Oglebay Park. There was not much money coming in, but the cultural and recreational opportunities at Oglebay were plentiful, mainly because of improvements accomplished through the Parks System Trust Fund (established in 1945) and the cooperation of special-interest groups who sponsored park activities.
In 1959, Gaylor was appointed manager of Oglebay, and assistant superintendent of parks, to assist the ailing Homer Fish (he became superintendent when Fish died in 1961). He worked wonders in steering the parks to meet the needs of the community and beyond, through his capable management and business skills.
Gaylor added professionally trained management personnel to the WPC staff. He never forgot, however, that Wheeling's parks were built through the hard work and loyalty of many employee who honed their skills as they went along -- some workers going back to the days when Oglebay was a farm. "A lot of people worked for very low wages because they were convinced of what the parks could become," he said. Under Gaylor's leadership, Wheeling developed one of the most comprehensive public park systems in the country. Annual visitors topped the two million mark and activities at both major parks, Oglebay and Wheeling Park, now spanned the seasons. In addition to his strong business skills, Gaylor brought expertise in planning for land acquisition and growth. More than 500 acres were added at Oglebay and 300 acres to Wheeling Park. Gaylor and the WPC made a commitment at this time to the development of Wheeling Park "so it will eventually provide the Ohio Valley with a second major recreation area."
When Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF) became available from the federal government in 1965, Gaylor and the WPC were ready with projects prioritized in the master plan and matching funds available through the trust fund. With this combination of federal funds, local money, and rising revenues from Oglebay's Wilson Lodge and general park use, Gaylor carried out a steady agenda of development at the parks during the volatile decade of the 1960s.
Three of the first four LWCF projects funded in West Virginia came to the WPC: a spacious service building/maintenance shop, the Stone clubhouse and swimming pool at Wheeling Park, and the purchase of a hundred acres of land adjoining Oglebay to be used as a wildlife refuge. At the time, Congressman Arch A. Moore, Jr. made public a letter which said in part, "The Department of the Interior is constantly holding up theWheeling Park Commission operation as a national model for citizens' participation."
Under Gaylor's guidance and financial acumen, the 1960s was a "three million dollar decade" -- the most extensive period of capital development to date. In addition to LWCF projects, private donations to the trust fund allowed for major improvements: a 43-room addition to Wilson Lodge and three chalets, Par-3 course/ski area/clubhouse, a fireproof addition at the Mansion Museum, expansion of the tennis complex, a fly-fishing lake, renovation of the youth camp, and a beautiful new garden center. Thousands of new trees and shrubs were planted, and maintenance was upgraded.
One of Gaylor's biggest accomplishments -- one he called "the fulfillment of a hope and dream" -- was the Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed championship Speidel golf course which opened in 1970. "I was convinced that a course of this type would enhance the park, generate a tremendous interest in golf, and add to our resort image in order to fill more lodge and cottage rooms," said Gaylor.
While spearheading this phenomenal growth in the 1960s, Gaylor worked closely with others in the field, especially the American Institute of Park Executives, then headquartered at Oglebay, and North Carolina State University, to establish several professional training schools at Oglebay Park. The first Revenue Sources Management School was an instant success, leading to the establishment of more than a dozen new training schools in subsequent years.
Gaylor and the WPC staff graciously hosted professionals from throughout the United States and the world when they came to study the success of Wheeling's parks. He was in constant demand as a speaker. In 1968, Gaylor told the Wheeling Rotary Club, "Communities that survive and prosper will be those that take steps today to meet the challenge of providing adequate facilities for the next generation." Throughout his 24-year career with the Wheeling Park Commission, Gaylor practiced what he preached.
After 1972, when he retired from WPC, Gaylor became a successful entrepreneur, first as a consultant in the parks and recreation field, then as a hotel developer. He is president of Edison Hotels and Resorts.
Barbara B.Palmer, Historian,The Oglebay Foundation.