George Pearson was banished to the East Side for following the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, that punishment proved to be a blessing for an emerging neighborhood.
The year was 1900. Robert Waldrop, a radio producer, remembered what Pearson faced when he crossed the Maumee as The East Side Man at The Blade. "East Toledo was a forgotten village of 17,000 inhabitants on the far side of the Cherry Street Bridge.
There were actually two settlements...Birmingham and Ironville, separated by three miles of mud, called Front Street. Before George Pearson came, nobody ever heard of the East Side except when there was an explosion or a fire or a murder. But from the very day he arrived all that was changed."
Pearson had been a rising star. He met and wrote stories about influential men like William Jennings Bryan, Governor William McKinley, President Teddy Roosevelt and Toledo Mayor Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones.
It was Pearson's crusading for Jones that landed him in "Siberia," says local author Mary Nassar Breymaier in her first book George Pearson: A Modest Hero.
While modern reporters are discouraged from voicing opinions, Pearson lived his beliefs. He followed the Social Gospel movement. In this "return to the original spirit of Jesus," followers worked to make the world a better place. Thus, Pearson admired the practices of "Golden Rule" Jones, a popular industrialist. Jones built a successful company by providing uncommon benefits to his employees--paid vacation, company insurance, a profit-sharing plan and hot meals at cost.
Breymaier writes that when Pearson continued to back Jones after he fell out of favor with The Blade, he was banished to the East Side.
They say when one door closes, another opens. The banishment gave Pearson an out-of-the-way setting to practice Social Gospel. From 1897 until 1947 he wrote a daily column for an East Side population that mushroomed to more than 50,000. He used his column to crusade for many civic causes including saving the last remnant of The Great Black Swamp, some 320 acres of virgin wood now known as Pearson Park.
Pearson Park has always been close to Breymaier's heart. She ice skated there and learned how to drive and park there. Today, she is involved in the Friends of Pearson Park. And, growing up above her father's East Toledo market, she read Pearson's column after Charles Crom took it over. So, when Mary needed a subject for her Master's thesis, Pearson was a natural choice.
"When I was doing my research, I couldn't stop. Everything I found about George Pearson fascinated me...I spent a year reading 50 years of his columns. He wrote every day. East Toledo was the only neighborhood in Toledo that had a column. That was because The Blade held him in such high regard," she said.
One Blade writer, John Grigsby, said Pearson was "goodness himself" and young reporters would watch their language when around him. Colleagues spoke of his gentleness, his cheerfulness and his ability to back up his beliefs with positive action.
Pearson, through his columns and participation in civic groups like the East Toledo Club, was at the center of such projects as Waite High School, the high-level bridge, the Cherry Street Bridge, numerous railroad overpasses, and, of course, the saving of the land now known as Pearson Park. Pearson publicized these projects in his column and in the freelance work he did for The Sun. He also worked quietly to bring influential people together to move the projects ahead. His greatest accomplishment, Breymaier writes, was his ability to convince Edward Ford, owner of Libbey-Owens-Ford to donate $61,100 to purchase the woods which were being destroyed by men cutting down live trees to provide heat for their homes.
Of the many surprises in the book, which include how the Waite Indians acquired their nickname, the most eye-popping was Pearson's political involvement. He wrote columns and editorials supporting many candidates including Teddy Roosevelt. He corresponded with Roosevelt and marched with a bugle corps in Roosevelt's inaugural parade in 1905.
In doing her research, Breymaier was astonished all of Pearson's peers described him as a passionate, gentle man without a fault. In an effort to provide balance, she searched for derogatory statements. She found one. She recalls, "I tried hard to find something negative about him. No one can be this congenial. The only thing I found was someone who said, `Boy, you should have seen his temper when he found out they cut the trees down in The Bank Lands. He was so red and furious.'"
With this book, Mary Breymaier joins other local authors Larry Michaels, Robyn Hage and Jeff Eversman who have published local history books in the last few years. East Toledo is fortunate to have such an active group preserving the rich history of this dynamic section of Toledo.
When she looks at the book cover, the first-time author and teacher at West Side Montessori Middle School, remains modest. She explains, "The biggest lesson for me is that I could do this project. Sometimes, I still don't believe it...But, a project like this can be done by an average person."