By Curt Yeomans
Officials from Clayton State University -- including one past and one current president -- gathered on the shores of Swan Lake on Thursday to dedicate a new outdoor amphitheater and stage, in honor of two major arts supporters.
Retired Clayton County Probate Judge Eugene Lawson, and the late L. Jerry Eskew, a Coca- Cola executive, will forever be linked to CSU through a new $250,000 amphitheater that will be located next to Spivey Hall.
Lawson is the co-founder and vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Walter and Emilie Spivey Foundation, which raised the funds to build Spivey Hall in 1991 and continues to oversee the facility. Eskew, a former Coca-Cola executive, was a patron of Spivey Hall until his death in 2002.
The amphitheater, opened at the beginning of the school year, is now the Judge Eugene Lawson Amphitheater and L. Jerry Eskew stage. It has already been used by the university for diversity events, concerts, and a 9/11 memorial service.
"A piece of my heart will remain here as long as this amphitheater stands," said Judge Lawson in remarks read at the ceremony by his daughter, Debbie Hood. Lawson could not attend because of health-related issues, but said he was overwhelmed in the remarks read by Hood.
The dedication ceremony attracted several Clayton State staff members, relatives of Lawson and Eskew, and Harry S. Downs, the school's first president.
Downs led the school from its founding in 1969, until his retirement in 1993, and recalled Lawson as one of the people community members recommended as someone who could help the then-fledgling junior college. Downs called Lawson "the first citizen of Clayton County.
"I am more than satisfied to have these facilities together, the amphitheater and Spivey Hall," said Downs. "It's a blessing. They are beautiful facilities."
Eskew's family, led by his widow, Cheryl, contacted the university shortly after his death to discuss a way to honor him on the university's campus. That quickly led to idea of an outdoor amphitheater on a small peninsula that juts into the lake to which Eskew often came for relaxation.
"What was lacking at Clayton State was an outdoor venue where people could come together for concerts, or poetry readings," said Thomas K. Harden, Clayton State president. "We thought this setting was ideal for an amphitheater. It's small in size, but it's outdoors."
Eskew's son, Mark, speaking for the family, said the peninsula overlooking the lake was the perfect setting for the amphitheater and stage, because of all the time his father spent at the university.
"He would call [Clayton State] his side office because he spent so much time here," said the younger Eskew. "He loved to just come here and relax. Just walking around the lake. Taking the grandkids with him, and throwing bread crumbs to the ducks and the swans. It was just a very relaxing place for him."