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Jeff Edwards — Porterville's Man of the Year
Editor’s note: This is the first of several articles on individuals, businesses and others recognized at the Chamber of Commerce banquet
When Jeff Edwards was asked to attend the Porterville Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet to give a brief history on Porterville, he found it suspicious.
“I got to thinking about it and I thought, ‘Hell, Bill Horst can do that,’” he said.
The local historian and business owner didn’t know it at the time, but he was being set up to attend the dinner to be recognized as the chamber’s 2012 Man of the Year.
This is the second time Edwards received such an award. The first time was in 1975.
“I get recognized all the time. The only thing is it makes you kind of suspicious. Maybe you’re dying and you don’t know it. Maybe they know something I don’t,” he said Wednesday.
After receiving the initial phone call from chamber president Donnette Carter, Edwards called back and turned down the offer.
That’s where his good friend Monte Reyes, director of Imagine Community Arts Center, came in.
“Monte and I are really good friends and he wanted me to go so I went,” Edwards said.
Reyes, who has known Edwards for roughly five years, said he is definitely deserving of the award.
“I know it’s based on yearly achievement, but any given year, at least the years I’ve known him, he takes it upon himself to record different parts of Porterville’s history,” he said.
Reyes first met Edwards as a child, during a trip to Edwards Gallery on Main Street.
“My father took me in there when I was a kid. He knew one of Jeff’s nephews that passed away so I knew of him but it wasn’t until about five years ago, when I came back, that I found out a little bit more about him,” Reyes said.
When Reyes’ parents bought a century-old historical home, Reyes began visiting Edwards to learn more about it. They’ve been good friends ever since.
Reyes describes Edwards as a funny and kind person.
“He’s a pretty generous guy, that’s for sure. If he has something he thinks somebody else can use, he’ll definitely see that it goes their way,” he said. “If you go into his shop, it seems he’s got all kinds of stuff there. The strange thing is he really doesn’t value hanging on to stuff as much as he does knowing about what’s behind it.”
His daughter, Gail Merjil, agrees her dad is a great person but feels Porterville will never really appreciate what he has done for the community.
“Everybody just loves him. I just don’t think Porterville has given him the recognition that he deserves,” she said.
Among his many accomplishments, Edwards has been studying and writing about Porterville history his entire life. He has written more than 50 history books and has more than 50,000 photographs that record significant historical events. He was contributory to the city’s Centennial and Sesquicentennial celebrations, offering up his time and expertise.
According to Reyes, Edwards is also very keen on getting local youth interested in local history and has proposed Imagine Community Arts Center students work on filming historic documentaries.
He is also continuously involved with the Porterville Historical Museum, Zalud House, and Paranormal Movement Investigations to present talks, perform historical skits, and lead walking tours. “Once he’s gone there’s a lot of history that’s gone and Porterville just doesn’t seem to care to try to do anything with it. Like the Indians — he has so much information on that and they’re not trying to get any of it on paper or doing anything and once he’s gone, it’s gone,” Merjil said.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.