FLORENCE, S.C. – The Florence Symphony Orchestra honored Kathleen Lazar Baskin at Monday night’s concert.
Baskin, a loyal subscriber to the FSO for 50 years, a founding member of the Symphony Guild and a former FSO board member, has been an enthusiastic advocate for the Florence community.
Baskin, 100, resides at The Manor, where she recently shared some memories of the early days of the Women’s Symphony Guild, now renamed the Florence Symphony Guild (since it now welcomes male members, too).
Fifty years ago, Kathleen and her friend Oreon Bobbett recruited a group of ladies to engage in fundraising for the symphony. Both Bobbett, a violinist, and her husband, Dr. Gordon Bobbett, a horn player and cellist, played with the symphony. The group started modestly, meeting in the homes of its members, and sponsored small events, such as bake sales and craft shows.
As the membership grew, they moved to more ambitious projects, such as a fashion show and the Designer House. Later fundraisers, still continuing today, were the popular Holiday House tour and the Taste of the Symphony. Even during the three decades she lived on a dairy farm in Lee County with her second husband, Ed Baskin, Kathleen continued to attend FSO concerts and support the projects of the Guild.
Baskin’s family roots are in agriculture. Her father was a Clemson district agent – and both of her husbands were involved in agricultural research – but there was always music in her home. She studied piano as a child and made sure her children also took music lessons. Eldest daughter Kathleen Lazar Brungard is a gifted professional musician and was once a guest conductor of the Florence Symphony Orchestra.
Baskin has an encyclopedic memory, recalling people, places and events in vivid detail. She chronicled the evolution of FSO concert venues from humble beginnings in the auditorium of McClenaghan High School, through West Florence High School and Florence Civic Center periods, to finally the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center.
There is also not much about the past hundred years of the community’s history that this centenarian doesn’t know something about. Her family moved to Florence when she was a child, and in 1932 her father purchased a farm south of Jefferies Creek, which included the land that is now Lazar Place. He paid $100 per acre.
The family lived in an old-style farmhouse with no central heat and no plumbing at the corner of Marsh and Second Loop Road, where a bank building stands today. She delightfully describes her high school years working an after-school job at an “uptown” business, adding up daily sales receipts, so she “wouldn’t have to work on the farm.”
She graduated from business school and developed into a savvy businessperson, partnering with her father, James Tarleton Lazar, and her first husband, F. Howard DeBerry, in commercial pursuits that included developing two residential neighborhoods on Second Loop Road – Tarleton Estates and Tarleton West – in addition to Lazar Place. She is proud of having been the first licensed female real estate agent in Florence.
Philanthropy has always been a part of Baskin’s life. She believes in giving back. She has supported many charitable and cultural institutions, including the symphony, but she is most proud of “Rick’s House,” a residential home on the campus of The Manor for adult men with special needs. She built the house, in partnership with Aldersgate Ministries, in memory of her oldest child, Rick DeBerry, who lived with multiple challenges.
Kathleen credits her longevity to good genes, at least on the distaff side. Her mother’s sisters lived to 101 and 99; her father lived to 104. She also points to staying socially and mentally active. She reads, plays cards, works crossword puzzles and is enlivened by social interaction.
But others also might attribute her longevity to her positive attitude.
“This lady relishes life; she exudes enthusiasm,” said Lalla Sleeby, a Florence Symphony Orchestra board member. “Her glass has always been mostly full. She was confident, strong and independent even before feminism was in fashion.
“Florence is a better place because Kathleen Lazar Baskin was planted here. And the Florence Symphony family – its board, its musicians and its guild – is grateful for her 50 years of service.”