Sabiston receives citizen award

Published 8:19 am Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Known around Washington Parish as somewhat of a jokester, Rod Sabiston’s more serious demeanor was on display at Sunday’s reception in his honor at Centenary United Methodist Church.

Sabiston was recently selected as the 2014 Franklinton Citizen of the Year. The reception at Centenary United Methodist Church gave the Moncks Corner, S.C., native the opportunity to talk about how he and his wife, Drema, became a part of Franklinton and his involvement with the Franklinton Community Theatre.

Life-long friends, Franklinton Community Theatre co-workers and people he helped along the way offered up tributes to the 75-year-old Sabiston before the honoree took the microphone.

Former Daily News Managing Editor/General Manager David Vitrano presented Sabiston with a framed May edition that announced past recipients had voted for Sabiston to win the award.

Franklinton Mayor Hon. Wayne Fleming bestowed on Sabiston the key to the city, a lapel pin and an engraved photo frame.

Bill Jordan, Edward Stogner, Jean Turner and one of his daughters, Shannon Hyde, all gave brief remarks about how Sabiston’s influence helped them at one time or another.

“I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this award,” Sabiston said as his voice broke. “It thrills me deeply.”

Sabiston then broke out his guitar and played a tune called “Thank you today for being so nice.”

Sabiston earned a baseball scholarship to Clemson University, but transferred to LSU where he earned a degree in business and marketing. He worked for 30 years as a traveling salesman for a number of furniture companies.

Sabiston said Dr. Jim Cody and his wife, Dixie, encouraged him to put down roots in Franklinton. That was in 1978.

“I came to this town knowing only two people,” Sabiston said. “I started coming to this church and going to the country club and tried to play tennis. I didn’t know a thing about tennis. When I came here, I thought ‘I’ve got the whole states of Louisiana and Mississippi and I’ve got to find a location that is central to live.’ Jim said, ‘What’s wrong with Franklinton.’ “

Sabiston said Franklinton was a perfect fit for him and his wife, Drema.

“Franklinton was a blessing for me,” he said. “I saw a lot of stuff going on here. Maybe I could not merely exist here, but do something. Everybody in the world has some kind of talent, they’ve just got to do something with it.”

Sabiston became to know Franklinton Community Theatre Board member Jerry Dick. Sabiston said Dick got him hooked on the theatre. He has been president of the Community Theatre since 1998.

Jordan said he and Sabiston go way back.

“I met Rod in 1966 when he started at RCA,” Jordan said. “Rod and I worked together. I always looked up to Rod, because had taught me a lot about sales.”

Jordan talked about Sabiston’s golf game.

“Fifty years ago to now, Rod shot close to par golf. He was a great athlete,” he said. “He got a softball team started at RCA. And he was really into his music. I was going to say he was a lot more energetic at 25 than at 75, but I don’t know if that is true. Rod has always been a motivated person.”

Stogner said he was on a rough path before Sabiston talked to him and straightened him out. Stogner said Sabiston gave him good advice. Stogner later served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2000-2011.

“In the summer of 1996, I met my lifelong friend and role model,” Stogner said. “When I was a senior in high school, he helped me get my first truck. Before I met him, I was fighting. After I met him, I turned around my life and stopped getting in trouble.”

Turner credited Sabiston for many of the theatre’s innovations.

“How do you explain Rod?” Turner asked. “We’re still best friends all through these years. We share a theatre family. If Rod Sabiston had not taken it over, it would not exist today.”

Despite a small venue, Turner said Sabiston managed to get a tornado to spin during one production. In another, a witch melted into the floor. She also said Sabiston managed to get a 300-pound wizard in a basket and found a rope strong enough to hoist the wizard in the air. And there was the Yellow Brick Road that Sabiston added for the Wizard of Oz. An orchestra pit was also added to the mix.

“Washington Parish has so many talented people and Rod searches them out,” Turner said. “Though he came from South Carolina, he has that true Washington Parish spirit. His greatest sale was to Drema. You just can’t say ‘no’ to Rod.”

Sabiston’s daughters, Shannon Hyde and Tamara Brabham, read a poem that Shannon wrote. The poem summed up their feelings about their father. Sabiston gave each a hug when it was finished.