Following in their father’s footsteps wasn’t always the plan for two local business leaders.
Starting out working as a janitor in his father’s office from a young age, Ed Ridgway grew up handling all sorts of office duties in Bob Ridgway’s Hartwell law office, but he didn’t always want to come back and join his father’s practice. He had aspirations of living and working in a big city.
“If you would’ve asked me as a senior in high school what I was going to be, lawyer would’ve been the last thing I would’ve said,” Ed Ridgway said. “But it’s amazing how your life takes you in different directions.”
After working for two years as an attorney in Atlanta, Ed decided he didn’t like living in the city and decided to ask his father if he could come back home to work.
The father-son duo then became business partners in 2003, a decision Ed and Bob are both thankful for.
In 2008, Bob’s wife, Ed’s mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ed was able to take a lot of the workload off of his father and assist him when needed while Bob took care of his wife, who has since recovered.
“It’s those type of moments that you sit there and think ‘that’s what it’s all about when you come home’ just being able to be with your family, being able to help your family and work with your family,” Ed said. “... If I would’ve been in Atlanta, I wouldn’t have been much help.”
Bob said he never pushed his son to be a lawyer, he just wanted him to get a good education.
“I encouraged him to get as much education as he could and let it take him where he wanted to go, which is the same thing my father did for me,” Bob said.
Working together as father and son can cause the two to lock horns occasionally, they said, but for the most part their relationship has been beneficial to their business.
“It’s certainly been beneficial to me,” Ed said. “I’ve been able to run things by him, been able to use all the knowledge that he’s gained and the experience he has.”
The benefits of working collaboratively go both ways, Bob said.
“It was almost like a new day,” Bob said. “When he came back, I finally had someone I could depend upon to be here when I’m not or take things that I couldn’t and have a little more youth involved.”
The Ridgways said oftentimes they’re so busy at work that they don’t necessarily see each other at the office, or if they do, the interactions are typically limited to work-related topics, but the two still go out to restaurants occasionally to catch up and talk about their beloved Georgia Bulldogs.
Another local business leader who stepped in to fill the shoes of his father is Dairy Queen owner and operator Mark Seabolt.
Mark’s father, Fletcher Seabolt, was well known in the community and had an outgoing personality, Mark said.
“He always ran the cash register cause he liked talking to the customers,” Mark said. “He was always here. He wasn’t an absentee owner at all and that’s how he built his business, just building relationships with everybody.”
Fletcher died in a car accident in Hart County in 2018.
The local Dairy Queen is known as being a gathering place for local folks, something Mark said his dad helped foster, and Mark hopes to continue.
“Somehow this became the hub,” Mark said.
Mark said he didn’t always want to run the local restaurant, but Fletcher groomed him for the role from a young age and hoped he would return home after he left for the University of Georgia to pursue a business degree.
“He was always supportive of that, but his end goal was to have me back in here running this place,” Mark said. “He said ‘go do what you need to do and do what you want to do’ but this is what he always wanted was me back here.”
Mark returned home early from college because Fletcher was diagnosed with a brain tumor while they were in the midst of building a new restaurant, “Fletcher’s”, which is now Casa Grande.
In 2007, Mark finished his degree, as Fletcher wanted him to get his diploma, and pursued other ventures until Fletcher told him he needed help running Dairy Queen.
“I’ve grown up with it. I’ve always done it. Of course there was a lot to learn that I hadn’t done, but as far as knowing the customers and handling the food side of it, sure,” Mark said. “... I was happy to come back and help.”
Father’s Day in the Seabolt house typically meant just another day at work, Mark said, because his father often worked seven days per week. Some of his best memories with Fletcher though were when he would take him on hunting or fishing trips the few days a year he did take off work.
Lessons learned from his father were often observational, mostly about treating people properly, Mark said. He remembers well how Fletcher would brighten a customers day even if they were being grouchy by saying, “if you’ll put a smile on that face the day will go a lot better.”
“And people never got mad at him, almost never,” Mark said. “... People tell me to this day, ‘your daddy used to cheer me up when I came in, in the mornings.’”
Hard work is another lesson Fletcher instilled in Mark. He said his dad believed in being open everyday except holidays and on the rare occasion it snowed in Georgia, Fletcher would take his tractor and clear the snow in the parking lot and elsewhere in town.
“He’s the most persistent, consistent person I’ve ever met,” Mark said.
Mark has three children and he said he wouldn’t push them to continue the legacy of running the Dairy Queen, but he would be completely open if they wanted to head that direction.
“If they get in here and love this, then by all means,” Mark said. “It’s very satisfying to help put a smile on peoples’ faces to make them happier every day to handle a need for them.”