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Epilogue | Earl "Rusty" Hoaglin

Earl Hoaglin, self-made man and role model

CLEARWATER — Photos and knickknacks around his waterfront home hint at the robust lifestyle of Earl "Rusty" Hoaglin.

A decades-old letter from a Cuban official still looks fresh, inviting Mr. Hoaglin to participate in a fishing tournament.

There is a signed cartoon of the Bumsteads by Dean Young, an author of the cartoon strip Blondie.

A blond plastic doll with Barbie hair clings to a stripper's pole, which rotates to nightclub music at the touch of a button.

He emerged from a childhood filled with uncertainties to self-made success, and wanted younger people to do just as well. Mr. Hoaglin died March 11 due to complications from a respiratory illness. He was 73. His family blames a smoking habit he quit a decade ago.

"He was kind of Clearwater Beach's Ernest Hemingway," said Ed Droste, a co-founder of Hooters restaurants and the source of the music box. "His boat could sniff out a Hooters photo shoot in international waters. If there was one going on, he seemed to find it."

To his young descendants and all of their friends, he was a father figure who wanted to pass on some hard-won lessons.

A framed photo from 1947 shows a 10-year-old Rusty Hoaglin standing near a thoroughbred and rider at a racetrack. His father — a horse trainer, auctioneer and bookmaker who allegedly hung with Al Capone's older brother, Ralph — would "literally bet the farm on a race," Mr. Hoaglin's wife said.

Mr. Hoaglin dropped out of school in the ninth grade. He went on to serve with the Army National Guard and was stationed in Panama. He was 23 and working at a service station when he met Betsy, his boss' 14-year-old daughter.

The attraction blossomed some time later, when Mr. Hoaglin and Betsy, along with their respective romantic attachments, went mullet fishing.

"My boyfriend was too chicken to pick up the fish, and his girlfriend was too chicken to pick up the fish," said Betsy Hoaglin.

They married in 1965. For many years, the couple ran a mobile X-ray service to nursing homes. In the 1990s, Mr. Hoaglin opened Renegade Outfitters, a Harley-Davidson store with an upstairs cafe. In the meantime, he always found time to fish commercially for stone crabs.

Stories of generosity abound. He offered jobs to people who were broke. "He'd say, 'I can't pay you very much but I can pay you something, and at least you're working,' " his wife said.

He stressed accountability. "Paradise ain't cheap," he said.

Once, his daughter April, then 16, announced she wanted to drop out of school despite making good grades. No problem, Mr. Hoaglin said. He would drive her to school and sign the papers — if she would go for one more day.

But it was a trick.

When April emerged from her first class, there was her father in the hallway, ready to escort her to her to the next. He was there after that class, too.

She stayed in school and is now a child protection investigator for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

"Everything he did was a life lesson to make to make me a stronger person," she said.


Earl Marques "Rusty" Hoaglin

Born: Sept. 5, 1937.

Died: March 11, 2011.

Survivors: wife Betsy; son Mark and his wife Cindy; daughter April; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Earl Hoaglin, self-made man and role model 03/23/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 7:33am]
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