Oct. 20--FLORENCE, S.C. -- Retirement was a foreign concept to Tom Marschel when he became the president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce 14 years ago.
"When I took this job, I couldn't imagine ever wanting to retire," Marschel said. "That's just not on your radar when you're in your 50s. It doesn't dawn on you that's there's life after work."
But that's changed over the last few years, and now he is preparing trade in his busy life as the business community's main ambassador for a more relaxed pace of life, effective Dec. 30.
The man who some refer to as "Mr. Florence" might also be trading in that pseudonym for another: "St. Louis Slim."
One of the first post-retirement plans for the accomplished harmonica player will be to travel in March to Tutwiler, Miss., with a few of his "harmaniac" friends to "blow the blues" in the birthplace of blues harmonica legend Sonny Boy Williamson.
Otherwise, Marschel, 65, said he and his wife, Marilyn, have a house in Cherry Grove and he plans to spend lots of time there. He'll also spend more time in the kitchen and is even working on a cookbook.
"It's been a great run, but I'm ready to really enjoy life," Marschel said, grinning. "And I like the idea of not having any plans -- just all these options."
Nothing specific prompted the decision to retire. Marschel said he just feels the timing is right.
"The planets and stars just kind of aligned perfectly, as they say," he said.
Marschel said he is looking forward to retirement but will certainly miss the everyday business of the Chamber. After all, he has been with the Chamber longer than any other job in his life.
"I had a very gratifying career in the newspaper business, but being successful and moving up in the newspaper business often requires a lot of moving from location to location," Marschel said. "So I never got to dig in and have roots in any community. This job has allowed me to do that here, and it's been a nice thing."
Florence may have given Marschel roots, but he has given back just as much since he arrived in Florence as president/CEO of Thomson Newspaper Corporation's Carolina Group -- which at the time included the Morning News. After five years in that position, Thomson sold its newspapers and Marschel said he became "a redundant asset."
What seemed like bad luck at the time actually turned into something good for Marschel, as the stars "aligned" once again. The position with the Chamber opened up and Marschel found a new calling.
He immediately went to work and has grown the Chamber steadily throughout his tenure.
"This has always been a robust Chamber, but I think we've really become an integral part of the business fabric of this community," Marschel said. "I think we've really brought a quality of life but also quantitative business progress."
A few of the Chamber programs Marschel is most proud of are Building Bridges and Leadership Florence.
Building Bridges is a five-week small group experience in cultural diversity to include workplace issues, religion, family values and gangs.
"It's an excellent program -- an unvarnished dialogue on race -- on what it's like to be black and what it's like to be white," he said. "I think it's been a very good thing for this community."
Leadership Florence is a comprehensive nine-month program designed to identify, cultivate and motivate new leadership for the greater Florence area. Participants increase their knowledge of the Greater Florence area and enhance their involvement in community activities while further developing their leadership skills.
Marschel also played an integral role in downtown redevelopment, the establishment of the Pecan Festival and the Pee Dee Blues Bash, the MayFly airshow and the Fine Flavors of Florence.
"We're always looking to give our members more bang for their buck," Marschel said. "The Chamber is a member-service organization. We keep growing members, and the community keeps growing."
Marschel said the Chamber also has accomplished absolute financial integrity during the past 14 years.
"We weren't in the best financial situation when I took over here and now we have over $1 million in assets on the balance sheet," he said.
One of those assets is the First Federal Bank building on Coit Street, where the Chamber currently occupies the third floor. But the bank will soon move out of the building and Marschel said the long-term plan is to "flip" that building and build a new office next door at the corner of Cheves and Coit streets.