Ron Pace

By Elizabeth A. Davis

Each Saturday night in the summer, Waverly, Tenn., throws a party. Everyone is invited.

There’s a live band behind the courthouse, and people of all ages sit in lawn chairs, tapping their feet and singing along. Attendees, both parents and children, may just enjoy the music or dance in the street.

Neighbors talk to their friends operating the concession stands, selling food and drinks to raise money for the local fire department or church.

“Music on the Square” has been going strong since 2001, when Ron Pace (Knoxville ’64, ’69) and his wife, Sandy, hired the first band and handed out the first fliers.

“It’s turned into more of a happening,” Pace says. “People come to see people, to be entertained, to participate.”

After a successful business career, Pace wanted to give back to his hometown. Over the years, he has backed several projects, such as “Bring Back the Trees,” which planted hundreds of maple trees in the town. The Paces had a 1890s-era clock installed at the courthouse and helped in the startup of the Humphreys County Center for Higher Education.

But he wanted to establish an ongoing event that would have a continuous effect on the town. “The idea is to bring people together,” he says.

“Music on the Square” has been a big hit, thanks to the support of the people, the mayor and Pace’s financial backing and planning.

David Vaughn, who has been mayor since the event started, says residents look forward to the start of “Music on the Square” each year. “With the economy like it is today and gas as high as it is, this is at home, and it’s free,” he says.

Pace books the acts, helps with publicity each week and provides for the stage, sound and light equipment.

Pace hasn’t lived in Waverly since he graduated from high school in 1958. He had big plans to go out West after high school, so he hitchhiked and worked in construction. Quickly, he decided on a new career. He enrolled at UT Martin. At the time, the business program was only two years, with the final two years in Knoxville. It took him six years to graduate because he worked between quarters, fighting forest fires in California. After four years in the military and a return to Knoxville for his master of business administration, he began the doctorate program at Georgia State with aspirations to be a professor. To pay for school, he started his own marketing company. It was so successful, he quit the academic program.

Then Pace made a very savvy business decision and invested in a company called Baby Superstores. Toys ‘R’ Us bought out Baby Superstores in 1997, and Pace retired and created a family foundation.

Now Pace lives in Nashville, a far cry from the small cabin where he lived as a young boy with his five sisters or the soda-jerk job he held in high school. Growing up, Pace felt safe and secure in Waverly. “The whole town was our playground,” he says.

Downtown Waverly has not suffered like some small towns with closed storefronts. But “Music on the Square” brings hundreds of people to town when they might not otherwise go there on a Saturday night.

The event starts in the early evening with plenty of natural light. As night falls, the courthouse square becomes a bright beacon, beckoning everyone to join the party.