• Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine

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Story by CINDY REID

Photography by JOHN WOLLWERTH

 

 

 

Did you see Big Fish? Shallow Hal? Cold Mountain? The Game Plan? Last Holiday? The Conspirator? The Change Up? American Reunion? The Odd Life of Timothy Green? Parental Guidance?

How about the Lucky One? I am Number Four? The New Daughter? Righteous Kill? Syriana? Wedding Crashers? Ladder 49? Head of State? Runaway Bride?

If you have seen even one of these movies then you have seen either Jim Passanante or Susanna Glattly’s work. Chances are you didn’t even know what you were seeing was an illusion, meticulously created by the behind the scenes studio mechanics who construct the visual elements we usually take for granted in the make believe world of film. The kitchen the actors are in probably isn’t a “real” kitchen, and the street they are strolling down probably can’t be found on any map, but it is crucial that the audience simply assumes that the actors are in real rooms, real places. For the audience to suspend belief and buy into the fact that a set is actually a vibrant city street or that a house has been lived in for fifty years, this very particular craftsmanship has to be superb.
Jim and Susanna are the people who create these illusions. Jim is the Construction Coordinator for many movies and is a Scenic Artist on others. As well as being a Scenic Artist, Susanna works as a ‘standby’ or ‘camera scenic’ where as she explains, “I work with the shooting crew to address any paint related issues that arise during the actual filming –from dealing with reflections and glare for the camera department to fixing breakaway walls and other on set touch-ups to devising last minute signage and assisting the props and wardrobe departments. “
Between the two of them they have worked on over 150 movies.

BREAKING IN

Like in an old Hollywood script, Jim was born into the business. His father, Joseph Passanante, worked at Universal Studios for thirty-five years, running the Staff Shop, which created all the sculptural and plaster elements needed for the films. Jim started at Universal as a high school junior in 1973 and stayed there for fourteen years. He says, “ In the heyday of the ‘big studio’ days, Universal Studios ran like a 24 hour factory-I worked on pretty much everything that came through- Ironsides, BJ & the Bear, Air Wolf and Knight Rider. I painted ‘Kit’ the Nightrider Car more times than I can count-several times a week during filming. We had seven or eight ‘Kits’- one was actually a dune buggy with a dashboard. The cars would get banged up every take, and we would have to make them look new again. When the major studio system broke up in the mid- eighties, Jim left Universal and began working on independent films.
Susanna came to film work less directly. She says, “I grew up on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. My parents are artists, and always encouraged me to pursue a creative path. While I loved to draw, paint and write, in all my 16 year-old wisdom I felt I should do something more ‘substantial’ or  ‘academic.’ I went to the University of Virginia with the idea I should study Economics or Physics, both short lived choices! I graduated as a literature major, and spent a good bit of my early twenties roaming around the world with a backpack. I worked as a newspaper reporter, I waited tables, worked in a natural foods store. In the late eighties and early nineties I found myself doing murals and decorative finishes, and props and sets for TV commercials, which was a natural segue into what I do now.”
They met on the set of Ladder 49, and have been married for three  years. Susanna says, “We actually met a long time ago and were friends for years before we dated.”  They are able to work together about half the time, and the rest of the time they are on separate jobs, usually a plane ride away from each other.

HOW IT WORKS

Susanna says, “We work for the Production Designer, who is responsible for the entire look of the movie. The Designer collaborates with the Director and the Director of Photography on a ‘vision’ for the project and then translates that vision into reality with the help of a large crew of art directors, draftsmen, prop makers, scenics, plasterers and set dressers.” As Construction Coordinator , it is Jim’s job to turn the blueprints from the Art Department into a workable series of sets.
Jim explains the process “It’s called a script breakdown. I go through the script, detailing all the sets, and I put a price on each of them. When it is all added up, the Art Director and I look at the final number and start making changes if we need to cut costs. For example, if the scene is two people talking on a couch, we can adjust the set from a full room of four walls to only the two walls seen in the shot.”
Susanna, “We get very detailed blueprints, in fact, sometimes it seems like the details go way beyond anything you would ever notice on film. For instance, often we will plaster walls, even if we are going to cover them with wallpaper, so the “character,” the lumps and bumps, will read. We do a technique we call ‘roping’ on woodwork, to make it look like it has multiple layers of old enamel paint. We glaze the walls and the woodwork so they have a patina. Often we have to reproduce historical wallpapers or tiles or architectural elements that are impossible to find. For the Odd Life of Timothy Green I had to exactly match the Victorian tile, down to the tiny porcelain crackle.”
Jim, “As the Construction Coordinator, I am responsible for everything that gets built-we often spend a million dollars in a month and a half, so I have a bookkeeper tracking of all the daily expenses.  We usually start our day very early and it is always at least a 12 hour day. It’s not unusual for my phone to ring 100 times during that day.  And I am on call as long as the camera is rolling, day or night.”

ENTER BEAUFORT

Jim first came to Beaufort in 1993 to work on Forrest Gump. (His Brother Jeff was the Construction Coordinator) He says, “They needed a painter so I threw my equipment in the car and drove down.” Years later, he and Susanna were driving around looking at the old locations used in Forrest Gump and saw a house that was originally built as a fishing lodge in the early 20th century. It was on a beautiful piece of property but was in rough shape. They were able to buy it and have called it home since 2008. Using many discarded set materials, they have applied their talents and created a truly unique home.
Off to the corner of the drive is the 400 pound tombstone that bears Jim’s name. He explains, “When you sign your ‘deal memo’ or your working contract, you allow your name to be used in the production. Since any name used on a film needs to be researched and ‘cleared,’ this gives the company a pool of cleared names. So my name has been used on several sets, including the Blood Done Sign My Name, which is where the tombstone came from. It was cheaper to buy a mistake from a memorial company than to build and paint one-so this one has my name on one side, but it  says ‘MOTHER’ on the top. Susanna adds, ”If you watched Big Fish, you may have noticed ‘Passanante Grocery’ in the town, and my name has been used on the door of a police detective on The Wire.”
They also have another home in New Orleans because they love the city and spend a lot of time there, as it has become  “Hollywood South.” Jim says, “Atlanta and Louisiana are the where a lot of movies are being made – because of all the tax incentives enacted to lure producers to those states. Today ,the business is not just in Hollywood anymore.”

CELLULOID MEMORIES

Jim, “I have five grown children, ages 21 to 34 and I was gone 12 to 14 hours a day, for months at a time. I missed a lot. But one time I took the kids out of school and we all went to Budapest for six months while I was working on the movie Hudson Hawk. We were there only six months after the iron curtain had fallen. You could see the bullet holes in walls of the buildings. But you know what? The kids are still talking about that trip! And now I have grandchildren, which is great.”
Favorite movie memory?  Jim immediately replies, “Back to the Future. I was a standby painter and I had a great time on that set. And I still have one of the original license plates from the set in my toolbox.” Susanna smiles and says, “It isn’t always the big movies that are the fun ones to make. One of my favorite jobs was the smallest-the set of Cecil B. Demented for John Waters. We had so much fun because we were given so much artistic freedom, we were forced to be really inventive -and I loved working on The Wire because the crew was close and it felt like a family. ”

OFF THE SET

Do the movie makers watch movies when they are off? Jim says, “I have been working for the last two and half years straight so I don’t have time to watch movies! When I am off I have so much I want to do. I just bought a 36 foot boat that I am working on, and we are always working on the house here and in New Orleans.”
Susanna agrees, “I love to see movies in the theatre rather than on television. I rarely see the movies we worked on immediately after they come out because often I am on another project. I did want to see the Odd Life of Timothy Green because I wanted to see how all the fine detail work we did translated on the screen –with hi- definition small things are starting to matter more.  When I am not working on a film I feel like I am always trying to play catch-up. I started painting in watercolor a few years ago. I would like to keep up with that. And I still love to write.” Jim adds, “She won’t tell you herself but twice she has been one of the winners of the Spoleto festival /Piccolo Fiction Open short story competition for her short stories”.
Jim and Susanna are warm and unpretentious people who spend their working life with some of the most recognizable names in Hollywood. They truly are the “unhollywood” movie professionals! After graciously giving up a rare afternoon off for this interview and photo shoot, they take what daylight is left and head in opposite directions, Susanna for a run and Jim to work on his boat. Lowcountry folks, enjoying a beautiful afternoon. That’s a wrap!

3M3A4116From Publisher Julie Hales
Photos by Susan DeLoach

Being a publisher of several community magazines, I sometimes am awarded opportunities I would not otherwise have.  I have been able to spend a day on a shrimp boat from dawn til dusk, I have got to fly in a Life Star helicopter, I have met famous actors, musicians and athletes.  Those are to name only a few.  But I recently had an experience I wish all of Beaufort had seen.
I had an opportunity to be in the audience of A Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish: Freedom Coming.  Not only was I in the audience, I had the honor of being allowed back stage to spend time with Aunt Pearlie Sue and meet her cast.
I was in total amazement from the moment I walked in the door.  Anita Prather, (aka Aunt Pearlie Sue), took me by the hand and lead me on the beginning journey of an awesome evening.  She treated me as if I were one of her own.
From the moment Aunt Pearlie Sue walked on stage, I was in total awe of her talent and her ability to capture the audience seemed effortless. Each and every cast member showed astounding flair. The show was absolutely phenomenal.
The following is an article submitted to Beaufort Lifestyle.  It sums up the evening in beautiful style. Thanks Suzanne….I could not have said it better myself!

A Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish was presented December 7, 2012 at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. This report describes the evening. It is not a review, but an observation by an audience member and theatre lover.
— Suzanne Larson

Ten minutes before the performance of A Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish at the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Performing Arts Center on December 7, the stage was dark, the curtain was closed and the house lights were half-way up. Anticipation was visible on the faces of audience members as they waited for the show to begin. They appeared pleasantly sedated due to the warmth in their stuffed bellies. They had just been served some of the best Gullah food in the south: gumbo with fat, local shrimp and fresh okra, tender chicken that had been fried crispy and moist, heavenly buttermilk cornbread and a selection of fresh vegetables and desserts baked by people who know how to scratch together a pie crust and roll it out by hand.
The audience seemed reassured by the quality of the food, as if they knew the show they were about to see would meet the same standards as the meal they’d just enjoyed. Peaceful expectation lingered in the air, mixing with the lingering scent of gourmet Gullah cooking that slinked into the auditorium from the dining area.
Backstage, Anita Singleton Prather, (a.k.a. Aunt Pearlie Sue) gathered her group of more than twenty singers, musicians and stage hands in a circle. Hands clasped, the group waited while Prather took a deep breath and then began to pray. An ordained minister, she asked God for His blessing and for the privilege of honoring Him with the evening’s performance.
Responses of “Thank you, Lord” and “Thank you, Jesus” came from cast members. Deeply moved, a tear ran down the cheek of a stage hand. “Amen,” Prather concluded. Prayer took effect. Butterflies were banished and the deep faith of a people known for strong spiritual traditions took its place. Aunt Pearlie Sue and The Gullah Kinfolk were ready to face a packed house and perform Prather’s original musical, A Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish. It was show time!
Aunt Pearlie Sue walked on stage in front of the drawn curtain and planted her hand-carved wooden walking stick firmly between her feet, made eye contact and smiled. The expectant faces in the crowd smiled back. They were immediately captivated. One look at the short, but abundant, black woman dressed in colorful 19th century garb, and they knew they were in the presence of an artist who was accessible to all people – one who had the ability to make them feel deeply without being threatened. She welcomed them in an articulate, rhythmic, poetic Gullah dialect. Her voice projected a love and warmth that reached everyone in the room whether they were conscious of it or not.
When Aunt Pearlie Sue began to sing, she was joined by her singers behind the curtain. The voices of the “Kinfolk” were soft at first and rose gently as the curtain opened to an inspired “Hallelujah Da’ Savior Be Born” accompanied by the skillful keyboard of Kenny Varner with Tre’Quan Riley on the African drums. The voices of professional singers Scott Gibbs, Connie Singleton Murphy, Raul Bradley, Darryl Murphy, Wesley Murphy, Lydasia Prather, Sedeek Prather, Caleb Singleton, Jakai Prather-Alston, Jeremy Prather-Alston, Jada Sheperd, Faith Brown, Priscilla Williams, Lisa Williams, Gloria Jackson, Queen Rivers, Clayso Wrice, Monica Jones, Joan Marie Linyard, Leontae’ Linyard, Larry Singleton and Jacqueline Richardson filled the house. These performers vary widely in age, but all have years of study and experience before an audience both on stage and in local churches. Patrons responded as if a chorus of angels had appeared before them. They stood at their seats, clapping their hands, swaying and humming along.
Two white actors, Ethard Van Stee and Julia Trask, played the slave auctioneer and the spoiled slave master’s daughter. Both were so skilled in their craft and enjoyed their parts so much they managed to make their villainous roles entertaining.
Exhilaration climbed as children and adults were brought up from the audience to participate in the unfolding drama on stage. They took part in secret classrooms hidden from “the master.” They were shackled in chains. They were sold at auction. They “jumped the broom.” It was clear that some people were more comfortable than others at being part of the show. But it was fun for everyone – with much laughter, dancing, hand-clapping and joyful expressions as black, white, Hispanic, young, old, beautiful and not joined Aunt Pearlie and her wonderful performers as they told their story. There wasn’t a bred face in the theater. There is no yawning when the Gullah Kinfolk are on stage.
That same day, the troupe had performed three shows to school children beginning at 8 in the morning. But, enthusiasm for their art, their commitment to Aunt Pearlie, a desire to share their ancestral heritage and divine inspiration had given them the vitality required for an unforgettable evening show.
At the end of the night, audience members offered up thunderous applause and left the theater as if both physically and emotionally satiated. It is suspected that Aunt Pearlie Sue and her Gullah Kinfolk connected them to a power outside of themselves for a couple of hours. That is what good theatre is supposed to do. Patrons were transported to the land of art and Gullah where differences among people are insignificant and all are one happy, human family. It was an evening of great food with a great show; all for the preservation of the Gullah culture and – according to Anita Prather – to the glory of God.

The full-stage, original musical, Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish….Freedom Coming, is intended for people of all ages and races who want to catch the holiday spirit.  This musical theatre presentation will be held on Friday, December 7th at 7:00 p.m. at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort’s Performing Arts Center.
The production stars Aunt Pearlie Sue, nationally acclaimed storyteller, and her Gullah Kinfolk, a professional singing cast of 20 members, who bring history alive on stage. This musical performance depicts the last Christmas before the Civil War. It’s an historical account of December of 1860 and South Carolina has just seceded from the Union. The War or Freedom is the talk by both servant and master. The audience will get a glimpse into the “Quarters” and “Big House.”
Through soul-stirring, foot-stopping singing and dancing, the audience is drawn into the excitement of the Yuletide season on a South Carolina Sea Island plantation. The show has become a holiday favorite with travelers near and far who wish to experience the spirit of the season. People have traveled from as far as London, England to see this performance.
The night will start with a “Taste of Gullah” as the doors open around 6:45.  There will be tables of food form 8 different caterers on hand to choose from.  The assortment will be anything from chicken to rice dishes to collard greens and gumbo…..along with some mouth-watering pies and cakes…..anything you would find on a Gullah Christmas dinner table.
There will also be a market place where local artisans will be showcasing their wares.  The market place will feature paintings, jewelry, baskets and other items, all available at special Christmas pricing.
At 8:15, the curtains go up and the show begins!  See history come alive on stage.  Experience the excitement of what was going on at Christmas time on the plantations of the Low Country.
Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Admission is $10 for those aged 7 to 17. Ticket prices include the “ Taste of Gullah” Soul Food Buffet and the “Da’ Market Place” Artists Showcase.
For reservations and information on hotel and meal packages, contact the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce at (843) 986-1102 or www.bcbcc.org  or the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce at (843)525-8500 or www.beaufortchamber.org.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Community Circle of Hope Coalition’s Youth Program.
The performance lifts off the holidays in historic downtown Beaufort in conjunction with other annual events, including the popular Night on the Town from 6 to 9 p.m. December 7, Light up the Night from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. December 8 and Beaufort’s annual Christmas parade at 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 9. For more information on these events, contact www.downtownbeaufort.com.

Story By Mary Ellen Thompson
Photos By John Wollwerth

 

Once upon a time Wooly Mammoths, Mastodons, and Megalodons remains came to rest in this part of the earth. It sounds like a science fiction fairy tale, but black water diver Robyn Clevinger, can assure you it is not a fantasy. She dives in the rivers in South Carolina, as well as most of east coast states, and finds amazing fossils – huge prehistoric teeth and skeletal remains of these ancient creatures that are nestled in our river and creek beds. Robyn explains that these remains are here, not because they are indigenous, but because every culture documents a great flood and they got deposited all over.
“At first, I started looking for teeth so I got a salvage license and a permit. The first tooth I found was in Georgia. Regulations differ by state but in South Carolina your permit requires that you keep a log which has to be turned in quarterly. The state may take any artifacts you find; consequently many divers do not seek permits and report what they find. In the beginning I used the pieces I found to acquire my diving gear. I’ve donated many items to fundraisers for breast cancer, cystic fibrosis and the Wounded Warrior Program. A near perfect seven inch tooth once sold in auction for thousands of dollars. I take the pieces to schools also and have given pieces to children as well other individuals who have a keen interest.” Robyn explains, “There is nothing like seeing the joy on someone’s face when you let them pick a piece to keep for themselves.”
Not only does she find bones and teeth, but also lots of other artifacts from the civilizations that existed here in the lowcountry. Her collection includes parts of Native American/Indian smoke pipe stems, pottery shards and some nearly whole pieces, and old bottles. Other treasures include sting ray barbs, whale teeth, whale bones, assorted vessels, a key and some broken pieces of jewelry. She has baskets and buckets of bones, vertebrae, teeth, and the more difficult to identify – fossilized whale poop. She’s found some ancient sand dollars the size of dinner plates, and shark teeth 60 – 80 feet long. “Different sedimentary layers hold different things, bones will be in one, teeth in another. Some bottles are covered in barnacles because they’re found nearer to the surface and they’ve been exposed to air; the ones that have never been exposed have a slick surface.”
Finding these artifacts is not for the faint of heart, it’s extremely difficult to dive in water where you can barely see your hand in front of your face, which is why it is called “black water diving”. Robyn describes it like this, “You have a brief window: imagine being in a pitch black room with water swirling all around you. When you turn on your flashlight, everything looks foggy. You’re wearing gloves and feeling around in the mud, when you’re digging your fingers in and you’re actually fanning the bottom to get the water to rise up off the bottom in the current. It’s just about impossible to see, so you’re relying heavily on your sense of feel. In these waters you work hard to fight the current and consequently need to wear extra weights.”
What in the world induced a small framed, very feminine, woman to want to risk her life to explore the remains of extinct gigantic creatures? “I’m an adventurer! I love scuba diving – for me it’s freeing. It makes me very happy.” Adventurer is probably an understatement – the woman is fearless. In 2003, Robyn got certified for search and rescue and is a member of the Beaufort Search and Rescue Team, which means she dives to retrieve victims of drownings.
Robyn has also served as a volunteer diver for the South Carolina Aquarium. “The aquarium is  great. It’s not only a place where people can learn about the animals native to our area but they also help rehabilitate sea life and release animals back into their natural habitat.” It was also pretty neat to see the look on a child’s face when you locked eyes with them as they gazed through the glass of the tank.”
This is the stuff reality TV shows, History, Discovery and Science Channels are made of, literally. Her expertise at diving and her reputation for finding things, were recognized by Discovery’s Science Channel and she was part of the team that filmed the documentary America’s Lost H Bomb.  “When we were filming, we were diving off the coast of Tybee Island. We took bottom samples that were tested for radiation levels and dove multiple underwater searches of the area. At one point the area was surrounded by government boats with men wearing all black, they took over the site and dove day and night for weeks. Finally they released the site back to us but we didn’t find anything.” What, exactly, were they looking for? According to Marabella Productions and Discovery’s Science Channel: “THERE’S A MISSING WMD, but you’d never guess where… In 1958, a damaged U.S. B-47 bomber jettisons a nuclear bomb off the coast of Savannah Georgia containing 350 pounds of conventional explosives and an undisclosed quantity of highly enriched uranium. The bomb’s explosive yield is 100 times that of the Hiroshima bomb For weeks, the U.S. Navy and Air Force searched for the bomb in the silty waters around Tybee Island. Deemed ‘irretrievably lost,’ the 7,600 pound nuclear Tybee bomb is still out there…” Robyn states, “We got to interview the pilot, he took us to the locations and recounted the night of that infamous flight. It was amazing to hear him recount the details like it was yesterday.”  She has participated in multiple shows about diving for artifacts and fossils in dark water as well as something new is in the works with Discovery that is currently being kept quiet until it airs this fall.
Ancient creature remains, nuclear bombs, underwater currents, practically zero visibility, and sharks all abound in her environment. What is the most dangerous element of diving here? “Alligators!” Robyn explains, “There are alligators all over the place here in the rivers. I don’t mind the sharks, a shark might take a bite out of you and decide you are not in it’s food chain but an alligator will bite and roll without the intent to every let go; I try never to dive if I see an alligator during mating season because they get really aggressive. I had an encounter with an eight foot alligator; I was underwater in a submerged tree, my arms and legs were over a limb when I felt something on my back. We dive in groups and we always joke around with each other, pulling fins and stuff, so I thought it was one of the guys so I jabbed my elbow back. Then I sensed feet in front of my shoulders and behind my legs and then I felt the tail go over my head! I knew I needed to get out of there but I didn’t know where it had gone or if it was coming back. When I did get to the surface and over to the boat, the guys in the boat asked if I’d seen that eight foot alligator that followed me into the water. They should have warned me that he was there because they saw him slide off the bank after me when I went in. “But it all turned out okay”, she laughs.
“I enjoy sightseeing too, but I prefer searching for ‘treasures’ in dark water.” Sightseeing is what Robyn explains as clear water diving where you can see everything around you. She’s been to several foreign countries as well as areas in the states to clear water dive but even when she dives clear water she seeks out the “local treasures.” “Local treasures are those things that you aren’t able to find somewhere else”, she explains. “I always go with a list of things to look for that I can’t find elsewhere so in a sense I am still treasure hunting.”
Equally at home above and below the water, Robyn is woman of many talents. Although she is self-taught in the field of archeology, Robyn has a degree in Business Management which comes in handy to help fund her diving passion.  She gives financial presentations for members in the military, and she and her husband, Craig Valentine, also have a mariculture clam plantation and nearly 100 acres where they farm and cultivate oysters in the local rivers. Her devotion to exploration and her underwater findings are constantly bringing history from the dark recesses where they have been resting, to the light of present day.

Story By Cindy Reid
Photos By Susan Deloach


It has been called “the toughest two minutes of sports.” Take the five most physically demanding aspects of one of the world’s most demanding jobs and do them all in two minutes or under. That pretty much describes the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.
In November, Lady’s Island St. Helena Fire District firefighter Heidi Charest received the 2012 Grand National Championship Award from the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge. Heidi modestly says, “This is the first year that it was my goal to receive that award, and I was able to because I accrued the most points for placing first in four of the Scott’s Regional Races,” as if she had won a game of horse shoes or corn hole. But what this local firefighter leaves out is that she – Heidi Charest- is the world’s fastest female firefighter.
By the nature of their demanding job firefighters must be physically fit, commonly   training on their off time in order to stay in good shape. At any given moment they may called upon to drag a hose, scale multiple flights of stairs or carry a victim to safety. Born from “the need to develop a physical ability test to determine whether a job applicant had the requisite capabilities to perform the essential job functions of a firefighter” (www.scottfirefighterchallenge.com), the SFCC gives firefighters from all the country, and the world, the opportunity to compete against each other in five grueling events unique
to firefighting.
“… the Challenge seeks to encourage firefighter fitness and demonstrate the profession’s rigors to the public. Wearing ‘full bunker gear’ and the SCOTT Air-Pak breathing apparatus, pairs of competitors race head-to-head as they simulate the physical demands of real-life firefighting by performing a linked series of five tasks … as they race against themselves, their opponent and the clock.”
While wearing full bunker gear (coat, pants, boots, helmet and air pack) participants have to do the following five tasks in as short of time as possible:
1. Stair Climb- climb a 5 story tower with a High Rise Pack (a folded 42 pound hose).
2. Hose Hoist- using hand over hand , pull up a 42 pound hose box 5 stories.
3. Forcible Entry-slam a 9 ½ pound sledgehammer into a 160’ beam until it moves 5 feet.
4. Hose Advance-sprint 140 feet through a serpentine of cones, pick up a charged hose line, and drag it 75 feet through “saloon doors” and hit a target.
5. Victim Rescue- pick up a 175 pound mannequin and drag it backward 100 feet.

Heidi says, “All the obstacles are something you will come across in a fire scene. The women compete on exactly the same course, using the  same equipment, because that is how it is in real life as a firefighter.”
According to the people at Scott, most firefighters could do the course in 5 to 6 minutes, to be competitive participants usually complete it in 3 minutes or less .Heidi’s first place times were:
Tyler TX 10/12/12  Time 2:55:10,
Charleston WVA 08/17/12  Time 2:58:50,
Montgomery AL 07/13/12  Time 3:19:10,
North Charleston SC 05/18/12 Time 3:05:34.
In addition she and partner Brandon Cummingham, a military firefighter at Fort Gordon, Augusta GA are the National Record holders for the Co-Ed Tandem, time 1:26:81. There are several videos posted on YouTube that show just how hard this is to do, and just how easy Heidi and the other competitors make it look.

Role Model

Originally from Seekonk, Massachusetts, Heidi and her husband of twelve years, Richard Charest, came to Beaufort via the United States Marine Corps. Richard, a USMC Mobility Officer for MAG-31, was stationed here from 2001-03 and then back again in 2007. Heidi says, “When we moved back here I was looking for a full time job and I wanted to apply to the fire department. Being a certified EMT Basic; I was encouraged by the fire department so I took the course at TCL and started volunteering at the Lady’s Island fire department. That led to being hired in  2008. In regards to competing, I did the state race in July 2008 but it wasn’t until 2009 that I tried the Scott On Target Challenge. “
Chief Bruce Kline says, “We are so fortunate to have Heidi as a firefighter with the Lady’s Island St. Helena Fire District. While her physical prowess is obvious, her amazing attitude and ability to motivate all those around her make for one amazing person.  Whether she is fighting a blaze or talking to children about fire safety, Heidi radiates professionalism and sincere dedication to our profession and those we serve.”
In 2010, Heidi was one of only twelve female firefighters in the nation chosen for the 2011 Female Firefighters Calendar. Heidi says, “It wasn’t easy to get into the calendar. I had to get two letters of recommendation from the fire department, two from the community and make a short video. The reason I did it was because a portion of the proceeds from the calendar sales goes to help burn victims.”
Locally a portion of the proceeds from the calendar sales went to Camp Can Do, a camp for children ages six to seventeen who have been treated for a serious burn injury. The camp is located at St Christopher’s Camp at Seabrook Island outside of Charleston. Heidi says “I go out to the camp every year. It is inspiring to me that despite the children’s’ unfortunate injuries that they look up to me. These children are my role models, my motivation.”
When asked what she says to little girls who see her at the fire station,  Heidi says “I say ‘You can be one too!’ Girls see me and all the other female firefighters and I tell them ‘you can do it!’ When people find out we have five female firefighters at Lady’s Island they are shocked.” She pauses for a moment, and says, “I love it that my work day isn’t routine. It’s like the famous line from Forrest Gump, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!’”

Fit as a Way of Life

Heidi spends many hours a week  training and staying in shape. “That’s why I work out, so I can do my job, “she says, “I like being active and it keeps me healthy. I do miss it when I’m not training- I can’t wait to get back to working out!”
In addition to her regular work outs, Heidi is also a coach at CrossFit Beaufort, “a fitness community formed by local Law Enforcement Officers and Firemen” where there are no mirrors, no machines and no  TVs’. Their philosophy is that “you are the machine” and their training routines can be used by anyone, from grandparents to cage fighters. Heidi says, “I came into CrossFit about a year ago and I was hooked. It is like  big fitness family here, we cheer each other on . We are friends and we are here for each other.” She says, “ I had to become certified through Crossfit in order to lead classes, and it has been very rewarding,  I like coaching, because I get to watch people achieve their goals. “
Betsy and Teddy Binette are the owners of Crossfit Beaufort, and Betsy says “Heidi is a tremendous coach, she has been an asset to Crossfit and she really is a people person. And it goes without saying that she is an amazing athlete.”
Heidi says, “I go to yoga as well, I try to make it once a week because stretching plays a huge part in our agility. I have seen a huge difference since adding yoga. I eat a more natural diet and am rarely sick”. She follows the Paleo Diet, which is essentially “back to basics, lots of fresh vegetables and no sugars or dairy products.” Active for years with animal programs, Heidi and Richard share their home with five Italian Greyhounds. She says, “They are all rescues, and even though they are the little ones they can out run me!” It is hard to believe that anything can outrun this outstanding athlete!

Story By Marie McAden

 

The social event of the season is coming our way. The 24th Valentine Ball will take place February 9 at the historic Lyceum on Parris Island.  As the signature fundraiser of the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation, the affair includes all the usual gala accoutrements—live music, decadent desserts and a silent auction.
“We do a lot of other things to build community support for Beaufort Memorial, but the Ball is our identity,” said Foundation Executive Director Alice Moss. “It’s what people associate with the BMH Foundation.”
Proceeds from this year’s ball will go towards the expansion and relocation of LifeFit Wellness Services, the Hospital’s medically supervised fitness and wellness center. Along with individual and group exercise, nutrition advice and personal counseling, LifeFit offers free health-related lectures, cancer education and support groups, smoking cessation programs, parenting classes and health fairs.
Around 700 people are expected to attend the soiree and the trademark pre-ball dinner parties held in private homes throughout the Beaufort area.
Organizing the fundraiser is a mammoth endeavor that requires the help of hundreds of community volunteers. Among them are the 50-some residents who will host the private dinner parties that serve as the warm-up for the gala.
Directing the 2013 affair are co-chairs George and Mary Lee Grove and BMH President and CEO Rick Toomey and his wife Dr. Linda Hawes.
“It’s such a great event,” said Hawes, who has attended the ball every year since moving to Beaufort in 2008. “It’s by far the best fundraiser I’ve ever been to.”
What sets the event apart from other charity functions is the pre-ball dinners held in some of the area’s finest residences. Between six to 12 couples are invited to each party, making it an intimate setting to meet new people. The hosts choose the menu for their own dinner and pick up the tab for all the food and beverages.
“It’s a lovely way to start the evening,” said Mary Lee Grove, who has hosted parties in past years and previously served as chairman of the ball’s dinner party committee.
Since its inception in 1990, the Valentine Ball has raised $3.7 million. The money has been used to upgrade technology throughout the hospital and expand and improve facilities and services in a wide range of areas from the cardiac cath lab to pediatric rehabilitation.
“Having a high-quality hospital is so important in a community,” Grove said. “The funds we raise from the Valentine Ball allow Beaufort Memorial to make a lot of capital improvements that improve care for all of us.”
The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with the pre-ball dinners. At 9, guests will make their way to the Lyceum for the main event where they will enjoy a selection of decadent desserts, dancing to live music and a silent auction.
“It’s going to be a fabulous evening,” Hawes said. “The ball is always so much fun.”
Tickets to the Valentine Ball start at $150 per person and include several levels of contributions. To receive an invitation to one of the private dinner parties, you must purchase your ticket by Jan. 14. Reservations can be made online at www.valentineball.org or by calling (843) 522-5774.

As it has done for more than two decades, Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation will use the proceeds from its 2013 Valentine Ball fundraiser to upgrade and improve the community hospital’s healthcare services.
But this time, the focus will change from treating disease to preventing it.
Funding from the Feb. 9 black tie gala has been earmarked for LifeFit Wellness Services, the hospital’s community prevention program which includes a medically supervised fitness and wellness center.
“Our goal is to help people stay healthy and reduce their risk for chronic disease,” said LifeFit Senior Director Mark Senn. “That can involve everything from nutrition and exercise to smoking cessation and stress management.”
This spring, LifeFit will be relocated from the Beaufort Medical Plaza to a larger space in the new Beaufort Medical & Administrative Center being built across the street from the hospital. The Wellness Center will take up the first floor of the four-story, 80,000-square-foot building.
“We have about 1,400 members and are adding 20 to 30 a month,” Senn said. “We’re as full as we can be in our current space.”
With the move, LifeFit will expand from 10,000 square feet of space to 17,000 square feet. The Valentine Ball proceeds will help pay for additional exercise equipment, including 14 spin bikes.
“We will have spin classes for the first time,” Senn said. “Spin is one of the most sought after programs being offered in fitness facilities today.  Additionally the additional space will accommodate the continued expansion of other group exercise classes which have become very popular.”
Moreover, the Foundation funding will allow LifeFit to enhance some of its supporting health services. Along with individual and group exercise, LifeFit offers free community health-related lectures, cancer education, support groups for residents with cardiac, cancer and pulmonary challenges, smoking cessation classes, prenatal education classes, a summer camp for children with asthma and community health fairs.
One of its most popular programs is the LifeFit Mobile Wellness Unit, which travels throughout Beaufort and Jasper counties offering free or low cost health screenings to area residents.
Purchased by the Foundation in 1999, the 40-foot van provides free blood sugar tests for diabetes and blood pressure testing for hypertension. Lipid profile cholesterol tests, prostate blood work and hemoglobin A1c tests cost a nominal $10 each. A nurse practitioner also is available to perform free physical breast exams, skin cancer screenings and digital rectal exams.
In a one-year period ending Sept. 30, 2012, the mobile unit served 4,800 people.
Most recently, LifeFit Wellness Services began offering Community Transitional Care for patients with chronic congestive heart failure, pneumonia and obstructive pulmonary disease. To try to reduce hospital readmissions, a nurse practitioner visits the patients while they are in the hospital to go over the doctor’s orders, set up follow-up appointments and arrange for extra care at home if needed.
“These are patients who have been in the hospital within the last three months,” said Cynthia Coburn-Smith, manager of the LifeFit Community Health Improvement Program. “Having one person they can call makes it a lot easier on them when they have questions.”

For more information on LifeFit Wellness Services, visit www.bmhsc.org or call (843) 522-5635

Story By Cindy Reid
Photos By Paul Nurnberg

 

Born of the combination of poverty, ingenuity and the drive to make music, the cigar box guitar traces back, back even before the blues. The first example in popular culture is an etching published during the Civil War of soldiers around a campfire, listening while one strums on what is clearly a cigar box instrument. In fact, the Smithsonian has one on display from 1861.
The actual cigar box wasn’t in use until the 1840’s, before that cigars were shipped in barrels, and the first cigar boxes were made of wood. Eventually “How To” plans were published in newspapers throughout the country and cigar boxes were used to make guitars, fiddles and banjos. Legend has it that B.B.King’s first instrument was a cigar box guitar made by his father, as the $2 price of a used guitar made it out of reach.
The cigar box guitar was fading out of use and of memory until the efforts of musicians interested in the homespun sound and the “do it yourself” folks rediscovered this uniquely American instrument in the early 2000’s. It has since become a national movement, so much so that there is a “Masters of the Cigar Box Guitar Tour.” a 2008 documentary film, “Songs Inside The Box,” and an annual event in Huntsville, Alabama, the “Cigar Box Guitar Extravaganza.”
And right here on St.Helena Island there a craftsman who is keeping the tradition alive through his artistry by creating original cigar box instruments, one instrument at a time. These are not musty museum pieces, rather these are meant to be played, and played hard, whether it be the blues or a funky soul tune.

PERRY ALSPACH

Perry and his wife, Fred’e, have made their home on St. Helena Island for the last 25 years. They built their gorgeous wooden house at the edge of the water, with the entire front wall made of glass to better enjoy the view. On a recent visit at sunset, the marsh hues were as subtle and as golden as the wood walls, making the house seem as if it was an organic extension of the marsh. At one time, Perry made copper fish art pieces which adorn the walls of their home, where they pick up the light and add to the warmth of the room.
Originally from the Homestead, Florida area, Perry met Fred’e, his wife of 40 years there. He grins and says “The first time I saw her she was changing the shear pin in an outboard motor,” which impressed him. Perry has an extensive background in boating; he is a boat captain, a boat builder and a shrimper. He says his next project is, “to finish my boat,” a 31 foot Stapleton named the “Coot.” In fact, he says “Fred’e and I just put the engine back in it” so progress is underway.
Also a motorcycle enthusiast, Perry recently made his annual pilgrimage to Daytona, Florida for Bike Week, and he has run the quarter mile drag bike track at 104 MPH, up at the Rockingham track in North Carolina. And if you are lucky you might see him driving around St. Helena in his vintage 1941 Deluxe Coupe Packard, which can also be seen occasionally at the classic car shows on Lady’s Island and Port Royal.
But it is building things that keeps Perry the busiest and his recent career as a cigar box guitar maker is opening up a whole new world for him and the musicians who love to play the instruments he makes.

CIGAR BOX MUSIC

“Several years ago, I was looking for something to make for my daughter Ardi for Christmas and I saw these cigar box guitars online. She had taken guitar lessons for years and I thought this would spark her interest,” Perry says. Intrigued by the project, he continued making the instruments. He says, “I’ve trimmed houses, built custom cabinets and got to the point where I couldn’t do much heavy stuff so I started piddling around with this.”
He credits the website www.cigarboxnation.com for getting him started. There are free plans available on the site which shows novices exactly how to make them. Thirty five instruments later, Perry now has his own page (under “Perry Alspach”) on the website where he communicates with other aficionados from as far away as France and Australia.

CRAFTSMANSHIP

Each instrument takes a full week to complete and he says, “Each one is different, because I use different woods for different instruments,” he continues, “One model has pieces of mahogany that came from a boatyard I used to work at, the wood is 30 or 40 years old” Another has a completely different look , “This one I made using pieces of scrapped cabinet wood on the neck-that’s what gives it the  beautiful golden color.” Perry shows a model that is a combination of oak and ipe, which is a very hard and heavy wood. “I use ipe because it is so pretty, for the fret boards.”
Without any advertising his instruments are finding homes, sometimes in a serendipitous way.
One of Perry’s instruments is used by Phil McDonald, bassist for the band The Sapphire Bullets of True Love, a 13 piece R&B soul band (featuring the Bonaventure Horns) out of Savannah. “That came about because I was at the music store in Savannah and got to talking to Phil and I ended up making a custom made bass for him,” says Perry.
Phil says, “Perry and I became acquainted four years ago when he came into my place of employment, Portmans Music store in Savannah. He was looking for strings and parts for his cigar box guitars. He had an early example of the instruments he was building and I had a chance to play the instrument. I was immediately interested in having a bass version built for me personally. We conferred over the next few weeks by phone and Perry brought the bass prototype for me to play. After some tweaking, I put the instrument in my bass arsenal and use it often. Perry has become a dear friend and his cigar box guitar vision far exceeds any I have encountered. With everyone jumping on the cigar box bandwagon, they could take a note out of Perry’s’ playbook and learn how it is really supposed to be done.” At a recent show in Savannah, Phil let loose on a bass solo using his custom Frogmore Guitar Factory bass and it sounded wholly original and spectacular.
Also Perry says, “I made a six string for a guy who ended up not buying it so I took it to the Music Co-Op and it sold right away. So I made another six string and someone from New York bought it. Life is funny!” Another time, “Just for the heck of it I made a banjo, not a cigar box instrument, and a professional musician came into the co-op and played it, then bought it on the spot.”
As Perry says, “My instruments are reasonably priced, in fact a bit cheaper than others out there, especially considering the work and the materials I use. You can buy even cheaper ones though, ones without frets and you can make your own. I encourage people to get the plans and try their hand at it! What I try to do is to make them as high quality as possible, using materials like 15 year aged oak.” Every guitar Perry makes has his logo “Frogmore Guitar Factory” on the back and prices range up through $300. (They are available at the Music Co-Op, 1350 Ribaut Rd., Port Royal, SC.)

MAKING MUSIC

Not really a musician himself, Perry says he was a drummer “years and years ago” and still has a drum set in his workshop. Always open to learning something new he says, “Now I am working on learning to play the bass, through self teaching, I’ve got all the tapes. “As for his cigar box instruments, he says “Every one is different, and I have made 35 and none are the same.  I just keep trying to improve it.”
He is currently working on a real rock star guitar for a 14 year guitar player who had asked Perry if “he could make anything.” Perry said he could try and when the young man came back to him with a meticulously drawn plan, Perry got started. The body and the neck are constructed, so he is well on his way.
When asked what gives him the most satisfaction from his instruments he says, “When Kirk plays it. Seeing him play my instrument makes tears come to my eyes.” Kirk Dempsey, one half along with Adam Granade of the duo the “Bull Grapes,” has been playing his Frogmore Guitar Factory guitar all over town and always gets an enthusiastic response. He says, “It is a one of a kind experience. No two are alike and it is a work of art.” He stops for a moment and smiles broadly.” That’s how I feel about it.”

Story By Mary Ellen Thompson
Photos By Susan Deloach

 

Phil “The Duke” Jenkins puts the “P” in personality. The first African-American radio announcer in Beaufort County, he is all about pizzaz. His outgoing personality and high wattage smile explain his popularity as a WBEU radio announcer and as a musician. Although Phillip Jenkins has been known for many things in his lifetime, not the least of which is that he is a rakish man-about-town dressed to the nines in his dapper outfits. He loves his music and he loves his clothes; and at age 83, Phil “The Duke” can still spin a tune and a tale.
Born in 1929 in Orlando, FL to Phillip and Sarah Bell Jackson Jenkins, Phil and his sister Willie Lee Fyall grew up in Port Royal, SC, where they moved when he was an infant.  Phil believes that until her recent passing, their aunt Alice Wilson,  was the oldest living resident of Port Royal. Another aunt in Port Royal was the well known “Pinky” Jackson who lived on 12th Street in the “Ma Pink House” and was famous for feeding everyone who came to her. “Grandma Pinkie,” Phil explains, “was a full blooded Cherokee Indian. She washed her hair in sand, not water.” “Grandma Pinkie” adopted Herbert Jackson as a young boy. Herbert, who also know as Tootie Frootie and another legend in Port Royal, daily herded Pinky’s cows to graze. After Pinkie’s death, Herbert continued to guide the non-existent cows down the streets all the while singing beautiful hymns.
Meanwhile, Phil was playing music of his own. “I started playing as a kid, I was about eight years old and the first instrument I played was a washtub G string bass. Then in 1948 I played in the band at the Robert Smalls School; first I played the tenor saxophone and later the b flat baritone sax.” Who were his inspirations? “Rupert Jones from Charleston and my music teachers, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Davis.”  His love of music was such that at one time, before he went into the military, he recounts wistfully but with his characteristic smile, “I ran away from home and went to Miami, Florida where I played with the well known band, The Twisters.  I couldn’t stay there long because my grandmother wondered where I was, so I had to come home.” Phil has also played with other notable musicians such as Earl Davis and the Pazant Brothers.
Nor did he miss a chance to play during his stint in the army when he played in a military band, the Engineers. As a Korean War Veteran, Phil received a Bronze Star, which was given to him by the President of Korea “For Heroic or Meritorious Achievement of Service.” After this military service, Phil came back to Port Royal and shared his love of music over the air waves at WBEU. “After I came back from the military I went back to school on the GI BIll. Mr. Trask built a radio station here  and I went to ask him for a job. He told me I needed to pass a test and get a license. So I hitchhiked and walked to Savannah to get that license. I passed the test, I got the license and I got the job.”  In 1955 Billboard Magazine acknowledged: “Phillip Jenkins, WBEU, who plays baritone sax in a local dance band every night, recently hosted Amos Milburn and Fats Domino on his program.” When asked what he liked best about being on the radio, Phil answered “I love music, I love to entertain people. I was a celebrity, in fact I’m still a celebrity even though hardly anyone knows my last name; I’m still Phil ‘The Duke.’”
With wife, Keturah Folbert, and a growing family, Phil realized that he could earn a better income elsewhere. So from 1955 until 1983 he moved his family to New York went to work for the Teamsters Union 816 in Brooklyn. When asked if he had ever participated in the local custom of making moonshine or whiskey in this area, he laughed and said “No, but my job in New York was hauling whiskey to the bars from the piers.” In 1983 Phil retired as a disabled veteran and moved back to Beaufort. However, their children, Isaac, Gertrude, Barnetta, Robert, Phillistine, Phillip, Edith, Kevin, and Dwayne are now scattered around the country. There are twenty grandchildren, forty seven great-grandchildren, and eight great-great grandchildren.
In a home filled with photographs and all manner of memorabilia collected over time, there is an area in his living room dedicated to sound equipment and lots and lots of old records. “I’m a jazz addict” Phil replies when asked about his favorite music. “I love the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Page and Charlie Parker.”
Having spent fifteen years doing volunteer work for the Veterans driving a bus to take veterans to the VA hospital, now when not moving to the music, Phil enjoys outdoor pursuits such as fishing, crabbing and shrimping. He also like to read, especially novels. A corner of his living room holds the spillover from his closet and pairs of shoes in all colors and textures are arranged like a piece of art; accompanying all the shoes are coordinating hats and suits. Some of his favorite haunts these days are Am-vets, the American Legion and the VFW. On Friday nights Phil “The Duke” likes to get dressed up and go out dancing to the music that will always reside in his soul.

Story By Mary Ellen Thompson
Photos By John Wollwerth

 

There is a slight misconception that Marilee Sartori is an artist. The proper perception is that she is art, from the top of her head, with her trademark spiky hair, to her bejeweled expressive hands, right on down to her sparkly pink shoes. Marilee adores glitz and glam, a quality you can’t just stand back and admire in her, because her very manner is infectious. When she laughs, you will join her and not even know why, other than it just feels so good. And just like that, her art feels good too. Her art is her house, her family, her decorating, her presentation, her cooking, her beautifully written thank you notes and a myriad of paintings. As one might imagine, her art is as fluid as her many talents, she does not have a “style.” One day she might paint a huge red and gold palm tree, the next a tutu clad ballerina frog; another day she can be found with a series of paint brushes in her mouth while she works on a complex wall mural, or a lush seascape, or a modernistic woman hailing a cab in the city.
Marilee Sartori notices things; she takes them all in and returns them back to life, in life as well as on canvas. When she and her husband, Don, entertain, it is like walking into a piece of art. Fifty years of marriage has melded them into a perfect team.
However easy she may make everything seem, that is anything but the case. When Marilee was born it was discovered that her birth mother had tuberculosis, and mother and daughter had to be immediately separated. Her father didn’t know what to do with a tiny baby and a wife who was thought to be terminally ill, so Marilee was given to family friends to raise. As luck would have it, Marilee’s story has continued to have many happy endings; one of which was that an antibiotic was discovered in time to save her birth mother’s life. A brief summation is that Marilee was adopted by the family friends, but was able to maintain some contact with her birth parents.
Although her adopted mother was a celebrated artist in Marilee’s hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, Marilee didn’t follow suit for many years. “My mother sent me to one art school after another, but they kept sending me home with notes that said something like ‘Don’t waste your money.’ Then she tried to teach me to paint, but that didn’t work either. My mother was the oldest of nine children; in those days being an artist was not a popular option so my mother went to secretarial school, but painting was her passion. It was not until some years later that I followed in her footsteps. In the meanwhile, having been in Catholic School all my life, I begged and begged to go to college at the University of Kentucky. When I got there, I did everything but study because for all those years with the nuns you couldn’t do anything but learn, fancy that!” Marilee laughs. “So at Christmas break of my freshman year, my father showed up at U of K to pick me up and after Christmas I was safely ensconced at the good Catholic girls college, Webster College in St. Louis, MO.”

Every morning from May through October, some 45 Fripp Island residents set their alarms early in order to be on the beach at daylight. They aren’t joggers or dog walkers. They are volunteers who willingly give up their mornings to make a difference in our lowcountry area. They are the Fripp Island Loggerhead Patrol.
“The first thing I did when I got here in April 2004 was to sign up with the turtle patrol.” says Janie Lackman, “I had seen a hatchling and I was hooked! When Tony and Karen Natoli retired as leaders five years ago I was the only one crazy enough to take it over and I have been the team leader ever since.” The official term is Project Leader or Nest Protection Leader but as serious as Janie and the turtle patrol members are about their mission, they don’t stand on ceremony. Or as Janie says, “Just call me the Crazy Turtle Lady!”
Janie speaks very highly of her dedicated team. “This is the best team environment possible and we all came together for one reason- the turtles. We really are a very close knit team and a family. Team members agree. Martha and Dickie Blanchard have been patrolling for eleven years. They say, “It is a part of us, we can’t not do it. It is absolutely a great team with a wonderful leader.” Kathy Agee says “I’ve never met a more passionate and dedicated turtle person – I don’t know how she does it!” Pat Earl said, “She’s awesome. It was my first year (on the patrol) and Janie took me under her wing, and it has been a great experience.” Sam Taylor has been on the team for five years and says, “It is still as exciting now as it was the first year”.

Mama Turtles

The team patrols the beaches at Fripp Island looking for signs that a mama sea turtle has laid a clutch (batch of eggs) during the night. The most common sea turtle in our area is the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, a massive reptile that weighs between 250 and 350 pounds when mature. The Loggerhead females return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs, and so the female turtle hatchlings born on our sea islands will return to us when they are 25 to 30 years old to lay their eggs. Each mama turtle lays from four to six clutches per season, and each clutch contains around 100 eggs. In a perfect world, nature wouldn’t need human assistance but due to development of the sea islands, turtle teams have  their work cut out for them.
The Fripp Island Loggerhead Patrol’s mission is to find the nests and mark off the area, or relocate the nest if it is in danger due to tidal activity. The team is well trained in spotting the signs of a nest and how to locate the egg chambers. The patrol monitors each nest daily for months, at first for any signs of disturbance, and then for signs of emergence (when the hatchlings leave the nest).

Hatchlings

At the end of the season, Janie and the turtle team watch for signs of the hatchlings emergence. When it looks like a nest has hatched during the night, they follow up in three days by doing a physical inventory. When all the hatchlings have left the nest, the left over eggs and broken eggshells are counted and recorded. Occasionally a hatchling may still be in the nest, under all the broken eggshells, and the team ensures that the tiny turtle gets to the sea. Beaufort Lifestyle was with Janie and her team on Fripp to inventory three nests and we were lucky enough to have multiple hatchlings out of all 3 nests.
Janie and the team find teachable moments at every opportunity, letting children get close but not too close, and reminding adults that as tempting as it is to pick the tiny turtles up and put them in the sea, we need to let nature run its course and allow the hatchlings to make their own way. The turtle team efficiently manages the crowd that gathers to watch, ensuring that the interested observers don’t impede the hatchlings race to the sea.
It is profoundly moving to watch these tiny newborn hatchlings as they struggle to the surf and set off on their perilous journey. The first time observers and the “turtlers,” who may have seen this many times before, both fall silent with wonder at being able to witness nature at its most joyous and courageous.

Education Mission

Educating the public about sea turtles is as important as the patrol and monitoring work. Janie says, “There is so much we can do to save our turtles.  When you are at the beach pick up after yourself, fill in any holes you made in the sand, and lights off! It’s real simple and it all makes a huge difference in helping the turtles.” Another crucial issue is to “Give the turtles space”. As Janie says, “It’s not a zoo, this is nature and we all need to respect where we are in our surroundings. If you run up to a nesting female, you will bother her and she may go back out to the water and we then lose over a hundred hatchlings. Everyone means well and they have good intentions but we have to be careful.”

Friends of Caroline Hospice

Janie, who graduated from Wake Forest University with a BA in Psychology, has been the Development Director at Friends of Caroline Hospice located in Port Royal for the past three and a half years. She says, “Overall I wanted to give back to hospice, for what they did for my family. That’s what drew me to this work. You lose a little piece of yourself but it’s worth it.” Janie says, “FRIENDS is very unique in that it is totally dependent on donations and support from the community. We don’t accept money from insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or our patients. We want to, and are able to, help anyone who needs our help.”
FRIENDS’ events include the Festival of Trees, Cheeseburgers in Paradise and Bands, Brew & BBQ. When asked what her favorite event is, Janie laughs and says, “I love all our events! Each one is special in a different way.” Regarding the upcoming Festival of Trees she says “It involves everyone from the Head Start kids who come to see Santa to our older residents who come to see the trees, which are wonderful because each tree represents someone in our community.”

Elvis, Pet Therapy Superstar

Janie says, “I got into hospice work through my basset hound Elvis, who is a therapy dog. It started when Elvis was a puppy and we would visit my dad’s parents at a retirement community. We were visiting my grandmother at Memory Care and we walked by a resident who turned and looked at Elvis. This resident hadn’t talked in years, but seeing Elvis brought out full sentences from her. Elvis and I visited this lady until the day she passed. That type of connection really got me hooked on pet therapy. It is such a special connection. “Elvis is now 13 years old but she (yes Elvis is a girl) still comes to the office with Janie most days and continues her pet therapy work. Janie also has another dog at home, a chow named Harvey, who is “the sweetest dog in the world”. Janie laughs and says, “I guess you can call me the Crazy Dog Lady too!”

Family Roots

Janie says “I am who I am because of my family. My love of the outdoors comes from my mom and my 92 year old Grandma is a true inspiration.  My dad helps to keep me grounded and is a frequent “volunteer” at both FRIENDS and Festival of Trees events. My sister Laura and her children are great and I love spending time with all of them.”  Although Janie grew up in southwest Pennsylvania, her family has since all settled in the North Carolina mountains. After visiting her family’s beach house here for years, Janie says “I always knew I wanted to be in this area and I have been lucky enough to end up here.” A resident of Fripp Island for the last eight years she says what drew her was, “The ocean, because I have always loved the beach. Now I cross the bridge and I am home.”

Next

The turtle season is over until next spring, and Janie will add to her knowledge by taking the ten month Lowcountry Master Naturalist Class. She says,”  I am really looking forward to it. “When asked what else she is going to do in the “turtle off season” she says “Sleep late! I am not a morning person at all!” But she says she couldn’t imagine not being a “turtler”. “It’s the first egg, the first tracks on the sand, the first hatchling. Then it’s the last nest of the season and I have empty nest syndrome!” She pauses a moment and concludes. “Nature and animals have always been an interest of mine, but at the same time, I love working with people and I love being here at Friends of Caroline Hospice. And I can’t see myself ever leaving Fripp Island and the turtles.”