• Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine

“Forging & Welding Historic Railroad Parts into Words of Art”

story by Cindy Reid     photos by Susan DeLoach

To enter Cathy Pender Emmert and her father Jim Pender’s blacksmith workshop is to enter a wonderland of fire and noise, steel and iron, anvils and forges. Out of the midst of much machinery and who knows how many tools, Cathy and Jim have created an entire art form from previously discarded historical artifacts. And they have also created something else. They have forged a true father and daughter friendship.

Railroad Remnants 

     Cathy comes by her facility with tools and machinery by way of eighteen years of working at the family’s business, Pender Brothers Inc., a plumbing, welding and HVAC business established in Port Royal in 1985 by Cathy’s father Jim Pender and Johnny Pender, his brother. Cathy runs the welding office and she and Jim run the welding shop.

     The Railroad Remnants story really starts in 2014 when Pender Brothers, Inc. bought the contract to remove the last two and a half miles of the Port Royal railroad track.  From Railroad Remnants, “The Port Royal, SC Railroad…The railroad was chartered in 1856. Construction began in 1870 and was completed to Augusta, GA in 1873. It ran from 1870 until 2003 when it was abandoned. Then in 2011 the demo of it began to build what is now known as the Spanish Moss Trail, a bicycle/walking trail. For over 100 years it carried passengers, freight and future Marines to Port Royal.”

     Jim Pender says “We bought that contract to take up the tracks because it was right outside the shop and we could keep all the remnants from the rock to the spikes, crossties and rail. After we pulled it all up, we sold the crossties and rail.” But there were still thousands of spikes and other metal pieces left over.

     Cathy says, “I said don’t scrap it- we can do something with it.” So they repurposed industrial containers and stored about 25,000 railroad spikes and various metal clips and plates from the tracks for an undefined future use. And there they sat.

Word Spikes

     The idea to create art from the discarded spikes was born when Cathy was scrolling through Facebook two years ago. She says, “I saw a Christmas tree made from welded horseshoes and thought ‘I could make that,’ so I went in the shop and I made the Christmas tree. Then I started messing around and I made the words ‘Joy’ and ‘Love’ out of the old railroad spikes.” She took pictures of her work and put them on Facebook. She says, “Next thing I know I was taking orders.” Her Dad Jim chimes in, “She made one or two words and it made me jealous. So I joined in.”

     The process they use to create words from spikes starts with the bead blaster, a large piece of machinery which ‘blasts’ the metal with glass beads and takes the rust off. But Cathy says, “We like keeping the patina on the spikes so we have to be careful how much we blast them.” After the spikes come out of the bead blaster it is time to ‘heat and beat.’ The ‘heat’ part comes from putting the spikes in one of the two forges in their workshop.

     Cathy says, “Dad should have been born in the horse and buggy age, because he already had a coal and propane forges here at the shop, in fact they have been here for about 30 years.” They generally use the propane forge, which enables Cathy and Jim to control the temperature better than coal forge. After being in the forge for about 5 minutes, the spikes are around an astounding 2000 degrees hot.

     The ‘beat’ step is exactly as it sounds-  they beat the long part of the spikes in order to draw them  out from their original six to six and a half inches to eight inches, the length needed to make an individual letter. Have you ever tried to change the length of a piece of iron or steel by hand? It is as hard as it sounds. Jim was able to track down the only piece of equipment they bought, a ‘trip hammer’ which they use to lengthen the red hot spikes. Before the trip hammer, they would laboriously beat the spike on the anvil until they got the desired length. The trip hammer does the ‘beating for them,’ making the process significantly easier.

     They only have a short window of time to beat the spike into the desired shape of a letter or number. Those moments go rapidly and Cathy and Jim have become very adept at creating a letter quickly. These skills took hours of work to develop, as Jim says “It took time, and trial and error, to develop the letters from then to what we do now.”

     What they do with the finished letters is create names, all kinds of different names. They create family names, place names, business names, even pet names, that can hang on a wall, stand alone on a mantle or table, or even have stakes welded to them so they can stick in the ground.

Words of Art

     Every ‘word of art’ is a one of its kind because every letter created is distinct. One “A” is different from the other “A”’s because each spike is different, before and after it is forged and transformed into an individual letter. In addition, the two blacksmiths bring their own artistic sensibility to each piece. Cathy says, “I get excited with every word I start, even if I have made it before. Each is unique.”      Jim makes the point with several versions of the letter “E,” illustrating perfectly the individuality of each and every letter created. The letters then create words and as Jim says, “Much more go into a word than creating each letter. You have to keep the same height, make it look right, make it so you can hang it or put it on a stand. You need to gauge where it will balance, where to weld a hook.” A typical word takes four to six hours to create.

     Their work is more than the repurposing of old railroad spikes. “These are Port Royal artifacts,” Jim says, and “We turn history into heirlooms.” Jim also says, “We have a lot of pride in what we do. A letter we make might be acceptable to a lot of people but if we don’t like it we don’t use it.”

     In addition Cathy and Jim have created new and interesting projects that go beyond a family or place name, such as a five foot long sign for a local plantation, numerical coordinates and bottle openers and oyster knives. Cathy and Jim recently made two sets of deer antlers from the railroad spikes, both as gifts for retiring Marines. Jim also makes mini anvils using the railroad iron.

     They have also donated words of art to CAPA and to the SC Water Fowl Association for fundraisers. Their work is reaching all corners of the world, including Japan and Australia. Pretty good for a two person operation that only advertises on Facebook!

Welded

     Cathy says, “The best part is the relationship we’ve developed and the time spent with my Dad. My family is big and we have always been close, but its one thing to be close with your parents and it’s another to call them your friend. And I can truly say my parents are my friends, and once we started blacksmithing, that bond got closer. To me that is priceless, and makes the blacksmithing come easy.”   She says “This has been a huge bonding experience for both of us.” Jim’s pride in his daughter is evident and one can see how much he enjoys being in their business together.

Portable Blacksmiths 

     They have such a good time working together that they spent a considerable amount of time creating a portable blacksmith shop in order to take their shop on the road to craft shows and community events. Ingeniously they used a pop-up camper as the base, and it includes a portable forge so they can give demonstrations and create art at events. Jim got the idea from watching other crafters and what it entailed to be in a festival. He says, “You have to load all of your merchandise, tables and tent to go to the festival, unload it when you get there, load it all up to leave and unload it again when you get home. That’s a lot of loading and unloading; and all of our stuff is heavy.” Cathy says, “With our portable blacksmith shop there is much less to handle to participate in the craft fairs. Not to mention the crowd it draws because of its looks and the sound of our hammers hitting hot steel on the anvil. “

Forging Plans

     After two years of working together, Cathy and Jim are looking forward to continuing Railroad Remnants and taking their work to the next level. She has ideas that incorporate found driftwood and Jim’s mind is always working on the next project, such as the custom  trestle table he recently made from railroad pieces for a client. She says, “I have lots of ideas for the future. I never expected this when  I took ‘Love’ and ‘Joy’ to Facebook, it really has been a whirlwind!”

     Their genuine respect and affection for each other shines through their humor, and the jokes fly as much as the sparks from the anvil. When asked about retirement Jim answers that no, retirement is not an option because ”she works me like a borrowed mule. You can quote me on that.” Cathy laughs and says “The fun part is hanging out with him”.  To keep up with this father /daughter duo follow them on Facebook at : Railroad Remnants by Cathy Pender Emmert.

story by Emily Burgess     photos by Susan DeLoach

There are piles of things all around. Sticks covered in dried moss, branches of ferns, wax, hammers and pieces of jewelry in their beginning stages of development in a makeshift garage studio. “Organized chaos” is what she calls it and it is indicative of the artist’s mind that she possesses. She knows where each thing is and over time works to bring them to life as wearable art. JoAnn Graham, an unlikely silversmith, but one who is making her name known in the lowcountry.

     Graham began her art in silversmithing in 2004. She works with sterling, fine, and argentium silver, gold and steel to create unique and individual wearable art jewelry. All of her pieces are hand-fabricated, form-folded, forged and texturized.

     She received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro in 1988.  Modeling the dance programs that had been so successful in North Carolina schools, Graham helped implement dance programs across the state of South Carolina as the first dance consultant for the State Department of Education of South Carolina.

     After years of serving, a hip replacement and back injury forced her to retire on disability. Graham had no intention of sitting idly once she healed and knew that she had to find a creative outlet.

     A friend gave her a brochure, which spurred her to attend the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Penland School of Arts and Crafts, Joseph Campbell, Sawtooth School for the Visual Arts in 2005. She later received her welding certification from the Technical College of the Lowcountry in 2011 where she studied with Michael Goode, Betty Helen Longhi, Ben Dyer and Chris Nelson.

     Everything she makes starts as flat pieces of sterling silver or wire. Graham finds inspiration from things she discovers in nature. With equipment like a crucible and kiln, she casts a mold of an object and eventually turns it into a piece of jewelry. Each and every piece she makes is truly a one-of-a-kind piece that can’t be exactly replicated making her collection unique.

     In true organized chaos form, Graham is working on anywhere from five to six pieces at one time. She creates a mold for one and hammers another, while placing the finishing touches on an additional piece. She will spend four or five days doing this before completing each distinct piece.

     Pins, bangles, cuffs with bamboo etched into the shiny metal, necklaces fired and manipulated into intricate links, earrings cast from the resurrection fern leaves found in downtown Beaufort. Graham’s jewelry is stunning to see in person and even more so after you understand the intense process it takes to create.

     “I choreograph in sterling silver,” says Graham. Her pieces are very abstract and she doesn’t like symmetry. She brings movement and fluidity to her work that stems from her dance background.  “It’s art. I made sure that was on my website. It’s wearable art.”

     Graham claims to be a terrible salesperson when it comes to marketing her jewelry, but she is passionate that those viewing or purchasing her pieces understand and feel the depth of what her pieces express in their own art form. She may have started out in dance and her medium may now be different, but it is all connected; it is all a creative expression of the person doing it.

     Making jewelry may have begun as a creative outlet that was meant to keep her mind and body agile in retirement, but as she learned, and fabricated jewelry it was evident that it could morph into more. Five years ago is when she says she got serious about her work and serious about making JoAnn Graham Collections successful.

     A huge aspect of making her collection successful includes more medial tasks such as creating and updating a website, marketing, ordering materials, keeping books and doing taxes. As exciting as these are in showing her success, it is also this that causes her the greatest obstacle. These tasks that are necessary for further accomplishment in her field, also take her away from time in her studio, her time creating and making and expressing herself through her art. Graham says that two-thirds of her time is spent on the behind the scenes tasks and only a third, actually spent constructing jewelry.

     “It is me, myself, and I,” Graham said. She is solely responsible for all things JoAnn Graham Collections including traveling to art shows and exhibitions throughout North and South Carolina and a few select shows in Georgia. She travels to between 7 and 15 shows a year and has had great success at them including placing first at Art in the Park in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2011 and again taking third place in 2013, as well as second place at Piccolo Spoleto last year.

     Her most recent show was the American Craft Show put on by the American Craft Council in Atlanta, Georgia, which is the biggest show she has done to date. Her next show is The Art Market at Historic Honey Horn in Hilton Head, South Carolina Saturday, April 30th through Sunday, May 1st.  Graham says that at every show she manages to find some connection back to Beaufort and the lowcountry. Whether it’s a person who resides in Beaufort or someone who knows someone in the lowcountry, she says it is so rewarding to continually find ties back to this place she loves.

     Graham originally moved to Beaufort County almost 24 years ago because she said it is where the best dance education programs were. Even after retirement, when she realized she could move anywhere, she couldn’t bring herself to leave the lowcountry.

     “I’m really lucky. I love the beach,” said Graham. Although, much of her inspiration for her pieces derives from nature, she says the nature specific to Beaufort and the lowcountry is what inspires her most. “I don’t find inspiration elsewhere like I do here. I’m always looking at different things, the shells, all sorts of things. You begin to view things with a different perspective which is why we have art.”

     Pieces from JoAnn Graham Collections can be purchased through her website, but Graham also offers private fittings and consultations in her home for those interested in her work. Additionally, her pieces will now be available at LaPetit Gallerie in Bluffton, South Carolina, as one of seven artists displayed.

     Graham is so passionate about creating and sharing her art of silversmithing that she will also be teaching classes at La Petit as a beginner’s introduction. Classes will begin April 1st and will be held the first Wednesday of each month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Additional days and times will be available upon request. Graham says ideal class sizes are anywhere from three to ten people. The class fee is $50 and each attendee leaves with the product they make.

     As for the future of JoAnn Graham Collections, Graham has no intention of stopping anytime soon. Despite the workload that is solely hers, the artist inside of her can’t retire.  She plans to ride this out as long as possible, even if that means quitting the shows and exhibitions and exclusively working on fabricating jewelry.

     She has big plans for her pieces. She desires to move her collection in a more abstract direction and combine the individual techniques she has learned over the years into single pieces. Mixing metals that have been forged with something that has been cast, she hopes to have more constructed pieces available, as well as trying new techniques such as tap and die to finish off her pieces.

     JoAnn Graham is an artist through and through. The end of her dance career was not the end of her art. Her hard work and desire to find a unique niche in the world of art has led to a beautiful and exquisite collection of jewelry that others can enjoy again and again. It is clear that Graham is making a name for herself as a silversmith in the lowcountry.

story by Cindy Reid     photos by Paul Nurnberg

Beaufort Lifestyle recently got to meet Kip Leming, Lady’s Island resident and rock and roll veteran. He shared some of his story with us over coffee on a sunny morning.

Rocking

     Born and raised in Hopewell, NJ, which is near Princeton, Kip started playing the bass at age 13. He said, “Everyone wanted to play guitar or drums, so being a bass player, I could be in as many bands as I wanted to be in. My first band played at sock hops and other various local functions and we used shopping carts to wheel our equipment because we didn’t have cars! Good thing the amp was on wheels.” Kip continued, “After a few bands, I discovered cars and girls and took a break from music for a couple of years. But then a friend needed a bass player and when I saw their “Marshall stack” I knew they were a good band. We called ourselves ‘Marshall Law’.” (FYI  … “At the request of Pete Townshend, Marshall produced an 8×12-inch cabinet on top of which the 1959 amplifier head was placed, giving rise to the Marshall stack, an iconic image for rock and roll. The size of the wall of Marshall stacks soon became an indicator of the band’s status” https://en.wikipedia.org)

     Kip adds, “At that time I went from that band to another band, which is what happens as bands come together, play for a while and then start to fracture. A bass player can try and hold a band together, both musically and socially, but change proved each band got better. There was always a place for a bass player!”

     Kip was doing well and in 1977 that lead to being noticed by a new group called Mistress, which had been formed by Rick Derringer’s (Rock & Roll Hootchie-koo) guitar player. Among the highlights, Mistress actually got to tape a demo in the studio owned by Jimi Hendrix in NYC.

     Kip says, “We were playing rock in a disco era- it was tough! “ He continues, “I became a luthier and started building acoustic guitars. I would build the whole body from scratch; another guy would build the neck and so forth. I would build two a day. We went to trade shows, met a lot of musicians, including the legendary Les Paul. That was a lot of fun.”

     Back at the band, the drummer from Mistress went on to join the New York band Riot. Kip says, “They put out two records which got great reviews and  they were going on tour opening for Sammy Hagar in Britain, when I got a phone call asking, “do you want to go?” Obviously the answer was yes!” he laughs, “I had three weeks to learn the show. Playing with Riot was a great time, we were playing hard rock and touring with Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush and Kiss, which had great productions and you could see these legendary bands at their peak. These bands were professionals who knew exactly what they were doing. But watching them night after night, doing the same ‘spontaneous’ bits, you could see how the time and touring turns them into the equivalent of professional wrestling!”

Rolling

     It wasn’t all rock and roll bands and life on the road. Kip says, “I always liked cars. Where I grew up in rural Hopewell, you had to have a car. I built a ’56 Chevy and drove it to high school. Back then you had to be good at fixing cars or know someone who was. “ He says, “Although I was still working as a musician, if you are not touring there is no money coming in. Touring is the only money you make in rock and roll. I needed  an income so I got a job at a foreign car repair shop washing cars. One day all the mechanics quit. At the time, I had a BMW and I had tools so I became the mechanic on the spot.”

     It was a great fit for this bass player. Kip says, “ After that I went to Porsche and after that I went to Mercedes Benz where I stayed for thirty years. I started as a technician and worked my way up to Service Manager. The cars are great and it was a great career. I went to Germany to their factories many times, I got to ride around Daytona with race car driver Johnny Rutherford , and have many other great experiences. Mercedes Benz is a wonderful company that really values their mechanics.”

Finding Beaufort

     Kip and his wife Cathy, a writer/editor and retired C-suite executive assistant from Bristol- Myers Squibb, moved to Beaufort six years ago. He says they originally started looking at property in Jacksonville, Florida and worked their way up the coast to Savannah, Georgia. He says, “We were in Savannah  and we rented a car and drove up to Beaufort to check it out. We loved it immediately and moved here two years later . We love it here, we love our neighborhood. In our old neighborhood up north, I knew the neighbor across the street and the one to our right. That was it. Here we walk outside and it’s ‘hi how is it going!’ We love the people and the friendliness here.” Their household includes two Cornish Rex cats, a Model T and a Harley.  Kip and Cathy’s son, Scott, lives in Pennsylvania and daughter, Marie, lives in Hilton Head.

     Not ready for retirement yet, Kip wanted to share his love of Beaufort with others. So, he is a realtor at Ballinger Real Estate. Kip says he enjoys taking classes and learning new things, in fact, he recently obtained his  Residential Electrician Certificate.

     You may recognize Kip from a feature in the Beaufort Hospital’s Living Well magazine. He says “I have a heart condition, elevated LP(a) , and when we were thinking about moving here I was worried about finding a doctor with expertise in my condition. Come to find out, Dr. Vyge on Lady’s Island actually wrote his thesis on it, so that worked out very well.”

     Kip says, “I am always in one or two bands, playing bass. I just started playing in a new band, RKs (short for  Rhythm Kings) We play pop, soul, R&B. We cover Amy Winehouse, Earth Wind and Fire, Al Green and Santana. I like all the stuff we play because I like all different kinds of music.” The RKs have played at Maggie’s Pub at Habersham and at Gullah Grub on St Helena Island and will be adding gigs as the weather warms up.

Lightning Round

Favorite current band?

     “Cadillac Three”- a Nashville band that is Led Zeppelin meets ZZ Top.

Favorite car?

     The Porsche 930. White.

Favorite Place in Beaufort?

     Anywhere on the water – I mean physically on the water in a boat. I recently learned how to sail at the Beaufort Yacht & Sail Club, found I really liked it and plan on continuing. I haven’t found a bad place here yet.

     Check out Kip’s page at The Metal Archives, https://www.metal-archives.com/artists/Kip_Leming/15275 and the many videos of Riot on You Tube. Rock On Beaufort!

The needs in our community are great as many working families struggle to make ends meet.  “Many of the clients we see at United Way of the Lowcountry are working parents trying to raise a family on a minimum wage salary in an area with a high cost of living and few affordable housing options,” said Chrystie Turner, Vice President of Community Impact for United Way of the Lowcountry.  “As many live paycheck to paycheck, any unforeseen financial burden can send a working family into a financial crisis.”

     United Way of the Lowcountry depends on the generosity of this community to help meet the immediate needs of our neighbors and reduce future needs.  To address those immediate needs, United Way funds well-known agencies and their internal HELPLINE.  Through United Way’s Community Impact process, the organization is also working to create a positive impact by focusing on four priority areas including Basic Needs, Education, Health and Income/ Family Stability.  In addition, the organization supports education through its comprehensive Reading Program, Read Indeed.  Evidenced based strategies are used to tutor children in elementary schools throughout Beaufort and Jasper Counties.

     The dollars donated to United Way of the Lowcountry stay local, helping people throughout Beaufort and Jasper Counties.  As the organization’s fiscal year wraps up this month, United Way is encouraging anyone who hasn’t given to this year’s Annual Campaign to donate $19 and anyone who has already given, to consider donating an additional $19.  You’re probably wondering why $19. This amount represents the 19% of children in Beaufort County living in poverty.  “We want to bring awareness to this issue and encourage everyone to get involved, says Tina Gentry, United Way of the Lowcountry President & CEO.  “Just imagine the impact it would make if everyone in our community donated just $19.”

     “My wife and I give to United Way because we know they are accountable for the dollars we invest,” says Charlie Francis, United Way of the Lowcountry de Tocqueville Co-Chairman.  “With this year’s Annual Campaign ending on March 31st, I ask you to please consider making a donation to this worthy organization.  No gift is too small. “

     By making a donation to United Way of the Lowcountry you could help provide:

Seniors with dietary specific home delivered meals

Students with one on one, in-school tutoring as well as books to help them read on grade level and succeed through United Way’s Read Indeed program

Students with the opportunity to attend a financial literacy workshop to establish positive spending habits early in life, stressing the importance of protecting your identity and credit

Homeless family members with housing, as well as case management, budget classes, employment services and education to secure housing when the family leaves the program

Primary care services for  low income, uninsured adults (Individuals who make too much to receive Medicaid, but not enough to be able to afford private insurance)

Electricity to a family in need to help keep the lights on and provide heat to keep children warm

     “Our Annual Campaign is not about the dollars raised, it’s about what those dollars will do to help us meet the immediate needs of our neighbors and build a stronger community,” says Tina Gentry, United Way of the Lowcountry President & CEO.

     To make a donation to United Way of the Lowcountry, visit www.uwlowcountry.org or mail a check to United Way of the Lowcountry at P.O. Box 202 Beaufort, SC 29901.  You can also text LOWCOUNTRY to 30306.

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Paul Nurnberg

You can say Zeke Wilson has been a fighter all of his life. He was born in 1957 in St. Helena Island, South Carolina. That was the same year President Dwight Eisenhower passed the Civil Rights Act. Zeke, one of eight children, was raised by a single mom and learned at a young age that hard work and perseverance were two of the most important qualities needed to make something of your life. “I spent a lot of time on the farm, doing field work; I got a proper education; and I got into sports,” says Zeke.

     Zeke played football for St. Helena Junior High School and says he got really good at it, but he wanted more.

“I remember watching a telecast and Joe Frazier was about to fight Muhammad Ali. I instantly knew I wanted to box,” says Zeke.

     He went to work one day and chopped down three trees. He dug two holes and put a tree in each hole. He used the third tree as a cross beam in which he hung a pair of jeans filled with sand on it and started punching. It wasn’t long before people took notice of his skill. “One day a man saw me jogging home from work and stopped me and asked what I was doing,” says Zeke. “The man later became my first boxing manager.”

     Zeke, who at the time lived near Parris Island, the training base for enlisted Marines, was able to spar with local Marines. After practicing and honing his skills, at 16 years old he took on his first true opponent during a match in Savannah, Georgia. He was matched with a Golden Glove Champion and State Champion. “I remember the night before the fight, I asked my mom what if I lose,” says Zeke. “She said, ‘As long as you do your best, you can’t lose’.” In 10 seconds, Zeke knocked the guy out cold. That night in the ring propelled his nearly 25-year boxing career.

     After graduating high school, Zeke moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He spent time as Joe Frazier’s sparring partner and made his boxing team. He then joined the United States Marine Corps and boxed on the Marine Corps boxing team. After four years of active duty, Zeke was honorably discharged and continued boxing.

     Throughout his career, he won the State Golden Glove the State Championship on Hilton Head Island. In 1977, he won the USA Amateur Athletic Union Heavyweight Box-Off at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio, which qualified him for a seat on the US Boxing Team.

     When his career in the ring ended, his passion for boxing didn’t. Zeke went on to become a manager, trainer and promoter. It was during his time as a promoter that led him to fight his biggest fight outside of the ring and make history. “I was a fight promoter and I went to Massachusetts to do a boxing event, but different bodies of the state canceled me because of the color of my skin. The state law said anyone who did boxing events had to pay $5,000. I was asked to pay $10,000 and white individuals didn’t have to pay,” says Zeke.

     In 2000, Zeke fought a precedent-setting court battle that defined the view of a modern form of racism, that of same-race discrimination. Wilson-vs-McClure was the first same-race discrimination case in the US to reach a Federal court jury. In this case, white Boxing Commissioner William Pender performed direct discriminatory acts, while the black Commission Chairman Wilbert McClure failed to provide Zeke sufficient protection under his authority and cooperated in the unjust cancellation of a series of boxing events, causing financial harm to Zeke. “I didn’t have a lawyer. I did all of my own court proceedings in front of the Chief Justice and the jury. I did it because I believed in myself,” says Zeke. Hard work and perseverance that were instilled in him as a child, paid off. He won his case in front of a jury of his peers. “I hope people learn to stand up for themselves. I had to. Justice is for everyone and it has to be for everyone or you’re just a nobody,” says Zeke. “We are living in a time where people are taking more away from us. If you allow people to take away your rights, then I think you’d be a fool. You have to stand up for what you believe in.”

     Zeke’s experiences were the driving force behind his book titled, The Eighth Round. “In the book, I share my life struggles, the valuable life lessons I learned, and how determination helped me through trying circumstances,” says Zeke. “This true story will keep you engaged and cheering for the underdog all the way. It will leave every reader forever changed.” He also wrote a movie script based on the book and it’s with Sony right now. Zeke believes they will move forward with it this year.

     Zeke currently travels around the world doing book signings and speaking to kids. Zeke believes the children are our future and he wants to leave a lasting impression on them. He says his appearances and his book are meant to inspire people to take action, especially kids. “You can do anything you put your mind to and kids can be anything they want to be,” says Zeke. “You can’t do dumb things and expect to do great things later. Trouble can put you in places you don’t want to be. If the people don’t stand together, it’s only going to get worse. It’s not going to get any better if we don’t change. I believed in myself and when you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.”

     To learn more about Zeke’s story and purchase a copy of The Eighth Round, visit www.theeighthround.com.

New Partnership to Relocate, Expand Cancer Services on Beaufort Memorial Hospital Campus

story by Courtney McDermott     photos by Paul Nurnberg

Beaufort Memorial Hospital (BMH) is partnering with Alliance Oncology and the Medical University of South Carolina Health System (MUSC Health) to relocate and expand the Keyserling Cancer Center to the main hospital campus later this year.

     The new center will be located in the Beaufort Medical Plaza, the three-story medical office building next to the hospital. Radiation oncology and infusion services will be provided on the first floor, where board-certified radiation oncologist Dr. Jonathan Briggs will be located. Board-certified medical oncology physicians Drs. Majd Chahin and Mark Newberry will be co-located on the third floor.

     Construction is expected to begin late this month. The move will bring together the full array of lab, imaging, breast health services and infusion that support the cancer program.

     “Beaufort Memorial Hospital has been providing outstanding cancer care to the community for more than a decade,” says Russell Baxley, MHA, President and CEO of Beaufort Memorial Hospital. “Our new and expanded partnership with MUSC and Alliance Oncology will allow us to offer cutting-edge technology and resources locally, providing the latest in cancer care to our patients.”

     Last fall BMH officials announced that they would be moving the cancer center to a new location to consolidate and expand cancer services. The newly formed partnership provides both the capital investment and program development expertise required to expand and upgrade services to meet the growing needs of the Lowcountry.

     At the new Beaufort Memorial Keyserling Cancer Center, an MUSC clinical advisory committee will collaborate closely with local oncology experts and a dedicated clinical liaison will be onsite in the radiation oncology center. This expands upon the collaboration that was formed in 2016 when the cancer center began enrolling qualifying cancer patients in clinical trials through an affiliation with the National Cancer Institute-designated Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC.

     “Given the needs of our patients throughout the state, it is imperative that we find innovative affiliations such as this one to ensure we are reaching all of those who need the expertise of our teams,” said Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., CEO, MUSC Health and Vice President for Health Affairs at Medical University of South Carolina. “We are excited and pleased to work with our colleagues at Alliance Oncology and Beaufort Memorial to bring the expertise of the Hollings Cancer Center even closer to those who need us.”

     Alliance Oncology partners directly with hospitals and physicians to develop fully integrated oncology programs. Providing a full range of inpatient and outpatient service line capabilities, Alliance Oncology’s comprehensive approach to cancer care affords its partners the speed-to-market, quality clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and operational expertise that sets them apart from the competition.

     This project represents Alliance Oncology’s vision to partner with leading providers to expand regional services to communities, giving patients and their providers improved access, convenience and services closer to home.

     “In partnership with MUSC Health and Beaufort Memorial Hospital we are excited to add this location benefitting the local Beaufort community, and to augment academic cancer care services in the region,” said Greg Spurlock, President of Alliance Oncology. “As one of the nation’s leading providers of cancer care, this center will join Alliance affiliated locations across the country in providing high-quality, patient-centered services in partnership with premier cancer care providers and caregivers.”

Though she be but little, she is fierce. – William Shakespeare

story by Cindy Reid     photos by John Wollwerth

Molly Monroe was a teenage beauty queen who had her future planned out for her. When she makes an impulsive decision to join the Marine Corps the summer after high school graduation, her boyfriend breaks up with her, her brother bears the burden of guilt, and her mother feels betrayed.

     As a Combat Camera Marine, Molly observes and records her environment from behind the lens, where image shapes day-to-day life. This story unfolds through multiple perspectives, and as the negatives and positives develop, an image of the Model Marine is sharpened into focus.

     It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. -William Shakespeare

     Author Sondra Sykes Meek says she “didn’t even know women could be in the Marine Corps” until a female classmate in her hometown of Lakeland, Florida joined. She said, “I told my Dad I was thinking about joining the Marines and he laughed so hard that I had to enlist just to prove him wrong!” She credits her Marine recruiter for preparing her for boot camp. “He really helped me and although boot camp was a big challenge, I knew what to expect.” Ultimately Sondra says she joined the USMC to find “stability, direction, and to be part of something bigger than myself.” She soon discovered that joining the Marine Corps also increased the size of her family. She developed bonds that she will always treasure.

     Clearly it was a good fit. Sondra spent twenty years as a Marine, retiring in 2010 at the rank of Master Sergeant after serving at six duty stations, including two combat deployments, in Iraq and the southern Philippines. Simultaneously pursuing her love of writing and literature, Sondra earned a BA in English while she served on active duty and an MFA in Creative Writing after she retired while living in San Diego on her husband’s orders. Since 2011 she has been working full time as a Project Manager for the Department of the Navy.

     Sondra has recently published her first novel, Model Marine, which she has dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces.

     To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. -William Shakespeare

     Although Model Marine follows the events in a female Marine’s life, Sondra says, “The events in the book are all fiction but the characters are composites of many of the Marines I served with, who are some of the most extraordinary people I’ve known.” Regarding her title character, Sondra says “there are a lot of ways I empathize with Molly, but she is not me. All of the characters in the story have pieces of me in them, but I wanted them to have different opinions and perspectives. The main female characters include Molly Monroe, who is my idealist; Ramirez, who is my cynic; and Baptiste, who is my spiritual guide in the story. There are several male Marine characters, but among them Sergeant Hicks is an enigma, in that he may be easy for some readers to dislike but he embodies the same characteristics of many Marines who are willing to die for you. He is ultimately a chivalrous character.” Sondra says the diverse cast of characters is an accurate reflection of the diversity found in the Marines. She says, “I loved that about the Marine Corps and I love that about my characters!”

     When discussing the themes of the story Sondra says, “Molly‘s previous life as a model put her in front of the camera whereas her career in the Marines puts her behind the camera. What I wanted to show in the book is that joining the Marine Corps is a transformation. My main character, Molly, is a beauty queen, which shows what a ‘girly girl’ she is at the beginning, and she is the centerpiece of her family unit. By the end of the book, she is no longer the centerpiece. There are subtle shifts and eventually it’s not just about her anymore.  She has made a full transition, and other Marines’ stories are as relevant as hers. In my opinion, all of the characters are ‘model Marines.’

     Shakespeare quotes are found throughout Model Marine and Sondra says “I do love Shakespeare because Shakespeare touches on big subjects like death and other human experiences that are still so relevant today. The play Hamlet moves me emotionally on a deep level.” When asked about her favorite authors she says, “Shakespeare of course. I love the classics; Wuthering Heights is my favorite book, and I adore To Kill a Mockingbird. But I also read and love modern books; The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of my absolute favorites.”

     “I wanted to incorporate my love of literature into the Marine Corps storyline in my book. There is a lot of symbolism in the story. Liberal arts may seem to be distinctly different from the military but they have several similarities I tried to draw attention to in the book. I think the reader will discover how meaningful they both can be when you take the time to learn about them.”

     The golden age is before us, not behind us. -William Shakespeare

     Sondra has a long history with Beaufort. She says “I went to Parris Island for basic training. I was so disappointed when I received my orders after military occupational school and learned I was headed back to Parris Island for my first duty station because I wanted to travel somewhere new. But it all worked out because that is how I met my husband Eric, who was also a Marine. In fact, we were married here in Beaufort.” Sondra and Eric are the proud parents of two daughters, Breanna who is the model on the cover of the book, and Amanda who took the picture on the cover and is moving to Arizona soon with Jason, her Marine husband.

     Because they still owned the home on Lady’s Island they purchased in 2005, the Meeks chose Beaufort to return to after their mutual retirement from the Marine Corps. Sondra says, “Before we only knew Beaufort as Marines, but this time we are able to really enjoy it, especially using our boat and being on the water. Now I love Beaufort!”

     Although she has written short stories she wants to turn into novels, right now Sondra is focused on promoting Model Marine and looking forward to the day when she will be devoting herself to writing full time. She says, “I feel very connected to the natural beauty of the lowcountry and I look forward to becoming more connected to the larger community, especially writers and the literary community.” Until then, wise words from the Bard…

     “From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive: They sparkle still the right Promethean fire; They are the books, the arts, the academes, That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”

     Follow on Instagram @modelmarine and on Face book as Model Marine

     Model Marine by Sondra Sykes Meek is available locally at the Beaufort Bookstore and The Corps Store. It is also available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
Visit sondrasykesmeek.com

story by Carol Lauvray     photos by Susan DeLoach

Kyleigh Tokar has faced and overcome greater challenges than most people encounter during a lifetime—and she is just 16 years old.

     The Beaufort High School junior beat all odds at the beginning of her life, surviving a massive stroke while in utero and subsequently being born without brain activity, reflexes, vision, hearing or muscular ability. Defying her doctors’ early prognosis, Kyleigh has grown into an active, happy teenager who excels in school and who loves sports like golf and bowling, as well as camping and board games. Her parents, Alana and Joseph Tokar, credit God for Kyleigh’s miraculous recovery as an infant.

     Last June, Joe Tokar started writing a blog about his daughter Kyleigh. His first post on the blog reads: “What can I say about her? She loves the Lord and is amazing, wonderful, happy, vibrant and incredibly caring. She is an incredible young woman that has changed not only my life, but the lives of so many people she has come in contact with. She is quite literally a gift from God…”

Facing Another Challenge

     Joe created the blog to document the latest challenge that Kyleigh is facing—a diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma (a rare type of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around bone), a cancer that most often afflicts teens and young adults. The survival rate for localized cases of Ewing sarcoma is about 70 percent; if it spreads to other sites in the body, the survival rate drops to 30 percent.

     Last year, in May, while she was driving, Kyleigh was hit by another car, an event that her dad Joe believes was a gift from God to help the family discover her cancer. As a result of the accident, Kyleigh suffered a minor back injury so she visited a chiropractor. Two weeks later, her back still hurt so her mom Alana asked the chiropractor to look at a bulge on Kyleigh’s rib. The chiropractor advised them to have a doctor see Kyleigh immediately.  So began a flurry of doctor appointments, tests (x-rays, a CT scan and an ultrasound), and a biopsy on the mass on Kyleigh’s rib. On June 14, 2017, the family received the dreaded call from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston with the diagnosis of cancer.

     Kyleigh’s doctor at MUSC wanted to begin her chemotherapy as soon as possible, during the last week of June. On June 26, 2017 Joe posted in the blog saying that Kyleigh had a different plan, “…my wonderful daughter, so confident in Christ, says she wants to go to camp for a week before she starts treatment.” As a result, Monday, July 10, 2017 was rescheduled to be Kyleigh’s first chemotherapy treatment. The week before her treatment began, Kyleigh decided to have her long, flowing tresses cut into a short style so she could donate her hair to Locks of Love.

     Kyleigh’s treatment plan is rigorous: Week 1 she spent two days in the hospital; Week 2 she was an outpatient; Week 3 she stayed in the hospital for 6 days; Week 4 she was at home; then the pattern repeated through Week 14. After a period of time off chemotherapy, on October 20, 2017, Kyleigh had an operation to remove the tumor and all or part of three ribs, but through it all her spirit and determination never waivered. Just the day before her surgery, she played 18 holes of golf in Conway, SC as a member of the Beaufort High School Eagles girls golf team in the Class 4A Lower State championship meet, and the team qualified to go to the State playoffs. After Kyleigh’s operation and four weeks of healing, she resumed her chemotherapy regimen the week before Thanksgiving, beginning another 22 weeks of treatment. Kyleigh’s goal is to complete her treatment before the end of May 2018, so she and her family can take their annual Memorial Day camping trip to Clarks Hill Lake.

     Everyone who has experienced cancer firsthand as a patient or as a caregiver understands the toll that the disease takes, in terms of enduring treatments and side effects, pain, angst and the loss of freedom. Since the time that Kyleigh began her treatment in July 2017, she has experienced side effects including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, pain and swelling in her hands and feet, mouth sores, difficultly walking and focusing her attention, and damage to her heart. An avid golfer and excellent student, Kyleigh has missed participating regularly in sports, attending school, and spending time with friends and family members, to limit her exposure to germs because of her compromised immune system.

     In September, after 2 ½ months of Kyleigh’s treatments, her mom Alana posted on the blog, “…I mourn for the joy my daughter used to have when she was driving with her friends to go to the beach, to school to see her favorite teachers, to run to the grocery store to get something for her mom. I mourn for my daughter when I see her in so much pain because the chemo is causing her hands and feet to swell and blister. I mourn for the loss of my relationship with my husband, friends, co-workers and family members because Kyleigh’s counts are too low to visit with them…” Also in September, her dad Joe posted, “Through all of this Kyleigh doesn’t complain, doesn’t whine, just faces it with strength and the conviction of her faith. At the same time that I want to protect her, and hold her, and make all of this go away, I admire her for her spirit and her character.”

     After nearly seven months in treatment, at the end of January Kyleigh posted on the blog herself announcing great news: “I am CANCER FREE! Just going through consolidation to make sure all the teeny tiny microscopic cells have all been found and KILLED. When first diagnosed with cancer my world broke for just a few seconds and that’s when God gave me the Bible verse that you see on my dad’s blogs, Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ ” After her treatment concludes this May, Kyleigh will continue to make regular visits to MUSC for checkups for the next five years. If the cancer does not return by the time she reaches the age of 30, she’ll be considered cured.

Looking Forward to Life

     Now Kyleigh and her family are focused on completing her treatment by the end of May in time for their Memorial Day camping trip. Kyleigh is also making longer-range plans for her future. She is on schedule to graduate from Beaufort High School in June 2019 and afterward, she would like to attend Southern Wesleyan University in Central, SC to earn her degree in business. She’s already started her own business from home selling LuLaRoe clothing.

     A few minutes after Kyleigh, Joe and Alana Tokar were interviewed for this article on a sunny, warm Beaufort afternoon in late February, Kyleigh and her dad stood on the first hole at Sanctuary Golf Club on Cat Island, teeing off to play a few holes of golf. Kyleigh Tokar embodies spirit, fortitude and optimism in the face of life-threatening challenges, and she does this with unusual grace. Kyleigh truly believes that her grace to face these challenges is a gift from God.

story by Marie McAden     photos by Paul Nurnberg

Three weeks into his new job as president and CEO of Beaufort Memorial Hospital (BMH), Russell Baxley was settled into his office and eager to start work on several innovative initiatives to improve patient care.

   Mother Nature had other ideas.

   The young hospital administrator was just getting ready to sink his teeth into his burgeoning agenda when Hurricane Matthew began its destructive route up the Southeastern coast.

     At first, the plan was to discharge all patients well enough to go home and shelter in place. But when the forecast model showed the Category 4 storm had shifted direction and was making a beeline for Beaufort with a predicted landfall at high tide, Baxley was faced with the difficult choice of riding out the hurricane or closing the 197-bed nonprofit hospital.

     The most serious potential issue was a 12-foot storm surge flooding the basement and taking out the hospital’s chilling system and boilers. Concerned for the safety of the remaining patients, many of them in serious or critical condition, Baxley decided to evacuate.

     Coordinating with officials from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control and a multitude of transportation companies, hospital staff began relocating dozens of patients, including two who were on ventilators and needed to be airlifted out. Many of the patients were accompanied to the receiving hospitals by BMH nurses.

     “No one in the hospital had been through a hurricane before,” Baxley said. “It was amazing to watch everyone go into action. In less than 12 hours, we had evacuated 68 patients.”

     And Baxley was right there with them in the trenches.

     “When the storm hit, he slept in the hospital with the emergency staff,” recalled BMH Board of Trustees Chair Terry Murray. “It created a great sense of camaraderie and team work.”

     “Days later, the housekeepers, technicians, doctors and nurses who had been called in to man the hospital during the storm were telling her, “This new guy’s okay.”

     For Baxley, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

     “It was a crash course for me in what our hospital staff could do in the face of extraordinary challenges,” he said. “Working together in a crisis, we got to know each other very quickly.”

     At age 33, Baxley was the youngest of seven highly qualified finalists the BMH Board of Trustees considered to replace outgoing president Rick Toomey, who announced his resignation in early 2016.

     Despite his youth, Baxley had a depth of experience that was unrivaled. He started his career managing a physician practice and advanced through every critical hospital position, including CEO of a similar-size private hospital in Lancaster, PA.

     During his career, he had served as chief operating officer, assistant chief financial officer and director of development in small- and medium-size hospitals in South Carolina and Texas, including Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center in Hartsville. He also served as director of operations and finance for a large family medicine practice and medical spa in Columbia.

     “We wanted someone who had vision, but was well grounded,” Murray said. “The more we talked with him, the more we realized he was up for the challenge. Not only could he take us to the next level, he could take us to the level after that.”

     More importantly, he had a deep sense of integrity. “He worked for a for-profit hospital, but he embraced the nonprofit mission,” Murray said. “Integrity was at the heart of it.”

     A graduate of Clemson University with a B.S. in Microbiology, Russell started out with aspirations of becoming a doctor.

     “I always wanted to be in the healthcare field,” he said. “But after four years of undergraduate studies, I decided it wasn’t for me.”

     His mother, the controller for Lake City Community Hospital, encouraged him to get a master’s in hospital administration. He took her advice and earned his graduate degree in Healthcare Administration from the University of South Carolina (USC).

     Growing up in rural Johnsonville, Baxley developed a strong work ethic, nurtured in the fields of his family’s South Carolina farm.

     “My brother, my cousins and I all worked on the farm in the summers and after school, even if we had other jobs or baseball practice,” Baxley recalled. “It was the expectation. The job wasn’t done until it was done.”

     The lessons he learned in his youth—the importance of working together as a team and sharing a commitment to a common cause —have served him well as a hospital administrator.

     Today, that common cause is to provide the community with access to high quality care.

     “We want to expand our footprint, both physically and through technology, to offer our residents health care services where they live, work and play,” Baxley said. “We have to grow, but we need to grow in the right way, making sure we are good stewards of our finances.”

     One of his most ambitious initiatives is the creation of South Carolina’s first micro hospital, being planned in Okatie Crossing to serve Bluffton’s growing population. BMH has partnered with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC Health) to build the acute care facility adjacent to its planned 60,000-70,000-square-foot medical campus at U.S. 278 and S.C. 170. Construction of the 20-bed micro hospital will begin in June with a completion date set for September 2019.

     The micro hospital will include an emergency room, lab and imaging services, In-patient beds and surgical suites.  The hospital will focus on multiple specialties to include general medicine, orthopedics, general surgery, cardiology and more.

     Baxley also shepherded a joint venture with MUSC and Alliance Oncology to relocate and expand the Keyserling Cancer Center to Beaufort Medical Plaza on the main hospital campus. The three-story building already houses an infusion center, imaging services, breast health center and the office of one of Beaufort Memorial’s two medical oncologists.

     By early 2019, the second oncologist, along with radiation oncology services, will be moved to the building from the Keyserling Center.

     “Our vision is to provide cancer patients with everything they need in one place,” Baxley said. “We’ll even have office space for MUSC cancer specialists so patients can see them here rather than have to drive to Charleston.”

     As part of the project, BMH is investing in the latest radiation technology, including a cutting-edge linear accelerator. The hospital also has applied to the state to open a second radiation oncology center in the Okatie Medical Office building to be developed in conjunction with the micro hospital.

     “I always felt that developing an affiliation with MUSC Health was the way to go,” hospital board chair Murray said. “Russell has taken the concept and run with it.”

     Beaufort Memorial’s first partnership with MUSC started in 2014 with stroke and pediatric telemedicine. Under the program, BMH emergency room and intensive care physicians can consult with the tertiary medical center’s stroke and pediatric experts on a moment’s notice 24/7.

     Recognizing the benefits of telemedicine and the increasing role it will play in the future of health care, Baxley tapped the technology to create BMH Care Anywhere. With the online service, patients can “see” a board-certified urgent care provider anytime, anywhere using their smart phone, tablet or computer.

     “Our focus is on improving access to health care,” Baxley said. “We’re doing that by extending hours, expanding into other markets and employing telemedicine in the care of patients.”

     With the nationwide shortage of physicians, Baxley expects virtual visits will become increasingly common, especially for primary care.

     “Not only does it provide patients with faster access to care,” he said, “it allows us to reach residents in rural areas where there are few doctors.”

     In addition to the telemedicine initiatives, Baxley also pushed forward the launch of an online self-scheduling service for nonlife-threatening emergency department visits, cutting down the time patients spend in the ER waiting room. To speed up treatment to patients suffering minor ailments and injuries, the hospital recently opened an express care clinic at 974 Ribaut Rd.

     “Russell developed a very ambitious, highly detailed strategic plan when he came to the hospital in 2016,” Murray said, “and he and his team are accomplishing everything we set out to do.”

     The hospital executive’s “all-in” approach isn’t reserved just for the workplace. He is equally passionate in his personal life.

     A strong proponent of healthy living, he exercises daily, either working out at the gym or running three to 10 miles. He has raced in several half marathons and is currently preparing for The Palmetto 200, a 200-mile team running event from Columbia to Charleston.

     And lest there be any doubt, he is a Tiger through and through. His allegiance to Clemson has created some friendly dustups with his wife, Stephanie, a graduate of the University of Georgia.

     Several weekends during football season, the couple will make it up to Clemson or Athens to root for their respective alma maters. But on three out of the four road trips, they’re wearing orange and heading to Death Valley.

     “She gets the say most times,” Baxley quipped, “but that’s the one argument I always win.”