• Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine

Story by Gene Brancho     Photos from Eat Sleep Play Beaufort

Small businesses come and go…not just here in the lowcountry…but all across our nation.  Generally, these closings are due to the economy or poor management.  But, here in Beaufort, we have a local business closing…for none of the typical, standard reasons.

      The journey for Joli Home Accents is coming to a close. Mother and daughter owners, Cheryl Hunter and Allegra Craig, are closing up shop.  This decision was made from love, due to Allegra’s illness.

      Allegra Craig was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Sadly, the cancer has returned.  This time, she will be fighting a harder battle and will be in treatment for quite some time.

     The journey for Cheryl and Allegra began about 12 years ago. After falling in love with gorgeous Beaufort and moving here from the Philadelphia area, the two decided to mesh their areas of expertise – interior design and event planning – to create a shop filled with items to decorate locals’ homes and to help Southerners entertain.

     The original shop opened in October of 2007, located in Habersham’s marketplace. The ‘shopgirls,’ as they refer to themselves, gained a smattering of loyal local followers both in and out of the neighborhood. By the summer of 2011, Joli had outgrown its small Habersham space, and the girls decided to make the move to Bay Street.

     Moving to Bay Street was a new adventure. It allowed the ‘shopgirls’ to truly achieve the mission they had from the beginning, to serve the local community.

     “We love our out-of-town visitors,” explains Hunter, “And getting to know our neighbors and our community members was the icing on the cake. We’re going to miss our regulars, many of whom have become friends.”

     Putting her family first, Cheryl is closing the store so that she can be there for her daughter.

     “We’ve loved being here and have been a fantastic mother-daughter team over the years,” Cheryl said. “When a family member becomes ill, other family members must alter their lifestyle and take on some of the role functions of the ill person, which in turn affects their own normal role functioning. I need to be able to be there for her, completely focused and completely available.”

     The popular store will be open around January 16th for a five day closing sale. “Whatever is left over after our sale will be donated,” Cheryl says,   pointing out that both Friends of Caroline Hospice and CAPA, two local organizations which operate thrift stores, will be the recipients of leftover merchandise and store fixtures.

From Cheryl and Allegra

     We’ve loved these days…

     Many of you, our dear customers and friends, know that the younger partner in our mother daughter partnership was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Some of you know that the cancer has returned. Unfortunately, Allegra will be in treatment for quite a while and the treatment is no picnic.

     The older partner in this arrangement wants to be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice to be available for Allegra. All of the mothers who read this will understand. It is for this reason that we have decided to close our shop, Joli Home Accents.

     To paraphrase an old Billy Joel song, we’ve loved these days. We have loved being a part of our charming Bay Street shopping district. We have loved our fellow business owners. We have especially loved you, our customers. You have made Joli a joy to own and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

     Joli will reopen for a five day clearance sale in January. Please check our Facebook page and Eat Sleep Play Beaufort for dates and further information.

     Again, we want to thank you all for your loyalty and patronage. It has been a privilege and “We’ve loved these days.”

Cheryl and Allegra, The ‘Shopgirls’

story by Cindy Reid   photos by Paul Nurnberg

Falconry is the hunting of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey. Falconry is an art. It requires long hours, constant devotion, finesse, subtlety and skill. The falconer must train a bird of prey to fly free, hunt for a human being and then accept a return to captivity.

     In a sport that started thousands of years ago, one might be surprised to find a practioner here in our modern world. But really, nothing should be a surprise in the lowcountry, not even a current day falconer and his very well trained bird of prey.

     Met Bruce Dunbar, General Falconer. He and his hawk, David, make an elegant and sure footed team as they tramp and fly, respectively, through the gorgeous live oaks of a local pecan farm on a hunt. David, a four and half year old Red-tail hawk, swoops and glides above our heads, never going far from Bruce, as they work in tandem in a present day illustration of this truly ancient art.

     Being a falconer is something rare in our society. Bruce says, “There are only 2000 to 3000 practicing falconers in the country, out of 5000 licensed falconers. It is a very long process to become a falconer, it requires a substantial amount of time and resources upfront, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. It is not just a sport. Falconry is a lifestyle.”

Becoming a Falconer

     Bruce, originally from Atlanta Georgia, attended Georgia Southern and graduated in 2013 with a degree in Biology.  He says,  “In college I wanted to do more with wildlife, but I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on so I started volunteering and then working at the Center for Wildlife Education and the Lamar Q. Ball, Jr. Raptor Center on campus. “ He worked at Georgia Southern’s Center for Wildlife Education for two years as a student volunteer and after graduation as Assistant Curator for two years.

     Bruce says he became interested in becoming a falconer while working at the center. The center’s director and Master Falconer Steve Hein trained Bruce, guiding him through the laborious process and apprenticeship necessary to become a licensed falconer.  Bruce is a currently a General Falconer and is now able to train others, although he stresses that becoming a falconer is a deep commitment.


     An apprentice falconer must catch their bird in the wild and are required to have a license and a sponsor before doing so or they can be charged with a federal crime and go to jail. A young hawk is captured in the wild, after it has learned to hunt, but before it is an adult. After capture, the extensive training begins. This is not training a pet or exotic bird. This is training solely directed in the art of hunting live animals as a team of human and bird of prey. Of training, Bruce says,”A falconer’s main goal is to earn the birds trust.”

      Bruce’s bird David, a male Red Tailed Hawk, was trapped by Bruce in Georgia in the winter of 2013.  The training and expertise needed to train and care for a bird of prey is very extensive and requires much time, commitment and patience. Not only does the falconer need to train the bird, they must also learn everything about caring for a wild bird including learning to diagnose and treat raptor ailments, which can include fungal infections and West Nile disease. Their diet is specific; raptors are obligate carnivore and subsist on a diet of raw game meat such as mice and quail, which generally has to be mail ordered. David weighs 2.2 pounds, which is a good healthy weight for this bird.

     They are not what we would term sociable animals. Bruce says, “Red-tails are solitary animals and, outside of mating season, see other raptors as threats and competition.” They are entirely self sufficient.  “David would  be fine if left in the wild, he would be able to feed himself and would survive just as well as if he never been in captivity,” says Bruce, “ His lifespan would most likely be shorter though, hawks in captivity live up to and around twenty years, but in the wild only around two and a half years. “

     Bruce uses a travel box to transport David to hunts and demonstrations and says “Hawks get used to whatever you condition him to do. He does very well at demonstrations and will be perfectly content on his perch. As long as he is used to something he will do well. Stress for a hawk is whatever he is not used to.”

The Hunt

     Falconry is a hunting sport. Some falconers work with a trained hunting dog, others work as a team of falconer and bird only. Bruce and David work together, and Bruce’s job is to flush game out for David to spot and kill. Squirrels, mice, rabbits and other small mammals are what they are hunting. Bruce says the Red-tailed hawk needs open spaces. “Red-tails thrive best in open forests and fields. This is a hunter,” he says, “and he is constantly looking for movement.” David’s visional range is two to three miles but he doesn’t wander far; in fact you can almost always see where he is during the hunt.

     Bruce says, “Red tails sticks very close because they need to be in the action.” David follows Bruce, watching from trees, and he will swoop down in response to Bruce’s whistle commands. Small bits of food also bring the hawk down to Bruce’s gloved hand. Bruce says, “He sees me as a food source and responds accordingly.”

Seeing David in action is a thrill. All economy of motion, he flaps his wings in forward propulsion, then flies in a silent glide. It all happens very fast. He is in complete control of himself and the situation.

     Like all birds of prey used by falconers, David has bells fastened on his legs.  This is so the falconer can tell what the bird is doing and where he is based on the slightest bell sounds. Bruce says he is always listening to the bell and can differentiate between the slightest variations and so knows where David is at any time out in the field. They are a team, man and bird, working together.

     Watching the two work together one can see the years of training and trust that has been established between them. There is deep respect and appreciation on Bruce’s part for what this magnificent bird is able to do, and for what they accomplish together.

Lowcountry Life

      As regarding the past and future of the sport Bruce says, “Falconry has been documented as far back as 2000 BC, when raptors were being used by humans to hunt in ancient China. It is the predator most referenced in history.” And of today he says” Falconry is currently experiencing a renaissance in United States. It has only been in the US for roughly 100 years and the number of falconers has doubled in the past twenty years in the US. North America has brought new birds into the falconry world such as the harris hawk which is now one of the most used birds in the falconry world.”

     Bruce lives on Fripp island with his girlfriend Jessica Miller, the Head Naturalist for Fripp Island. That works out well because as Bruce says, “When you live with a naturalist, it’s ‘oh we have a hawk living with us’, and takes it all in stride.” After three years of professional falconry in the Brunswick GA area, Bruce is currently employed at Fripp Island and available for falconry hunts and demonstrations through On The Fly Outfitters out of Brunswick, GA. (Contact info is through their face book page or call Adam Hein at 912-536-5808.)

      “Falconry means something different to everyone. It is a connection to nature that you can’t get anywhere else. It is a primal event and you are in the front row to the action.” He pauses and says, “Personally, it speaks to me and keeps me going.” Watching Bruce and David working together is a rare treat and speaks to all of us who in thrall to our natural world.

story by Cindy Reid     photos by Susan DeLoach

Motown and More, a new show debuting at the USCB Performing Arts in February will bring together some of our region’s best musicians, Marlena Smalls, Velma Polk, Elaine Lake and the renowned Lowcountry Jazz Band as they team up once again for a show that will play tribute to the great Motown artists.  They will be performing music from Aretha Franklin, Dianna Ross, Gladys Night and the Pips plus a few surprise selections.

     Beaufort is a small town with big talent. It doesn’t get any bigger than an evening with these three fabulous singers and Beaufort’s own celebrated jazz band lead by David Hershey. Each is s star in their own right but when they team up- watch out! Any genre of music they chose would be good but choosing the music of Motown makes this an extra special evening. As Dr. Marlena Smalls says, “Everyone enjoys the Motown sound, it has the blues of the south, the New York sound, the Los Angeles sound and so Motown music represents the various sounds from many communities of America. At the same time as Motown’s popularity you still had the blues and rock and roll, but Motown is in the soul of all of that music.”

Marlena Smalls

     She ought to know, as Dr. Marlena Smalls is an internationally known vocal artist and the founder and director of the The Hallelujah Singers. Born in Ohio to South Carolina parents, she began singing in Ohio and went to Central State University before embarking on her singing career. Dr. Smalls’ talents have taken her around the globe and she has toured heavily in Europe, performed for the Queen of England, and held a concert in the Frankfurt Opera House in Germany.   In 1985, she founded the Gullah Festival in Beaufort, which would celebrate the culture and preserve its many traditions, and by 1990, she had formed the Hallelujah Singers to preserve the Gullah culture of the South Carolina Sea Islands. Dr. Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers have performed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC and their CD Juba is now sold in the Smithsonian gift shop.

     She is a sacred music vocalist, also singing gospel, contemporary, jazz and blues. Inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame in 2004, Marlena has performed for the Queen of England and many U. S. and international dignitaries. She has worked with film producer Joel Silver and Academy Award winners Tom Hanks, Demi Moore and Glenn Close. In addition to many productions for PBS, SCETV and GPTC, she is known to international audiences as Bubba’s mom in the Academy Award winning motion picture “Forrest Gump”.

     Of course the women will be visiting the hits of the Supremes and in addition Marlena will be singing “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Fever” and the Joe Cocker arrangement of “Unchain My Heart” by Ray Charles. She says “We all had a great time last year collaborating on the Etta James show, and I am excited that I am a part of it again. This is something that is just good. The music makes you feel good. There is nothing better than sharing. Just share the good.”

Velma Polk

     A native Beaufortoian, Velma has sung professionally for over fifteen years. She has had the pleasure of entertaining for several highly ranked public servants, including South Carolina Lt. Governor Brantley Harvey, as well as members of the U.S. Secret Service. Velma credits her loving Granny for teaching her to harmonize and instilling her deep love of music, especially gospel. Velma especially loves, “Singing praises for my Lord most of all because He has blessed me so.” Since her musical theater debut in “Honky Tonk Angels” Velma has appeared as a lead cast member in both “8-Track, The Sounds of the 70’s” and “Honky Tonk Angels Christmas Holiday Spectacular” at USCB, amongst other show. An accomplished musician, Velma also plays the piano.

     For this show, Velma will be performing the Aretha Franklin hit “Think,” done in the style of the Blues Brothers movie, as well as “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” among others. She says she loves working with her collaborators, “We are such a good team and work so well together. Honestly we are all worker bees! Everyone, Dave, Marlena and Elaine are so talented but we aren’t in competition because we truly complement each other.”

     She says, “This is the music I grew up with and it brings back such memories. That nostalgia is real and the artists of that era were so good, I like so many of them. Dusty Springfield is right up there for me, she is a favorite personally.” Velma says, “We are all really excited for the show and I know it is going to be really fun!”

Elaine Lane

     Elaine is originally from Pennsylvania and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in music with a focus on performance. She was the recipient of the Mary Landon Russell Award for Outstanding Musical Achievement and was a four year member of the Lycoming College Chamber Choir and Tour Choir with performances in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Some of her previous lead roles in numerous plays, musicals and reviews, including “She Loves Me,” “The Boyfriend,” “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and “The Perfect Wife.” After spending eighteen years raising her two beautiful daughters Misti and Bayli, she appeared in “Honky Tonk Angels” and followed that up with roles in “8-Track, The Sounds of the 70’s” and the “Honky Tonk Angels Christmas Holiday Spectacular,” amongst other shows. Elaine wrote and performed two professionally recorded CDs for children, “My Room” and “Rockaby Moon.” In addition to her vocal talents, Elaine plays the mountain dulcimer.

     As one of her solo songs, Elaine will be performing “Gee Whiz,” a number suggested by collaborator Marlena Smalls. Elaine says, “I have never sung this song before so it is fun and exciting to have a new song to debut!” Of her fellow performers she says,”We absolutely love working with each other, it is a joy to be on stage with these ladies, and the band. We have so much respect for each other.” She says, “I love the artists and the music of the Motown era, Velma and I sing several songs already in our show from that time. For many in the audience this will be a trip down memory lane. It is Motown and ‘more’ so there will be a few surprises as well. It is going to be a very entertaining evening for everyone.”

The Lowcountry Jazz Band

     The Lowcountry Jazz Band is a sub-group of the Lowcountry Community Concert Band, which is sponsored by University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). They are primarily an academic group that promotes and curates jazz in the context of a large ensemble dynamic or “big band.”  Band leader Dave Hershey is a retired US Army musician who retired after 24 years of service as a Trumpeter and Music Production Specialist.  He has held the position of soloist on national and international tours, Principal Player, Section Leader, Group Leader, and Music Support Division Chief during that time period. His assignments were in Kaiserslautern, Germany; Ground Forces Band in Atlanta, GA; and the US Military Academy Band at West Point. Dave served as Chief Recording Engineer and Producer for the acclaimed West Point Bicentennial Commissioning Project.  Dave Hershey is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and has been a member of LCCB for 2 years.

     “I like Motown because it really started the cross pollination of the blues and introduced the blues to a much wider audience,” says Dave, “This concert will, at the very least, be fun because music brings people together on both sides of the stage. In the Lowcountry Jazz Band, fun is the first ingredient to all of our rehearsals and events. Last year’s success has us all filled with anticipation for this year’s show.”

     Dave says the musical arrangements were done by his old friend Paul Murtha, who was the chief arranger for the United States Army Band. He and Dave were at West Point together and Dave says, “I knew what he could bring to this type of show and he had done a wonderful job on the previous show so why change?” Dave says, “I was lucky enough to be in the audience for his music back at West Point, and we are fortunate to have him do these arrangements.” He says, “To sum it up, performing with these wonderful musical people is like preparing a special meal.  Last year’s recipe was Etta James and this year it’s Motown and more; when you start with gourmet ingredients and apply some hard work mixed with love….you know a memorable musical feast will be had by all.”

     “Motown and More” will be performed February 17 – 18 at the USCB Center for Performing Arts in Beaufort, SC. Ticket prices are Adults $30, Senior Military $25 and Students $15 .

     For further information go to www.uscbcenterforthearts.com

story by Carol Lauvray   photos by Susan DeLoach

Each year, Kevin McNamara travels 3,750 miles from County Clare, Ireland to Beaufort to capture the essence of the Lowcountry on canvas. Many days during December and January this year, you’ll spy him standing on the dock by the former Dockside restaurant in Port Royal under a large umbrella. With his palette of oil paints, standing in front of an easel, he’ll be painting the idyllic scene before him—the shrimp boats moored at the dock, golden marsh grass, and pristine waters of Port Royal Sound.

     Kevin says he prefers to paint outdoors, reacting directly and spontaneously to his subject, rather than in a studio from photos.

     He finds inspiration for his paintings in the waters here in Beaufort and concentrates on the effects of the changing light and colors. Kevin says, “A painting evolves over several sessions and I adjust the colors and their relationships as I go, using brushes and palette knives to create my artwork. I’m always trying to build a tapestry of paint marks that reflect the beauty I see and there’s a child-like enthusiasm to my approach. All paintings are just flat images on canvas, but when I look at a painting after I finish it and see there’s a spark of something special I’ve captured—I call it the ‘X-factor’—then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”

     Kevin first came to Beaufort four years ago with his wife, Rachael Montejo, a photographer with artistic talent in her own right who studied photographic printing. The couple met in Cape Cod in 2013 and married in 2016. They heard that Beaufort was a center for art, came for a season then, and have been coming back every year since. “I love to paint in Beaufort because of the wonderful water scenes and the great network of bridges here,” Kevin adds. He says he has also painted scenes elsewhere in Port Royal and at the Gay Fish Company dock and other locations on St. Helena Island.

     Raised in Dublin, Ireland, Kevin has been drawing since he was two years old. During his school years, his teachers would catch him drawing instead of paying attention in class. Kevin says his father was a major influence in his life and a very discerning person. “My father would tell me specifically what I did well and what I could do better. He always encouraged me to paint every painting as if it were my last one.”

     Kevin studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin where he earned his degree in 1985 in fine art painting and the history of art. A year before leaving college, he had his first exhibition as a part of the Emerging Artist Show organized by Guinness Peat Aviation, and the same year he participated in the Young Artists exhibition in Dublin.  Just as here in the U.S., Kevin is sought after in Ireland for his paintings featuring water scenes. He participated in the show ‘Four Irish Painters’ on prestigious Cork Street in London with the Messums Gallery and Petley Gallery. Kevin says that his artistic inspirations are such painters as Impressionists Claude Monet, American Childe Hassam, and Russians Konstatin Korovin and Valentin Serov.

     McNamara presented a selection of 50 works at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, Florida from November 2007 through January 2008. Gary Libby of that museum described him as “a painterly realist with leanings into Impressionism.” Since that time, Kevin has participated in several one-man and group art shows in America, London and Dublin. In addition, he has completed a number of portrait commissions and teaches occasional painting workshops.

     For the past 20 years, Kevin has been working in both the United States and Ireland. He was an artist for Walt Disney Productions in the Animation Department, as well as working in Ireland and England, on such animated classics as Tarzan, Mulan, Thumbelina and All Dogs Go To Heaven 2. For those animated films, Kevin painted backgrounds to exacting and intense color specifications to precisely match them from scene to scene. “That work taught me to be extremely discerning about color and light and how they relate to each other,” he explains.

     Kevin and Rachael now divide their time between a home and studio in Lehinch on the rugged West Coast of Ireland and living here in Beaufort. Their home in Ireland on “The Wild Atlantic Way” is perched 275 feet high on a mountain, overlooking rolling pastures dotted with cattle and the famous Lehinch Bay. From their living room window in Ireland, the couple can see in the distance O’Brien’s Tower near the Cliffs of Moher. Kevin and Rachael say they would love to find a small cottage in Beaufort to purchase so they could live here three to six months each year. They’d also like to develop painting workshops to present in Beaufort when they return next winter. Kevin’s paintings are handled in the Lowcountry by the Hagan Fine Art Gallery & Studio in Charleston, SC, www.haganfineartcom. To learn more about Kevin’s work, visit www.kevinmcnamara.us.

     About his craft and talent, Kevin says, “I have a very simple way of looking at my art and a real love and appreciation for God’s creation and the beauty of the scenes that I paint. I want to share that with others.”

My name is Jon Rembold.  I am very fortunate to be married to my wife Heather, who is my most trusted partner in this amazing and sometimes crazy journey we call LIFE.  We have four wonderful children:  Molly (15), Alyssa (13), Samuel (12), and Thomas (9).

     I grew up in Western NY (Salamanca) but have been in Beaufort for 19 years.  Heather and I often say that we got here as quickly as we could!

     I’m employed as the Airports Director for Beaufort County.  In that role I am responsible for the Hilton Head Island Airport and the Beaufort County Airport (Lady’s Island).

     I’ve been with United Way for three years (almost) as a Board Member and have served as Chairman for the past two years.  The United Way’s purpose or mission is to mobilize resources to solve human problems.  Simply put, the United Way of the Lowcountry  exists to help people, our neighbors,  in Beaufort and Jasper Counties.  The United Way of the Lowcountry partners with many local organizations to provide materials, services, funding to those in need through the Community Impact Program but also coordinates its own crucial programs such as the Help Line and the Early Grade Reading Program.  It’s really amazing how many people volunteer their time to help with these programs.

     It’s immensely satisfying to see the human spirit that we are blessed with here in the lowcountry.  The responses to Hurricane Matthew and then to Tropical Storm Irma were nothing short of heroic.  The staff worked countless hours to help coordinate relief funding and to help connect people in need with the best agency to solve their particular problem.  It’s humbling to realize that any one of us is really just one crisis or one stroke of bad luck from being in desperate need of help.  We tend to feel invincible if we are employed and basically happy.  But the fact is tragedy can strike anyone at any time.  We need to remain thankful, humble and helpful.

     Working alongside the United Way of the Lowcountry has been immensely rewarding.  From the relationships I have cultivated with our awesome staff and selfless board members to the many volunteer opportunities that are available, I feel fortunate be associated with an organization of this caliber.  You asked me to describe some of my favorite times with UWL.  That’s a challenge but I can mention a couple as a sampling…A particularly gratifying and fun event was filling backpacks with supplies for school children who might not have the resources to arrive at the first day of school with all of their supplies.  Being a Dad of four and having a teacher and administrator as a wife, I understand many of the dynamics that happen in these little ones’ lives.  This event was a lot of fun and ensured hundreds of our youth were all geared-up for day one!  Another rewarding event was a dedication that was made at the ribbon cutting for the new headquarters building on Ribaut Road in Beaufort.  During that ceremony, we dedicated a tree to the memory of Jim McCornock, a truly dedicated and amazing member of our board and campaign leadership who recently passed away.  Jim’s wife, Beth, was there with us to share that moment and it was a great way to honor Jim, who worked tirelessly for years to help raise money during our campaign.  Jim is sorely missed, but, it is the memory and inspiration of people like Jim who make the United Way of the Lowcountry a special, meaningful, and impactful organization.

story by Lane Leopard   photos by Paul Nurnberg

“At bottom, robotics is about us. It is the discipline of emulating our lives, of wondering how we work.” 

– Rod Grupen

Big things are happening at Lady’s Island Middle school, with the help of their robotics team and teacher Mike Rentz. Last season, the robotics team, “The Janitors,” were the first robotics team from Beaufort County to compete in the VEX VRC World Robotics Championship.  They were one of 160 middle schools from around the world invited to the event.

     Engineering and Computer Science teacher, Mike Rentz, heads up the robotics program at Lady’s Island Middle. His undergraduate is from the US Naval Academy and his MBA is from Boston University. Rentz is  a Master Teacher for the for ‘Project Lead the Way,’ a national STEM curriculum and has been teaching PLTW’s Gateway Program at Lady’s Island for 8 years.

     When asked what sparked his interest in robotics and starting the team at the Lady’s Island Middle School, he replied, “One of the biggest issues our students face, and educators face, is the lack of real world problem solving in regular school curriculum.  Our students are taught, in educational silos, the 4 core subjects but very rarely get an opportunity to use those skills in solving real world problems.  I see robotics as a way to bring in real world problem solving in a competitive educational environment that is student centered.  Since our first VEX competition, I’ve been hooked.  When you attend a VEX tournament, no one ever leaves wondering how we can get fewer students involved.”

      Currently Rentz coaches three VEX Robotics teams at Lady’s Island Middle. Team “Legends” is five eighth graders, James Dennison, Jacob Krebs, Tate Shetzer, Jonah Forrestall and James Stone. Aready winning two Excellence Awards and a Tournament Championship, they have qualified for the US Open and for the Palmetto State Championship.

     Team “Metalmorphasis” is five seventh graders. “Metalmorphasis” has won a Robot Skills Challenge Award and an Excellence Award, as well as qualifying for the US Open and for the Palmetto State Championship. They are Michael Dennison, Carson Geier, Tyson Adkins, Blake Burns and Riley Kelly.

     And robotics is not just for the boys, “The Mighty Pushers” is Lady’s Island Middle Schools all girl team. The three seventh graders competing are Abigail Henry, Lily Ellis and Mackenzie McMahon.

     Robotics isn’t just about the fun and games. The robotics program helps create young adults who represent themselves well. The students apply the mechanical and computer science problem solving techniques to real world problems.

     “I think, in Beaufort, that there is the misconception that we don’t create students who can operate in a high tech environment.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Spending 5 minutes with a robotics team will change that perception” Rentz says.

     Building a functioning robot is no easy task. Each robot the teams build has to be able to move, have a lift system, and have the ability to interact with scoring objects. Then every robot has to be programmed to be controlled. The students create their codes from scratch based on what they want the robot to do. The robots have to be able to perform in two part matches, an “autonomous period,” and a driver controlled period.

     Every robot at Lady Island’s Middle School is completely designed and built by the students. Mr. Rentz’s role is that of an advisor, there to assist with technicalities, and as a sound board for ideas. The students spend hours researching before ever starting the building process. They are constantly testing and finding solutions, working to improve the robots.

     For now, Mr. Rentz volunteers his time spent with the team, which limits the amount of students that can participate. With Beaufort lacking major engineering or tech firms, finding the business partners to team up with and sponsor the team can be tough. They compete from teams that are in places like Charleston, Greenville and Columbia, which are funded at a much higher level than the Lady’s Island Middle School team. They haven’t let that slow them down yet.

     The team will be hosting a large tournament at Lady’s Island Middle School in January with close to 50 robotics teams from across the state competing.  Between now and then, they will continue to improve their robots, practice, and compete in other robotics events.

     Every competition the team faces is an opportunity to improve their robots, and reach the ultimate goal of qualifying for the VEX World Championships that will take place in April.  The State Tournament is in March and will give the three teams a chance to qualify for VEX Worlds. The season ends in April with a trip to Iowa for the CREATE US Open VEX Robotics Championship and hopefully a return trip VEX Worlds.

      If you have interest in learning more about robotics at Lady’s Island and how you can be involved, Rentz invites you to come and visit the school and see the students.

Team Legends and Team Metalmophasis are qualified for the

US Robotics Open

These young students are seeking sponsors to help pay their travel expenses to Iowa for this competition.  Anyone interested in sponsoring these young men should contact Mike Rentz at Lady’s Island Middle School. (843)322-3100 or michael.rentz@beaufort.k12.sc.us

Story by Emily Burgess

United Way of the Lowcountry is busy making spirits bright this holiday season through their Operation Holiday Heroes program that serves to ensure children in Beaufort and Jasper Counties receive food and gifts this Christmas.

     Operation Holiday Heroes is a collaborative program in which the United Way partners with the Toys for Tots Foundation, The Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet, Deep Well Project, Bluffton Self Help, The Salvation Army of the Lowcountry and Love House Ministries to provide gifts to thousands of children in approximately 1800 families that would not otherwise be able to afford them.

     “Christmas is a magical time of year and we want every child in our community to wake up Christmas morning and experience that magic,” said Chrystie Turner, Vice President of Allocations and Community Engagement for United Way of the Lowcountry.

     Families apply to participate in the program and must provide a South Carolina ID or driver’s license, proof of residence, birth certificate for each child they want gifts for, and current income/expense information. The rigorous screening process creates accountability and assures that the generous donations are being used in the best way possible. Families can apply for Christmas assistance at the participating organizations. Each one has designated dates and times to apply that run now to December 22nd.

     Through Operation Holiday Heroes, each child receives two gifts, a stocking stuffer, and a book to encourage the importance of reading. Several of the sponsors set up a “Toy Shop” in which parents can come and pick out the gifts themselves and even wrap them, allowing parents to have a more hands-on role in their child’s Christmas. The program provides gifts to children up to age 12 with a high need for gifts in the 8 to 12 age range.

     Last year the number of families participating jumped to more than 1,800 from less than 1,500 two years ago, due to the impacts of Hurricane Matthew in which many families unexpectedly needed to pay for evacuation; gas, hotels, etc. In those families, 3,936 children received gifts from the program. Numbers are expected to hover in the same margin this year after Tropical Storm Irma swept through the area.

     “We receive calls on our HELPLINE every day from people who are struggling to make ends meet and this time of year many parents have to make the hard choice on either spending that last paycheck before Christmas on presents to put under the tree or for utility bills to keep the lights on,” Turner said.

     There are many ways for our community to participate and donate to Operation Holiday Heroes. Toys for Tots has provided boxes in businesses and stores across our county to collect new, unwrapped toys. Toys can also be dropped off to any of the United Way offices in Beaufort, Bluffton or Ridgeland, the Salvation Army, Love House Ministries, Bluffton Self Help or the Deep Well Project. Businesses can also request a Toys for Tots box to collect toys or even place a jar in their workplace for monetary donations.

     United Way also suggests hosting a holiday or dinner party and asking those attending to bring gifts or financial donations to benefit the program. Donations can be made in honor or memory of a loved one as well.

      Monetary donations in either cash or checks (made payable to Operation Holiday Heroes) can be dropped off or mailed to United Way of the Lowcountry at P.O. Box 202 Beaufort, SC 29901 or dropped off at the United Way Beaufort office located at 1277 Ribaut Road. Donations are being accepted through Christmas. Online donations can be made at www.uwlowcountry.org.

     For those who are looking to give back this holiday season, the best place to start is right here at home in the lowcountry.

story by Cindy Reid  photos by John Wollwerth

Imagine the stillness it takes to capture one single instant in an owl’s life. Imagine getting up before dawn and settling yourself in a john boat, silently, stealthily, in order to capture the one single moment when twenty roseate spoonbills take flight. Imagine yourself Kelley Luikey, the photographer behind the camera at Nature Muse Imagery. Photographer, teacher and Master Naturalist, you have seen her work on two different billboards around the lowcountry. One was the sunrise image “Cloudscape” taken at Hunting Island and selected as through a juried process for the Beaufort Arts Council and Adams Outdoor Advertising “ ArtPop” competition, and the other is a dolphin ‘standing’ half out of the water for a billboard promoting Port Royal for the “Cool, Coastal and far from Ordinary” campaign. You may have seen her gorgeous images at MacDonald Marketplace on St. Helena Island and other venues.  And if you are really fortunate you may have one hanging in your home!


     Born in Seattle, Kelley lived all over the country as her family moved due to her father’s career. As a child she had a keen interest in the outdoors and was always out exploring. Eventually they ended up in North Carolina where she attended Appalachian State University. Kelley says her interest in nature was evident then, “I wanted to be a marine biologist, but after being talked out of it, I ended up being a psychology major. I took photography classes in college and I spent a lot of time in the darkroom- those were the film days! I spent a large part of my days in college outdoors exploring the mountains and I taught an Experiential Education program for rising high school seniors for several summers.  I had always wanted to live by the water, so after college I moved Nantucket Island, where I spent most of the next 5 years and where I met my husband Rich. I was working at the Nantucket airport where Rich was a pilot, and I met him while I was flying back and forth to graduate classes on the mainland.”

      Life continued, two children Arden (now 10 years old) and Tristan (now 13) came along and eleven years ago the Luikey family moved to the lowcountry. She spent much of her time on the water exploring and learning as much about the lowcountry as possible. Kelley says her interest in photography was revived around four years ago and a good friend encouraged her to pursue it more seriously. She says, “At the age of 41, I decided that it was time to go back to what I loved most, being outdoors and bringing the camera with me.  In the meantime, digital had taken over and everything was very different. It was a huge learning curve and while using the camera came back fairly quickly, learning computer editing was much harder.” After four years working in the new technology Kelley says, “Learning to edit is the key to differentiating yourself and getting to that point was hard. Going from a straightforward documentarian approach to creating an artistic image to ‘put on the wall’ has really been my journey.”

      Even her choice of subject has evolved over the last few years. Kelley says,”When I went back to photography, I also revisited my interest in marine biology, which meant photos of dolphins and turtles but at that time my equipment wasn’t quite right for wildlife subjects so I focused on landscapes -sunrises and sunsets -but as I added lenses and camera bodies to my equipment I shifted to a love of photographing birds. “

 Great Kiskadee

     As a nature photographer, Kelley obviously spends a lot of time in the wild where she sees all kinds of interesting birds and animals. But nothing had prepared her for what turned out to be quite a significant birding moment in February of last year. She recounts, “I was out at Bear Island Wildlife Management Area in Colleton County and I noticed a bright yellow bird about on a branch a few trees away from me. I took the picture and texted a bird friend who immediately knew I had found something very special.” The bird was the Great Kiskadee, a South American bird that had never been seen on the east coast before. This was very big birding news. Kelley’s find was discussed on SC Public Radio by renowned host Rudy Mancke on his show “Nature Notes” and many birders flocked to the sighting spot hoping see the Great Kiskadee for themselves. “It really was thrilling to see this bird and be able to report it, and I met some really lovely people through the whole experience.”  Says Kelley.


     For a very long time, bobcats were the number one animals to see and photograph on Kelley’s bucket list.  She says, “I spent hundreds of hours looking for bobcats, in fact it became a mission. And then one day last month I saw what I thought were raccoons going down a path at one of my photography haunts. Because I thought they were raccoons, I took my time getting my equipment assembled, locking up my car etc. I followed them down the path, still thinking they were raccoons, and when I caught up with them and realized they were bobcats I had about 45 seconds to take my pictures.” What she captured is a series of breath taking images of bobcat kittens at play. “The whole encounter took place over a span of four minutes,” she says.

     When asked what is next on her bucket list, she answered “Snowy Owls have been on my list for awhile, I’ve been watching this year’s activity and making plans to head north this winter,” says Kelley, “and there is no real end to my list as there is always something beautiful in nature left to see.”

Shooting in Shadows

     “Go dark or go light” says Kelley, “I like negative space in a photo, because that is what draws the eye to the subject. One of her most sold works is “Timeless Reflection,” a photo of a single sailboat taken in the extreme fog. She says, “This was taken here in Port Royal and is a really good example of creating an image that someone would enjoy having in their home, something someone could visualize hanging on a wall.”

     Her series of the Roseate Spoonbills has been very popular as well. According to www.audubon.org   “Gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close is the Roseate Spoonbill.” These large wading birds were almost hunted to extinction for their distinct pink plumage in the 1860’s but since then they have made a decent comeback and can be found in parts of Florida, Texas, Louisiana and in a tiny slice of South Carolina coast. They live in marshes and their pink color can be attributed to their diet rich in shrimp. With marshes and shrimp in abundance in the lowcountry, one can see the attraction.

      Kelley’s photographs reveal the beauty and grace in these unusual birds, and she is able to highlight their unique and startling pink plumage without rendering it garish. They resemble nothing so much as ballerinas in her photographs. Set against a black background, these are indeed portraits of individual birds, but unlike any way we have seen them before.

      Equally interesting is her series of owls, which reveals a playfulness and companionship between the birds rarely seen in the clichéd photos of the “wise owl.” Owls appear equally inscrutable and approachable in Kelley’s owl portraits.

     Kelley’s ability to bring us into a wild creature’s world while expanding on their otherness to us gives her wildlife photos a dimension not seen in documentary photography work. She shapes the subtleties of the lowcountry morning around a bird’s pink wings, while bringing out the masterpieces contained in a single feather. She has made “shooting in shadows” beautiful for us, the viewer, and we are the richer for have seen it through her eyes.


     Our lowcountry landscape holds such a lure that its own beauty could be its downfall. Building has been accelerating, everyday one sees new commercial or residential development. Tracts of undisturbed land are becoming extinct, which of course upsets the natural order of wildlife. Spending as much time as she does out in the wild, Kelley is highly attuned to the changes in our natural environment. When she frames a photo, she not only works at creating an artistic effect but also she is subtly encouraging the viewer to truly see this bird, this sunrise, this bobcat. Her work strives to lower the barriers between our two worlds. Kelley says, “My ultimate goal is to create artistic images that encourage others to get out, to see the beauty that surrounds us. This in turn encourages people to want to protect our environment, for ourselves, our children and ultimately for future generations.”

For further information visit:




South Carolina Independent School Association

Story by Cindy Reid     Photos by Paul Nurnberg

Meet De’Shaun Epps. This may be the first time you’ve heard his name, but it’s guaranteed not to be the last. De’Shaun was recently named SCISA 8-Man Division I Player of Year for his outstanding first season with the Beaufort Academy Eagles football team. (SCISA is the South Carolina Independent School Association). He earned this honor with his impressive rushing and scoring offensive play. De’Shaun rushed for 1,979 yards and 20 touchdowns and, he also caught 13 passes for 363 yards and five scores.  In his extraordinary first season with the BA Eagles, De’Shaun ran 2431 all purpose yards, with a remarkable average of 243 yards a game.

     De’Shaun’s performance on the field helped bring BA to its second five win season in school history and its very first trip to the SCISA 8 Man semi-finals. Regarding his “Player of the Year” honor, De’Shaun says, “It felt good, because I never really had a season like that before.” He says, “My team mates are good and we have the motivation to work together.”

     BA football Coach Scott Richards says, “I nominated De’Shaun for both Offensive Player of the Year and all round Player of the Year. The coaches in our region are the ones who vote, so in order to be named Player of the Year, the player has to have made an impression on the other coaches as well. Any coach who saw film of De’Shaun on the field had to design a game plan around his playing. De’Shaun deserved the nomination and he was worthy of this honor. He is an impressive player and an impressive young man.”

     Coach Neil McCarty, Athletic Director of Beaufort Academy, says “De’Shaun really proved himself with the adjustment to the eight man team, the adjustment to a new school and to all new classmates. He has a natural talent, a natural instinct for the game. Our team needed someone like De’Shaun, someone who was able to bring extra motivation to the team.”

     In addition to De’Shaun, four other Beaufort Academy Eagles players were named to the all-region team. De’Shaun was joined on the all-region team by Jaxon Spratling, Will Warren, Edward McCormick and Daniel Richards. This has truly been a stellar season for the Eagles.

Great Season

     Coach Richards says, “No question that the first day of practice, we were on the field in shorts, no helmets, and De’Shaun came out and made a big impact. On every play the ball stuck to his hands. He knows the game, he understands the game. He is just a natural.”

     The game that brought the eagles to the playoffs was against Cathedral Academy. For the big game De’Shaun ran 389 yards, the equivalent of almost four trips down the 100 yard field, and scored five touchdowns, bringing the Eagles to a 76-50 win. “This win brought the Eagles into the playoffs” said Coach McCarty,” This was the first year BA has been able to host a layoff game so it was pretty exciting”.

Motherly Motivation

     Although De’Shaun’s mother Ramie Epps parents are from Beaufort, she and her family lived in Florida where De’Shaun was raised. They moved to Beaufort a year ago, and De’Shaun briefly attended Beaufort High School before transferring to the smaller Beaufort Academy. De’Shaun made the change because Ms. Epps says, “I wanted him to be more focused, and I thought he would do well in a smaller environment.” That certainly appears to be the case, as De’Shaun has excelled on the field and is thriving in the classroom, where history is his favorite subject.

     De’Shaun has no greater fan than his mother, who attended each and every game, even the away ones. For a mother working two jobs, one of which is at night, this is no easy feat. Ms. Epps said “I made sure I always had the time off for De’Shaun’s games, even the away games. I never missed one and some were pretty far away.” Next season she will be in the stands cheering her son and his team on every game as well.

Future Plans

     Although still a sophomore, De’Shaun has naturally thought about where he would like to attend college and play football. He says,” I want to go to Ohio State. I have been following their football program for years and my favorite player, Ezekiel Elliot, went to Ohio State.” As for playing goes he says, “I want to develop and have the opportunity to play quarterback, something I could see myself doing. But I will work at any position I am in, and I will work hard.”

     Ms. Epps says, “De’Shaun is always talking football and he has always talked about Ohio State. And when he wasn’t talking about football, practicing or playing a game, you could always find him working out or playing at the YMCA.”

     De’Shaun says he wants to study engineering and business management at college. He says, “My Grandmother showed me what engineers do, and I like that, I like creating things.”

     Coach Richards says, “De’Shaun has a great opportunity here at Beaufort Academy, everyone wants him to do well and he is taking responsibility and working hard. As long as he continues to buckle down, hit the weight room and keep his grades up, he will be fine.”

Next Season

     Coach Richards says, “We are losing five senior players, for the second year in a row, so we have to replace those five with five new guys that want to play. We are bringing back our quarterback and, although we need to fill the offensive line I think we will be in really good shape. We are going to have a team that wants to play and I look forward to a great season.” Coach McCarty adds, “Their success has motivated the team; we are going to have a great fall.”

De’Shaun says, “My team mates are hard working and they really want to be good, and we will be even better than last season!”