story by cindy reid
photography by paul nurnberg
Beaufort is special in so many ways that it is impossible to count them all; glorious scenery, fabulous food, sparking waterways and the vibrant arts and cultural scene. Recently, Beaufort has been honored to receive the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts in the Government category, for the partnership between the City of Beaufort and The University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) Center for the Arts. This is an annual award presented by the South Carolina Arts Commission and is the highest honor the state gives in the arts, recognizing outstanding achievement and contribution. The SC Arts Commission states, “The USCB Center for the Arts has been the heart of the City of Beaufort’s rich and diverse arts culture for 30 years, serving as both the sponsor and venue of all forms of arts. The City and the Center for the Arts partner to provide and promote opportunities for residents and visitors to benefit from the arts, including events such as The Pat Conroy Literary Festival, the 2016 S.C. Humanities Festival, theatre productions, concerts, multiple gallery exhibitions and more. This collaboration between government and a non-profit organization has been a catalyst to make Beaufort a robust arts and cultural center.”
Director of the USCB Center for the Arts, Bonnie Hargrove says, “I have been in arts administration for twenty years and have always aspired to this achievement. I am deeply honored to represent the USCB Center for the Arts and to be sharing the award with the City of Beaufort.”
Beaufort Lifestyle sat down with Bonnie to talk about the Center for the Arts and how she came to be involved with its remarkable achievements.
Although not from South Carolina originally, Bonnie is a native Southerner born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. She says, “My family is there; I grew up there, went to high school there and graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Communications. After graduation I married and we moved from Nebraska to Tennessee, South Carolina, and then back to Tennessee. We settled in Walterboro, South Carolina where I raised my three children, Taylor, Hargrove and Belle. “All three graduated from University of South Carolina, one going on to attend law school. All three now live in the Columbia area. I have some exciting news- my beautiful daughter-in-law, Lauren, and my son Hargrove are soon going be giving me the blessing of a grandchild, my first!”
While living in Walterboro, Bonnie was the director of the Colleton County Arts Council where she started a children’s theater. She says, “I started the children’s theater in Walterboro primarily for my daughter Belle. I remembered my theatre experiences in Birmingham, how magical it was, and I wanted my children to have that experience.”
She says, “I really loved Walterboro but after my divorce I was ready for a change. I had multiple interviews in Beaufort and was offered the position of Director of Beaufort Performing Arts Center (PAC). It was perfect timing, so I accepted the job. When the PAC shut its doors two years later, I called Dr. Jane Upshaw (then chancellor of USCB) and we discussed how parts of the PAC could still work; but in a different way. Dr. Upshaw was great, she said, “Okay, show me a plan.” A committee was formed to develop a business plan which was presented to Dr. Upshaw. She said yes, and every year since, the CFA continues to grow!”
The Center for the Arts is located on the Historic Beaufort Campus of USCB and is part of the USCB Community Outreach (CO) Department. Although under the umbrella of USCB, the Center for the Arts is a self-supporting, non-profit organization. “We earn our salaries, marketing and advertising budgets, funds for costumes, props, etc., through the generous support of individuals and corporate sponsors along with revenue generated from our productions “ says Bonnie. “We could not exist without the support of our current chancellor, Dr. Panu and the support that USCB provides including the physical building, utilities, insurance, and maintenance.”
Bonnie and Deon Furman, Assistant Director, are the only staff but they have at least 50 fabulous volunteers and they “hire in” people for sound, lighting and other technical jobs for various productions. The Center’s production schedule runs September through May, Bonnie says, “It is our busy time – no vacations!” This year, the season will be wrapping up with a Beaufort Children’s Theater production of “Aladdin Jr,” May 19-21.
Each season is different from the next and each program is unique. Programs run the gamut from musical productions, comedy shows, concerts, Lunch with Author Series and independent films to art exhibits, children’s theatre, and even Chinese acrobats at one time. According to Bonnie, “Diverse programs reflect my personality, in that I am personally interested in a huge variety of arts and I know many people in our community are as well. We truly try to offer something for everyone and every age.” The Center for the Arts also serves as the venue for other wonderful productions and events including USCB Festival Series, Beaufort International Film Festival, Friends of the Library “Books Sandwiched In,” community dance recitals, school productions and much more.
When asked what have been significant programs for her, Bonnie says, “This season’s ‘The Redneck Tenors’ was big for me. It was meaningful to see audience’s response and hear how much they loved them! Another emotional moment was during the performance of the “Black Violins,” when a child in the audience brought up his violin to be signed. Seeing the wonderfully diverse audience that performance brought was inspirational to me as well.”
Bonnie says, “The one event that will always stand out as special highlight, is the Pat Conroy at 70 Festival. We proved to ourselves, the community and people who attended from all over the country that we can successfully pull off a big festival and it felt good. Of course, the fact that it was a celebration of Pat Conroy’s 70th birthday and his exceptional literary contributions; well, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
She is looking forward to the upcoming “Salute to Satchmo” event on Thursday, April 20 at 7:30 PM. It is the Louis Armstrong Society Jazz Band’s tribute to the life, music, and spirit of Louis Armstrong. The band is comprised of members of the Louis Armstrong Society, a secret organization in which musicians perform by invitation only.
After the “Aladdin Jr” production, the theatre ‘goes dark’ and the planning, scheduling, and behind the scenes work gets done. This year, the theatre will be installing new lighting and surround sound, with new seats on the wish list for next year. Of course it won’t be completely quiet in there, as there will be three summer theatre camps for children and teens.
Everyone has at least one “favorite Beaufort place” and Bonnie is no exception. She smiles and says, “My screened porch which looks out over the beautiful Beaufort River. I enjoy watching the sailboats boats go by, talking to neighbors and perhaps enjoying a glass of wine.” She continues, “When I can, I like to go to the beach on a weekday, no crowds then. Another real simple pleasure is to get an ice cream downtown and sit outside at the waterfront park.”
What keeps her excited about Beaufort is the variety of people here. “I feel we are so fortunate to have so many different folks in our community. I absolutely love to hear their stories, from the people who have lived here their entire lives, to people like me who chose to move here. I always like to know why people are here! For me, it was the best decision of my life.”
For further information and upcoming schedule see:
story by mary ellen thompson photography by john wollwerth
No matter how old you are, what is Christmas without Santa Claus? Those who believe in him all have memories – of making your wish list, writing him letters, sitting on his lap, having your photo taken, leaving milk and cookies out, for him.
Jack Gannon has been Beaufort’s very own Santa Claus for nearly a quarter of a century. With his ebullient personality, and true love of the character, Jack donned his costume, gathered his elves and Mrs. Claus, and embodied one of the most iconic people who never actually lived.
Jack regales us with his story, “It all began in the most undramatic of ways, I answered an ad in the paper. Main Street Beaufort was looking for a new Santa Claus. It was 1993 and I was working at the Beaufort Gazette and thought a little extra money for Christmas would come in handy. So I turned in the application and a few months later they notified me that I had the job. I was Santa for Night on the Town, the Christmas Tree Lighting, the Christmas Parade, and on the other weekends I walked around town and talked to people. I had been in theater so it was easy to become a character. I became St. Nick, because the story of Santa Claus is derived from the Christian bishop Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children and sailors, who helped those in need and became legendary for his gift giving.”
After that first Christmas season was over, Jack returned his costume to Main Street Beaufort. The following fall, the director called and again asked Jack to be Santa. “1994 had a pivotal moment for me. I was walking down Bay Street in my costume when an elderly lady approached me and asked my name. It was the first time someone had asked me the name of the person under the suit and I wanted to stay in character, so I said ‘Nick’. She told me that her husband had just died and now she didn’t know what to do for Christmas. I told her to contact her children and tell them how she felt, that everything would work out. It was the first time an adult had approached me as Santa. The next year she found me on Bay Street and told me that as a result of my advice her children had all gotten together with her; she thanked me. That was when I realized that there’s more to being Santa than talking to children about what they want for Christmas.”
Also in 1994, Jack had an experience that led him to expand Santa’s coterie with his first elf. Walking down Bay Street, he leaned over to talk to children when two teenage boys ran past him and pulled his beard (which was attached around his head by an elastic band) down off his face. The children were shocked to see that Santa wasn’t really Santa. After that, Jack thought Santa needed a body guard so he added an elf whose job it was to keep an eye out for Santa and make sure all the children were seen because with the costume, the hat, hair and beard, it was sometimes difficult for Santa to see in all directions. The original beard was attached to the moustache, so you couldn’t see his mouth move when he laughed or talked. In the years to come, Jack acquired several Santa outfits and began glueing the beard and moustache directly to his face.
Jack reminisces, “I remember the first year, we were having the photos with Santa taken in Fordham’s Market. A couple in their early nineties walked in to get their photo taken. She was a southern belle, charming and gracious and beautifully dressed; he looked like an old grouch. He picked up a Rudolph doll from the set, sat down beside me and, with a straight face, said to the photographer, ‘Tell me when I’m happy.’ They were there because they wanted their grandchildren to know that they still believed in Santa Claus.”
Jack’s purview expanded when he was asked to be Santa on Fripp Island; he added another elf, got married in 1996 and then had a Mrs. in the Claus family. He found that worked well on many levels, one of which was that some of his young visitors preferred having their photo taken with an elf or Mrs. Claus. Jack officially retired as Santa at the end of the 2015 season but will be Santa one more time, signing his book’s cover as “Santa” at Frampton Plantation in Yemassee on December 10 from 10 – 2 for Toys for Tots. “I was a physically active Santa, I would get on the floor with kids and pets for photos but after twenty three years I found I could no longer meet the physical demands I had set for myself.”
“The main job of Santa is to always maintain the reality of the illusion. I always had a good time, no matter what. I did whatever it took to get that photo, even with the children who screamed and carried on; one year there was a photo in the newspaper of a little boy standing next in line with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face, the caption read ‘No, no, no, to ho, ho, ho!’ There were children in the military who would ask me to let their mommies or daddies come home safely, or to fly over them in foreign countries to make sure they were safe, instead of wanting a present for themselves.”
Perhaps the most poignant Santa memory that Jack holds is the time his father got to see him be Santa. When Jack graduated from Winthrop University in 1983, his mother had recently had a stroke, so Jack came home to Beaufort to help his dad take care of her. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have been here to be Santa. Dad spent all his time at home with her, so after she passed on he was able to come to town and get his first, and only, photo taken with Santa.
“Santa is here to remind us what Christmas is all about. I always say ‘Merry Christmas’ not ‘happy holidays’; you just can’t take the Christ out of Christmas. When people tell me they celebrate and open their gifts on Christmas Eve, I tell them to save one gift to open Christmas day because we all get one perfect gift on Christmas day.”
Jack tells a charming story about how he met, and subsequently proposed to, Mrs. Claus, aka Mendy. They were both auditioning for roles in “M*A*S*H” at Beaufort Little Theater and met on stage in their respective roles, he as Trapper John and she as Nurse Bridget. One day when Mendy was coming home from teaching fifth grade, she sat with her mother and grandmother on the porch when they noticed a blue light flashing on a Sheriff’s deputy car accompanying Jack’s car down the street. Jack’s car had affixed to it a banner that read, “Mendy, will you marry me?” He smiles at the memory and explains, “I had told her that when I proposed I would not say a word. She couldn’t figure out how that was going to happen.”
To ease the transition away from being Santa, Jack wrote “I Walked in Santa’s Boots” which was released this November. A compilation in scrapbook format with lots of photos and letters to Santa and other fun bits of memorabilia; Jack says it is his thank you to the community. He describes it as “a historical autobiography of a fictional character by a real person.”
But this isn’t the first book Jack has authored. As a matter of fact, he and his writing partner, Cyndi Williams Barnier, have co-authored several books, with a few more to be released soon. When Jack and Cyndi were best friends at Beaufort High, they thought they would write the next great American novel together after they graduated from college. Their plans got twisted by fate and they lost track of each other for thirty-two years until they found each other on Facebook. They got together for dinner with their respective spouses, found they were each retired, and finally started writing together. The same characters they had envisioned back in high school came to life. “Murder in Two’s and Three’s” debuted in 2011 and is the first of the action, adventure, murder and suspense “Task Force Series” novels. “Dawn of the Living Ghost,” the first of “The InSpectre Series” which are stories of fantasy, paranormal and supernatural, was published in 2015.
“Cyndi and I weren’t meant to write after high school, it wasn’t our time yet even though we were often just a few feet apart. It took thirty-two years for us to come back together as writers. Was that coincidence, providence, destiny? Yes. And the timing coincided just as our other careers ended.” “Walking in Santa’s Boots” is their eighth collaboration to date.
story by mary ellen thompson photography by john wollwerth
On the wall of her study, there is a show-stopping photograph of Pat Denkler from that time in her career when she became the first woman to land a jet on the aircraft carrier. In 1981, she flew a TA-4J aboard the USS Lexington. In the photograph, her expression is confident and accomplished; this was one of those extraordinarily moments where her great courage and beauty intertwined on exactly the same pivot. The following year, she became the first woman to land a fleet combat aircraft, the A6E Intruder on a carrier.
Eager to get to the point of her story, in her very no-nonsense way, Pat breezes through the early years. Her father was a Navy pilot and retired in Pensacola when she was young. After leaving to attend college, she returned to Pensacola to complete her degree in English at the University of West Florida. During this time she met someone who offered to take her flying at a grass air strip; this is when her life changed forever. It was perhaps the biggest of the doors that would continually open up for her, “For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of peace and I knew that I would always fly,” she recalls.
Shortly afterward, Pat became a co-owner of her first plane, a 1946 Aeronca Champ. “I didn’t know anything about the mechanical aspects of an airplane and I wanted to learn. So I moved to Daytona Beach FL, and attended Embry-Riddle to obtain an Airframe and Powerplant license; I kept the Champ at an airport in St. Augustine.
“I had several Navy pilot friends stationed in John McCain’s squadron in Jacksonville and I frequently attended squadron functions.” At one of those events, Commander McCain encouraged her to apply to the Navy Flight Program which had started accepting women in 1973. “He even let me sit in an A-7 where he started the Auxiliary Power Unit so that I could see all of the ‘gee-whiz’ instrumentation!”
Pat applied to Aviation Officer Candidate School and was accepted for the October 1977 class. At that time, approximately fifteen women were selected per year. “Obviously I chose the Navy and left my A&P schooling behind! Most of the women selected for AOCS (think Officer and a Gentleman) were strong athletes, which was most important in the ‘acceptance-factor’ with our male counterparts. In my particular class, there were only two women in the class of twenty-five. In preparation for entering boot camp, I ran three miles in the sand daily to build up extra strength and endurance. I am proud to say that I literally ‘carried my own weight’!”
Although women were first accepted into the Navy Flight Program in 1973, few had become qualified to fly jet aircraft, and none had become qualified to land on a carrier. Pat explains, “There are three pipelines for a pilot to earn their wings: helicopters, propellers, and jets. Women at that time could not get their wings in jets, and could only fly jets after receiving their wings through a jet-transition syllabus, which did not include flying the T-2 Buckeye before flying the TA-4J. Although few women had preceded me in flying jets, their syllabus did not include, among other qualifications, carrier qualifying.” Pat is quick to acknowledge that without the leadership and perseverance of those women, she would not have had the opportunities that were presented to her. “When I flew the TA-4J aboard the carrier, not even the Commanding Officer of the USS Lexington was aware that I was a female! Only after one of my first ‘traps’ did a deck crewman notice my ponytail and, with hand gestures, asked if I was a woman. The Air Boss then asked me if Pat was short for Patrick or Patricia. When I confirmed the latter, he congratulated me and told me to ‘keep up the good work’. A personal commendatory letter followed.
“Subsequently,” Pat says, “when I met the Chief of Naval Air Training, I asked if I could talk with him pilot to pilot and not Lieutenant JG to Admiral. When he responded in the affirmative, I proceeded to describe the abbreviated jet transition syllabus I received and that the training did not include the T-2 Buckeye normally used to introduce pilots to jet aviation. As a result, Admiral Martin became very influential in making the decision to allow women to earn their wings through the jet pipeline, thus allowing them to train exactly as their male counterparts.”
Pat’s final assignment of active duty was when she flew the EA-6A, which, she explains is “a specially configured aircraft to provide a realistic electronic warfare environment for fleet exercises. Among many of the roles was simulating a ‘missile profile’ so that a carrier could assess its detection capabilities.”
“Flying taildraggers and open cockpit aircraft was my heartbeat, but the single best professional decision I ever made was joining the Navy. There are absolutely no words to describe the camaraderie and the patriotic feelings associated with serving one’s country!”
After leaving active duty, Pat joined a reserve squadron in Norfolk VA, with the intent of applying to the College of William and Mary to study international relations. But again her plans to continue her education took a sharp turn in a different direction. Many of her friends were airline pilots and encouraged her to consider doing the same. Another door was about to open; she applied to and was accepted by Delta Air Lines, with whom she has flown for over three decades.
“I have been with the airline for 31 years; as a 767ER international captain I am senior enough to be able to choose the three to four international trips I fly each month. I love flying internationally. It’s been a great job and there is so much to be grateful for!
“Working for the airline was the second best decision I ever made. It has allowed me to live two lives; when you’re not at work, you’re not at work. Because I could live anywhere I want to live, I came to Beaufort in 1988. Among other things, what this place has really given me is a chance to be a viable part of the community.”
Pat’s involvement with local organizations is legendary and the list is lengthy. Some of those closest to her heart are the AMIkids Beaufort, Beaufort County Open Land Trust, USCB Center for the Arts, Pat Conroy at 70, and the Pat Conroy Literary Center.
“I’ve made my choices because I believe that when a door opens, go through it – see what’s on the other side. There will be no more repeating anything I’ve already done. I’ve recently sold my J3 Piper Cub to a great guy. Obviously it was a bittersweet decision because I’ve had several different aircraft over the past forty years. My husband, Mike Harris, and I recently bought a sailboat and we are learning to sail; we are as happy as five year olds playing while we are learning. The sea is my new sky.”
When not flying either the skies or seas, Pat loves being a homebody and it’s easy to see that her home is her oasis. Mike’s hobby is photography and his striking photographs line the hallway, all taken in black and white with old German cameras. “I love my home, my collections, and my antique furniture which is mostly pre-civil war except for the upholstered pieces.”
For a woman who has traveled the globe, set records, and has so many fearless achievements to her credit, it’s the little things that are near to her heart. With a gentle touch, Pat gets up in the morning and cuts fresh flowers for every room in the house. Then she works at her desk until about noon when she ventures out into the bigger world. “Home is real important to me. As are my books, I love my books! Some of my lifetime favorites are The Little Prince, Gift From the Sea, The Fountainhead, and For Those I Loved. I also journal, and have since I was eight; I only write with real pencils.” She laughs as she confides, “I found one I like and bought a hundred like it. I use them to make all my own greeting cards,” she says with obvious enjoyment.
Pat Denkler is one of those rare people who knows exactly who she is, and fully understands what is important to her. Those people and organizations with whom she is involved, are very blessed.
story by mary ellen thompson photography by paul nurnberg
A tennis player since his teens, Larry Scheper is no stranger to print media; stacks of newspaper articles and magazine stories chronicle his journey and many successes. In all those articles, an abundance of adjectives have been used to describe him, and there are many that suit him and do him justice, but dedicated would be at the top of the descriptors.
Larry teaches tennis to anyone who wants to learn; the young, the old, the handicapped, the non-athletic, and he does it with grace and finesse. You can find him teaching on the city courts near where he grew up, at the Penn Center, or at Beaufort Academy. His students include a man in a wheelchair, Larry explains, “It’s not easy for him to maneuver the chair and play at the same time; I tried sitting in the chair to see what he was experiencing. He is very encouraging to both older and younger players who see him as something of a role model.” Another student has autism, one is legally blind with only twenty percent of his vision intact, one is eighty-four, and Larry starts teaching children as young as age two. For someone who grew up during a time of limited social acceptance, Larry Scheper welcomes everyone into his world.
One of his students, Kris Peterson, says, “I’ve participated in clinics with young children, teenagers and other adults, many of whom are ‘transplants’ from other places. Coach Larry is skilled at including everyone in challenging drills and practice, no matter what their ability or level might be. One of my favorite clinic partners is a disabled veteran who plays using a donated wheelchair from the ATA (American Tennis Association). He’s an inspiration. He hits and moves better than I do, and is preparing with Larry’s guidance to compete in Hilton Head. ”
Baseball was Larry’s first sport but when he was fourteen he transitioned into tennis where, he says, “We were more accepted back then. Tennis gave me a great opportunity to travel and meet people. There was a group of us who played tennis in Savannah. On Friday night someone would pick us up and take us there to play; we had to bring just $5, we stayed in really nice places and played teams from Atlanta, Augusta, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and Jacksonville; they came to us and we went to them.”
The city courts were close enough to his house that Larry’s mother could watch him play from the kitchen window. “One day I came into the house after a match where I didn’t play well and she said to me, ‘Don’t tell me you expect to win all the time?’ She taught me that to be a good winner, you’ve got to be an excellent loser. I was playing in my sixteenth tournament before she came out of the house to watch me play, and she only said, ‘It’s hot out here’ and went back inside to watch from the window. I think she was worried that she might make me nervous. Another time when I was playing in my first Junior Water Festival sanctioned tournament, I was in the finals and the match was on Sunday morning. The rule was that I couldn’t play on Sundays because I had to got to church; I was avidly involved in church, both in the choir and Bible school. So I said to her, ‘But I’m in the finals!’ and that Sunday I got to play.
“I was known for tennis in the neighborhood, but more for manners and respect; they will take you a long way in life. You may not be good at what you do, but you can always be courteous.”
Larry got a scholarship to Grambling State University in Louisiana where he turned pro in his junior year and competed with players such as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. His studies led him into his profession of teaching EMH (educable mentally handicapped) students in Columbia, SC. While there, he won his first Pro-Am tournament in 2000.
For twenty years, until the last one in 2006, Larry came home to Beaufort to play in the Water Festival tennis tournament. Every year he won. He misses that tournament, and would like to reinstate it for the community.
Many competitions and wins later, Larry came back to Beaufort in 2009. During the school year, he coaches at Beaufort Academy, and has clinics and lessons on the city courts. During the summer on the city courts, on weekdays he has a clinic for adults from 8 to 9 a.m., tennis camp from 9 to 12, and teaches adults and advanced kids from 6 to 7 p.m. Every Saturday from 12 to 1:30, he offers free coaching for the community, a fitness walk, and sometimes afterwards they have a cookout. Not only do people from the community play at the city courts, Larry coaches high school players that come here from in, and out of, state to train. And he gives private lessons year round.
Also during the summer, you can find Larry at Penn Center. “I go to Penn every Monday through Friday from 9 to 12 for summer camp, and free clinics on Saturdays. I’d like to find another time that the community can play. They never renovated the court so I have to take a portable net with me; I’d like to have a real net. I’m going to get some paint and paint the lines. I collect racquets from people and lend them to the kids, and I supply the balls. There are about 25 kids in the camp and 40 people on Saturdays; I want to give them the opportunity I had when I was their age.”
The Penn Center holds some special memories for Larry. In 1983, he met Arthur Ashe at Penn and they had a long conversation during which Ashe gave Larry the following advice, “Young man, what are you going to do after tennis? Son, never forget the kids.” Clearly Larry has heeded Ashe’s advice.
Speaking of children, one of Larry’s favorite upcoming stars is his daughter Jayda. At fourteen, she has an ATA national ranking of twenty in the fourteen and under age group. She played in her first tournament when she was six, but Larry put a racquet in her hand while she was still in a walker. An accomplished young woman, Jayda also plays volleyball, baseball, and is first chair violin. “She wants to go to college and be a lawyer, tennis can get her that scholarship,” Larry explains. In addition to coaching her, they also play mixed doubles together. As he considers his extensive collection of trophies he muses, “Maybe Jayda will want them some day; maybe she’ll have her own collection,” and he laughs and says, “but maybe she will get checks instead!”
In addition to all the coaching, in order to keep in shape Larry runs every night, does 45 minutes of exercise daily, and practices. Despite the fact that he is fifty-two, he is still ranked number one nationally in the 45 singles and doubles competitions and number two in the men’s open doubles, and plays in a pro league on Hilton Head Island. When not working, or working out, Larry enjoys tending to the yard, reading the daily newspaper and tennis magazines, reads historical fiction when he has the time and enjoys spending time with his daughter. “I like taking her all the places she likes to go.” Shopping? “Yes! And to an annual ATA tournament in Fort Lauderdale.” Larry is also a Georgetown University basketball fan.
What are some of the favorite places he’s played tennis? “At the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY when I was coaching the National Championships of the United States Youth Games. And the Germantown Cricket Club near Philadelphia; we played on grass and had to wear all white – it felt like playing at Wimbledon. I like to wear white, it’s sort of my signature.”
And what about Wimbledon, would he like to play there one day? “It is my dream as a coach to take a player there and sit in the box watching in person, instead of on the couch watching it on television. Maybe I can take my daughter. I do it all for Jayda, and the community. I’ve done what I had to do for myself, now it’s time to give back.”
story by mary ellen thompson photography by paul nurnberg
Most of us who live here in the Lowcountry have been out on the water in a boat of some sort. It was the custom here, years ago, for young boys to take a boat to a fish camp on an island, without any adult supervision. Much of Beaufort parties on a sandbar in the summer. Boats are practically synonymous with Beaufort.
Ask Brooke Plank Buccola what a real boat is. Or better yet, ask her about ships, which are a bit bigger than boats, by hundreds of feet. She is pretty and feminine, but appearances are deceiving; this brave woman has stood at the helm of a thousand foot ship. Let’s start at the beginning.
A New Jersey girl by birth, Brooke’s family moved to Vermont for a bit while maintaining a place on Marco Island in Florida. That Gulf of Mexico is an enchanting body of water, and Brooke fell under its spell early on. She loved not only being on the water, she loved being in the water and became an avid and proficient scuba diver. When Brooke realized she wanted to pursue a career in the marine industry, the family moved to Marco Island. While there, Brooke decided that, as a member of the JROTC and the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a career in the Coast Guard was what she wanted to pursue. She was convinced to broaden her search and was accepted to the Coast Guard Academy, the Citadel, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point in New York, among others. She chose the latter where she had a choice of studying engineering or marine transportation. “I chose marine transportation because I wanted to see where I was going!”
An interesting feature of the educational process at Kings Point is “Sea Year” when the students spend a part of both their sophomore and junior years on merchant vessels traveling the world. Her first assignment was on the Horizon Consumer, a 720 foot container ship that went on what is known as the pineapple run from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Oahu. On the next assignment she was also on a container ship, the APL President Adams, (which had a gross weight tonnage of 61,926, or 123,852,000 pounds) that went: Los Angeles – Alaska – Taiwan – Thailand – Singapore – China. After that she was on the 920 foot Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of America, which sailed around the Hawaiian Islands and had a capacity of 2186 guests and a crew of 917. On that trip she was fortunate enough to have some leisure time in which she could indulge her passion for scuba diving.
The most fateful trip was her forth, on the Maersk Maine, again a container ship, 595 feet in length, that went to ports in Italy, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. “Going into port in Egypt, the harbor pilot came in too fast and collided with the ship and punctured a diesel fuel tank causing an oil spill that had to be cleaned up.” So there Brooke was, the only female on the ship, topside and using the available equipment to assist in cleaning up the spill; quite the introduction to Egypt! “Then,” she said, “two days after we left Israel, every place we had been was bombed.”
While aboard, her duties included, but were not limited to, four hour bridge watches, navigation, four hours on deck overseeing the cargo handling, making sure the containers were locked down and that all the refrigerated containers were working, and handling lines. Usually she was the only female on the ship. “I was lucky; each time someone would take me under their wing and watch out for me, have dinner with me, and generally keep an eye out for me. I also found that the experience of being an American in all those third world countries makes you very humble.” All of this, before she was even twenty-one.
After graduation in 2008, Brooke needed some time to decide in which direction she wanted to pursue her career. She was offered a job to be a harbor pilot in New York, but that wasn’t where her family was or where she wanted to live. She was thinking about tug boats, when her friend from the Academy, Chris Buccola, called and asked if she would like to come to Louisiana and have a look at the offshore supply vessels firm, Otto Candies, for whom he was working. Brooke looked, liked it, hired on and went to work on ships that supplied drill rigs with water, fuel, cargo, and other supplies. It was then that the romance between Brooke and Chris began to blossom.
Those offshore supply vessels are 280 feet long and propelled and steered by two bow thrusters, and two azimuth thrusters in the stern, which allow for enhanced maneuverability and dynamic positioning; Brooke was required to get a dynamic positioning license for this vessel. So imagine this, here she is, out in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, in all sorts of weather on a ship that comes right up next to an oil rig. Huge cranes on the rig take the cargo off of the ship while the ship is being held in place by the thrusters. This is quite a change from maneuvering a container ship that has all the grace of a giant manatee and needs tugs and pilots to get into port.
What happens when a crew change needs to take place on the ship? The crew gets helicoptered onto the rig and then is lowered to the ship by the cranes. Brooke explains, “You have to take a course that simulates a helicopter crash. The simulator turns you upside down in a swimming pool and you have to go from seat to seat underwater to release yourself from four different seat belts.” When asked if this should lead you to believe that helicopters crash more often than one realizes, she replies, “Yes.”
After about a year of living in Louisiana, Brooke and Chris moved to Beaufort in 2010 and commuted to work. Since their work schedules rarely coincided, at one point they were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work together on a ship in Egypt for two months. Reminiscent of her last experience in that part of the world, Brooke remembers “We flew out of Egypt right before the 2011 revolution took over the country and airlines. We had wanted to stay and see the pyramids, but it was a good thing we didn’t; our friends who did, literally got the last flight out.”
The next step up in their careers was to leave the offshore supply vessels for drillships and they both made the job transition at the same time, going to work for the drilling company, Noble. Brooke travelled to China to see the Noble Globetrotter I while it was being built; the ship then went to Rotterdam to be outfitted with the drilling equipment. Brooke flew to Rotterdam and, as the Dynamic Positioning Officer, helped to bring the 620 foot ship back to the Gulf of Mexico. A drillship is much the same as a drill rig except that it can move under its own power; however they travel at an average speed of ten knots, as opposed to a container ship which can attain a speed of eighteen to twenty-four knots.
“After the ship got to the Gulf of Mexico, we decided it was time to look to the future and start a family, so I left the industry. Chris has his unlimited captain’s license and continues on drillships.”
In 2011 Brooke and Chris got engaged, and Brooke’s parents, Nancy and Larry Plank, moved to Beaufort. The Planks had a restaurant on Marco Island, Planks Quarter Deck, so it was a logical decision when they moved up here to be closer to their only child, that another restaurant would be in their sights.
The following year was momentous in that Brooke and Chris got married at Old Sheldon Church on May 19, 2012. And a few months later the Planks opened the restaurant, Smokin’ Planks, in Port Royal. All three of them work in the restaurant together these days; Brooke works in the front, greeting, seating people and also filling in wherever necessary. She says, “The restaurant business is the hardest job I’ve ever had! But the fun part is meeting the people and I really enjoy catering weddings, family reunions and business events.”
Between Brooke’s work schedule at the restaurant and Chris’ schedule on the ships, she can be found tending to their eighteen month old toddler, Bobby; planning the Soft Shell Crab Festival and OktoPRfest for the town of Port Royal; and trying to find time for her new passion, underwater photography. “I grew up loving scuba diving; Chris grew up loving offshore fishing. When I introduced him to scuba diving he went ahead and got his advanced certificate before I even got mine! We go offshore here to dive; there is a sunken helicopter, Coast Guard cutter, and train car between Fripp and Hilton Head Islands. I’m just learning about underwater photography and I love it!”
Kind and gracious, Brooke has a talent for not only making people feel at ease, but also welcome. She loves the color pink, even has pink headlights on her car, and has a quirky collection of nutcrackers. Her eyes light up when she smiles and she laughs easily. When you meet her, you can chat about any old thing; you might want her to explain dynamic positioning or the function of an azimuth, or have her tell you the story of the nutcrackers.
story by cindy reid photography by paul nurnberg
Not every small town has a Mayor as accomplished as Beaufort’s Billy
Keyserling, and not every mayor can be seen joyfully zipping around
town on a Vespa motor scooter. Mayor Billy (no one calls him Mayor
Keyserling) is the face of local government and the champion of all
things Beaufort. From leading the Beaufort City Council meetings, to
recruiting and welcoming new businesses, Mayor Billy is fully engaged
in every aspect of his city’s life. Not a man to be confined to an
office, he says his office is “my computer and my cell phone.” Serving
the 13,000 residents within the city’s 33 square miles, Billy has been
Mayor since 2008.
What was your governing experience prior to being elected mayor?
I served two terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives
where I was Vice Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy
and Chairman of the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation. After
deciding to not seek a third term because I hated the non-productive
partisan wrangling, I was elected to Beaufort City Council in 2000 and
served one term.
I ran for mayor (lost by 97 votes) the first time, yet again ran
and won. Three years ago, I ran and won again. I became mayor because
I had a vision of what I wanted for my city and how I would like to
see Beaufort grow. When people ask me for advice on running for
office, I say ‘Prepare to lose, prepare to win and prepare to govern.’
Preparing to govern is where the vision is critical. Why run if you do
not have a plan?
You and Beaufort are such a good fit – can you be Mayor for life?
Who would want to be Mayor for life? There are no statutory term
limits, but I think two to three terms are appropriate. There is
always room for a fresh approach and new leadership. I have my way of
leading, and others have theirs which is a good thing.
You are a very visible and very accessible mayor.
I am very visible because I love people and believe government is
about people and not traditional politics. I spend a good bit of time
preparing a weekly newsletter, appearing on television and radio
programs and going to every event to which I am invited and even some
I am not. On pretty days, I ride my scooter all over town and stop to
talk to people I know and people I want to know. It will never be said
that Billy is not available.
Common misconceptions as to the role of mayor?
Under the Council-Manager- Mayor form of government, my powers
are very limited. This is not to say, I guess because I am so
visible, I get calls from everywhere from Sun City to Fripp Island to
Dale and Seabrook. While I often do not have answers, I try to direct
these non city residents in the right direction. If I don’t I am not
sure who will. People who don’t live within the municipal boundaries
are very important. They are our customers. They dine here, they shop
here and they bring guests here. They consider Beaufort their
In these economic times, has it been difficult to provide the services
The great recession hurt many people financially, including me,
but it was a sobering exercise because it prepared us for the future.
We are now accomplishing more with less, examining every expenditure
and making adjustments to falling revenues due to the recession and
more recently caused by the state government which has cut funding to
local governments, capped out taxes and is currently discussing
limiting business license fees that would cut up to 20% out of the
During the downturn, we outsourced garbage pickup; we outsourced
some road and park maintenance, and we made adjustments to the fire
and police departments. Public Safety is our most important
responsibility. A common misconception is that the city benefits from
traffic tickets, which produces no revenue to the city because the
majority of the fines raised goes to the state and not to the cost of
law enforcement and courts.
By and large most people are willing to pay as long as costs are
being spent wisely and we are transparent. This is one reason we have
our budget and expenses by category on our website so that 24/7 people
can see what we are doing.
What has been your major accomplishment as mayor?
What gives me the most pride in being mayor is insisting on
fairness, transparency and civil conversation on council and with the
public. Three informal open work sessions are open to the public and
we invite those with concerns or expertise to the table to discuss
issues. We do not vote at these sessions as when we are ready to
decide we must provide public notice. Furthermore, I try to vetted
issues before council in the newsletters and when I talk in public.
I am extremely proud of our City Council. We all share a love of
our hometown, do not take disagreements personally and more often than
not find consensus. If I did nothing else, the civility and the
teamwork with the City Council is my most proud accomplishment.
What is ahead for 2016?
City Council has locked in on long plans and is in the ‘ready set
go’ mode for the next two years. There is the Boundary Street
Revitalization project which will recast the gateway to Beaufort and
no longer have it look like anyplace, USA. We have a very exciting
partnership between the Open Land Trust, Beaufort County and the City
to do our best to open up vistas, make the road safer and prevent
environmental damage to the headwaters of Battery Creek. We are
working with property owners on thoughtful redevelopment. It has been
a long time coming. Fortunately we have a good staff team led by a
smart, responsive City Manager, Bill Prokop leading his team.
We have been working for 23 years to make the Waterfront Park
more accessible to boaters; we have a plan in place, the money in the
bank and should start construction in 2016. We will attend to long
overdue stormwater challenges along Allison Road and Southside
Boulevard. The Allison Road project will include a path tying the
hospital to the Spanish Moss trail. Southside will be started very
soon and the Southside Park dog park and trail are currently in
We have some very serious short- and long-term drainage issues
which have been made more challenging by nuisance rains. I started the
Sea Level Rising volunteer task force, to help the city and
neighborhoods address future needs. Government cannot do everything
and fortunately we have some very educated professionals who have
Many would like to see the waterfront park expanded, and that
brings us to the issue of parking. We are studying a parking deck but
little if anything can be done without funding as our small city
cannot afford such a large project without outside help. And once it
is built, like other city assets it must be maintained. Maintenance
dollars will be needed for the Spanish Moss Trail which is a treat to
those who live here and an attraction to visitors.
And the new firehouse on Ribaut Road will soon replace the Mossy
Oaks station which is in disrepair and too close to schools. I could
go on and on, but we have a good plan and we’ve been able to leverage
small amounts of restricted city dollars to get significant state and
federal grants. A lot to look for in 2016 and beyond.
BACK TO BEAUFORT
You are a native Beaufortoian who left for college and career.
After graduating from Brandeis University (BS, Magna Cum Laude)
and Boston University (MS) I could not find a job that fit my training
in Beaufort so I was fortunate to be able to spend sixteen years
working on and around Capitol Hill in Washington, DC: with
administrative and legislative duties for members of Congress,
coordinating an international Human Rights initiative and as a public
affairs consultant. I was so engaged, working seven days a week,
travelling and advocating, I never took the time to get married. But
not having a family gave me more freedom to do what I wanted, and now
the freedom to not have to work a day job.
You came back in 1989. What drew you back?
During the 26 years I was away at school and working, I can’t
remember not waking up without thinking about my Beautiful hometown
with its natural beauty and my many childhood memories.
What stands out from the Beaufort of your childhood?
Everyone went downtown to shop on Saturday and I would like to
see that come back, at least parts of it. The greater downtown and our
special historic character and buildings are the goose that laid the
golden egg. We must preserve and enhance and grow it back to what it
once was, the center of the community. I think we can do it.
Due to your family’s history, do you feel sense of duty to continue
Some believe my engagement stems directly from my mother Harriet
Keyserling’s incredible public service. Few know, as she writes in her
book, that I was the one who talked her into it and helped. At age
54, mother became the first woman elected to Beaufort County Council
and two years later the first woman elected to represent Beaufort in
the South Carolina House of Representatives. My father, Herbert
Keyserling, was a country doctor, who cared for patients regardless of
their ability to pay. He was renowned as a tireless advocate for those
who could not afford health care. My uncle Leon, dad’s brother, was a
whiz kid in Washington during the New Deal, becoming Chairman of
President Truman’s Council of Economic Advisors.
My sense of civic duty goes back to all of my family starting
with my grandfather, William Keyserling, after whom I was named. He
was an 18 year old political refugee from Tsarist Russia who arrived
in Beaufort in 1888. He worked for and eventually became President of
MacDonald Wilkins Corporation, was a successful farmer and business
and community leader. Due to his losses, like so many others during
the Great Depression, my grandfather died a man of modest means but he
was very civic minded. He died in New York city while giving a speech
to the International United Jewish Appeal at New York’s grand Waldorf
Astoria Hotel. Supposedly his last words as he fell to the floor were,
“it is time for the young people to take over.” I believe my
grandfather instilled the magnet in our family’s moral compass and for
that I am grateful.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Though I made the choice, I have missed not having a family, I
miss having children. People may be surprised to know that “things,”
possessions, are not important to me. I spend much of my disposable
income on art created in and around Beaufort.
What do you do for fun?
I love the work of being mayor. I get together with friends, and
I like getting out on the water. My girlfriend lives on Long Island,
so we spend weekends either there or here and on the water when
possible. She is a teacher so she has good vacations and travelling is
always on the top of our list. In recent years, we have been to Italy
(her native country) Greece, Turkey, South Africa, Mexico, Canada and
I love to travel, to see old and new, and capture a sense of
“place” of wherever I go. I am fascinated to see how people all over
the world create and use public space. I have seen wonderful town
squares, surrounded by shops and residences that are the heart of a
community. People walk to shop and work, use the public parks and the
public buildings set a tone for the civitas of a city.
What is your favorite place in Beaufort?
I love being in downtown Beaufort in the early morning, as the
sun comes up and the people walk through the park and down the streets
to open their shops as Beaufort slowly wakes up. When I make the time,
I sit on a park bench with a cup of coffee watching others greet the
new day. The same is true when the sun sets across the river. I have
always been fortunate to live on the water. It is spiritually calming
and inspires serenity. Even in the pouring rain, there is beauty in
watching the huge Spanish moss laced oak tree limbs sway as the rain
massages the ground and keeps the grass green. I so love this place
and I am so honored to be its Mayor.
story by mary ellen thompson photography by john wollwerth
We think of Pat Conroy as not only a writer, but really, one of the
greatest of Southern writers. And he is. Which of us has not read at
least one of his books? But the true greatness of Pat Conroy extends
so very far beyond the reach of his words. As bedazzling as the rich
complexity of the use of language in his novels is, the stories he
intersperses in his non-fiction books and blog are the ones that give
you the sense of the man, his humanity that has risen over the wounds
of his childhood. The amazing boundlessness of his empathy, courage,
and arcs of friendships are the finest tributes imaginable to the
legions of people with whose lives he has intersected.
Reading a Pat Conroy novel is like being lashed to a mast, and
sailing into a story that surrounds you like a blanket of fog. Your
primary senses are dulled to anything but the rhetoric and where it
will take you; yet in the vast distance you can still sense shrapnel
shooting by as the stars of his language explode around you.
Talking with Pat is like facing an immense buffet and trying to
choose just what will fit on your plate. We talked about food,
exercise, books and some of the characters he’s met along the way. So,
come and join us, sit down, eavesdrop on our conversation.
Since food is a legendary affection for Pat, I wondered if his
decision to spend time at the gym and get in better shape affected the
way he now cooks, and if his cookbook was actually just a masquerade
to have a book of short stories.
Pat said, “We all know what we should eat, what’s healthy; I
wrote that cookbook for people who were trying to speed up the dying
process. If there was a just and merciful God, a dry martini would
have one calorie and a bean sprout would have three thousand.
“In the cookbook are the stories I’d written but not published, I
wrote and re-wrote them. I loved writing it – no one died, no one was
We discussed the particular nature of inflicting pain personal
trainers have; Pat agreed, “I’m working out five times a week and
something new always hurts; Mina finds ways to torture me.”
In his cookbook, Pat comments about his aversion to cilantro
which is a feeling I share. I wondered how he felt about tilapia,
which I think became popular on menus at about the same time.
Pat’s take? “People look at me like I’m crazy when I say I don’t
like cilantro; they tell me to try it fresh, or dried or just out of
the garden. I’ve tried it all those ways; it tastes like soap and I
just don’t like it. Tilapia? I can’t even figure out what tilapia is.”
I love the stories Pat tells in the cookbook about the times he
unwittingly met some very famous chefs. My favorite was the night Nan
Talese was taking him out to dinner to celebrate the launch of The
Prince of Tides. She didn’t realize that the restaurant didn’t take
credit cards and tried to give the owner/chef her gold bracelets to
hold while she went back to the hotel for money, and he wouldn’t even
consider it. Years later Pat saw him on television and realized it was
Pat laughed at the memory, “Nan was wearing an armful of
bracelets that were worth a small fortune. I wished I’d had the money
to give to him and I could have kept the bracelets! I told her she
should have published his first cookbook, but she still thinks he was
a dreadful man that night.”
Since a conversation with Pat can round more corners than a
NASCAR race, it doesn’t seem strange that we came to the matter of
snakes. He wrote, “My mother, who was no stranger to wildlife,
collected poisonous snakes and once told me that a copperhead I caught
her for Mother’s Day when she was pregnant with my brother Jim was the
most thoughtful present she had ever received.” I wondered if that
seemed out of the ordinary to him.
Pat shook his head, “Not to us, she was the only mother we ever
had. I like snakes; I know many people don’t, my wife is terrified of
them. Mom would get all of us kids banging pots and pans while she
went to the other side of the woods and wait for us to scare the
snakes out. She would pick them up, she’d pick up a rattlesnake. We
all talked about it later and thought it was because she came from a
town in Alabama that was rife with snake handling fundamentalists.”
If you’ve read any of Conroy, you know that his mother’s favorite
book of all time was Gone with the Wind, and her great love of the
book had a profound influence on his life. He was invited by Margaret
Mitchell’s heirs to write a sequel but the negotiations and conditions
imposed proved too overwhelming and stringent. Because that book had
such an impact on him, I wanted to know if he was disappointed that he
didn’t get to write the sequel. Did he have a strategy for Rhett?
With a sigh, Pat replied, “I couldn’t deal with what they wanted.
I wanted to write it because I wanted to dedicate it to my mother. I
had some good ideas; it would have been the autobiography of Rhett
Butler. I had a plan for Rhett – he was from Charleston, he would have
gone to the Citadel.”
Pat, I asked, in Why I Write, you say “My well-used dictionaries
and thesauri sing out to me when I write, and all English words are
the plainsong of my many-tongued, long-winded ancestors who spoke
before me.” I was tickled to see you used “meretricious” twice in
Beach Music; are you still a thesaurus user, or after your keeping
long lists of words, is your vocabulary now sufficient unto itself?
Pat handed me one of the brown, well worn, leather bound journals
that tie with a string of rawhide, and on the left hand pages were
penned, in brown ink, lists of unusual words written in beautiful, and
very tiny, script.
He told me, “Sure I still use it, and I keep notebooks. I make a
list down the side of the page so the words can inspire me. Language
fires me up.”
When friends heard I was going to write this story, they asked if
I could incorporate some of their questions and Pat was gracious
enough to field them.
Susan: I’d ask him how he finds the courage to be so raw and revealing
in his writing.
Pat: “It was an accident at first, I didn’t realize how many people
would be hurt.
When I wrote The Boo, it was the The Citadel, they banned the
book. The Water is Wide hurt the city of Beaufort. The Great Santini
hurt my entire family. But if I didn’t tell the truth the way I saw
it, I wasn’t worth anything as a writer.”
Cindy: If you hadn’t found literature, what do you think would have
become of your life?
Pat: “I loved teaching. One of the two years I’ve never written about
were the two years I taught at Beaufort High School. I don’t think I
was a very good teacher, but I loved teaching. I think I would have
gotten good at it, but after Daufuskie no one would hire me to teach
so it was a good thing that I liked writing.”
Pierce: Ask him how he came up with the off-the-wall idea of putting a
tiger in The Prince of Tides.
Pat: “Happy the Tiger was in a cage at a gas station in Columbia, SC;
I went there to get gas so I could see him. If you bought gas, you got
a free car wash and while the car was being washed, you got to throw a
chicken neck to the tiger. He was mean as hell, he probably didn’t
like being in a cage outside in the hot South Carolina sun. They
eventually built the zoo in Columbia so that tiger had a place to go.
“I was living in Rome, the story was in trouble, it had rapists
and murderers and I didn’t know what to do with them. I was out to
dinner one night when I saw a woman in the restaurant and half of her
arm was missing. So I asked her what happened. She had seen a man
abusing a tiger at the zoo and wanted to help so she stepped in, and
the tiger ripped her arm off. I thought to myself, well I have a tiger
in a barn back there, so that’s how he came into the story.”
Steve: How do you know when the end of a story has come, and have any
of your characters wanted a sequel?
Pat: “I can feel it coming. In my stories people have been through
hell and back; it’s time to let them go off into their fictional
“When I wrote The Great Santini, I planned to have Ben Meecham be
the main character in The Lords of Discipline, then to have Ben go
through his life as the main character of several of the books, but
after the movie was made, Hollywood would have owned rights to all
those books if Ben was part of them. So I had to change my plan, but
it loosened me up.”
Elizabeth: How do you know where to start a book?
Pat: “Usually I don’t. Usually it is fizzling around and it starts
with the prologue. When I’m finished with the prologue, I can begin in
earnest on the novel.
In The Great Santini it was – why did I hate my father? In The
Lords of Discipline – why I hated the plebe system. In The Prince of
Tides – why did my sister go crazy?”
After our lovely afternoon I just hugged Pat Conroy, I wanted to
thank him with all my heart for all he’s done for literature and the
truest art of story telling. Not only are his books exquisite in their
mastery, but they have followed the course of his amazing life. I’m
hard pressed to choose between the great descriptive language in his
novels, and the stories themselves in the collections. If you’ve
missed reading any of them, get yourselves to the Pat Conroy at 70
festival, say hello to Pat, buy several of the many author’s books and
get them signed!
If you launched Martha Stewart’s Living, with her entrepreneurship,
creativity and considerable entertaining skills, smack dab into the
middle of the iconic Garden & Gun Magazine style then you would be
introducing yourself to Sarah Sanford Rauch.
Well, okay, just sort of. Garden & Gun Magazine has never covered
an Iditarod Sled Dog Race, or featured safari cooking in South Africa,
and Martha probably never had a belt made out of a copperhead snake,
but you get the idea. Or you will.
Congenial, articulate and creative, Sarah is as equally at home
entertaining in linen and pearls as she is in the field wearing a camo
t-shirt and cap, or hosting a television show anywhere in the world.
Sarah explains, “As an outdoors person, you hunt, you shoot, you
bring home food, you cook. You dress a certain way, you train your dog
a certain way, you decorate a certain way. I’m telling you women can
do these things; she doesn’t go to the grocery store dressed in camo,
she can still be feminine. I don’t have to eat nails for breakfast!
This life is very empowering, and anyone can live at least a little of
it. I want to give to other women what my father gave to me.”
Having grown up on Coosaw Plantation in Beaufort, as a child
Sarah learned to ride a horse, herd cattle, shoot, hunt and fish.
Today, she is endeavoring to teach women that the outdoor lifestyle is
accessible. This can start with the simple: go to the farmers markets
and buy fresh food, connect with the people who grew it; take it home
and preserve those things that are seasonal so you can enjoy them all
year long. Take it a little further: get a fishing rod or cast net and
catch yourself some fish or shrimp and have them for dinner. Take it
further still: get a guide and go hunting, learn how to shoot; learn
to prepare, and eat, what you kill. Wear the proper clothing, whether
you buy it from Barbour or Goodwill.
Her story: “Dad, (Marshall Sanford), was a heart surgeon but also
he was a frustrated farmer. My three brothers, Bill, Mark and John,
and I, along with the two boys who belonged to the farm manager, were
all the children on the plantation. Dad expected me to do everything
the boys did – I drove tractors, baled hay. Dad did nothing small so
we had a huge garden that could have fed Cleveland. We canned, dried
and preserved the foods that we grew. Now, I see how important those
things are and I love doing them with my children. (By the way, I’ve
perfected the recipe for strawberry jam!) My dad showed me there is
nothing like sitting in a deer stand when it is cold outside, shoulder
to shoulder with your child and watching the sun rise or set.” Eleven
year old son, Sandy, agrees, “What I like most about hunting is being
with Mom, surrounded by all the nature; it’s exciting to shoot but the
nature is what is beautiful and the best part.”
“Mom, (Peggy), was a concert pianist; she studied at Juilliard,
and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship. It seemed unlikely that she
would find herself on a working farm in the middle of nowhere.” When
asked if she had liked to go fishing and shooting with the family,
Peggy elegantly shrugged and replied, as she studied her hands, “Oh, I
would go out with them sometimes, but really, I loved to play the
piano.” Sarah clarifies, “Mom would often go sit with us in the field
even though she wasn’t a shooter, but she did see hunting as great way
for the family to be all together.”
Sarah recalls, “My family was like the Junior Olympics, even a
trip to the mailbox was a race. One evening when I was about fifteen,
I was particularly exasperated and I sat down, teary eyed, with my dad
and said ‘I just can’t win against the boys.’ He smiled knowingly and
told me, ‘Learn to shoot, it will level the playing field. If you
shoot well, no guy can hit a target any harder or faster than you
can.’ Those words defined my career from then on; every job I had
involved hunting, fishing or being in the outdoors.”
Not so very long after that, when Sarah was a sophomore in
college, her beloved father died after a five year battle with ALS.
Sarah’s skills came into play as the family turned the plantation into
a quail hunting lodge in order to keep the land. She was one of the
hunting guides who taught guests how to shoot and hunt, and to this
day is still a shooting instructor.
“When I was a child, I helped round up the 200 head of cattle we
had on the plantation. I belonged to a pony club which was
instrumental in teaching me how to care for a horse, and I did a bit
of the show circuit but it didn’t suit me. I loved to ride bareback
through the marsh, I was just a cowgirl.”
“The day I graduated from Furman University, I took off to the
Australian outback. I went as an au pair but they had horses and
cattle and I wanted to be with the horses so I wound up riding with
the cattle crew. After that, I went to New Zealand to work on a horse
farm; from there I headed to Nairobi, Kenya where I made my way to
South Africa and worked for a safari outfitter as a cook.”
After awhile in the wilds of Africa, Sarah came back to the
states. Because of her background in Africa, and with shooting, she
was hired by Frontiers International guiding clients to exotic
destinations worldwide for fly fishing and wing shooting. What next?
World traveler, outdoorsy adventure girl, fearless, edgy, talented,
and more than easy on the eyes, Sarah decided on a change of careers
and proceeded to get her master’s degree in international management.
In 1995, Sarah moved to Manhattan and went to work for the
Outdoor Life Network (OLN). “I had no television experience at all but
the executive who hired me said, ‘We can teach you television but we
can’t teach you what you already know, the outdoors.’” Hosting Pull!
America’s Great Gun Clubs was a completely new frontier for Sarah –
and for outdoor television. “It was the first show about sporting
clays and I was the first woman to host a show like that. During my
years at OLN, I really came to understand the lifestyle and it again
validated what my dad had taught me. I saw the value in all the things
I had taken for granted growing up.”
In 1999, Sarah was hired away by ESPN2 to be the first female
correspondent for their outdoor block. During the course of those
shows she covered what she knew so well at shooting, fly fishing and
sporting dog events, but also the gamut from bull riding to the Triple
Crown. She was hosting, traveling and living the outdoor life, mostly
in other cities. During that time, Sarah says, “I didn’t really
appreciate what I was doing until friends made comments like: ‘You did
what? You ate that? You went there?’ So I started hosting things, like
venison dinners, in New York City. We all lived on a shoestring in
those days, so the resourcefulness of living on a farm came into play.
I decorated my dinner table with antlers and feathers, because I had
“I left ESPN2 and started my own production company. Our team won
a Cine Golden Eagle award for a film we made for PBS, Sled Dogs: An
Alaskan Epic.” Never one to shy away from a challenge, Sarah ran teams
in two 300 mile sled dog races to prepare for the show. “It was a very
difficult film to make, the conditions were harsh.”
The next film she worked on was in New Zealand in 2001: Discovery
Channel Adventure Race – A Southern Traverse. Sarah’s job was to cover
the high altitude and more extreme terrain in the Southern Alps near
Mt. Cook. Helicoptered from peak to peak and camping overnight during
the race, Sarah worked in this job because of her experience in
freezing conditions, and climbing mountains such as Rainier and
Finally she got tired of being cold, in extreme places, and the
Lowcountry beckoned. Sarah decided it was time to come home, so she
did. She met and married the Mayor, Bill Rauch, had two sons, Sandy
and Nick, and feels she has come full circle. They are raising their
boys the way she was raised, to be outdoors as much as possible, to
stay close to nature, to understand what it is like to work on a farm
and raise, hunt or catch food for the table. “My boys have to know
that the meat we eat once had eyes with eyelashes. It’s important. We
eat everything we shoot.” The boys are picking up the traditions.
Sandy is now a hunter and Nick is still the bird boy at his mom’s
side, they are learning about etiquette and safety in the field the
way Sarah was taught by her father.
Sarah’s first and foremost way of sharing her vast and
comprehensive information is her blog: alligatorhall.com. You can find
recipes such as the strawberry jam, tips for entertaining, information
ranging from how to dress in the field to what to do if a poisonous
snake bites your dog. (In Sarah’s case, she wears a copperhead skin
belt.) It’s not only wonderful and informative reading, but also a
window opening onto the outdoor lifestyle that shows women they can
embrace that way of living with grace, and how enriching it is for
families and relationships. It’s also the greatest tribute Sarah could
pay to a father who left her life way too soon.
Sixty years. From parades to country music stars, the Water Festival
has been delighting residents and visitors with a wide array of
entertainment and sporting events designed to appeal to folks of every
age and interest. The real star of the Festival is rightly Beaufort’s
beautiful waterways, featured in everything from toad fishing to
sports fishing, paddle boarding to dragon boat races, shrimp boat
tours and the blessing of the fleet. And of course the Festival itself
is held at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in downtown Beaufort,
the perfect waterfront venue for the musical entertainment, arts and
crafts market and all the other events jammed packed into the exciting
ten day schedule.
The Festival is completely run by volunteers. In fact it takes
over 400, who are led by a very experienced team of coordinators, who
are in turn led by the Commodore. This year’s Commodore is Bill
Damude, who has been volunteering for the Festival for eleven years.
Commodore Damude has thirty two years of teaching experience, twenty
three years teaching at Beaufort High School, and twenty six years as
head coach of the wrestling team. A warm, affable man, Commodore
Damude is clearly at ease in his Festival role. Recently he took time
from his busy schedule to talk with Beaufort Lifestyle about this
year’s “Southern Summer Bash.”
Traditions play an important role in the events but the Water Festival
stays current by adding new and exciting events from time to time.
What is new or different at this year’s Water Festival (WF)?
BD: Every year we try to keep things fresh so this year we are
bringing back the Gatorland Ski show, moving the Air Show to the
second Sunday after the Blessing of the Fleet, and designating Tuesday
to “Time-warp Tuesday” with sixties music to coincide with the 60th
One of the Commodore’s many tasks is to design the popular annual tee
shirt. Tell us about this year’s tee shirt design.
BD: Many elements went into this year’s design; my wife and I along
with Mary Thibault worked on the design aspects for a few months and
then Mary came up with the proof. In the design there are many things
that reflect the outlook of my family and me along with the Water
Festival. We picked a summer beach/river scene with chairs to
illustrate our laid back approach in Beaufort as well as myself. The
plate of Lowcountry Supper represents that great night as well as the
surrounding waters, the diamond shape represents the 60th
anniversary/annual year, the guitar is for our son Taylor, and the hat
is for our daughter Jylian. Stew the crab is an element that has been
part of our family for many years and it came from Mary Thibault.
There are some hidden items that the public will have to search when
they get their shirts.
How long have you been involved with the WF?
BD: Eleven years.
How did you first get involved?
BD: I became involved with the Festival, like many others, through a
friend who was working with the Festival. And being a teacher I had my
Why did you continue as a volunteer with the WF?
BD: Once I started I found the group of volunteers to be awesome and
the Festival organization is great. They made us feel like family, and
we have made lifelong friends. Not to mention that the Festival is the
best event anywhere!
What is your favorite WF memory?
BD: My favorite memories would have to be shagging with my wife and
daughter at the Commodore’s Ball every year. It is one of the few
nights that most of the crew can take a break and enjoy the party.
What is your favorite event?
BD: I have a few favorite events, the Commodore’s Ball, Motown Monday,
and the Concert in the Park.
What entertainment do you have lined up for this year?
BD: This year’s music reflects my personal taste, so we have country
legend Neil McCoy for the Concert in the Park; crowd favorite Deaz
Guyz on Motown Monday, and a new group, White Chocolate, for Throwback
Tuesday. Departure, a Journey tribute band, along with local talent
Marjory Lee, will play for Lowcountry Supper. Hilton Head favorite
Silicon Sister is opening for Slippery When Wet, a Bon Jovi cover
band, for the River Dance, and then we have Too Much Sylvia for the
Tell our readers something they may not know about the WF.
BD: The Beaufort Water Festival is one of the largest fund raisers for
local civic, school and community groups. Groups are paid a nightly
fee to man our many areas of the Festival. Also, they may not know
that planning for the next year’s Festival begins in September so it
is a year round job.
Tell us a little about yourself, where were you born and raised?
BD: I was born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio.
How did you come to live in Beaufort?
BD: After I graduated from Ohio State University, I got married a few
weeks later, then I came to Beaufort to teach a few weeks after that;
the two best decisions in my life. My wife and I fell in love with
Beaufort and we can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Tell us about your family.
BD: I have been married to my beautiful wife Marcia for thirty two
years and we have two children, who are both in college. Marcia works
in the Women’s Imaging Center at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and is the
Imaging Services Coordinator. Our son Taylor goes to the Musician’s
Institute in Hollywood, California and our daughter Jylian (a former
Pirette) goes to the College of Charleston.
Anything else you would like to add?
BD: I would like to thank all of our loyal sponsors who have been with
the Festival for many years because without their support the Festival
would not be able to take place. I also hope that all festival goers
have a great time during the festival, or at one of our many sporting
and water events. I look forward to meeting many new people at our
Southern Summer Bash.
For further information visit the webpage http://bftwaterfestival.com.
The WF is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can download the Water
story by cindy reid photography by susan deloach