• Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine

Dr. Marlena Smalls 

story by Cindy Reid

photos by Susan DeLoach

Dr. Marlena Smalls is truly the Voice of Gullah. Founder of The Hallelujah Singers, an internationally known vocalist and entertainer, a cultural ambassador from the lowcountry to the world, she has been there and done that twice over and then some. She continues to educate, to entertain and to expand our horizons. A true American treasure, she sat down with us to share some of her wisdom on the business of culture and entertainment.

What are some of your current musical projects?

     Two successful shows at USCB Center for the Arts, collaborating with vocalists Elaine Lake, Velma Polk and the Lowcountry Jazz Band, under the direction of David Hershey, have kept me busy. Together we performed a Tribute to Etta James, Motown and More; with a third show, Ain’t Nobody’s Biz, coming up this year. I greatly value working with USCB and it is a great joy to get on stage with Elaine and Velma.

How did your career in music start?

     Interestingly enough, I started out founding a school of music with my mother where we taught voice, piano and dance. From our original five students, we eventually built the school to one hundred and ninety five pupils. Now from the school came out something even bigger. You see we did a wonderful play called “Hail Mahalia” with the music school students, and the parents of those children formed the first nucleus of ‘The Hallelujah Singers.’

Tell us about The Hallelujah Singers

     I founded The Hallelujah Singers in 1990 specifically to preserve the melodies and storytelling unique to the South Carolina Sea Islands. We were the first Gullah Ambassadors. The Hallelujah Singers use entertainment to inspire, celebrate, and preserve the West African heritage which has shaped today’s Gullah culture.

Other important firsts?

     I worked for the City of Beaufort as the Arts Coordinator, and in that capacity I created the first Gullah Festival in 1984. The festival came about because I was trying to create a project where we could fund raise for the arts, particularly children’s projects, and highlight Black culture at the same time.

How did you become the “Voice of Gullah?”

     Even before the first Gullah Festival I was getting the word Gullah out there. Based on the work I was doing, there became quite an interest. Media outlets were contacting me for interviews and information on Gullah culture, the BBC filmed me three times and I did several interviews with NPR. At that point, then South Carolina Governor Riley and Senator Strom Thurmond were contacting me, essentially the state of South Carolina said ‘we need to talk to you!’ That is really how I became the ‘Voice of Gullah’ and I continued to represent South Carolina and conduct interviews on ABC, NBC, at the Atlanta Constitutional Journal and so forth.

In addition to being an artist, you were also in charge of the business of your work.

     The creation of The Hallelujah Singers was the opportunity of a lifetime. As a troupe, we went to Japan, Germany, France, Spain, England and Scotland. We travelled the world. However it was very time consuming; it grew so fast so quickly that cash flow became a problem. I had a wonderful friend whose husband was a retired banker and he worked with me to complete a prospectus which helped me obtain a business loan. That was very unusual in the entertainment business, because you have no tangible assets. Keeping up with the business side of entertainment is a rollercoaster.

What do you want people to understand about Gullah?

     I want people to understand Gullah is not stuck in time. It’s more than just being born somewhere from Wilmington, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. It’s the DNA. It’s the West Indies, Brazil and Africa. We cut the culture of Gullah short when we think of slavery and slavery alone. By doing that we exclude essentials such as diet, wisdom and religion. The Gullah was wise and creative enough to accept the culture so they could survive. The African survived. He entangled himself like a vine on a tree. The culture of Gullah is bigger than Beaufort.

What do you think about the current focus on Reconstruction?

     When we look at Reconstruction, which we are starting to do here in Beaufort, we see it never completely took because it took fifty one years for the African to achieve equality. Fifty one years for the right to housing and education and healthcare. We are still not equal in how the African is perceived. This is a lack of education. We must be vigilant in making sure all Americans are educated. A campaign of diversity. A campaign of ‘See me’- to see what we have each brought to this country. We can do this by including a truer picture of history in the classroom.

This leads to your involvement in children’s education?

     Yes, this is why children’s education is important. When I do cultural presentations in a classroom I start with a world map and work through food. I ask the children ‘do you know even if you have never left your hometown, you have travelled the world?’ We go through the origins of pasta, of frankfurters, of sweet potatoes and rice, of various spices. I ask the children to talk to the oldest person you can, to ask them to give you something to represent your heritage. Over the years I have gotten Irish war beads, a coffee cup from Peru, French bread made at home, various combs, a piece of a kilt, all sorts of things.

What is your current children’s project?

     I have adopted the Mossy Oak Elementary School. At the end of this year the children will be collaborating with me and illustrating my children’s book. Next year I will have the children involved with music. The children are wonderful and I get great joy from the classroom.

What would you tell a young woman embarking on an entertainment career? 

     I would tell her, ‘You need to be kind.’ Because kindness has worked for me. I would say to her, surround yourself with positive and wise people. That’s what I did and that helped me to build my business. As I look back one person in particular was so meaningful in my life, and that was Harriet Keyserling. She had me come to her home. We had tea and talked. ‘Let me help you’ she said. She was kind and open. Also Jayne Leigh Powell was very important to me, she became my business partner. We were like sisters, and then she was a surrogate mother to me until she went on to Glory.

     So I say you need to be kind, you need to be helpful, you need to share with mankind. Be kind.

Your favorite place in Beaufort?

     The waterfront park. I have been here long enough to see the changes in the waterfront, and they correlate with the changes in my life. In the past, I worked with the city of Beaufort, and I planned events there, and now I am not working for the city and I occasionally sing from the stage. Now I get in the swings and I watch people, some I know, some I don’t, and I have quick conversations. God speaks to me there.

Feeling Blessed and Grateful

     I would like to say I am very thankful to Beaufort South Carolina. They embraced me and my children when I arrived here and I will forever be eternally grateful. I was able to share Gullah and could not have done it without them.

     I was blessed with so much after as I matured in my music and life.  God allowed me to sing with my daughters, Tracey McGhee and Sumitra Stewart, and my sister Gladys Jenkins shared her gift of song with us. They were a blessing and inspiration to me over the years as we performed and kept Gullah in the forefront.

     Also, I found my best friend and Sister, Peggy Bing-O’Banner, in this beautiful Lowcountry.  The Hallelujah Singers produced five CDs over the years that I pray will forever leave an imprint on the lives of all who hear them.  It is my desire that our music will speak for itself as it lays the path for future generations to hear and learn of our wonderful Gullah culture. Life is good.

story by Cindy Reid

photos by John Wollwerth

“Seaside Grown’s Bloody Mary mix is made from hand-picked, vine ripe tomatoes, so fresh we can even tell you the acre of the field they came from,” says Ross Taylor, creator of St. Helena Island’s newest success story, Seaside Grown Bloody Mary Mix . Although this is their first commercial food product, Ross’s family, the Sanders, are no strangers to the tomato business. As befitting a true Beaufort story, it really starts way back when. Long time commercial farmers, the Sanders have  been growing tomatoes on St. Helena Island since the  early 1900s. “It all started with Gustav ‘Gus’ Sanders, who began the first commercial tomato farm in the area,” says Ross.

As their website says, “Over a century ago, Gus Sanders discovered that the soil on St. Helena Island was just right for producing plump and juicy tomatoes. That’s because the soil is just a tad bit warmer than that of inland farms, which makes it perfect for harvesting the best tomatoes. “Their longevity can be attributed to the superiority of their crop, because as Ross says, “We are known for growing the best tasting, mouthwatering tomatoes on the East Coast.”

And while that’s true,  it is one thing to grow a food crop and it is quite another to create, market and sell an entirely new commercial food product. In this case, it started when Gus’s great grandson Ross was at Clemson University. Ross says, “It happened to be harvest season and my college buddies came to town – one thing led to another and that’s how our hearty and delicious Bloody Mary Mix came to be.” Ross says the secret recipe is based on a long held family recipe that just needed a few tweaks to make it shelf stable. Seaside Grown is different from most Bloody Mary mixes because it is a “real Bloody Mary mix, made from  red ripe tomatoes and not tomato paste.” says Ross ,” We can tell you exactly what field each tomato in any given jar came from. We compare this to the bottling of rose wine. Not only do we know what field, we know the day and date the tomatoes in every jar of mix was picked.”

He says, “This is a family grown, handpicked, farm to table product.” People are noticing and the mix is selling out. Last October, they made 350 cases and they were sold out by December 31, 2017. Ross says, “Being certified South Carolina Grown is not just a necessary part of production. To us, it’s an honor and a matter of taste. We are blessed to be able to grow God’s finest tomato in a beautiful part of the world with our family and friends—there is truly nothing better than that. Seaside Grown Bloody Mary Mix is a natural extension of this attention to quality and pride in producing the very best product possible.”

Seaside Grown also has the added benefit of utilizing tomatoes that are too ripe, misshapen or not perfect enough to be sent to market. Ross says, “We sell, pack and ship tens of millions of pounds of tomatoes in the month of June and approximately twenty percent of the crop doesn’t make the grade. Of those, ninety percent are fine and by creating a food product we can make use of what would otherwise go to waste.”

Their current label is fun- “One taste and we think you will agree- it’s finer than frog’s hair! If it ain’t fresh, it ain’t’ in our pot!” Upcoming will be a new label which will show St. Helena Island on a nautical chart because people want to know exactly where Seaside Farm, Frogmore South Carolina is located.

Ross will also be adding information on the website regarding a popular food use for the mix- using it to make local favorite  Savannah Red Rice. Of course the mix can be enjoyed as a “Virgin Mary,” a non alcoholic version, as well. Future production plans include adding salsa, salsa verde and other fresh tomato products to the Seaside Grown label. First up will be  “Gus’s Spicy Mix,” a Bloody Mary mix that has more of a kick to it. Ross says, “We are that rare combo, a successful commercial farm that is still small enough to create our own products. At the end of the day, we are a family grown product.”

MacDonald MarketPlace

Another family production is the MacDonald MarketPlace, located on Sea island Parkway, St. Helena Island. Ross is the General Manager of the store, which was built by James Ross Macdonald in 1877. Although it had been in several different hands over the years, the Sanders are now running the store their ancestor founded. The MarketPlace features “Antiques, Home & Art,  The Essence of Lowcountry Living” as well as the Seaside Grown line in their cozy kitchen room. Ultimately, the MacDonald Market Place brings together many local artisans, giving them a beautiful and historic space to market their work. One can find everything from local paintings to antiques, lamps to photographs and much more. It is a giant jewel box of artisan treats.

Taylor Offshore

By land and sea, Ross is also an entrepreneur in another coastal endeavor.   As co-creator of Taylor Offshore, he and two other classmates from Clemson invented a quick connect system specific to off shore sport fishing rigs. Their website says it is “The easiest and fastest way to catch fish.” He says, “ We spent eight years in research and development to make this the best quick release system on the market. Our product is represented all over the world, Panama, Costa Rico, South Africa, all the big off shore locales.”

When asked why this product, he says, “Off shore fishing is very much a passion of mine. I try to go every other month.” He says his favorite off shore fishing spot is the Zane Grey Reef in Pinas Bay, Panama, “There nothing close to it!” He also likes the fishing in Los Suenos, Costa Rico.

Ross and his wife, Lisa, make their home in Beaufort. They recently celebrated their five year anniversary and Ross says although they love downtown Beaufort, they may well move out to the island in the near future. He says, “We love the peace and quiet of the island.” When asked what his favorite place in Beaufort is, this busy entrepreneur answers, “There is a creek off Station Creek on the island and it is a good place to get in the boat and be alone. That’s where I go to get away from it all. It’s quiet and beautiful out there.”

“When you mix family, six generations of tomato growers, great friends, the warm sea, summertime harvests and God’s finest tomatoes, you have just uncovered the magic behind Seaside Grown!”

Seaside Grown Bloody Mary Mix can be found at Bill’s Liquors & Fine Wine on Lady’s Island and MacDonald Marketplace on St. Helena Island.

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

story by Cindy Reid     photos by Susan DeLoach

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

Railroad Remnants 

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

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

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

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

Word Spikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words of Art

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

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

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

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

Welded

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

Portable Blacksmiths 

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

Forging Plans

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

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

story by Marie McAden     photos by Paul Nurnberg

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

   Mother Nature had other ideas.

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

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

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

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

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

     And Baxley was right there with them in the trenches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

David

     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 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!

Background

     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.

Bobcats

     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.

Environment

     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:

www.naturemuseimagery.com

www.facebook.com/naturemuseimagery

www.instagram.com/naturemuseimagery

Story By: Carol Lauvray

Photos By: John Wollwerth

The Cuppia family business, Modern Jewelers, located at 807 Bay Street is a downtown Beaufort institution that’s now celebrating 70 years of service to the community. The story of their business reflects the evolution of downtown Beaufort from the late 1940s to the present day, and is also a story of adapting to the changing times and economic environment in our small, historic town. At the heart of the business are three generations of the family who have owned, managed and worked at Modern Jewelers during most of its existence. Rosemary and Kevin Cuppia, the current owners, recount the history of seven decades of their business and their family’s roots and involvement in Beaufort and the community here.

70 Years of Serving Beaufort

     Modern Jewelers was founded in downtown Beaufort in 1947 just after World War II, by Lester and Virginia Hiers at another downtown location—909 Bay Street. The Hiers owned the business until it was purchased in 1964 by Palmetto Management Corporation, comprised of four business leaders in Beaufort at the time: Lawrence Davis, Jim Rentz, Forrest Jones and Ed Pike. Rosemary Cuppia’s father, Carson Rembert, managed the store when that group owned it. In 1966, Rosemary’s parents bought the business, and so Rosemary Rembert Cuppia has been involved with Modern Jewelers at one location or the other on Bay Street for more than 50 years. She recalls unloading merchandise for the store as a child.

     Rosemary says at the time her parents, Carson and Rosemary Rembert, bought Modern Jewelers, Beaufort had no tourists so the store’s customers were either local residents or people stationed here in the military. “When I was growing up, everyone came downtown on Saturday—it was the place to be. Beaufort had a small-town feel and a real sense of community. In those days, the store sold electric guitars and guitar strings, drum sets, electric shavers, toasters, irons and American Tourister luggage, in addition to jewelry,” she said. “It was in the 1970s that the store transitioned to selling only jewelry and giftware, and during the 1970s and 1980s, we had a huge bridal registry business,” Rosemary added.

     Rosemary attended Beaufort Academy for 12 years. She met Kevin Cuppia when he moved to Hilton Head Island and began commuting every day to attend Beaufort Academy while he was in the 9th grade. They started dating when Rosemary was a sophomore and Kevin was a junior. After graduating from high school, Kevin attended Wofford College for a year and then transferred to the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where Rosemary was going to school. Both earned business degrees as USC. The couple was married in 1981 and lived in Savannah, where Kevin worked at 84 Lumber and Rosemary worked for Levy Jewelers.

     Carson Rembert told his daughter and her new husband of his plan to retire from Modern Jewelers at the end of 1981 and asked the couple to become partners in the store, which they did in 1982. Kevin laughed as he explained, “Then Carson stayed on in the business and did not retire until 1995, when we moved Modern Jewelers to its current location at 807 Bay Street.”

     A transformational event for both Beaufort and downtown merchants, including Modern Jewelers, was the opening of the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in 1979. The Waterfront Park, combined with a much-improved sewage system that cleaned up the river, additional improved city services and facilities, and the preservation of historic buildings, all helped Beaufort become the tourist destination it is today. Rosemary recalls that as a teen, she sat in the front window of the store at 909 Bay Street and watched the construction of the park through the alley across the street. However, at the time she had no inkling of the impact that the park and the other city improvements would ultimately make on Beaufort and her family’s business.

     Although Belks department store and Edward’s Five and Dime left Bay Street in the 1980s and many of the businesses downtown were struggling then, Modern Jewelers increased its inventories as tourists began to come to Beaufort after the Waterfront Park opened and as Dataw Island was being developed by Alcoa in the 1980s. Kevin explained that Dataw Island brought new affluent residents to the area who adopted Beaufort’s downtown and began frequenting its stores. Modern Jewelers even opened a second jewelry store for a time in the Cross Creek Shopping Center in the early 1990s, before deciding to close that store and focus on their downtown Beaufort location.

     During the 1980s, while both Rosemary and Kevin worked at the family business, they were also starting their own family. They have a daughter, Katie Cuppia Phifer (33); a son, Chase Cuppia (32); and a son J. C. Cuppia (28). All three of their adult children live in Beaufort. Katie, who is a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors, is married to Matt Phifer and they have a daughter, Riley, who is 3 ½ years old. Chase is married to Emily and their son, Rhodes, will be 2 years old in January. Chase works as a jeweler at the family store, along with his parents. J. C. works in property management.

     Modern Jewelers has continued to evolve and add new services. In 2004, Stan Hudson joined the business to provide both in-store and in-home jewelry appraisals. Chase Cuppia, the third generation to work in the family business, came to work here in 2008 after graduating from the University of South Carolina in Columbia. His arrival during a down period in the economy provided a new facet to the family business—complete custom design for jewelry. His mentor was local artisan Jim Schroder, who had a shop on Lady’s Island and in downtown Beaufort.

     When you visit Modern Jewelers, you’ll probably meet the store’s mascot, Chase’s 10-year-old English Bulldog-Boxer mix, Woodrow, who spends much of his day at the store. Chase smiled as he related an anecdote about Woodrow, “I saw a 6-year-old girl sitting on the floor in the store one day with a Dairy Queen Blizzard and she was feeding Woodrow. She said she had asked her grandmother to buy Woodrow his own Blizzard!” Rosemary added that Woodrow has quite a following and many folks who come to Beaufort annually on vacation, make it a point to stop by the store to see Woodrow each time they visit town.

Investing in the Community and Treating Customers Like Family

     Rosemary says her family’s continued success in the jewelry business over the years is due largely to their commitment to supporting the Beaufort community and the personalized service they give their customers. “Kevin is a long-time leader in the business community. He served on the Main Street Beaufort board for more than three decades, as well as serving on many other nonprofit boards, including the Boys & Girls Club of Beaufort, Historic Beaufort Foundation, and Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation,” she explained. In addition, Kevin served as the Commodore of Beaufort’s Water Festival in 1996 and he and Rosemary chaired the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation Valentine Ball in 1998. The couple lives on Lady’s Island and they are members of the Sea Island Presbyterian Church.

     Kevin says, “Our business is exciting because we get to be a part of people’s happy moments, like birthdays, anniversaries and engagements. Our customers are like part of our family—sometimes I know that someone is getting married before their parents know,” he explains.

     Everyone at Modern Jewelers is very customer-focused and service-oriented, says Kevin. “We want to do all we can to help people make special memories. Several years ago when the local carriage tour companies were still driving down Bay Street, a young man and I planned a special engagement surprise. He and his girlfriend were riding in one of the carriages down the street and just as the carriage made a stop in front of the John Cross Tavern, I walked over to the carriage and gave him a box with an engagement ring, then he asked his girlfriend to marry him in front of everyone riding in the carriage. She said yes!”

     The Cuppia family’s business, has been all about family and the Beaufort community for decades, and with a fourth generation of Cuppias now coming along, it’s likely that the business will be all about family and the Beaufort community for years to come!

Story by Julie Hales     Photos By Susan DeLoach

The Town of Port Royal has a Council/Manager form of government. This way of government is also referred to as the Town Manager Plan.

     The daily activities of Port Royal government are under the supervision of a professional manager. Under this system, the professional manager reports directly to the mayor and council.

     The man at the helm of this government is Van Willis, Town Manager of Port Royal.

     Under the leadershipof Willis, Port Royal is recognized as one of America’s leaders in small town New Urbanism. They aspire to continue to be the best place to live, work and play in South Carolina’s Low Country by preserving a superior quality of life for today’s residents and for future generations.

     Port Royal takes a tremendous amount of pride in their natural environment and the accessibility to that environment through their network of walking trails, community beach, the boardwalk and observation tower.

     Port Royal is also booming with business opportunities. The recent sale of the port brings nothing but more exposure to current businesses and the start-ups of more businesses to come.

     The sale of the port, coupled with the location of Port Royal, is sure to bring nothing but good things to the current residents and businesses. Located centrally within the Parris Island Gateway and adjacent to both the City of Beaufort and the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, Port Royal positions their local businesses directly in the heart of area commerce.

     This sale brings many new things to area. And, Van Willis is the man to make sure this transition happens smoothly.

     Willis was born in Savannah and raised in Charleston. He and his family moved to Port Royal in August of 2002, when Willis took the job as the Town Manager.

     He holds an Undergraduate degree from Presbyterian College, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of South Carolina.

     He is married to wife, Jodie Willis and they own the Little Brown School in Port Royal.  The have three children, Davis, 14, Guerin, 11 and Saida, 8.

      In Willis’ 15 years as Town Manager, the biggest changes he has seen have been population and growth.  He says,” We have seen significant population and growth, but the Town is finally getting some recognition for the unique place it is.  Much of what makes the ‘Beaufort area’ what it is, is actually in Port Royal. We would like to see that recognized by businesses and the press.”

      “We offer our residents a truly authentic town experience, while also offering access to the natural environment. All with the quirkiness that is Port Royal,” adds Willis.

      When it comes to taking care of the merchants in Port Royal, Willis praises his staff.  He says,” The Town staff is probably one of the more business friendly municipal staffs they will encounter.  We strive to be prompt and available.  If our merchants have a question, we can get them in, almost immediately, with the town staff, and  they will be guided through the process.”

     As Town Manager, Willis handles an array of tasks, all in a day’s time.  He shares, “I handle the day to day administrative management of the Town.  I could be dealing with the potential redevelopment of the port, which will be in the neighborhood of $200,000,000 when it is done, to handling a resident’s complaint about their neighbor’s dog, all within 15 minutes.”

     When Willis has some down time, if there is such a thing for a Town Manager, He is happy driving his kids around Beaufort County to attend various activities and sports-related practices.  Other than that, he and his family spend a lot of time on the water.

     Beaufort Lifestyle conducted a Question and Answer session with Van Willis about the sales of the port. Here are his answers:

BL: When will the sale be final?

VW: It was closed on September 20.

BL: Who are the new owners of the port?

VW: Grey Ghost Properties, LLC

BL: What affect does the sale of the ports have on the Town of Port Royal?

VW: It provides the residents of the town access to probably the jewel property in Port Royal.  We have not had real access to that property for decades. It is an opportunity for long-time residents and business owners to realize that their commitment to the Town is bearing the fruit that they anticipated.

BL: When do you anticipate the new owners to start construction on the waterfront?

VW: They have already begun cleaning up the property, and I expect commercial activity in either first or second quarter of 2018.

BL:  Do they have a projected completion date?

VW: This is probably a 5-10 year project for buildout.

BL:  What are the plans for the redevelopment of the ports by the new owners?

VW: It is truly a mixed use redevelopment; single family, some multi-family, a dry stack, a marina, possibly two hotels, s significant variety of commercial, including shops, restaurants, and a number of parks.

BL: What is their first area of redevelopment?

VW: They intend to get the dry stack up and running and reopen the restaurant adjacent to the shrimp docks.

BL:  Have the existing merchants in the Old Village shown excitement for the new development?

VW:I think they have all been waiting as patiently as they can.  The redevelopment process will take time; however, the sheer level of associated activity should be quite beneficial to existing businesses.

BL:  Do you feel we will have more small businesses opening in the Town of Port Royal?

VW:Absolutely, the port redevelopment provides a destination that should draw visitors to the Town.

BL:  What do you see happening to the existing small businesses now in Port Royal?

VW: Hopefully, they will flourish.  We expect the activity of the port to push that excitement up Paris Avenue.

BL:Will the sale of the port affect our natural environments…like the walking trials, community beach, the boardwalk and observation tower?

VW: The redevelopment plan includes 15 plus acres of open space, which includes several parks and a waterfront promenade.  It will also incorporate the Spanish Moss Trail, allowing it to finally cross Ribaut Road.  The Trail will tie into the existing boardwalk and observation tower.

BL: Will our local boaters and fish tours be affected by the sale?

VW: Hopefully, only positively.  We think the property will offer boaters more waterfront dining and activity experiences.

BL: How do you think this sale will affect Real Estate in Port Royal?

VW: We saw significant increases when the port first went on the market during the height of the real estate market back in the mid 2000’s.  We hope it doesn’t get that ridiculous again, but we are anticipating increased values and activity.

Chairman of the State Athletic Commission

Story By Cindy Reid     Photos By Paul Nurnberg

Beaufort’s own Will McCullough was recently reelected to a second term as the Chairman of the South Carolina State Athletic Commission. The Athletic Commission licenses and regulates professional and amateur combative sports, including mixed martial arts (“MMA”), boxing, kickboxing, professional wrestling and “toughman” contests, that take place anywhere in the state of South Carolina.

 “I have been heavily involved with martial arts and combat sports my entire life, Will says, “and in late 2013, I was appointed by Governor Haley to fill a vacancy on the Commission. This led to a Senate Confirmation Hearing in early 2014 and, by summer 2014, my appointment was approved by the full senate and I began serving on the board.”

     “The state Athletic Commission consists of nine members appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the South Carolina senate, who serve four-year terms. We meet on a regular basis, making decisions and holding hearings as necessary.” Will says, “I was elected to the Vice Chairman position by my fellow commissioners after my first year on the Board and was subsequently elected Chairman one year later. I was honored to be reelected Chairman just last month and am now looking forward to another term of serving the fighting community of South Carolina. The Athletic Commission is made up of some really great people, with an eclectic variety of successful backgrounds in fighting, law, medicine and business, all of whom share a genuine desire to see the state’s combat sport community grow and thrive while simultaneously enhancing fighter safety.”

DEEP ROOTS

     Will’s love and appreciation of the combative sports goes back, way back, to his childhood in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. It was a childhood spent in a small rural town of dirt roads that had one drive-in movie theater for entertainment.

      “I come from a long line of athletes, my Dad played a bit of pro baseball before I was born, my uncle was a Commissioner for the SEC football conference and both of my older brothers were great athletes in their own right.” “But,” Will pauses and says, “My Dad died of a heart attack at age 46 when I was just 13 years old, and it was suddenly just me and my Mom. Without my Dad and with my two older brothers now both adults, we went from being a household of five to a household of just two. That‘s when I started to really focus on martial arts. For me, martial arts classes and, quite frankly, fighting in a controlled environment specifically, was an effective way to channel rage. And I had a lot of it.”

     Will says it was the best path he could have taken because “My Mom ended up passing away very early as well, just shortly after I graduated high school and joined the USMC. The martial arts, in general, have made me who I am. They’ve been a positive force for me, providing a foundation, decades deep, for the person I was to become. I don’t honestly think I’d have been able to keep from imploding without that outlet.”

     Will put his martial arts training to effective use in the United States Marine Corps, where he served for ten years.

     During his time in the USMC, he was a Combat Engineer, Senior Drill Instructor and Close Combat Instructor. Like many others, the Marine Corps brought Will to Beaufort by way of Parris Island. After ten years of service, Will felt that he was ready to move on to the next chapter in his life, now with his wife, Deena, by his side, and begin raising a family.

     A little background– Will and Deena first met in 1995 in a fairly unique fashion. Will was driving from Parris Island to Pennsylvania and Deena was driving from Florida to Ohio. They passed on I-77 in North Carolina. She passed him, he looked over and smiled, she waved and the rest was history. They have been married now for twenty years and are the proud parents of two children, 18-year-old daughter Keara, now attending her first year at the University of South Carolina, and 11-year-old Cooper, a 6th grader at Bridges Prep.

     He says, “In 1997 we decided to make Beaufort our permanent home and opened the McCullough Submission Fighting School. The school did really well and then, several years later in 2003, due to a combination of my own ongoing issues with past personal injuries coupled with the increasing demands of our growing local real estate interests, we passed the school’s ownership on to two of our top students, Abe and Rebecca Stem.  That school, now called “Beaufort MMA,” continues to do quite well locally under Abe’s continued guidance.  After parting with the school, Deena and I continued pursuing our interest in both real estate and business.” Currently the McCullough’s own and operate EquitySafe Realty, LLC, located on Lady’s Island.

COMBAT ARTS

     “I have always focused solely on fight related sports. “ Will laughs, “Believe it or not, I only recently saw my first ever football game just a few years ago and that was only because my daughter joined the varsity cheer team at Beaufort High. My school was too small and poor to have a football team and I went to the USMC as opposed to college.  Football and other traditional team sports have frankly just never appealed to me.  Well, that’s not completely true.  I can enjoy a good hockey game.  But my honest definition of “good” is measured in direct relation to the number of fights that break out on the ice!”

      “Bottom line, the combat arts are what has made me who I am. However, at this point in life, due to an unsurprising cornucopia of injuries, I just can’t get in there and train the same way I used to. That’s why I love serving on the state Athletic Commission. It allows me the vehicle to be involved and to give back, both to the fighting community I love and to the state that has given my family so many wonderful opportunities in life.”  He says, “Serving both my state and sport is a real privilege.”

     “South Carolina is starting to become a beacon of light for the combative sports in the southeastern United States and our athletic commission is working very hard to set the bar high for both service to our fighting community and for ensuring fighter safety.  For example, just this past April, we sanctioned South Carolina’s first ever nationally televised MMA event via the Legacy Fighting Alliance on AXS-TV. In addition, South Carolina has now become the first state in the union to sanction “2 on 2” mixed martial arts via Arena Combat out of Myrtle Beach.”

     Will says, “The combat sports momentum continues to build across South Carolina with multiple events being held nearly every month across the state by a great assortment of local, regional and national level promotions.  It’s our goal to do everything we can to embrace, enhance and encourage that growth while simultaneously ensuring that safety is kept as the top priority. It’s a lot of fun.”

BEAUTIFUL BEAUFORT

     “I love Beaufort” says Will.” I love every aspect, from the downtown to the oak trees draped with Spanish moss, from the water to the sand, from the people to the places.  I love every “Norman Rockwell meets Forrest Gump” aspect of it, I truly do.” Sounding like a Marine he states, with a grin, “Under no circumstances will we ever leave Beaufort.”

     Regarding his goals Will says, “Real estate has been very good to us and our unique EquitySafe Realty model has proven itself to be exceptionally popular. Now that we are in our new offices and are beginning to add new agents we are excited to embark on the journey of further growing our brand across the state.”

     Then the tough martial arts expert, former Marine drill instructor and Chairman of the state’s athletic commission says, “I still have many specific goals to accomplish, both in real estate and with the Athletic Commission, but I’ll share my secret life-long end game plan with you. I fully intend to retire a little early, so I can be Santa Claus. I love kids and I love Christmas, so yes, in all seriousness, that’s the plan. You will see me, in full jolly-ness, at a future parade and or department store.”Speaking for all of Beaufort we certainly look forward to that day Will!

Story By: Mary Ellen Thompson

Photos By: Paul Nurnberg

The Friday that Hurricane Matthew was heading in this direction, Daniel Gambrell, Park Manager for Hunting Island State Park, left Hunting Island under the evacuation order. He was allowed back on the island on Monday to assess the damage that had occurred to the park. “I thought I was kind of prepared from the news reports, and then seeing all the sailboats on the runway at the airport. The access to the Harbor Island Bridge had washed out so it was difficult even getting to the island, but when I got here…” He just let that sentence hang, because there probably were just not any words to describe what he felt. Daniel was accompanied by Park Director, Phil Gaines, and Coastal Regional Chief, Ray Stevens. They couldn’t get into the park with vehicles so they walked from the road through the water, under and around the fallen trees, to the campground. Trees had toppled onto the camp store; the restroom buildings, even the toilets, were filled with sand from the storm surge.

Daniel remembers, “We saw one of the largest bucks I’ve ever seen in the park, standing on a small elevated piece of ground. He looked like he was saying, ‘Hey, you guys, you have no idea what just happened here!’ It took us four hours to get to the lighthouse from the park entrance; we were wearing hip waders because the water was so deep. We tried to walk to South Beach and turn left to get our bearings because even Ray, who lived in this area for a long time and was Park Manager for sixteen years, couldn’t recognize where we were. When we got to the beach, the tide was high and there was a washout that we couldn’t get through so we walked back inland and around until we found the lighthouse. When we finally saw it  – it was perfect! That was a special moment for us to see it standing so proud; it gave us hope.

“After Phil and Ray left, I was there with just one other person for the next three days trying to cut through the debris. On Tuesday, I was walking down the road to the campground; so much water was going across it that it sounded like a waterfall, I looked ahead and saw two alligators swim across right in front of me! They didn’t even give me a second glance; the storm didn’t seem to affect the animal population.

“All six of the ranger residences were in reasonable shape. My family came back on Friday; we didn’t have power or water until then although I had a generator. You realize that you can do without electricity but not having water is another issue; we were able to get out and get water and bring it back in gallon jugs. Everything seemed so quiet – no noise from traffic on the road and even the wildlife seemed to be especially quiet at first. I would sleep for awhile and then get up and go back to work.

“My wife, Jana, and daughter, June, had left on Tuesday so by the following Friday it was exciting to have them back, and they were happy to be back. At four and a half, June was too young to understand what had happened but it was hard for my wife to see the damage and devastation because she loves the park so much. Born right before we came here, June grew up in this park. She loves the Nature Center; it is by far her favorite place on the island, not just because of the animals and the programs, but she loves the staff.”

The Visitor Center and Nature Center buildings didn’t suffer damage but the walkway to the Visitor Center had to be rebuilt and the pier at the Nature Center was pretty much destroyed. Now it only extends to the edge of the marsh and can’t even be used for fishing. The Nature Center became the hub of the park as they used it for offices, and it was the first area to re-open to the public.

The campground is still closed and it is hoped can re-open mid to late July. The camp store was saved; it had been flooded with six inches of standing water, but was able to be renovated. The two restrooms in the front were demolished, the four in the back were renovated, and the dune system was washed out. Of all the camping spaces, 88 were lost, with only 100 remaining. Prior to the hurricane, the campground generated about $1.5 million in revenue for the park, and the gate about $900,000.00, so close to half of the campgrounds revenue will be lost. For reservations that had been made, efforts are being taken to transfer them to another park if so desired, refunded, or changed to a different date.

The immediate focus is now on the North and South Beaches. The restroom building on the beach at South Beach had to be demolished, but the newer restroom on the back side of the parking lot, at the north end of South Beach is still there. The changing rooms and shower towers are still in the parking lot, but the access to South Beach is temporarily different as you have to turn right before you get to the beach and go along the back side to the far end of the parking lot and then loop back around. Cabin Road is gone, and the dunes are gone here also.

There is about a 150 foot breach where the ocean now comes into the lagoon about halfway between South Beach and the southern end of the island, at low to mid-tide you can still walk across it but not if the tide is any higher. It has, in effect, created a separate island at the southern end. There is some interesting history here as the origin of the lagoon is generally misunderstood. In his book, The Road To Hunting Island South Carolina, Nathan Cole relates the history of the island being turned into a county park with the assistance of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back in the 1930’s. He says, “The CCC also changed the landscape of the island. A saltwater lagoon was dredged at the southern end of the island. The lagoon was opened to the sea so that it could be affected by the tide movement and allowed a large variety of ocean fish to find shelter in the gentled water.” A different source of information says that the lagoon was created by sand dredging in 1968 as the first in a series of attempts at beach renewal programs. In 1997, Mr. Cole made this prediction: “If a category three or four hurricane hits the island, the conditions are right for a new inlet to be cut from South Beach to the lagoon, thus creating a new, smaller island.”

At North Beach the dunes are also gone but the picnic shelter, the lighthouse gift shop and the lighthouse compound are all in good order. Daniel says the largest oak tree in the park fell on the one remaining cabin for rent behind the lighthouse. It has been totally renovated and is as bright and shiny now as a brand new copper penny, and has reservations for the next thirteen months. North Beach is a guarded beach with three lifeguards on duty at a time and sometimes people on foot; The Beaufort County Sheriffs Department also helps to patrol on busy weekends. There are no lifeguards on South Beach where you can surf or fish.

When asked what we can expect in terms of going forward, Daniel explains, “We are concentrating on the day use beaches first, then the campground. The use of a shuttle is still being explored. We have parking issues – we can get to maximum capacity and have to close the park when we still have room for people but not any more cars. The trails are all clear; flooded from the rains right now but all good. There isn’t any timeframe yet for repairing the pier or the marsh boardwalk. Programs at the Nature Center are being held including the Junior Ranger program, and the Ultimate Outsider Program where participants get stamps from the 47 state parks and get to experience all the differences of the parks. The loss of the dunes is of great concern and we’re hoping for a beach renewal this coming winter.”

On another note, Daniel explains that Little Blue (the last cabin on stilts that was standing out in the ocean) had been scheduled to be taken down before the hurricane because it was a safety and environmental hazard; the storm made its condition worse. The State Park Service paid for its excavation which was done at low tide while the park was closed for repairs.

“Recovery has been amazing,” Daniel explains. “The park staff, Friends of Hunting Island, local legislators, state park staff working in Columbia; it’s been a group effort. We’re working with FEMA and our insurance companies trying to get the reimbursements.

“Through the process of getting the park ready, we realized we were missing

something: visitors. Hearing voices and children playing, that was what was missing. People who haven’t been here before think it is beautiful; people who know the park see all the changes.”

Finally, after months of intense work, Daniel and his family can enjoy the park that is their backyard, again. Daniel smiles as he says, “I’m a full time daddy. We love fishing, being outdoors, cooking on the grill, and spending time with friends and family.”

You can still see the effects of the storm – fallen trees, leaning trees, trees propped up against others, cut tree stumps, yellow caution tape in some areas, backhoes and other equipment moving through the park, dark standing water along the roadside and on parts of the trails. But no one seems to mind as they head toward the beach with their towels, coolers and chairs in hand. Hunting Island State Park has opened its gates and we again have access to one of the most beautiful places we know, with many thanks to the hard work of all the volunteers, park staff and Daniel Gambrell.