• Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine

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.


 

Story  by : Cindy Reid | Photos By: Susan DeLoach

“I strive to be a public servant, not a politician” says Shannon Erickson, who represents District 124 in the South Carolina House of Representatives.  Often seen as the “go – to” person for legislative issues, she has been championing Beaufort and its residents in the South Carolina House of Representatives since 2007. Her devotion to community shines through her actions, which reflect her “family first” philosophy. Although often working at the statehouse in Columbia (the legislative session runs from January to June), Shannon found time to sit down with Beaufort Lifestyle and talk about her deep love of the lowcountry and her commitment to its people.

Beaufort Bound

Growing up in  South Carolina, Shannon was  raised in Florence, SC. She says “My Dad was in the Army in Korea, and my parents were hard working people.” Shannon says she was quiet and conservative kid in high school, “I seemed to get along with most everyone. I was a nerd but had lots of friends, some  were more reserved like me, but I also had friends who played sports, were in the band or in various clubs. I was very active in the Episcopal Youth group but never in any student government or leadership roles. “

She says, “My husband Kendall and I married very young, and his job with the Department of Revenue sent us to Beaufort. We arrived here with a one month old baby, our daughter, Mariah. Kendall is from Charleston and we would go up there and see his family every weekend. After a while Kendall’s mother said ‘you need to build your life where you are’ and was the best advice she ever gave us. “

“Back in Beaufort, we immersed ourselves in our church, as at the time Kendall worked for the Internal Revenue Service.  I  somewhat joke, “so who would love you besides your church!” she laughs. Continuing, she says “ Beaufort really became our home when Kendall’s government job meant we would have to follow his position elsewhere. I was teaching preschool at the time and he had been with the IRS about six years. We decided that we had put roots down here and loved this community and decided we would stay in Beaufort -that‘s how Beaufort became home.”

Child Care Advocate

Shannon’s career in early childhood education led directly to her involvement in public service. She recounts, “In 1997, I was asked if I was interested in buying Hobbit Hill preschool. At that time there were few  good quality curriculum and professional hour child care available for working parents, and I thought I could make a difference.” Over time Hobbit Hill grew into three locations, Shell Point, Ladys Island and Mossy Oaks. It currently employees 46 men and women and serves approximately 300 children.

“Regulation of child care is extensive, as it should be to protect the children but,”’ she says,” what I ran across were folks who came to do inspections who had no real world experience. There was an issue regarding the amount of toilets per child, with the regulation  “reinterpretation” to include children in diapers, who do not use toilets. This meant, on paper and per this new application of the regulation, that there were not enough toilets and therefore less children could be served in the child care center.  Less children being served meant less parents could go to work. And it was completely nonsensical because babies in diapers don’t use toilets! So, I looked for a solution and ended up joining the  SC Early Education & Care Association in order to address this issue. I was in Columbia every Tuesday and bugging Governor Stanford’s office often. He asked SCDSS to work with us and expanded the definition within the regulation to make the age of toilet using children 24 months old. This helped about 500 child care centers across our state. We had come up with a way to work within the system. I always say the ‘potty problem took me into politics!’ It showed me what government can do unto people and in this case, the end result was punitive, to children, families and to business.”

While pursing the needed regulatory changes in Columbia, Shannon was also active in the Beaufort community. “I was on the Chamber of Commerce Board, and involved in United Way, and I was becoming more and more vigilant as to how government was dipping into our local Beaufort matters. In 2007, there was an open SC House of Representatives seat and I was saying that ‘someone needs to run for that seat” and then someone said to me- ‘maybe that someone ought to be you’!”

Shannon remains dedicated to children’s issues. “Right now, South Carolina law doesn’t cover child care that is four hours or less. There are no regulations in place. I am currently working on this at the state level, working with non- profits, faith based programs, summer camps, trying to hammer it out. We are getting there.”

Many issues impact local families, and Shannon says, “I am Chair of the SC Joint Citizen and Legislative Commission on Children  and we passed a bill on child seat safety. Also, recently we passed a bill allowing foster children to get their driving learner’s permits before the age of 18. In addition, we are involved in using federal resources to fight hunger, by using resources that are readily available. We have championed these things because they are important and make a difference in people’s lives.”

Coastal Champion

As fitting for a representative of Beaufort, Shannon is passionate about our waterways. “One of my hobbies is marine science. The world begins and ends in our salt marshes.” She continues, “I am so happy  that we got the summer regulations for submerged basket farmed oysters changed this term. We were losing business and  mariculture is potentially a huge job driver for Beaufort. Additionally, these are  great products to sell because they are good for people and good for the eco system. Oysters are very effective at filtering and cleaning our water.” Shannon adds,”  The balance of business and ecology is one of the key things we have to consider. Yes, it takes more work and may take some compromise but it is so worth the outcome. There can be good in compromise. I am pretty pragmatic, and I recognize that the life we have doesn’t stand still. We can get up every day and make the world better. We can say ‘someone ought to’ or we can grow in our roles.”

Families First

Shannon says, “There is not just one issue for me, although I am known for my expertise and interest in early childhood education. This term, I took up a bill about small group and individual private insurance coverage of autism.  We never mandated this coverage before and because of that children who had insurance in these two categories were forced to go on Medicaid. This issue came to me from constituent, a Grandmother, whose grandchild is not able to receive the services he needs. The result is of this contentious bill would be that children of small group and individual policies would be able to have insurance that cover autism spectrum disorder therapies.  Currently, the bill is in the SC Senate with Senator John Scott holding it up.  Insurance companies are citing high costs but my research shows me that our SC State Insurance, which added this coverage ten years ago, has seen costs per enrolled member per year rise only about $5 per year.  I understand business and costs but I also understand the value of investing in these children in the beginning of their lives in an effort to assist them toward self-reliance and independence later. We will keep trying to see this bill become law.”

Her leadership on the issue of domestic violence has directly impacted significant change .  “Two years ago I chaired the House Domestic Violence Reform Task Force” she says,” Before our work, domestic violence was treated like a DUI, the severity of the charges was based on the number of occurrences (convictions) of the crime. Now,  the charges brought are much more appropriate and based in what actually occurred. Is a weapon used? Did it happen in front of a child? Is the victim’s ability to get help compromised? Key factors like these now push the charged crime from the lowest level to much more serious consequences. “

“We also overhauled the counseling system that perpetrators of these crimes attend from statewide oversight to now being monitored by each solicitor. A lot of my interest, information and support came from local agencies such as CODA and Hope Haven, Solicitor Duffy Stone’s office and CAPA. Our success was based in teamwork which I was proud to be part of. I believe strongly in team work.”

Diverse  Issues

Shannon is involved with many different issues and serves on multiple committees to insure her constituents’ voices are heard. Below is a list of her committee responsibilities and legislative commitments.

  • Chair, Republican Women’s Leadership Caucus, 2009-2011 and 2016 to present
  • Member, Abstinence Education Task Force
  • Member, Affordable Housing Task Force, present
  • Member, Criminal Domestic Violence Study Committee
  • Chair, General Assembly Women’s Caucus, South Carolina State Legislature, 2011-2013
  • Member, House Education Funding Task Force
  • Member, House Republican Caucus, present
  • Member, Rural Counties Caucus, present
  • Member, South Carolina General Assembly’s Arts Council, present
  • Member, Sportsman’s Caucus, present
  • Member, Speaker’s Tax Reform Study Committee, present
  • Member, SC House Prescription Drug Reform Task Force, present

Community Connection

Well known for her active online presence, Shannon says, “Social media gets a different group of people involved in the governmental part of the world. And I try to share social pieces too. Just this month, I was humbled to be honored by the Junior Service League of Beaufort for my informational social media postings during Hurricane Matthew”.

When asked what is her favorite place in Beaufort  Shannon is quick to answer definitively,  “Anywhere  on the water. And the waterfront park or Hunting Island, I can sit there and just be. So time on the water with family and friends- and not having a schedule!”

Golden Rule

Shannon says, “I really pride myself on looking at an issue carefully. I am a conservative person. I realized long ago that there is a lot more to gain by being steadfast and relying on values and ethics. The golden rule can solve a lot of problems. I’ve been told I am over simplistic but I truly believe that.” She takes a moment and reflects  ,“Politics invites conflict and sometimes things can slide away from what is really the goal. Who is there to stop the slide?  For me it is putting children at the center of the issue. My business, my family and at the statehouse- what we do affects families and children profoundly.  After living in Beaufort for thirty years, I am proud of how many families and children my life has touched.”

Shannon Erickson

House of Representatives- 2007 to present, representing District 124

Serves on the House Regulations and Administrative Procedures Committee

Serves on the House Ways and Means Committee

BA in Early Childhood Education, USCB

President of Lowcountry Building Blocks

Husband Kendall Erickson, CPA

Children Joshua Erickson and Mariah Owen, grandson Wilson Owen

Story By: Mary Ellen Thompson

Photography By: John Wollwerth

As you drive down Sea Island Parkway, between Frogmore and Dulamo on Saint Helena Island, towards the beach, stop on your left at Pasture Shed Farm market and treat yourself to a down home experience. There is something both evocative and sensual about aromas arising from the fresh herbs and produce as you peruse that offerings on the farm stand tables. Strawberries, peaches, onions, basil and lavender are the primary identifiable scents on one given day. In a quick second you remember your grandmothers peach pie, freshly baked and sitting on the window sill to cool, or strawberries mounded on shortcake and slathered with whipped cream. Smells go right to our memory bank, and food, fresh home cooked food especially, equals love.

The Henry family came to Saint Helena Island from New York in 1947 in search of a warmer and easier climate for farming crops and dairy cattle. Now, Charles E. and Nettie K. Henry own the 288 acre Henry Farms which encompasses not only the roadside market with its gardens of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, but also crop farming consisting of corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay, as well as sod. Around 2009 Beaufort County and the USDA took an interest and placed a conservation easement on the property.

Because the USDA doesn’t recognize sod as being a consumable product, the sod and hay are grown on two other parts of the farm and the varieties are St. Augustine, Centipede, Bermuda, and Zoysia.

Both the farm and the market are run with the help of the family, son Craig and his wife Christi, Christi’s sister Peggy Flood, and their brother, Peter Flood. Craig is the manager for the entire farm; Christi is the designer and artist for the market, Peter is in charge of procurements, and Peggy is the market manager. Christie, Peggy and Peter came to Beaufort, when Christi was in third grade, via their father’s career on Parris Island.

Certified as South Carolina Grown and South Carolina Roadside Market, Pasture Shed Farm’s market stand started in 2012 across the street from their present location on Sea Island Parkway, with three wagons selling their overproduction of collards and sunflowers. Craig had the idea to move the cow pasture back and now they have a much larger marketplace easily identifiable by the decorated hay bales, farm wagon, and windmill. Christi calls it a “garden stand” because there is so much diversity in what they have to offer, not only in product but also attractions. Some of the elaborately and eye-catching painted hay bales lead to a maze in which children can wander while their parents shop, the cows can be fed, flowers can be cut. Christi points out that the parking lot is big enough for a camper to turn around.

In addition to purchasing the seasonally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs, everyone can take a tour of the gardens, and Christi or Peggy, or whoever is there that day, will give you instruction on how the products are planted and how to cook them. Have you ever heard of kohlrabi? It is a small round, green, funny looking vegetable about the size of a baseball, which, Christi explains, “Tastes like a cross between cabbage and broccoli stems. It’s great in salads, it just has to be peeled and sliced to give salad a crunch sort of like jicama, and it is good steamed or roasted.” She goes on

to point out their bigger carrots which are orange, or white or purple are “Good for eating raw or in salads, the smaller bright orange carrots are great for roasting or nibbling”.

When asked by photographer, John Wollwerth, why vegetables won’t grow in his garden, Christi first asks where he lives. “Pigeon Point” is the answer. “Oh well, it’s the soil over there,” and she explains why and suggests he make a raised bed, what kinds of soil to use, tells him that about sixteen inches of soil should be enough, and points out that he would be better off using seeds than buying plants which may have blight or a disease. Christi asks how many times and what he uses to fertilize, in response to his answer, she tells him once a season isn’t enough for fertilizer, “Think of yourself as a plant. You like to eat, you like to drink, and you eat three or four times a day. You need to fertilize three or four times a season, and you need to use the right amount of water.”

Unlike many other roadside stands that populate the area, Pasture Shed Farm offers some products that they do not grow on the farm so they can be open seven days a week all year long. Peter scours the area and finds those items that are indeed local or regional, but perhaps not to this particular area and soil. The beauty of this is that you can find an assortment of things that are not in season right here at the moment.

For instance, now you can find heirloom peaches at the market. They are funny looking little peaches that have spots and look, well, old. In fact, they are from old trees, hence the name “heirloom” peach. Christi tells a story about them. “The schools were trying to get children to eat fruit but they found that the children only ate a bite or two out of the fruit and left the rest. Then they came across these peaches that a farmer in Florida was growing on old trees that, by the laws of nature he should have cut down, but couldn’t bring himself to do so. They were bearing these little peaches that are about two-bites size and taste amazing. So they gave these to the students who loved them and the farmer got a contract with the schools.” They came here by way of Hurricane Matthew when Henry Farms was used as a repository for the storm debris and the peach farmer was the burning contractor from Florida; he told them about the peaches and started bringing them up here when he came. Everything has a story, and if a particular item wasn’t grown on Pasture Shed Farm, someone can and will tell you exactly from where it did come if you have an interest in knowing.

As you walk around and look at all growing things, you will see tiny basil plants, just barely little leaves nestled in the dirt and popping out of the soil; in another bed will be small basil plants, still spindly and searching for the sun; and on and on their growth cycle continues until they are tall and hardy and just waiting to become pesto or sandwiched in between a tomato and a piece of white bread. Ditto the lavender which is so fragrant that you will simply have to have a bunch to slide into a sachet. All manner of herbs abound to compliment the various fruits and vegetables, and if you walk past the back room you are likely to find Peggy cutting the tops and bottoms off of a basket of radishes, or carrots or washing bags of the best lettuce you can imagine. There is something magical about seeing plants in the growing process and knowing they came right out of the field and into your hands.

Since the produce is fresh, and hasn’t been stored in a facility somewhere with chemical protection, Christi explains that the products have to “Get out and gone. Their shelf life is not that long and they will turn bad quickly.” Of course, they have a built in secondary market for some of the produce with the cows, “Who enjoy their fair share of the vegetables – they like turnips and rutabaga but will not eat asparagus.”

There are thirteen head of mixed cattle on the farm and they have a donkey to protect them from bad dogs and coyotes. When asked if predators get into the growing area which is protected by a high fence, Christi responds “Not really, but if deer do get in, they love melons and will eat them, one bite per melon as they go down the row. However,” she says,“if the cows ever got past that fence, they would destroy everything in sight.”

The time and care that it takes to grow all these crops is immense; “It is very labor intensive and can best be described as a labor of love.” Christi explains that her husband, Craig, “Is addicted to the farming, he plants, tills, re-plants, and is constantly working in the fields and with the crops.” Christi’s largest labors of love are the painted hay bales which are designed to replicate a caterpillar, a ladybug, a bear, a rabbit, and minions this season. Any new design takes an entire weekend to complete, but you tell by the smile in her eyes that she really doesn’t mind the time.

story by cindy reid

photography by paul nurnberg

Inline image 1

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.

Southern Girl

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!”

Always Busy

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.

 

Southern Home

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:

www.uscbcenterforthearts.com.

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.