Thursday 24 January 2019
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Don Wersler: Jukebox Memories

story by cindy reid    photography by john wollwerth

Some people light up a room by their very presence. Their joy of living is obvious and even inspirational  to those lucky enough to be around them. Don Wersler, at 93 years young, is just such a person. Known around town as “Dancing Don,” he can be found at most local dance floors at least four nights a week, tapping his toes to everything from shag to swing.

It is not just dancing, Don’s busy life includes volunteering at the Beaufort County Library and in several area nursing homes. His day starts at five in the morning and his weekly schedule would tax people half his age.  Every  week on Mondays and Thursdays he volunteers three hours in the morning at the downtown Beaufort county library. Several times a week he takes his turntable and records to local nursing homes and calls bingo, runs table games and plays music for the residents. And, of course, there is his four nights a week dancing schedule. When he is not on the go, he is home cataloging his 1000 plus LP collection. When asked what time he goes to bed at night he answers “When I am ready!”

Don‘s beloved wife Emily passed away nine years ago and, to combat his loneliness, he filled his days with volunteer work and his passion for dancing. He explains, “What is the last word in ‘lonesome’? That word is ‘me’ and being by yourself is lonesome!” He started his volunteer work at the library by offering a dance program which lead to regular volunteer hours. Don is such a wonderful asset to the library that he was named “Volunteer of the Year” last year. He says, “The library people are the nicest bunch of people!” Don says due to his work there he “will never need yoga or an exercise class!” He says shelving books, stretching and reaching for shelves, and being on his feet for three hours twice a week keeps him in good shape.

USMC Service

Although Don has been a Beaufort resident for many decades, his story starts in a small mill town in Pennsylvania. He says, “I finished high school and World War II had started. I graduated one week and the next week I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.” Along with his twin brother Vernon, Don served in South Pacific. “We fought from Marshall Island to Okinawa over the course of eighteen months. I was on my way back to the US when the war ended. Back in Philadelphia, I was separated from my wartime service in USMC in the morning and reenlisted in the afternoon.” Don went on to serve in the USMC for twenty three years. His career included three tours of duty at Parris Island, as well as other stations. While stationed at Camp Lejeune he got into the military legal field, eventually going on to teach court reporting . When asked if the fictional world of NCIS as seen on television bore any resemblance to the real world he shook his head and said “Not at all!”

In light of his age and years of service, Don was honored at the Centennial Celebration of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in 2015, when he was asked to cut the anniversary cake at the ball.

Home Sweet Beaufort

Beaufort became home, because as he says “I served three tours on Parris Island and I met my wife Emily here.” Emily was a “Beaufort girl,” in fact her family owned a grocery store downtown. They married and had two children, a boy and a girl. “One of each -no encores!” laughs Don.

Son Charles and daughter Donna Emily were born and raised here, Charles works at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Donna resides in Spartanburg. Don is proud to say that his son is named after his father and that the three “Charles Wersler” in the Beaufort phone book are his son, grandson and great grandson.

“I have been in Beaufort all of my adult life’, he says, “I built three houses here, and ended up on Lady’s Island.” He says it was very different back then, much more rural. “To the west was just farm land” he says , “and the local fishing industry and there were just three blocks of businesses in downtown Beaufort. “He remembers when Sam’s Point Road was a sleepy county road and says, ”we used to ride bikes down Meridian Road, and it would dead end in a park, which has since burnt down.” In fact his son Charles Wersler wrote a book , “a story about the old times” according to Don, called “Last Ferry to Beaufort: The Life and Times of Captain Willie Roberts, 1865-1952” The book is about the life and times of Captain William P. Roberts, Charles’ great grandfather

(on his mother’s side). “Captain Willie” was best known as the last operator of the White Hall Ferry that once connected Lady’s Island and Beaufort, South Carolina before the first bridge was built in 1927.

Art of Dance

Don says, “I have been a lifelong dancer. It started in Pennsylvania with square dancing. I started dancing and next thing you know I was calling the dances!” Don still enjoys square dancing, in fact he loves most every kind of dancing. He says, “I like fast, slow and everything in between. I like shag, swing and ballroom dancing, which  I started to  learn about two years ago. “

Don is an old fashioned gentleman and enjoys squiring the ladies on the dance floor. He says, “The ladies need a partner. They want to dance and they don’t have anyone to dance with!” He can be found at Am Vets every Thursday night, dancing to the karaoke songs.  People enjoy just watching Don and his lady partners dance the night away, it is lovely reminder of a more gracious age.

Don’s business card says, “For Dancing Fun – Jukebox Memories” which means he will bring his trusty turntable and records to community and other functions at no charge, just to spread the joy of music and dancing.  He has an extensive collection of music, all on LPs and 45s. He says,“ Right now I am cataloging my thousand LPs on the Dewey decimal system. My dance music is on 45s,and I am trying to index it all. “ If you want to book Don  you better call in advance because he is out seven days a week and keeps a very busy schedule!

Words to Live By

Favorite dance? “I’ll take the waltz number.”

Favorite kind of party? “A dance party!”

Daily motto?  “Keep busy, keep active, and don’t sit without motion.”

Best Advice ? “Learn to dance and enjoy the art of dancing”