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A General Manager’s devotion to Beaufort’s waters

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ED SAXON (5 of 5)

Photo above: From boating to managing BJWSA, Ed Saxon knows his water (pictured with his wife Melanie).

True to his engineering education (he completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of South Carolina), Ed was thorough and articulate as he answered questions thrown at him from The Island News. The folks who are served by Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority can rest assured they are in good hands with Ed as General Manager.

Born and raised in Columbia, Ed joined BJWSA in 1989 as Chief Engineer. Prior to the move back to his home state, Ed worked all over the United States in both the petrochemical and nuclear fields. He eventually moved into sales, which kept him on the road 60 percent of the time. South Carolina was calling him home and Beaufort was the city that won him over. After serving as BJWSA Chief Engineer for 24 years, Ed was named GM in 2013.

According to Ed, “I was always interested in math and science and knew I wanted to be an engineer. I chose mechanical engineering because it touched most engineering disciplines. I was involved in plant operations and management during my time with DuPont and had the opportunity to get back into that field when I took the Chief Engineer job at BJWSA.”

BJWSA is a two-county special purpose district that provides water and sewer services to residents of Beaufort and Jasper counties with annual revenues of $50.6 million.

“At BJWSA, we consider ourselves public health professionals and we provide a critical life sustaining element—safe drinking water,” says Ed. “My personal philosophy mirrors BJWSA’s philosophy: always get it right the first time.”

Even though he’s a native South Carolinian, Ed says he loves Beaufort so much that when he sees his mother he fusses at her for not giving birth to him in Beaufort. “I love to hear the stories the native Beaufortonians tell (don’t know which ones are true) about growing up here,” he says.

Currently serving as the President of the South Carolina Water Quality Association, Ed is also a member of the Sea Island Rotary and serves as a Lector and Building Committee member at St. Peter’s Church, in addition to other clubs and organizations. His previous community service includes serving as the 2001 Water Festival Commodore (“The greatest festival ever,” he says), with which he still remains involved and lots of volunteer hours at the United Way.

He and his wife, Melanie, are the parents of three grown children and the proud grandparents of granddaughter Bailey. Ed and Melanie met in 1973 when he was in the U.S. Air Force and she was attending nursing school at the Mississippi State College for Women. They’ve been married 41 years.

Ed enjoys golfing, fishing and boating and says he recently celebrated the second happiest day in a boat owner’s life. “I sold the boat,” he laughs. “I’m looking for something a little smaller to put on the lift at my dock.”

He and Melanie will spend Christmas in Hawaii to visit their granddaughter (and their son and daughter-in-law, too, of course). He plans to work for three more years with “170 of the best employees in the world,” and then retire. He looks forward to volunteering and enjoying the city he loves – and maybe playing a bit with his two adorable dogs. Beaufort was indeed lucky to get the perfect engineer to look after BJWSA.

Big ideas equal a big mess!

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Photo above: Local yoga instructor believes that laughter is the best medicine. Photo by John Arthur Photography.

By Molly Ingram

I came away from an afternoon chat with an amazing young woman which was part “get to know you” and part “doggie play date” with an incredible sense of wellbeing. Being with Brittney Hiller is simply exhilarating. Brittney owns Brittney Hiller Yoga and she is an accomplished yoga instructor, published author, outstanding massage therapist, and a breath of fresh air all rolled into one. “Anyone who is willing to change their life will change their life and I am elated to help them get started. I am a catalyst for their overall health change for those who want it.”

Photo by John Arthur Photography.
Photo by John Arthur Photography.

Have you ever heard of Laughter Yoga? I hadn’t either. It is a real thing and Brittney teaches it on a regular basis. The idea is that clients get more oxygen, and a way to relieve stress and reduce anxiety all while laughing. We have all heard the expression, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Well, Laughter Yoga incorporates two known benefits for our bodies into one experience. What a great idea. “I laugh through all of my classes, I say the most random things and it wasn’t until I was told by a cohort that I was ‘the only yoga teacher that I know that will say OM with a rap at the end.’ I didn’t realize my singing came out often, but clearly it does and above and beyond all things I truly am still just a kid and LOVE to have fun with those that choose to spend their time with me. One will never know what may come out of my mouth during a yoga class!” I don’t doubt it for one minute.

At the wise old age of 32, and with a background in customer service, Brittney understands the challenges of today’s world for many of us. Between massage and yoga, she works to make all of our lives better. “I work with people who are missing that extra boost of happiness and energy in their life; through yoga and massage therapy I help them create a foundation of happiness and wellbeing by empowering their healthiest and happiest way of living.”

Brittney is a true renaissance woman. Her mind is always going and exploring new arenas where just about anything can be created. Enter The Little Laughing Yogini, a children’s book Brittney launched last spring which is the basis for teaching yoga to youngsters. “Play is a terrific method of getting little ones on the right path early in life by instilling the benefits of breathing correctly. Plus it allows their imagination to develop and present itself in a safe, encouraging, and supportive environment.” Coming soon will be Mommy & Me Playshops and Story Times incorporating The Little Laughing Yogini, the ancillary coloring book, and yoga techniques all wrapped in a package to deliver new ways for parents to play with their children.

Photo by John Arthur Photography
Photo by John Arthur Photography

Brittney enjoys all that she does. “Let me tell you a story about an 83 year old gentleman who had limited strength in his left quadriceps when we started working together six months ago. Today, he can stand freely on his own without the help of the chair in most balancing positions during yoga class. These are the experiences are what light me up inside—seeing the ‘ah ha!’ moments in clients are what I live for!! I simply LOVE helping people become their most amazing self! I know it is there—they know it is there—yet sometimes they just need that gentle reminder and that is what I feel I am good at – giving that gentle push without being too pushy.”

I asked Brittney what the future held for her and her answer describes her better than I ever could. “FUN! I am planning on yoga teaching at festivals, laughter yoga therapy sessions for big corporations that want to better the wellbeing and community feel for their workers, taking the little yogini childrens book and adding new modules to it – I have written comes out and replaced by adding new modules to it and making more micro-courses available on my website for people who would love to practice with me, but haven’t the time or ability to get to a class. Basically, Just more all-out-FUN. I live with the constant intention of discovering how today can unfold better than I could ever imagine? Then, it often does!”

With her husband Andrew, and Armani and Abby, two rescue pups, by her side, the world is looking pretty good for Brittney and those who get the chance to meet her, or even better, work with her. She is a breath of fresh air in a world that can use more of it, literally and figuratively. Where was a yoga playshop when I grew up? You can read more about Brittney at or purchase The Little Laughing Yogi at or at several local retailers.

Southern transplant brings new flavor to local hospital

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Photo above: BMH Executive Chef changes the stigma of “hospital food.”

By Molly Ingram

My, how times have changed. Last time I was in a hospital, you got Jell-O served three ways. Today, at Beaufort Memorial, you simply pick up the phone and order whatever you like, however you want it, whenever you want it. Finally feeling better and craving an omelet at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon? No problem. Just call and request one with cheese and mushrooms. Seems more like room service in a nice hotel than standard patient food at our local hospital. Such are the changes Executive Chef Eric Sayers has instituted in his tenure at Beaufort Memorial. Try and name another hospital which has an award winning, internationally trained chef leading their food preparation and delivery? Nope, I couldn’t think of one either.

Chef Eric is from Southbury, CT just outside of Hartford. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, Chef Eric worked in several restaurants in CT and NY. But then came an opportunity to teach in Switzerland. “There, as an assistant teacher at the Swiss Hospitality Institute, I was immersed in Swiss culture, and living only minutes from the French border, I got to experience a second culture first hand as well. I learned a lot about European training, life and cooking.” It also opened his eyes to the bigger role food can play in our lives.

After several years, Chef Eric headed back to the states and into a more traditional role as the Executive Chef at a restaurant near his home in Connecticut. But the winters finally got to him like they have with many of us southern transplants. So a road trip was planned that would traverse the east coast from Virginia to Florida. Two things happened while on the trip. The first was a simple stop at a gas station on Rt. 95 before he headed to Hilton Head to explore that area. Chef Eric walked into the gas station and was greeted with a heartfelt, “Hello” from the workers. This was such a different greeting than he was used to “up north” that the memory stuck with him. And secondly, while in Hilton Head, Chef Eric picked up a local paper to read about the community and came upon an ad for CQ’s restaurant that was looking for a new Executive Chef. Was it kismet? Who knows, but together it was enough to get Chef Eric to move to Hilton Head and work with CQ’s for the next 12 years.

But there was a challenge lurking out there that called to Chef Eric. How can you change the image of hospital food to reflect the trend toward tasty, healthy fare? “Food is such an important part of so much of what we do. In celebration or sorrow, we as humans come together around food. It binds us; it is a common denominator between every race. I am honored to work with such a powerful substance and create dishes that not only nourish our bodies but also comfort us and bring us joy.” I have to admit that I never thought of hospital food quite that way.

Chef Eric has been at Beaufort Memorial for a little over 3 years now and in the cafeteria you come across multiple grains you can add to your salad, a ton of fresh fruit that really looks fresh, and kale and other legumes (a technical word I learned) as part of their regular meal selection. When asked what his biggest surprise was moving from a high end restaurant to a hospital kitchen, Chef Eric reflected, “There are so many more specialized diets I needed to understand – way beyond the typical gluten intolerant or a need to avoid all milk products. I really enjoy working with the Dietitians as I am very interested in the nutritional aspect of food and how it helps restore the body.”

So his typical day starts at 6 a.m. and many times will last until 6 or 7 in the evening, what does Chef Eric do for fun? He cooks. He looks after his orchids which have become a small obsession with him, and he plays with his two dogs Derby and Hannah. When go goes out to eat, what kind of food is he looking for? With wife, Leslie, they head out for sushi or pizza. “Are you kidding? I LOVE pizza. I think I could eat it every day.” Why do I think a kale pizza might be in my future?

Chef Eric is definitely leading the charge of changing that perception of bland and boring hospital food which is such a good thing. Plus, he is teaching in conjunction with the hospital’s LifeFit Wellness teams about how to make meals more enjoyable and healthy without sacrificing time and energy.

So I will allow that you will still get Jell-O on occasion in the hospital. “It is just so easy for people to digest and there are ways to make it taste good. I promise!” I’m going to hold you to that Chef Eric if I ever end up staying overnight at Beaufort Memorial. And I am definitely ordering that omelet with lots of cheese, some mushrooms and kale if I must. But I am confident, I will still come away singing the praises of the kale and feeling better for it. Thanks Chef Eric for making a hospital stay less onerous. Now, about that omelet…

Periwinkle? No, Hollyhocks is the place to shop!

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Photo above: Hollyhock’s shop owner defines success.

By Molly Ingram

What does it take to be a successful shop owner in Beaufort? Well, let’s see. You need business acumen, creativity, tenacity, stubbornness, and maybe luck in the form of good timing and an owner who can do it all. Hollyhocks has been a Beaufort staple for over 16 years and is continually touted as one of our best local successes. Perri Chapman Flaherty, the driving force behind Hollyhocks’ success, embodies all those adjectives and a few more to boot.

Perri graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in marketing and began her business career at the Ritz Carleton in Atlanta where she worked her way through many areas of hotel management. The key training she received while at the Ritz was their approach to customer service. And nobody does it better than the Ritz. “Their goal is to anticipate a guests every need before the guest even knows they want it. And you need to do it with a genuine smile on your face.” But, much as she enjoyed her job at the Ritz, it never created that “spark” that most entrepreneurs look for. There was no passion until she saw her future in Olive Branch, Mississippi when visiting her grandmother. There she found a store called the Checkerberry Shoppe which, after multiple visits, coalesced into a very specific vision for “her store”.

So, deciding the money for grad school would be better invested in her own establishment, she took a giant leap of faith and said, “Beaufort, here I come.” Perri’s parents were already here living out at Coffin Point so home she went to get herself organized and set up. Both of her parents have been more than helpful in putting Hollyhocks on the downtown map. Her dad spent his career in sales and her mother is a “master merchandiser” who is still a help today. But, as much as they were a safety net and sometimes extra hands and feet, it was Perri who could see what Hollyhocks was going to become.

With the help of a local business wiz, Martin Goodman, Perri put together a solid business plan and went to work finding a location in downtown. And it took ages. And ages. And then a few more ages. There was one space that she was interested in right below the Beaufort Yacht Club which put a small sign in the window that said it would be available soon. No dates, no names, no phone numbers. But Perri managed to track down the property manager and began a campaign to move from the bottom of the potential renters list to the winner. Nothing would deter Perri from ultimately getting this store front. A cheery phone call each day to the leasing manager finally worked its magic when he said, “Anybody as tenacious as you will definitely be a success. You can have it.” And so Hollyhocks was born.

Perri started as the owner, buyer, accountant, marketing guru, cleaner, and only sales person. This was the scenario for about six years until two things happened simultaneously – the waterfront started its two year renovation project and a store became available on Bay Street.

Hollyhocks is an unusual store. Perri is in the store every day working with her sales team. The merchandise runs the gamut from lovely women’s clothes that come in very small to very large sizes, great and unusual mementos for the visitors to take home to remind them of Beaufort, beautiful jewelry made by local artisans, and tons of gifts under $20 for just about anybody. It is unusual because the sales team “will tell you the truth about whether something looks nice on you or not. We’d rather be known for our honesty than for getting a quick sale.” But it goes beyond that. Customers at Hollyhocks are never taken for granted. Similar to the Ritz, the Hollyhocks shopper will get a warm welcome when they come in the store, and have help nearby should they need it. The store is warm and friendly with a splash of traditional Southern Charm coming from all corners. Perri believes that much of their success comes from her ability to listen to customers, what they want, what is important to them, what they are reading about in magazines, etc. But you can listen all you want, but a store owner needs to be willing to take a risk and change with the times. Change is very scary to most anyone but in retail it can mean the difference between success and failure. Perri is inherently a listener. Her ability to synthesize what she hears and reads into a workable plan for the store is Hollyhocks secret of success.

If you haven’t stopped into the store recently which is located at 909 Bay Street, you owe it to yourself to go. Besides being a nice place to shop, I guarantee you will find something for someone among her shelves, racks and displays. And you will come out with a smile on your face. Thanks Perri for listening all these years and we are confident that you will keep on listening and stay ahead of the trends as you have done for the last 16 years.

Meet a retired marine who’s retirement lasted four weeks

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Pictured above: LowCountry Habitat Executive Director discusses his career path.

By Molly Ingram

Sometimes you run across someone and something that just seem meant-to-be together. Meet Chet Houston, the Executive Director of LowCountry Habitat for Humanity.

Chet, and his lovely wife of 24 years, Marcy, were high school sweethearts back in Kansas where they are from. Chet headed to college on a track scholarship but soon learned college just wasn’t the place for him. But the Marines might be.

So began a career that spanned 26 years and only ended last April when Chet retired. “I couldn’t stay a Marine forever. The time had come for the next phase, the next chapter, the next adventure,” he chuckled. His Marine tenure was filled with duty postings on both coasts of the US, a few in the middle, as well as in multiple areas of Asia. His jobs included being a drill instructor, teaching motorcycle safety, and three combat deployments.

Mixed into the various jobs, Chet got his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and holds a Master’s in Business Administration from Norwich University. But how do you go from the military to LowCountry Habitat? It started with a simple phone call.

“I had only been retired for less than a month when I received a call about the LowCountry Habitat job. I wasn’t ready to start to look for a job just yet. I had a whole, long list of projects to do around the house that I wanted to complete plus, summer was coming. I hadn’t had a summer to enjoy in a really LONG time.” But Chet was convinced to send in his resume. Within days, he got a call from the head of LowCountry’s search committee that they wanted to interview him. They understood that he wasn’t ready to take a new position just yet but he could use that time to start to hone his interview skills for when he was ready.

The bottom line was that the search committee loved him and he fell in love with LowCountry Habitat. So ended his summer vacation.

Chet has found that making the transition from the Marines to working in a non-profit has not been as difficult as he was led to believe it would be. “I am completely impressed with the level of dedication I have witnessed from the staff of LowCountry Habitat. I credit the professionalism of the staff and board of directors for making the transition from military to civilian employee so easy for me.”

The first big challenge for the new Executive Director was to celebrate LowCountry Habitats 25th Anniversary and raise the necessary $60,000 to build an additional house this year. “Typically, we build one house a year. This year we will be building 3+ houses. For us, this is very exciting as the need is far greater than our capacity to build. Two families will have a new home for Thanksgiving.” Pretty cool.

LowCountry Habitat had its anniversary celebration last week at a low key event at the Shed in Port Royal. Supported by fine food and wine establishments, patrons enjoyed a myriad of excellent heavy hors d’oeuvres and drink surrounded by great silent auction items and live bidding on “honey do” service providers. It seems there are quite a lot of households that have an extensive “honey do” list and this was a way to cross some of those chores off the list while supporting a favorite non-profit.

“I don’t have the final numbers yet, but preliminary reports indicate that we are close to raising the goal of $60,000. I don’t think we made it completely, but I think we are going to be close. And we’ll do whatever we have to do to get the balance of the money we need for our anniversary house. Of that, I’m sure.”

LowCountry Habitat had the hiring gods on their side when they convinced Chet to interview. His easy, team building style fits with the mission of this non-profit. His “rock solid” work ethic and his belief that “If it’s a job worth doing, it’s worth doing well” is going to serve both LowCountry Habitat and Beaufort well on all fronts.

Welcome to a great new job, a place where you can use all you have learned from the military to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, where you can raise your three daughters in a caring and giving community and where motorcycle riding is considered almost mandatory. However, you might be on your own rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. Just sayin’…

Local minister gives back in more ways than one

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Photo above: Crystal Clean, LLC owner shares her past and future dreams.

By Molly Ingram

It isn’t often that you get to meet someone who embodies all those qualities that you wish all your friends had – courage, compassion, empathy, honesty, total dedication and a drive to succeed that outstrips most people. Meet Crystal Dewar, owner of Crystal Clean, LLC.

Crystal was raised in Charleston where she was the co-captain of the cheerleading team and Homecoming Queen. Because she found herself unexpectedly pregnant, she took her senior year off to get her first son, Matthew, off to the right start. She returned to Garrett High School the following year to complete her studies and graduate.

From high school, Crystal began a long career working for Fidelity Investments in Raleigh, NC where she was a member of the Human Resources team. Here she worked with new hires to get them acclimated and comfortably situated in their new company. She took full advantage of all the training that Fidelity offered their employees to add skills to her resume. Classes in call center work and successful business writing have all served her well in the intervening years.

But what I think sets Crystal apart from her contemporaries who have also been successful is that she takes her faith very seriously. “Being a minister gives me the world as my pulpit.” Crystal travels extensively to give inspirational speeches designed to empower women. “I enjoy speaking at Women’s Conferences on issues that face many of us today – especially domestic violence and surviving hardship. Women are incredibly resilient if they can only believe in themselves, but that is a very big “only”.

After a second child, Hezekiah who is, at 21, a new Navy recruit stationed in Michigan, Crystal moved to Lady’s Island to be near her parents. Her mother is a minister as well and her father spent his career in various areas of construction. “As the youngest of three, and the only girl, my mother was the center of my life. She certainly inspired me to live my beliefs but to also share my gifts. And that has come in the form of ministering.”

Crystal is unusual in that she loves to clean. It provides her with a sense of satisfaction that many of us don’t find in our daily jobs. “I approach every cleaning job, whether it is residential or commercial, as if it were my own house. It has to come out to my very high standards each and every time. I discovered that in life, your gift makes room for you. Everyone has something that he or she does that they are exceptional and passionate about. Cleaning happens to be my gift.”

At 40, Crystal had her third boy, Micah who is now three and an adorable terror on wheels. “You know there was a lot of water under the bridge between when I raised Hezekiah who is now 21 and Micah who is three. I thought the Muppets were still the “in” characters. But my three year old quickly disabused me of that notion. Now I am conversant on Frozen and actually looking forward to the next Star Wars chapter.”

Somehow between running her growing business, Crystal still finds time to work-out at LifeFit, part of Beaufort Memorial. “I am always running so to speak. I have to stay fit so I can keep up with Micah and stay on top of my expanding business. This is no easy feat.” But she manages to do it and do it with a smile on her face. As she adds to her client base of her 15 private clients, eight apartment complexes and local office buildings that her company cleans for, it looks like the churning business of summer rental management companies is about to be added to her client list. “The company is ready to take on a huge client or two. We have a solid infrastructure in place already at the offices in Bluffton. What sets us apart from other cleaning companies is that we provide affordable cleaning along with high quality standards, not something you find very often.” And growing her business is paramount for Crystal. She has a one year, five year and ten year plan. “Crystal Clean will become a household name. How can it not when it provides a needed service, high quality assurance and smiles all around?”

“I am not going to put my heart and soul into something and not have it be the best. I learned early in life that ministering was a calling, but it wasn’t my destiny. There was more I could give and share with the world and I am so grateful that I get to do that every day.”

Jamaican native Graham shines as a Beaufort firefighter

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Arvel Graham 9 15 (8 of 18)

Photo above: Firefighter Arvel Graham is always on call.

By Molly Ingram

“We’re just here to help people.”

That pretty much sums it up. It clearly identifies what it means to Arvel Graham to be a member of the Beaufort Fire Department. And honestly, it probably defines many of our local firefighters. They hold a job that isn’t for everyone. It carries huge responsibilities and stresses that each member learns how to handle for themselves. It requires intelligence, determination, courage, humor, patience and skills – lots of skills most of us have no idea of their complexity.

All of those traits show through in Arvel, a new member to the force as of last April. Arvel’s journey started in his home country of Jamaica and finally deposited him here in Beaufort where he stayed with his Aunt in Yamanssee. When he first arrived in Beaufort, he worked at Sherwin Williams Paints and helped coach a Beaufort County P.A.L.S. soccer team for his niece. It was here that a father of one of the young girls, who happened to be a firefighter, suggested Arvel look into fire-fighting as a career. And he could volunteer for the department in the meantime to see if he really liked it.

Although it took a while for the fire department to add on volunteers, Arvel hung in there and signed up. When you volunteer for the fire department, you must take all the same training as the regular firefighters, get most of their certifications, and do the same routine as a regular firefighter. Arvel learned CPR, got a certificate as an Emergency Medical Responder, and multiple other skills, all as a volunteer.

During this time, Arvel did maintenance on military housing to provide some income. One day while on base with his co-worker, they saw a dog running lose so they decided to try and catch him. In the process, Arvel noticed a woman, who had a baby with her, talking on her phone. Little did he think that when he looked up minutes later from what he was doing, that same woman would be on the ground in tears yelling that her baby wasn’t breathing. Arvel convinced the woman to let him administer CPR on the baby and he did in fact get the child to start breathing again. Without his training, the best he could have done was call 911.

This experience sealed the deal for Arvel and when a full time job became available late last winter, he applied and was accepted. “I’m a people person,” he said. “I feel strongly that you need to give back to your community and this is one of the ways I can do that, by being a first-rate fireman.”

Life is different now that he is a member of Shift III at the Ribaut Road headquarters station. He rides “rear jump” which is the seat behind the firefighter riding shot-gun next to the driver. He can be assigned onsite to any job the Captain wants him to do. It might be “fire attack” or laying out hoses, or cutting through a roof. “Times have changed,” he said. “Now there are many more rules, mostly for safety, so it isn’t as scary as in years past. But the adrenalin rush is still huge when the alarm goes off.”

His shift consists of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Each day on duty, he is required to spend an hour in the gym working out so he stays in top shape in order to handle the very demanding challenges he will face on a daily basis in Beaufort. And if the shift members aren’t out on a job, they are studying or getting trained in something new. Or if it is a weekend, they are cleaning the equipment and the bay where the trucks are stored until needed. And yes, there is cooking involved. Arvel plans to treat the station to some home-style Jamaican food in the near future. “I love to cook and since I am the first Jamaican on the force, I would like to show my gratitude for the men accepting me by providing a nice dinner for them.”

Since he is neither a fisherman nor a hunter, common pastimes here in Beaufort, he is trying to figure out a hobby to keep him busy when not at the station. His former love of sports photography is starting to nudge again, so maybe we will see Arvel on the sidelines at some of our local games until his beeper starts going, and this off-duty firefighter suddenly finds himself back on-duty.

Avrel is a 26 year old gentleman who lives in Port Royal with his fiancé, Crystal, also from Jamaica, who is in the process of getting her R.N. degree. Together they will make a great couple of professionals both keeping the rest of us safe and healthy. Beaufort is lucky to have men like Arvel in our fire department. He personifies a fine individual who is living his dream, learning every day, and has a smile on his face for anybody he meets.

Philanthropist Peter Post is positively perfect for Beaufort

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Photo above: After a career with the YMCA, Peter Post continues volunteering. 

Peter Post has received a YMCA paycheck ever since he started working at the local summer camp at age 18. Dedicating his life to working with – and for – people, Peter’s career has taken him across the country as he transitioned from national nonprofit executive to active, engaged philanthropist.

A native New Englander, Peter first became involved with the YMCA the summer before his freshman year of college. He applied to work as a counselor at the local YMCA summer camp, even though the newspaper ad said the camp was only looking for current college students. Peter ultimately got the counselor position. “I loved working with kids,” he recalled, explaining the success of his first foray into the YMCA world. “That’s how it got started, and then they kept asking me to come back every summer.”

Peter took his first job at the Bridgeport YMCA after graduating from Springfield College. At summer camp, “They kept telling me I’d make a good YMCA Director – and then I did that!” he shared. In Bridgeport, Peter realized his aptitude for one skill every nonprofit executive must have: fundraising. One of his first assignments was to call on various prospective donors. He had one day to run with this assignment, despite the fact that all of the prospects had a predicted gift of $0.

Peter surprised everyone when he came back that day with $164. This 23-year-old YMCA rookie was on his way up.

After Bridgeport, Peter headed to Boston, where he spent 28 years on staff, ending his tenure there as President of the Boston YMCA after having overseen a merger with the Woburn YMCA. However, that wasn’t even Peter’s peak: his last position was serving as COO for YMCA of the USA, the national office based in Chicago.

“I loved the opportunity to work with people,” Peter said of his career with the YMCA. “I thought some of the nicest people I’d ever met worked at the YMCA, and I wanted to emulate them – they were just terrific people, and had an interest in serving kids in the community.”

However, in 1997, it was finally time for a well-deserved retirement. Peter and his wife had visited Dataw Island years before, but after searching across the South for the perfect home, they decided Beaufort was the place to be. Peter in particular was attracted by the level of community involvement he saw in his future neighbors. And of course, there was a local YMCA Peter saw he could get involved in.

Nearing 18 years in Beaufort, Peter has become a fixture of the local philanthropic community. He served on the board of the YMCA for 12 years, eventually acting as their Chairman. Peter also worked with Penn Center’s board and helped them to launch the 1862 Circle, which honors leaders who advocate for the history and culture of the Sea Islands – past winners include Mary Mack and Jonathan Green. Currently, Peter is most involved with United Way of the Lowcountry, which serves Beaufort and Jasper Counties. There he focuses on bringing back fundraising after the financial crisis of 2008. “To be a part of turning that around has been a high point,” Peter explained.

At the end of the day, every day since he was 18, Peter Post has made a different in the lives of others through his work. Here in Beaufort, he continues that through meaningful volunteer service with a variety of different nonprofits. For Peter, “[volunteering] was an outlet for me to help support not-for-profits and keep my mind active while raising money for good causes.” We thank Peter for his service – Beaufort is a better place because of it.

Beaufort shop owner shares memories of the past

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Carolina native, Andy Brown, talks sewing and stock cars.

Photo above: Carolina native, Andy Brown, talks sewing and stock cars.

By Molly Ingram

Very seldom do you get to meet someone who is really honestly interesting and who has lived a life worth both remembering and sharing. I had that great pleasure last week when I stopped in to chat with Andy Brown, owner for 40 years of Carolina Auto Trim.

Andy has no formal education past some high school yet he has managed to embrace his two passions in life – stock car racing and sewing. No, they aren’t normally linked but for Andy, one was a means to the other.

Andy with his one of his English Black Labs.
Andy with his one of his English Black Labs.

Andy started out in Columbia, SC where he was born and then in 1972 he moved to Lands’ End on St. Helena where he lives today. In the early days he lived in a small apartment near Fort Fremont he called the Frogmore Hilton. In those days he worked at a local garage and raced late model stock cars on dirt tracks on nights and weekends. Fixing cars turned out to be too “greasy” for him so he switched to an auto body shop (“hated sanding”) and finally to Smitty’s Auto Trim shop. Here Andy found his professional calling – to make top notch upholstered cushions for boats, cars, or whatever you want to sit on or lean against as long as it moves.

After a bad motorcycle accident, Andy opened his own shop called Carolina Auto Trim in Beaufort which is celebrating its 40th year in business. But he was still involved in auto racing. He may not have been racing himself like in the old days but he had morphed to the “owner” slot. “My driver, Hal McGraw in 1983, ran the first Grand National Race at Daytona Speedway. Oglethorpe Speedway furnished the car to run because Hal had won their Championship. We were in the garage next to Dale Earnhardt Sr. Our crew chief was Gary Hargett who was at one time a partner with Earnhardt Sr. and who was also his crew chief. Dale Sr. later picked Hargett to become Dale Jr’s mentor.” And so a lifelong friendship started between the two Earnhardt’s, Hargett and Andy.

Andy met his wife, Pam, who was working at the Oglethorpe Speedway Park, a dirt track down in Pooler, GA when we was competing there. When asked what he is most proud of, Andy responded, “Being smart enough to marry Pam and see all she has contributed to the Beaufort County Sherriff’s office where she has worked for the last whole-bunch-of years.” Along with Pam, Andy loves his two English Black Labs, Fremont and Ruby, a brother and sister team who come to the office with him every day. Never one to mince words, Andy said, “What’s not to love about English labs?” I have to agree with that.

As we chatted about all things car related, Andy shared a story that is so typical of the friend-helping-friend attitude you find in Beaufort. “We used to have an old wrecker; you know a truck with a big crane on it? Anyway, a local Veterinarian, Dr. Murphy, called one day and begged us to bring the wrecker down to his practice which we did. What we found when we got there was a HUGE bull who had collapsed and couldn’t get up. Well, we hooked him up to the wrecker and got him standing again but I tell you, I laughed for days.”

Andy has a 1931 Model A with a late model engine in it so it will cruise on the highway with no problem. You can’t miss it with the yellow flames all over the sides if it. It is the perfect car to represent Andy — a vintage hot rod with a big time engine would be exactly how I would describe him — a very sweet vintage hot rod at that.

Battery Creek High Valedictorian awarded scholarship to Cornell

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She considered Brown, Clemson and Columbia, but in the end Kierra Grayson chose Cornell because she felt it would put her in the best position academically for medical school.

“Once I visited the campus I knew I made the right decision,” the Battery Creek High School Valedictorian says.

DSC_9420The 18-year old received a distinguished diploma for completing more than 100 hours of community service and other academic criteria during her high school years. She juggled advance placement courses, health science classes and a variety of clubs while never getting anything less than an A on her report cards. The payoff for her hard work includes the full scholarship from Cornell as well as local scholarships from the Nu Delta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, Ladies of the Lowcountry, and The Robert Smalls Association. Additionally, she received the South Carolina Student Readiness Award from the ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign.

Kierra credits her mother, Michelle, for being the guiding force in her life. “She has always allowed me to be exactly as I am,” she says. “She was never the type of parent that forced me into a mold. She gave me the tools to lead a successful life.”

The self-described risk-taker says she loves to try new things and doesn’t always take the conventional path to accomplish her goals. In fact, it’s the advice she offers to students heading to their first year of high school.

“Try new things. Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to let go of things and people that aren’t progressing along with you on your journey. It is never too early to start investing in your future.”

Her advice for high school seniors reflects the wisdom of someone who understands the changes ahead of her.

“Everything is temporary so enjoy your last year of carefree living while you can. Don’t place too much emphasis on minor details. Do things just because and don’t procrastinate anything.”

Kierra plans to attend medical school after graduating from Cornell, with an eye toward specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. She also wants to start a non-profit organization for young people to constructively cultivate interests, learn new skills, seek advice or just hang out.

“Today’s youth are growing up too fast,” she says. “They need to know it is okay to be a kid. I want to create an organization that supports the need for children to find their innocence again.”

With the drive, focus and determination that created this valedictorian, there’s little doubt that Kierra will accomplish each of these goals and more.

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