After several weeks and dozens of nominations — each one worthy of recognition — the West Of editorial department again had the daunting task of selecting 15 folks who sacrificed their time and energy to make West Ashley a better place to live, work, and play in 2014. The winners ranged from a high school principal and an acupuncturist to a historic preservationist and a dynamic duo of hospital volunteers.
Each recipient may well be worth their weight in gold, but they’ll only be receiving a measly golden cow statuette for their efforts. While these cows may be cheap molded plastic dipped in gold paint, they’re a symbol of something much greater. They symbolize community building and altruism on a very local and tangible level. The golden cow trophies (in honor of West Ashley’s most endearing landmark — the Coburg Cow) represent the resilient spirit of West Ashley.
Congratulations to the 15 men and women who are honored with a Westie Award this year. Thank-you for all that you do for West Ashley.
JEAN LOUISA STEELE & LIZ DELOACH
You KNOW you’re from West Ashley if …
Louisa Steele is probably the only recipient of a Westie this year, or any other year, to live outside of Charleston, or Charleston County. Or South Carolina.
Yep, that’s right. The same lady who put together the Facebook community page with more than 4,100 members, lives in south Florida, where she works as a dance instructor. Boynton Beach, near Palm Beach, to be more exact.
And she teaches jazz and tap to everyone aged 2-and-a-half to adults, to be even more exact
Steele, who’s lived in West Ashley in the recent past and has family and scores of friends in the area, wants the page to help link people together in a fun, info-laden format.
She does have help here on the ground however. Her friend and social media guru Liz DeLoach helps manage the You KNOW you’re from West Ashley if … Facebook page, which has become a sounding board for local issues in addition to just a fun trip down memory lane.
“It began as a fun place for West Ashley natives to reminisce about growing up here,” says DeLoach, the one-woman dynamo that is Social Strategies, a local social media consulting company. “Over time, it has grown into a critical communication tool that has galvanized our community into action on key issues such as attending community input meetings and planning for economic revitalization efforts.”
One day last week, there were posts from family members looking for recommendations for a pediatrician, gripes about a panhandler, updates on a local comedian’s latest show, people celebrating the demolition order for an eyesore shopping center out Ashley River Road, and so on.
Steele swears the page couldn’t happen without the tireless help of DeLoach and a couple of other regular posters and page administrators. “Liz has been a West Ashley advocate from the very beginning … She is a completely active and community minded woman. She is a joy to have in the ‘You KNOW you’re from West Ashley, if…’ Facebook group. Plus she is a dynamic fitness instructor who gives the best body pump class in all of Charleston!”
Recently, “You KNOW you’re from West Ashley” proved invaluable for West Of, when a reporter doing a story on Charleston Hardware closing on Wappoo Road, asked for comments on the page. He received more than 70 responses in a half of a day.
Volunteer, St. Andrews Regional Library
Maria Young, 81, is ready for this interview to be over. There’s work to be done, librarians to be helped, books to be shelved.
“Miss Maria,” as the library’s staff calls her, doesn’t have all the time in the world. Ever since she began volunteering five years ago, she has arrived before the doors open, sitting quietly in her car, according to Rosemary Fludd, a circulation services supervisor.
Miss Maria comes in, gets to work just about every day, breaks for lunch, and if she doesn’t have a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon or car chores to be done, zips back and works a few more hours.
Yes, the Michigan native admits the severe arthritis which swells her knuckles is a problem. But as she says, “why sit at home, when all that will do is make my body stiff.”
Miss Maria has been on her own since 2010, when her husband passed away. Her husband, before Parkinson’s set in, loved to fly, and they owned a plane. The duo had moved here in the ‘80s, as part of their shared joy of hopscotch-ing away from the bitter, windy cold of Midwest.
She cared for her husband for nine years before he passed away. And now that he’s gone, Miss Maria is making sure our library is cared for.
“Can I go now?” she asks, eyeing a stack of work. There is more work to be done.
CHARLES WILLIAMON & JOHN HOGG
Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital Volunteers
Charles Williamon has no shortage of tales to tell about his time at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital.
There was the day the minister came in and asked to see a certain patient. He tried five different names before realizing he was in the wrong hospital.
And then there was the pregnant woman in labor who walked through the doors and squatted, declaring she couldn’t take another step. Williamon scrambled to find a wheelchair and more help, and the lady delivered her baby just minutes after making it to the labor and delivery suites.
His stories come from the nearly 11 years he’s spent volunteering at the West Ashley hospital. He’s present in the hospital’s halls so frequently that he amassed the second largest number of volunteer hours in 2014 – 1,131 hours. That’s an average of about 21 hours per week.
“It’s one of the best places I’ve ever volunteered,” Williamon, 79, said. “You get to know the volunteers and the staff, and there’s a camaraderie. An esprit de corps. We’ve got all these things that come together to make it a great place.”
The hours Williamon spent in the hospital in 2014 is eclipsed by only one other volunteer – John Hogg. Hogg logged 1,177 hours volunteering last year. The 82-year-old spends much of his time helping to discharge up to 30 patients per day by pushing their wheelchairs.
Roper St. Francis, which owns Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, has about 475 active volunteers on its rolls, and Hogg and Williamon beat out every other volunteer for the most number of hours in 2014. They both also have an impressive number of lifetime volunteer hours at the hospital: 11,850 hours for Hogg and 10,142 hours for Williamon.
“We treasure all the help we get from dedicated volunteers at Roper St. Francis, but these two gentlemen stand out with the sheer number of hours they have given over their years of service and this past year,” said Joan Perry, director of volunteers for Roper St. Francis and former Westie Award winner. “I’ve depended on them to step up to help out in countless situations, from grabbing a wheelchair to help a patient and helping with special events to staffing the Information Desk on holidays. They are an important part of our team, and we’d have a hard time giving the quality of care we aim for without them.”
In the end, both Hogg and Williamon volunteer at Bon Secours St. Francis hospital for the same reason as most others — it’s a source of joy.
“We’re glad we’re here to help other people out,” Williamon said.
Last year, local realtor Charlie Smith saw the old commercial vegetable shed on the corner of Wappoo Road and Savannah Highway being torn down as he drove by. Next thing you know, Smith drove his two-seater coupe into the middle of the demolition, began waving his arms, and alternately ordered and begged the crew to stop.
That shed, since torn down, had served as the center of commercial vegetable distribution for the area going back decades.
Smith strongly believes that West Ashley has never gotten its due, and that continues to fuel his desire to fight for preserving the rich history we have on this side of the Ashley River.
More recently Smith trained his preservation eye to a property Turky’s Towing purchased a few blocks down Savannah Highway from the shed. The Turky’s clan was looking for a new spot for their tow yard, which would also double as a limited car sales site.
Smith gathered and focused the will and concern in the neighborhoods that could have been directly affected by towing traffic. He helped empower neighborhood leaders to confront City Council with their deep concerns.
Sensing they would never be welcome at the site, Alison Boone, who runs the towing company that her father founded, decided to shelve opening a tow yard there, and Smith is leading the push for the city to purchase the land from her for a new firehouse and station. There have also been talks of potentially converting the property into a local farmers market.
In the five years he’s been practicing the art and science of acupuncture in West Ashley, Chad Houfek has seen and treated just about every kind of ailment.
“On a daily basis, we see people with back pain, neck pain, headaches, stress, insomnia,” said Houfek from his Charleston Community Acupuncture office on Savannah Highway. A graduate of Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colo., Houfek’s dream and focus has always been to make acupuncture more accessible to the public. That’s why he operates his clinic on a sliding scale, so that more people can afford the treatment they need. Not motivated by money, there’s even an honors system/drop box for payment.
Weekly, he’ll treat rare chronic ailments, like the ongoing discomfort of side effects from cancer treatments, like gastrointestinal upset. Other times, his needles bring relief to rare ailments like Sjogren’s syndrome, which dries all the mucous membranes.
Raven Ray, who had been volunteering in Houfek’s office, was seriously injured in a sailing accident this past summer, told him she couldn’t come in to work anymore.
Houfek wouldn’t hear of it, and “pushed me to come in for treatment, for free, three times a week, for four months straight,” said Ray, who’s back to answering the phones.
Sylvan Shores Neighborhood President
Wayne Murrah is definitely the only Westie winner this year to have worked on NASA’s Apollo rocket program as an engineer. Despite his out-of-this-world resume, Murrah decided ages ago that rocket science wasn’t for him, and to redirect his passions to a more down-to-earth occupation: teacher.
From 1975-2006, Murrah taught math at Porter Gaud in West Ashley. During that time, he and his wife bought a house and raised a family in the Sylvan Shores neighborhood, where he has served as president of the neighborhood association for the past decade, retiring at the next board meeting for good.
Sylvan Shores Neighborhood Association boardmember Mimi Hamilton nominated Murrah, praising him for his service and efforts to rebuild the neighborhood’s sports court, as well as the “countless hours” he spent mowing the grass in the common’s area.
Murrah even led a slogan contest that resulted in “Sylvan Shores is Lowcountry Living at its Best.” Murrah said he was just “filling a void” when he volunteered as president, but since he took over, the association has increased in size to two-thirds of all homeowners.
Sitting out back on his creekside dock, it’s not hard to see what inspires Murrah. Raptors skirt along the trees dotting the rivermarsh. Fish swim in the dark, calm waters in the afternoon. Raccoons ignore electric wires and leave their muddy footprints on the boards as they clamber up from the creek.
Looking around, Murrah smiles flatly and breathes easy. He’s home.
DR. ANDREW EUGENE “GENE” GEER
Dr. Andrew Eugene “Gene” Geer can’t walk through the Bon Secours Roper St. Francis Hospital cafeteria without former patients or their families thanking him for the good work he’s done.
Geer manages the unman-ageable as an anesthesiologist who specializes in pain management.
Geer often has to deal with patients who suffer with chronic, unremitting pain — think major burn victims or victims of “crush” injuries. He has to walk the tightrope of ensuring that they aren’t lost in a fog of painkillers or “feeling like they want to jump off a bridge,” he says.
Geer prescribes to a “multiple therapy” approach that can help manage pain without all the negative side effects that some painkillers can bring. Those he can’t fix, Geer said he wants to at least be able to support.
Married with no kids, other than a black Labrador retriever, Geer has worked with the hospital’s Scrubs program, which welcomes and mentors high-schoolers interested in a career in the medical field.
There may be no one in the area working harder to revitalize West Ashley than Tim Keane, director of Planning, Preservation & Sustainability for the City of Charleston.
Tasked by Mayor Riley with creating a plan to uplift not only the Citadel Mall-Sam Rittenberg Boulevard commercial corridor, Keane’s purview has been stretched to include much of West Ashley, especially its gateways.
And conversely, Keane may carry the most blame if no significant changes occur in West Ashley in the final 10 months of Riley’s tenure.
It’s a tough job to be sure, especially with the owners of Citadel Mall showing little interest in the Keane-led plan to redo it into a Towne Centre-style mall.
But Keane, bolstered by his past success downtown in the private and public sectors, soldiers on, reaching out to the community for support and fresh ideas.
He evangelizes to anyone who will listen that West Ashley has great “meat” (neighborhoods, recreation, and access to water) but that its “skeleton” (roadways) suffer.
Even with his longtime boss about to retire after four decades in office, Keane said he remains committed to greater Charleston, that there are few places in the world better to live and work in.
And if he gets his way, maybe West Ashley will be one of those places.
Don’t let Katherine Anderson’s modest Avondale cottage fool you. She is a powerhouse of a neighborhood association organizer.
Moribund for years, Anderson has since whipped the Avondale Civic Club into shape in a little over a year. Many in her neighborhood didn’t know what an association was, or how far it could reach.
But Anderson, who regularly sees late-night revelers lining her street, knew some kind of organization was needed. She has since hosted informative annexation information-only meetings, as well as helped put together neighborhood happy hours, where residents can meet and greet.
Anderson’s efforts have even inspired the re-creation of a neighborhood association next door in Ashley Forest, which was under half the bar parking pressure as Avondale, which stretches through to St. Andrews Boulevard where restaurant and bar-goers often overwhelm parking at a popular spot there.
Living in the home her father purchased in the 1970s, Anderson, who works in a local insurance company, doesn’t want to stand in the way of progress. She just wants to stand up for her neighbors.
Art-ivist, Champion of Avondale
At first glance, it’s hard to think that Ed Kronsberg may be West Ashley’s answer to Peggy Guggenheim. But when you examine their respective goals, they begin to mirror each other more and more.
Guggenheim was instrumental in shifting the focus of the art world after World War II away from Paris and Berlin to New York City. She did so by championing and exhibiting eventual American masters like Jackson Pollack, Alexander Calder, Willem de Koonig, and Mark Rothko.
Kronsberg started out as a lawyer, but when he began to work for Addlestone International, part of his job was to push a local agenda that values art.
One of the buildings Kronsberg manages for Addlestone, overlooking the Avondale Point intersection, has given the use of its back wall to the chART Outdoor Initiative and Gallery. Perhaps, in time, this move will help swing the Charleston art scene’s focus away from duck-and-Rainbow Row-filled galleries downtown, and over to the rawer graffiti works of Dustin Spagnola, Jarid Lyfe Brown, Danielle Brutto, Matthew Foreman, and Croz.
Last year, one of the huge spray-painted murals along Alycia Alley, “Darwin’s Secret,” was defaced by a fellow tagger, an act that seemed to galvanize support of the effort being made there.
Josh Silverman, who nominated Kronsberg, calls him a “real mensch,” and praised him for his commitment to providing commercial space to small businesses.
Bearded Big Brother & Business Leader
From nine-to-five you can find Bradley Adams working at A&A Insurance on Sam Rittenberg Bouleveard, the company that he owns along with his father. But once Adams is out of the office his true colors shine through.
Adams serves on the board of the West Ashley-James Island Business Association (WAJIBA), where he heads up the organization’s social media and helps with planning speakers for the monthly meetings and organizing happy hours for local business professionals.
Upon meeting Adams, you will notice that he doesn’t look like you’re typical businessman. The heavily bearded, 34-year-old West Ashley native is highly recognizable for his facial hair. But even that serves a good cause. Adams serves as Lieutenant Commander of the Holy City Beard & Moustache Society, which hosts charity events throughout the year that have raised tens of thousands of dollars for various organizations in the area.
Last year, Adams extended his public service when he became a “Big” through the Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC), which pairs caring adult mentors with Tri-County youth as part of its “Big Brothers” and “Big Sisters” community and school-based mentoring program.
Although Adams runs a business and has a daughter at home, he always finds time for his “Little Brother” Daijon. Adams encourages others to get involved with CYDC and to become a Big Brother or Big Sister. “There are so many kids right here in Charleston that would love to have someone be their ‘Big,’” says Adams. “These are kids. You have the opportunity to show and teach them the things that have made you into the person you are, and hopefully they can take that and use it in their own lives. It will not just change your Little’s life. It will change yours for the better also.”
County Councilwoman, Civil Rights warrior
Condon and fiancée Nichols Bleckley challenged state laws that preclude same-sex couples from marrying by applying for a marriage license last year. Machinations on the national level tried to block them, taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Regardless, a few months ago, a federal judge quashed the state law, and cleared the way for Condon and Bleckley and others to marry and be considered a couple on equal legal footing with any other married couple in America.
Condon says she prefers to fight political battles closer to West Ashley’s best interest. “But, that being said, it still tickles me that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice John Roberts had so much say in my upcoming marriage.”
Condon said their union will occur within the next year, and that it will take place in West Ashley. Past that, she isn’t commenting.
While there certainly are those in West Ashley who remain opposed to their marriage. That’s their right. But those folks are on the wrong side of the national public opinion. And now, thanks to people like Condon, they’re also on the wrong side of the law.
West Ashley High School Principal
When West Ashley High School principal Bill Runyon took office his first goal was to re-knit the Middleton and St. Andrews high school communities into one.
As soon as he was given the job by the school board this summer, he didn’t stick around to shake hands and thank well-wishers and supporters. Runyon literally left the meeting to begin work on bringing important totems from the two closed high schools that made way for WAHS.
During the football season, Runyon hosted a welcoming event for members of the former school’s student bodies. About 150 people showed up.
Not surprising, but the former basketball coach is still running after that goal. His latest idea is to launch a WAHS Hall of Fame that will initially feature famous graduates from Middleton and St. Andrews high schools.
Athletes, politicians, and entertainers will be fair game for inclusion. Names like Darius Rucker, Thomas Ravenel, and Katrina McClain jumped to Runyon’s mind.
Runyon is forming the selection and steering committee for the hall of fame and hopes to have the first class announced within 12 months.
Runyon had big shoes to fill when he took over for mother Mary Runyan as principal at WAHS. We like that he’s making room in those shoes for everyone who’s walked the halls of all three of West Ashley’s high schools.