St. Helena's Penn Center gearing up for 150th anniversary

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 5, 2012 

  • The Penn Center is seeking a permanent executive director. Walter Mack has retired but is continuing in the position until a replacement is appointed, according to Rosalyn Browne, director of history and culture. Applications are due March 31 and are available at

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It's been 150 years since Unitarians founded Penn School -- now Penn Center -- on St. Helena Island, and center officials have planned several years of celebrations to commemorate that event.

"It's very rare that any organization lasts 150 years; that's a milestone in and of itself," interim executive director Walter Mack said.

Festivities begin with the annual Circle Gala on April 28 at the Crowne Plaza Resort on Hilton Head Island, and events will run through November 2014.

Penn School was founded in 1862, and the center was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974. It has a rich history, as one of the first schools for freed slaves; a training school focused on education, agriculture and industrial arts; and a community center used by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"I'm very proud of our involvement in the civil rights movement, but more importantly, in our role of preservation, not only in items and artifacts, but of people and community," Mack said.

The official 150th anniversary celebration will be June 22 and 23 at the Penn Center campus on St. Helena. Among the highlights will be a proclamation from the governor, comments from state and local officials, and a convocation at the Baptist Brick Church at the center, according to Rosalyn Browne, director of history and culture.

A ceremony for the installation of a plaque commemorating the anniversary also is planned. Speakers from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and Hampton, Tuskegee and the S.C. State universities will participate.

Blacks in the Civil War will be honored, and the Lowcountry Mass Choir will perform a concert called "The Journey of the African American Spiritual."

An ongoing showcase will include history exhibits, art shows, authors, book signings, films, concerts and oral history performances by Penn School students, according to Browne.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at

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