Columnist told about generation of Hilton Head Island doers

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comSeptember 7, 2013 

Corinne VanLandingham is coming home.

When she and her husband, Zack, moved to Hilton Head Island, Pope Avenue was little more than two deep ruts in heavy sand. It was called "The Road." They made their way to the Atlantic Ocean and rode up the beach to select their first lot.

She is to come home Monday morning to be buried beside Zack in the Six Oaks Cemetery in Sea Pines. Corinne died Tuesday in Ellijay, Ga., at 103.

She was president of the Women's Association of Hilton Head Island, volunteered at the Bargain Box thrift store, and wrote a weekly column called "Sand Dollars" in The Island Packet from its founding in 1970 until 1990. She wrote tidbits about people and events that help document a rare time for a community emerging from a century of quiet isolation.

Zack was an instigator of the island's first Rotary Club in 1967. Former Packet editor Terry Plumb recalls: "Every time a new member was inducted he would award a membership certificate that was SUITABLE for FRAMING. The entire club would shout that out in unison."

The island's second Rotary Club was named for Zack.

Corinne's columns told about people who were glad to be out of life's rat race, but anxious to make their new home a cut above.

She told about Jim and Ellenor Hands, who built their home on the beach in 1963. They helped gin up the first golf club and all its social trappings. He was on the first public service district board, which built a medical center, bought the first ambulance and convinced Dr. Chet Goddard to move to a sparsely populated island with no hospital. When Dr. Goddard had to be out of town, he would bring the ambulance and walkie-talkie to the Hands' house and put them in charge. "The Hands spent the time praying that no one would get sick," Corinne wrote.

UNREALISTIC

We still need that willingness to make things better.

A reader took me to task for suggesting in Friday's column that the overgrown medians of U.S. 278 through Bluffton need a dose of the can-do spirit that led to landscaped medians on Hilton Head.

She said it's more complex than stirring up volunteers. State highway department regulations are more restrictive today, and Bluffton taxpayers would have to cover a major expense, as the Town of Hilton Head Island does. It's unrealistic.

That might be true, but the point is that the human spirit rose above similar constraints in the 1970s and 1980s. And as a result, the public will benefit for generations to come.

The same thing happened with the first public bike paths on Hilton Head. Harold Sorensen, a retiree, bulldogged that impossible task until it happened. In public recreation, Barker Field was named for its champion, Maynard Barker, then a young insurance salesman. The Island Recreation Association grew from a Rotary Club initiative. Citizens built The Children's Center to provide daycare for working families.

None of this was realistic.

Beautification of highways was Bill Murrell's idea of a lasting tribute to his country's bicentennial. He wasn't a landscaper; he was a doer. He and others got every major developer to beautify the medians in front of their communities. Citizens gave money. School children planted bulbs donated by Stiles Harper of Bluffton. Designs were made voluntarily by Keith Davis and Richard Nardone. Everything was done to exacting state standards -- but it was all more than the state would do on its own.

FINDING BEAUTY

People wanted things to be better, and they made them better.

Murrell was an electrical engineer who retired to Hilton Head in 1965. He and his wife, Betty, bought a lot and joked that they later bought a second lot for their dog, Sir Jeffrey. She volunteered at the Bargain Box, and was known as the "Shell Lady" for her extensive display of local shells. For three years, Murrell led a community fireworks display on the Fourth of July, as well as a parade. Each February, they liked to drive the hilly countryside of Italy looking for unusual artifacts.

Murrell worked on the highway medians virtually until the day he died in 1984. He and Betty are buried at Six Oaks. Never did he seek publicity, yet he left a monument of plants we all can enjoy.

Ben Racusin, the island's first mayor and another leader in the can-do generation who recently passed away, wrote this about Murrell: "He loved the island and in his way made it a beautiful place to live. Bon voyage, Bill Murrell, from a grateful community, and may you always find beauty."

Corinne VanLandingham is coming home because she and Zack found a place they loved and tried to make it better.

May we always find beauty here.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content: People who want beauty demand more, do more and get more, Sept. 6, 2013

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