David Lauderdale

‘There’s got to be a catch’: Hilton Head woman won Jeep in a raffle. She didn’t keep it

Tracy Sklarin, left, takes a spin with Brandon Spann in the Jeep she just gave him after winning it in a charity raffle.
Tracy Sklarin, left, takes a spin with Brandon Spann in the Jeep she just gave him after winning it in a charity raffle. Submitted

It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Tracy Sklarin of Hilton Head Island bought a $20 raffle ticket this fall to benefit the Island Rec Center.

When she won the prize, a 1995 Jeep Wrangler YJ, she immediately passed the gift to a co-worker who didn’t have a car.

“I said I might buy a ticket this year, but I don’t need a Jeep,” she told me.

“But I knew this guy working the overnight shift at Marriott who needed a car. I told him I think I’ll get a ticket and, if we win, it’s going to go to you. He said, ‘It’s never going to happen.’ “

But it did happen.

And now Brandon Spann of Hilton Head has a bright red Jeep, with a value of roughly $5,000.

Sklarin works at the front desk at Marriott’s Monarch at Sea Pines timeshare. She said she really didn’t know Spann well, but she knew he needed a car.

“I wasn’t showing my struggles,” Spann said.

But for the past 18 months, life had been hard for him. He struggled to meet family and work demands. There were problems in his marriage. He faced an arrest.

“It’s hard not having a car,” he said. “I wasn’t able to see my kids when I wanted to. I hadn’t seen friends and family. It’s like you can’t get out of your house. Luckily, I had a co-worker who could take me to work.”

Sklarin bought the raffle ticket, then everyone forgot about it. The drawing was to be held in September at the Jeep Island gathering of Jeep enthusiasts, but that got blown out by Hurricane Florence.

“It was totally off my radar,” Sklarin said.

Dave Peck, owner of A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant, organized the Jeep Island event. For two years, his business has bought a used Jeep to raffle off, with proceeds going to the nonprofit Rec Center.

After the hurricane, this year’s event was combined with the Rec Center’s fundraiser, the Burger, Bacon & BBQ Festival at Shelter Cove Community Park in October.

Sklarin said when she called Spann with the good news, he asked who she was.

“There’s got to be a catch,” he said he was thinking. “Nobody’s going to give you no Jeep.”

Sklarin and her husband picked Spann up and took him to Peck’s house, where the keys and title to the Jeep were turned over to him.

Sklarin said only then did the thought flash through her mind: “What am I doing here?”

Peck said, “I thought, wow, I wonder if she knows she just gave away thousands of dollars. My first reaction was, this is really neat. Not many people would do that.”

Spann started hugging people.

“He was over the moon,” Sklarin said.

Sklarin is a recreation enthusiast — a longtime swimming instructor, swim-team coach and tennis player. For 10 years, she taught math at the Heritage Academy on Hilton Head, where she was Teacher of the Year honored by the Hilton Head Rotary Club in 2009.

Peck was a little boy when his family moved to the island, his father one of Marriott’s first timeshare salesmen. He used to go to the Rotary Club’s Island Youth Center on Cordillo Parkway, the forerunner to today’s Island Rec Center that this year has more than doubled in size from 14,000 square feet to 34,000 square feet.

“I felt so good,” Spann said. “I did not know what to say. I am so appreciative and thankful. That’s all I do is tell people this story.”

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page and tells the stories of our community. He grew up in Atlanta, graduated from Erskine College, reared two children on Hilton Head Island, and is a popular public speaker.