Why did they name the new $13 million expansion at the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center the Carmines Building?
And what does it have to do with Widespread Panic, Neptune Platters, Grandma Moses, Mount Ranier, Shep Rose and a dead lobster?
A better question is what does it have to with life and death, and one 20-something’s power over the sting of death.
The name Carmines belongs to Brian and Gloria Carmines, who came to Hilton Head Island as a daring young couple in 1975 when they bought Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks from Hilton Head legend Benny Hudson.
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Benny started selling the likes of today’s Neptune Platter when he figured that the new birds in town called tourists could turn more bucks than the salty oysters being chiseled from razor sharp shells in his oyster house that literally slanted into Skull Creek. So he turned it into a restaurant.
Carmines is Andrew Carmines, who runs the family business today.
And Carmines is David M. Carmines, Andrew’s older brother by 20 months, who died of cancer at a mere 24. The family created the David M. Carmines Foundation, which raises money primarily through the week-long Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival.
When Andrew’s friend from childhood, reality TV star Shep Rose, comes down from Charleston to the festival, the crowd gets big and so do the bucks.
Rec Center director Frank Soule said a bunch of those bucks got the private capital campaign started for the expanded Rec Center. It opened Monday, thanks to $13 million in town money, after two years and two days of construction and 13 years of planning and haranguing.
But Brian Carmines was fighting, sometimes almost literally, for parks and fields and tennis courts before there were parks on Hilton Head, and before there was a Rec Center.
To raise money for a Rec Center forerunner, the Island Youth Center, Brian Carmines once had a special giant lobster in a tank at his restaurant and visitors would pay to guess its weight.
His partner in this crime of public recreation, Charles Perry, loves to roar in laughter about the day late that summer when Brian called him in a panic, saying “the damn lobster died.”
We have a Rec Center because the Rotary Club and people like Carmines and Perry and Col. Bob Selton and Gen. Howard Davis insisted that Hilton Head was not a resort but a community, and this is how to act like it and be like it for people of all ages and colors and stations in life.
That’s the way island native Morris Campbell described it as he and his wife, Ida, got in some exercise Thursday at the Rec Center.
And now the little- town-that-could has a palace for all that recreating and commiserating, and it’s important that we named it for the Carmines family.
I was there on the spring day in 2001 when almost 1,000 people filled First Presbyterian Church for David M. Carmines’ memorial service.
Row after row of stunned-looking young people wore simple black dresses, pumped up thong shoes and sunglasses. They should be at weddings, I thought, not funerals.
But it was the spirit of David M. Carmines that they came to honor, and that best tells the value of our new recreation palace.
David Carmines was a striking, handsome boy who loved to fish and hunt, much like his dad, and planned to grow up to practice environmental law.
He battled an aggressive cancer for 27 months, living much longer than they said he would. During that time, he finished his degree at Sewanee, and continued his passion for mountain climbing, skiing and kayaking. He had reached the summit of Mount Rainier and all the Grand Tetons.
Brian and Gloria and Andrew circled the wagons to fight for life, and appreciate life.
Gloria and Andrew spent long stints with David in his Houston apartment, where he lived while being treated at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic. They spent the summer together in Wyoming.
Gloria, the elegant kindergarten teacher, even went with David to a Widespread Panic concert.
David loved Widespread Panic, which led to an historic moment when the words “Widespread Panic bootleg” were uttered from the pulpit at First Presbyterian Church, from one of those handsome young boys in black who mourned a friend so full of life.
Through the months, David e-mailed updates on his health to a growing list of friends and supporters. The notes were all upbeat, even when he described the so-called positive side of a cancerous tumor being removed from his cerebellum.
One time he quoted Grandma Moses as saying, “Life is what we make it. Always has been. Always will be.”
All the messages ended the same. He always said, “Keep the faith.”
And in truth, that’s why we have a new recreation center named the Carmines Building.