A Note From Our Mayors
Author: David Bennett & Lisa Sulka | Photographer: Krizstian Lonyai
A Note from David Bennett
Hilton Head Island Update
November in America is perpetually the month for thanks. We Hilton Head Islanders arrived at this particular month, in this defining year, at this historically significant time, having just borne the brunt of Hurricane Matthew more forcefully than any other South Carolina community. Some expressions of thanksgiving come easily, and you’ve surely both heard and expressed them—to Steve Riley, our town manager, to Tom Dunn, our emergency preparedness official and to our entire town staff, to the distinctive and distinguished Fire Rescue and to Beaufort County’s fine sheriff’s office, to the National Guard and to our debris removal contractor Crowder Gulf, to our water, sewer and electric utility providers, to local, state and federal officials and agencies and their staffs, to our churches, community organizations and non-profits, to our island businesses and citizens and our neighbors in Bluffton and beyond! Most assuredly, I would use up my word quota before exhausting the list of those who have come to our collective aid.
But other thanks are decidedly more difficult to describe in words alone. For instance, are we or will we ever be able to give thanks for the storm itself? If the answer is to be affirmative, then just how? And when? Exactly what were the small surviving group of Mayflower passengers, the Pilgrims, thankful for when, in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, together with the native Wampanoag tribe, they first celebrated a feast of thanks here in our country? Or why did Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863, during an unequalled time of national strife, formally establish this annual holiday? We know from source documents that all were counting the blessings they were experiencing, even in the midst of manifold and monumental struggles. But may I also be so bold as to suggest to you that actually being capable of giving thanks, and to know that another generation may be raised up to dwell and prosper in this great land we call America the Beautiful, were both the essence and the genesis of their gratitude? In other words, perhaps they were quite thankful that they were alive to be thankful.
Please travel with me through this thankful month and the ones to come and spot reasons for gratitude, signs of hope and healing, and opportunities to view the rest of this year—NO, the rest of our lives—from a posture of thanksgiving and a prism of joy.
In November, we will marvel at the near supernatural efforts to be “on with the show” and “off to the races!” (And this is just the follow-up to performances by the Arts Center, Lean Ensemble, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, John Cranford and other artists and myriad festivals, fundraisers and the like, which remarkably occurred during the final weeks of October!) Festivals and galas from Motoring to Oyster to Fall to Latin Music to the Main Street Youth Theatre’s twentieth anniversary will triumphantly occur. Our own Veterans Day Memorial Service at the magnificent Veterans Memorial Park and the Community Tree Lighting at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina will poignantly remind us of the depth and breadth of our Hilton Head Island community. Come run at the Bridge Run, ice skate at Shelter Cove Community Park or Trot with the other Turkeys at the Island Rec Association’s popular Thanksgiving morning tradition. See Santa at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina or Gregg Russell at the “stronger than a hurricane” Liberty Oak in Harbour Town, or Twelfth Night by the Hilton Head Seahawk Theatre Guild. That’s not an exhaustive list of island experiences just one short month following a hurricane with winds only 5 mph less than a Category 3—and that’s only November!
We will know that our healing and growing continue when December, the traditional month of giving, brings with it the Hilton Head Prep Festival of Trees, the Island Rec Association’s Winter Wonderland, the Arts Center’s White Christmas, the Choral Society’s “I’ll be Home for Christmas” concert, and our Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops. Let’s just hope we don’t get a blizzard to go along with these seasonal events! When we wrap up 2016 with the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop at our most universally recognized landmark, the Harbour Town Lighthouse, will you be thinking about Hurricane Matthew? Could we plan at that moment to be thankful for the storm, as we remember what we’ve endured and just how it has impacted our lives and made us a better, stronger, more compassionate and connected community?
Surely we will march into 2017 marveling at how far we’ve traveled from that fearful day, October 8, 2016. We will have our own version of a Snow Day in January, welcome February, the month of love, with Daddies and Daughters dancing, marathon runners running, the Gullah giving us a Taste and Celebration, and a Seafood Festival Hilton Head style. Spring will arrive with our world-renowned International Piano Competition, our ever-growing Wine and Food Festival, Music Man at the Main Street Youth Theatre and our lucky St. Patrick’s Day parade down Pope Avenue. Being as we are replete with conviviality, I could go on and on and on and still I would be missing as many community happenings as I’ve listed.
What about 2017’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at the beautiful Harbour Town Golf Links? As the world repeatedly arrives here for so many signature events, will they know or remember that ours was the little island circled with the marker on the Weather Channel late one Friday night? That in the wee hours of that Saturday morning, Hilton Head Island took the United States’ first direct landfall hit of Hurricane Matthew? Or shall we remind them so that we may recount why we are now thankful for the storm, knowing each of those who hear our storm stories will surely face “storms” of their own someday? I hope the world would look to our fine One Island, One Community for a picture of weathering well and giving thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving to you. In the true Hilton Head Island spirit of both thanks and giving, let’s not overlook the many citizens in our community who still need our help to recover. Please consider a generous Thanksgiving donation to the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry’s Disaster Relief Fund. I am perpetually thankful for you.
A Note from Lisa Sulka
Together We Recover
What a week we have had in Beaufort county. The majority of our residents in Bluffton have only heard about hurricane evacuations but never experienced it until now. First, I want to thank Governor Nikki Haley for the foresight to get as many residents out of our county as possible. Many Blufftonians took heed—some right away and many others later—and were able to lodge in a safe location and ride through the storm. I evacuated during Hugo, and I know the frustration of not knowing on a minute-by-minute basis what is going on with your property. This is why I decided to post frequently on Facebook and other social media. The response from you was overwhelming and kept me focused on continuing through the night and several days after.
As mayor, my role was to be accessible to sign emergency documents and authorize funds for storm response. I was at Bluffton’s Emergency Operations Center, which was located in the Bluffton Police Department during the entire storm. Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds and Town Manager Marc Orlando led their troops throughout the hurricane. These two men never left their staff—working, sleeping, eating beside them as we all responded to the needs of our residents. They led by example and were able to prioritize responsibilities for themselves and others around-the-clock for nearly 10 days.
As part of emergency operations pre-planning, the town established a partnership with eviCore (formerly known as CareCore National), where town staff, police officers, firefighters and some media representatives slept. These buildings were built to withstand a Category 4 storm, so all who stayed behind to work were safe. Knowing these first responders could get some rest before the aftermath was comforting to see. However, they were ready to get out and see what they could do to help our citizens as soon as the okay was given.
The next morning, Bluffton Police officers, firefighters and National Guard members started clearing streets, assessing damage and ensuring residents were safe. The number of dangling power lines and fallen trees on Bluffton’s roadways was heartbreaking. Bluffton’s Historic District was one of many areas that took a beating, as debris and downed trees cluttered the once-charming streets. Riding the streets reminded me of the morning after a snow storm, except the snow was replaced by pine needles and branches along the roadway. It was eerily quiet with no traffic whatsoever anywhere in sight. That Saturday morning, I wasn’t sure how we were going to return to the town we know and love.
The number of selfless acts is too numerous to list however, please know the collective support and spirit of the Bluffton community is a treasure which no one takes for granted. If you ever doubt if humanity is still good, I am here to tell you it is alive and well. Thank you Bluffton warriors for your strength, your generosity and your actions to help your neighbors through Hurricane Matthew. It is my honor to serve this incredible community and to have personally read more than 1,000 e-mails, texts and social media posts from people contributing to our community’s recovery.
To say this has been a humbling and life-changing experience is putting it lightly. Bluffton’s tag line “Heart of the Lowcountry’ says it all, and on October 8, the heart grew 100 times its original size. I am proud to be your mayor.
Please stay connected to your town through the Facebook (Town of Bluffton Government/Bluffton Police Department), on Twitter
TownofBluffton/BlufftonPolice) and on the Bluffton Police Department app (My PD/Bluffton Police Department).