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Back to the Pavilion

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The park overlooking Pawleys Creek near the North Causeway will teem with revelers and reminiscences Saturday when the Pawleys Pavilion Reunion returns after a two-year hiatus.

After hopes of a revival were dashed by the economic recession, the event was picked up last year as a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity of Georgetown County. A committee has been hard at work planning for the reunion’s return since last fall.

It’s something Habitat couldn’t have pulled off if it didn’t already have such a large group of dedicated volunteers to draw from, said Annette Perreault, the group’s executive director.

“It’s a big event. It takes an army of people to pull it off, and they have to be very dedicated, very organized people,” she said.

There are about 15 who sit on the committee, but 120 volunteers will be on hand to help out Saturday night.

Habitat hopes about 1,500 people will attend the reunion, raising $40,000 toward construction of the group’s 90th home. The recipient will be LeKisa Grant, a single mother of two who lost her home to mold two years ago.

“It’s going to be a wonderful, wonderful party,” Teresa Duffee, who co-chairs the reunion committee, said. “But at the end of Saturday night, a family is going to have a dream home and I don’t think there’s anything more important than that.”

“We’re just praying for good weather,” Perreault said. “This is different from anything we’ve done in the past, but we’re excited and we’re hoping for the best. We’ve already gotten a lot of wonderful responses from the public and gratitude for bringing back such a beloved event.”

The reunion was introduced in 1998 to celebrate the series of dance halls that existed on the island until 1970, when the last one was destroyed by fire. The reunion’s founder, Molly Mercer, organized the event for 12 years, but decided it was time to step down after the 2007 event.

The Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce signed on to take charge of the 2008 reunion, but backed out just a few months before it was supposed to take place, saying it didn’t have the staff to run the event.

The S.C. Environmental Law Project stepped in at the last minute to save the reunion, taking it on as a

fundraiser, but it was canceled the next year when the law project was unable to raise enough money to hire someone to put it together. They didn’t have enough staff to do the work themselves and manage their case loads.

Another effort to revive the reunion in 2009 stalled when sponsors didn’t materialize.

Ashley Carter, a Georgetown native and resident of Pawleys Island, said he’s one of many people who are glad at the reunion’s return.

The event is an opportunity to “see people from the Pavilion days that you don’t see on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It brings back so many great memories.”

As a teen, Carter usually went to the Pavilion four or five times a week during the summer.

“I was there about every night the darn place was open,” he said.

He used to tear up the dance floor and “always liked to date the girls that were good dancers.”

“In fact,” he said, “I married one of the best dancers on the coast.” His wife, Kit, was also a Pavilion regular.

Music came from a jukebox on weeknights, but on Fridays and Saturdays, big name bands were brought in, and some of Carter’s fondest memories involve hearing them perform.

“There were so many, it’s hard to name them all,” he said. But he does recall the Travelers, the Melody Makers and the Monzas.

“One of the bands that used to come in had a guy who could play the saxophone and would actually hang upside down in the rafters above the bandstand and didn’t miss a note,” he said.

Woody Cox of Waterford Heights said he used to catch a ride to the Pavilion with his older sister and her friends when he was growing up in Andrews.

“We would just have such a good time at the Pavilion,” he said. He remembers dancing the shag and the pony.

“I don’t remember doing the pony, but I did the chicken scratch,” said Cox’s wife, Dee. She doesn’t remember the names of the bands she danced to.

“I just know I used to love to walk up those stairs and smell the marsh and smell the beer. That was just the smell of the Pavilion,” she said.

“It was a very distinct smell,” said her younger sister, Carolyn Gee, who lives off the south causeway.

The Coxes were chaperoning a house party Gee and some of her girlfriends were having on the island the night the Pavilion burned. The girls were in high school and would rent a beach house every summer for $88 a week.

“I remember going out and seeing all the smoke and I found out the Pavilion had burned” the night before, Woody said. He went in to tell the girls, but they didn’t believe him because he used to tease them all the time.

Gee said they learned it was true when she made a run to Lachicotte’s Store for cinnamon rolls the morning after the fire. She had promised her friends to “lay on the horn” if the Pavilion was gone when she drove by.

They were heartbroken.

“It was like somebody had died,” Woody said. “They were falling to the ground just moaning and wailing.”

Carter’s father, Woodrow, was sheriff then and he thought he knew who set the fire, but was never able to prove it.

Pavilion regulars also recalled Lamar and Myrtle Bunn, who ran the Pavilion, and Claude Altman, a sheriff’s deputy who was stationed outside the Pavilion nearly every night. Altman’s presence ensured trouble mostly stayed far away from the Pavilion, said Stuart Gilmer, who managed the place for a year.

The reunion starts at 6:30 p.m. and runs until midnight. Tickets are $35 at the gate.

There is parking at Pawleys Island Plaza and a free shuttle to the island starting at 6 p.m.

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