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Pawleys Pavilion Reunion: A dance to the music of time

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Ann Wilson can’t tear up the dance floor like she did back in high school in the 1950s. She has back trouble now and her body doesn’t move the way it did all those years ago.

Yet doing the Carolina shag under the stars with her husband, Billy, last weekend, she almost felt like a girl again, she said. The dance and the music took her back to her youth and nights spent at the Pawleys Pavilion, where she and Billy met.

“We were just over here and we started dancing,” Wilson, 70, of Georgetown, said during a break from dancing at the Pawleys Pavilion Reunion on Saturday night. “I didn’t really know him, but after that I got to know him.”

They “went together” for two years after becoming dance partners, then got married. They haven’t missed a reunion since the event was created around 15 years ago to honor the long-gone dance hall where their romance was born.

The reunion always takes place at the Pawleys Island Nature Park on Pawleys Creek, across from where the last Pavilion stood until 1970, when it was destroyed by fire. It was never rebuilt, but a generation who made countless memories there have never forgotten it and come back year after year to reminisce and make new memories with children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

“There was nothing like it. They can’t build it back and it wouldn’t be the same if they could,” said David Jones of Charleston, who also owns property in Litchfield. He attended the event with his wife, Donna Sue.

He said the energy level and enthusiasm of the people who come to the reunion to reminisce says a lot about how important the Pavilion was to them.

“I wait for this every year,” Wilson said. “It’s sentimental to us. I can’t dance like I used to, but being here brings a lot of memories.”

As a teen, she got into a lot of trouble because she always waited until the last minute to leave the Pavilion, she recalled.

“I came every Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday if it happened to be open,” she said.

She had an 11 p.m. curfew, but she’d put off her departure and end up getting caught by the draw bridge that used to connect the Waccamaw Neck to Georgetown, and would get home late.

While it was a short trip to the Pavilion for her, people came from all over to go to the Pavilion, driving in from Columbia and Manning, parts of North Carolina and even the Upstate.

“I used to get butterflies in my stomach when we got to Andrews because I was so excited to get to Pawleys Island,” Donna Sue Jones said. She and her friends used to drive from Sumter to go to the Pavilion.

She spray painted her name on the rough wooden walls of the simple building and learned to do the twist there.

“We saw the best entertainers on the coast at the Pavilion,” she said, naming off acts including the Tams, Major Lance and the Swinging Medallions.

Others don’t remember the names of the bands they heard and were just as happy on the nights when the music came from a jukebox. But “it was just like this,” they said at the reunion, as The Catalinas played away.

“All I wanted was the music,” recalled Anne Martin, 72, of Columbia. She was in town Thursday through Sunday for the event.

“This is where I learned to be smooth and cool,” she said with a slightly self deprecating grin for the teen she once was. “We’d dance until they closed it down,” she said.

She was 14 the first time she went to the Pavilion, having come to Pawleys Island with a friend who had a house there, but living in Kingstree, she was close enough that she didn’t have to stay at the beach to come down for the evening and dance.

The Pavilion “was our entertainment,” she said.

She remembers the night it burned.

“It broke my heart and everybody else’s, because we just loved it, and I mean loved it,” she said.

April Bensch, who created the artwork featured on T-shirts and posters for this year’s event, went to her first reunion last year and decided to turn it into a tradition. She’s too young to have seen the Pavilion, but she enjoys hearing all the stories that get passed around at the reunion, she said.

Jim MacFie, 73, had lots of reminiscing and storytelling to catch up on. He used to coach at Winyah High and the event this weekend gave him a chance to catch up with some of his former football players, including Johnny Cribb, Ricky Rowe, Teddy Jornov, Charlie Gaskin and Marvin Cribb. It was the first time he’d seen most of them in 45 or 50 years.

Even for those who never saw the Pavilion first-hand, the event stirred up memories. Diana Ramsey and Kathy Keel of Virginia didn’t know anyone at the reunion. They never went to the Pavilion and just happened to be in town last week. They saw signs for the reunion and decided to check it out, taking a beach blanket and setting up a picnic at the edge of all the activity.

However, Keel’s late husband, Bill, had been to the Pavilion and she knows he would have loved the reunion.

“If he was here, he would be dancing,” she said. “I look at these people and they’re his age and I can see Bill out there dancing and introducing himself. I think he’s here in spirit.”

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