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Recreation: New Waccamaw center, 50 years in the making, is a game changer

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Parkersville has waited 50 years on a recreation facility.

Residents were scheduled to get their first look at the $3.5 million Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center at Parkersville Park at a ceremony today at 5:30 p.m.

For Bill Murray, it’s the answer to a lot of prayers. “I always look and praise the Lord,” he said, “that the Holy Spirit has guided us to where we are today.”

Murray hopes today’s ceremony pays tribute to three community giants who have passed on: Rosa Parker, who gave three acres for the park in 1970, the Rev. G.W. Besselieu, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, and the Rev. J.W. McKnight, pastor of St. John AME Zion Church. Both saw the need for a place for children to play besides the streets.

“We had no recreation whatsoever,” said the Rev. Abraham Nelson, who followed Besselieu as pastor at Mount Zion. “They wanted to get some place where we could have recreation for the children.”

The need was apparent but not addressed until the Pawleys Island Civic Club was formed in the early ’60s.

“Looking back,” Murray said, “you can see the precious hand of the Lord in all of this. If you go back to where we got started with the civic club, in our charter it is reflected that one of the primary things the civic club was formulated for was to open up a better line of communication between the races. Back in the early ’60s, whites got most of their information from their help, maids and so forth, who would tell them what was happening in the black community. There was no formal communication between churches like we have now. One of the things we wanted to do was establish a bridge of communication in the community, start talking with one another. Look how that has evolved.”

The new rec center will likely bring the Parkersville community, an African-American enclave, into the mainstream of the Waccamaw Neck. Murray suggested that the rec center could become part of the area’s racial evolution, somewhat like Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Episcopal Church. It started as a mission church that attracted white members and grew.

The Pawleys Island Civic Club became the conduit for ideas about securing property for a park, Murray said, but nothing would have happened without Rosa Parker, whose late husband had established a community cemetery across the road from St. John AME. Mrs. Parker ran a store at the intersection of Highway 17 and Tiller Drive and owned property in the Parkersville community as well as on the ocean side of Highway 17 where she lived.

Murray recognized the fact there was not another person in the community capable of providing a suitable amount of land where children could play, so he began ingratiating himself to Mrs. Parker. He had Boy Scouts cleaning her yard every week.

“We had the Boy Scouts so motivated at that time,” Murray said, “that some of those leaves falling from the trees didn’t make it to the ground.”

Murray couldn’t give up because Mrs. Parker was his only hope. He even befriended her dog, Pretty. “If you want to be in good stead with Mrs. Parker,” he said, “make sure you’re in good stead with Pretty. We did everything to make Mrs. Parker comfortable.”

Nelson chuckles at the memory. “She would run him off,” Nelson said, “and he’d come back.”

Finally, Murray’s phone rang on an Easter Sunday afternoon. It was Mrs. Parker calling.

“I’ll never forget this,” Murray said. “Mrs. Parker said, ‘Bill, listen to me. I’m tired of seeing your black face disturbing my rest.’ That’s exactly what she said. ‘Bill, every time I try to go to sleep, your face appears. Bill, I’m tired, so what I want you to do is get Judge Deer and Bill Doar, and you go down there and cut off three acres of that property that adjoins the graveyard that my husband gave to the community years ago. And Bill, do it right away and don’t come to me for any more property because I’m not going to give out any more.’

“I jumped off the bed and went out to the church with a lifted spirit.”

Murray followed Mrs. Parker’s instructions and had the property surveyed, but Doar, a Georgetown attorney, advised against putting it in the Boy Scouts’ name because it wouldn’t be considered community property. He suggested one of the churches, but Murray foresaw conflict there. He said the Pawleys Island Civic Club had just been established. “That’s what we’ll do,” Doar told him. Murray said the land was deeded to the club with the stipulation that if it discontinued providing recreation facilities to the youth of the community, it would be conveyed to an entity providing that service.

Even though he had his park land, Murray soon found himself having to return to Mrs. Parker for more. The future park had no suitable access for power lines, water lines or a driveway from the road.

“I didn’t know how I was going to do that,” Murray said.

He explained the situation, and Mrs. Parker granted a 30-foot right-of-way from Petigru Road.

With that problem solved, the civic club owned a three-acre wooded lot that needed to be cleared.

“We thought we could clear the land with axes,” Murray said, “but it was way too big a job for that.”

Murray was working at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, and he approached the base commander about clearing the lot. He sent a civil engineering crew with heavy tractors and graders. “We didn’t get any money off the trees,” Murray said, “but when they left we had a graded lot.”

Murray used his connections to secure funding for a cement block building on the property and later got an unwanted house from Litchfield Country Club moved there. Both were vandalized and proved unsuitable. The house was torn down. A concrete company provided materials for outdoor basketball courts, and Parkersville Park became a place for summer family reunions and ball games.

Murray said the park’s development remained in the civic club’s plans, and he continued to get encouragement from all directions.

“We wanted to put a building there,” Murray said, “but we had no money. Doc Lachicotte and Linwood Altman were always with us in anything we were doing to enhance the living conditions of people.” The late Foster McKissick also helped out by buying a van and subsidizing the club’s activities.

Community residents continued to explore ways to get something done, and their ideas became known after former County Council Member David Hood named Norman Reid to the county Parks and Recreation board.

“Waccamaw Neck was the only place where minorities didn’t have a place,” Reid said.

Vida Miller, the state House member at the time, secured a grant of $50,000 from Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and another later for $100,000 from Republican Lt. Gov. André Bauer. The late Ernie Nance, the county parks and recreation director, had “a great deal of interest in the park,” Miller said.

“We all worked together to secure money and land,” she said.

The county swapped the old Parkersville School to Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church for 1.88 acres adjoining the park and gave St. John AME some adjoining land for parking with the stipulation that the public could use the parking lot if necessary. The last piece of property for the park was purchased from the Green family, bringing the site to about seven acres, according to Reid.

The county and the Pawleys Island Civic Club entered into a 99-year lease agreement where the county got the park land and the club got the building that houses the sheriff’s substation and senior citizen center.

Murray says the new recreation center will be a “signature building” for the Waccamaw Neck.

“They did a good job,” he said. Residents will have an indoor walking track without having to drive to the mall.

“We are definitely going to enjoy the center,” said Reid, who has welcomed community children to his store for years so they would have a place to go.

Reid has gotten a preview of the rec center. “We walked through with administrators and County Council,” he said. “They did a remarkable job. I’m going to enjoy that walking track myself.”

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