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Vacations: Back to Pawleys for the 50th year

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

When Mary Cathern “Dink” Helton’s friends around Pineville, Ky., take a notion to go to the beach for vacation they ask her opinion.

“Friends call and say, ‘We want to go to the beach. Where’s the closest place?’ I don’t know where the closest place is, but the best place is Pawleys Island,” Helton said last week during her extended family’s 50th anniversary trip to what they call “the blessed isle.”

Helton left Kentucky in the 1950s to spend her high school years with an aunt and uncle, Mary and Carter Lee “Bud” Ritchie of Georgetown, rather than moving to Toledo, Ohio, with her mother and new stepfather. Georgetown became her second home. She attended Winyah High School and was in the class with Linwood Altman and Richard Ferdon. She went horseback riding and fishing at Friendfield Plantation at the invitation of Capt. and Jessie McClary and their son, Clebe.

Many Georgetown families owned houses at Pawleys Island, and those days of fun on the beach planted a seed with Helton that firmly took root. After high school she studied nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. She moved back to Kentucky to work and married J.C. Helton. Like the loggerheads, she was pulled back to Pawleys Island.

“Every time they got ready to go, she’d ask why don’t you go with us,” said Helton’s sister-in-law Frances “Cinder” Parsons. “We said all right in 1964.” The group included J.C. Helton’s three sisters and families: Marietta Helton Lewis and Milton, Eloise Helton Drake and Robert, and Frances “Cinder” Helton Parsons and Kenneth and Sonny. Capt. McClary would invite them to the Moose Lodge in Georgetown for shrimp creole and stories about Friendfield Plantation and Pawleys Island.

All the family had a love of the sea in their genes. Lyne Shackleford Kinningham, whose ancestors are buried in the small cemetery off the South Causeway of Pawleys Island was a maternal grandfather. The Shacklefords married into the Kinningham family after immigrating from England to Virginia, and at one time the Shackleford family owned all of the Outer Banks. Shackleford Banks where feral horses roam is named for them. Eventually some of them migrated and settled at Pawleys Island.

As the families grew, the logistics of the nine-hour trip became more complicated. At first, Dink and J.C. Helton stayed with her aunt and uncle in Georgetown with the remainder of the family on the island. The children spent their days at Jimmy’s near the Pawleys Island pier playing miniature golf and jumping on trampolines. They catalogue the ’60s by the injuries: a broken arm from falling off a groin, a man-o’-war sting and a foot punctured by a nail.

The families rented houses on the south end along Springs Avenue between Hazard and Pritchard streets as the group grew from a second generation to a third. The Sawyer-Davis house, owned by the late Mary and Tom Davis of Georgetown, was the clan’s headquarters. By this time the group had grown to well over 100, including extended family and friends from Pineville, Ky. Hurricane Hugo destroyed most of the houses they rented on the south end in 1989, and the families gathered a truckload of supplies for Georgetown. When the Kentucky families returned in 1990 most relocated to the north end and to Pawleys Pier Village.

“This is the best place for a family vacation,” said Dr. Robert Blake of the island. “It couldn’t be better: relax, fish.”

Dink Helton’s husband, J.C., was sick and stayed at home this year with their dog. Family members remembered relatives Marietta and Milton Lewis and Eloise and Robert Drake. A beach party marked the 50th anniversary gathering along with the wedding of Elizabeth Drake and Blair Hoelscher at Brookgreen Gardens.

“This is a great thing for all of us,” Dink Helton said.

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