These local moms are on the frontlines in the truest sense of the word. Click here for their stories.
Who are the Blue Star Mothers?
The Low Country Blue Star Moms in Bluffton is a local chapter of Blue Star Mothers Of America. Members are mothers who now have, or have had, children honorably serving in the military. It is a nonprofit organization where the members support each other and their children while promoting patriotism.
The chapter meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday every month at Low Country Community Church, 801 Buckwalter Parkway, Bluffton.
Visit www.troopslovecontact.com for more information.
Mom has three children serving in militaryBy Erin Becker
With three children serving in the military, Trish Lewis-Clark knows what it takes to be a military mom. The goodbyes never get easier, the phone calls are never long enough, and the worrying never ends.
But this Bluffton mom says she would not have it any other way.
“I’m very honored to be a military mom, and very proud of all my children and all the men and women who serve our country,” she says. “You have to support your children when they make decisions like these.”
Lewis-Clark’s children are on American soil, for now, but they are still far from home. Her eldest daughter, Amber Morgan, 23, is a Navy reservist based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Morgan’s husband, Kyle, is in the Navy and set to deploy in August to Afghanistan. Lewis-Clark’s oldest son, Brandon Polly, 22, completed two tours in Iraq. He’s now a Marine reservist going to school in Orlando. Jeremy Polly, 21, is a Marine reservist based in Memphis.
Lewis-Clark watched her first husband, a former Marine, go to war. But that experience didn’t prepare her for Brandon’s deployments.
“I personally have been on both sides of the fence, and it is much harder watching your son go off to war,” she said. “You never stop worrying. You never stop praying. You never stop listening for the phone to ring.”
Fighting back tears, Lewis-Clark recalled the time when Brandon got a tattoo that includes the phrase “Death before Dishonor.” He told his mom it meant that if captured, he’d rather die protecting his fellow Marines than giving up information to his captors. At that point, Lewis-Clark knew she had instilled a good moral compass in her children.
“It made me realize I did a great job raising my children,” she says proudly. “My children amaze me every day – putting their lives on the line and never thinking twice.”
Lewis-Clark has a fourth child, Alisha Groves, 17. She also has two stepchildren and grandchildren with her husband, Gregg Clark. With three of her children far from home, she draws strength from her family and faith.
“I’m a very strong Christian, and I have to turn it over to God,” she says.
When she’s not working as the office manager at Bluffton Dental, Lewis-Clark is busy volunteering with Operation R&R and Low Country Blue Star Moms (LCBSM). Operation R&R is a nonprofit group that arranges local vacation accommodations for families of military personnel who’ve recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan. LCBSM is a nonprofit band of military moms that provides support to active service personnel and veterans. As president of LCBSM, Lewis-Clark organizes fundraisers and collects donations for care packages that are shipped to troops overseas.
“I can’t do enough for military men and women. I can only beg the Lowcountry to give to the Blue Star Moms and Operation R&R,” she says, adding that snacks and every-day items are crucial for care packages. “I will not stop until they all come home. They are protecting our freedom and rights.”
From the Lowcountry with loveBy Charlie Edwards
Conventional wisdom tells you not to take work home with you.
For Rosemary Kraus, a librarian at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, it works a little differently. This proud military mom gets to bring a little bit of home to work.
That’s because her son, Sgt. Jonathan Kraus, works just up the street as a combat engineer. Jonathan has served the United States Marine Corps through two tours in Iraq, and when given his choice of duty stations, the decision was a no-brainer. For this devoted son and die-hard devil dog, Parris Island was the clear choice.
Now Rosemary gets to spend her days aboard the Depot where Marines are made, seeing the Marine her son has become, and the long, hard road that took him there.
“You’ll see them bring in a group of kids, and that’s what they are: kids,” she said. “And after months on that Depot, they come out the other side as men and women.”
Jonathan’s own journey to the ranks of the few and the proud started long before he first stepped on Parris Island’s famed yellow footprints. An eagle scout, Jonathan was mentored by a former Marine turned scoutmaster in corps values. When his time came, Jonathan proudly chose to follow in his mentor’s footsteps.
“It just followed suit,” beamed Rosemary. “When he told me he was going to join the military, I asked him which branch.”
His response was the standard incredulous “Mom,” that every son uses to address his mother when they’ve just asked an obvious question, followed by “the Marines, what else?” When Rosemary tells the story, her smile is evident in every syllable.
She supported her son’s decision wholeheartedly, sending him care packages during his deployments in Iraq. After one particular package, she got an unexpected response.
“He told me ‘Don’t send care packages, because I’m the only one getting them. Not many of us here get them,’ ” Rosemary recalled.
In typical cooperative Marine fashion, the few who were getting care packages had started up a de facto shop for their fellow warriors. They would leave anything they didn’t want from their boxes on a shelf for their fellow service members to pick through. For those that didn’t get packages from home, the pickings could be slim.
Rosemary and a few fellow military moms quickly realized they had a mission. They began the Web site www.troopslovecontact.com, collecting goods to send to our men and women overseas. Rosemary and her compatriots realized that alone they could help their own children, but together they could support so many more. Their dedication led to the national Blue Star Mothers organization asking them to join the cause as a local chapter.
“We send 25 boxes a month right now,” Rosemary said. “We just spent around $300 sending 22 boxes. Scherlie (Devine) cleaned out her cabinets. All told we send between $30-40 in items in each box.”
And while Rosemary might now get to see her son every day, she still helps those who don’t get that privilege. Partly, she does it to help serve her country. But another part knows she’ll get a chance to send her son gift packages from home once again: Jonathan will head to North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune on Sept. 15 in preparation for another deployment, this time to Afghanistan.
This time, she’ll have more than letters home and occasional phone calls to keep her spirits up. She’ll have her fellow Blue Star Mothers.
“We support each other when our kids are deployed,” she said.
Three stars, almost 80 years of service
By Charlie Edwards
For some, military service comes from a sense of adventure. For some, a sense of duty.
For Scherlie Devine, it came from a legacy of service stretching back to her maternal grandmother, who sent five sons off to WWII. Her father also served his country on the Manhattan Project, earning a letter of gratitude from Secretary of War Henry Stinson.
And when she met her husband Michael in 1968, it was while they were both serving their country in the United States Navy. Scherlie would leave the Armed Forces in 1970, but her service would be far from over.
As a wife, she would lead the Navy life by her husband’s side during his 20 years of service. As a mother, she would raise a brood of true patriots and American heroes.
“We had no qualms when our children decided to enter the service,” she said. “We felt they could have no job more important than serving our country. Our pride in them and their service is beyond measure.”
This second generation of service would begin with their oldest, Michael (born on the Fourth of July, incidentally), who turned down a spot in the Air Force Academy in favor of an ROTC scholarship to Gonzaga. He graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate and has spent the last 18 years in the U.S. Army, where he is now a lieutenant colonel in the Acquisition Corps.
Another son, Patrick, came next. Another Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Idaho, Patrick serves the U.S. Army as a chaplain, where he has received the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge (a rarity for a non-combatant) for his bravery and service in Iraq.
Finally, daughter Katie served in the U.S. Army as well, spending 10 years between active and reserve duty. Her time in the military saw her earning a Green to Gold scholarship that allowed her to earn a degree in psychology from Pacific Lutheran University. Like her mother before her, she found love with a fellow servicemember, marrying an Army medic. She is now out of the Army, having finished her service at the rank of captain.
For the record, that’s 79 years of combined service from this one amazing family, and the mother that holds it all together. Though there have been plenty of well-earned accolades and medals for this family, Scherlie says it’s the things you can’t keep in a trophy case that have meant the most.
When Michael was recommended for the Legion of Merit for a life-saving program he spearheaded, but subsequently rejected because those holding the rank of major didn’t qualify, Scherlie recalls asking him if he was disappointed.
“He said, ‘No, Mom, because my program saves lives and that is what is important,’ ” she said, adding, “How cool is that?
“And our buttons nearly popped off when we were notified of Pat’s Bronze Star.”
And while her pride in her sons is evident, it’s the common bond of being women service members that led to a particularly memorable moment with daughter Katie.
“One of my proudest moments came when I was attending a special event in Washington, D.C. for the Women's Memorial with Katie. We heard a letter read by a Vietnam-era female veteran. The letter said, ‘We are so proud of all the women in the military today because we knew you were coming.’ My Katie turned to me and thanked me for giving her my shoulders to stand on as a female military member. I, in turn, told her that today's women are standing on her shoulders.”
As a wife and a mother in a family dedicated to service, and as someone who has served her country, Devine represents a special breed of American. She represents the selflessness of service, and the well-earned pride that comes with being a military mom.
“Because all three of my children are either on active duty or have served honorably, I am a three-star mother,” she said. “That means I wear three blue stars proudly.”
Strong family ties are essential for this momBy Erin Becker
As a boy, Eric Mattoon hated wearing a uniform, so much so that his mom says he didn’t want to join the Boy Scouts or be on the swim team. So you can imagine Judy Mattoon’s surprise when he became a Marine, making her a military mom.
“My husband and I were horrified when he decided to join the military,” jokes Judy, of Hilton Head Island. “He was in ROTC at Hilton Head High School for four years and he loved it.”
Eric’s parents thought he would pursue a career that kept him out of the line of fire and safely behind a desk.
“We thought he’d be a CPA,” Judy admits.
But Eric, 24, had other plans. Since graduating from The Citadel, he’s completed one tour in Iraq and is based at Camp Pendleton in California, where he lives with his wife, Katie.
“Now he’s decided to make a career of it,” Judy says, adding that Eric is a daredevil like his dad, Matt. “We’re thrilled with what he’s doing and extra proud of him.”
Judy says it’s not easy being a military mom. Especially when she has to say goodbye to her son, something she’s not looking forward to in a few months. As a company commander in the infantry battalion, Eric is training 250 soldiers for deployment in November to Afghanistan.
“November seems so far away,” she says. “I’m just not thinking about it. Afghanistan is going to be pretty scary.”
Judy, who works as a speech pathologist with the Beaufort County School District, says it helps that Eric calls and emails when he is overseas. She also finds comfort from her family, friends and other military moms.
“We couldn’t believe the support we got when he was in Iraq,” she says, adding that people sent Eric numerous care packages. “It helps talking to other moms.”
She also credits the military with keeping families informed about their loved ones. “The military is very good,” she says. “They keep us updated. We get email every so often.”
When he’s gone, Eric makes sure he calls his mom as much as possible because he knows she worries. He admits it’s just as hard for him when he is far from home.
“It’s always hard to say goodbye to my mom because she gets really sad,” he says.
Judy and Matt also have twin 22-year-old daughters – Jamie, who lives in Clemson, and Stacy, who lives in Atlanta.
A chief engineer on ships, Matt was often gone for work three months at a time. Eric says his mom made sure she was at all of his and his sisters’ athletic games and special events.
“I love her a lot and always appreciate everything, especially the sacrifices she did for us while we were growing up,” he says. “She’s just always there when we need her.”
Eric may be a husband and Marine, but Judy still thinks of him as the rambunctious boy that had a knack for destroying stuff in her house.
“I still call him my baby,” she says.
FIVE THINGS ABOUT … MOMSBy Alex Cruden
Forget the flowers, let’s change the world.
Mother’s Day was inspired by two women in particular Anna Jarvis of Grafton, W.Va., initiated a church memorial for her mother and others in May 1907 and then helped spread the idea statewide. Jarvis’ mother had thought women should be more socially active. Earlier, in 1870, prominent activist Julia Ward Howe proclaimed in a self-declared mother’s day poem: “Arise, all women who have hearts! / Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! / (… and promote) the great and general interests of peace.”
President Woodrow Wilson, who also favored peace at home, declared Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914.
Home cookingFood manufacturers and restaurants all over the country advertise their specialties are “just like mom used to make.” Soups, pies, steak and onions, cakes, beans, whatever. It seems that back in the day mom could cook just about anything better than anyone.
However, the words of novelist Nelson Algren, in the essay “What Every Young Man Should Know,” are not easily forgotten: “Never eat at a place called Mom’s.”
A positive queenThe Hilton Head area is blessed with a Queen Mother. That would be Queen Quet of St. Helena Island, head of state of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Also known as Marquetta L. Goodwine, the Queen Mother is a published author, computer scientist, mathematician and historian who has been honored by the South Carolina legislature.
She does not dwell only in the past. Asked in an interview on www.thesoulpitt.com “In what ways are you preserving the Gullah traditions and language?” Queen Quet responded: “My focus is the continuation of our culture and not simply ‘preservation.’ When we preserve things, they are put into jars for periods of time and then they are eaten. Thus, they no longer exist after that.”
Bad mothersIn the animal kingdom, the worst moms are Langur monkeys, according to askmen.com. Langur moms “commonly abuse their young and will abandon or even kill them if they are wounded.”
The common rabbit isn’t much better, says National Geographic online: “Rabbit mothers abandon their young in burrows immediately after birth and return to feed them for only about two minutes daily during their first 25 days.” And after that, nothing. Wait, there’s an excuse: “Mothers likely avoid their young to keep their underground locations secret” from predators.
An earlier holidayEver hear of Mothering Sunday? It seems to have begun in England about 1640, stemming from a festival honoring the Virgin Mary. While our Mother’s Day is the second Sunday of May, Mothering Day takes place on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Traditionally, young people living away from their parents go home for the day carrying a cake for mom. Sweet.
MOMS club helps kids and momsBy Robyn Passante
On a recent morning, Bluffton resident Daneane Robinette hosted a play date for about a half-dozen babies under age 1, including her youngest son Reece, who’s 8 months old.
If it seems odd to be starting play dates for kids who’ve barely begun cutting teeth, rest assured that such an activity is indeed beneficial to the babies — because it’s beneficial to their moms.
Robinette is a member of MOMS Club of Bluffton & Hilton Head Island, a local chapter of the national support group for mothers who choose to stay at home to raise their children. A stay-at-home mother in California who was searching for activities for her children and a social outlet for herself founded the MOMS —Moms Offering Moms Support — Club in 1983. Today there are more than 2,100 chapters in the U.S. and more than 110,000 members.
The local chapter has 72 member moms from Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, said chapter president Eliana Sutherland. Most are at home full-time with their kids, but some work part-time outside the home, she said.
Robinette joined in 2006, when her daughter, Avery, was 1.
“Avery’s first year I worked, so I couldn’t go to playgroups or anything like that,” Robinette says. “When I decided to stay home with her, I was lonely. I didn’t know anyone; we don’t have family in the area. And Avery was really shy, so I wanted her to be around other kids.” After doing some searching, Robinette read about the local MOMS Club and decided to give it a try.
“I’ve made some good friends, met some really nice people,” says Robinette, who now serves as the club’s Sunshine coordinator. The Sunshine program provides two weeks’ worth of hot home-cooked meals to moms who’ve just had a baby, had surgery or are dealing with a hardship that can be lessened by taking the stress out of dinnertime.
“I had the meals delivered after both my boys were born and it was great,” Robinette says. “I love it; I’d have a baby just to get the meals.”
Besides playgroups and hot meals, there are monthly membership meetings with playtime for the kids and a guest speaker for the moms, enlightening them on everything from coupon clipping to preschool picking.
And every frazzled mom needs a Moms Night Out, which the club organizes monthly. It also schedules Date Night Out for couples to can get away together, and hosts special activities for families around holidays. A recent Easter egg hunt drew about 70 members and their families, Sutherland says.
Above all, though, members say the club provides a social and emotional support network that is invaluable when you’re raising kids, and particularly when you’re raising kids at home by yourself all day, every day.
“You need to get out of the house,” Robinette says of stay-at-home moms. It helps so much to have somewhere to go, a set activity to put on the calendar, she says.
Sutherland remembers that feeling from when she joined the club two years ago. She had lived and worked in Charleston until her son Kyler was born. She decided to stay home to raise him just as her husband got a job in Bluffton and the family moved. Sutherland was left at home in a new town with an overwhelming new responsibility and nobody nearby to lean on or laugh with.
Luckily those days are long gone, she says.
“I met my best friend in the area through MOMS Club,” Sutherland says. “My kids’ best friends are also through MOMS Club.”
MOMS Clubs welcome mothers of all political, religious and ethnic backgrounds, realizing that such differences are no match for the common bond they all share.
“It’s nice to know that other moms understand what you’re going through,” Sutherland says.
To learn more about MOMS Club of Bluffton/Hilton Head Island, go to www.momsclubofbhh.com. Check out www.lowcountrychild.com, too. The site was created by work-at-home Bluffton mom Heather Bragg of Bragg Media. Lowcountry Child is a go-to resource for parents and grandparents of babies, preschoolers and big kids. It has up-to-date information on local events and activities, as well as a complete medical directory from Hilton Head Island to Savannah. But the heart of Lowcountry Child is its how-to articles, fun and affordable crafts, videos and timely features.