John CrawshawJohn Crawshaw had no idea that the simple birthday gift of a book from his daughter could lead to a life-altering experience.

The book, “Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca” by Robert Bittlestone, presents Bittlestone’s theory that the location of Ithaca in Homer’s “The Odyssey” is in fact the western peninsula of the Greek island called Kefalonia today. After reading the book in 2007, Crawshaw became excited by the idea that Ithaca could actually be found.

“I thought (the book) was a wonderful detective story,” says Crawshaw, 60, a retired Heinz executive and Sea Pines resident who earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Classics from Oxford University in his home country of England. “The idea that a special place in Greek epic literature could be discovered I found extraordinary. I wanted to join that story, if I could.”

Kathleen KaneIn 2010, Sister Kathleen Kane celebrated her 50-year anniversary in The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. “That means I entered religious life when I was three years old,” she jokes.

Kane’s history with the church — Sisters take the same vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as nuns, but do not live behind cloistered walls — has left her uniquely qualified for her responsibilities as the Pastoral Associate at St. Francis, where she’s spent ten years. “These are challenging times for the church,” she says, “but I love to share the beauty of 2,000 years of tradition.”

Lewis HankinsLewis Hankins, it seems, was fated to become his hero.  In a 1984 performance impersonating Samuel Langhorne Clemens — or Mark Twain, to generations of readers — for his fellow law enforcement officers in Ohio, Hankins caught the eye of Russ Varvel, vice president of the Delta Steamboat Company, who was so impressed by Hankins’ work that he offered him a job as a performer with his company on the spot.

Hankins was honored — “Twain would say it bankrupted my vocabulary,” he says now — but wasn’t quite ready to leave his day job. But upon his retirement four years later, Hankins reconnected with Varvel and finally stepped aboard the Mississippi Queen — in his white suit — in January 1989. He spent the next 19 years entertaining and educating passengers. The mustache, he says, was his. “I just wish the hair was,” he says with a laugh. “I had so much fun there. I grew up on the river. I miss it.”

Dr. Jonathan SackIn 1984, Dr. Jonathan Sack was a 35-year-old physician who had been practicing for 10 years in Johannesburg. But apartheid-era tensions in his South African hometown were boiling over, manifesting themselves in racial and political violence, and Sack decided it was time to prepare an escape.

“It was starting to get ugly,” he says. “It was getting unpleasant living there.”

He and his wife, Amy, hopped on a sailboat and spent a few months cruising the world. And a fortunate jaunt up the east coast of America put them on a course straight to Hilton Head. “We stopped here for gas and never left,” he says. “I didn’t really know the place existed before.”

Lisa RileyLisa Riley never planned to sell cosmetics. She was a sales associate in the children’s department at Belk in The Mall at Shelter Cove when a manager requested (or, more accurately, instructed) that she move to the Clinique counter. Riley admits to not liking the job at first — she had never worn make-up — but she soon realized there was more to the job than helping women choose between matte and glossy lipstick. “I realized that I was making people happy,” she says. “I wasn’t just selling make-up. I was listening to women, hearing their stories and helping them feel secure and beautiful.”

Riley says she realized she had a gift for pairing people with products when a mom and daughter approached her looking for a single item and ended up leaving completely made-over. And those are just two of more than a thousand clients — including some from as far away as California, Virginia and Michigan — who now ask for Riley by name.

Ben WolfeWith his youthful demeanor and Justin Bieber haircut, 24-year-old Ben Wolfe could easily pass for a Hilton Head Preparatory School student, instead of its performing arts director.

A veteran performer in his native Georgia since age 5, Wolfe was hired in 2009, fresh out of Armstrong Atlantic State University.

“I almost took the same job at a school in Tampa,” he says. “But I’d worked at the Arts Center here, and theater is about who you know and have good relationships with,” he says. “I didn’t know anybody in Tampa.”

Lindsay BurkeLindsay Burke knows she’s fortunate. Her bright smile no longer shows any trace of the cleft palate that she was born with. But rather than forget about the past, she’s driven by a need to help others born with the condition.

Lindsay, a senior and avid tennis player at Hilton Head Island High School, is an active fundraiser for the Smile Train foundation, a global charity that helps teach local doctors and provides free surgeries to children in 78 of the world’s poorest countries born with cleft lips or palates.

“I decided to combine two of the things most important to me — my tennis and helping Smile Train — and came up with the idea of holding a tennis exhibition at my home club in Spanish Wells to raise money,” she explains.

Suzette Springer: THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWNMany kids dream of joining the circus, but Suzette Springer actually did it. In the 1980s, she performed with Cirque du Soleil as a contortionist and served as a member of the Big Apple Circus.

“It was a time for learning how to approach not just the arts, but life,” she says. “No complaining, no whining — just incredible amounts of practice and absolute devotion to your goals.”

Springer began dancing when she was 10; by the time she reached high school she was studying for half her days and dancing the rest. A prosperous professional career in dance and teaching followed; now she’s about to fulfill her longtime dream of teaching at her own studio.

Harold Watson, executive director of Programs for Exceptional PeopleHarold Watson, executive director of Programs for Exceptional People, has a difficult time talking about himself. He briefly mentions his prolific 30-year background with non-profits and church ministries before he changes the subject to his No. 1 cause. “I find a great deal of fulfillment in working with adults with intellectual and mental challenges,” he says of his work with PEP.

Founded 15 years ago by a small group of parents of disabled adult children, PEP provides a place where special-needs adults can take classes, participate in community programs and socialize with peers. “Members have goals to help increase their independence, whether it be at home or in the community,” he says.

Carrie HirschWhen Carrie Hirsch started working on the battered old “Little House” on Gumtree Road, she wondered what the neighbors were thinking.

“I thought, ‘Everybody’s going to think I’m a Realtor,’” she says, recalling how she’d drive over to the abandoned shack if she had a free hour and work to clear  brush from the site that would be transformed into the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island. “People would ask me what I was doing. Eventually I knew everybody by name, they knew me by name and I felt like they were watching out for me. I don’t know if they’ll ever know how much that meant to me.”

What’s intriguing about Hirsch, 49, is that she is so passionate about preserving a piece of history that holds no place in her personal history. She isn’t a native islander. She isn’t even a native South Carolinian. She’s a Hilton Head resident by way of New York City who stumbled upon the island’s true wealth while on vacation here several years ago.