weston-newtonOn Oct. 3, Hurricane Todd came ashore in Beaufort County, wiping out homes and businesses all across Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie, Bluffton, Beaufort, Sheldon, Fripp and St. Helena. Power was lost and government facilities were destroyed. Roadways became impassable due to severe flooding and the large number of uprooted trees piled up across the asphalt. High winds of 129 mph hurled debris into the air like missiles and left it scattered in huge stacks of rubble, completely trashing the beautiful Lowcountry landscape.

What makes a person intriguing?

Intriguing People of the Lowcountry

According to Webster’s Dictionary, it’s someone that has the capacity to fascinate us, to arouse our curiosity. The people profiled here range from a liberal and a conservative columnist to a man who’s bringing rap and rockn’ roll acts to the Lowcountry to a 92-year-old golf starter. They also include a sailor, a pilot who flies sick children to get the help they need, a woman who works diligently to help single moms, another woman whose Down Syndrome child inspired her to help others, an architect who came about his calling in an unusual fashion, and a man who brings his Caribbean music to local children. There’s also the doctor helping Hispanic women with prenatal care, a businessman who had his “aha” moment and is now helping teen girls as they recover from substance abuse, and the solicitor who has changed the face of law enforcement in our community.

Santa Claus. Photo by Ben Ham.It’s rare to score a few minutes with the big man this time of year with his busy schedule of supervising elves and last-minute tweaks to the naughty and nice list, but once we told him he was Hilton Head Monthly’s Most Valuable Person this month, he quickly obliged.

DB: Hello, Mr. Claus. Thanks for taking a few moments to speak with me today.
SC: No problem. Please, call me Nick.

DB: In order to ensure you’re the real deal and not some shopping mall imposter, I need to ask you a quick question to verify your identity. What did you give me for Christmas in 1986?
SC: The original Nintendo, of course. How could I resist with that lovely spread of milk and cookies and that adorable, poorly-written ‘thanks in advance’ note you put out? Man, you loved Duck Hunt.

For 10 years, Hilton Head Heroes has provided vacations for families with sick children

Lindy and Gregg Russell, who founded the nonprofit in 1999.Like many couples, Gregg Russell and Lindy Ellison Russell like to flip through photo albums and reminisce about family vacations.

But some of their most precious scrapbooks don’t contain a single photograph of the Russells, or of a faraway location. Instead, they’re filled with snapshots of other families on Hilton Head Island — all kinds of families with one thing in common: a child who has been diagnosed with a serious illness.

In the pictures, these “hero children,” as the Russells call them, are frail, but beaming nonetheless.

Realtor Sean Ryan brings food to those in need as a Meals on Wheels volunteer

Realtor Sean Ryan brings food to those in need as a Meals on Wheels volunteerIn an advertisement, a smiling Realtor named Sean Ryan casually leans on a picket-and-wire fence on the beach, holding up a sign that says, “I will help you buy or sell property on Hilton Head for food.”

Given the real estate market over the last few years, the image elicits a few chuckles and defnitely warrants a closer look. It’s at that point, once you look past the picture and see what Sean Ryan is doing for the community, you realize there’s much more to him than real estate.

Ryan does in fact work for food. Only the food isn’t for him. It’s for the Lowcountry’s many invisible poor, who wonder every day where they’re going to get their next meal. And a percentage of every real estate commission Ryan makes goes toward putting food on their tables.

A Christmas miracle and the perfect ambassador for the March of Dimes

Brionna AndersonBy all accounts, Brionna Anderson is a typical, vivacious 7-year-old girl. A second-grader at Red Cedar Elementary, Brionna impresses classmates and adults alike with her talent for sports and her incredibly detailed drawings, fights of fancy that only youthful imagination and energy can create. Her bright personality and energetic zest for life are all the more amazing when one hears her story.

Brionna was born on Christmas Day in 2001, coming into this world 29 weeks ahead of schedule. Right away, she had health problems.

Her respiratory system wasn’t functioning normally, so she was quickly sent to the Medical University of South Carolina. There, she was given Survanta, which helps keep the air sac open and lungs from collapsing. The treatment was developed with funding from the March of Dimes.

Meet Joe Leland, the Lowcountry’s ‘Clam Man’

Joe “The Clam Man” Leland, right, and his partner Curtis have worked together since 1979. Here they are inspecting and counting clams on their boat in Port Royal Sound before they bag them and get them ready to sell to local businesses.Going back nearly to the dawn of man, there’s been a mystique to the sea. When it gets in your blood, any old salt will tell you that it never leaves.

For Joe Leland, that salt had been in his blood for generations, but it wasn’t until after retiring that he answered its call.

Leland, who goes by the afectionate nickname “The Clam Man,” traces his roots back to McClellanville, well known for its seafood.

“My family name goes back there. My daddy grew up in McClellanville,” Leland said. “My family’s background is in the seafood business.”

Clarece Walker is devoted to helping others as head of United Way of the Lowcountry

Clarece WalkerClarece Walker, president and CEO of United Way of the Lowcountry, was born to lend a helping hand.

“I think I might have been destined for this,” she said of her 30-plus-year career with the national organization whose mission is to improve lives by mobilizing communities.

The United Way’s credo is “Live United.” Raised in Maiden, N.C., Walker experienced that lifestyle before she even knew what the United Way was. “It was the kind of place you grew up knowing everyone and taking responsibility for helping your neighbors,” she said. “I remember my sister and I going through our toys and clothes to donate to other kids who could use them.”

Actions are louder than words for well-known volunteer

July's MVP: Gordon DealIf it’s for a good cause, Gordon Deal probably has a hand in it. Known around town as the man who belongs to every volunteer committee and appears at all the major charitable events, Deal just doesn’t have it in him to turn down a request for help. “My wife used to say to me, ‘Let me take your jaw and help you say ‘NO,’ ” jokes Deal, who is originally from Savannah but has lived on Hilawards ton Head Island since 1998. “I said to her, ‘But I’m having a good time!’ I work seven days a week because I like to stay active and give back.”

Much of Deal’s community involvement stems from his nine-year membership in the Rotary Club. For example, when a fellow Rotarian mentioned he was also the executive director of the Mental Health Association on Hilton Head, Deal asked what he could do and soon found himself with a Christmas gift wish list in his hands.

The Curry Foundation, started by Tom Curry of Lowcountry Paver, is raising money for Ben and Brittany Kennedy of Bluffton, who are facing mounting medical bills since Ben was diagnosed with follicular non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Treatment could take six months to a year. Meanwhile, the Kennedys are struggling to pay for their house, car, food and utilities.