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2013: A look back - Part Three of Three

‘Classically Carolina,’ tragic deaths and Liberty Hill Farms cap the year gone by

Posted: January 2, 2014 4:13 p.m.
Updated: January 3, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Whether it be the back nine or the back 40, you know you’re getting closer to the end of some stories as you reach them. That’s the case with this last third of our review of the year that was: 2013. Some stories are “good;” some less so.

What was tops as the year came to a close? “Camden: Classically Carolina,” a police chief’s 20th anniversary, the loss of a school resource officer and the preservation of a large tract of land straddling Kershaw and Lancaster counties. Here, then, are highlights from September, October, November and December 2013.

September

“Hallelujah!” cried former Kershaw County Board of School Trustees member Carol Thompson. She did so at a ribbon cutting for North Central Middle School’s (NCMS) new wellness center in early September. The new 7,200-square-foot facility boasts a multi-purpose room equipped with a wrestling mat and mirror (for cheerleaders), fitness room for athletes and NCMS faculty, locker/changing room, restrooms, and office and storage space. NCMS head football coach and the Kershaw County School District’s Teacher of the Year Brian Leininger said the new center is “critical” for the North Central area, with equipment helping with strength, conditioning and agility training. A few days later, trustees cut another ribbon on a wellness center, this time at Elgin’s Leslie M. Stover Middle School. Like NCMS’ facility, Stover’s contains a multi-purpose room, fitness room with new equipment and a restroom.

Arnett Muldrow, a Greenville-based marketing firm, kicked off a series of public meetings to help determine Camden’s new brand and come up with a tourism marketing strategy. At the first meeting, in mid-September, residents essentially came up with the idea that Camden was a “gracious lady” that wasn’t “living up to its potential.” They did so by answering three questions: What would you want Prince William and his family to see if they visited Camden? What one thing would you change if you had a magic wand? How would you describe Camden as a person? The firm presented its initial findings in October, explaining that Camden was both gaining and “leaking” tourism dollars. It then held branding workshops in November. A few days later, it unveiled its new brand for the city: “Camden, Classically Carolina.” The firm also presented a draft marketing plan to city council in December.

Hundreds of people lined Broad Street in Camden for the city’s 18th annual Fire Fest as hundreds of fire and safety vehicles paraded to Rhame Arena. Inside, the public commemorated the 90th anniversary of the worst fire in South Carolina history: the Cleveland School fire of 1923 which claimed 77 lives. The tragedy helped shape fire safety regulations and building codes in the state and nationwide. Firefighters also focused on kitchen fire safety demonstrations and competition amongst themselves and Explorers.

October

One of the people topping news in October was Camden’s Bill Byars who retired as the director of the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDOC) after three years. Byars previously served as director of the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ, 2003-2010) and as a family court judge. His philosophy of rehabilitating and reintegrating inmates into society fixed problems he inherited at DJJ and reduced the adult inmate population for the first time in years at SCDOC. Byars also practiced law in Camden for 17 years, served as Kershaw County Attorney and chairman of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees.

Another big name for October was Harold Brown, celebrating his 20th year as Elgin’s chief of police. The job started as a temporary one, “filling in” at the request of then Elgin Mayor Pete James. He previously spent 10 years working with Kershaw County law enforcement, but was happy to serve the community where he had lived since high school. During his time as chief, Brown said he has watched the town of Elgin and the police department grow. Even as chief, Brown still directs traffic at one of the local schools, helps out with investigations and writes grants. “We do it all in a small department,” he said.

A year after Camden voters turned down the idea of spending hospitality tax (HTAX) funds on a sports complex, a circuit court judge ruled that such use of HTAX money is legal. The judge ruled that the proposed complex would have met the definition of a “tourism-related” facility, thereby meeting the criteria for HTAX use. The proposal was to build a two-story, 44,000-square-foot building for approximately $6.2 million with a gymnasium, wellness center, shell space for a future indoor pool, locker rooms, community room, and childcare and youth activity rooms. The ruling created a South Carolina precedent, allowing other municipalities the chance to use HTAX funds for similar projects.

November

Tragedy marred November at both the beginning at end of the month. On her first morning out as a mail carrier for the Bethune/Cassatt area, 26-year-old Erica Broughton died in a single-vehicle accident. Broughton was also part of a family of firefighters, working alongside her husband, brother and cousin at the Buffalo-Mt. Pisgah Fire Department. Just three weeks later, the West Wateree community mourned the loss of Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Rob Evans, who died following a heart attack while directing traffic at Wateree Elementary School. Evans served as a school resource officer (SRO) at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School (L-EMS) and was credited for bringing Rachel’s Challenge to the school and for acting as the “Voice of the Demons” at L-EMS football games.

A highlight for the month of November was the unveiling of yet another piece of Maria J. Kirby-Smith artwork, this time at the Kershaw County Library. As a companion piece to one already at the library, Kirby-Smith created “Son,” a life-size bronze sculpture of an African-American boy sitting on a chair reading Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” as his pet cat slinks by. The Friends of the Library thanked Kirby-Smith and the woman who donated the commission of the artwork: Sandy DuBose.

KershawHealth once again made headlines in November as it interviewed a number of candidates for the position of interim chief executive officer (CEO). While there were questions about whether the KershawHealth Board of Trustees followed the S.C. Freedom of Information Act during its proceedings, they eventually named several finalists. From those, the board announced it was hiring Terry Gunn, former CEO of Trident Health System in Charleston. In an interview with the C-I during his first week on the job, Gunn said he wants to focus and build on the organization’s strengths, “where excellence can be pulled together and then let that infect everything else around it. Thanks the secret sauce.”

December

Camden Middle School (CMS) had a bit of a scare during the early days of December when a 13-year-old male student brought a .38 caliber gun and a box cutter to school. The student initially told his SRO and another Camden police officer that he brought the weapons because he felt threatened by other student to whom he owed money. However, the Camden Police Department (CPD) soon determined the student had never been threatened. The CPD also concluded that CMS officials responded to the situation properly.

Thousands of Kershaw County residents and others lined the streets of Camden, Lugoff and Boykin for a trio of parades in one weekend. The Camden Christmas Parade used a theme of “Santa’s Workshop,” developed by third-graders at Midway Elementary School. An estimated 9,000 to 12,000 people watched the Boykin parade, enjoying various antics including Hank Kerfoot’s parody of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” The parade marked the 20th anniversary of the Boykin event. Lots of people also came out to the Lights of Lugoff parade along U.S. 1 despite a 24-hour rain delay with Lugoff House of Pizza winning the Optimist Club’s Best Overall Entry award.

And our last major top story of the year: The Conservation Fund’s purchase of the entire 3,500-plus acre Liberty Hill Farm property from Greenwood Communities and Resorts Inc. The purchase capped more than a year and a half worth of work led by State Sen. Vincent Sheheen. The Conservation Fund plans to resell the land to the state of South Carolina so that it can be preserved -- undeveloped -- in perpetuity. Greenwood originally purchased the property in 2006 for $28.6 million but could not develop it into the large-acre residential lots it had originally planned. The Conservation Group purchased the land for $9 million and hopes to resell the first 1,628 acres in Lancaster County early this year. The remainder of the land, nearly half of which lays in Kershaw County will be sold to the state during the next year to year and a half.

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