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‘A legacy of service’

Elgin residents, VIPs turn out for Potter park dedication

Posted: September 9, 2014 10:01 p.m.
Updated: September 10, 2014 6:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

State Sen. Thomas McElveen tells the audience at Saturday morning’s dedication of a picnic shelter at Potter Community Park that the one word he comes up with when he thinks of Elgin is “community” because “you don’t wait around for somebody to come in here and do something for you. If you all want something done, you do it yourselves.”

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A check for $10,000 from First Citizens Bank and a speech by S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell highlighted a dedication ceremony for the next step in Potter Community Park’s evolution in Elgin on Saturday morning.

The ceremony -- technically a ribbon cutting for the park’s newly constructed picnic shelter -- turned into both a celebration of the park as a whole and of the town’s spirit of public service. The park is named for the E.C. and Gladys Potter family, several of whose members live next to the park. Members of the family have served as town clerks, mayor, fire chiefs and deputies, including E.C.’s son, Chris Potter III, murdered in the line of duty in 1974.

Chris Potter III’s widow, Jeanne Potter, who has worked at the S.C. State House for many years, invited Harrell to attend the event and speak. She is Harrell’s executive assistant.

“For us, we are extended Potters,” Harrell said. “We have known Jeanne and her family since I became a member of the Ways and Means Committee which is back in the early ’90s, and chairman of that committee in ’99, and then when I became speaker of the house, Jeanne was kind enough to move down the hall with me into the speaker’s office. This simplest way I can tell you about our relationship -- my kids call Jeanne Potter ‘Mama Jeanne.’ I don’t know how to explain it any clearer than that.”

Harrell said it was, therefore, particularly special for her to ask him to speak Saturday.

“‘You don’t have to, you don’t need to,’ (she said). And I looked at (my wife) Cathy and said, ‘Yeah, right.’ This is absolutely something that I need to do and needed to come to,” he said.

Harrell said Potter Community Park will be enjoyed by many people for generations to come.

“It’s a park that, years from now, people will remember the Potter family and remember the things that the Potter family has done for this community. I think it’s only fitting that this park be named after this family,” Harrell said.

He then went on to joke about Elgin’s two popular festivals, claiming that his daughter should be entered into the Miss Catfish Stomp pageant, and that either he and his wife, or his son and daughter-in-law, should vie for Mr. and Mrs. Podunk Festival.

Harrell pointed out that the park is made possible not only from a corporate donation from First Citizens Bank, but also the service, time and talent of many people. Harrell then said that, just before speaking, he had leaned over to members of Kershaw County’s legislative delegation to make a suggestion.

“I said, ‘Yeah, we ought to just figure out how to fund this, don’t you think?’ So, let’s go ahead and do that,” Harrell said to a round of applause. “We are here to celebrate all of your contributions to making this happen, because you all understand the value of community service. And you understand the value of small town -- although this isn’t such a small town anymore -- but the value of community and people pulling together.”

He said that service was epitomized by E.C. and Gladys Potter.

“To them, Elgin was not just a town; Elgin was home, in every sense of the word. They owned a business here, they lived here, they raised their family here. They passed on an incredible legacy of service to their families here,” he said.

Harrell then mentioned Chris Potter’s tragic death 40 years ago.

“As hard as that was, it was part of that legacy of service,” Harrell said, going on to name other members of the family. “John served as the Blaney Fire chief, Patty now works for the (Elgin) police with Chief (Harold) Brown and that legacy of service will continue here through the generations. Chris’ son is now Sgt. (Chris) Potter, following his dad’s footsteps. Jeanne -- if I haven’t made it already clear, Cathy and I couldn’t exist without her. The other Potter family members -- Hannah, Chris, Chandler, Owen, Chloe, Christopher and Victoria -- this park will be enjoyed by many, many people and it will receive the love and affection and care from this Potter family and, I think, from everyone else in this community for years to come.

“I think it’s fitting that this place for years to come will be filled with children’s laughter and smile’s on adults as everyone is enjoying this wonderful place together.”

First Citizens Bank Vice President Dennis Stuber presented Elgin Mayor Brad Hanley with a mock-up of the $10,000 check used to assist the construction of the shelter.

“We think you’ve done a great job and we appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it,” Stuber said, also recognizing several employees who live in Elgin.

In his opening remarks, Hanley said the park not only honors the memory of Chris Potter and his family, but the vision of a former mayor.

“We are standing here today partially as a result of the former mayor, Paul Grooms, who seized the opportunity when it presented itself to buy this piece of property. Rest in peace, Paul,” Hanley said.

Before the ceremony began, Elgin Town Councilwoman Dana Sloan said there are two more phases planned for the park: a walking track with memorial benches and playground. During the ceremony, Hanley said the town hopes to construct a community center in the park.

Hanley also thanked those who worked behind the scene, especially Sloan for “bringing things together” and Jeanne Potter for being a “phenomenal fundraiser.” Hanley thanked the entire Potter Community Park Committee: Sloan; Jeanne Potter; Chief Brown; town council members Melissa Emmons, Candy Silvers, and Ed Smith; Ronnie Smith; and George Marthers.

State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk said she is “in awe” of Elgin, adding that -- having been raised in Lugoff -- she attended Lugoff and Elgin schools. Funderburk said she remembered marching with the Lugoff-Elgin Marching Pride during the Catfish Stomp.

She said a park is a wonderful thing, especially in one respect.

“In fact, it’s an essential part of a community and I’ve been out here many times at various functions and I’ve just got to say that there’s one truly wonderful thing about this shelter that I’m standing under -- and that is shade,” she said, followed by laughter from the audience.

Funderburk said it will also serve as the place of many happy occasions. She, too, recognized the hard work of many people.

“It’s also wonderful to see the Potter family and the many generations of smiling faces. It is a privilege to work with Jeanne Potter … and I’m also very fond of the entire Potter family. What a legacy of service you have all of you,” she said. “You are a fine reflection of the integrity and strength of character of the people of Elgin.”

Funderburk said that while it’s wonderful to think of and say good things about your community, it’s another thing to act.

“Boy, when it turns into action, isn’t that powerful?” she said.

State Sen. Thomas McElveen -- who joked that he might have to compete with Harrell for the title of Mr. Podunk -- said one word comes to mind when he thinks about Elgin.

“The one word I can’t get away from and the one word I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot of times today is ‘community,’” McElveen said. “I can tell you right now, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a place in the entire United States that has a greater sense of community than the town of Elgin.”

McElveen said that as he was running for office in 2012, Emmons told him a bit of the town’s history and that there were big plans for the area.

“It’s just amazing to me what’s happened in two short years. It’s absolutely amazing, that you’ve got this beautiful salute to the military over here, now you have this beautiful pavilion and it’s going to keep on getting better and better,” he said.

McElveen said there is a particular characteristic that makes Elgin “beautiful” in his mind.

“You don’t wait around for somebody to come in here and do something for you. If you all want something done, you do it yourselves,” he said, eliciting applause.

McElveen also pointed out all the corporate and business partners who pitched in, noting that, too, is a sign of a “tight-knit” community.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you pull together. And I think, right here, is a testament that you’re going to see for generations to come. It’s a great testament to the history that the Potter family has here in Elgin. It’s also going to be a great way to preserve the wonderful sense of community you have here,” McElveen concluded.

When it came time for Sloan to speak, she immediately had the audience help her persuade Jeanne Potter to come up to the podium.

“I’m so proud of our family. I’m so proud of my father- and mother-in-law who did so much for this town. It’s a legacy that has passed down the generations that you’ve heard about,” Jeanne Potter said. “But, you know, a family can’t do anything by themselves. It takes a community effort. It takes people willing to dig down and do the sweat work, but it also takes people who are willing to give funds to make it possible. I’m proud of this park. I’m proud of our family. I’m proud of the contributions that have been made in the past, what’s been made today, but I’m extremely proud of what the future’s going to hold, not only for our family but for everyone who comes and celebrates this park.

“The laughter that’s going to be heard is something I’m sure my mother- and father-in-law would have appreciated greatly. And I know my husband would have.”

State Rep. Dr. Jimmy Bales also spoke.

“It’s an honor to represent this city in the House and I’ve gotten to know a lot of families and businesses. To the Potter family, I say congratulations, this is a great honor. You deserve it,” Bales said.

The program began with an opening prayer from the Rev. Paul Miles and the Pledge of Allegiance, led by John Potter and several of the youngest members of the Potter family. John Potter said he was glad the park includes Elgin’s Military Salute Memorial because so many members of his family and other prominent Elgin families have served in the military.

“That’s what this town is about,” John Potter said, “the volunteers who work for nothing and volunteer their time. I want this to be more than just about the Potter family. The people at the top get the thanks, but it’s the ones that are at the bottom that do the work in the trenches that should be remembered. That’s what I would like this park to be a remembrance of -- the people who volunteer in the community.”

John Potter also thanked one person who was not there Saturday: Gladys Potter.

“If it were not for (her), there would be no Potters. There would be no Potter Park,” he said.

The ceremony ended with a ribbon cutting led by Hanley and Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liz Horton.

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