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Entrepreneur, raconteur Alice Boykin dies

Posted: August 11, 2016 5:37 p.m.
Updated: August 12, 2016 9:11 a.m.
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Alice Boykin waves to the crowd during a Boykin Christmas Parade. Boykin created and founded the wildly popular and eclectic holiday event.

Friends remember Alice Boykin as a multi-faceted individual who knew how to get things done but more importantly, knew how to enjoy life.

Alice Waite Shoolbred Boykin, widow of Lemuel Whitaker Boykin II, died Saturday at the age of 88. She leaves an impressive legacy as a business leader, preservationist, advocate for agriculture and creative visionary. While much of her career was in real estate, she became involved in a number of interests, including historic preservation; she restored the historic Greenleaf Inn in Camden and Swift Creek Church in Boykin, placing both buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

With her husband, who was the grandson of the creator of the Boykin Spaniel, she was a founder of the Boykin Spaniel Society.

While many knew her as the founder of the offbeat and popular Boykin Christmas Parade, fewer realize just what the event actually represents, noted long-time friend and neighbor Rowland Alston.

“Alice was a pioneer in agriculture, especially as it relates to agri-tourism,” Alston said. “I traveled South Carolina for forty years in my work with Clemson and I just don’t know of any community, especially an agricultural community, that was revitalized like Boykin was – and that was all due to her desire and ingenuity.”

Not only were her abilities recognized by friends and neighbors, but by the county and state. In 1995 she received a historic preservation award from Gov. David Beasley and in 1996 she was named Kershaw County Farmer of the Year. 

Alston, a former Clemson Extension Agent and long time host of the SCETV show “Making It Grow” spent much of his career promoting and showcasing agriculture in South Carolina. In fact, when agriculture suffered such losses and setbacks in the 1970s and 1980s and so many small farm communities simply disappeared, Alice Boykin came up with an idea to essentially re-create this quaint working farm village, one that people from all over would not only want to visit but also come to cherish, Alston said. She started with a restaurant, the Mill Pond, which was the former post office and general store of the Boykin Community that she moved from its location on U.S. 521 to its present location on Swift Creek Road. Later, she would add a working grain mill, broom factory, and a more casual dining establishment which would become a popular community gathering spot. She would also restore the historic Swift Creek Church and establish Rosa Lee’s Cottage as a rental venue for wedding receptions and other such gatherings.

All of this came about through her vision, ingenuity, and fierce desire to revitalize that small community, Alston said.

Long time friend Alan Wooten agreed.

“Alice did more about revitalizing and rebuilding Boykin than anyone,” Wooten noted.  “She worked hard her whole life and accomplished a lot.  Everything from the parade to the stores, church, restaurant, all of that – she was the spearhead.  She did that pretty much all herself.”

The Boykin Christmas Parade was not just another party; it was a commemoration of achievement, Alston said.

“When she first told me about the Christmas parade idea, I thought she was the craziest person in the world,” Alston said. “I thought nobody would come to see a combine and a herd of goats coming down the road! And yet twenty something years later, it’s probably the best country Christmas parade in the South.”

But the town of Boykin, while quite an accomplishment, was just one of a number of interests and projects to which Alice Boykin would set her creative and business energies. She became a business owner at a time when relatively few women embarked on such endeavors; that she not only became successful but handled a very large and varied set of business interests – farming, timber, retail, real estate -- was both testament to a sharp business acumen and fierce sense of tenacity, noted Weston Adams.

“I was a great admirer of her; I thought the world of her,” Adams said.  “If you think about a woman in those times running a significant land and timber empire, you see she was very capable business woman.”

Camden realtor Jo Montgomery, who started her career working for Boykin’s real estate firm, attributes much of her success to those years working with Boykin.

“She was a large part of my success in that she taught me how to sell Camden. We would sell the community – get people to love it, then we would find them a house,” Montgomery said. “That was the way she did it – and I still do that. We had a great time and I learned so much.”

Another side of Alice Boykin, one less known, perhaps, was her fierce loyalty, love and devotion to her family. Wooten especially noted her intense devotion to her children.

“She was a mother before she was anything else,” he said. “I don’t know if that was a side of her many people saw.”

That devotion and generosity of spirit extended to friends. 

“When I was 17 she asked me to go to Long Island with her to babysit her two children,” Molly Nettles said. “I tell you, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Going up there with her opened me up to a whole different world. I got a healthy education with how to deal with lots of different people – and I’ll always thank her for that”

More important, Nettles said, that experience taught her to deal with people from all walks of life, a gift for which she has always been grateful, she said.

Adams remembered moving to Camden a number of years ago and how Alice Boykin essentially took him under her wing, he said.

“She was wonderful to me – introduced me around – she was very generous,” he said. “I thought the world of her.”

But ultimately, Alice Boykin knew how to enjoy her life, friends noted. Not only was she a person of many interests and talents, she also possessed a rapier wit and delicious sense of humor.  She approached everything she did at full throttle, whether it was putting together a quirky holiday event or taking to the woods for a hunting excursion.  

“We had the same birthday, Dec. 6, so we used to have a hunting party every year,” Wooten said. “We would often hunt deer from horseback – she could hunt and shoot as well as anyone.”

Nettles said she enjoyed spending time with Boykin, especially on evening boat cruises on the Mill Pond. 

Once, the Nettles had a guest in town, a lobsterman from New England, and Boykin invited them all for a boat excursion, Nettles said. When they boarded the boat, the lobsterman asked Boykin if it would be permissible for him to “take a drink” aboard her boat.

“Is it okay to take a drink on the boat?” Boykin rejoined. “Why, this boat runs on Chardonnay!”

She also enjoyed cards, especially poker and bridge, and many an unwary soul learned to their regret just how skilled she was – and how competitive she could be -- in those activities.

“Every Tuesday at Springdale Hall, she and some other ladies would play bridge,” Alston remembered, laughing.  “One day I was entertaining some people there – we were sitting nearby the game – and well…let’s just say Alice did not like to lose at bridge.”

But ultimately, hers was a convivial spirit.

“She would come stand by the podium during the Christmas parade and you could just tell she was having a great time,” Alston said. “I can’t think of anything that brought more joy to her than seeing the parade – she really enjoyed it and she brought a lot of joy to people through her vision – look at how many people come to that parade.”

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