On May 8, the quiet early morning hours of Mothers’ Day on the Isle of Palms were interrupted by a fierce and fast-moving fire at the Col. Robert R. McCormick Beach Club of The Citadel. A neighbor saw the flames and called, and before we even knew it was burning, the Isle of Palms community was there working to save it with the help of other Lowcountry emergency responders. The rapid and heartfelt response from our community was inspiring and greatly appreciated.
The list of those who have come to the aid of the beach club staff and our displaced clients is long; all should be thanked. But first, for those unfamiliar, here is why it is important.
Since the 1950s, island neighbors have been accustomed to visiting with cadets and members of the college’s community who had the privilege of enjoying the beautiful ballroom, porches and lawns on the Isle of Palms waterfront. They’ve watched freshmen gather each year to enjoy a day of peace and relaxation during their first week of rigorous cadet training. Our neighbors have witnessed countless brides and grooms take their vows. They’ve seen families gathering for reunions and anniversaries, Citadel alumni, donors, faculty and staff enjoying special events meant to thank and reward them. And on an average day, they’ve waved to Citadel families arriving with their children and shovels and pails to enjoy the simple pleasure of a day at the beach.
And our Isle of Palms neighbors know the couple who lived in the house: Susan, an MUSC nurse and her husband Michael, the property manager. They were awakened around 3:45 with the fire already well underway; glass from the windows exploding as they escaped the flames that shot 40 feet into the air. They lost almost everything they owned, but thankfully were not hurt. Clients, especially brides and grooms get to know Michael when planning their event. Many sent heartfelt notes of concern, even after learning that their important events must be moved:
Thank you, but weddings are really just a big party. People are what matter. I asked G. if anyone was collecting donations on your behalf and she sent me the GoFundMe link. T. and I have sent a donation and I've shared the page with my Facebook friends and family as well. You are both kind, helpful and wonderful people and I hope that all the joy and happiness you have both brought others is repaid to you twofold in your moment of need.
Wishing you all the best,
Less than seven minutes after the alarm sounded, the Isle of Palms Fire Department arrived. Other departments quickly came to assist and one firefighter was injured. City officials were on site shortly thereafter, and neighbors were asking how they could help. There are many people to thank including the following individuals and organizations who continue to reflect the generous nature of our community:
- IOPFD Chief Ann Graham (who saved Susan’s wedding ring and jewelry box) and her team of dedicated firefighters, as well as the IOP Police Department, and the Mt. Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island Fire Departments
- IOP Mayor Richard F. Cronin and Town Administrator, Linda Lovvorn Tucker, who were onsite in seeing that all needs were met
- The brides, grooms and clients who expressed concern for Susan and Michael above all, and who have been generous and understanding as we worked together to relocate their events
- Our IOP neighbors who have extended many offers of assistance
- Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau for providing assistance for clients, and long range planning guidance for our events team
- IOP neighbor, Wild Dunes Resort, for providing assistance on several fronts
- Charleston Marriott for offering assistance for Susan and Michael, dropping off supplies for them, and for helping displaced clients
- The teams of wedding planners, including Pinnacle Charleston and MOD Events Charleston, who immediately stepped in to help our mutual clients with alternative venues and logistics
- The beach club’s caterer, Iron Gate Events, for providing excellent customer service by matching our 100 percent refund policy for clients, or by serving them at another venue
- More than 30 venues who proactively provided available dates and matching rates
We realize that The Citadel Beach Club may seem like a luxury, but it feels like a home to many after almost 60 years in operation. It was a full-time home to two of our staff. Additionally, it was the destination around which some of the most important days in the lives of our clients were planned.
The beach club was rebuilt once before, after being destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, along with countless other properties. It took several years to fund and reconstruct. It was finally dedicated in 1995 as the Colonel Robert R. McCormick Beach Club of The Citadel. A great American soldier, editor and former Chicago Tribune publisher and philanthropist, Col. McCormick provided the gift in the 1950s that funded the purchase of the land and building of the original structure.
Though it will take time, a rebuilding effort will begin again. We are confident that many more important celebrations will take place under the new roof, and countless people will feel the warmth and compassion of the Lowcountry, just as The Citadel has during this this time of need.
John W. Rosa
Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa USAF (Ret)