Hat Ladies Dress to Impress While Helping Community by Jessica Johnson of The Post and Courier, January 2010

Archie Burkel, an Illinois native, says she pulled a women's service group out of a hat, and she means that literally.

Burkel of James Island, Top Hat of the Charleston Hat Ladies, started the group simply by wearing hats.  "When I wear a hat, people talk to me," Burkel says.  They interrupt her while pumping gas to say, "Hey, lady, I love your hat," she says.

Burkel moved to the Charleston area from Atlanta with her husband in the mid-1990's.  They had visited Charleston while her husband prepared for the 1996 Olympics and decided that, when his job ended, they would make Charleston their new home.

The retired English teacher and guidance counselor knew no one, but when she wore hats that attracted attention.  "People talk to you. People open up to you," Burkel says.

She attracted women who liked the same things: wearing hats of many colors, dressing up, and helping others.  The Charleston Hat Ladies officially formed in September 2001.  Today, the organization is 200 members strong, drawing hat ladies ages 13-88 from across the Lowcountry.  Their motto is to do good and look good doing it.  For the most part, they assist nonprofit groups, but the family of one hat woman allowed them to start an independent project. When Hazel France of Hanahan died of cancer in April, her family auctioned her hat collection, raising enough money to create a scholarship in the Hat Ladies' name.

At a Hat Ladies luncheon at the Garrett Academy of Technology in North Charleston last week, Burkel said each woman in the room, dining on a meal prepared by the school's culinary arts department, smiles at herself in the mirror before leaving her house, and it was the hat that did it.

Burkel says she chose a cream-colored hat with a white box and pheasant feathers covered in rhinestones and wore a suit to match.  Burkel says it's fashion with compassion. "Wearing a hat has become the most meaningful thing I have ever done," Burkel says.

   Group Restoring Cemetery, Reconnecting with  Histories of Families by Jessica Johnson of The Post and Courier, January 2010

Jeanie Truesdale Heath, co-chair of the Sullivan's Island Historic Cemetery Association, grew up on the island's Myrtle Avenue.  She raced around her Truesdell (spelling of the name has since changed) ancestors' headstones while trying to catch horned toads.

She knew that Stephen Pigott Truesdell was her great-grandfather, but over time, she forgot about the myrtle Avenue cemetery where Truesdell was buried.

"Out of sight, out of mind," Heath said with a sweep of her hand.  But the historic cemetery association Heath is part of has revived old family stories and historic masonry.

Heath, who moved to Mount Pleasant in 1993, never knew Truedell's story until the cemetery association's historian, Linda Dayhoff Smith of Columbia, began researching it.

Truesdell, Heath's ancestor, inherited a 270-acre oyster farm, which he left behind at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.  He became a Confederate soldier and was unable to maintain the operation.  After the war, he couldn't afford the taxes, and the land was lost.  Truesdell died in 1919 and was buried at the Sullivan Island's Historic Cemetery.  Burials stopped at the cemetery in the 1930's.

Heath remembers Hurricane Hugo pushing Truesdell's stone to the side of the road, and it eventually disappeared.  Over time, the burial ground became a play space, a dumping ground, and later a parking spot, which is when founding members of the Sullivan's Island Historic Cemetery Association decided to take action.  State archaeologist Jonathan Leader studied the ground and thinks at least 200 people are buried in the area.

So far, the historic cemetery association has documented 68 burials, but only a handful of original headstones remain.  "It's sacred ground.  We hope that it would be honored and given the respect that it deserves," Heath said. Wooden posts now mark off the area, but Heath said with enough funds, the association hopes to turn the cemetery into a passive resting place with an oyster walk and benches for visitors to sit and reflect.

Mayor Carl Smith suggested that tabby fence posts be used around the cemetery's perimeter because the oyster-based concrete would better fit the island's character.  With assistance form Rodney Prioleau, a mason for the National park Service, a masonry class from Garrett Academy of Technology in North Charleston is building tabby posts.  The cemetery group provided the materials.

Prioleau said settlers brought tabby post-building skills with them in the 1600's and 1700's  They made concrete from what was around: piles of oyster shells.  Settlers burned the shells, releasing lime, and mixed it with sand and added clay for color.

garrett Academy students made the artificial kind, mixing tabby using oyster shells, Portland cement and lime.  The lime leaves the concrete pliable so that students can sand the posts, exposing the oyster shells.  The masonry class has been working on the project for months and hopes to create more than 20 tabby posts by mid-February.

Linda Gambrell of Mount Pleasant said growing up on Sullivan's Island, she never knew that her ancestors, armed with the last name Bruggeman, were buried in the open patch on Myrtle Avenue.  Since joining the association three years ago, she said, she has learned more abut the Brugggeman story.  The farmers' land was commandeered b he Army for horses, according to a request for reimbursement that one of the Bruggerman=mans filed, which Smith found.  Viewing the posts made by the class, Gambrell said, "It's nice to see something concrete."

HOW TO HELP:  Sullivan's Island Historic Cemetery Association, P.O. Box 994, Mount Pleasant, SC  29465

Garrett Academy