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History of our world: The Seabrook


Five  residents of The Seabrook snuggled themselves onto a couch and wing chairs in the community’s living room and smiled for a photographer. As if on cue, a garrulous group entered the lobby and teased the photo subjects:

“This must be for publicity, right?’’

Right. The Seabrook of Hilton Head, Inc.. is celebrating its 30th year as the island’s first continuing care retirement community.  The five residents gathered in The Seabrook House, 300 Woodhaven Drive, for the photo op.

The Seabrook House, the headquarters of The Seabrook, Inc., was completed in 1982. The Fraser Health Center, originally containing 44 Medicare-certified skilled nursing beds, was renovated in 2003 to a 33 all-private room, Medicare-certified facility. The comprehensive health care complex today known as the Seabrook House qualified for tax-exempt, charitable [IRS-501(c) 3] status in 1973.

Set on  21 forested acres, The Seabrook has lagoons, pocket gardens, and an ingenious series of covered walkways that connect its five residential buildings to The Seabrook House, where there are also dining rooms, a reception area, game and exercise rooms, library, 200-seat auditorium and, outside, a salt water heated pool.

Among the five sitting patiently for the group photo were a former mayor, executive directors of major companies, a nationally celebrated artist and an author of best-selling books.

Benjamin M. “Ben” Racusin , 97, has been  a Seabrook resident since 1996. He and his late wife, Helen, moved to Hilton Head Island from Washington, D.C., in 1971, where both were in the CIA.  Racusin served as the first Mayor of Hilton Head Island upon its incorporation in 1983.

Helen Racusin was president of the Friends of the Library and chairman of the board of the Beaufort County Library.

“Going back to the founding of Seabrook, I was very much involved with cutting ribbons, making speeches (supporting its creation), helping raise contributions and anything else that would be an asset,” Racusin said.

“The first official reference to The Seabrook by name was on January 8, 1973,’’ said Robert M. Lee, executive director of The Seabrook of Hilton Head, Inc. “Robert Killingsworth and Thomas Wamsley submitted an application to the South Carolina Secretary of State for ‘a certificate of incorporation for an eleemosynary corporation to be known as The Seabrook of Hilton Head, Inc.’”

Lee said The Seabrook “was started through community support from six of the original churches” on Hilton Head Island.

Those churches are St. Andrew by the Sea, Holy Family, St. Luke’s, First Baptist, Island Lutheran, and First Presbyterian.

“Membership fees were used to provide equity for financing the comprehensive health care facility. The membership organization also undertook the development of residential condominium apartments for members. Resales would be restricted to individuals also meeting qualifications for memberships,’’ Lee said.

Development of the condominium complex was financed primarily through the presale of units. On this basis construction has been carried out in stages involving easier and lower requirements for financing and sales.’’

The Seabrook House opened its doors on Oct. 23, 1982.  There are now three housing options available: 14 studio apartments for traditional lease, and, larger apartments for equity purchase or through an entry fee lease program.

Residences are for those 55 and older who are able to live independently.  By a felicitous twist, many  residents turned out to be dynamic people who led interesting lives, like Racusin, Dorcas Liebold, Walter Greer and his wife, Margaret, and  Annette Martin, former executive director of The Seabrook at Hilton Head, Inc.

Leibold, who moved to Hilton Head Island from Pittsburgh, has lived at The Seabrook since 2007.  She served on an agency of the United Way in Pittsburgh, and was director of social services for the Low Country Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“I sold The Seabrook before it was even here!’’ Liebold said.  “I had my real estate license and I sold from a mobile unit. It was located outside of where the Seabrook House was being built. I’d point to where the construction for buildings one and two was in progress.”

One of those original buyers was Helene Parry, 101. She is now a resident of The Fraser Health Center at The Seabrook. She spent most of her years at Seabrook using her apartment as home base while she traveled extensively.

In their light-filled apartment, Greer and his wife, Margaret,  are surrounded by his celebrated paintings, including one of his hero, a plump-faced Claude Monet.  Greer’s paintings are paeans to nature, such as one hanging in The Seabrook House. He hails from Greenville. Margaret Greer is from Columbia.  She has written five books, such as “The Sands of Time,’’ a best-seller about Hilton Head Island.

They have lived at The Seabrook for 12 years. The Walter Greer Gallery on the island is named in his honor.

Mrs. Greer’s mother, Ruth McElveen, was an early resident of the community.  Mrs. Greer is involved in decorating the main building, while her husband and Racusin run a program called “Ben & Walter’s Sunday Night Movie.’’

Martin, who has prepared “The Seabrook Turns 30,’’ a look at some of  its notable residents, is a former executive director of the community, where she moved in January 2012. She started the community’s book club.

“Many of the pioneers that helped Hilton Head become what it is today were residents of the Seabrook,’’ Martin said. People such as  Charlotte Heinrichs, an activist who helped create programs providing clean water, clothing and food for islanders;  Beanie Newhall, a green space advocate who deeded the Newhall Preserve to the Audubon Society; Martha Baumberger, who  led the effort to build island bus shelters; Bo Hedeman, a primary force behind the improvement of the  island’s Children’s Center; and Helen Rankin, a longtime nurse and supporter of the island’s hospital.

In celebration of the community’s 30th anniversary, Lee says there will be a series of seminars open to the public, and for residents, “an extended party.’’

“The Seabrook mission remains unchanged:  A non-profit, community-based, church-oriented continuing care retirement community dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life and health of its residents and offering programs for the benefit of seniors on Hilton Head Island,’’ Lee said.