Elton John’s songs, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Daniel” hold special meaning for two.
When you work guest relations at a stadium that hosts more than 70,000 people in a setting, you’re going to get the full gamut of personalities: the good, the bad, the ugly.
Sunday night, before Sir Elton John took the stage at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, I met two beautiful people who shared the story of one very special gift.
Steve Hilfiker and Vannessa Blais had come to the concert together and I greeted them as they entered the stadium atop my usual Section 123. They shared with me their mutual bond: that being the heart that beat in Steve’s chest.
Steve, who lives in Fort Myers, Fla., is a transplant survivor and the heart that’s kept him alive these past few years is that of Vannessa’s brother, Daniel, a North Carolina man who passed away in 2020. The matching shirts that they wore to Sunday’s concert read: The Daniel Foundation.
Steve has made it his mission to raise awareness about cardiac sarcoidosis, the disease that very nearly took his life, and promote more effective methods for early detection and treatment of CS. His story is shared in the short documentary, “Stoneheart: An Undying Gift,” screened at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival.
Both Steve and Vannessa said it’s important to tell of the importance of organ donation and share the message of hope.
Steve mentioned the words in Elton John’s hit song, aptly titled “Daniel,” that holds a special meaning to him.
""Do you still feel the pain, of the scars that won't heal? Your eyes have died, but you see more than I. Daniel, you're a star in the face of the sky."
Around Steve’s neck hung a stethoscope. He said that when Sir Elton would sing “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” Vannessa would place the stethoscope to Steve’s chest and listen to the sound of her brother’s heart, still beating, still there, still present.
And later Sunday night, under a dark, starless sky, I listened to Elton’s voice and thought of Vannessa and the stethoscope pressed against Steve’s chest, and I marveled at the good we can do, the generous we can be, and the moments we miss if we just don’t stop and listen.
John Glenn Creel is a family doctor that runs his own practice, Walterboro Adult & Pediatric Medicine, and is chief of the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe of SC and pastor of his own church, Little Rock Holiness Church.
“I try to use my time wisely. When I’m sitting, I just can’t sit.”
Chief of SC’s Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe also serves as family doctor and pastor
What’s the best way to address a man whose been pastor at his hometown church for the past 25 years, is a longtime family physician and chief of one of the state’s largest Native American tribes?
“Servant,” says John Glenn Creel, who has always called Colleton County home. He and his wife, Charlene, still live in a house next to his parents, where a midwife delivered him on Halloween as “Andy Griffith” played on the TV.
As a child, he struggled in math and reading and he even repeated the fourth grade. His goal of becoming a doctor seemed unattainable.
“I just thought it wouldn’t be possible being a minority and a minority in a very rural community,” he says. “We had limited income, limited resources. We’re Native Americans, but we’re not federally recognized. That was a big obstacle.”
As chief of the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe, which numbers 756 members, it’s his goal to achieve that federal recognition, clearing the way to access for federal grants. That money can be used to expand the hours and services provided at the non-profit Four Holes Edisto-Natchez-Kusso Indian Free Clinic he operates, as well as build a new museum and help teach “future generations who we are and to be proud of who we are.”
That’s important, says the father of three.
“I’ve done the best to try and balance things and keep the focus on the family. That’s how it was with my parents. We were always together. Family’s important. So is being in a small community. It’s not the just the family and parents that raise the child, it’s the village or the community. And our communities have always been close-knit.”
Being a self-described “master delegator” helps him manage a full schedule. His mind is in constant motion, even when he gets away for one of his favorite activities — hunting.
“I’m probably the only one that will sit in a deer stand and do continuing medical education questions,” Creel says. “I try to use my time wisely. When I’m sitting, I just can’t sit. I can prepare sermons when I sit in the stand.”
Faith is a constant companion during a life that hasn’t always been easy. The first of their three children, John Charles, was born with spina bifida. Doctors didn’t believe he’d live past the age of 2. “JC” is now 37 and ministers alongside his father. Charlene was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2020.
“Part of this life for Christ is to carry that cross,” Creel says. “I don’t mind carrying the cross, because it’s wonderful. Sometimes you’ll begin to feel the weight of that cross. It’s then that I’ll say, ‘Lord, I need your help.’ And then He gives grace. It’s the touch of his hand that makes the difference.”
Getting to know Glenn Creel
John Glenn Creel
Age: 54 (birthdate 10-30-1967)
Hometown: Cottageville, S.C.
Claim to fame: In 2020, he was elected chief of the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Native American Tribe of South Carolina and, for the past 25 years, he’s served as pastor of Little Rock Holiness Church in Cottageville.
Day job: He’s owner of Walterboro Adult and Pediatric Medicine, where he’s a family medicine physician and mentors students as an associate professor of family medicine for his alma mater, the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Co-Op Affiliation: Creel is a member of the Coastal Electric Co-Op in Walterboro, S.C.
Lin-Manuel Miranda writes like he’s running out of time and I’m staring at a blank page.
There’s a blank page before me and, damn it, if I don’t blame Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“It’s like the drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop.”
“Encanto.” “Hamilton.” Something to take your mind off the writing, she said. I watch and I hear the words of Lin-Manuel and I stew and the next morn comes and the day is still gray.
My mind doesn’t stop now. It’s an endless loop of Lin-Manuel and his rhythm.
Again, Lin-Manuel, get out of my head.
The blank page awaits. I try morning, then noon, then night. But the words still don’t come.
“Oh, no. We don’t talk about Bruno.”
Rhyme after rhyme fills my head. But my words do not come. Not the words that Lin-Manuel Miranda writes. So creative. So talented. So damn good.
Yet, all I have is the blank page and Lin-Manuel in my head.
“I’m willing to wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it.”
NOTE: The above work came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins offered a writing prompt taken from a recent workshop led by poet Jessica Jacobs.We were challenged to try some layered writing in which we’d use some metaphors, physical objects, paintings, etc. to connect an experience we were feeling.
If one was to kneel down at just the correct height and vantage point, you could soon forget you were standing in an old cotton mill in South Carolina’s Upstate. Instead, you’d hear, then see, the steam locomotive as it emerged from the mountain tunnel, its metal wheels chugging along the tracks, the engine’s massive smokebox looming larger and larger as it hurtled toward you.
That act of space and time travel is one of the main attractions of what’s billed as the best multi-scale interactive train display in the Southeast. With the simple push of a button, electric current, creativity and century’s old toymaking, visitors to the Model Trains Station in Taylors, S.C., are transported to a simpler time.
Scott Doelling, of Greenville, S.C., who is a customer of Laurens Electric Cooperative, first started playing with trains as a 7-year-old. One of his old trains is featured in a layout at the station and he volunteers two to three days a week.
“It’s a hobby that you never really outgrow,” said Doelling, who spent 31 years in the corrugated paper business and specializes in creating scenery, such as the mountains and forests lining the tracks. “Your imagination can go wild. You can do anything.”
There are hidden gems among the many layouts and visitors are encouraged to take part in a scavenger hunt. Look closely and you’ll see a group of Boy Scouts around a campfire. Look closer and you’ll see a bear attack right around the bend.
There are push buttons that control different parts of a layout. Children can not only control some of the trains that run on the tracks, but also give power to a saw mill or take delight when a conductor steps out from his station.
“We try to put us much interaction for the kids as we can,” said Doelling, who is one of about 20 volunteers.
There are plenty of vintage trains, including some from the 1920s, that still run along the tracks. But there are plenty of advancements, including digital programs that now allow you to control the train from your mobile phone. There is a train repair shop where people can bring in a faulty engine and the group also allows visitors to bring a train from home and run on the tracks.
The trains and the nine massive displays spread out over 16,000 square feet of space at the historic Taylors Mill mean different things to different people, said Bob Rayle, chairman of the station’s board of directors. Rayle, who still owns the first train set he got when he was 6 years old, said the station is more than just about model trains.
“It’s the little things and the detail. They make the picture, they tell the story.”
Rayle points to the wooden bench where Erna Liebrandt likes to come and sit and watch the trains run on a 600-square-foot display modeled after the town of Schonweiler in southern Germany near the Austrian border. Erna and her husband, Gunnar, were born in Germany and she donated her husband’s prized display after his death. The volunteers at the station helped to build and triple its size, adding a church, mountain backdrop and tunnel for the trains to pass through.
“She just sits there and looks at that German city,” Rayle said, “and what she sees… is her husband. And she’ll sit there and cry.”
Nearly all of the items at the station, which opened in December 2017, have been donated, Rayle said. He tells of another lady who brings her grandchildren at Christmas and they watch Grandpa’s trains run. For years, the tracks he’d built had sat silent under blankets in his double-car garage. Now, they bring enjoyment to others.
Brittany Kujawa, of Simpsonville, S.C., spent a summer day visiting with her three children, ages 7, 5 and 2, as part of a home school group. She said they were shocked when they walked in and saw so many trains and so many sets.
“My kids love trains,” Kujawa said. “The staff here is so involved with the kids and I like the freedom they let them have. I was nervous coming here, ‘Model trains, you can’t touch them.’ But they’ve done such a great job of making them available for the kids to interact with, as well as giving them a place they can run off energy. One of the staff said, ‘They can go wild here.’ And that’s really appealing to a home school mom. There’s something for everyone.”
The Model Trains Station is located at Taylors Mill, 250 Mill St., Suite BL 1250, in Taylors, S.C.
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults: $8; seniors and military: $7; children (age 2 to 12): $5; children under 2: free. Special rates available for groups and birthday parties are welcomed.
He’s the King of Corn Dogs and his dogs are known at festivals throughout the Southeast.
It was the winter of 1975 and Cliff Daley faced a life-changing moment.
He and his wife, Kim, had just married. They’d met while working in a snow cone wagon and playing co-ed soccer. She was a geologist, he an executive at a multinational conglomerate. But in January, his father, Zanelle, died of a heart attack. His mother, Dorothy, was caught in Alzheimer’s, in need of constant care.
The couple considered the bright yellow concession trailer Cliff had helped his father build in 1962 and one where he still worked weekends, serving corn dogs and funnel cakes.
“We said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to commit to it or go on and get out,’” Cliff recalls. “We decided to commit.”
The Daleys left their jobs, landed fair contracts and invested in equipment. And now, Daley’s Concessions is a food services business embarking on a third generation with four trailers seen at festivals throughout the Southeast.
“This concession has held my family together. We’ve been able to grow as a family and work together,” Daley said of Kim and their four children, two of whom plan to continue Daley’s Dogs. “They grew up in these wagons. They learned people skills. They learned to do math and make change. They learned how to serve a good product and take care of customers.”
Cliff’s the Betty Crocker of Corn Dogs, touting the homemade batter and peanut oil that sears the outside, resulting in “great flavor and an ungreasy” corn dog that’s won numerous blue ribbons. Daly’s personal favorite remains the traditional dipped in mustard and there’s another one wrapped with a pickle and the now-popular jalapeno.
“We’ve done it all,” he said, pointing to the Elvis corn dog dipped in a banana-flavored mix and slathered in peanut butter that won the Most Creative award at the North Georgia State Fair.
2020 was the most challenging year for his business as COVID spread and fairs and festivals were cancelled.
“We went through all our savings,” Daley said. “We were very fortunate to stay afloat.”
He credits their religious faith, as well as a small business loan and generous friends.
“One thing about COVID, we tried to find something good in it, and it was people helping people and our faith in the Lord. Every time we prayed at night, there was hope.”
The Gun and Knife Show at the SC State Fairgrounds in March was their first event in almost a year. While costs have doubled for their hot dogs and cooking oil, he remains confident of the future.
“All of our events have started coming back,” he said. “People tend to be a lot nicer to one another now. Their income is flowing and everything is very positive.”
Getting to know Cliff Daley
CLAIM TO FAME: The owner of Daley’s Concessions has been called the King of Corn Dogs as his family has been dipping and serving Daley’s Dogs for nearly 60 years now.
HOMETOWN: Columbia, S.C.
JUST FOR KICKS: Daley received an athletic scholarship and starred on the pitch for the University of Alabama in Huntsville soccer team. He tried out for the U.S. national team before the 1976 Olympics and made it to one of the final rounds before being cut. “If it hadn’t been for that scholarship, I’d have probably joined the service and gone into Vietnam.”
FAVORITE FESTIVAL? For more than 50 years, there’s been a Daley’s Concessions at the SC State Fair. “Most everyone comes and sees us and they see a lot of their old friends from school,” said the graduate of nearby Dreher High School. “It’s like a big family reunion.”
HIS GO-TO MEAL? “It’s hard to beat a good hot dog, especially with homemade chili and onions and a little slaw.”
FAMOUS FANS: The Monday After the Masters golf tourney hosted by Hootie and the Blowfish is a favorite event. Those who’ve praised his dogs? NFL quarterbacks Dan Marino and Brett Favre and rocker Alice Cooper.
He preached his first sermon when he was 9 years old. Now, some 60 years later, he’s still at the pulpit of his home church in West Columbia, SC.
West Columbia’s Jackson wonders why God chose him
It’s fitting one of the Rev. Charles Jackson’s favorite Bible stories has to do with the boy who offers his lunch of a few fishes and slices of bread to Christ, who multiplies the offering and feeds thousands.
Ever since he was just a child some six decades ago, Jackson has been bringing the word of God to thousands of South Carolinians and building his church into one of the Midlands’ largest.
He’s often wondered why God chose him?
“It’s a tremendous mystery. I didn’t choose it. It chose me.”
What makes his story even more special is that all 50 years have come at Brookland Baptist, the church in West Columbia where he grew up.
Jackson got his start presiding over funerals for his neighbors’ dogs and cats. He preached his first sermon when he was just 9 years old. He was licensed to preach a year later and eventually became pastor at Brookland at 18.
“Maybe, like Jeremiah, God called me from my mother’s womb.”
His mother, Ezella Rumph Jackson, died of cancer when he was just 16. Jackson admits her death caused him to question his faith.
“I couldn’t understand why God would take my mother, a devout Christian. That was very painful. God disappointed me greatly.”
Jackson made peace studying the story of Job.
“Even though Job wrestled and struggled with the inexplicable mystery of God, he never gave up. Because he did not give up on God, God did not give up on him.”
Jackson believes God’s kept him in West Columbia to raise the next generation of believers and build bridges between those of different races and beliefs. He recently delivered a message of love to 75 high school seniors and juniors representing the 17 electric cooperatives across South Carolina.
Jackson downplays his story.
“May the service I give speak for me,” he says, repeating a favorite gospel hymn. “That’s all. May I rest in my grave and nothing be said. May the work I’ve done speak for me.”
Getting to know the Rev. Charles Jackson
If not a pastor? After graduating from Benedict College, Jackson was supposed to be a physician, receiving a full scholarship to medical school. “I love the sciences. I worked in biology for two years, caring for rats and mice.” However, the college’s minister steered him to Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta, where he received his master of divinity degree.
All in the family: Jackson’s son, the Rev. Charles Jackson Jr., is pastor of the New Laurel Street Baptist Church in Columbia. “I’m happier and more excited in pastoral ministry than I’ve ever been. Much of that can be contributed to young pastors. They’ve kept me vibrant and relevant.”
Favorite Old Testament scripture: Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
The rain falls here down near where the South Fork and Catawba meet.
The branches of the tea olive outside my window hang heavy with water, lime green offshoots reach up, seeking sunlight, but instead it’s a cloud-filled sky. Tiny yellow clusters of bloom emit the sweet scent, but my window stays closed and I fear more rain.
I think of my great aunt Catherine, she gone nearly 15 years now, and how she’d tug my ear and say, “Michael B. You’re gonna do great things.”
But this morning, my mind remains muddied of the dream that lingers from the night before – me going from room to room, opening doors, only to find four blank walls and empty spaces. The only sound being that of the click of the latch and slam of the door. A constant opening and closing. Click, slam. Click, slam.
I sip the cold water from the glass and wait for the coolness to make its way down my throat and spread across my chest. I hope it brings energy. A spark to beat back my malaise. The bed, the warm covers, they beckon.
Gloom, gloom, gloom.
The Rolling Stones sing of “Wild Horses” and how “faith has been broken, tears must be cried, let’s do some living, after we die.”
I’ve done some living and never really thought of others. Things I should have said, but didn’t. Thought my silence an easy salve, not realizing the pain left behind.
It is still Tuesday morn here and the rain still falls.
Each day another red X on the calendar and another day closer to when breath will come no more.
Until then, these words will be written and songs will be sung. Her smile and laugh and love as constant as the reappearing sun.
NOTE: The above work came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins offered a writing prompt taken from a recent workshop led by poet Ada Limon.
Some of the sights and sounds of a fantasy football draft.
It’s an early Saturday in Vegas, the sun climbing above the Valley of Fire only a few hours earlier, and a pack of Pakistanis behind me are chittering like hyenas surrounding a fresh kill.
“Adreeeen Peterson, Aaaadddreeen Peterson, Ayyydreeeen Peterson,” they chant, clapping and hopping from one foot to another, their target one of their own – he apparently shell-shocked, face dazed, finger still hovering over his laptop.
Moments earlier, he’d kicked off their fantasy football draft by making the first overall selection. Only problem was that he’d selected the wrong Adrian Peterson. Instead of drafting fantasy stud Adrian Peterson, the future Hall of Famer and bellcow for fantasy championship squads, our Pakistani had instead selected the Chicago Bears’ Adrian Peterson, he of few yards and even fewer championships.
And still they clap and chant. “Ayyydreeen Peterson, Ayyydreeen Peterson, Aydreen Peterson.”
The wayward Pakistani sinks his head to his table, accepting his fate and knowing his season is over before it starts
I turn back to my table and stare across at H-Diddy. He’s wearing his Bears jersey, arms folded across his chest, and he’s alternating between taking puffs of a Monte Cristal he’s kept stashed away from his wife over the past nine months, while popping green, yellow and orange M&Ms
“Things happen,” Diddy says, his facial features temporarily clouded in puff of Cristal. The smoke rises and he smiles. “Vegas, baby.”
A tiny love story from a night when the rain fell in Charlotte, NC, on a late June night in 2014.
At the Fillmore, musicians emerge from thick curtains and fingers pluck at strings and eyes turn upward and ears fill with rhythms and rhymes. Shafts of red and blue sneak from hidden banks, falling upon sweaty faces whispering of desires and regrets. I’d come for Ziggy Stardust and instead found her. She danced in a pool of emerald. A pert nose, dark eyes emerging from a mass of chocolate curls. We discovered “Modern Love” and she laughed and my heart leaped. I emerged, her number in my pocket and I sang of “Starman” and life was good again.
NOTE: The above work came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Paul Reali challenged us to write our very own tiny love story of less than 100 words. “They try to capture in a very small space something that is very important,” he said.
Read of one woman’s push to chart a path for those wishing to discover their heritage in South Carolina.
As a child, Dawn Dawson-House learned plenty about this country’s founding fathers. Missing were the exploits of South Carolina civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Delaine and Robert Smalls, a former slave who represented the Palmetto State for five terms in Congress.
Those lessons were learned at the family dinner table as well as at church and other social gatherings around her hometown along the coast.
“The community of Beaufort won’t let you forget that African-American history is important,” Dawson-House said. “Our teachers, our families, our festivals and events, you were surrounded by African-American heritage. I found it interesting because it spoke to us.”
Since January 2021, Dawson-House has been the executive director of the WeGOJA Foundation. Pronounced we-GO-juh, the name is a fusion of three languages spoken by people of African descent who were brought to America as slaves.
WeGOJA works to document and promote African-American heritage sites in South Carolina. That work is done through historical markers, listings on the National Register of Historic Places and the Green Book of South Carolina. Teacher guides are provided for classrooms and there are plans to provide toolkits for the large number of African-American families who gather here each year for reunions.
Dawson-House, who spent nearly 25 years in public relations for the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, believes there’s no time like the present to embrace the stories of our past.
“The more we can share the story, the more we can build interest into advocacy, into action, we can start creating our authentic story better,” she said. “It’s not just for tourism, but for the public’s full understanding of our history and our full story so it’s easier to make wiser choices when we talk about public decisions.”
Getting to know Dawn Dawson-House
Claim to fame: She recently accepted the job of executive director at the WeGOJA Foundation after a long career in communications with South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Alma mater: Graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1985 with a degree in journalism. “I thought I was going to be the next Oprah Winfrey, but got out into the real world and realized I couldn’t pay rent.”
Favorite state park:Landsford Canal State Park in Catawba with its “gentle tumble” whitewater and colorful rocky shoals spider lilies. “It’s a beautiful sight.”
Time to unwind: When she’s not enjoying Mexican food, you can often find Dawson-House on her treadmill. She and her husband of 25 years, William House, an investigator with the S.C. Attorney General’s office, are planning a train trip through the Canadian wilderness.