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2017 Westie Awards

Better Than They Have To Be


February 23, 2017
By Lorne Chambers | Editor

West Of started The Westie Awards in 2010, highlighting 25 people who we felt had the most positive impact on West Ashley during the first decade of the 21st Century. Every year since then, we’ve let our readers nominate people who they felt went above and beyond to make West Ashley a better place to live, work, and play. From those nominations, we choose the 10 people who we feel best exemplified the community spirit and dedication to our community that The Westies embody.

Our eighth Westie Award class is a special one. It is one where several groups of people were nominated. So while there are technically 10 awards each year, there are 17 people this year getting a “golden cow” trophy, with a couple “teams” being honored for their efforts over the last year.

While the Coburg Dairy may be no more, the Coburg Cow is still an enduring landmark for those of us who call West Ashley home. So the golden cow trophy is a symbol of the community spirit of West Ashley. While she may be missing her tail, the Coburg Cow still spins (sometimes) overlooking Savannah Highway. And just below her on the platform is the old Coburg Dairy slogan, “Better Than It Has To Be.” It’s appropriate that the Westie trophy is modeled after the cow, because the winners are surely better than they have to be.

Over the last year, there has been much talk about revitalization for West Ashley. But with that comes growth and with growth comes growing pains. So this year, we really focused on folks who are helping West Ashley grow in a positive direction. Winners ranged from the team who finally brought West Ashley a farmer’s market, to the team of community crusaders, to the team who started a social media page to help unite West Ashley. There were plenty of individual efforts as well, from the head of the West Ashley Revitalization Committee to local business owners to local volunteers.



Farmer’s Market Team:
Mayor John Tecklenburg, Mandi Herring, Meg Thompson, & Harrison Chapman

Success, it is said, has many fathers. In the case of the West Ashley Farmers’ Market, there’s a bunch of fathers AND mothers. It’s been a team effort between Mayor John Tecklenburg, city planners Mandi Herring and Meg Thompson, and the market’s manager Harrison Chapman.

Originally begun as a seven-week pilot program in September at Ackerman Park, the farmers’ market immediately became a popular Wednesday destination.

Local produce, producers, and performers came together as crowds had to park along Sycamore Avenue when the parking lots filled up.

Skaters still hit the ramps at the skate park, soccer teams still played games on the parks two fields, but the biggest attraction has since become the farmers’ markets, which will return this year as City Hall considers constructing a permanent structure there.

Thursday, Mayor Tecklenburg looked conspicuous standing next to the skate ramps in a sharp grey-blue suit. He quizzed Herring as to what was next for the market, specifically the permanent structure.

“We discussed that at a Department of Planning and Zoning this morning,” said Herring. “We want to build the design right; it may not be built in the next six months because we want to make sure to get it right.”

One thing Herring wanted to also get right was the picture for this award. She absolutely refused to pose with a banana. “No. No. Bananas aren’t local; we don’t grow them here.” — Bill Davis



Phillip Cook

Philip Cook touches many lives in our community and particularly West Ashley. He is a member of the West Ashley Rotary Club, a hospital volunteer, mentors elementary school children in reading skills and teaches water safety.

Cook believes education is the key to success and is involved in many service projects concentrating in the well being of under-privileged children. Children run to hug him as he walks through elementary schools. He participates in Rotary Reader — reading and mentoring children at Stono Park Elementary School, he is a reading partner at Goodwin Elementary and distributes dictionaries to all 4th graders in public schools through the Rotary Dictionary Program. Cook leads Josh the Otter program teaching kindergarteners about water safety. He has recently taken the training to serve as a Guardian ad Litem to represent the interests of children in family court.

In his hospital volunteer role, Cook works in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital assisting medical staff so they can dedicate their full attention to their patients. He contacts the family members in the waiting room to update them on their loved one’s status. Cook serves another day each week in the West Ashley Cancer Center greeting and assisting patients and family members as they report for their treatment. Cook has dedicated more than 2,000 hours to hospital volunteering. — Joan Perry


westies6Peter Shahid

Perhaps no one else honored this year with a Westie will have a bigger opportunity to create real, positive change in West Ashley over the coming decade than will West Ashley City Councilman Peter Shahid.

A newbie on council, Shahid’s profile rose even more dramatically last year when he was given the reins of the just-formed West Ashley Revitalization Commission by Mayor John Tecklenburg, whose reach on this side of the river may be more impactful.

It’s Shahid’s job now to “herd cats” on the 19-member commission, complete with stakeholders from major developers and businessmen to neighborhood association presidents and local historians.

He also has to be a conduit between the commission, City Hall, and Dover Kohl, the high-zoot urban planners who have been hired – albeit through a highly scrutinized and criticized process – to help map out a master plan for work on this side of the Ashley River.

Reached this week at his downtown lawn practice, Shahid said that while organizing so many disparate individuals has its challenges, he added that there has been an “overwhelming level of enthusiasm and energy” coming from a variety of perspectives.

“It’s not like I have to motivate anyone; the motivation is at high, high levels,” he said.

Next up: a March 8 commission meeting where it will hear back from Dover Kohl and then begin setting dates for upcoming charettes, or public planning events. — Bill Davis


westies8Harry Lesesne

As executive director for the Charleston Parks Conservancy, West Ashley resident Harry Lesesne has been hard at work beautifying and improving this part of town. Three years ago, the conservancy launched the Magnolia Community Garden located at the corner of Sycamore Avenue and Magnolia Road.

Since then, under Lesesne’s guidance, the garden has been handed over to the City of Charleston to become a full-fledged park, donated fresh food to local food banks and homeless shelters, and welcomed community and Piccolo Spoleto gatherings and events to its grounds.

Last year, Lesesne uncorked the conservancy’s latest big idea: turning the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway into linear parks. It’s an idea that has taken root across the country to much fanfare, from New York City to Atlanta, where trails of interconnecting greenways enhance connectivity and interaction between the natural and urban worlds.

Initially, Lesesne had received a $200,000 grant to begin the process of studying how to incorporate meeting-picnic-event-recreation areas along the 11-plus miles of existing greenways. But, Lesesne said recently, that amount has been cut in half by uncertainties tied to the creation of a bike lane over the Legare Bridge from West Ashely onto the peninsula.

Lesesne, for years the right-hand-man to former Mayor Joe Riley, was undeterred, saying that he is confident that the lost $100,000 could quickly be recovered through private donations and public interest.

Lesesne argues that City Hall showing huge interest and dedicating considerable amounts of money to West Ashley, that an enhanced greenways project could be a very real proposition in the near future. — Bill Davis


westies5Ashley Redmond

 Ashley Redmond and her family are active West Ashley community members. Her daughter Ellen attends St. Andrews School of Math  & Science, son John Andrew attends Charleston Charter School for Math & Science. Redmond plays tennis for St. Andrews Parks and Playground. Her husband Mark is a local attorney who also owns the popular Hunley’s Tavern on Savannah Highway.

Professionally, Redmond is the Chief Development Officer and Executive Director of the Roper St. Francis Foundation using her experience in healthcare to obtain grant funding and community financial resourses. Prior to that she served as the Ryan White Program director raising awareness, coordinating care and support for HIV/AID patients.

Redmond has served on numerous advisory boards and is currently the Charleston County School Board Health Advisory Committee Chair and on the Roper St. Francis Foundation Board. She has led Trident United Way campaigns, coordinated the annual Charleston AIDS Walk, Dining out for Life, Art for Charity and World AIDS Day events in Charleston.

Redmond is a member of Women Making a Difference, South Carolina’s HIV Planning Council and Trident United Way Women’s Leadership Council. — Joan Perry


westies10West Ashley United:
Teresa Tidestrom & Carlton Swift

Teresa Tidestrom and Carlton Swift have created a one-stop-shopping Facebook page for all things political in West Ashley: West Ashley United.

Originally conceived as a way to stop overwhelming Jean Louise Steele’s “You Know You’re From West Ashley” page, their effort has since gone onto attracting more than 3,400 members.

The page features links to local government meetings and hearings, as well as “what’s going to go in there” discussions of various commercial sites throughout the area, as well as heads-up about new and established businesses.

“We got a spike recently from the formation of the West Ashley Revitalization Commission and the dead dog at Grand Oaks,” said Tidestrom, who praised the city for “going above and beyond” in its recent efforts to track down the cause of a dog poisoned in her neighborhood.

Occasionally the page’s contributors do a better job of covering local meetings,  like live-updating Dist. 10 Constituent Board meetings over redrawing school

zones, than traditional local media. (Including West Of – gulp!)

Swift said that their effort is still in its ‘infancy,” and that they see a lot more potential for growth through awareness campaigns, and funding.

But both of them stress that their mission has stayed the same: promote the area and inform Charlestonians living on this side of the Ashley River how best to implement positive change.

And they do this while carrying on full lives with family and kids, and with Swift working as a graphic designer at a local technology firm and Tidestrom pulling “60 hours plus” at a local restaurant. Thanks, guys. — Bill Davis


westies9Elise Richard

Most of the time when people step into Elise Richard’s office at Avondale Therapy, they are struggling with one or more things in their life. But for Richard, the most rewarding part of her job is seeing that person take back control of their life. “They often feel very powerless and very confused. So it’ very rewarding for me to see, at the end of therapy, someone reinstated with that sense of confidence,” she says. “It’s about getting the client to rebuild that trust and relationship with themselves. They already have the skills, I just help them find that confidence and ability to facilitate it within themselves. The people have the answers, not me.”

Richard, a College of Charleston graduate who went on to get a masters degree in Clinical Counseling from The Citadel, opened Avondale Therapy in 2011. Last July, she expanded into a bigger space at 815 Savannah Hwy. The space was previously a financial advisory firm that also doubled as a working art gallery in the front lobby. When the firm closed, many in the local arts community feared West Ashley had also lost one of its only art galleries. But for Richard, it was important to keep the gallery space. She reached out to former Westie Award winner Susan Irish of Fabulon Center for Art and Education in West Ashley to help curate the space, which has rotating works by local and regional artists.

Richard has found the art gallery of her business complimentary to her therapy work. “There is still a huge stigma against therapy. Having an art gallery has encouraged people to come in to wonder through and speak to us,” she says. “It challenges the concept of what therapy looks like — its’ not intimidating.” She also says the art is a way for her to feel more connected to the community outside of her clients. — Lorne Chambers


westies7Ladies of DuWapp
Meredith Demetre, Carmen Nash, Dale Aren, & Frances Waite

If the Ladies of DuWapp were a singing quartet from the 1950s, their first album would be entitled “Squeaky Wheels.” What began as a coffee klatch a few years ago, has since morphed into a small political force.

Concerned their neck of the woods near the intersection of Dupont and Wappoo roads wasn’t getting the attention it deserved, Meredith Demetre, Carmen Nash, Dale Aren, and Frances Waite began meeting with city council members.

Now, every Tuesday, they and a host of friends clog Wild Flour Bakery to meet with Councilman Bill Moody.

Originally, they came together to stop a tow company from opening shop on a Savannah Highway plot next to the fallen firefighters memorial. Worried that tow trucks and angry tow-ees would ruin their nights, they organized. Now, that plot is in the process of becoming a park and firefighter museum,

Their concern over the future of Stono Park Elementary coalesced at those weekly meetings. The county school district was considering reneging on a referendum promise to rebuild the school, which was crumbling and smelly and catering to a largely poor and black student body with awesome results.

The threesome started grassroots efforts that helped to successfully galvanize public support for a brand new, $20 million-plus school on the site. That effort has since kicked off another brouhaha: parents fighting to stay in their kids original school zones and not have to send them to Stono Park.

Speaking of parks, the Ladies got behind yet another local improvement effort, most recently fighting to get Randolph Park revamped. Gone is the urine-covered cinderblock building and broken glass, replaced by new playground equipment.

Today the park, tomorrow THE WORLD!!! — Bill Davis


westies2Michael Bessinger

It may seem surprising that West Of is honoring a pig emporium with a statue of a cow, until you understand the impact Bessinger’s BBQ Restaurant has had on West Ashley.

Now in its 77th year, Bessinger’s has “employed all of Charleston” at one time or another, said Thomas Bessinger, who co-owns the venerable Savanah Highway restaurant with his younger brother Michael. Thomas said they currently have an employee whose dad worked for their dad years ago.

Bessinger’s commitment to West Ashley includes hosting luncheons for the St. Andrew’s Rotary, the West Ashley-James Island Business Association (WAJIBA), donating money to the Ardmore neighborhood’s recent efforts to self-beautify, holding pellet-gun turkey shoots for charity.

The brothers are West Ashley born and bred. Michael lives in Shadowmoss, while Thomas lives in Edgewater Park. They bought the restaurant from their father five years ago.

Michael started working at his dad’s restaurant in 1989 when he got suspended for a fight at C.E. Williams Middle School.

“Dad said I was going to come work with him.” He finished high school, took agriculture classes at Clemson and Trident Tech, but insists “most of my learning took place right here,“ he said sitting in a wooden booth in the restaurant.

National magazines are raving that Charleston has become the epicenter of the barbecue world in this country. Bessinger’s has played a hand in that, laying down the foundation for what was to come after it, while still keeping a grip on its roots.

Dotting the walls are menus from the families various past restaurants, as well as thank-you notes from schools and military members serving in forward war zones.

A lot has changed from the times their dad dug pits and cooked whole hogs. But one thing has stayed constant: the Bessinger family’s commitment to good food and West Ashley. — Bill Davis


westies4Sarah Jackson

Sarah Jackson of Barks ‘N’ Bubbles in West Ashley has always been an avid animal lover. It was something her mother instilled at a young age. At 15 years old her first job was cleaning horse stables so she could spend time with the animals. A couple years later she started working at a dog groomers in Mt. Pleasant, cleaning kennels, washing dogs, etc. After working for several other groomers over the years Jackson opened Barks N Bubbles in January 2007.

“One of the best things about owning my own place is the opportunity to offer free services to foster animals in the local rescues,” she says. “My hope is if they smell and feel good they’ll find a home quicker.” This has also led her to start driving transport for Carolina Basset hound rescue, Low Country Lab Rescue, and several others.

Barks ‘N’ Bubbles also donates funds, supplies, and gift baskets for events to many of the local rescues and shelters including Charleston Animal Society, Pet Helpers, and Anderson County PAWS.

More recently Jackson has found a passion for the feral cat community and with the help of an amazing mentor, DeDe Tyler, she has trapped, neutered, and released several colonies of kitties, some lucky enough to stay at the shelter and get the opportunity for a real home. Others are cared for daily by Jackson herself or citizens in the neighborhood. “The goal is to cut down the population and give them a chance for a better life,” she says.

Jackson has personally acquired several rescues in the last few years — two dogs, Birdie and Ruby, and now four cats, three of which started out as colony cats and after years of socializing became loved pets.

According to Jackson, there are many rewarding aspects to her job but the most important thing to her is the relationships she builds with her clients. “I have so many I’ve started with as puppies and watched grow into wonderful seniors, also the disabled or senior pets who are in need of special care. They definitely have a way of stealing your heart,” she says. “Making animals feel and look better isn’t really a job but more of a passion.” — Lorne Chambers

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  1. Pingback: Ashley Redmond, Phillip Cook win Westie Awards – Vital Signs

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