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Wholesale observations: In the days before Walmart came along
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

Many of the small towns our wholesale firm had customers in had one large hardware store that sold almost everything but groceries and clothing. This was well before Wal-Mart came along, but they usually only located in bigger cities anyway. These stores were usually long-time family businesses, run by successive generations.

One of them was Wiggins and Son Hardware in Estill, SC, just across the Savannah River from Springfield and Clyo, GA. They were one of many long-time customers who had open-ended credit with us, because they always paid on time, so I never worried about approving their orders when they came in, regardless of how big they were or how much money they involved.

After I closed the wholesale business in late 1983, that business continued, and is still going today. Some twenty-plus years later, that business relationship came into play again in a surprising way, through my wife’s job with the Memorial Health Foundation in Savannah. Her job was to raise money to fund programs and equipment that the hospital itself did not have funds to do. Cancer research was one main area of focus. When one of the doctors there came down with cancer and recovered, he decided to challenge other doctors and friends to a long-range bicycle ride, to raise money for cancer research. “Patrick’s Ride,” it came to be called. The concept eventually grew to encompass a ride from Savannah to Augusta, and raised something like $100,000 each year from 90-100 riders, for nearly ten years. (These were serious bike riders, who did long rides with expensive light-weight bikes.)

By the time my wife came on board, it was her job to coordinate all the details: lining up support vehicles and police escorts along the way, permits, rest stops, and hotel arrangements for when everyone got to Augusta at the end of that long day. It was a major event, and a lot of work. The ride started out at the Memorial campus in Savannah, early on a Saturday morning, and went up back roads to Springfield, GA, then usually crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina, and then up more back roads until they got to Augusta. This was mostly for safety, but also let the riders enjoy the country scenery most of them would never experience otherwise.

Estill, SC, became one of two lunch stops along the way, the other being Sylvania, GA. Anne and I rode up there one Saturday on a day trip to “scope things out.“ We stopped at Wiggins and Son Hardware to pick up a few supplies for some signs she needed to make, and I got to renew acquaintances with Bo Wiggins. I was glad to see his business was still in operation.

We also stopped off at the nearby church whose pastor had offered the use of their social hall for the lunch we were to provide the riders. It was a beautiful little church, in an unusual octagonal design.

Lawtonville Baptist Church had originally been located a few miles away, but when the original wooden church burned, many years ago, it was rebuilt in nearby Estill, in brick, designed by a Jewish architect, no less. A lovely church. The nicest in town.

The day the riders came through, they enjoyed a nice box lunch prepared by a local café, stretched out on the side lawn, and enjoyed visiting with the locals who came by to help distribute the lunches, and clean up afterwards. Super nice people!

I was glad to have had prior knowledge of the local hardware store folks, who introduced us to both the caterer we used and the church pastor who was so very helpful. We later had a similar experience with the First Baptist church in Sylvania, GA, on another ride, and were very grateful for their assistance as well.

The rides themselves proved to be very popular, with this set of riders, and we treated them to a fine dinner and a good night’s rest at the Riverfront Marriott in Augusta at the end of it, before putting their bikes on a truck and the riders on a bus, and bringing them back to Savannah, the following day. We always used that hotel because their folks always did a great job with the dinners, and the prices were always reasonable.

I was pleased to have a very small peripheral part on those rides, basically just filling in wherever needed. It was an amazing event to put on, and raised a lot of funding for cancer research, over the decade or so it lasted.

Sadly, the doctor who started it eventually succumbed to his cancer. But he was a stalwart participant until the end, when he could no longer ride. And used his passion for cycling as a means to challenge his colleagues and friends to use their shared passion to raise funds for a very worthy cause.

God bless him! Good folks, everywhere. ### Rafe Semmes lives down in Midway with his wife

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