By: Gary Dickey
The Palmetto Woodturners chapter of the AAW (American Association of Woodturners) practically formed itself in the fall of 1999. Serving as an editor on the American Woodturner magazine gave me the chance to interact with members from many other clubs throughout the United States. Seeing the advantages of club membership on a local level, I searched the Resource Guide to see if there were any clubs in South Carolina that I could join. There were none. Noting that there were however, more than 30 members of the AAW living in the Palmetto State, I decided it was time for us to form a club.
In July I met several members of the AAW from South Carolina at the national symposium in Tacoma, Washington. We discussed the possibility of forming a chapter and their interest prompted me to take action. In August of 1999 I sent letters to all members of the AAW living in the state.
From the outset we faced the problems that any emerging organization faces. Primary among these was where and when to meet. I approached the principal and the shop teacher at Pelion High School about the possibility of using the school's shop. Permission was granted contingent upon our paying a rental fee of $50 and cleaning up after the demonstration.
Another problem was finding a demonstrator who would donate his time and pay for his own travel. Since there was no treasury for the first meeting, everything was on a volunteer basis.
I had met Willard Baxter, a member of the AAW National Board at the Tacoma Symposium, and he had expressed an interest in helping us start a new club. Willard was the woodturner in residence at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Additionally, he was a preacher, a deputy sheriff, and an excellent demonstrator.
I called Willard and said, "How would you like to drop what you're doing, pack up your wife and your tools, drive four hours, spend the night with strangers and be our first demonstrator for our brand new club, all at your own expense."
Willard replied, "I think I'd like to do that if you'll throw in a cup of morning coffee."
I said, ""Willard, you’ve got a deal."
On the day of our first meeting I was surprised at the turnout of more than 40 people. It was a really hot day and there was no air conditioning. We had to scrounge chairs, refreshments, as well as move my Powermatic 3520 from my shop 10 miles away.
We immediately had an instant gallery and I perceived that woodturners in South Carolina are just as talented as any in the world.
For our first demonstration Willard turned the president's gavel from cocobolo. This gavel has been passed down from one president to another until the present time. Our first officers were elected, supposedly for an interim period. The first officers agreed to serve for six months. I was chosen president, Gerald Dorn from Greenwood was vice president, and Tom Strickland from Lancaster was secretary / treasurer.
Among the charter members were Dr. Erskine Moore and Sam Pate from Florence, Tom Barker and his wife from Aiken, and Charles Watson of Lexington. Virtually all parts of the state were represented including the lowcountry and upstate.
There was much discussion concerning when and where to meet in the future. We agreed to continue meeting, but it was left up to me to find a place. We decided to meet on the first Saturday of the month to allow people travel time and to accommodate those who worked during the week.
It was also left to me to communicate with the membership, so by default I became the Newsletter Editor in addition to my duties as president. I immediately began looking for a different place for us to meet, so I paid a visit to the Pelion Senior Citizens Center. The director was willing to allow us to meet in their main hall, with the provision that I volunteer to deliver meals on wheels. I said, "It's a deal."
For the next several months we met at the Pelion Senior Center. Among the early demonstrators were Bobby Clemons, Tom Harvard, and others.
At the same time I was building my own shop. We had run into problems in the Senior Center because of the carpeted floor. Wood shavings tended to stick to the carpet like hook and loop sanding discs.
As construction came to a close, we decided it would be much easier to meet in my shop. New members about that time included Enoch Harding and Jack Gould of Lake Murray, Skipper Stephan, Dick and Joy Lehnhoff, Bill Jackson, Ben Pendarvis, Norm Weller, and Tom Rhoden from Modoc.
One casualty during these early meetings was one of the bathrooms in our house. It was at this point that we rented a porta-john for future meetings. We were beginning to outgrow my 20x40 shop, despite the goodwill of members like Charles Watson who showed up on Fridays to help clean up and set up for meetings. Members brought their own chairs and furnished refreshments. Somebody always kept the coffee pot going. We were videotaping by then.
Charles Watson volunteered to write a proposal for an AAW grant to buy a video camera and TV monitor.
During the winter months it was difficult since the shop was unheated, except for a loud kerosene blower. We would come early to heat up the shop and by the time the meeting started we would shut the heat off so we could hear the demonstrator. By 9 a.m. it was nice and warm which made it easy to nod off. By noon it was too cold, but at least everybody was awake.
As the club grew in numbers it was evident we would need a larger meeting space. I had heard that the Woodworkers Club of Columbia was using space in the back room of Mann Electric Co. So I approached Ronnie Mann about the possibility of our club meeting there. At first he was reluctant and replied that he already had the Woodworkers and didn’t know if he could accommodate another club, but he left open the possibility that we might be able to meet in his new store, then on the drawing board.
With that possibility left open I began calling Ronnie Mann each month, reminding him of our interest. It didn’t hurt that I bought woodworking equipment from him occasionally. In short, I made a pest of myself until Ronnie consented on a trial basis.
The original group of officers were reelected and served another year. Our presidents, in succession included:
- 1999 & 2000: Gary Dickey
- 2001: Bill Jackson
- 2002: Enoch Harding
- 2003: Jack Gould
- 2004: Dr. Ben Pendarvis
- 2005 & 2006: Robert Lyon
- 2007: Sam Brasher
By the time we moved to the new Mann Tool and Supply, we also started paying demonstrators as the treasury grew. We were still begging demonstrators, but at least we were able to entice them with a small stipend.
When Enoch Harding was president, we began an informal get-together for dinner on Friday nights prior to the Saturday meetings to entertain visiting demonstrators. During his tenure as president, it should be noted that Enoch never allowed anyone to pay for a meal. He footed the entire meal for everyone who attended.
Most of the demonstrators as well as some members from out of town stayed with Beth and me. Dr. Norm Weller, later to become librarian, became a regular driving up from Augusta on Friday afternoon, going out to the dinner and spending the night on our couch.
I served as the first Newsletter Editor, was followed by Jack Gould who edited the Newsletter from July 2001 through September 2002. As Jack Gould became President at that time, I resumed those duties for a short period until Steve Harrell stepped forward. The club will forever be grateful to Steve Harrell who took over as Newsletter Editor and has done a tremendous job to the date of this Foreward preparation (Spring, 2007).
Membership grew because the club proposed to Ronnie Mann that a free membership to the Palmetto Woodturners be awarded with each lathe that was sold in his store. That’s how we got to know Robert Lyon.
Lyon showed up because he received a free membership, and we happened to be electing officers that day. Having met him and knowing his background, I was convinced he would make a good president. I turned to him and asked if I could nominate him. Bob said, "This is just my first meeting." I said, "You're qualified." He turned out to be an excellent president with fine leadership skills, and just finished his second term at the end of 2006.
In looking back over the birth of our club, I wouldn't suggest this as a blueprint for starting a club. No one in his right mind would invite 40 people to a meeting before finding a place to meet, particularly in the middle of August in South Carolina. One had to be pretty gutsy to call up demonstrators to drive at their own expense and donate their time and talents. But if I had to do it over again, I'd do it exactly the same way. And Beth wishes sometimes we were still meeting in my shop, because it needs a thorough cleaning.
In retrospect, I recall Willard Baxter saying at the outset, "You'll find that about five percent of the members will do 90 percent of the work. The rest just want to pay their money and watch the show."
This is probably the only lie that Willard ever uttered. Throughout the history of our club, I have never asked a member for help and been refused. Moreover, it has become a hallmark of our club that members tend to take action whenever they see something that needs to be done. To my knowledge, we’ve never assigned anyone to cleanup after meetings. It just happens. And so it goes, with all of the tasks that are required to move the club forward into what will soon be our second decade.
We have learned much, made excellent friends and mourn those who are no longer with us.