Ms. Mary Rhodes, recently celebrated her 99th birthday. She is a long time resident who has lived on Folly beach for over 70 years. If you want to know what Folly was really like in the old days, Mary is a treasure trove of first hand information.
Born in 1924 in the small community of New Hope in the outskirts of Summerville, Mary was the fifth of George and Caroline Gelzer’s six children. One of her earliest memories of Folly Beach is helping her cousin at the Folly Road Toll Booth in the late 1930’s. She recalls the toll was 50¢. After graduating from Berkeley High School in 1941, Mary moved into a house on Society Street, conveniently located near the Charleston Naval Shipyard where Mary took a job working in the Naval Production Office. Her landlord, George Rhodes, also owned properties on Folly Beach, including the Comfort Inn Cottages (now called the Daffodil Cottages). George would one day become Mary’s brother-in-law.
Mary loved to visit Folly Beach whenever she could. She avoided weekends – even in the 1940’s the weekend traffic was unwelcoming. Travel on the island was challenging. The only paved road was Center Street. All other roads were nothing but sand and ruts. A fittingly Folly phrase of the day was Be independent, make your own rut. This was during WWII and Mary recalls that blackout and dimout restrictions were in place, and that the top half of car headlights were painted black.
Mary sometimes stayed at one of the Daffodil cottages. Eventually she met Tom Rhodes, the younger brother of George Rhodes, while Tom was living in one of the cottages and recovering from a broken foot. Tom and Mary were married in 1945 and young Tom was born a year later.
About this time a new car manufacturer, Kaiser-Frazer, was taking on America’s Big Three Automakers and was launching their radical new car. Tom Rhodes and his brothers and father packed up their families and moved to Walterboro to cash in on the Kaiser Frazer craze. Five years later when Kaiser Frazer went out of business, Tom and Mary returned to Folly Beach, now with 3 children.
Tom and his brother took over the Pure Oil gas station located where Circle K is today. A few years later in 1956 Tom, Mary, and their five children moved into their new house on West Indian where Mary still resides today. In 1957 they had their sixth and final child.
In the early 1960’s Tom and his brother took over the Phillips 66 gas station located where The Washout is today. Taking care of six children was a full time job but somehow Mary found time to be the newspaper lady, delivering both the News and Courier and the Charleston Evening Post. Every Saturday was collection day. Tom also had a wrecker service, a heating and oil truck, and a water truck. He rescued many cars stuck in the sand on the beach, and many residents depended on Tom to deliver heating oil and drinking water to their homes. As busy as their lives were, Mary found time to enjoy bowling and once bowled a perfect 300 game.
When Tom died unexpectedly in 1967, Mary sold the gas station and started working at Concrete Products Company as the Inside Sales Manager. By the time she retired in 1989 after Hugo hit, the local contractors considered Mary to be the go to expert when it came to concrete. Mary has remained active in her retirement. She served as Vice President of the Exchange; Yes, this was long before 1985 when the Exchange Club voted to accept women. She served as Treasurer of the Seniors Club.
Mary is an artisan and has shown her beautiful creations at many craft shows. A fair number of locals likely own one or more of her stunning hand made oyster shell angels. But most of all, Mary has been involved with the Folly Beach Methodist church. In addition to being in the choir from 1951-2013, she has held nearly every church position possible from Sunday school teacher to church historian, a position she still holds today. And she treasures visiting with her three surviving children all of whom live on Folly.
When asked what Folly Beach means to her, Mary immediately says home and family. How fortunate we are to be able to honor Ms Mary Rhodes as our Grand Marshall. Next spring look for Mary in the yard as she tends to her garden.