Wampee School alumni from the 1940s through the ’70s returned to the area for a reunion in March and liked what they saw in a preview tour of the new North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum. Ruth Anne Ellis, a member of the museum board of directors, says her Wampee classmates talked about items they intended to send to the museum when they returned home.
Actually, the Wampee-Little Grand Reunion planning already had resulted in a choice acquisition for the museum. Pam Huestess McLauchlin donated the blue satin drum majorette uniform of her late mother. Museum director Jenean N. Todd described the uniform as “just beautiful.” It had been in a cedar chest and is in excellent shape. Todd says George Norton, a Wampee alumni now in Canada, had been talking to McLauchlin, who mentioned the uniform and her plan to display it at the reunion. Norton asked if the museum was interested and that led to the donation.
Wampee, on S.C. 90, was both a junior high and high school, grades 7 through 12. It was merged into North Myrtle Beach High School. The reunion, the first for all classes, attracted 300-plus.
As director of the Visitors Center of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, Ellis has heard many visitors ask if there was a museum in the area. Until now, the answer had to be “No,” but as of Sunday, the response is positive. “We’ve seen it grow from Dick’s vision,” Ellis says, referring to the former North Myrtle Beach mayor, Dick Hester. He has long envisioned an area historical museum and a decade ago outlined his idea first to the Lions Club and then to the City Council. Hester talked about his vision to anyone who would listen – and perhaps after hearing about Hester’s idea wondered how in the world it could ever happen.
Hester and others on the museum board were ready when the Horry County Council and the city acted to build a new library in North Myrtle Beach. The North Myrtle Beach branch definitely needed more space and there was no room to expand the building on Second Avenue North. The city donated a site for the larger library and gave the old library building to the museum. With a $500,000 state grant, achieved prior to the recession of 2008, the former library has been handsomely renovated. Todd, who has 25 years of experience at the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science in Wilmington, N.C., was hired as director. Collection of artifacts continued, with a terrific community response. “The community has really jumped on board,” Ellis says.
That community support will be evident as visitors walk into the new facility. A fundraising campaign for founding members – who get a year of free admission and whose names grace a plaque near the entrance – generated more than 400 takers, plus eight corporate sponsors.
Progress had hit a snag when the governor vetoed a budget proviso that would have provided $375,000 for exhibits. Community volunteers provided a way around fabricated exhibits costing $150 to $500 a square foot. “We are going with minimal investment in exhibits,” Todd says. “We’re working on about $25 a square foot, with many volunteers [constructing the exhibits]. Some days, there are 10 volunteers in here.” Sure to be popular with folks of a certain age, as well as educational for their grandchildren, is a refurbished 1965 jukebox. Yes indeed, some of us do remember those. “A CD cannot replace the scratch of a needle on vinyl.”
The museum promises to be more than a splendid reuse of a building. It should be an attraction for tourists, many of whom are interested in our area’s history, and it will be a new resource for residents to learn about the past of the place we call home. “I think everybody will be proud,” Ellis says.