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Conway woman nominates S.C. Hall of Fame inductee
By Johnna Meadors Laird
On May 5, Susan Hoffer McMillan, a Conway resident and Winthrop University graduate, will give her bucket list a fresh checkmark.
That's when David Bancroft Johnson, Winthrop University's founding president, will finally achieve the status McMillan believes he deserves: a place among South Carolina's most distinguished, in the state Hall of Fame.
South Carolina's Hall of Fame inducts two nominees annually, one living and one deceased, for outstanding contributions to the state's heritage. Governor John C. West created the nonprofit Hall of Fame foundation in 1973, two years after McMillan graduated Winthrop with an English degree. By 2001, Governor Jim Hodges made the nonprofit the state's official Hall of Fame. The hall, located at Myrtle Beach Convention Center, displays tributes to South Carolina’s most distinguished.
McMillan has carried the torch for Johnson's nomination for more than 30 years, a project begun in 1984. She was encouraged and mentored by a former Conway High School teacher and Winthrop trustee at the time, the late Elizabeth ("Libba") Goldfinch Singleton of Myrtle Beach; McMillan wrote the original nomination application, which she co-sponsored with Singleton.
In subsequent years, McMillan re-nominated Johnson, sometimes rewriting her rationale, until a university employee, Gina Price White, a 1983 Winthrop graduate and director of the university’s Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections, assumed Johnson's annual nomination after McMillan ended her term as president of the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies and left the board. The two women served together on The Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies, which annually fields nominations for the Hall of Fame and forwards 10 nominees in each of two categories, living and deceased, as finalists for selection by the Hall of Fame board. After leaving the board, McMillan, however, made sure with phone calls that Johnson’s name was annually in consideration.
Since 1984, Johnson has repeatedly landed among the top 10 nominee finalists. Last year, however, McMillan became uniquely positioned to further her cause of Johnson’s induction. She began serving as a South Carolina Hall of Fame trustee.
At her first selection meeting as a Hall of Fame trustee in September, 2016, McMillan made an impassioned case for Johnson's induction, declaring Johnson to be a visionary. At a time when less than five percent of the nation's population earned college degrees, Johnson embarked on building a training school for women, the first in the South Atlantic states.
The idea came to him while he served as superintendent of Columbia City Schools and faced a chronic teacher shortage. Winthrop began in Columbia but soon relocated to Rock Hill with room for expansion. Johnson secured $1 million for buildings from several sources--the state legislature, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, among others. From 1900 to 1928, Winthrop became one of the largest women’s colleges in the country.
"Johnson persisted with a tremendous building program," says McMillan. "The state legislature kept firing shots at him, taking away funding, but he persevered. Through all of this, he provided stability and constancy to women who came to Winthrop, who were away from home, missing their families and pursuing higher education, which most women did not do at that time."
While Johnson's recognition has taken decades to gain from the South Carolina Hall of Fame, McMillan points out that the American Legion named Johnson as its most distinguished citizen in 1927, the year before he died, for his contribution to education.
He gained national recognition and in 1950 The State newspaper chose Johnson as its "Educator of the Half Century."
"Those are big accolades," says McMillan.
McMillan also told her co-trustees on the Hall of Fame board that “if you don’t elect him today, you’ll hear from me every year until he gets elected.”
Fast-tracked to graduate in three years, McMillan as a Winthrop student knew little about Johnson. A book by the late Winthrop professor Dr. Thomas Crowson fueled McMillan’s commitment to Johnson’s induction. In The Winthrop Story, Crowson recounted the college history from the 1886 founding until 1986. McMillan, who served on Winthrop's board of trustees from 1988 to 1994, found the book offered inspiring evidence of Johnson's "heart and soul" dedication to establishing Winthrop.
"Think about Winthrop and where we were," McMillan says, "the tremendous boost Winthrop gave the state, the trickle-down effect Winthrop had year after year, sending out teachers who were well-prepared to inspire students and our citizenry."
"This helped raise the economic level of our state," says McMillan. "Now Winthrop graduates are all over the world. Everywhere I go, I meet a Winthrop graduate. So many people have earned diplomas over the years. This impact is tremendous, and it is due to the education and positive environment that DBJ established when he created Winthrop."
According to university records, Winthrop has awarded more than 60,000 diplomas since its founding.
After Singleton died in 2000, McMillan "kept on plugging," she explains. "This was a project that would not go away. I am goal-oriented and want to finish what I start, so it's a great relief to have DBJ inducted. Now this will stand forever."
An historian in her own right, McMillan has authored five pictorial histories of coastal South Carolina and co-authored a sixth book. A self-taught archaeologist, she conducts digs with trained volunteers in Horry and Georgetown counties and has led archaeological research at Brookgreen Gardens. A committed historical preservationist, she has raised funds for the Horry County Museum and Horry County Historical Society; she has served on the board of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation.
On May 5, McMillan will stand at the 5 p.m. ceremony in Winthrop’s McBryde Hall, a building constructed during Johnson’s tenure as president, bearing witness as Johnson takes his rightful place in history.
McMillan plans to savor the moment, then move on to find another goal for her bucket list, hopefully one that won’t take another 30 years.
Camera Club sets meeting
The May 11 meeting of the Coastal Carolina Camera Club will present a program on studio photography by its President, Trevor McDonald, featuring his signature SETS method. SETS stands for Scene, Exposure, Target, Shoot. If time permits, these methods will be applied in a hands-on photo shoot with a model, so be sure to bring your cameras.
McDonald is the owner of Trevor McDonald Photography and also a photographer for Whitfield Photography. He studied under Stacie Walters advanced photography college classes and was mentored by professional photographer, Robert Ward.
The club meets monthly, every second Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. at the Shallotte Presbyterian Church, 5070 Main Street in Shallotte. Membership is open to photographers of all skill levels. Meetings consist of informative programs on photographic techniques and software usage, member photo presentations and critiques, guest speakers and much more. Guests are always welcome. Visit the website at www.coastalcarolinacameraclub.org., our Facebook page or call 287-6311 for more information.