As the owner/operator of Perry’s Bait and Tackle, Jessica Hill-Doehner was totally immersed in the fishing scene in Murrells Inlet and the near-shore waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Nearly a year after she was murdered, the community has come together to support Hill-Doehner’s three surviving children and to establish an artificial reef in her honor.
A more fitting tribute could not be found for Hill-Doehner, who was well-known in the inlet for her willingness to help visitors and residents alike with fishing accessories and expert salt-water fishing advice.
Hill-Doehner’s ex-husband, Eric Justin Perry was charged with her murder last September and remains incarcerated in the Georgetown County Detention Center awaiting trial.
Hill-Doehner was instrumental in having an artificial reef established in the memory of her then father-in-law, Winston Perry. Winston Perry, the founder of Perry’s Bait and Tackle and Eric Perry’s father, passed away in January 2010.
Just five months later, in June, 2010, Hill-Doehner had accomplished that feat when the Winston Perry Memorial Reef was placed on the ocean floor at the Paradise Reef site located three miles east of the Murrells Inlet jetties.
Now, it’s Hill’s turn to be honored.
Claire Collins, now the manager of Perry’s Bait and Tackle, is leading the charge of coordinating the reef campaign in Hill-Doehner’s name.
Collins, 23, befriended Hill-Doehner on fishing trips in Murrells Inlet and took over management of the bait and tackle shop.
“Jessica was steady always doing for others rather than for herself,” said Collins. “It is very appropriate to do something for her.
“What an amazing tribute it is to have a reef in the ocean in her name, with the marine life, which was something she loved. I don’t think anyone could deserve it more.”
Collins also is coordinating an annual fundraiser, with the second annual event scheduled for Nov. 10 at Perry’s.
The first event solely supported Hill-Doehner’s surviving children, Liam, Bella and Aden, and this time the proceeds will be split between the Family Justice Center of Horry and Georgetown Counties and Jessica Hill-Doehner’s reef fund.
The event will feature barbecue provided by Smokin’ Sumthin’ BBQ, live music, a silent auction featuring donated charter fishing trips, and raffle tickets. Guest speakers will include Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and a representative of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Marine Artificial Reef Program.
The event will also feature face painting, a bouncy house, photo booth, and a Jessica favorite, a rig-tying expo.
“This is very much a kid-friendly event,” said Collins. “It’s going to be really great.”
A year ago, the community came out to the event, enabling $14,000 to be raised for Hill-Doehner’s children.
“It’s a good opportunity to bring everyone in the fishing community together,” said Collins. “It’s about supporting a cause that deserves to be supported. It really is a beautiful thing.”
A fund is set up at Bank of America to benefit Hill-Doehner’s children. For those wishing to earmark contributions to Hill-Doehner’s reef fund, Collins suggests writing “reef fund” in the memo on checks.
Donations also can be made at Perry’s Bait and Tackle, located at 3965 Hwy. 17 Business, Murrells Inlet, SC, 29576. Call 843-651-2896 for more information.
“We’re doing this for Jessica’s children, but we’re also doing it for Jessica,” said Collins. “She touched a lot of people. A lot of people loved Jessica.”