Meet your neighbors

June 24, 2012 

Here are some people you might hear about or run into as you settle into the Midlands, folks who make this an interesting and ever-changing community in which to live.

Stewart and Deloris Mungo

Stewart and Deloris Mungo each had their own reasons for getting in the thick of the new Pawmetto Lifeline animal shelter.

She feels called to stick up for vulnerable creatures. He is an advocate of government consolidation who wanted to encourage Richland and Lexington counties to pull together.

Between them, they helped launch a non-profit organization in 1999 that promises to dramatically reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the Midlands by promoting pet sterilization.

The couple, both 59, share their Lake Murray home — built by The Mungo Co., of course — with three dogs and six cats, all rescues.

Skipp Pearson

They call him South Carolina’s Ambassador of Jazz because he’s traveled the country and the world, making music.

Here in his adopted hometown, Skipp Pearson is known simply as a classy entertainer who hosts of some of the best jazz around.

Pearson picked up the saxophone when he was an 8-year-old in Orangeburg. He was playing professionally by the time he was 14. Over the years, he’s shared the stage with the likes of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Patti LaBelle and Wynton Marsalis.

Now 75, he lives in Hopkins and maintains a busy performance schedule.

“Jazz Under the Stars,” his signature event, is Sept. 7-8 this year on the State House lawn. Bring a picnic and lawn chairs. Or catch a set at Hunter Gatherer on Thursday nights. Better yet, reserve a table at Pearson’s newest venue, Le Cafe Jazz, weekend nights at the top of Finlay Park downtown.

Robbie and Eric McClam

Three years ago, Robbie McClam and his son Eric started an organic farm on three acres in downtown Columbia that has become an engine in the local food movement.

The two, along with a cadre of interns, volunteers and customers, grow 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables, keep bees and raise chickens. In the fall, they expect to sell their first farm-raised tilapia.

Six days a week, customers can stop by the barn on Airport Boulevard to buy fresh produce. The McClams are working to expand deliveries to restaurants and grocery stores statewide, too.

An unexpected by-product: The farm has become a gathering place for farm-to-table dinners and Sunday brunches, outdoor movies and festivals.

After a career in architecture and downtown redevelopment, Robbie McClam, 58, heard a piece on NPR that inspired his work as a food activist. He broached the idea of a partnership with one of his 26-year-old triplets, Eric, who’d graduated from Tulane in 2009 with his own degree in architecture.

The recession threw them together, but now Eric has switched careers for good. “I would prefer to be a farmer,” he said.

Debbie Bloom

Debbie Bloom calls the atmosphere at her office “electric” — not a description often associated with libraries.

“We call this ‘The Salon,’” said Bloom, 55 and manager of the local history room at the top of the Richland County Public Library downtown. “We just start talking about things, and we’re all interested in Columbia and Richland County history.”

Some of the most-handled items in the room are cumbersome Columbia City Directories dating back a century. Folks can look up their own addresses to see who lived in their home before them.

Most visitors to the local history room are working on geneology. “And they’re loving it. They’re excited about it. And we are a great resource,” she said.

Because she works so much with geneologists, Bloom blogs under the name “Dead Librarian.”

Jan Jernigan

Jan Jernigan used to take leisurely drives to Lake Murray to watch sailboats glide on the water and dream of owning one herself.

Now she lives in Lexington County. She owns two boats. And, just like she knew it would, sailing gives her a sense of freedom — whether the wind’s in her face or at her back.

A financial advisor and volunteer fundraiser, Jernigan is involved in the racing community. Four years in a row, she chaired the Easter Regatta, which attracts sailors from all over the country, mostly east of the Mississippi but also into Canada.

She organizes women-only classes to encourage women to learn to sail. Other causes: caring for stray animals, scholarships for USC dance students, protecting victims of domestic violence and raising money for juvenile diabetes research.

“Life is short,” Jernigan said, “and you just have to focus on what you think is important.”

Harriett Green

Harriett Green was an aspiring artist before she threw in the towel, switched to art history and helped maintain the collection at the Columbia Museum of Art.

For the past 20 years, though, she has been visual arts director at the S.C. Arts Commission, promoting the work of South Carolina artists. (“We accept ‘South Carolina’ as by birth or by choice,” she said. For the record, Green is the former.)

She sometimes takes the state-owned art collection on the road to rural parts of the state, talking with residents about art and artists. More often, she works with other arts professionals to advance the careers of S.C. artists beyond the state’s borders.

Green’s private life, too, revolves around art. Each year, she looks forward to Spoleto and she collects “a little bit of everything.”

She loves drawings and lithographs. “I’m a monochromatic person, and I see that when I buy art,” said Green, 54. “I like color, but I don’t love color.”

Ryan Nevius

When policymakers disappointed her, Ryan Nevius got her batteries recharged by talking with children at Bible school about caring for the earth.

“They get it,” she said.

Nevius, 61, is director of Sustainable Midlands, a coalition of environmental groups striving to inspire more grassroots activism on issues of air and water quality. Since its inception in 2010, it has provided a forum for discussions about balancing the needs of the community, the environment and the economy.

A master gardener, Nevius said her life revolves around gardening and cooking, young people and a belief in caring for creation.

In 1992, she was living in Manhattan when she met a Barry Nevius, who lived in Santee. They married. “I told him he had six months to find another place to live.”

The couple moved to Columbia, where she joins now with neighbors to maintain the gardens at the park in historic Hollywood-Rose Hill.

Mark Plessinger

Five years ago, Mark Plessinger was a Main Street pioneer when he opened Frame of Mind, a shop full of “funky, cool, colorful” eyewear.

In no time, he conceived of a monthly art celebration that introduces artists to patrons, and retailers to new customers.

“I’m all invested in the arts,” said Plessinger, 38, who lives in Forest Acres with wife Wendy.

The couple was working in Ohio when they decided to return to Columbia, where Mark graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1996. “Columbia had done a lot of growing up in the eight or nine years we didn’t live here,” he said.

Plessinger builds stages and backdrops for Alternacirque, a professional circus troupe, and is planning new ways to integrate visual art, performance art and music for local audiences.

Regina Hampton Brown

Historically, her job has been linking hospital employees with school children through volunteer opportunities.

But after discovering how many of those children are homeless, Regina Hampton Brown has expanded the reach of Palmetto Health’s volunteer corps into homeless shelters.

Hospital employees — there are about 8,400 of them — now raise money, hold school-supply drives and contribute food to local shelters. In the coming year, Brown hopes to establish healthcare programs, too.

“All the young people I work with, all the children I work with, have kind of become my life,” said Brown, 47, who has worked in Palmetto Health’s community outreach program for nearly 24 years. She is manager of community and governmental relations.

In 2000, Brown also established Women Empowering Women, a ministry that encourages women through churches in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

Dawn Hinshaw writes about people, historic preservation and county government for The State.

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