Volunteers team up to raise the roof on historic Sandy Island home

Over the past few weeks, Herriott has watched – not once, not twice, but three times – as an outpouring of community support came together to save her ancestral home.
“It is hard for me to put into words – God is good, He is so good,” Herriott said, placing one hand over her heart and raising the other to the heavens. “So many have done so much for me and I am so grateful and so humbled by their love and kindness.”
Upon their death, Herriott’s grandparents, William and Mary Collins, bequeathed their home to their granddaughter. Herriott said she had a vision of turning the residence into an inn where she could serve meals and entertain overnight guests. Over the years, she’s welcomed guests to enjoy the laid-back, mimimalistic cottage. There’s no air conditioning, but guests don’t expect it. The idea is to experience a true Sandy Island experience – free from the all-too-busy life on the mainland.
“I was born here on Sandy Island, and I raised my three children here,” Herriott said. “It is my home and my heritage and I want to share that with as many folks as possible to keep the stories and the history of the people of Sandy Island alive for generations to come.”
Sandy Island is the largest freshwater island on the East Coast. Its 9,000 acres are tucked between the Pee Dee and Waccamaw Rivers and can only be accessed by boat.
When the historic rains of 2015 destroyed the home’s roof and caved in the ceilings, Herriott thought her vision had come to an end, until a group of concerned friends and admirers held numerous “Raise the Roof” fundraisers to restore the home Herriott aptly named “Wilma Cottage,” after her two grandparents.
When Herriott’s longtime friend and local historian Lee Brockington learned of Laura’s roof troubles, it didn’t take her long to put together an action plan and a list of friends she would call on for support.
“When I enlisted Linda Ketron to help me organize the fundraising effort, we discussed an online giving site, but agreed that this community could do this,” Brockington said. “We felt like the people we knew would want to help a fellow community member, and they did.”
Herriott, Brockington said, is a hard-working person who has held down many jobs over the years to maintain Wilma Cottage.
“The fact that she is willing to work so hard to maintain a place where others can come and enjoy the island and learn the history means so much to so many who have come to know and love Laura over the years,” Brockington said.
A local Gullah Geeche guide, Herriott has enhanced the lives of many who appreciate her willingness to share her culture and heritage with others, Ketron said.
“Laura’s story, and certainly the history and mystery of Sandy Island, has attracted others to contribute, as well as there being a real person at the end of this donation,” Ketron said. “So many requests for donations are institutional instead of personal, and this one didn’t even have the carrot of a tax deduction.”
Ketron’s and Brockington’s passion for the roofing project soon turned infectious and their phones started ringing with offers of help.
“People would see our Facebook posts and before we knew it, we had formed the ‘Raise the Roof’ Fund,” Brockington said.
While Brockington and Ketron spearheaded the fundraising aspect of the effort, Bill Sheehan, Brockington’s husband, contacted roofers and began gathering bids, which Sheehan said turned out to be more difficult than he expected.
“Getting a roofer to bid on a roofing job out on Sandy Island was not easy,” Sheehan said. “It’s not like you can truck the materials and tools over there. Everything has to go by barge and boat, and that isn’t cheap.”
Roofer Chris Walters accepted the job, and agrees with Sheehan that the hurdles of roofing a house on the island are higher than those on the mainland.
“Unless you have been to Sandy Island, you have no idea how the people who live there function on a daily basis,” Walters said. “Just going to the grocery story on the mainland would be an ordeal for someone like me, but for them, it is part of a way of life, and they love it.”
Walters said the two trips by car and two trips by boat required to travel between the island and the mainland is magnified when hauling all the equipment, tools and material to demo and rebuild a roof.
Walter’s son, Ashton, is helping his father work on Herriott’s house and said the experience has been much more than a summer job.
“I have learned a lot while we have been working on Miss Laura’s house this summer,” Ashton Walters said. “She is such a wonderful woman and she is full of history and hospitality. I am so glad that my dad took this job, and we had the opportunity to meet her and fix her roof.”
When he wasn’t assisting the roofers with the logistics of the project, Sheehan, a master wood carver, was crafting items to be sold at two of the fundraisers and gathering the materials to repair the front gate and the screen porches at the cottage.
“I’m going to let the roofers handle the roof and I am going to help Laura fix the front gate and a few other things that need fixing around the cottage,” Sheehan said.
Brockington said the first fundraiser, a tag sale at her home in Pawleys Island, was a rousing success that produced much more than a cash inflow that day.
“We had an amazing turnout for the tag sale,” Brockington said. “Not only was the sale a success, but we gathered more worker bees along the way who wanted to sign up and help the cause.”
With a roofer secured, the group quickly started planning the second fundraiser; a book and craft fair held at the Litchfield Exchange in Pawleys Island. Local writers and artist filled the exchange, all giving a portion of their sales, and in some cases, all of their proceeds to help Herriott replace the roof on her home.
Making sure the volunteers and the participants were well fed, Herriott organized the food and refreshments for both events.
“You know I love to cook now, and you know I love people to have plenty of Lowcountry food to eat and drink when they come to my house,” Herriott said. “I want to do my part to help out all the people that are helping me.”
Many shoppers stopped at the refreshment table to grab a cookie or a cup of punch during the fundraiser, but some just wanted to meet a woman who they have admired for years.
“I have been going to events around Pawleys Island and Georgetown for years where Laura Herriott has given a talk about the Gullah Geeche culture,” Vivan Ward said while shopping during the book and craft sale. “I have learned so many cultural tidbits from her over the years, and when I saw on Facebook that people were holding this event to help her pay for the roof on Wilma Cottage, I couldn’t wait to get down here and give her a hug and do my part to help out.”
Linda and Michael McCarthy of Murrells Inlet opened their home for the final fundraiser, Brockington said, and the outpouring of love and kindness continued to flow.
“The roofer has to fix two little things and make a final inspection,” Brockington said at the close of the third fundraiser. “The end is in sight, and God has enhanced our abilities. $22,000 was the roofer’s bid and we are nearly finished. This community made of people from near and far, has been great.”
Herrott’s eyes fill with tears when she thinks about the people who helped make her dream of a new roof become a reality. “Oh, if my grandparents could see how so many people have come together and done so much good to help me save this home,” Herriott said. “I know they are smiling down upon all the work that is going on around here and sending their love to the people who helped make it happen.”
From South Strand News
Trenton H. Cotney
Florida Bar Certified Construction Lawyer
Trent Cotney, P.A. 
407 N. Howard Avenue
Suite 100
Tampa, FL 33606

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