The Good Samaritan – By: Kelly Payne

August 7, 2012

The other day I was on a mission to pay my respects to the 77 South Carolinians who lost their lives in the tragic Cleveland School fire of 1923.  I set out armed with my camera in hand, a glass of lemonade, and a notepad.

As I was driving to the Spring Hill area in Kershaw county, I couldn’t help but think about my own three children, my former students I’d taught throughout the years, and of course what it would have been like to have been there on that fateful night of May 17, 1923.

I felt a dread over the terrible loss of life that this community must have experienced.  And I was comforted to see its victims and survivors’ memories have been well-preserved through memorial services, memorial statues, observance of “Fire Prevention Week”, and several thoughtful family-penned genealogical websites to honor and remember the victims.

My trips are usually pretty uneventful and of little interest to anyone but me, except this one.  I arrived early in the morning at the Lugoff Fire-Rescue off of Hwy 1 South of Lugoff.  Fire Chief Dennis Ray was a wealth of knowledge and graciously shared old photos, documents, and even a book that had been written about the school fire.  I left with a clear set of directions to the school site and cemetery where many of the people who died in the fire are laid to rest.

As I pulled into the Cleveland School site I felt somber but I had exhausted most of my tears earlier on when I read the individual memoirs and viewed a montage of family photos.  I snapped a few pictures and set out to the next destination, the historic Beulah United Methodist church built in 1877.  There is a memorial for the fire victims and a mass grave where many of the unidentifiable remains are buried.

I had a brilliant idea to take a “shortcut”.  “Shortcut” has always been a kind of tongue-in-cheek expression used to describe my travels.  An inside joke for those who know me well.  I’ve always preferred to travel off the beaten path. Typically, I can be traveling down a perfectly good paved road and I’ll turn off at the first dirt road in sight.

Common sense dictates not to pull of into mud, swampland, a ravine, or sand.  What was I thinking?  Or not.  a prominent granite marker caught my attention — Site of Adville Ladson Barnes Homestead with birthdates back as far as 1835 — The Family Cemetery Was Located across the Road.  Remains re-buried in Quaker Cemetery — Camden and Sumter Cemetery – Sumter; who wouldn’t stop?

When your wheels can’t get a good grip on the ground, you need to add some grit to help them grab.  Gravel, sand, rock salt, and kitty litter are all good substances to keep a bag of in the trunk or bay area of your vehicle.  While I religiously carry my grave-rubbing kit with me, I seemed to have forgotten my kitty litter that day.  My vehicle was stuck.



At times like these you actually have many options — you can panic, call for help; sit around waiting for someone to come to your rescue, pray, just to name a few.  My cell phone was on the verge of dying and already had limited connectivity in this rural area so I cautiously decided to use my one call to my new hero, Dennis Ray, Fire Chief of Lugoff Fire Rescue.  I left him a voicemail.

After a considerable amount of time trying to dig the wheels of my vehicle out from the sand using soft, malnourished pine branches as makeshift shovels, I decided I was ready to hoof it.  Looking ahead I saw a beautiful dirt road lined with tall pines. Looking back I saw my green Expedition stuck in the earth with its wheels covered like doughnuts sprinkled in sugar-sand.  I had never been happier.

I was happy because I was about to embark on a trek in the 97 degree pulsating heat down a dusty dirt road not knowing where the road would take me. It was a unique opportunity to completely trust God.  My prayer was succinct, “God, please help me.”

The road was roughly about a mile but it seemed like 5.  It’s called Elder Road.  When I reached the end of the dirt road the perpendicular road was paved but barren.  I had a choice to make, I could walk to the left or I could walk to the right.  God made that choice for me.  In the distance I saw a black SUV heading my way but my mother’s vexing words instantly echoed in my head “don’t speak to strangers, and never hitchhike.”

The black SUV was about to become a millisecond of memory etched in my mind when I saw its back end.  Stickers- all sorts of political stickers decorated the back window and rear bumper of this truck — Governor Haley– Senator Lindsey Graham– Comptroller Eckstrom — Congressman Mulvaney– AG McMaster– and more.  Immediately, I began waving hoping the driver would see me in the faint distance.  The SUV came to a stop.

Unknowingly, my second hero of the day was here.  I must admit I felt a bit nervous approaching the car but I also felt certain God had sent help my way.  Mr. Samuel Cerezo, Board Member of the Fifth Congressional District, State of South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs, and former candidate in the 1998 Republican primary for State comptroller general was behind the wheel.  What a small world it is.  What a good God we have.

While I won’t bog you down with the rest of the minutia of the day I will tell you that God answers prayer, people are still good, and it’s never as bad as it seems.  I was not a victim of the Cleveland School fire in 1923, I’m not buried in the mass grave pit at Beulah Methodist Church, my car is not still stuck in the sand pit on Elder Road, and I made it home safely that night.

Chief Dennis Ray called me back and without hesitation drove many miles out of his way to help me pull my car out of the sandpit.  This kind man serves his community with pride, honor, integrity, and professionalism. He is a hero.

Mr. Sam Cerezo and his wife Glenda took hours out of their day to help a complete stranger.  They are heroes to me.

Helping others was something Jesus did on a daily basis.  He was constantly approached by people, but He always found time to stop what He was doing to help those in need.  This is a lesson we must learn if we want to be anything like Jesus, our Savior.

By: Kelly Payne


Kelly Payne is a high school Social Studies teacher in Richland SC.  She has been heavily active in the tea party movement from the beginning.  She is very involved in the GOP and ran for State Superintendent of Education in 2010.  Kelly began writing for The South Carolina Conservative Dot Com in 2012.


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