We Gather Together: A Family Rich in Love, Rich in Tradition

By Connie Barnard

We Gather Together: A Family Rich in Love, Rich in Tradition

For Elizabeth Singleton Benton and her husband Lawton, there is a heightened sense of happy anticipation this year as their family gathers for Thanksgiving. For the first time in five years, they will all celebrate the holiday together. Lawton and Elizabeth’s daughter Louise, a junior at Clemson, will be home for the holiday. So will their son Spencer whose ACC record-breaking career as a kicker on the Clemson football team has kept him on the road with play-offs and bowl games the last five seasons. There will also be the happy presence of a brand new family member: five month old Annie Benton, born in May to their older son Edward and his wife Sarah Belden Benton. For these lifelong Myrtle Beach residents, this will be a special celebration, one drawn in concentric circles of extended family over five generations

Recalling a childhood of outdoor family gatherings in the warm Carolina sun, Lawton says, “Thanksgiving has always been a really important time, like an old fashioned Homecoming.” Traditionally, the Benton family celebration centered around an oyster roast. “My grandfather Casper had seven children, and everyone came back for it. They would gather and chop large oak branches to roast the oysters over an open fire. Each family brought a covered dish. The kids ran and played. It would last all day.”

Elizabeth remembers childhood Thanksgivings at the Myrtle Beach home of her grandparents, Elfreda and Charlie Singleton: “My grandparents had six children and four of them lived in Myrtle Beach. My grandmother loved to feed people. She invited the entire family and all her friends and neighbors. Everyone piled into their home on 10th Avenue North. We had wonderful food and a wonderful time which often included an enthusiastic intergenerational touch football game.”

Both Elizabeth and Lawton’s families are deeply rooted in local history with familiar intermingled surnames. Many came from isolated sections of Horry and Georgetown Counties and knew one another all their lives. Elizabeth laughs as she shares a bit of mutual family lore regarding her grandmother, Elfreda Eldridge Singleton. At about age 13, Elfreda spotted the much older Casper Benton riding on an elegant Palomino horse and declared he was the best-looking man she’d ever seen. Lawton jokes that his mother, Emma Ann Lawton Benton who moved here from Florence as a young girl, helped shake up the family gene pool. One thing is certain however: good looks run bountifully throughout the varied strains of this handsome family.

With hard work, good timing and native intelligence, this early generation of local men and women caught the first wave of development that over time would produce the Grand Strand. Lawton’s grandfather, Casper L. Benton, was one of these. Recently recognized by the S.C. Golf Hall of Fame, this farmer turned landscaper used a team of mules to build the first golf course in Myrtle Beach, now Pine Lakes Golf Club. Lawton says he doubts his grandfather had ever seen a golf course, much less played on one when he traveled to New York City to learn about greens construction. In1938 Benton opened his namesake company, C.L. Benton and Sons, which would become a major force in the area’s commercial construction. As small tourist homes developed into oceanfront hotels, Lawton’s father Jimmy learned to drive the pilings required to support them. When the Strand expanded in all directions, the company built roads, water and sewer lines, and more golf courses – five of which are listed among the top 100 courses in the country. In 2008, after graduating from Hamden-Sidney College, Lawton and Elizabeth’s son Edward became the family’s fourth generation to be a part of the company – a source of great family pride for the Bentons, especially Edward’s grandfather Jimmy who served as president of the company until 1982 when Lawton and his brother Carson purchased it from their father.

In its own way, Elizabeth’s family history also represents the story of Myrtle Beach. Longtime residents fondly remember the Chapin Company shopping complex which opened in 1927 and anchored a block in the downtown section for over seven decades. Functioning much like familiar company stores scattered throughout the South, the Chapin Company provided everything from furniture to food – even a registry for wedding gifts. It served as the daily spot to meet one another and catch up on local news. For many years Elizabeth’s grandfather, Charlie Singleton, managed Chapin’s Shell Station, a familiar fixture in the burgeoning town. A generation later, Elizabeth’s father, Earl Singleton, purchased a pharmacy in the Chapin complex. Remnants of its buildings are still evident in the vicinity of 8th Avenue North and Main Street.

Myrtle Beach grew into a popular vacation destination, attracting visitors who often came here and never left. Elizabeth’s mother, Betty Gamble Singleton was one of these. After completing her freshman year at West Virginia University, she and several sorority sisters took summer jobs at Myrtle Beach. Betty worked at Walgreen’s where she met the love of her life, a tall, good-looking USC pharmacy student named Earl Singleton. Betty and Earl eloped and have lived here happily ever after, raising three children in the Myrtle Beach community.

Elizabeth and Lawton grew up less than a mile apart and, though he was two classes ahead of her in school, they have known of each other all their lives. Both attended First Presbyterian Church Kindergarten and Coastal Academy where each starred in both academics and basketball. Their seven year courtship began in high school and continued through college at Clemson. They married after Elizabeth’s graduation in 1984 and came home to Myrtle Beach where they’ve lived, worked and raised their family.

Like her mother and her brother Charles, Elizabeth is a gifted artist. One of three female students accepted into the Clemson School of Architecture in 1979, Elizabeth has both a passion and a talent for design and landscape gardening, as well as art history and historic preservation. These are reflected in the Bentons’ beautiful Pine Lakes home, recently featured in the Art Museum Tour of Homes, and in their second home at Murrells Inlet which she skillfully transformed from a modest waterfront bungalow into a stylish, comfortable summer cottage.

The Bentons have remained steadfastly anchored by the same principles that made them successful: hard work, family, community and faith. For three generations the Myrtle Beach First Presbyterian Church has been a mainstay in their lives. “The church has had a significant impact on who we are,” says Lawton. “It has always been there for us, like an extended family.”

A love of hunting, fishing and being outdoors is an inherent part of their lives as well, a connection to their deep heritage of living off the land. Elizabeth says, “All our family spends time outside. It is where we get our strength.” She and Lawton walk together every day, regardless of where they are or what the weather is.

Lawton says their parents also impressed on them the value of education and the importance of giving back to the community. Ruth Gore, who has known Lawton and Elizabeth all their lives, says, “They are a beautiful family inside and out who have given of themselves as well as their wealth to help make Myrtle Beach a better place for all of us.” Lawton’s good friend, Scott Brandon, echoes this sentiment: “I have learned a great deal about life, business and – more importantly – family from Lawton. He is one of the most generous people I know, and he is committed to making our community a better place to live and work, giving both time and money to causes that are vital to our quality of life in Myrtle Beach. I don’t think we can ever quantify the Benton family’s true contribution to our area.”

This year as they look forward to celebrating a special family Thanksgiving, Lawton and Elizabeth Benton also look to the past with a deep sense of gratitude. Lawton reflects, “Myrtle Beach has always been so good to our family. This really is paradise. Why would you want to be anywhere else?”

Next to family and friends, food is the best part of Thanksgiving. Elizabeth generously shared this special family holiday recipe, handed down from her mother-in-law, Emma Ann Benton.

Raspberry Mold

Ingredients

  • 2 (3oz.) packages raspberry Jello
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water
  • 2 (10 oz) packages frozen raspberries in syrup (thawed and undrained)
  • 1 15 ¼ ounce can of crushed pineapple (undrained)
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 cups sour cream

Instructions

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Stir in raspberries, pineapple, pecans.
Make three layers in a rectangular glass dish:

  1. Spoon ½ of Jello mixture. Let firm for several minutes. (I place it in the freezer.)
  2. Spread sour cream.
  3. Spread remainder of Jello mix.

Let it firm in refrigerator for several hours. Cut into squares and serve as a salad or side dish.

Emma Ann Benton

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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