Dr. Craig Ward and his wife Melissa wanted to do something to give back to the school and town they love.
So the two decided to bequeath their historic home in Hickory Valley to USC Salkehatchie.
“I’m a graduate of USC, went to medical school there. I’ve always felt a burden to return to my alma mater because I have gotten so much from what they gave me,” Dr. Ward said. “We love Walterboro. We love USC. I believe that Salk is a huge asset to the state, as well as to this area. Some of the best nurses I ever worked with graduated from there. We have a pretty strong affinity for Salk, as well as the university.”
So when they started considering retirement, the two felt that donating their home to USC Salk upon their deaths would be a way to say thank you.
The home sits on the site of the very first home in Walterboro, built by Jacob Walter in 1788. That original home was destroyed by the cyclone of 1879, and the Ward’s home was built that same year on the same site. The house was home to Sen. Richard Jefferies in the 1920s and later to the Unger family.
But it’s more than just a historic home. “It’s just a special place,” Dr. Ward said. “It’s a beautiful place. The grounds have about three acres with several oaks registered with the Live Oak Registry.
“I don’t care who I speak to, if they were born and raised in Walterboro, there’s some connection to this house. It’s amazing to me. I love that. I love the history and the fact that almost everybody in town that’s from here really is a part of this. We just felt like it would be nice to share that. So the community can enjoy it,” he said.
The Wards have lived here for nine years. He is medical director of Colleton Medical Center’s Emergency Department, and Melissa is a retired nurse. Originally from Illinois, the two have been in S.C. since the 1970s, when Dr. Ward was in the Air Force at Myrtle Beach. But he had never been to Walterboro until he spied an ad for a medical director while on a family vacation on Daufuskie Island. “I thought, ‘Gee, I could write off part of this trip if I went and interviewed for that job.’”
He got the job — and fell in love with the hospital and the town. They bought the 3,400 sq.ft. home primarily because it had a separate living area where his elderly mother could live, plus room for their three (now adult) children. When his mother died, the two considered moving to a smaller home, but finally decided that it would be pretty hard to find a place where they could be as happy as they are there.
“I don’t think that people who are from here realize what a great place this is. The university is a big part of that, and the hospital is a huge part of that. It’s hard for me to imagine why people are lining up to live in Summerville or Florida or Arizona. This is the perfect place to retire,” he said.
And that’s exactly what the two hope to do in the next few years … retire. And they plan to spend the rest of their lives in Hickory Valley with their four dogs and five chickens.
“We hope to die here — and not soon. It’s a great home to grow old in. We like gardening, and it’s a perfect spot for that,” he said.
But once they no longer need the home, it will go to USC Salkehatchie. Dr. Ward’s vision is turning the house and grounds into a small conference center or maybe a home for the dean.
Whatever Salk ends up doing with the home is fine with the Wards. They are enjoying the life they have in Walterboro, and will leave knowing that they gave back something of value to the community they love.