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The Lowcountry never leaves you

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: LOCAL Life asked Hilton Head Island resident John Chiacchiero to share his thoughts on what it means to be local. Chiacchiero is managing director of Oak Advisors, a fee-only wealth management company based on Hilton Head Island. LOCAL Life welcomes letters to the editor and comments to our website. Write to [email protected]

LOCAL SINCE 1984 – John Chiacchiero is shown with his wife, Patti.

Like many in the early to mid-1980s, I was attracted to the dream and ideal that was Hilton Head Island. Being from small town, rural Ohio, I was never one for big cities but still had big dreams. I was attracted to our wonderful climate, beautiful beaches, the eclectic collection of people from everywhere and the still untapped opportunity that was our island.

We all knew that we wanted a piece of the action in the heyday years when the island was somewhat raw, still developing and opportunity was on every corner (or shall we say roundabout). We did whatever it took to afford the dream and lifestyle. That meant holding down several jobs and having roommates. And from those times, we all cherish the incredible memories and relationships that we formed with so many, now long-term, islanders. 

Many of those long-term islanders had what I’d call “first acts,” e.g., the job(s) you held before launching into the career that you’ve now been long associated with. I was no exception. My very first job on the island was in May 1984 as a bellman at the Mariner’s Inn (now Omni). In fact, the publisher of this very magazine, Lori Goodridge-Cribb, was the “plant lady” at Mariner’s Inn, caring for the beautiful plants and flowers in the public areas of the hotel. At nights, I moonlighted with Dunes Catering, which was owned by long-time islander Bruce Tuttle (later a roommate of mine) who is now a successful Realtor.

While our jobs paid the way to our lifestyle, our close-knit community became even stronger in the off season when many island restaurants and businesses closed. This concentrated the locals into the few places that stayed open all winter. The places where we earned our local status in those days included Sahari’s, The Golden Rose, Jim’s Paradise, The Old Post Office Emporium, The Crow’s Nest and Remy’s, to name just a few. It was during these long “winter” nights that the “local” feeling was carved into our souls.

John shown as a bellman at Mariner’s Inn in summer 1984. He is standing next to Dr. John DeCato (before he went to medical school).

In 1989, I met my wife Patti through friends – her roommate worked with me and my roommate worked with her. She, too, had her own first act and worked at the Spa in the old Hyatt Regency Hilton Head (now the Marriott Beach and Golf Resort). We were married at St. Luke’s Church on Pope Avenue in 1991. Like many others too numerous to count, we moved away for a short time when I was a college professor in Switzerland. Upon returning to the US, the call of the island was still strong and in our hearts. We returned in 1997 and began our second acts – mine in investments and hers as a US Department of State Visa sponsor — proving that you can leave the island but the Island never leaves you.

So this May made 35 years on the “rock” for me. I have met at least two lifetimes worth of incredible people in that time and created many long-lasting friendships. The beaches are still a gem, the golf courses immaculate, and we still have the greatest collection of people that any town could ever endeavor to have.