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  • Writer's pictureKaren Terhune Duncan

Centennial Tribute

My grandparents, Ralph and Kathryn Terhune celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Cloister, Sea Island Georgia, October 20, 1973. My parents, Joan and Ralph Terhune are in the center back, my mother in silver with a black jacket, my father with a mustache.

In the fall 1973, as a college sophomore, my parents requested I come home for a long weekend. They needed me to babysit my youngest brother, then only 7 years old and highly special needs. My other 2 younger brothers were then just 14 and 17, and busy with school, sports, and not entirely responsibly reliable with our younger brothers challenging schedule. My parents were heading to a swanky resort, on the coast of Georgia – Sea Island – to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my father’s parents.

Now that I live on the Georgia coast, I wish I could have had a conversation with my grandparents as to why they chose this place? They lived in New Jersey, where they had lived their entire lives. They did enjoy travel. Arguably my Nana wanted an exceptional destination in which to mark the milestone. She rarely did anything in a small way. This was their treat, to include my parents, my aunts, and uncles, to the whole shebang – airfare, hotel room, golf, and activities.

For years, all who attended that weekend raved and reminisced about the entire experience. When I finally got to see this extraordinary barrier reef island, last spring, I was indeed impressed, and wished I had been on the trip. None of my grandparents 11 grandchildren were part of that anniversary weekend.

A former cotton plantation, Sea Island was originally acquired by Howard Coffin, a founder of the now defunct Hudson Motor Co. as well as United Airlines, just after World War I. He formed Sea Island Investments and put his young cousin Alfred William Jones in charge. Jones developed Sea Island, hired Addison Mizner, noted for his work in Palm Beach and Boca Raton, Florida, and built golf courses that over the years have attracted top players like Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Davis Love III. From its inception it has been a wealthy resort and cottage colony, just five miles long and one and a half miles wide at its widest point.

So I suppose that cache was enough for my grandmother to choose the location.

The Cloisters’ Sea Island, Georgia, 1973

For nine decades this private island off the Georgia coast has been one of the most exclusive enclaves in the United States. Conceived as a club where the very rich and their families could relax and enjoy its beauty.

First opened in 1928, the Cloister has a beach club, fishing dock, tennis courts, and shooting school. North of the resort, a colony of private cottages (really mansions, just called cottages) line a three-mile drive down the center of the island. A golf club, riding stables, and yacht club for the Cloister are located on adjacent Simons Island.

Kathryn Ingles Leete married Ralph Demarest Terhune on October 20, 1923, at the Calvary Church in Hackensack, NJ. Their reception was held at the nearby home of Alvin and Violetta Leete, the bride’s parents. My Nana told me her shoes pinched her terribly, but she didn’t care, as she loved them. Her dress was tapered in at the ankles, as was the fashion in 1923, and so her shoes were crucial to the look. She told me that the flowers weighed a ton, yet she adored them so very much, a gift from her 3 sisters, none of whom ever married.

October 20, 1923

My grandparents raised 2 sons and a daughter, and as they aged, they traveled more and more, often sailing on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2, their favorite. I suppose choosing to host their celebratory weekend at the Cloister, an island resort that is still one of the most spectacular properties in the United States, makes sense.

Calvary Church, Hackensack New Jersey, 1923

My grandparents, their parents, my parents, and my youngest brother are all now gone, and buried nearby this church, which still stands.

I live now just 80 miles from Sea Island, which I find curious, and a bit serendipitous. So today, I raise a glass to my grandparents and their 100th wedding anniversary. And to Sea Island, as special as ever.

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