DENMARK – "He was undisputedly one of the most outstanding citizens in our county and throughout South Carolina. Throughout his lifetime, he was committed to public service, and will be sorely missed. His influence from throughout the years will continue to have an impact here in the community."
That's how former longtime Denmark Mayor Sam Neeley remembers his old friend and fellow businessman Walter Eugene "Pete" Brooker Sr., who also served for many years as mayor of Denmark.
Brooker, who died on March 29 at the age of 98, owned and operated his family's Brooker's Hardware Store, established in 1903 (now Brooker True Value & Gifts), at 4823 Carolina Hwy. in downtown Denmark. He had continued to work at the store six days a week until his recent illness. The business is operated today by Brooker's daughter, Paula Guess, who serves as the company's president.
As mayor of Denmark from 1957-1978, Brooker was the town's "longest serving mayor," said current Mayor Dr. Gerald Wright. "I served on (Denmark City) council during part of his tenure as mayor. I found him to be an excellent leader for the town. We had opportunities to give input into what was going on.”
“He was, in a way, somewhat of a mentor. I valued his concerns after I became mayor," Wright said. "We did not talk on a frequent basis. I always looked forward to getting advice and counsel from him. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him."
He added, “Just a few weeks ago, we had a conversation. He was still expressing his desires for what should take place in the town.”
Denmark City Administrator Heyward Robinson said of Brooker, “He was always very good to me and very helpful and encouraging. It is a loss for the community, and I wish his family the best.”
Paul Eubanks, assistant chief of the Denmark Fire Department, said, "I knew Mr. Brooker my whole life. He always was a big supporter of Boy Scout Troop 77. Two of his grandsons were in my troop."
"Mr. Brooker also supported the Denmark Fire Department, both as a mayor/city councilman and as a citizen," Eubanks said.
Tracie M. Clemons, vice president of the Hornet-Trojan Alumni Association Inc., which is affiliated with the Hunter-Kinard-Tyler School in Norway, remembered Brooker for his friendliness when she shopped at his store.
"His gentle and kind spirit was warm and inviting, especially when visiting his hardware store," Clemons said.
Brooker, son of the late Eugene and Elizabeth Brooker and husband of the late Mildred Zeigler "Sis" Brooker, served two consecutive terms as a commissioner with the South Carolina Department of Transportation. When he received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor, in 2009, Brooker said, “My dear mother’s influence was the earliest and most important influence on my life. She would be so happy if she could be here to see this today.”
A lifelong resident of Denmark, Brooker served in the U.S. Army Infantry in World War II. He saw combat duty in Africa and Europe and was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge. He retired as lieutenant colonel of the Bamberg County National Guard unit, of which he was a founding member.
Brooker served on numerous boards including Epworth Children's Home, Denmark Technical College Area Commission, South Carolina Higher Education Commission and Southern Carolina Regional Development Board. He was awarded the Economic Development Ambassador designation for Bamberg County by then-Gov. Mark Sanford. Brooker was active in countless civic organizations over the years including the Denmark Lions Club and received numerous awards and recognition.