Michael Salley Jr.
Michael Salley Jr. of Orangeburg, co-founder of Edisto Habitat for Humanity, stands in front of one of the many Habitat homes he has helped make possible since 1989. Salley is the recipient of the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce’s second Austin Cunningham Award. He was presented the award at the Chamber’s Annual Banquet Thursday night at The Cinema.

For nearly two decades, Michael Salley Jr., Orangeburg resident and co-founder of Edisto Habitat for Humanity, has made the dream of home ownership come true for many Orangeburg County families.

Salley was honored as the recipient of the second Austin Cunningham Award ("The Austin") at the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce's 2010 Annual Banquet Thursday night at The Cinema.

Sponsored by the Orangeburg County Community of Character, "The Austin" is presented to a person who exemplifies, promotes and advocates good character and has earned a high level of respect within the community - like the late businessman and attorney in whose memory it is named. Last year's recipient was Curt Campbell.

"I am just kind of bowled over," Salley said upon receiving the award. "I am doing just what I enjoy doing."

Salley, who has dedicated a large portion of his life to civic volunteerism, co-founded Habitat for Humanity in 1989.

It has not always been easy to construct homes.

During Habitat for Humanity's first year, it cost $30,000 to construct a house and only about half of the money was available. The remaining portion was secured, and soon homes were being constructed on a regular basis.

Over the next two years, five more houses were built.

Some of the homes have background stories. For instance, a home in Bowman was built for the mother of a child with disabilities. Her family lived on the same street in Bowman, but the woman was willing to move to Orangeburg for her Habitat home. In the end, the house was eventually built on the street near her family so they could assist in taking care of her child.

The first house Salley helped build was for a young married couple whose children were blind.

"It is just about neighbors helping neighbors," Salley said. He said his inspiration for starting Habitat came from a mission trip he took to Ecuador with St. Andrews United Methodist Church.

"I got to thinking we have people right at home that need a hand," Salley said.

Edisto Habitat for Humanity Executive director Jaime Bozardt described Salley as one of the "kindest people I have ever met.

"Michael is loved and admired by everyone in our organization and that includes, staff, board of directors and habitat families," Bozardt said.

"He never tires, never complains, and does it all with a gentle and caring spirit. Many of the families have his phone number and when they have simple repairs, they call him and, of course, he goes on his own, and quietly."

He says Salley's work is much appreciated by all those who have been served.

"I often hear about it from the families, not from him," Bozardt said. "He has served on and off the board many times during the last 20 years and even when not on the board, continues to work tirelessly. He is without a doubt why Habitat has done so well in Orangeburg."

Born in Orangeburg in 1937, Salley and his family moved around in his childhood since his father was in the military. When his father was commissioned to fight in World War II, Salley's family moved in with his mother's parents.

Following the war, Salley returned to his birthplace, eventually graduating from Orangeburg High School.

Salley attended Georgia Tech for a time to study engineering, but he decided to take a different path and attended Clemson University to major in forestry.

After graduation, he served a two-year stint in the Army and then began a career with the S.C. Forestry Commission.

In 1973, Salley started his own forestry business.

Since retiring in 1996, he has made his commitment to Habitat a full-time job.

He has helped build about 50 homes, and for his work he was recognized three years ago with the United Way of the Midlands Community Impact Award.

Salley also has worked with the Boy Scouts of America and is a long-time member of the Lions Club.

A member of St. Andrews United Methodist Church, Salley has completed several church missions.

Salley served as grand marshal of the 2009 Orangeburg County Christmas Parade.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551.

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