My name is John K. Wannamaker, born in Orangeburg in 1975 while my mom, Marilyn Wannamaker, was visiting her grandmother from New York City. Oh, how I miss her grandmother, Mrs. Eva Brown, who we affectionately called Ma-Ma with total adoration. Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., we spent every summer in Orangeburg, right here on Sprinkle Avenue. I have such fond memories of those days. Please let me explain.
Being a young boy riding in the back seat of my parent’s Chevy Nova, I looked out the back window as we drove down Highway 601 and saw no abandoned buildings, no empty parking lots, and people where shopping in the hot sun. There were men laughing and joking with each other, carrying bamboo poles and white buckets on their way to go fishing. There were cars and trucks with canoes headed for Santee. We ate boiled peanuts, sugar cane, cracklings, fresh fish and visited family around every corner and down every dirt road.
I remember walking into Stone Alley to play with my cousins and later learning how to drive in Pine Land. There were car dealerships, cookouts, fish fries, card games, club nights, hog farms, the sound of Bishop Ronald E. Brown's church and so much more compared to now.
With two colleges and a technical college in Orangeburg County, you would think the young people would run and uplift the city with a hopeful future. In high school, I thought about coming to Orangeburg for college. The city was vibrant from the Hot Spot to McDonald's, to Edisto Gardens, Cordova and Biddie Banquet. The city was alive, buzzing, strong and happy. A college town.
However, now, it seems Orangeburg is holding on but not going anywhere. There are more abandoned buildings than companies thriving. Large and small buildings alike are empty. Grass has overgrown houses that have since been empty, stripped of joy, laughter, hope and vision. So what do we do?
I'm a Wannamaker. I'm one of the last Wannamaker men in my family still living. My dad, John Wannamaker, and uncles Johnny Wannamaker and James Wannamaker, have all passed away. And like me, we've all lost so many people over the past 20 years, whether it was due to senseless violence or natural causes. Those who remain must remember what we once had
Do you miss those days that I've described?
I believe we need to start up a conversation that leads to action. The action that will rebuild Orangeburg. I've been thinking about what industry could be brought here to provide good-paying jobs that will help to lift the city. I'm not vying for a political office here, I'm vying for family to come together once again, pushing together. We can't stop dreaming, hoping and believing, because when we die, the city will die.
Let's make Orangeburg a destination again. I remember and I miss it. I'll be working to rebuild, renew, revitalize and recenter families here. Will you do your part?