Denmark lost one of its longtime leaders in 2018 with the death of businessman and veteran public servant Eugene “Pete” Brooker at age 98.
At that time, his longtime friend, fellow businessman and Denmark leader Sam Neeley said of Brooker: "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."
Were Brooker alive as this new year begins, he would likely say much the same about Neeley, who died Jan. 2.
Like Brooker, Neeley was known by nearly everyone in Denmark. He served the town for 24 years as an elected councilman, eight years as mayor and four years as a member of Bamberg County Council.
His voice was also known. He was sports announcer for Denmark-Olar High School football and sang in the Bethel Park United Methodist choir for 56 years.
Neeley may be best known, however, as the founder more than 60 years ago of Neeley’s Appliance.
The story of the business began in spring 1955 when he was working as a skilled technician for then-Seaboard Railroad, stationed in Denmark.
"Television had made its way into our area and with time on my hands, I came on the idea of a sideline business to generate some additional income," Neeley told The Times and Democrat at the 50th anniversary of the business. "I approached the late John Poole about buying a small operation that he owned as a sideline to his Poole's 5-10-25 cents store. …
“On May 1, 1955, we met at the appliance store being operated under the name of Poole and Co. and completed the transaction. I gave him a check for $800. He asked me if that was all the money that I had. My answer being 'yes,' he endorsed the check and gave it to Inez Phillips, the only employee of Poole and Co., and said, 'You will need some money for change and other expenses. You can repay me as you can.’"
The business in the decades since has survived and prospered, gaining a regional reputation and doing business far beyond the limits of Denmark. It is known for customer service and the famous Scratch and Dent Department.
Like Brooker, Neeley was a World War II veteran, but by his acknowledgement his experience was different than Purple Heart winner Brooker.
When Neeley went on an Honor Flight trip to Washington in 2016, the then-90-year-old told his story of joining the Navy at age 18.
He was aboard a ship en route to Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
“This was in 1945, and the ship was on the way to the staging area for the invasion of Japan when word came the war was over and Japan had surrendered.”
Neeley joked, “I have always wondered why the Japanese quit so suddenly when they did and I don’t know if it was because of the bomb that was dropped or because they had gotten word that I was on the way.”
And then seriously, he said, “Please be crystal clear as to my involvement in military service during WWII. I enlisted in the Navy when I was 18 years old so due to my young age, there are many older Allied men and women who fought and won the war while I was en route to get there. I want to make sure they get the due praise for what they accomplished.”
We join the people of Denmark and so many others in a desire to be sure that Sam Neeley gets credit not only for service to his country but for a lifetime of service and success that is a great legacy for his community.