Story by Teresa A. McLamb
Photography By Ronnie Holden and Operation Blessing

Brunswick Community College Foundation honors two of its most valuable supporters with the establishment of the Clarice and Ronnie Holden Humanitarian Award.

Planning for the 2013 Dancing with the Brunswick Stars fund-raiser was barely underway when a huge void became apparent. The event’s founder and perennial manager, Clarice Holden, had retired from the Brunswick Community College Foundation board and, therefore, the event several months earlier.

Willing and able volunteers had stepped forward, but Clarice’s depth of knowledge was sorely missed. Lamenting the situation, members of the foundation’s executive committee found themselves talking extensively about the many things Clarice had done for the school and the community. An idea emerged: Clarice needed to be honored in some way by the foundation.

Foundation Vice-Chair Carolyn Felton took on the challenge, forming a committee to develop a way to honor Clarice at the upcoming Dancing with the Brunswick Stars event. Clarice’s husband, Ronnie, was recruited to assist, providing information and photos. Over the past dozen years or so, Ronnie had photographed many of the fund-raisers and special events Clarice had been involved with or had spearheaded.

Gathered around a table at the back of Twin Lakes Restaurant, that committee put their heads together. They made a list, two pages in length, of the many things they knew Clarice had done. They also came to the realization that it was never just Clarice, it was also Ronnie. The two were and are a team, and, as such, a very strong force for good.

The plan moved forward, a script was written, a slide show was produced and on August 9, as the judges tallied their scores for the dancers, the room went black and the voice of Odell Williamson Auditorium Manager Mike Sapp came over the PA system:

What creates a legacy? Is it one’s name on a skyscraper? Is it a bookshelf of original writings? Is it money? Power? Or is it the lives that are uplifted through the quiet giving of one’s time, money and talent?

The slide show began with a photo of young Clarice Coleman with her mother, Lucy, and Mike continued:

Clarice Coleman grew up in a fishing family in Calabash.

Ronnie Holden grew up in a fishing family at Shallotte Point.

They met in high school and were married on a warm July evening in 1969. The next morning they opened Clarice’s mother’s seafood restaurant because her mother was sick.

A few months later, they bought Twin Lakes Restaurant in Sunset Beach and still operate it 43 years later.

As they grew as a couple, they also grew in their devotion to the community, serving on organizing committees and boards for everything from Hospice to the garden club to the community hospital to the food bank.

By the mid 1980s, they opened Island Breeze and their involvement in the community became more intense. Fashion shows raised funds for women’s groups, cancer survivors, Communities in Schools. Extravaganzas raised money for scholarships at Brunswick Community College.

As time went on, the creativity, the energy and the dogged determination of Clarice was evident throughout the county. Her ideas and her enthusiasm are the genesis of Dancing with the Stars, lunch with Paula Deen, Community Breakfasts with Bobby Richardson and other celebrity guests.

She joined Widow’s Mite Experience at a
time when it was eight women in Brunswick County and
together they elevated that ministry to chapters in five states, which
have installed more than 500 life-giving fresh-water wells in
27 countries.

Then in the year 2000, Ronnie almost died in an automobile wreck. His dramatic return to life and health was a turning point for him and Clarice. Ronnie felt an obligation to find a higher purpose for his newly given life. A book, “Fighting Death & Other Desperate Battles,” details his brush with death. He became involved with television’s The 700 Club. He sought out the family behind the Christian Broadcasting Network and a plan slowly emerged.

The couple joined the efforts of CBN’s Operation Blessing and Orphans’ Promise, traveling to Central America, Turkey and the Philippines time and again to help impoverished children and women. Through CBN Asia, they are personally providing daily food for 250 school children in Manila, Philippines.

They have sponsored a medical clinic in Uganda, bought cows and contributed to orphanages and a school in Africa, and they have teamed with two other like-minded couples to open jewelry store franchises in seven cities with the majority of profit going to support Operation Blessing. That organization has helped them to open a school in Turkey.

They recruited their Island Breeze vendors and provided, for the past four years, complete job-ready makeovers for 500 women in New York City domestic violence shelters.

As we gather tonight, they are awaiting word on the surgery of a teenager they are assisting in Manila. All this while operating nine distinct businesses with almost 200 employees.

It is for these many reasons and more, for these many outpourings of their hearts and their talents, that Brunswick Community College Foundation is proud to present the inaugural Clarice and Ronnie Holden Humanitarian Award to this beloved couple with our eternal gratitude.

To a very long standing ovation, Ronnie and Clarice took the stage to receive the award. To say that they were both surprised and greatly honored is to understate the facts. “Humbled and very honored,” Clarice said when asked how she felt.

“Clarice has always felt she could do anything,” Ronnie had said earlier. “She always wanted to help people. After my accident, I wondered why God saved my life. I knew I had to give back and make this count.”

Clarice once told this writer that it had never occurred to her that she couldn’t do anything she set her mind to. As she stood on the stage, Clarice told the audience that she was grateful to be able to do the things she does and for the opportunity to make a difference.

A couple of days later, as he circulated photos of a broadly smiling Philippine child grateful to have had the surgery that will allow her to walk for the first time, Ronnie wrote: “I realize others need to know … that if someone like Clarice and I, who don’t have a lot of resources, education and are just regular people, can be a help to others, then they can also.”

Felton and the other members of the awards committee hope the recognition “will inspire others to give and act and do – as they can.”

In future years, the Clarice and Ronnie Holden Humanitarian Award will be given as appropriate by the foundation board using the criteria announced at 2013 Dancing with the Brunswick Stars: “This award is to honor a lifetime of contribution to Brunswick Community College and the college foundation, to our community and to the world. Tonight, and in the future, this award honors selfless philanthropy, contagious creativity and energy. This award recognizes those whose presence among us makes the world a better place to live, those who truly represent the heart of our community.”