Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Be in Carolina: The Northern Southerners Reunion
Some of us just have a great story. Take June De Monte, for example. She grew up in Brooklyn near the famed Coney Island. Actually, to say she grew up near Coney Island would be wrong; she grew up in Coney Island. Her father owned all the games in Astroland, and her two uncles owned rides and a miniature golf course.
As a kid it made her very popular in school. As an adult, it gives her an instant conversation starter because Coney Island has become a cultural icon, especially to those from the greater New York area. In fact, De Monte’s Coney Island ties gave her instant connections with her fellow Tri-Staters (from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) at the recent Northern Southerners Reunion.
The reunion, the brainchild of Bob and Mary Margaret Corriston, brought together former northerners who now happily call Brunswick Forest, Magnolia Greens and Waterford home and enjoy the pace of life here in Brunswick County. With the help of four other couples — Vicki and John Baum, Donna and Gordon Armiger, Teri and Fred De Ciccio, June and Frank De Monte — they pulled it off.
In the summer of 2010, Bob Corriston, a new resident of Brunswick Forest, made a discovery — a growing number of cars with license plates from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
“I was out at the supermarket and I saw all of these plates from up north and it was just like being back home for a minute,” says Corriston. “So I thought that I must have a connection to some of these people. I felt like it was a good idea to come together and find those connections and make new friends.”
His hunch was correct, and on June 18 close to 350 former Tri-Staters gathered at the Magnolia Greens Clubhouse for an evening of music, food, drinks, games and plenty of socializing.
“The reunion was a funny thing,” says De Monte. “All around people were making connections with total strangers. I met my old butcher from Brooklyn.”
In reading the nametags everyone wore, one in particular caught the eyes of June De Monte and her husband, Frank.
“My husband and I saw a gentleman who had the same last name as we do and we thought it could be a distant relative of my husband’s family,” says De Monte. “We got talking to him and found out that he worked at the Key Foods Supermarket outside of Sea Gate on Long Island. I told him ‘That’s where I shopped.’”
For June De Monte, finding someone from her old neighborhood at a get-together at Magnolia Greens was a shock.
“I was surprised,” says De Monte. “We shared a name with [the butcher] and most likely knew some of the same people. Back north, we probably never would have met.”
Waterford resident Vicki Baum, a freelance graphic designer from Larchmont, New York, helped Corriston and the planning committee with graphics, signage and art for the reunion. In a series of collage-like posters she gave the Northern Southerners a taste of back home with images of sports icons, landmarks, snowy scenes (which everyone agreed they were glad to be away from) and images important to New York City, Long Island, Upstate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Baum and her husband, John, joined the planning committee of four other couples with Donna and Gordon Armiger, also residents of Waterford. The Baums found bonds within the committee — largely a group of strangers — and before long their planning meetings felt less like meetings and more like get-togethers with friends.
June De Monte has an idea why the planning committee and reunion attendees formed such immediate tight bonds.
“We Tri-Staters are a little different than most people we’re around down here,” she says. “Because of that we have a tendency to be drawn to one another. There’s a kind of gravity there. We have the same cultural references, the same landmarks and a similar sense of humor. In a lot of ways it’s comforting to be around that.”
Vicki Baum agrees, attributing much of the success of the reunion to the fact that people enjoy being around like-minded people.
“We’re social creatures, so it’s important to come together in groups like this,” Baum says. “It’s fun to unexpectedly meet someone you went to school with or who lived around the corner.”
Of the 350 attendees, many had retired to Brunswick County, although many young couples who have relocated to the area were there with children and, in some cases, grandchildren, in tow.
“We found Brunswick County when our daughter Christine married a fellow whose family owns a business in the area,” Bob Corriston says. “Mary Margaret and I visited them, explored the area and traveled to the Outer Banks, and we decided that Brunswick County was the place for us. We told our daughter that we were moving to North Carolina but that we’d live in a different zip code, close enough to see our granddaughters but far enough away for us to have separate lives. Now we have a beautiful home, great friends and our beautiful granddaughters nearby. What’s not to love?”
Mutual love for the area and the “How’d you get down here?” question dominated the conversation at the reunion almost as much as talks about Tri-State hometowns.
The De Montes discovered Brunswick County while on a vacation in Wilmington in 2002. Just a few short years later, they owned a home site and a house in Magnolia Greens. Their trip to Wilmington was brought on by the same thing as the Corristons: family. Their son attended a baseball camp at UNC-Chapel Hill and they took a little vacation.
Family drew the Baums to North Carolina also. Their daughter lives in Charlotte, and in their exploration of the state, they stumbled upon Brunswick County. “We fell in love with Waterford and the palm trees and the lifestyle,” Vicki Baum says.
“People flock to Brunswick County from the north because of one thing: word of mouth,” she says. “And the climate. And the people. Everyone here continues to tell family and friends how wonderful it is here, then, when they visit, they fall in love too.”
“We love it here,” Baum continues. “The people we’ve met in the last five years have become more like family.”
This was exactly Bob Corriston’s goal in planning the Northern Southerners Reunion — to allow people the opportunity to make connections and build a new sort of family in their new communities.
“My family suffered a major loss 20 years ago with the death of my 15-year-old son from undiagnosed leukemia,” Corriston says. “It took a while for us to come to terms with the fact that our family and friends are here to help us through our journey. At that time, so many people reached out to help and it really changed the way we approach life and relationships.”
Corriston continues: “It’s important for me to make friends and connections and be there for one another; it’s how we get through life. I guess I hope the reunion caused a few new relationships to be built and old ones to be rekindled. I hope it gave the Tri-Staters a sense of community and family because that’s what they are, family.”
Maybe next year Corriston’s extended family will grow even larger. He and the other committee members say they are getting ready to start thinking about next year’s reunion. There have been calls for expansion to the whole of New England, to extend invitations to communities across the county and, above all else, have it again.