On September 25, Orbiting Seminar X, a continuing educational experience, will begin in Greenwood, S.C. and head toward Ninety Six, the first of eight stops that day. On board the bus will be about 50 local history enthusiasts, most of whom got their first taste for this kind of thing at Wofford College.
“This was a teaching technique that Dr. Lewis Jones used during Interim classes at Wofford several times over the years during his long and distinguished career,” said Doyle Boggs, executive director of communications and marketing at Wofford. “The first Interim was in January 1968. I was on that trip with Dr. Jones.
Two years later Charlie Gray (pictured), class of 72, went on a similar trip. Gray now does continuing education work in the alumni office at Wofford.
In 1999, a few alumni of the two original trips contacted Gray suggesting that a replicated version of the 1968 and 1970 trips be created. With that encouragement, Boggs and Gray organized Orbiting Seminar I, and after contacting people who had been involved in one of the original Interims, they learned that there was a lot of interest.
The following year, the planning team was expanded to include Philip Stone ’94 (Wofford’s archivist) and Rodger Stroup ‘67, Director of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
“Working together to plan the yearly two-day trip has become kind of a fun thing for each of us,” says Boggs.
These Seminars are a 48-hour adventure, normally Thursday and Friday. The group of travelers is comprised mostly of Wofford grads who made similar trips as students, but not entirely.
“It’s a good combination of baby boomers who were at Wofford with Dr. Jones and knew him as a teacher, and then some senior citizens, many of whom are Wofford alums who just enjoy that kind of travel,” said Boggs. “The camaraderie on the trip is great. Most of the people on the trips have been doing it every year for 10 years.”
Each year, the trip attracts new travelers with a curious but genuine interest in local South Carolina history. While Wofford sponsors the trip under the banner of continuing education, the real appeal and bond among the travelers, is a love of the peculiar local history of South Carolina.
“Our goal is to give participants a first-hand exposure to historical events and places of significance in their own backyards,” says Gray. “The outcomes are a greater appreciation and understanding of our state, its people and the significant role this has played in the history of our nation.
“Participants tend to gain a curiosity leading to further reading, study and participation in events relating to the area in which we travel. Participation in the Orbiting Seminar helps each person see and understand the importance of historical preservation and the threats posed to our state historic sites. Our hope is that each person will share what they learn with other people.”
“We’ve been all over South Carolina,” said Boggs. The original Interim Orbiting Seminar traveled by bus and carried students over the entire state during the month of January. The replicated version acknowledges the people’s busy schedules and allows two or three days per year to explore the “blue highways” of the Palmetto State.
“We’ve been all over South Carolina,” said Boggs. “The first year we went to portions of Spartanburg, upper Greenville, Pickens and Oconee Counties. The second trip was to the Midlands and Columbia. The next year we went to the Charleston area with the themes, Down to Ashley and up the Cooper. We’ve been to Beaufort, Georgetown, Edgefield and the Pee Dee area around Bennettsville and Cheraw.”
This year, OS-X will take travelers to the Greenwood/Abbeville area for two days of exploration, fun and good food.
“We’re discovering the up country, or the Cherokee Trail if you will, on day one,” said Boggs. “Some of the places we’re going are the Ninety Six Star Fort, which is a park now but was the scene of a major colonial outpost that got its name from being 96 miles from Kiawah Town. That was the capital of the southern band of the Cherokee. There’s a lot of native American history around Ninety Six.
“On day two, we’re going to spend most of the day in Abbeville, which just recently won a significant national preservation award (Preserve America Initiative). We’ll be looking at a typical southern railroad town of around 1900 that has maintained its personality as we visit museums, several houses and churches. As we conclude the tour, we will have dinner at the famous Yoder’s Restaurant for Mennonite cooking.”
A lot of legwork is put into the trips beforehand. Trips are measured out and every conceivable detail is put into them.
“A really important person in this picture is Rodger Stroup,” Boggs said. “Rodger was on that original Interim trip with me, and then after that we both ended up in history graduate school at the same time at USC. Rodger has gone on to be the Director of the South Carolina Archives and History. He helps us by locating local folks who know the terrain, and he’s been very instrumental in the planning of all our trips, including this one.
“We have actually been to Greenwood and Abbeville twice for scouting. The first time we are just looking for places we might want to go. The second time we get serious. We really do a lot of work leading up to it, but then we enjoy it when it comes. It’s not really work in that sense.”
Especially with Boggs, Gray and Stone leading the way. Their enthusiasm is contagious.
“Charlie is remarkable as a leader of excursions like this,” said Boggs. “He’s really detailed as a planner and such a friendly, outgoing person.”
The trio doesn’t mind relying on locals to help them, either.
“One of the traditions of a Lewis Jones trip is that we meet local guides,” Boggs said. “Arrangements are usually made for somebody who really knows the local territory to get on the bus and lead the tour. We have local guides in most of the places we’re going.”