By Stan Welch
Last week’s rainy weather failed to put a damper on the dedication of the Billy O’Dell Community Center, but it did force the ribbon cutting indoors. Still, citizens, elected officials, and county staff were on hand to honor Senator Billy O’Dell for his service to the town and to the surrounding area.
Senator Mike Gambrell, O’Dell’s protégé who was in the House and who won O’Dell’s Senate seat following his unexpected death last year, spoke of the relationship he had with O’Dell. “For one thing whenever Billy showed up, he was the best dressed man in the room. He was a mentor to me, and to many others. But the most important thing he taught me was the importance of constituent service. I would stop by and see him and ask him what he was doing. He always said the same thing. ‘ Working for the people, Mikey’.”
“He always stressed that, because he said it was the only aspect of the job that we can control. He told me over and over that any bill he introduced required a couple of dozen other Senators to agree. But he said helping a constituent with a problem was his responsibility. It was the key to his public service, and a large reason that he is still loved across his district even today. I am well aware that I can never fill his shoes, but I am immensely honored to walk in his footsteps.”
West Pelzer Mayor Blake Sanders viewed O’Dell’s constituent service from a different perspective. “Senator O’Dell had a vision for West Pelzer long before anyone else did. He provided the town with several pieces of the vision puzzle long before we knew we needed them. He was a key force behind the nine million dollars worth of sewer improvements. He worked with Mayor Paxton for several years to get that done. He knew that without those infrastructure improvements, our town would have no chance to grow and improve. My greatest regret is that he passed just a few days after I was sworn in as mayor. I didn’t have the opportunity to work with him and learn from him that I had hoped to have.”
Representative Anne Thayer said that the Senator would be very proud of the progress that West Pelzer is making under Sanders’ leadership. “He would be so happy to see what you and your staff and your council are trying to achieve, and the success you are having. If Senator Gambrell or I can be of any help, we are here for you, because Billy taught us well.”
County administrator Rusty Burns, who had a long, close relationship with Senator O’Dell both personally and professionally, said that his death was just a hard thing to deal with. He too spoke of the Senator’s vision for West Pelzer and how far back its roots went. “For many years, West Pelzer was under a consent order from DHEC because of the condition its sewer system was in. When the KFC wanted to come to town, the Senator had to go to DHEC and get a special exemption. Same with the CVS pharmacy. Anything that came to West Pelzer involved getting an exemption from the consent order. Those exemptions didn’t come easy. One time, the Senator took Mayor Bill Hopkins along. When he heard how much the fines would be, he threw a key ring on the table and told the DHEC officials they could have the whole damn town. Then he walked out. It took Senator O’Dell a while to explain to the mayor that he needed to go back inside and work something out, which they did.”
The old town hall was renovated, with the main upgrade coming in the form of an ADA accessible bathroom added to the back of the building so that users of Chapman Park can use it. Sanders added some perspective, stating that the building was built for nine thousand dollars, while the renovation cost twelve thousand.
By Stan Welch