Oral History – Brenda Coffey – Part 6: ‘Hurricanes’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler

Brenda Coffey

Brenda Coffey

Brenda finished high school and went to work at a finance company that required a business course through Harvard Business School . Then she worked for the town of Kure Beach and the State Department of Archives and History with archeologist, Al Honeycut. He was in charge of Ft. Fisher museum and writing a master’s degree thesis. That was quite a bit of fun. She worked for the Health Department from 1963 to 1969, first in the clinics and then with Medicare.

When she started with the health department, nurses were not paid for making home health house calls, but when Medicare was started, nurses had to be paid for home visits. The nurses were not happy about making a charge to patients. Brenda didn’t work for about 11 years and then went back to work in a permanent part-time position for the Health Department about 1980.

Then in 1986, when their daughter went off to college, she decided to work full-time with New Hanover County Emergency Management till she retired in 2000. Emergency Management was tasked with coordinating local, state and federal resources during hurricanes and other natural or technological disasters. This was definitely an interesting job—never boring!

The first hurricane she remembers is August, 1944. There were no warnings issued for hurricanes in 1944. A neighbor came to the house and told her mother and grandmother (her father and grandfather were working) that a hurricane was coming and the last bus was leaving the beach in an hour. Her mother and grandmother threw some essentials in a bag, got Brenda, and caught that bus into Wilmington . As soon as the hurricane passed they went back to the beach. The oceanfront house they were renting had very little damage, but others were not so fortunate. read more

Oral History – Brenda Coffey – Part 5: ‘Politics, Fort Fisher, Seabreeze’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler


Brenda Coffey

Brenda Coffey

Politics: – could be pretty hot and heavy sometimes, but all seemed to be friends after the politics were over. Some longtime residents thought it was a bad idea to allow the construction of big houses. They thought it would destroy the character of the beach. Brenda’s father was definitely in favor of the 35 feet height limit to prevent another Myrtle Beach. Brenda and her father disagreed oven the height restriction but she is now glad buildings are not higher so you can still see the ocean. This whole area was a maritime forest that held the land in place during storms, a beautiful wooded area.


Fort Fisher: – When Brenda was about 5 years old and living on the ocean front, she would watch soldiers marching in formation from Fort Fisher. Her mother was tall and standing by the banister on the second floor. Brenda could barely get her head over it. Brenda would whistle a wolf whistle and then duck down and hide so anybody that looked saw her mother. Brenda came close to getting a spanking. Her father thought it was hilarious. Brenda did it every chance she got until her mother wouldn’t let her go out anymore. read more

Oral History – Brenda Coffey – Part 4: ‘Kure Beach Celebrates’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler

Brenda Coffey’s grandmother was secretary of the Progressive Action Committee organized to make Kure Beach a town. In 1947 when Kure Beach was incorporated they entered a Fishing Float in the First Azalea Parade in Wilmington. (see picture below). 

Brenda’s grandmother (Ma Fry) is in the middle with the fishing bonnet. Brenda’s grandfather (Pa Fry) is on the back waving. The picture shows the little children that were on the float – probably both of Margaret Ford’s boys and Doris Stathus. Brenda had the mumps and couldn’t go. The fish balloons hanging over the side were put on the float to look like they were catching fish.

Kure's Fishing Float in the First Azalea Parade in Wilmington.

Kure’s Beach’s Fishing Float in the First Azalea Parade in Wilmington.

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Oral History -Brenda Coffey – Part 3: ‘Family Meals’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler

Brenda Coffey

Brenda Coffey

Brenda’s father was a big breakfast eater and normally cooked breakfast – eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, grits, toast, or cornbread. Her mother would make biscuits. It was always something totally home made. Lunch was kind of incidental – a sandwich or leftovers from supper the night before.

Dinner dishes were often fried fish, fried chicken, fried pork chops, or roasts, and sometimes baked chicken. When Brenda got married the only thing she knew how to do was fry food. Everyone drank sweetened tea, really sweet. They never had Cokes or Pepsi, unless perhaps at a restaurant. Teenagers drank a lot of soft drinks.

Hardly any food came out of cans (and certainly not freezers). Her mother had a garden as did her grandmother.  They grew vegetables – beans, butterbeans, field peas, green beans, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, carrots, collards, and potatoes which they mostly boiled. And they had chickens. Brenda had to clean the eggs. She had only seen grocery store eggs and thought all eggs were clean and white. She didn’t know they came out dirty. She didn’t enjoy cleaning eggs a bit and she didn’t like the chickens either. read more

Oral History – Brenda Coffey – Part 2: ‘Kids in Kure Beach’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler

Brenda Coffey

Brenda Coffey

Brenda went to elementary school at Carolina Beach for grades 1 through 6. The children caught the school bus on the corner at Canoutas’ Restaurant which next stopped in Carolina Beach. All the Beach children, probably 25, were bussed to Sunset Park for 7th, 8th and 9th grade crossing over the swing bridge. Everyone sang. The children threw wadded paper but the boys always got caught. Brenda went to New Hanover High School graduating in 1959. The trip was 55 minutes into school and the same amount of time home at night.

Mr. Andrew Kure walked through the little alley way between Fundy’s Restaurant and Canoutas’ buildings and dropped coins for Brenda to find almost every day– a penny, a nickel, or a dime. That was a lot of money then. He would wait and see Brenda’s reaction when she would pick it up. She didn’t know he was dropping it until much later.

What did kids do? Brenda was allowed to go to the beach in the day time, but not after dark. Brenda loved to play miniature golf at Big Daddy’s corner as did all of the kids from the beach. They’d say, let’s all go to the beach and they would all go down carrying their blankets. You always carried a blanket. Nobody had chairs. No one had cars. They might go body surfing. Fishing was a main thing. There was always somebody to play with or some place to go. They’d play in the water, go for walks on the beach, look for shells, sit out on the pier, just talk, and be a teen. It was an innocent time. read more

Oral History – Brenda Coffey – Part 1: ‘Living at Kure Beach’

Compiled and edited by Ann Hertzler

Brenda Coffey

Brenda Coffey

Brenda Lee Fry was named for her mother Mary Lee Tyler Fry; her father was Therman J. Fry also know as “Fundy”. Her grandparents were Charles Brover Fry and Ada Sesoms Fry, better known as Ma and Pa Fry. The families moved here in 1943 when Brenda was a little over 2 years old. It was war-time. Her father and grandfather worked in the shipyard in Wilmington and then moved to Kure Beach.

After the war they ran Fundy’s Restaurant. The restaurant was on the south side of the pier on K Avenue. Brenda loved being at the restaurant. Next door to Fundy’s was a little grocery store run by Linwood Flowers. Next door was the small post office. The first post mistress was Mitsn Saunders somewhere mid 1945 to 46. She heard that Mitsn taught school because she always corrected incorrect English.

Fundy’s Restaurant was open in 1946 and 47. They had a serving bar with stools and probably just a few booths serving 35 or 40 people. Fundy’s menu is shown. They prepared all the food – country-style steak, fried chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, BBQ, and snow cones. They had also operated a BBQ house in Lumberton. Brenda’s mother cooked all the delicious desserts including chocolate pies, fried apple pies, coconut cake and pound cakes. Her father had worked for an automotive parts distributor in Wilmington, and later owned his own automotive business for many years.

They first rented an ocean front house, about 4 blocks south of K Avenue. During World War 11, the rent was controlled by the government. Hurricane Hazel destroyed this home in 1954.

Fundy’s Restaurant 1946 - 1947

Fundy’s Restaurant
1946 – 1947

Around 1946 they bought lots at 109 and 113 South 3rd Street from L. C. Kure. The lots were all 50 by a 100 feet. Their houses were barracks from Fort Fisher purchased for almost nothing after WWII. But you had to pay to move the barracks. Brenda’s Daddy had three barracks moved to the lots – one was for a workshop. Her grandparents lived beside them.

The houses had 3 bedrooms, and a long open living room, dining room, kitchen and bath. They had an electric refrigerator, gas stove, kerosene heater, a septic tank and a well. They didn’t have TV until the late 50s. The phone came probably in the 50s – a party line. They washed dishes by hand.

The round, electric washing machines had ringers on the top. Brenda’s mother filled the washer from the house, the wash water and the rinse water. White sheets and other white things were washed first; and then all the heavy wet washed clothes were lifted up and put through the ringer. The water ran back into the washtub and the washed clothes went into the rinse water. The next batch of clothes was put in the wash water. You started rinsing and picking up the heavy wet, clean clothes and taking them outside to hang on the line. Brenda’s Mother wouldn’t let her near the ringer because Brenda might catch her fingers in the ringers.

Her Mother bought groceries from the A&P at Carolina Beach, located on the corner of Lake Park Blvd and Cape Fear Blvd in the building that is now called Ocean Variety. Later the A&P moved to Cape Fear Blvd where the Sea Merchant is located. It was the only place to buy groceries then unless you bought them from the little grocery store beside Fundy’s restaurant.

Brenda gave Kure Beach town hall a copy of minutes of the Kure Beach Progressive Association that describes their meetings in the 1940s and earning money to buy a fire hose and a fire truck (see our December 2011 Newsletter)

There was only one policeman in Kure Beach. The firemen were volunteers. The first permanent doctor Brenda remembers was Dr. Claude H. Fryar at Carolina Beach who moved to the beach 1952. She remembers Dr. Fryar making a house call to give her a shot when she had the flu.

Brenda remembers a passenger plane that crashed near Bolivia, NC on January 6, 1960, when a bomb planted on board exploded in mid air killing 34 people. Pieces of the plane fell on Kure Beach and Fort Fisher. The plane was a DC6, National Airline Flight 2511 from New York to Miami.


Oral History – Dorothy McQuillan – Part 4: ‘Freeman’

by Ann Hertzler

Dorothy McQuillan

Dorothy McQuillan

Dot’s family was related to the Freemans. They all went to school together. Ellis Freeman had a little country store right down there where a lot of people went. The store was on the old road before they put in this double road. He sold gasoline with the old pump. He knew everybody around.

Jack Lewis said a bunch of fellas down there paid his father’s bail to get him out of jail. Many “sea farmers” down here just fished and shrimped. They’d pole all the way across the river to Winnabow and Delco.

Dot knew Corinne Freeman who used to have a place of business in SeaBreeze with her husband Bruce Freeman. Corinne and her friend, Olivia, were the cooks and sold “some good food”.

One of the piers out there came from Bruce’s place where you danced with Big Bands. Dot’s husband took her once to see Duke Ellington or was it Lionel Hampton? Her husband loved to dance, but Dot just never really loved the party life. Dot remembers when Mrs. George Johnson from Seabreeze got the city busses to come in off the main road through SeaBreeze. The last bus would run about 12 or 1 o‟clock.

SeaBreeze had some boats that cost a certain amount to go across and you would dance til you got ready to come back over to

Seabreeze pier

Seabreeze pier

this side. It was an evening thing and a weekend thing, not an everyday thing. Everybody at Seabreeze worked weekends and holidays. There used to be a place over there just for Blacks called Bop City. A lot of Black soldiers from Ft. Fisher used to come up to this neighborhood. Matter of fact, Dot’s sister married a soldier that used to be at Ft. Fisher in the service. Some of the Freemans married some of the guys that used to be down at Ft. Fisher.

Dot remembers Hurricane Hazel going through here tearing everything up. She saw the buildings from Carolina Beach floating down the Inland Waterway – refrigerators, stuff that come out of some of the businesses at Carolina Beach, furniture and big stuff from the houses came floating down the river. And at Seabreeze that water was almost to her mother‟s house.

Hurricane Hazel was bad. Dot thinks they went somewhere when Hurricane Hazel hit but that next morning, they came back. Now victims are sent to the schools but the schools are not a safe place. Gregory school’s dining area is a whole lot of big glass. Most of the time you go to Hoggard; one time the flat top roof caved in. As big as Wilmington is, they should have a good shelter for people to go to for safety during hurricanes.


Oral History – Dorothy McQuillan – Part 3: ‘Heglar’s Restaurant’

by Ann Hertzler

Dot was a waitress at Smitty’s Restaurant in the middle of the block on K Avenue in Kure Beach. Smitty’s was known for all its nice, fresh seafood.

On Mondays they got cases of shrimp to peel. Dot never peeled so many shrimp in all her days. Hush puppies were made by hand; so was cole slaw – mixed with a little vinegar, a little sugar, a little mustard, mayonnaise, and carrots. Some people loved onion in it, but no sour cream stuff. Dot says the best slaw that’s not home-made is Kentucky Fried Chicken and Smithfields.

Downtown Kure Beach 1965

Downtown Kure Beach 1965

Dot met Hazel, Dub Heglar’s wife, waitressing at Smitty’s. Hazel Heglar started her restaurant in Kure Beach and hired Dot.  Hazel did some of everything in her own restaurant. Hazel’s restaurant opened the beginning of March and closed in November. She would always have a Christmas party.

Hazel loved to cook. She served “ole country” chicken and pastry – cook the chicken; take off the bone; put in the pot with gravy, a little salt and pepper, onions; roll out and cut pastry strips and add to the pot as it was cooking. When Dot makes chicken and dumplings, she stews a whole chicken and leaves it on the bones; and makes biscuits to add in.

A typical menu in Hazel’s restaurant would be fish, shrimp, and crab – no clams and not too many scallops. They washed, breaded, and fried seafood and shrimp. Whoever sold Hazel fish, filleted them. Dot’s family members were not selling her fish at the time. Hazel’s menu would have 2 or 3 different kinds of meat. One was often country fried steak: fry your steak, brown your flour, put steak in with some onions over it; make a brown gravy. It was called country-style cause it’s cooked in gravy. She served fried okra, butterbeans and all kinds of greens, especially collards. People drank mostly iced tea and a lot of coffee.

Hazel would bake wonderful cakes and bring them in. She’d say, ”I baked a cake today. Y’all want a taste.” Most of the time, they would eat the cake or give a piece to anybody that wanted some. Hazel made banana pudding too. Dot likes to make old fashioned banana pudding; not the kind you make with pudding mix. Every now and then Hazel would serve ice cream. Sometimes she would buy pies from people who would come by to sell them.

Dot went to work fairly early in the morning riding the bus to Hazel’s restaurant. She worked a full day from 6 til 3 – Not much packaged food; it was all from scratch. Dinner was from noon to about 2, just time for Dot to come home and cook for her family. We’d often have a day or two off. The other cook was Sara Wade.

After Dot left Hazel, she went to the Board of Education and cooked in the school system about 10 or 12 years. When Dot first started with the school system, she cooked for old Sunset, then Carolina Beach, at Myrtle Grove, at Pine Valley, at Sunset and at the Bellamy.

Read more Dorothy McQuillan oral histories >>

Oral History – Dorothy McQuillan – Part 2: ‘Family’

by Ann Hertzler

Dot moved on the Wilmington side of the swing bridge when she was about 8 or 9 years old. Dot and her cousins used to catch the school bus on the sound side of highway 421. White children went to Carolina Beach School. She went to a Black school with about 2 rooms. Oak Hill School was up the road as if you’re going into Oak Hill or Oak Grove cemetery. It’s been torn down and has a church and cemetery behind it. The nurses came to give injections. Miss Barnhill was one of the teachers. Miss Newkirk came down and helped sometimes. Now it’s still a school, but the name is changed.

Dot learned to cook at home on a wood stove watching her Mom and her husband’s aunt cook biscuits and such. Her grandmother kept her A&P “8 o’clock” coffee pot on the back of her wood stove. Her grandmother made Dot’s aprons, dresses, and a lot of her own clothes. Dot’s mom wasn’t into sewing too much. Lots of people had gardens.

Dot married James Kenneth McQuillan. When Dot first got married, they lived on her husband’s uncle’s property. Her first home was right behind her current address, 7809 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington, NC. Dot’s husband used to work for Dub Heglar in Kure Beach. Her uncle Ben had a truck to pick up trash from Carolina Beach.

Dorothy McQuillan

Dorothy McQuillan

Dot was married 52 years. Most of her children were born in the 50s in the community hospital which is now torn down. Dot went to New York for awhile where her kids started school. When Williston opened up, they had the big Williston band. Her cousin was the Drum Major who led the band. One of her girls went to college not too far from Virginia and one went to East Carolina. They were always into sports and basketball.

The family liked to do a monthly dinner at Dot’s house. Many would bring a certain meat or a vegetable. Dot said the best way to feed a big family is to cook a big roast or turkey or ham. Greens can be mixed many ways – turnips with kale or with mustard greens; fresh collards with a little sugar but no vinegar and no hot peppers. Dot uses smoked bones with greens but would rather use old fashioned fat back. Dot’s momma put corn dumplings on her greens. South Carolina people love rice. She cooked a lot of rice alternated with cream potatoes or macaroni and cheese – the kind that doesn’t come out of a box. Dot’s son went to culinary school. He loves to cook pig’s feet and pinto beans in his crock pot. He said, “Momma, you need a crock pot.” Dot said she didn’t need any crock pot.

Dot keeps her favorite recipes in her head – no drawer, no notebook. If the cake was good, she’d ask, how did you make that pound cake? And she’d remember how many eggs and how much butter and how to do this and do that. Dot loved fruitcakes, especially from the A&P in Carolina Beach. A fruit cake looks like an old fashion raisin cake with different fruits. Dot cooked the old-fashioned raisin cake in her iron frying pan and it came out so pretty and round. Lemon extract, a little bit of vanilla, two or three sticks of butter, beat the eggs up and put in there – makes a good pound cake.

Oral History – Dorothy McQuillan – Part 1: ‘Carolina Beach’

by Ann Hertzler

Dorothy Farrow McQuillan was born in Wilmington, North Carolina November 20, 1937 the third of nine children – 3 boys and 6 girls. She was born at home where they lived on the Carolina Beach side of the swing bridge up on the hill where Pleasure Cay is now. Dot’s people used to own that land. She was delivered by a mid-wife, either Lizzie or Miss Hannah. But her birth date was listed as the 27th, the day it was recorded downtown.

Dorothy McQuillan

Dorothy McQuillan

As children they played under oak trees down next to the water where they went to swim. Dot was not a water person. Her Momma used to tell them “Don’t y’all cross to Carolina Beach to the inland waterway.” People would swim in what they know as the canal where drowning most likely happened with the tides. Some of Dot’s Freeman cousins were drowned there.

They were just children back then in the 30s and 40s playing stick ball and doing kids stuff – run and play and hop and skip and jump and growing up. They had an old play house where they used old pots to pretend they were cooking. They had a big open field with yellow white sand. They called white sand their rice or grits, the yellow sand was the eggs, and the poke leaves were the collards. The polk berries were used to make “pretend” Kool Aid. They walked all the way down Old Dow Road and picked plums and briarberries (blackberries).

They made dolls with clothes from old material and rags. They platted or braided straw for doll hair with ribbons. They called the dolls their children. When grownups were visiting, the kids place was supposed to be outside. As the older generations started dying out, they sold their land. Dot would like to see the area stay just like it is because if someone were to come in and take over, it wouldn’t be like it is now.

Dot’s family had a pump, a well, and a big tin tub for bathing. The water didn’t have to be heated in the summer – just leave it out in the sun to warm. In winter, water was heated on the stove. With no electricity, they used oil lamps for light. Their first radio – an old Philco – used a battery. Windows were opened when it was hot so mosquitoes got in. Windows had big shutters. An ice man brought ice. Trash, boxes and stuff, were burned in a drum out in the yard. They don’t want you to burn trash now because of the fire hazard.

No one worried about anybody breaking in and stealing. If people came through your yard and wanted some water, they would help themselves and leave you a little note saying thank you. Now you have to lock up everything.

Dot’s mother loved the outdoors – oystering and clamming. She worked at Carolina Beach cleaning motels and cooking for restaurants. Dot started working at the Chinese Restaurant when she was about 12. It used to be David’s Restaurant on Carolina Beach going down to the dock, just before the gas station, right on that corner near Hardee’s.