Ocean Lakes' Jacksons Inducted into Hall of Fame
On July 2, 1971, at the age when many people are well into their careers, Nelson and Mary Emily Jackson took a leap of faith and opened a 30-site campground on long-held oceanfront family property in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
From the very beginning, the Jacksons stressed the family in their business and made it a part of their business name, Ocean Lakes Family Campground.
That family business, now owned by their five daughters, features 893 campsites and more than 2,500 annual lease sites on 310 oceanfront acres with nearly one mile of beachfront, five bathhouses and more than 400 employees in the height of the camping season.
Though now deceased, the Jacksons’ legacy will go on for perpetuity as they were inducted on Monday (Aug. 6) into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
Accepting the honor on behalf of the family was Johnny Williamson, husband to the Jacksons’ middle daughter, Kaki, and chairman of the board of The Jackson Companies, a far-ranging business conglomerate that now includes Prestwick Golf & Country Club, Ocean Lakes Properties, Crystal Lakes Mobile Home Village, Ocean Lakes RV Center, and the new master planned mixed-use development "SayeBrook."
Williamson touched on the highlights of the Jacksons’ legacy in his speech, a copy of which follows.
“On behalf of the Jackson family and the Ocean Lakes family of teammates, I would like to say “thank you” for this honor. Mary Emily and Nelson would be extremely proud and humbled.
“It all began in the 1950s. Nelson traveled the U.S. selling fabric for his father’s company, Cloth of Gold. Mary Emily was at home raising the five Jackson daughters. Nelson missed not being with his girls so much that he bought an ancient Trailways bus and made his own ‘motorhome.’ From then on in the summers when school was out, he took Mary Emily and the girls with him all over the U.S. making his sales calls. It was quickly realized in the 1960s, RV parks were very scarce. He would end up parking for the night at police stations, shopping centers and at some of his customers’ homes. This put the notion in their minds that there needed to be RV parks readily available across the country.
“Mary Emily’s father was a pharmacist in Conway, S.C. He had a strong love for out-of-doors and hunting. So he began buying land, harvesting timber and using the proceeds to add to his land holdings. With the passing of Mary Emily’s parents in 1960, Mary Emily eventually inherited half of Dr. Platt’s land. This started the wheels in motion and Nelson spent the late 1960s commuting between Myrtle Beach and Tryon, N.C., while Mary Emily cared for the girls at home.
“In 1971 they opened their dream project and named it Ocean Lakes Family Campground. It was very basic the first year with only a couple dozen primitive sites and a basic bathhouse.
“In 1972, at 52 years of age, they made their change of life decision and moved to Mary Emily’s parent’s house that is located in the middle of Ocean Lakes Family Campground. This would be their home for the next 38 years.
“They always said, ‘You have to love the people and your business will be a success.’ And ‘love the people’ they did. Every day they would be all out through the park meeting and greeting their customers, even when their health began failing, Nelson would take his oxygen tank and Mary Emily in a golf cart and make their way through the park ‘loving the people.’ When they eventually became homebound, it was heartwarming seeing the steady stream of long time Ocean Lakes’ visitors come over to visit them in their home.
“Ocean Lakes was their life’s dream and they loved every minute of making their project bigger and better. For 38 years they were Ocean Lakes. The best ambassadors Ocean Lakes and the Myrtle Beach area could hope for! They were thrilled seeing families come and enjoy their creation.
“All they ever asked of the family was, ‘If you want to honor us, please keep Ocean Lakes healthy and constantly improving for generations to come! And always love the people.’
“The Ocean Lakes teammates and the Jackson family are firmly committed to their request.
“Once again, I say thank you for this honor. I wish Mary Emily and Nelson could be with us today; they would be the proudest people on earth.”
Jackson Daughters Remember Their Parents
Daughters Kaki Williamson, Rachel Gandy and Jeanne Mize, who were present for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, spoke highly of their parents’ dedication as parents and as business people. (The two oldest daughters, Emily Jackson Vallerino and Laura Jackson Hoy, were unable to attend.)
Kaki recounted the long hours her parents put in running the campground in the early years. The two youngest daughters, Rachel and Jeanne, worked at the campground as young ladies, doing anything that needed done, from picking up garbage to running the stump chipper.
All three daughters said their parents always stressed that Ocean Lakes was a “family campground” and always made people feel welcome there.
The Jacksons early on groomed their daughters to someday become the owners of the campground and put in place a plan whereby the park could remain a family business, even if the daughters were not involved in the day-to-day operations. The blueprint the Jacksons laid down is followed to this day.
Today, Williamson is chairman of the board of the far-reaching The Jackson Companies and Dennis Wade, a non-family member, is CEO. Lance Thompson is vice president and general manager of the campground. Two boards oversee the family holdings: a three-member board comprised of family members and a four-member outside directors board.
Ocean Lakes Today
Ocean Lakes Family Campground earned National Park of the Year honors from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) in 1997-98, 1999-00, 2002-03, 2008-09 and 2011-12. . In 2006, the governor of South Carolina honored the Jacksons on their 64th wedding anniversary for their part in promoting tourism.
At that 2006 ceremony, Nelson Jackson noted that his wife’s parents once owned 5,000 acres of land in the Myrtle Beach area and after their deaths in 1960, “many people of this area and the government tried to take the land away from the family. After paying the government millions of dollars in inheritance tax, it was our choice to either sell the land or make it work for itself.”
When asked in 2006 about their success Nelson Jackson replied with great emotion, "It wasn't Mommy and I that did all this, it was every teammate that ever worked with us, and every guest that ever stayed with us that helped us accomplish everything."
And as they say, the rest is history.