BY ROBERT R. MACDONALD
Theodore Sanders “Ted” Stern celebrated his 100th birthday on Christmas Day. Most native Charlestonians will recognize the name Ted Stern. Those from “off” may not. However, when historians of Charleston chronicle the city’s modern narrative the name Ted Stern will stand out as one of the most important figures in the city’s history. Ted Stern arrived in Charleston in 1965 as a 53-year-old Navy captain to head the Navy Supply Center. In the ensuing 47 years he has played major roles in transforming Charleston into the city we know today. When we consider what the College of Charleston, Spoleto, the Coastal Carolina Community Foundation, Charleston Place, Waterfront Park, the South Carolina Aquarium, the revival of the retail section of King Street, to name only a few, have meant to the city we begin to appreciate Ted Stern. When Ted became president of the College in 1968 the private school had 481 students, an annual budget of $700,000, and was on the verge of bankruptcy and losing its accreditation. Ten years later, when he “retired” in 1978, the College was a state school with a student body of more than 5,000 and an annual budget of $13 million. The $34 million in capital improvements to enlarge the college, which included the restoration and adaptation of 80 historic properties, and the College’s $34 million annual impact on the local economy transformed Charleston physically and advanced the city’s commercial renaissance.
If saving the College and making it a key economic, intellectual and cultural engine for the region were his only contributions, Ted would be numbered among the city’s heroes. But there is so much more.
When Spoleto was only a dream about to become a nightmare, he saved it, not only once, but twice.
As president of the local Rotary Club in the early 1970s, Ted was instrumental in providing a grant of $9,000 to establish a community foundation which he later served as president. Today, the Coastal Carolina Community Foundation has assets of nearly $147 million and is a leading regional force for good.
Ted has headed and served many other local organizations including the Coastal Carolina Boy Scouts of America, the United Way, Trident Forum for the Handicapped, and the Charleston Substance Abuse Commission. He was one of Mayor Riley’s main supporters in the eight-year struggle to build Charleston Place. Waterfront Park and the development of Daniel Island benefited from Ted’s skills and energy, as did the South Carolina Aquarium, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the First Scots Presbyterian Church, the Charleston Symphony, to name only a few. Sen. Fritz Hollings has said, “Everything Ted touched in Charleston blossomed.”
Ted’s achievements have been due to his intellect, energy, optimism, and empathy. Those who know Ted Stern like and admire him. He may be one of the few for whom the saying, “He doesn’t have an enemy in the world” is true.
He is a New Yorker who was quickly adopted by one of the South’s most traditional cities. He ended the vestiges of Jim Crow when he was at the Charleston Navy Base and actively recruited African-Americans to what had historically been the all-white College of Charleston.
He helped calm tempers during the divisive 1968 hospital strike as a member of the Community Relations Committee. As president of the College he co-signed loans for struggling students and their families. He brought people with strongly held opposing positions together to work for the common good. He has mentored elected and appointed public officials, business and civic leaders, faculty and students. He built organizations and institutions that have benefited the community in innumerable ways.
Even more significantly, Ted Stern “built” generations of men and women, who like himself, view public service as a duty and a privilege. This may be Ted Stern’s most lasting legacy to Charleston and South Carolina.
Thanks Ted, and Happy Birthday!
Robert R. Macdonald, a visiting scholar at the College of Charleston, is preparing a Ted Stern biography to be published in 2013.
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