Hemingway Mayor John Michael Collins

Sporting a special Christmas suit that the Hemingway Merchants Association purchased for him, Hemingway Mayor John Michael Collins, makes the rounds during the Dec. 7, 2019, Christmas Festival. Collins was elected in June as the first new Mayor in Hemingway in 20 years.

Photo by Dianne Poston Owens

John Michael Collins, 34, one of the youngest mayors, if not the youngest in South Carolina serving at this time, said what has surprised him the most after becoming Hemingway’s mayor this past June has been that people really do care what goes on in Hemingway.

“We love our small town,” Collins said in an interview to discuss his first six months in office. During that time, along with its usual business, the town has conducted a street dance and Christmas Festival. Collins is no stranger to working to bring people to activities in the town. And bringing people in is one of the things he said is vital to the growth and maintenance of life in the small town.

Collins stepped up in recent years to be one of the driving forces behind what could have been a waning S.C. Bar-B-Que Shag Festival, after the ones who started the festival “aged out” of serving.

Now, Collins has the opportunity to step forward and help lead the town of about 500 people in the northeast corner of the county. The town, however, serves hundreds more who live in the area, including people in neighboring Florence and Georgetown counties.

It’s clear, Collins said, that what affects the town affects those who have businesses there and who live around it.

Another surprise for Collins, he said, is the support he gets for his projects. “… who come forward to help out, and when I’m out and about, who is receptive to my ideas…”

Collins is no stranger to city hall and its workings. He was an employee in the water department for several years and then, five years, opened his business, Chlorinator Solutions. “In the summer of 2014 I quit the town and started my business in water purification …,” he said. Through his business, which serves many other small towns in the region, Collins said he has had the opportunity to “pick up ideas. I told people, when I was running to become mayor, I’m not the smartest person running, and I have zero council experience, but I am always one phone call away from people who’ve been doing this for 20-30 years…” Routinely, Collins travels into North Carolina and around South Carolina, dealing with municipalities and their leaders.

“Why go into politics?,” Collins repeats the question. “I saw the town needed leadership, and I love my little town. You know, I grew up Columbia, then with my family moved here when I was 14. I couldn’t wait to graduate and move back to Columbia. Then I did. And I moved back to Hemingway in 2003, and have never left. I love being here … I just saw the opportunity to serve…”

Early 2019 saw upheaval on Hemingway’s council as tow members and its long-time mayor resigned. So I stepped up.

One person planted the thought, Collins said, saying “You should run. I had never thought about it before. But more and more I was asked . I think it’s because we just needed fresh people in there.” And a fresh council the town got; a new Mayor and two new council members who had previously not served.

The new members became part of a council with members who have served numerous consecutive years.

“Five years from now,” Collins said, “I believe it (Hemingway) will be in a better place, we will see buildings filled with businesses and the town’s water and sewer in a good spot...” Maybe with more new people working for the city and on council as others age and retire, he added.

“I’ve been talking with the economic development director of Williamsburg County, and because our spec buildings are filled in our business park, maybe there will be a new building added.”

Also, Collins said, he was a little surprised by the amount of work a mayor does for a town. “There is a lot of personal sacrifice,” he added, saying “serving the town can take a toll on your personal life.”

“I ask that the town’s residents and business owners, in 2020 and beyond, exercise ‘love thy neighbor’ and pull together for our continued success. And 2019 ended with a great weekend and a great success.” That weekend success was a Christmas festival and parade that brought a little more than a thousand visitors to the town.

“The citizens need to know that I’m spending every spare minute I have working for the town and trying to make it better. I’m trying to bring my energy and fresh ideas to bear on decisions.”