Nelson Jackson, the owner and founder of the Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a local philanthropist, died Monday morning (Feb. 1), according to Myrtle Beach Sun News.
He would have been 90 years old this month.
Jackson and his family started the campground, which was honored by the state with the Governor’s Cup as one of South Carolina’s top tourist attractions, in 1971.
It quickly grew to more than 300 acres of campsites and amenities hosting various local celebrations, events and conventions. The campground is considered one of the largest campgrounds on the East Coast and has won multiple awards from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). It is one of the largest properties in The Jackson Companies portfolio, which includes the Prestwick Country Club and Sayebrook.
“Mr. Jackson was the consummate Southern gentleman, who always had a kind word and healthy dose of optimism for anyone he met,” said Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “He built a successful business empire by simply listening to his customers and treating his employees well. Mr. Jackson helped build Myrtle Beach into what we know it as today, and his contributions will continue to benefit our community for many, many years to come.”
Gary Loftus, director of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Economic and Community Development, said this was the “passing of a giant.”
“He built the first campgrounds … and started a trend that continues to this day, and he had the vision to do that, which is remarkable in and of itself,” he said.
Loftus said Jackson was a determined man.
“He was convinced that he could do anything and he pretty much backed it up,” Loftus said. “He’d come up with ideas and the force of his will got it done.”
The Jackson family is also known locally for their philanthropy. Jackson’s five daughters gave money to Coastal Carolina University in 2004 to help establish the Jackson Family Center for Ethics and Values in honor of their parents, Nelson and Mary Emily Jackson. The center hosts public forums for discussions on ethical issues and offers an after-school ethics program for middle school children.
The employees of the Jackson Companies were feeling a tremendous loss Monday, said CEO Dennis Wade.
“We appreciate the outpouring of kindness and concern of so many that knew him,” he said. “We ask everyone for their understanding and respect for the Jackson family during their time of loss.”
Barb Krumm, who worked with Jackson for 12 years, described Jackson as a pioneer in the campgrounds industry.
“He thought big, he was very generous,” she said. “I was honored to really spend a lot of time with him.”
She described him as a hands-on man who was an excellent people person and was always on the move until the last few years when he slowed down as he approached 90.
“He’s a really generous person. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson really set an example about caring for other people and caring for your community. They were very generous people. They did a lot for charity, they do a lot.”
Jackson first opened the campground with 30 campsites and one bath house. It has grown to 3,447 sites and has about 450 employees in the peak season, 150 in the off-season.
Krumm described his marriage to Mary Emily Jackson as “unbelievably close,” with the two rarely going somewhere without the other.
“The charitable mindedness of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson was amazing,” she said. “They encouraged others do the same. They led by example.”
The couple was also awarded the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor, for their contribution to the community in 2004. Rep. Alan Clemmons also asked in 2007, that the legislature honor the Jacksons for their community involvement and generosity by declaring June 2 “Mary Emily and Nelson Jackson Day.”
The public is invited to attend visitation between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday and a memorial service at 2 p.m. Thursday, both of which will be held at the Ocean Lakes’ Recreation Building at 6001 South Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach.