Church to unveil Lavoy Bauknight exhibit Sunday

-A A +A

Photos tell story of First United Methodist Church

By Greg Summers

The late Lester Robinson, former managing editor of The Lancaster News, said it better that I ever could in the Dec. 13, 1995, edition.


In a column about the death of Lavoy Darlington Bauknight two days prior, Robinson wrote, “When the Rev. and Mrs. P.L. Bauknight moved into the First United Methodist Church parsonage in the mid-1930s, little did Lancaster people know then what an impact their son would have here.”

To be honest, that might be an understatement.

Lavoy, a preacher’s son and World War II veteran who developed a lifelong love with his family, camera and flying, is about to get his due.

The work of the professional photographer who captured some of Lancaster’s most important and endearing images is now on exhibit in the church he grew up in.

First United Methodist Church, 200 W. Gay St., will hold a dedication service at 11 a.m. Sunday to unveil “Our Community – A Look Back at a Wonderful Place to Worship and Serve.”

Sponsored by the archives room at First United Methodist, much of the exhibit centers around the significance of First United Methodist Church in the community and how it fits into the local history through photographs taken by Bauknight.

However, the exhibit goes beyond that. Bauknight’s photos also capture some of the most interesting times in Lancaster County. The exhibit became a year-long labor of love for Lavoy’s wife, Sis Bauknight.

Sis gives credit for the idea to display the photographs to Dan Batson, senior pastor of First United Methodist.

“I think the archives committee did a good job at telling the story that preserves our history,” Batson said. “This is something that the whole community can enjoy.”

Sis sorted through more than 400 or more envelopes of her late husband’s negatives to choose the right photographs.   

“I had trouble picking out which ones were the most suitable and he (Dan) would pretend to help me,” Sis said, laughing. “It turned into a real involved thing. If I would’ve been pushed, it would have been frustrating.”

In his 41 years as a photographer, Sis said the man who “could look at something and know how it’s supposed to look” never taught her how to take a single picture.

“But he certainly taught me how to appreciate them,” she said. “That’s why I just couldn’t say ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ and pick these photos out. When I looked at a few of them, tears would roll down my face. It surely brought back lots of good memories. It was amazing how I could remember these things just by looking at the photographs.

“Somehow, in spite of me, it has turned into a fine exhibit,” Sis said.

After the photos were selected, Sis said another problem arose.

The negatives are of such a vintage quality that no one here had a way to print them. Sis got in touch with Ann Evans in Fort Mill, whom Sis believed, had the equipment to turn the negatives into prints.

“Ann agreed to help us and none of this would’ve been possible without her,” Sis said.

While the photos run the gamut from 1920’s Ford Model T coupes parked beside the post office to Andrew Jackson State Park and Charlie Duke Day, one of Lavoy’s favorite photos is among them.

Taken in 1949, it shows the demolition of the old First United Methodist Church after the building was damaged by fire.

Its members met at the Parr Theater while a new church was built.

“Lavoy made them promise to call him when they got ready to knock down  the tower,” Sis said. “He was adamant to get pictures of pigeons flying out of the church for the last time and did it, too.”

When Lavoy took a photo of a young Jim Hodges wearing a dapper jacket and bow tie walking out the front door of the church one Sunday morning in the 1960s, no one ever imagined the kid with the flat-top haircut would grow up to become a South Carolina governor.

It just goes to show that like many shutterbugs, Lavoy had a knack for being in the right place at the right time and looking in the right direction.   

“This exhibit is not something you just walk by,” Batson said. “I’ve been amazed by the number who people who stop and really study each photograph. Lavoy did a nice job of capturing some rather unique moments in Lancaster’s history.”

Several of the photos were taken from Lavoy’s airplane. Sis said Lavoy had a knack for steering the plane with his legs while hanging his camera out the window. They show Lancaster during a much different time.

“He was quite a good aerial photographer,” said longtime friend C.D. “Bubber” Gregory. “I don’t think he ever took a bad picture of anything.”

Lavoy’s love of flying for business and pleasure will have a special place during Sunday’s dedication. Guest speaker is author and pilot Bob Griffin of Wycliffe Bible Translators and JAARS.

Griffin, who is now retired, logged almost 7,000 hours as a missionary aviator in Guatamala, Ecuador and the Philippines. When Lavoy died, the family asked that memorials be made to JAARS.

Lavoy also served on the Lancaster County Airport Commission for 20 years and was instrumental in the construction of Lancaster County Airport on S.C. 9 Bypass near the Catawba River.

On rare occasions, Gregory said Lavoy combined his love of flying with his love of practical jokes, too.

“It would take a week to tell all the stunts he pulled,” Gregory said.

Gregory should know. He found himself the butt of those pranks at least twice.

Several years ago, Gregory joined Bauknight, Allen Cauthen and Steve Williams for a flight to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

The four were late leaving that day because Bauknight had an early  wedding to shoot.

When they got over Columbia – while Cauthen was flying the plane –  Gregory said Bauknight pulled a whiskey bottle from his coat pocket.

Lavoy said he was having a rough day and had never done this before, but felt like a drink would calm his nerves.

“He said, ‘I just gotta have a drink,’ and turned it up,” Gregory said.

What Gregory didn’t know at the time was the bottle was actually filled with tea, not alcohol. But Lavoy went to great lengths to fool his friend. Gregory said Lavoy soaked a washcloth in whiskey and tucked it into a plastic bag in his pocket. When Lavoy started “drinking,” he opened the bag to make the cockpit reek of whiskey.

“It was strong smell, too,” Gregory said. “Within a few minutes, Allen said ‘I think I need a drink, too,’ and they started passing the bottle back and forth.

“When we were about over Orangeburg, they started acting real crazy,” Gregory said, laughing. “I was sitting in the backseat chomping at the bit. I didn’t know I had been had until we stopped just over the Florida state line to gas up. I really fell for it.”

A couple of years later, Gregory joined Bauknight and Cauthen for a trip to the Orange Bowl. That’s when he fell for another Bauknight stunt.

Bauknight and Cauthen had managed to get a copy of a tape of the traffic tower at Miami Airport talking to a plane that was experiencing a severe storm while flying over Bimini.

Gregory said somehow Bauknight patched the tape into his airplane’s radio.

“He then radioed back that we were in the area and couldn’t turn around,” Gregory said. “Keep in mind, this is right over the Bermuda Triangle. The next thing I know, I hear a pilot saying that he’s losing altitude, followed by screams and a plane crash. I thought I was hearing the real thing.

“I kept telling them we needed to turn around and go back, but they never let on,” Gregory said. “It went on for about an hour until we got to Miami. When he landed that plane, I got down on my hands and knees and kissed the ground.”

Gregory said when other pilots there found out about the stunt, they couldn’t believe Lavoy “would do a friend like that.”

“I have to give him credit, though. It was professional all the way and they really pulled it off,” Gregory said, laughing. “I loved Lavoy to death and he was a good friend, but at the time, I could’ve killed him.”

Want to go?

First United Methodist Church, 200 W. Gay St., will hold a dedication service at 11 a.m. Sunday to unveil “Our Community – A Look Back at a Wonderful Place to Worship and Serve.” The exhibit, sponsored by the archives room at First United Methodist, includes photographs taken by the late Lavoy Bauknight that capture  one of the most interesting time spans in local history. Guest speaker is author and pilot Bob Griffin of Wycliffe Bible Translators and JAARS. Griffin, who is now retired, logged almost 7,000 hours as a missionary aviator in Guatemala, Ecuador and the Philippines. For details, call 283-8406.