Hatteras Island is a special place for many of our visitors and residents—an area largely untouched by development and one reminiscent of the entire region before the northern beaches were transformed by commercial and vacation accommodation development. But living there has always been a challenge — one Hatteras Islands residents readily accept. The community thrives because they’ve learned to help each other, especially when nature collides with the thin ribbon of sand that defines the beauty of the area as well as the challenges posed by the vulnerability of their lifeline—Highway 12.
When the island is in distress, the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men (CHUMM) spring into action and are often the focal point for countywide assistance efforts. This may be the only times CHUMM’s efforts are highlighted across the entirely of Dare County. But the group works every single day of the year helping Hatteras residents in myriad ways.
In this installment of “Getting to Know,” we’ll meet CHUMM’s director, Dennis Carroll, and learn more about the day-to-day activities of this incredible group.
This interview has been edited for space.
Q: What brought you to the Outer Banks?
A: Our family has been coming here since the early 80’s, so we knew this is where we would eventually end up. I was fortunate enough to get an early retirement as a mechanical engineer from Procter and Gamble in 2001. So, my wife Alita and I have been living on Hatteras Island ever since. She was formerly a Science teacher.
I took on a very rewarding second career for 10 years designing and building beach cottages and geothermal heat pumps on Hatteras Island.
Q: How did you become involved with CHUMM and when did you become director?
A: We were transplanted Methodists, so CHUMM was a natural for me since I could see what a difference these volunteers were making in the lives of many. I was so impressed with the fact that it was a community organization, not just Methodist. They had put together a network of loyal supporters and volunteers over many years. CHUMM’s reputation and longevity was its key to success. That success was primarily due to the leadership and dedication of Mr. Walt Fulcher, CHUMM’s founder and long-time Director.
I became the Treasurer under Walt in 2005. In 2015, when Walt retired after 37 years, I replaced him as Director, my current role. Walt was 85 when he retired. I expect to find my replacement well before I’m 85.
Q: We often hear about CHUMM after major events such as hurricane, fires, and the like. What does CHUMM do day-to-day?
A: CHUMM is not just here to help after disasters. We’re blessed with the ability to be a backstop for those with life emergencies, who have no other means to help themselves. That includes those needing help with food or shelter, or assistance with other emergencies.
For example, we’re currently assisting two citizens who require major dental work, since it greatly affects their quality of life. Another senior lady, who had contracted and survived COVID, called to say, “The Methodist Men saved my life when they gave me air conditioning. The cold air was my only relief.” We just partnered with another agency to help an immobile person obtain a used specially equipped van. Of course, CHUMM has paid many rents, utility cutoffs, built wheelchair ramps, repaired leaking roofs, replaced many appliances and water heaters etc.
Our typical non-storm year budget is in the $70,00-$90,000 range, but much more after major storms. Because of our unique location, we’re blessed with supporters all across the country.
Most of our emergency assistance referrals come from Dare County Social Services which has been a special partner with CHUMM for many years. We also take referrals from local ministers in the villages, and from our CHUMM members and neighbors.
But we’re trying to think longer term with several initiatives. After finishing the Dorian recovery work, and a COVID delay, we began raising trailers for those without the means to help themselves and were repeatedly flooded. We’re now working on our 11th project and have several more in the works. We’re so grateful that the Outer Banks Community Foundation partnered with us in the funding of the project. But it’s a community effort, with a combination of volunteers and skilled contractors who also partner with us.
Q: Life is very different on Hatteras Island compared to the northern OBX communities. Can you briefly explain the unique challenges your group faces?
A: Despite the fact that Hatteras Island is a part of paradise, we live with anxiety at the approach of each storm season. Our Highway 12 is a fragile lifeline. I’m not sure how we could have handled a major storm last year along with the COVID complication. All we could do for the poor people along the Gulf Coast was pray for their well-being.
Q: Do you have any hobbies or interests you pursue when not working with CHUMM?
A: I mostly gave up fishing after our kids were grown, and my free time was limited by other important things. But my wife and I feel blessed to be able to walk together and treasure hunt on our beautiful beaches, just minutes away.
My wife has become quite the maritime historian with her long association with the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. For such a tiny spit of land, the Outer Banks has such tremendous historical significance, not only in the founding of America, but throughout every war, the maritime history, aviation history, emancipation from slavery, lifesaving, and just the survival of resourceful people.
My wife and I do try to take advantage of at least a few opportunities to travel to some other interesting places, but normally not during storm season. But a fun tradition is an annual family beach week on Hatteras Island. This summer will be our 44th get together. Now we also have the kids of the kids who first came.
Q: Do you have any favorite natural spots you like to frequent on Hatteras Island?
A: We can frequently be found on the “South Beach” (Ramp 49 area) and Cape Point. But a sunset, or night sky watching, from our back deck on the Pamlico is hard to beat. One thing that became special during the pandemic and still is, is a 7 p.m. get together (along with our cozy cat) every night. Of course, the occasional company of friends, neighbors, or family make it more special.
Q: What are your favorite venues on Hatteras Island?
A: We often treat ourselves to a Gingerbread House pizza, and sometimes take it to the beach. Our favorite lunch place is the Buxton Munch. Marcie adds so many special touches. Our favorite dinner place is Pangea in Avon. Tami and Joe have the magic touch.
Q: Anyone you’d like to recognize?
A: I thought of trying to recognize volunteers, but don’t know where to start and would never get them all. Our contractor partners helping with the specialty work on the trailer lifting are:
Barry Crum of Crumworks Construction doing the actual lifting,
Dave Swanner of Endurance Marine for pilings,
Michael Carolan of Bayshore Construction helping with the heavy carpentry,
Jimmy and Jake Thomas of August Air doing the HVAC,
Eric Harmon from Rankin Surveying doing the survey and elevation certificates,
Various volunteers help with plumbing, electrical, demo, cleanup, decks and porches etc.,
Dare County waives the permit fees.
For a year, up until February, we had a vacant house trailer donated for temporary quarters for the families during construction
There is one couple that is extraordinary. Ray and Claire Schaaf are volunteers who have operated our Cape Hatteras Food Pantry since 2000. They’re starting their 21st year and they are true heroes. It’s a 7-day-a-week job and they seldom leave the island.