HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – The Rotary Club of Hilton Head Island announced today that the 2014 inductee into the Hilton Head Island Hall of Fame is Benjamin M. Racusin, Hilton Head Island’s first mayor.
The Hall of Fame was initiated in 2012 by the Rotary Club of Hilton Head Island as a gift to the community to acknowledge innovative and community-minded island residents. Selection of inductees is made by an anonymous group of longtime community leaders. Racusin certainly fits the mold as he led an intriguing life giving service to his community as a leader, a statesman, a former military officer serving in China with the OSS/CIA and as the distinguished first Mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island.
Racusin, 98, passed away on Aug. 11, 2013, on Hilton Head Island. He was preceded in death by the love of his life, Helen Schuler Racusin, in 2011. The two were members of the Seabrook and Fraser Health Center community for 15 years.
In 1942, Racusin answered Uncle Sam’s call and was assigned first to the Army Air Corps in Miami Beach as an athletic noncom. In December 1944, after extensive training at Officers Candidate School, he was recruited to volunteer for duty in China and left for the Far East and Pacific areas with the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
He returned to Shanghai in December 1946 where he met his bride-to-be, Helen Schuler. They married three months later. When Helen took her discharge, she joined her husband at the OSS. They both had successful careers with the CIA, ending as training officers in 1971. The couple then retired to Hilton Head Island.
In May, 1983, a referendum to incorporate Hilton Head Island was passed by more than 60 percent of the votes cast. A group of Islanders asked Racusin to run for mayor.
“I told them, ‘No, I really don’t want to do it,’ ” Racusin said. “Helen and I had a little dog at the time, a Schnauzer named Dee Dee. Holding a cookie in our hands, we’d trained her to roll over and play dead. So when this group insisted I run for Mayor, I said we should let Dee Dee decide. So I asked, ‘Dee Dee what would you rather be, Mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island or a dead dog?’
I held the cookie up and down she went,” Racusin said. The group did not accept Dee Dee’s decision, and Racusin won the election.
On Aug. 5, 1983, Racusin and his Town Council took their seats and the Town of Hilton Head Island was born.
Racusin’s lasting legacy is his selfless service to his country and to Hilton Head Island. His long and colorful life of action and dedication to improve the lives of others is cause for remembrance and celebration. He was passionate about philanthropy and those unsung heroes who made huge differences.
Racusin’s contributions and legacy will be celebrated at the Legends of the Lowcountry Hall of Fame Induction and Concert at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16 at The Sonesta Resort and Spa in Shipyard Plantation, Hilton Head Island. He will memorialized with a bronze plaque and kiosk at the Hilton Head Island Hall of Fame exhibit overlooking Jarvis Creek at Honey Horn Plantation.