Frank Hodge on his porch overlooking the May River. SUBMITTED

By the time Frank Hodge retired in 2016, he had worked for three local governments, established Bluffton’s first building safety department, was influential in making South Carolina the first state to adopt building codes created by the International Code Council, surveyed the devastation following a tsunami in Indonesia, and served as Bluffton’s deputy town manager.

Hodge might not have been born in Bluffton, but family ties and a long career made him a local son. Although Hodge was raised mostly in Aiken, his father had close ties to the Lowcountry.

“My father was born and raised in Bluffton. He had seven siblings, so I had uncles, aunts, first cousins. We moved here my senior year, and I graduated from Bluffton High School,” Hodge said. “I knew a lot of the kids here before I started going to school. We had a cottage down at Alljoy growing up as a kid, so we would come down a couple times a month. My mother and I would stay here in the summer.”

Hodge said the kids all went to the various church outings, and the rest of the time was they were playing down at Alljoy Beach.

“I spent a lot of time in the May River as a kid. My aunt and uncle used to own Seven Oaks, and in that cove there we spent time walking in the mud, cutting our feet on oysters, waiting for the tide to come in, oystering, crabbing, fishing,” he said. “Back then, kids stayed outside most of the time. … Almost everyone knew everybody. It was a very safe environment.”

Hodge’s memories include satisfying meals and games outdoors.

“We had fried chicken and fried pork chops, and rice and gravy, and butter beans, string bean casseroles, homemade biscuits, homemade cakes and pies,” said Hodge. “My grandmother lived in Bluffton in the house where Eggs ’n’ tricities now is. My uncle Paul built that house. Whenever I went there, my grandmother always had something for us to eat.”

Bluffton High School in the early 1960s wasn’t the big campus it is now. “It was small. I think there were 19 in my graduating class,” Hodge said. “We had the cafeteria, though. There were two ladies there that cooked homemade food, so everybody looked forward to lunch time.”

When he and his friends weren’t on the river, they’d sometimes play half-rubber.

“You take a rubber ball, cut it in half, use an old broom stick, and that’s how we played baseball,” said Hodge. “When they threw it to you, it came sideways and it was very hard to hit, but if you hit it solid, it’d go a long way.”

After graduation, Hodge joined the U.S. Air Force, returning home after a year and a half because of his father’s illness.

“My father had ulcers at the time and they had no cure. He was in fairly bad shape, and they allowed me to leave the service to come back home and take care of the family,” he said. “They tried to find me an assignment nearby but there wasn’t one, so I was allowed to come home.”

Three years later, after working for a local heating and air conditioning firm, Hodge began college at the University of South Carolina. Soon after, he met his wife, Patsy, who lived in Tillman at the time and was attending Georgia Southern University. The couple decided to elope and then finish college.

“She had one quarter left to graduate. We moved to Statesboro, and I took my last two years there at Georgia Southern as a marketing major,” said Hodge. “Originally I was an accounting major, but when we got into the part about government accounting and taxations, I wasn’t really interested in that and decided to go into marketing.”

After graduating, Hodge, Patsy and their baby son moved back to Bluffton. When his father died, Hodge filled his father’s position at Palmetto Creek Plantation. Two years later, Hodge went to work for Beaufort County in the building department as a mechanical inspector.

“I was the chief building inspector for south of the Broad. Hilton Head and other parts of the area such as Moss Creek were just beginning to be developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” he said. That began his work with building departments and local governments.

In 1984, the Town of Hilton Head Island hired him to create a building department. He worked for Hilton Head until 2007, and was then hired to start a building department for the Town of Bluffton. When he retired in 2015, he was Bluffton’s deputy town manager.

“I liked working for all of them. You learn from each of those entities different aspects of government but it’s all about local government relationships between Beaufort County, Bluffton and Hilton Head,” he said. “There is something unique about how they coordinate with each other. Often, they are dependent upon one another at some point or another during events such as emergencies, like coordinating hurricane evacuations.”

Hodge didn’t just learn about how local governments work together. He experienced first-hand how nations can support one another in major crises.

In 2004, Hodge was elected president of the International Code Council, a building standards organization of more than 50,000 members. ICC is a global source of model codes, standards and building safety solutions that are used to ensure safe, affordable and sustainable communities and buildings worldwide, according to the organization’s web site.

Hodge had been a member and eventually became vice president of the Southern Building Code Congress International, which covered building code standards in the Southeastern United States. It was one of three such national organizations, the other two covering the Midwest and the West Coast. In 1994, the three groups merged to form the ICC at about the same time Hodge was elected vice president of the SBCCI.

As the combined codes were presented to each state to adopt, Hodge was chairman of the South Carolina Building Code Council and was influential in making South Carolina the first state to adopt the family of the international codes.

As vice president in 2003 and then president of the ICC, Hodge traveled extensively, leaving Friday night after a full work week and returning Sunday night from all over the states, “everywhere trying to promote those codes and make sure they were done,” he said.

Nowhere was Hodge more aware of the need for building codes than when he went to Indonesia following the tragic tsunami of Dec. 26, 2003.

“I was part of delegation headed by James Lee Witt, the former director of FEMA under President Clinton. He was our CEO of the International Code Council and I was chairman,” Hodge said. “My job was to promote the building code process to those groups and delegates that we visited.

“The Central Bank directed Witt to go to those places in Indonesia where the tsunami hit, and let the Central Bank know where the money needed to go so that the bank got into the right hands,” Hodge said. “We went there in March of 2004 for two and a half weeks. I have never seen so much destruction in my life. I have visited many, many hurricane sites, and nothing compared to that. The tsunami went two miles inland and was the length of South Carolina and part of North Carolina. It was not a heavily populated area, but the grave site there was four acres. There were 50,000 people buried there that they found. A lot of (others) washed out to sea.”

By establishing and initiating the adoption of building standards, Hodge ensured the construction of safer commercial and residential structures.

His local, national and international efforts did not go unnoticed. In October 2018, Hodge was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian award in South Carolina, recognizing “a person’s lifetime achievements and contributions to the State of South Carolina.” Normally presented by the governor, Hodge received his award from Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton, who stood in for Gov. Henry McMaster, who was dealing with Hurricane Michael.

“It was very gratifying. My two sons flew down from New York to surprise me. I was sitting in council and all of a suddenly my two sons walk in. I thought it was something really bad, but come to find out they came to see me get the award,” Hodge said. “I was very fortunate that I got to work for the county, Hilton Head and Bluffton. It was just the way I like to live. It was home for me and I guess I didn’t want to leave home.”

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.