By Lilla Folsom
Channing Reeves has held the title of Mr. Folly Beach since 1948. That’s longer than Queen Elizabeth II has sat on her throne. But he wasn’t just another handsome face and set of gleaming muscles. He was a man ahead of his time.
In today’s workout-centric lifestyle, it’s hard to believe what a novelty working out actually was in that era. This was before Jack Lalane became the face of the revolutionary new fitness lifestyle. There were no gyms. The idea of women running or working out was inconceivable. Channing is quoted in the Post & Courier back then championing an exercise routine. He cautioned against believing the ads in comic books claiming that “we can be made into a dynamic collection of muscles in 30 days.” He said, “It just can’t be done. Learning to develop muscles and strength is like learning anything else, it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” He was a true to life example.
Channing’s fascination with bodybuilding started as a teenager when boredom set in during long deployments on navy ships during World War II. When he returned home to Charleston after the war, it became a full-time obsession.
There were no trainers. Channing and his fellow bodybuilders learned everything on their own. He even made his own equipment, having a local metal company cast the weights. In 1948, he was part of the YMCA Barbell Club and a five-man weightlifting team competing throughout the South. The Charleston Barbell Club worked out on the third floor above the old downtown police department.
Peggy met Channing on a blind date in 1956. “Everyone knew him,” she said. “He was always out on the beach lifting weights, pressing bodies and posing. It was really easy to have a crush on Channing Reeves. There would be a Mr. Physique contest that Channing and his friends would enter.” Six months after their first date, Peggy and Channing were married, moved to West Ashley and began to raise a family. When he opened his garage as a workout area, the Channing Reeves Barbell Club was born.
Peggy remembers Channing as “a real macho man, but a pussycat at heart. He loved his children.” When she went into labor with their son Keith and told him it was time to go to the hospital, he told her to hold on—he had another set to finish first. An early believer in exercise for the entire family, he told the local newspaper, “Exercise can be fun for the entire family and it’s not an expensive hobby. One of the best pieces of gymnasium equipment is a jump rope. Weights can be inexpensive. A couple of quart sized oil cans, a little cement and a short pipe can readily be made into a 10-pound weight. As a matter of fact, most of the equipment needed for a gym can be made out of discarded materials.”
Daughter Alice remembers the family working out in the double garage. She recalls how much fun they had, not realizing they were exercising. “We’d put a blanket down in the front yard and we would all be out there with Daddy doing acrobatics. He would press us, lifting us high up in the air with one hand and flip us around and all of us kids loved it.” Peggy chimed in, “Our son, Bill, would bring all his buddies over and they’d stand in line while Channing stood there posing. They would each take a turn punching him in the gut. They were so young, they thought that was something.” Water-skiing also played a big part in the family workout plan. The whole family learned to ski right out in the Edisto River and the waterway.
A terrible automobile accident in 1980 ended his bodybuilding career, but his muscularity saved his life according to the doctors. Peggy said he would be 92 today, and he’s still Mr. Folly Beach!
Buddy Milligan is a local lifelong fitness devotee and, in his 70s, he’s still at it. He credits his mentor, Channing Reeves, with his success. “I still base my entire workout on what he taught me. He was an inspiration to me, he was my mentor and followed my progress throughout the course of my life. He was always someone I could rely on, someone I could talk to. He was simply one of the finest people I’ve ever known.”
Thanks to such an inspiring article captured by writer Lilla Folsom, Oblique Magazine has begun initial talks in bringing the Channing Reeves Memorial Mr. & Mrs. Folly Beach Contest to Folly Beach in the summer 2018. It would be a great way to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Reeves’ win in 1948, while having an event that many people can enjoy.