Giving back to the community
by The Press and Standard | September 1, 2018 5:00 am
Last Updated: August 28, 2018 at 2:28 pm
Everyone talks about giving back to our community. In reality, most graduate college and go to work somewhere else.
But Rev. John Creel, M.D., is different. Born in Creeltown near Cottageville, for almost 50 years he has stayed connected to the community in which he grew up. And he gives back in a big way, every single day.
Creel, who operates Walterboro Adult and Pediatric in Walterboro, accepts the patients few will: those on Medicaid, Medicare or who have no money to pay a doctor at all. He also operates the Edisto Free Indian Clinic in Creeltown, where everything is free.
He still lives in Creeltown, next door to his parents (Johnnie N. and Rosalee Creel). Growing up, “My family had a family farm. We grew vegetables and stuff and raised chickens and hogs. And always got a cow to butcher every year. Now I have a farm right across from our church,” he said. He’s also been pastor at Little Rock Holiness Church for over 20 years.
“It was always my plan to come back,” Creel said. He and wife, Charlene, got married when they were 19. He drove back and forth to The College of Charleston to get his undergraduate degree, then taught school for four years before going back to medical school and doing his residency in Florence.
“When they asked me to be pastor 22 years ago, I said no. I’d be too busy. I’m in medical school,” he said. But he did it. Even when doing his residency in Florence, every Friday, the family would pack up and come home. “Sometimes I’d do Friday night service, then Saturday morning men’s devotional and book review, then do two nursing homes, and Sunday morning and evening services,” he said. Then the family would pack up and head back to Florence.
“So I stayed connected to the community,” Creel said.
“It was always my plan to come back. My goal was to come back and work with my people. It’s worked great. I’m pastoring still. I’ve gone on mission trips and reopened a hospital in Honduras … and it’s still open because of our little church in Cottageville,” he said. He also goes to Israel every other year to the Jerusalem Support Center to help Jews returning home.
His office at Walterboro Adult and Pediatric works hard to help those without funds to support themselves. His office visit fee is just $75, half what most others charge, he said, and that covers everything. “Our office works with the hospital to take care of patients who have no insurance … We try to get them out of the track of going to the ER, because that’s wasting health care dollars. We try to get them here and get them in the HOP program,” which is a grant-funded program between S.C., the hospital and the practice. For many, the Edisto Indian Free Clinic is the best option. “We tell them about the free clinic, give them their money back and say come see me at the clinic,” he said.
Back at home, he and Charlene have three children: JC, 33, who has spina bifida and lives at home; Caleb, who’s a leader at a boat building company in Summerville; and Shaleen, a senior at Colleton County High School. “She’s thinking about law school and wants to become a judge,” Creel said. “But hopefully, we can change her mind and she’ll go to med school and come back and take over the practice when I’m ready to retire in 15-20 years.”
His dad, who is 82, still operates the farm, driving bulldozers and trackhoes. His mom is disabled from rheumatoid arthritis.
In spite of his busy schedule, Creel still finds a few days to deer hunt on his farms in Cottageville and Ruffin. But even there, he’s looking for ways to help. He’s put in ponds at both locations, and “I’m going to set things up to teach our young people in the church the art of fishing and hunting, camping — things that’s we’re losing because they aren’t in touch with nature. Some have never fished, and they grew up on the river. So we’re trying to get some of that back in the community,” he said.
How does he do it all? “It’s a balance. The way it works is grace, God’s grace. You’ve got to be like the farmer, the athlete, the soldier. Be willing to work long hours and work hard. Be determined. Have patience. Strive to be disciplined and get things done,” he said.
“All my dreams have come true. What the Lord revealed and what was the desire in my heart, He’s helped me to accomplish those things,” he said. “There are a lot of things — dreams that I’ve had — that are being fulfilled by being here in my own community. Of course, I could have gone anywhere. But there’s no better place than home.”