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By Connie Leinbach
Besides the simplicity, the most wonderful thing the Walli family of Ohio has loved about its decade’s worth of vacations on Ocracoke is the friendliness of the locals.
The group, from Columbus, Ohio, celebrated a milestone here over the July 4 holiday.
“Ocracoke is the only beach we go to,” said Beth Walli, daughter of Dr. Jacqie Walli, who celebrated her 50th anniversary of vacationing on Ocracoke.
Beth was a small child when she, her brother, parents and grandparents first ventured here, and all of them fell in love with the place.
“All of the art on my walls at home are of Ocracoke,” she gushed during a group interview on the porch of their rental cottage.
Her son, Gaige, who recently joined the Navy and could not make this year’s trip, had his first birthday on the island.
It was Jacqie’s parents, Peggy and Jack Davis, who in the 1966 noticed a local newspaper ad touting a “small house for rent” on remote Ocracoke on the Outer Banks.
“They thought it would be a great change of scene,” Jacqie said.
That house, she said, belonged to Joseph and Esther Koch of Akron, Ohio, which is now home to Books To Be Red on School Road.
Joseph was an artist, who signed his name “Jo Ko” to the myriad of drawings and watercolors he created while here on the island. His prints are still available for sale in the Down Creek Gallery.
The Koch’s lived in a trailer behind the house that they’d rent out, Beth said.
Jacqie recalled how the group felt when they arrived on the island.
“That house was home to us,” she said. “It was our second home. We rented that house as long as it was rentable.”
The most salient feature was its ambience.
“A lot of Jo Ko’s pictures were there,” she said. “They were a very personable couple and my parents corresponded with them through the years.”
Of course, the family had fun enjoying the even simpler style of the island back then—the beach, the quiet, and especially the cordial residents.
“The islanders were very welcoming,” Jacqie said. “I think there was a little curiosity about us on their part, too.”
But the locals accommodated the visitors from the urban north.
“We went to the Island Inn a lot for meals,” Jacqie said. “They didn’t have a kid’s menu but would fix what the kids wanted.”
The family visited bake sales on the lawn of the United Methodist Church across the street.
“We’d get fig preserves,” Jacqie said.
Food shopping was different experience though not much different than today.
“Between the Community Store and the Variety Store you had to know when the bread and other stuff came in,” Jacqie said. “Food selection was dependent on what was delivered.”
Eric Walli, Jacqie’s son, recalls the time he and his father got stuck on the beach in their Grand Torino.
It was evening and Eric, a toddler, was in the back seat.
“We went out to the beach on (what was then) the dump road beside the Variety Store,” Eric said. “The tide started coming in and the more he tried to get out of the sand, the more it sank. I was panicked.”
Water started coming into the back seat.
Back home, the rest of the family was alarmed.
“It was dark and they’d been gone for hours,” Jacqie said.
A fisherman noticed their plight and called the Coast Guard, who soon appeared with a 4X4 vehicle.
The “coastie” was calm and easily pulled them out with a winch.
“Then he said, ‘Don’t drive in the sand anymore with that car,’” Eric said.
Back in the mid-1990s, Eric, who was here with his wife (then-fiancé) Jessica, wanted to eat crabs.
They went to a fisherman around the other side of Silver Lake Drive and asked to buy some crabs. They were asked how many.
“I don’t know,” Eric said. “Three?”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you?” the man had replied and explained they’d need at least a dozen live crabs.
“Do you have anything to carry them in?” the man asked and got a negative response.
So the fisherman gave the couple a basket with the crabs, told them how to cook them, and told them to just bring the basket back sometime.
“He got a giggle out of us, but he was really kind and accommodating,” Eric said.
And the kindness of the locals to landlubber visitors continues to this day, Jacqie said.
For this recent trip, the family stopped at the Variety Store on the way to their rental cottage and notice a lot of others in the store.
“I told one of the women clerking, ‘It must be hard when the ferry lands and everyone’s asking you questions,’” Jacqie said. “But the woman replied, ‘No. We welcome you to our island.’”
Beth, who also is an RN, said her late grandparents would be happy to know how long their family has kept the tradition of vacationing on Ocracoke.
She mused, “We hope to be doing this for our 75th anniversary.”