By Lanier Laney
New Jersey natives Karen Peluso and Clinton Campbell met in a poetry writing class and have been happily married — and writing poetry — since then for the past 22 years.
Says Clinton, “I do not like to use the word retired because we all need an income ‘til the day we die. Poets do not make much money, so Karen and I are lucky we do have other incomes.”
Karen is a fine art photographer and Clinton retired after 25 years with his family’s successful restaurant business. Adds Karen with a laugh, “By the way, we never call it ‘retirement’ — it’s simply the next phase.”
In 2008, the distinguished poet Kwame Dawes selected Karen’s collection of family poems as a winner of the SC Poetry Initiative Chapbook contest at USC Columbia. Shortly after, he appointed her poet-in-residence at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens in Charleston. As a result, she has two published chapbooks, “The Mother-Face in the Mirror” and “Magnolia Plantation: A Journey,” both of which are available for sale in local bookstores and at the visitor’s center in the Beaufort Armory building. Clinton’s poems have also won awards and been published in more than 100 publications. His poem “My Veterans Day Prayer” was published in The Congressional Record.
About coming to Beaufort Clinton says, “After becoming tired of shoveling snow and sitting stuck in Newark airport for 12 hours, Karen and I decided to spend our remaining years in the South.”
They first considered Florida but after spending time there and not finding what they wanted, a friend invited them to come to Beaufort for a visit. Clinton recalls that after the first day here Karen said, “Clint, if you want to stay married you had better live in Beaufort because I’m not leaving.”
Karen adds, “One horse-and-buggy tour through Beaufort and I was hooked. The next day, Clint and I walked the Point and other downtown streets so that I could take art photographs. I love (and have sold) those very first images — sunlight backlighting Spanish moss to a glow, grave markers in the Parish Church of St. Helena cemetery, laundry blowing in the breeze between giant live oaks in a downtown yard — oh yeah, I was smitten. And I had read everything Pat Conroy wrote in his gorgeous, seductive prose, and he knows that I credit/blame him for my wanting to experience his Beaufort.”
They first rented but ended up building their own house on the bluff.
Says Clinton with a laugh, “Eight members of our family went to FSU (Florida State University) or UF (University of Florida). Please don’t hold it against us. We are comeya’s and Yankees.”
Says Karen, “The people are so friendly and welcoming here. I’m sure there are many who wish we Yankees would go home, but as I told Kevin Cuppia many years ago, if you weren’t so darn nice to us, we wouldn’t stay!”
They love the landscape and the trees. Karen said, “I cannot NOT take photographs. It’s like breathing. I believe that when we do what we love, we will do our very best work.” You can see her beautiful infrared photos and hand-tinted black and white ones at her website, www.KarenMPelusoPhotography.com
Says Karen, “I’ve been taking pictures since I was 10, but when I left my job in the medical field (after 18 years of managing a surgeon’s office) to move to Beaufort, I focused all my time and energy on photography and writing poetry. Clint has always been my most fervent cheerleader, so it was easy to forge ahead.”
One of their favorite things to do is volunteer for Beaufort Memorial Hospital — Karen in the foundation office and Clinton at the front desk.
Says Clinton, “Every Tuesday AM you will usually find me at the front desk of BMH. I consider it the highlight of my week. My goal is to make sure the staff have a stress-free day no matter what it takes. Sometimes it is a hug or a friendly word Other times, a chocolate chip cookie is the best gift of all.”
He also volunteers to cook meals for the families at the Ronald McDonald House in Savannah. And when asked, he cooks for the migrant workers’ children at the Franciscan Center on Lady’s Island.
Karen loves her co-workers in the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation office and says, “I believe in their mission to raise money to keep our hospital on the cutting edge of all it offers. I love ‘my ladies’ there who work so hard”
For about 10 years Karen has been an exhibiting member of the Beaufort Art Association. Says Karen “I’m a worker bee and help out in a variety of areas, but I especially like to help new members during changeover exhibits. When you’re new and don’t know who or how to ask for help, I try to be available. I’m also a member of the Photography Club of Beaufort, actively for the past several years. It’s comprised of very talented artists who are generous with their time and expertise in sharing with those just starting out.”
They got exciting news last Sunday. Karen said, “Our granddaughter Heather and husband Chris in New Jersey presented us with a healthy baby boy!”