Ola Hitt was one of Aiken's most recognizable faces.
“Miss Ola” as she was known to many, who was not only a centenarian, but a fixture in Aiken, renowned for her contributions and participation in a number of activities, died on Friday at the age of 103.
However, her impact on others was far reaching. Hitt's selflessness, altruistic nature, sense of history and empathy for others and their problems, brought her great respect from those within the community.
A woman known to many in the area as the “Mother of Veterans,” Hitt opened her home to disabled veterans for more than three decades, to those who could live independently, from a number of wars, said Elliott Levy, Aiken County Historical Museum executive director.
“This was a woman who used her house to help G.I.'s and veterans,” said Levy. “She set up this house in 1960, for guys who were World War II veterans and Korean War veterans, who, after 15 years, still couldn't put their lives together. She took them on field trips and gave them back their lives.”
A woman of great energy, who was deeply passionate about her community, Hitt was a past president of the Aiken Historical Society and a member of the Business Women's Club.
But it was her patriotism, the role her family played in the nation's history and Hitt's passion for the past that made her one of the most beloved people in a community renowned for its appreciation of yesteryear and antiquity.
Allen Riddick knew Hitt for more than a quarter of a century and marveled at her indefatigable spirit.
“She'll be missed by a lot of people,” said Riddick, Aiken Historical Society president. “She was just a fun person to be around.”
And it was while Hitt was serving as the Grand Marshal of the City of Aiken's Memorial Day parades that she would leave an indelible impression on the crowds gathered on either side of Laurens Street. They could be found sitting in their chairs, gazing at the floats and other units along the parade route, children with pinwheels in hand, as Hitt's radiant warmth and grin would create a feeling of comfort and belonging.
“I'd always get a picture of her,” said Riddick, with a chuckle. “There won't be a another one like her.”
Hitt's influence and impact on others resonates loudly through the CSRA, as it was through her spirit of altruism and unwavering commitment to help others that her memory will be forever held with the most venerable esteem.
“She was a wonderful person,” said Levy. “When she opened her house to those veterans, it wasn't for money or personal gain, it was because she had this compassion.”
One of the field trips Hitt embarked on found her going to the Southern Hemisphere as she accompanied one of those veterans, a serviceman who was from Argentina, back to the country of his birth.
“One of the young men who was staying in the house was from Argentina, and they thought he had died during World War II,” said Levy. “They had a reunion there, and they didn't know that he was still alive. She took people to South America, central America, Alaska and a number of different places.”
A very humble and modest person, Hitt's warm and demure personality brought out the best in people, and her enthusiasm and optimism for life was palpable. She was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Mayflower Society, the First Families of Massachusetts and the Genealogical Society.
Harry Sampson, St. John's Methodist Church director of staffing and planning, referred to Hitt as a unique individual. He was amazed at her outstanding memory, intellect and willingness to help others.
“My wife's family is from Aiken, and she would always ask about them,” said Sampson. “She would know the name of everyone who would walk into the room.”
But it was Hitt's kind gesture – one she made before her death – in which she willed her house to St. John's, an act of kindness demonstrative of her support for the community.
“We have first right of refusal on the house,” said Sampson. “We've held Sunday school classes for the past three or four months in the house, and we have permission from the City to have confirmation classes meet in there. She contributed a great deal, always supportive of St. John's. She would come to our activities and knew all the pastors.”
It was those same character traits, her sense of purpose and ability to make those lives around her more meaningful that at times served as a mechanism to provide her with unwanted attention.
However, that did little to dissuade others for recognizing Hitt for her virtuous efforts.
The Aikenite received the Order of the Palmetto in 1990 at the First Baptist Church, with the award being presented by U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. Gov. Carroll Campbell also proclaimed the day Ola Hitt Day.
The plaudits she received were many from having Ola Hitt Lane on Whiskey Road named in her honor, to having a statement recognizing her 100th birthday, acknowledging her contributions to the community, read into the Congressional Record by U.S. Rep. J. Gresham Barrett.
“I was honored to be the Master of Ceremonies at her 100th birthday,” said Levy. “She had a street named after her because she was special.”
• Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004. Among the awards Baugh has won include the 2003 Raleigh Burroughs Award as the turf writer making the most impact on the Florida Thoroughbred Industry. Baugh is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, worked for North America's leading Thoroughbred breeder Adena Springs in Ocala, Fla. And interned at Thoroughbred Racing Communications in New York, N.Y.