Words by Natalie Mesgleski
Belonging to what is known as the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island is tucked away on 100 miles of Georgia coastline, and is home to the well-loved stories of author Eugenia Price. Known as ‘Genie’ to close friends, and known for putting St. Simons on the map; Eugenia Price started a new life for herself on this small island, writing stories about the people who once lived there—long before she herself stumbled upon it.
Born in June of 1916 in Charleston, West Virginia, Eugenia Price did not always dream of being a writer—or living in Georgia for that matter. Taking after her father, she set out to study dentistry at Northwestern Dentistry School, and as one of the only females in her class—but this was short-lived and she soon dropped out to pursue her dream as a writer.
Price also changed belief systems around this same time. Before her revelation in 1949, she had considered herself to be an atheist—but that year she converted to Christianity. It was a pivotal moment for her writing career as well, and it marked the start of a new chapter.
Price became a nonfiction author of Christian books, and she did quite well in that genre, soon becoming a bestselling author. During this time of new beginnings, she moved away from her childhood town in West Virginia and began to call Chicago home. Price was an avid baseball fan and extremely loyal to the Chicago Cubs, often attending games and preferring Spring Training over world travel— until she moved to St. Simons Island and switched her loyalty to the Atlanta Braves. She was so dedicated to her team that she would attend practices, and she even received the honor of throwing the first pitch at a home game in 1981. But this isn’t a baseball story, it is about what St. Simons and the South gave to her—stories about ordinary people which she wrote about extraordinarily.
The move to St. Simons happened by chance. While making the drive from West Virginia to Florida on a 1961 book tour, Eugenia and a friend noticed they had extra time on their hands, so the two decided to stop in Georgia. They found the little island of St. Simons, with its moss-laden oaks and expansive marsh and shoreline-and Price instantly fell in love. What first drew her attention was Christ Church. The church was built in 1820 but had fallen to ruins during the Civil War—until one man came along. This man would play a crucial role in Price’s career and in her life decades after his death.
Anson Green Phelps Dodge Jr. shared the same love for Christ Church back then as Price felt, and seeing it fall to ruins inspired Dodge Jr. to restore the church. Completely intrigued by the life buried below her, Price set out to learn more about the passion behind the renovation. Her research produced the first book of what would become a trilogy—a series that she did not know she was writing at the time. Beloved Invader was written first, with New Moon Rising following. Lighthouse was the final installment written, but is intended to be read first in the trilogy from a historical perspective.
Not many are familiar with Price’s life and stories these days, and that is why Ronda Rich, best-selling author and columnist, is hoping to change that. What you may not know is that it was both Anson Green Phelps Dodge Jr and Eugenia Price that immensely impacted Ronda’s life and her decision to become a writer. Having read and loved the trilogy as a young girl, she was drawn to Christ Church to find the final resting place of Dodge, Jr. Quietly searching the headstones on a field trip to the island, young Ronda came face to face with Eugenia Price. After a very meaningful conversation, Rich knew that she wanted to also be a writer. So, being able to honor Eugenia and re-tell her story is something very special to her. With help from her husband John Tinker, TV producer and writer, the two are working closely with The Coastal Georgia Foundation on the Georgia coast to keep her legacy alive. The Coastal Georgia Foundation owns the copyright to over 50 titles of Eugenia Price’s, and with the help of Rich and Tinker, Price’s philanthropic legacy lives on. The royalties associated with book sales are put back into the local arts and humanities in the community through grants. A documentary that celebrates the life of Eugenia Price is in its early stages. If you are interested in learning more or have stories, moments or memories to share, please contact the Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can visit St. Simons Island through Eugenia Price’s stories—or by making the trip to St Simons Island itself. If you do make the trip, fall in love with the island like Eugenia Price with a visit to Christ Church and the lighthouse—and be sure to watch Eugenia’s documentary when it hits the screen!