Across the Swamp with Brenda Durant

Written by: Brenda Durant
Edited by: Rhian Swain
May 2023

Last month Augusta lost a community leader and I lost a dear friend.  While Lowell Greenbaum might be known as the head of the Democratic Party who often wrote Letters to the Editor, I knew him as a friend and huge advocate for the arts.


In the early 80’s I was working at Rich’s Travel with Barbara Goldberg and Anna El Gammal.  They were talking about starting a new group called Play Reader’s Theatre.  I was interested and joined in at the very beginning.  One Sunday a month we would gather at a participant’s home where someone agreed to direct a short play.  We would cast the play out of our membership.  Some of the founding members were Dot Sharfe, Rick Davis, Ginny Connolly, Mort Wittenberg, Ed Rice, my parents, Gloria and Lowell Greenbaum.  For over 10 years we met one Sunday a month, watched a short play, then shared some food and wine.  Lowell was the best. He directed, he acted— and he could portray everything from an 8-year-old boy to a very old man.  He often hosted in his house that overlooked the Savannah River.  I grew to know and love him.


Fast forward to the early 2000’s.  I was working for the Greater Augusta Arts Council. We had been awarded $100,000 in SPLOST Funds to research if the Augusta Community could accommodate a Performing Arts Center, and determine the size and scope of a Center.  I needed a team to manage this research.  Lowell had recently retired so I asked him to chair this project. Neither one

Brenda Durant using a net to fish for bugs in the Phinizy Swamp pond. She has short blond hair. She is wearing a gray hat, black tshirt and green rubber waders. She is waist deep in water.
Brenda netting for bugs at Phinizy as a Citizen Scientist.
Photo by Heather Dunaway

of us wanted it to appear to be a democratic run project so we asked Dave Barbee to co-chair.  Dave was the head of the Republican Party.  Lowell and Dave sent out a national call looking for teams to manage this research.  Teams flew in from all over the country, on their own dime, to interview with our Performing Arts Center Committee.  We chose one and went to work.  During that year, I really got to know Lowell and Dave.

Photo of Promenade & Paint tour group. There are 8 women and two men. All of different backgrounds wearing different vibrant colors. They are standing in front of a colorful James Brown Mural smiling.
Photo of Promenade & Paint Experience Launch group. L to R: Mamie McAbee, Ruth Sapp, Gayla Keesee, Jo Nash, Hillary Williamson, Dylan Shealy, McKenzie Evans, guid Michael Wolff, Michelle Bovian and Kim Dillard

When I joined Rotary a few years ago I was happy to learn that Lowell was also a member.  I often sat with him and caught up on his family and all his travels and interests.  Recently he stopped coming to meetings but zoomed with us each week.  I missed him so we spoke regularly on the phone. Lowell lived a full life. But, I miss my friend.


On to brighter news… You may have heard that, for the past year, ten local organizations took a course in how to make Augusta tours more experiential.  The Arts Council was one of the chosen ten.  We developed a tour called Promanade and Paint that introduces the community to Public Art via a short tour of the sculptures on the Common, a walk east on Broad Steet to 8th with stops to learn about murals, traffic boxes and storm drain murals, and a visit to Humanitree House to learn about the

wonders of cold-pressed juice and the owners Denise and Baruti Tucker.  Baruiti helps everyone paint a portion of a mural that will be placed on Broad Street upon completion. Our tour guide, Michael Wolf takes guests back to their cars with a stop at the James Brown Mural on 9th Street.  Of course, out of the ten new tours, I think ours is the best. 


Brenda becomes Swamp Woman! Last Friday Heather Dunaway and I visited the swamp to take their new tour.  We met in the parking lot and walked on the Boardwalk with a naturalist to the visitor center.  Staff members identified bugs and snakes as we looked over the beautiful vista of the swamp. We were each given a pair of waders, divided into teams of three and led to a nearby pond.  I climbed down a ladder and into the pond I went.  My team took turns using a net to pick up specimens. We dumped them into a bucket by pouring swamp water over the net which released our bugs into the bucket.  We climbed out of the pond, removed our waders and learned how to remove super small objects from the bucket so they could be examined under a microscope.  It was amazing.  I loved it.  I pulled out a small black dot that looked like a blackhead, put it under the microscope and saw what looked like a lobster critter.  Who knew! Next stop was the independent lab where we learned about the swamp and how it is so important to our vital resource: WATER.  It was a great experience. Ten Augusta organizations are offering these tours twice a month.  You can see them all on the website  These are great tours for family or friends who visit Augusta. 


Last but definitely not least, I’ll be working the beer tent at the James Brown Birthday Get Down on Saturday May 6.  Coco Rubio has a great line up of music and I promise the beer will be cold. 


Happy May