Rice’s tradition for caring is entrenched in the legacy of our namesake. Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1930’s was much like any other city recovering from the Great Depression, and determination, innovation and courage characterized individual success by its citizens.
One such citizen was an extraordinary woman named Mrs. Benzie T. Rice, who moved to Columbia in 1935 with her 16-year old son, James. They borrowed $500.00, rented a house on the corner of Pendleton and Sumter Streets and established a boarding house for 26 people. By 1937, they were ready to move to a larger location and rented a home at 1619 Greene Street. Nearly 6,000 square feet in size, the home had a dining room so spacious that it could seat 128 people. Mrs. Rice’s entrepreneurial spirit and determination resulted in not only an expanded boarding home, but also the development of popular lunch spot for local citizens. Two of her frequent patrons were the young Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings.
In 1940, Mrs. Rice expanded her business again after a visit from Rex Enright, football coach at the University of South Carolina. Knowing that her dining room was already a favorite lunch spot for students, Enright convinced Mrs. Rice to start a training table for his athletes. She rented the house next door and began cooking for the football team, serving special diets for weight gain and strength. James Rice remembers how his mother’s drive and determination influenced his own life and the lives of those around her. “She had the ability to get things accomplished. She thought all the time about how to do things better. She made every minute count.”
Benzie T. Rice became a well-respected civic leader in Columbia. As president of the Columbia’s Women’s Club in 1948, a member of Washington Street United Methodist Church, and a dedicated member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of Mrs. Rice’s enduring legacies was her determination to build a memorial for WWII veterans. She raised $15,000 from local merchants for the cause. The memorial stands today at the corner of Blossom and Saluda Streets, and for many years her son James raised and lowered the flag there daily.
Benzie T. Rice passed away in 1977, but her legacy of caring for others lives on, thanks to the generosity of her son James. In memory of his mother’s pioneering spirit and civic leadership, James and Eleanor Rice gave a gift of 10.55 acres to Lutheran Homes of South Carolina to build a continuing care community. In 2002, James Rice gave an additional adjacent 44 acres, so that Rice Estate could continue to meet the needs of others well into the future.