No Place Like Mary’s Place

Mary Sullivan’s desire for a beach house resulted in an annual celebration and a place where she will always be remembered.

Left to right Son Rich Sullivan, father Richard Sullivan and daughter Blake Sullivan Herndon at Mary’s Place. Party photos by Chad Rley. Food photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

Mary’s Place is many things to many people. It’s located just past Pirates Cove in downtown Josephine. It’s a beautiful two-story beach house on stilts with a dock jutting out over brackish water. Every Saturday before Memorial Day, it is the venue for an annual bash to kick off summer, a years-long tradition that only gets bigger with time. Most importantly, it was a long-awaited dream come true for Mary Sullivan.

The love Mary had for the water is perhaps best likened to the waves themselves: gentle at times, fierce during others and an overall ever-present force. “Mom loved the beach,” says Blake Sullivan Herndon. “She yearned for our family to have a second home on the water for as long as I can remember.” While Mary was enthralled with the idea of living by the water and spending time by the coast, her husband Richard Sullivan had just about had enough of that. “I spent my first 17 summers in Point Clear,” he says. “During those 17 years, I got skied-out, fished-out and boated-out for life, and if I never saw the water again, it was fine with me.” He pauses. “Mary had different ideas.”

Mary was resolute, campaigning for a beach house every chance she got. Both her sister and best friend were residents of Josephine, and so she already knew where she wanted to build. Her consistent championing of the idea paid off. “My father was reluctant at first but finally caved,” says Blake. “In 2005, Mom designed and built her dream beach house in Josephine.”

After a location had been selected, construction began, headed by Richard’s friend Bealle Dawson. It took the better part of a year before the house was complete. Mary was constantly involved, contributing to the design, taking Richard’s suggestions into account and overseeing every step of the process. “Mary watched Bealle nail every nail in that house,” says Richard. 

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To surprise Mary, Richard gifted her a wood-and-metal sign for Christmas that gave the house its name: “Mary’s Place.” Mary seemed to agree, and the sign was promptly posted onsite even before the house was finished. It still greets visitors out front today. And the name? It stuck — everywhere. “The coffee cups said, ‘Mary’s Place,’ the tumblers said, ‘Mary’s Place,’ the boat was ‘Miss Mary,’” laughs Richard. “It was her house. Everything had her name on it.” And, in several ways, it still does.

With the new house came the birth of the Sullivans’ annual Memorial Day party. The family invited around 15 friends and neighbors to show off their new beach house the first summer they moved in. Everyone who came to the gathering had a wonderful time, so the Sullivans hosted another one the next summer. The party continued nearly every year afterward, growing bigger and more elaborate with each passing year. “The beach house has always been the perfect place for entertaining,” says Blake. “It’s full of wonderful memories spent with family and friends.” Mary visited the house every chance she got, spending most of the weeks between April and November in Josephine. She enjoyed having friends, neighbors and family over, forever proud of “her place.”

Fast forward to today. Mary’s Place still hosts the Memorial Day party, now a much-loved annual tradition amongst a sizable crowd. The invitees have multiplied by 10 since that first year and the party itself has gotten more elaborate right along with the guest list. A live band under a tent serenades partygoers throughout the afternoon and catered food perfect for a coastal get-together is served in abundance. Attendees arrive via car or boat, dressed for warm weather fun. Most bring their favorite appetizers and dishes to add to the table, Southern hospitality-style. The party happens rain or shine, and invitations boast valet boat parking, along with “the finest oysters on the planet,” all part of a momentous Saturday afternoon at Mary’s Place. Little children play in the sand and water, and adults enjoy socializing on the dock and in the side yard. To commemorate the occasion, cups and hats are specially monogrammed with “Mary’s Place.”

The upscale gathering is as much a celebration of the beginning of summer as it is a way to honor Mary in the place she adored so much. As intense as her love for the water and the beach was, her love for her husband, children Blake and Rich, and grandchildren was even more so. Her dedication to them was obvious before she passed away from cancer in 2017. “She was charming, smart, witty and incredibly kind-hearted,” said Blake. “There are so many things I miss — her infectious smile, her contagious laugh, her guidance, her gentle pats on the back, our daily phone conversations.” Mary loved spending time at Mary’s Place with her grandchildren, taking them down any chance she got. Family and Mary’s Place went hand in hand, and the beach house was always made better by those that came around.

Through the years, Pirates Cove, the party and the Sullivan family have all grown and evolved. Mary’s Place expands with them, as it was always meant to. Richard’s new wife Jamie, who was friends with Mary in their bridge group, works hard planning the annual fete at Mary’s Place. Photographs of past Memorial Day parties are hung as decorations and reminders of how special Mary’s Place is. “Having a family home on the water is pretty special and I hope that generation after generation can enjoy it,” says Blake. “Continuing the annual summer party commemorates how much my momma loved it down there. I think it’s safe to say that Mary’s Place brings us all peace, peace in knowing that she is always with us.”

Sprinkle Crinkle Cookies

Makes 24 

1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup red, white and blue sprinkles 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla,and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low just until incorporated.

3. Place sprinkles on a dinner plate. Using a cookie scoop, scoop 2 tablespoons worth of mixture at a time. Roll into a ball using your hands, then roll generously in sprinkles. Place 6 cookies on each baking tray, spaced evenly. Bake for 11-12 minutes, until the cookies have puffed up and are beginning to crack on the tops, and the edges are set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking tray for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all the dough is used. Store in an airtight container.

Cucumber Watermelon Salad

Serves 8

2 cups peeled, cubed watermelon
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, cubed cucumber
1 cup cubed salami 
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion 
3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste
A dash of red pepper, optional

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir gently. Refrigerate until chilled before serving.

Summer Squash Quinoa

Serves 8

6 cups sliced summer squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide squash on two rimmed baking sheets and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and roast in the oven for 25 minutes, turning halfway through, until soft and slightly golden. 

2. Remove from oven and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add quinoa and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, lemon juice, zest, dill and red pepper flakes. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with pine nuts and serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. Best served room temperature.

Marinated Field Pea Salad

Serves 8

4 cups mixed fresh field peas (we used pink eye peas, lima beans and cream peas)
1/2 cup thinly-diced red onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice 
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste

1. Bring a large stock pot filled with water to a boil. Rinse fresh peas under cool water and add to the pot. Return to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until tender but not mushy (small fresh peas cook quickly). Drain and set aside.

2. Place warm beans in a large mixing bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and toss gently. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. Best served room temperature.

Cook’s tip: Warm beans absorb the seasonings better than cold.

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