Andrew Dys

15-inch bean pods turned Westminster Towers resident into living legend

Dick Brawley is seen outside Westminster Towers with one of the giant beans he grew.
Dick Brawley is seen outside Westminster Towers with one of the giant beans he grew.

Dick Brawley claims he knows little about plants. But Brawley, at 87, has become a living legend at the assisted living center where he lives in Rock Hill, complete with a new nickname -- Jack. Like "Jack and the Beanstalk."

He walks down the corridor at Westminster Towers and the ladies call out, "There goes Jack and the Beanstalk."

Because Dick Brawley -- now Jack -- grew the biggest beans anybody ever saw.

"Don't know what kind of beans they are, except big beans," Brawley said.

Not big. Huge. The longest measured about 15 inches, stem to stern.

It started with a gift of a ceramic egg on his birthday.

"You turn 87, you know how to enjoy a gift," said Brawley, who was an entrepreneur all his life making a living in paper, coffee, awnings and more. If it could be sold, he sold it.

In the egg was a plant with instructions.

"Water, but don't drown it, basically," Brawley said.

So Brawley, a widower for many years, grew his plant. On the window ledge, plenty of sunlight.

The sprout finally came out with a message on the leaf, saying "I Love You."

"I saw it with my own eyes," said Dawn Martineau, activities coordinator at the Towers.

You can buy eggs like that on the Internet and other places, but Brawley didn't know that.

The plant grew on a common area shelf, and a smart aleck put up a sign honoring "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Then Brawley's bean plant got so big he had to replant it outside. A maintenance man built a trellis.

"Everybody started to wonder if we'd get beans," Brawley said.

Did Brawley get beans?

The beans wouldn't stop. These big, long, pale, green things. Not snap beans or pole beans or field peas or anything Brawley would know. And Brawley knows beans. His late father in the 1930s ran the mill store and "dope stand" that sold food at the old Baldwin Mill (later the Gayle Mill) in Chester.

The Towers residents would go out and look at these giant beans. Brawley, who's never met a stranger, would give tours of his bean plant and his beans.

Finally this week, the cold came. Brawley had to snap off his beans or risk Jack Frost taking them. The plant outside, the beanstalk, sure looks like it's dying.

And the bean pods themselves are in Brawley's apartment there at the Towers. Jack, at times carrying his beans, walks down the hallways.

"There goes Jack and the Beanstalk," the ladies say. A nurse, two residents and the nutritionist all had smiles for Dick Brawley. I swear I saw a couple of winks.

The real Jack from the fable never had it so good.