September 2023 Issue
by Tamela Maxim (Annelore's Daughter)
Photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography
Annelore Harrell has been writing a weekly newspaper column called “SOMETIMES” for 23 years. She’s a well-loved storyteller, but even after winning the award for best in her category from the SC Press Association, she finds it difficult to believe the popularity of her columns.
Her father, Martin Stelljes, a jeweler and certified master watchmaker, immigrated to the United States in 1923 with little more than his work tools. He was 21 years old and only knew a few words of English, but he was optimistic and determined. Martin worked for Desbouillons Jewelers in Savannah, became an American citizen, and returned to Germany in May 1931, where he met Anni Dönselmann-Theile. Always the romantic, he proposed after taking her for a bicycle ride and walk. They married in September, honeymooned in Heidelberg, and by Christmas were living with Martin’s aunt and uncle in a depressing apartment in Savannah’s Old Fort. Twenty-one-year-old Anni, now called Anna, was pregnant, spoke no English, and was more than a little homesick.
Later that same year, they moved into a new apartment and opened Stelljes Jewelers. Martin could repair clocks, watches, and ship chronometers. Anna stayed behind the counter, studied English, and kept track of the money. Annelore, their firstborn, arrived on August 2, 1932. From childhood, Anna wanted a daughter named Annelore, her version of Hannelore, minus the H. In 1953, Annelore No-Middle-Name Harrell, as a young Second Lieutenant’s wife, was required by the Army to have a middle initial, and thus became Anne L. Harrell. Official documents, including her passport and USAA account, still reflect the bureaucratic invented name. There’s no arguing with the Army.
During WWII, the Stelljes family could tell their phone was tapped but it didn’t last long, probably because all they ever heard was Annelore talking with girlfriends. In 4th grade, Annelore was bullied during recess, chosen last for teams, and hit extra hard during dodgeball. One day, a group of children chanted, “You’re a Nazi! You’re going to prison! You’re a Nazi! You’re going to prison!” She had spoken German all her life but didn’t speak it again until college.
Customers were in Stelljes Jewelers on December 21, Anna’s birthday, when an announcement came over the radio that Bremen, Martin’s parents’ hometown, was being carpet bombed. Annelore saw her mother step hard on her father’s foot to keep him quiet when someone exclaimed, “Give them Krauts hell!”
Annelore doesn’t dwell on the past and describes herself this way, “I’ve always had one foot on either side of the Atlantic.” As much at home in Europe as in the U.S., her experiences as a 32-year Army officer’s wife, 11 of which were in Germany, had a considerable influence on her. However, she never lost her German-Southern-Lowcountry-May-River-Girl identity.
It’s easy to tell Annelore is from the South. Anyone with an ear for accents can tell she is from Georgia, specifically Savannah. The Stelljes family first visited Bluffton in 1935. Ten years later, they built a 20’x24’ vacation cottage at the end of the half-mile long Myrtle Island. The wooden bridge from the mainland rattled so loudly you could hear it from anywhere on the island when someone was driving over it. Friends and family joined on weekends and during the summer for homemade peach ice cream, watermelon seed spitting contests, and doing absolutely nothing. Laughter reverberated over the May River. Life was sweet.
Annelore, nicknamed Lollie, was standing by her locker at Savannah High School when she saw the handsome football player named Billy Harrell. Her first thought was, “I’m going to marry him one day.” They didn’t date or even get well acquainted until they met up again at Armstrong Jr. College. That fleeting notion in high school must have been the gift of second sight from her daddy’s German Irish heritage. They were married the day after Christmas in 1953 and honeymooned on Myrtle Island. The cottage was bitterly cold. The stove for heating refused to work, and a north wind blew right through the window frames. Instead of a negligee, the bride wore flannel. Annelore declared occasionally during their almost six-decade marriage that she would go anywhere with George William, but never on another honeymoon!
Fast forward to 1981, when Annelore and George William (she never called him Billy), moved to the home they purchased on Myrtle Island, a few doors down from her parents’ cottage. For the next two years, Annelore’s husband, Col. Harrell, assigned to the Pentagon as the U.S. Army’s Chief Judge for the Southeast, Panama, and Puerto Rico, worked from home when he wasn’t in the Hunter Army Airfield Courtroom in Savannah. Annelore became a broker and opened Annelore Harrell Realty. When George William retired from the Army, he became an associate attorney, first with Otto Ferrene, and then with Roberts Vaux. Annelore felt fortunate to have free legal help with real estate contracts.
In 1982 their first grandchild, Adam Thomas Pinckney, was born and so was Annelore’s new grandmother name—Lala. The whole town started calling her Lala, and on September 2, 2017, Mayor Lisa Sulka announced that June 23rd would forever be known as Lala Day, declaring that “Annelore Harrell is the epitome of the Bluffton State of Mind, a trailblazer who is a role model for how a Southern lady should behave, and she always wears a cool hat.”
Annelore taught a group of us how to play bridge in the early ‘80s. Four of us from those days, including Annelore, still have a monthly game which we call “Lala Bridge.”
Her list of accomplishments and talents is too long to share, and there’s a story with each one which would make this tribute even longer. One of the best is about how she started driving the family car when she was only 12 years old. There’s one about how the Army made a crazy deal with George William to keep him from retiring after 30 years in the judiciary. And, then there’s the titillating one when she played the role of Eleanor in Lion in Winter. If you Google her name, there are 1,208 newspaper columns online, full of her adventures, local history, and anything else she chose to share.
It’s a good thing she’s still writing; there’s just so much more to tell. Annelore, Lollie, Anne Lore, Anne L., Lala – whatever you call her, she is a Bluffton treasure.