In a 2020 interview about the 24/7/365 human presence guaranteed at the island’s protected gateway, Callawassie Island General Manager Jeff Spencer stated, “There has always been and will always be ‘someone there’ for Callawassie residents.”
He was speaking at the time of the commitment to security and personal connection as you’re entering the community, but this philosophy extends beyond the gate and creates a culture of longevity that benefits the community as a whole.
Emphasis on “whole,” this philosophy is cyclical, benefitting:
1). Residents content to live long-term on the island, even to the point of multi-generational families making Callawassie home.
2). Staff and support roles feeling appreciated and functioning in a sense of purpose, creating something lasting and meaningful.
3). Both of the above investing in each other, lending to a well-rounded and “balanced” community built on “warmth” and “connection,” contributing to the reasons that residents and staff remain riveted and motivating all involved to invest in the future.
This promise of a purpose pursued has resulted in a number of long-tenured staff and support roles that compose Callawassie into an ever-perfecting paradise.
Asking some of the island’s most loyal leadership what influenced their years of service, and what they credit as the top reasons residents make the island their life-long home, they had distinct personal answers tailored to the work they do – but across the bar each touched on the same core themes:
People. Place. Purpose.
As the conversation continues however, the gold rises to the top as the main motivation: “The owners.” They are the people, and they give the Place an even greater Purpose.
In the words of those building Callawassie Island into what it is today, and what it will become tomorrow, here are some of the secret ingredients behind the island community’s incredible “staying power.”
First joining Callawassie as a golf pro in 2006, Jeff Spencer spent a few years going through the ups and downs of developments on the island. “At that time, there were a few more ups than downs,” he recalls, harkening back to being handed “a lot of things that weren’t maintained and no funding to maintain them,” which is why when the opportunity arose in 2011 to step in as interim GM, Spencer says, “I decided to go on that ride with everyone.” What a ride it’s been.
Asked to what he credits the sustained growth seen over the last decade, Spencer credits the team’s “commitment to quality and longevity of the community and the facilities – the ability to have nice things and maintain the nice things. You need commitment from the owners who believe in Callawassie, and then you need to faithfully manage that commitment. That also means internally investing in people – a commitment to payroll, benefits, work-life balance, being able to hire and keep the best talent available to bring residents the best opportunities and environment. And that’s what we have.”
To whom much is given, much is required, and Callawassie Island is a gem of a “given.” Spencer and team know this and take the responsibility seriously. “This is an amazing property,” he says explaining, “when I’m at an event talking to other GMs and mention this ‘800-acre private island just off Hilton Head Island,’ it’s a reminder that this isn’t your average community.”
It’s a circle – a balance – owners and management both committed to quality, longevity, and to each other (keep good talent – who will keep owners first – both love the legacy of the island – repeat).
Spencer celebrates this saying, “for this to work as well as it is, we need to be successful as a whole island – it’s the whole thing or nothing, not ‘onsies and twosies,’ but the whole picture, constantly evolving the business and environment. That constant change makes things exciting and never stale as we work together on the same lasting and worthwhile goal.”
Nowadays you’re hard pressed to find folks who top a decade at their job much less a quarter century. Enter Larry Hindall who has worked in “a few different departments” during his tenure – Golf Course Maintenance, Assistant Golf Course Superintendent, and Community Maintenance Manager for the Callawassie Island Property Owners Association. A consistent presence so many have grown to depend upon, Hindall has likely “made or supervised repairs in most areas around the Island,” perhaps most notably he has played an integral role in the renovation of the Clubhouse, the new construction of the Fitness Center and River Club, and other major aspects of the growth and development of the Island.
“Being responsible for keeping the facilities operating, repairing any problems discovered, requires a wide range of repair tasks and knowledge of building maintenance.” It’s the understatement of the (quarter-) century that Hindall has been sought out by property owners for his uniquely honed skills, expertise, and familiarity with the island. “I have enjoyed years of meeting good people and sharing ‘DIY How-Tos.’ From drywall repair to fixing leaking or broken plumbing, electrical wiring to painting, and taking preventative measures to reduce the risk of future problems, every day I come to work is different. There is never a dull moment, and I have never been bored.”
He’s never been bored and residents in his care have never been left wanting. “Callawassie Island is a great place to work with friendly and supportive property owners and staff,” Hindall says humbly crediting the people and place around him. “The Island is beautiful and inviting, just like the residents, making every day a pleasure to work here. Time has effortlessly flown by, and I can’t think of why I’d want to work elsewhere. Callawassie has been good to me.”
There’s a punchline here about the score being “Love-Love” between Hoppe and the island where he gets to make a living helping others love the sport of tennis and live healthier lives.
Hoppe started over 27 years ago as the Tennis Pro for both Callawassie and Spring Island. When both programs grew larger than one person could scale, he shifted his full attention to where he still serves today and speaks to the balance and warmth of community as a major contributor to his years. “While I am an employee of the club, I am made to feel like I am part of the family. It has really been a pleasure teaching tennis to owners, their children and even their grandchildren and watch them grow into adults over the years.”
This is a joy made more rewarding by the environment. “The natural beauty and wildlife of Callawassie Island is something that I have found you never take for granted. The tennis courts are situated on high ground overlooking Wims Island and the marsh and make the setting one of the most beautiful tennis set ups in the lowcountry. I am always amazed at how seeing blue herons, egrets, red tail hawks, gators, and bald eagles and the like while I’m playing tennis never seems to get old and is always exciting to see, even after all these years.”
Like others, Hoppe reads the familiar recipe: “They come for the place, they stay for the people. I believe many people move to Callawassie island for its beauty, but they end up staying because of its people. The beauty of the place is only half the story. The people of Callawassie Island are the real reason I have been here for so many years. There is a strong sense of community that permeates throughout all we do on Callawassie Island and new owners quickly become a part of that culture. If families or individuals have a crisis, Callawassie residents come out in droves to help and give support in any way they are able. Owners come from all walks of life and different parts of the country as well as the world and this diversity really makes life on island so interesting.”
Made of the grounds of Carolina through and through, Billy Bagwell has trained the sports fields of Summerville, the courses of Clemson, was recently elected President of the CGCSA, and is currently the Director of Agronomy making Callawassie his home turf. Literally.
“I feel as though I’ve grown up here, both, personally and professionally. I started as the assistant superintendent, and I’m now honored to be the Director of Agronomy. To work at a place that has shown a level of commitment in the staff and facilities through the many improvements that have been made is special.”
Overseeing perhaps one of the most all-encompassing advancement projects the island has seen since its initial development, Bagwell is at the helm of the current 3-Year renovation of Callawassie’s Tom Fazio designed courses.
Bagwell understates these current efforts and elevates the same element as all the others when asked what he credits for his longevity. “The owners,” he says. “Their commitment to the island through capital improvements, reinvestment into the amenities, and their expectations of wanting to continue to improve the Island continues to present new and exciting projects.”
When asked the same question with the owners in mind – what makes others stay – he credits the place itself and the work poured into it. “The improvements Callawassie Island has made over the past 15 years are remarkable. Residents enjoy the natural setting we are fortunate to have here while having great amenities that everyone can enjoy and be proud of. Callawassie is a special place, and I am very fortunate to help make it better every day for its owners.”
When you listen to Lindsey Cooler talk about longevity, she talks about others which is telling, especially when it comes from the one responsible for membership itself. She puts it not just into words, but into names.
“Larry has worn many hats and has grown every department he’s led; Bill has led our tennis program forever effortlessly and the people love him; Jeff used to be the Director of Golf and moved up as General Manager walking the community through major changes for the better making us stronger; Billy is doing the same with major changes to our courses as one of our main draws.”
Keeping the owners also at the heart of the reason, Cooler adds, “We come from a place of ‘yes,’ here – we try to make people happy and the majority of the time, the owners appreciate the “try” or the effort to get them what they need or want – whether small things or in the developmental direction of the island and its amenities.
The owners – are the ‘why’ in our ‘try.’”
People matter – and what they’ve contributed to the growth of the community – not the least of which is Cooler herself, though you won’t hear her say that. No matter the question, she finds a way to turn it back to the owners (like all the others have, but for Cooler, their longevity is her literal job). “We have an incredible demographic of multi-generational families where kids grow up here and now are purchasing here. That also is seeing a younger family demographic continue to grow.”
This lends to the thriving health of the community both in owners and the facilities, amenities, and opportunities that call them to the island. “The community is vibrant and active – you never walk down the street and not see things happening. There’s always something going on – something to attract everyone. We’ve made additions to the Clubhouse, renovations to the New River Club, pickleball courts, new fitness center. So many of these things we’ve talked about for so long, so it’s nice to see it come to fruition.” That momentum speaks to a track record that what owners and staff are dreaming for the island’s future will just as greatly come about.