Putting Hard-Earned Skills to Work at Keowee Key
Keowee Key isn’t your typical community—and it doesn’t attract typical folks.
Located on a gorgeous lake in the South Carolina foothills, 45-year-old Keowee Key has many of the amenities you’d associate with a master-planned community: boating, a George Cobb-designed championship golf course, walking trails, tennis, pickleball, a pool, parks, and beaches. But, instead of being operated by a development company, Keowee Key is member-owned and governed. It’s a nonprofit organization, a municipality with 3,500 residents and its own water and sewer system. A seven-person elected board of directors oversees the community, and residents vote on how they’d like to see Keowee Key change and grow.
With so many opportunities for involvement, it’s no surprise that Keowee Key is home to phenomenal leaders, whose skills have proven invaluable. From strategic planning to fiscal stewardship, fire mitigation to facility renovation, the residents at Keowee Key—many of whom are retirees—play a vital role in shaping their community.
Strategic Planning Takes Center Stage
Margaret Eldridge, Keowee Key’s board president, has lived in the community for 12 years. Before retiring 20 years ago, she had a robust banking career. “I spent time managing the bank’s investment portfolio as well as running the loan administration area. I was also chairman of a state agency that provided financing for low-income housing and economic development activities. A combination of those things helped me understand the most appropriate mechanisms for financing big projects,” says Eldridge, who was also president of consumer banking for a statewide holding company and chairman of a bank.
Keowee Key’s board is proactive when it comes to strategic planning. “Five years ago, we identified the current trends for communities like ours and determined that we needed to renovate our clubhouse, fitness center, and golf course, and add walking trails through the community. We also had to upgrade our IT systems and one of our community pool facilities. Once we put a pencil to it, we had 14 million dollars of investment we needed to do,” Eldridge says. “From a business perspective, we had to create the plan to get that done, a financing plan, the oversight structure to accomplish all of those things in a manner that met our members’ expectations and was concluded on time and on budget … One of my roles was to create the (funding) plan and obtain community support for it.”
Members’ commitment to community improvement as well as their willingness to lead through volunteerism sets Keowee Key apart. “The kind of people who are attracted to being here are folks who have a heart for service. Our county administrator once said they’d have to have 40 more employees in the county to offset all of our volunteer efforts,” Eldridge says.
When she’s not engaged in board leadership, Eldridge is a volunteer instructor at Clemson in the Women’s Leadership Program. “I believe people need to have a purpose,” she says. “I really love my teaching because it gives me an opportunity to help young women and give them some information that gives them a leg up when they go to work.”
Sharing Safety Skills
Keowee Key resident Russ Landis also embraces leadership in retirement. He leads the community’s chapter of the National Fire Protection Association’s FIREWISE program, a U.S.-wide initiative in which community volunteers promote fire safety. An engineer by trade,
Landis worked for 40 years in the manufacturing industry, predominantly with heavy manufacturing, nuclear fuel, and power generation equipment. Eight years ago, Landis retired and moved with his wife from Pittsburgh to Keowee Key, located centrally to the homes of the couple’s four children. As a consultant, Landis spent most of his time on the road. He was looking forward to staying in one place long enough to give back.
Promoting fire safety in an urban woodland interface like Keowee Key is a vital job. “It’s very wooded, and we like to keep it that way. But the risks from wildfire are relatively high because of the density of the forest, so we have to work hard to keep it safe,” Landis says. “One of the ways we help reduce the risk of wildfire is to encourage homeowners to keep their property cleaned up by picking up dead branches and plants and recycling those through chipping activities. We run five of these chipping days a year. Residents who have a quarter-acre lot will gather up twigs, sticks, and vegetation and bring that up to the curb. On chipping day, we dispatch volunteers in pickup trucks to run around and pick stuff up.” The National Fire Protection Agency took note of Keowee Key’s large-scale risk reduction program and filmed the process, showcasing the community as a stellar example of FIREWISE.
Board director David Rosamond is the engineering project manager for the club and bistro remodel projects. An engineer whose career focused on project and construction management, Rosamond worked on the planning and development of projects all over the world until retiring in 2008 and moving to Keowee Key from Moscow.
When the community began considering major renovations and upgrading, it was only natural for Rosamond to get involved. “With my knowledge and background in engineering and construction, I was naturally assigned the responsibility for overseeing everything from contractors to architects. I used all of my skill set I had acquired after 40 years in the business; particularly in the initial phases, my wife said, ‘You spent more time on this project than the ones you used to get paid for.’ But, it was a labor of love.”
Fitness Project Renovation Team Chair Jon Goyert concurs. “I’m surprised sometimes about the number of people who volunteer. It’s very encouraging! I’ve got to think that goes back to people not wanting to sit around, continuing to want to contribute. There are all kinds of opportunities to do what they like to do.”
Along with his wife, Goyert, who has a PhD in Marine Science, worked for many years in the field of environmental analysis, running an office in Florida. While in Florida, the couple volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. They have continued their involvement with Habitat after their move to Keowee Key. Next year John Goyert will serve as president of the local affiliate, and his wife Karen will serve as secretary.
“The type of people we have (at Keowee), they’re all relatively young retirees. They came from a world of working. No one wants to just sit down and watch TV. We want to do stuff … It keeps you active and your mind sharp. I can’t imagine sitting around all day. I’d be bored to tears,” Jon Goyert says.
As Chair of the Fitness Project Renovation Team, Jon Goyert was in charge of the Fitness and Racquet Center renovation, including working with an architectural firm, gathering resident feedback, and seeing the project through. The opening ceremony was held in October 2018, and about 350 people attended. “We came in ahead of schedule and under budget. I think it turned out really well,” Goyert says.
A Walking Trail Partnership
Bill and Lenore Malin are committed to fitness through a different lens—establishing a roadside trails program at Keowee Key. The two ran a commercial building company together until 2005. “We did a lot of embassy work, a lot of restaurant work, just a very varied construction enterprise. Lenore handled the administrative piece and the office, I handled the rest of the ballgame. We worked as a team,” Bill says.
For almost five years, the Malins pushed to get the ROADS and Southside Walking Trail Project program off the ground. When financial support came to fruition, the two got to work as co-chairs, along with a supportive team.
“The community response to the walking trails has been really positive,” Bill says, adding that older residents in particular have benefited from the trails’ accessibility. “The use of the trail is far in excess of what we expected. There are a lot of dog walkers; it’s really crowded.”
In addition to their involvement with the roadside trails program, Bill and Lenore have hobbies of their own. “When I came down here, Bill bought lessons with a local potter for me as a Christmas gift. Now I have my own studio with a kiln and spray set-up for glazing. We do one or two sales a year within Keowee Key. I do the pottery, and Bill makes beautiful wooden trays,” Lenore says. “We love this community, and we’re very happy to be able to contribute something lasting to it. It raises our spirits and makes us smile every time we go out and see someone on the trail.”