Today, we are proud to present The State’s 20 under 40 class for 2019.
We started recognizing outstanding young adults 15 years ago, and it has become one of the most rewarding projects we undertake each year. The people you meet on these pages use their talents and energy to excel in their professions and to push the Midlands to greater heights.
They were selected by a group of newsroom editors who studied nearly 90 nominations submitted by readers. Each nominee was outstanding, and we easily could have published a 90 under 40 edition. Thanks to everyone who took the time to nominate a friend, colleague or family member.
This year’s class features architects, attorneys, educators, entrepreneurs, communications specialists, musicians and others. They volunteer with fraternities or sororities, local schools and many other groups. They’re working to improve mental health care, fund diabetes research and serve the homeless.
As you read about this year’s class, be sure to notice the quote each member lives by. Collectively, the quotes form a miniguide for building relationships, overcoming obstacles and focusing on tasks that matter.
If you spend a lot of time watching 24-hour cable news networks, you may worry about the state of our country. Please read about this year’s 20 under 40 class. You’ll be inspired by people with different backgrounds, interests and professions who are united by a commitment to make our corner of the world better.
They’re not only committed to it; they’re making it happen.
Editor’s note: People were eligible for this class if they were under 40 on Dec. 31, 2018.
Assistant principal, Westwood High School
Education: Bachelor of Science, Integrated Marketing Communications, 2001, Winthrop University; Master of Arts in Teaching, special education, 2004, University of South Carolina; Master of Education, education administration, 2008, University of South Carolina; Doctorate in education, curriculum and instruction, May 2019, Capella University
Family: Share two beautiful children with Albert R. Bates Jr.: Shane, 9; Sophia, 6
Community and professional highlights: SC Black Pages Top 20 under 40 Honoree, 2017; Ridge View High School Administrator of the Month, 2008; Lexington District One Special Education Teacher of the Year, 2006; SCASA Conference-Innovative Ideas-Presenter: Building a Freshman Academy from the Ground Up (2015), Presenter: It Goes Beyond the Classroom (2017); Midlands Summit, Richland School District Two-Presenter: iParent-Communicating with Parents in the Digital Age (2015); Developing Aspiring Principal Program, S.C. State Department of Education (2014-2015); ISTE Conference, Atlanta, GA-Presenter: The Tech B@r is open: Students at your Service (2014)
What saying do you live by? Why? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
I live by this quote because people feel as if they have to do things on a global level to effect change. By navigating this world, I have learned each human on this planet can contribute positively to the world by doing simple things. Love and kindness can change the world faster than anything else.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is all about Southern charm. From the restaurants, communities and events, the essence of Southern hospitality is always present. I grew up here, so it is home. It is where my family resides. It is where you can wear flip-flops and boots all in one week. It is where you can have a cute monogrammed sweater and a great pair of pearls to be ready for any occasion. It is home to my Gamecocks!
My life changed when: Two events are of utmost importance to shaping me into the woman I am today. The first was losing my father to a fatal car crash in 1998 as a freshman in college. The second is when I became a mother. Holding my children for the first time felt like I was closer to God than ever before. Becoming a mother is one of the greatest joys of life.
Several of the people who nominated you mentioned your work with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Why is that work important? Part of my sorority’s purpose is to be “supreme in service to all mankind.” Through our sisterhood and my continued work for 21 years, we work to raise awareness on important topics such as physical, mental, and financial health. Our organization of women works to uplift young girls by enriching their minds. My sorority is not only wearing the colors of the organization, but proving through service we are worthy of being a sister of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Sumner M. Bender
Theatre teacher, Spring Hill High School
President, Trustus Theatre Board
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Mass Communication, USC Journalism School; Masters in Education, Clemson University, December 2019
Family: Father, Jay Bender; stepmother, Anne Cushman; sisters, Tracy Bender and Liz Wiggers, brothers, Todd and Edward Bender; nephews, Ryan and Logan Bender, Jack and Elliott Wiggers; nieces, Megan, Marlowe, and Jay Bender
Community and professional highlights: My highlights include being a part of the Trustus Company since 2003, member of the board since 2012 and currently the board president. Former board member for S.C. Theatre Association, former board member for Artists for Africa through which I sponsor a young girl’s boarding and education in Kenya. In 2016, I repelled down the side of the HUB building for Harvest Hope. Lastly, the feeling of opening night of a theatre production, every single one is precious and a highlight of my life.
What saying do you live by? Why? “Those who are inspired, do. Those who inspire, teach.”
Every year, we study famous playwrights, and George Bernard Shaw always pops up with his infamous and inaccurate quote: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” So I fixed it for him.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? It is an absolutely beautiful location. I have a very specific memory from my childhood of coming home from a trip to New York City, and I was sitting on my front porch lost in awe of all the green around me. The warm breeze, green lawns and flowering trees. That imprinted on me, and I will always call this my home.
My life changed when: I moved to Xian, China, for a year. It was the hardest and most rewarding adventure of my life. I learned a new language, ate strange but amazing food and grew to appreciate a different culture. I made friends of a lifetime and realized my love and talent for teaching and connecting with kids. I climbed an impossible mountain, pet a panda and discovered the best way to get to know a new town is to get lost and find your way home.
Why is it important for a community to have a strong theatre and arts program, including for young people? The answer resides in the question, community. There is no stronger community than in theatre. We tell the stories of our past, dreams of our future and dig into the intricacies of the human mind, body and spirit. As a teacher, I have seen the bond that grows between a group of students in the theatre classroom. Guards come down, troubles are checked at the door, differences are appreciated and accepted. At the core of theatre education, children learn the ways of the world and how to find their place in that world. As for arts programming, look at the recent influence of arts in academia. There has been a push by many colleges to change STEM to STEAM, because STEM is the mind and art is the heart. I’ve seen theatre change lives just as it changed mine.
Hilary Dyer Brannon
Communication and events director, University of South Carolina
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication, visual communications, University of South Carolina; Master of Mass Communication, integrated communications, University of South Carolina
Family: Husband, Kyle Brannon; parents, Eddie and Cynthia Dyer; brother, Emerson Dyer
Community and professional highlights: Chair, Leadership Columbia Advisory Board (2018-19); Columbia Chamber board of directors (2018-19); vice president for communications, Junior League of Columbia (2017-19); Emerging Leaders Scholarship, Council for Advancement and Support of Education (2019); Central Carolina Community Foundation “On the Table Initiative” planning commission (2018); UofSC Emerging Leaders graduate (2018); instructor, University 101 (2015-17); National Chapter Advisor of the Year, Alpha Chi Omega Sorority (2016); chair, UofSC Young Alumni Council (2014-16); Leadership Columbia graduate (2014)
What saying do you live by? Why? “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
I could not put it more eloquently than that.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? Columbia is the perfect-size city; big enough to have more things to do, see and eat than there are days in the week; small enough that one person really can make a positive change. I also really appreciate the young professional community in this city. My peers are so driven and show such passion for making this a great place to work and live. It’s one of my favorite brag points to share with those considering a move to Columbia.
My life changed when: I chose the University of South Carolina as a 17-year-old. I left my hometown of Myrtle Beach to move to Columbia in 2004 … and here I am 15 years later, loving the city that has become my home. First as a student, then as an alumna and now an 11-year employee, UofSC has given me so many opportunities, friends, and family – it’s where I met my husband, Kyle!
Among your volunteer activities is service to the Leadership Columbia. Why is that work important? Leadership Columbia is the best network in the city! My world expanded greatly when I was offered a place in the 2014 class. This program helps individuals find their niche and get plugged in. It’s crucial we continue to educate our emerging leaders on the key issues facing the region – while also promoting the many, many great things that make Columbia a wonderful place to call home. I’m proud to work alongside the chamber and a dynamic board of volunteers who make this happen for the personal growth of these leaders and the betterment of our community.
Senior broker and principal, NAI Columbia
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Wake Forest University, 2010
Family: Two incredible role model parents, Sharon and Steve Bryant. A younger sister with an amazing personality and heart of gold, Paige Bryant. Lastly, but certainly not least, a wife who inspires me to be better in every way, Lyndey Bryant.
Community and professional highlights: Chair of the Babcock Center Foundation Board; board member of United Way of the Midlands; Central SC Alliance Committee of 100; Leadership Columbia Alumni Association; Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and the Wake Forest University Alumni Council. Served as co-chair alongside my mother for the 2019 American Heart Association Heart Ball; completed Leadership Columbia Class of 2014. Was named to the Columbia Metropolitan Magazine’s Capital Young Professional Awards Finalists in 2017. Awarded Top Five in Production Award by NAI Columbia for 2018. Most importantly, have served my church as a youth advisor and youth Bible study leader for several years.
What saying do you live by? Why? “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” — Rick Warren, A Purpose Driven Life
Humility isn’t just an absence of pride, but rather a mindset for putting others first. My involvement in the community stems from this calling, and I was fortunate that my parents made service to others a priority throughout my childhood. I am a firm believer that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and it is imperative that we give back to a community that has given us so much.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? My favorite part of living in the Midlands is its growth. Obviously, the city’s growth is good for my business; however, every new company, restaurant, entertainment venue or, dare I say, apartment complex is an indicator that people want to be in Columbia. I want to work and raise a family in a place that we can be proud of, where graduates stay, folks retire, and everyone enjoys and respects one another.
My life changed when: My life changed when I realized a relationship with Jesus was something I couldn’t live without. Most recently, it changed when I met my wife, or rather, when my wife agreed to go out with me (it wasn’t easy). I don’t deserve her, but I love her more than she will ever know.
Your nomination says you are proud of your work with your two alma maters, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and Wake Forest University. Why is that work important? I was very fortunate to be raised by two incredible parents, who gave me not only their love and support, but also an outstanding education. At these schools, I was pushed to my limits as a student and a person. I was taught to work with people of all different beliefs, backgrounds and often much smarter minds. This opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know, and it helped me appreciate the blessing of education. So, I feel compelled to work with and on behalf of these schools to show my appreciation for what I’ve gained.
Hannah Jean Leirmoe Buckner
Sandhills school teacher/theatre director/coach; motivator at Jamie Scott Fitness and SWEAT by JSF
Education: Bachelor of Arts in government, minor in theatre from Wofford College (2012)
Family: Husband, Danny
Community and professional highlights: In 2012, I became the theatre director at Wilson Hall and organized many Independent School Association (SCISA) events. During this time, I won the Aspiring New Teacher Award. In 2015, I started the theatre program at Sandhills School, a small private school that specializes in working with children with dyslexia and attention-deficit. Sandhills was accepted into SCISA, and I went back to hosting the annual Drama Festival, started a competitive cheer team that placed third in the state, and most recently took a group to the SCSIA Literary Meet where two of our students placed in the top three. Outside of my career, I spend a lot of time volunteering: Columbia Classical Ballet Art of Ballet Gala, board member; South Carolina International Dyslexia Association, director, two terms; Transitions Homeless Center: Reconstructing Home (committee member, 3 terms); and Junior League (3 terms). I am also a motivator at Jamie Scott Fitness and Sweat by Jamie Scott Fitness.
What saying do you live by? Why? “Excuses don’t make winners.”
I tell this to my students regularly and to myself every single day. It is not necessarily about “winning;” it is about honesty. More often than not, we aren’t being honest with ourselves about why we aren’t achieving things. Once you are honest with yourself, you will achieve so much more and find joy in that success.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? To find something unique, to get involved in something new, to meet new friends or to feel inspired … all you have to do is turn the corner. The Midlands offers many opportunities to give back, have fun and meet all kinds of people.
My life changed when: I took an internship at 7 Stages Theatre in Atlanta. I was going into my senior year of college and was not certain what path I wanted to take. That summer, I worked under a playwright at 7 Stages for the “Youth Creates” program. I learned then that I truly enjoyed working in a theatre for long hours with people of all ages, and it became evident that my passion was inspiring students in a creative atmosphere.
Once a month, several of your students serve lunch at Transitions. Why is it important for them to do that? If we want the future to see and know the world, we must show it to them. Sandhills encourages us to take our students on adventures, leadership trips and volunteer opportunities often so that they get the hands-on experience necessary to go out into the world as compassionate and educated servers. Our relationship with Transitions is wonderful, and the kids truly enjoy the time off campus serving their community.
William Ryan Dukes
Partner/owner, Blue Marlin Restaurant, Blue Marlin Signature Catering, Oak Grove Fish House
Education: University of South Carolina and Johnson & Wales, Bachelor of Science in Food Service Management
Family: Parents, Bill and Joann Dukes; brother, Matthew Dukes; wife, Shannon; children, Maddox and Walker
Community and professional highlights: Palmetto Baptist board of directors; Palmetto Health Foundation board of directors; Palmetto Heath Children’s Hospital; S.C. Department of Natural Resources Marine Advisory Board; Lexington County Accommodations Tax Committee
What saying do you live by: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? This may sound hokey, but the people. We have such amazing people in the Midlands with so much talent, energy and enthusiasm. Plus, we live on Lake Murray. So the Midlands is just a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.
My life changed when: My wife and I had children. Your outlook on the future changes, and really, everything about you changes … all for the better.
Why do you volunteer time to work with local military veterans? My dad is an Air Force vet. My grandfather was a Purple Heart recipient. Men and women who are willing to serve our country and die to protect our freedoms deserve anything and everything we can give back to them.
Chandra L. Goodwin
Social services director, Wellpath
Education: Attended the historically black college/university Benedict College, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, cum laude in 2008 and a master’s degree in Counseling with an emphasis in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Webster University in 2012
Family: My family members are some of my biggest supporters. I have five siblings whom I am extremely close with, and my mother and father.
Community and professional highlights: Chandra became fully licensed as a professional counselor in both South and North Carolina simultaneously. She is also a licensed addiction counselor and national certified counselor. She is an active member in the Columbia Section of The National Council of Negro Women and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (Gamma Nu Omega Chapter). In 2015, Chandra was nominated as Employee of the Year at the S.C. Department of Mental Health’s Sexually Violent Predator Program and received Webster Universty’s Outstanding Alumni Award. In 2016, Chandra was honored by the BlindSpot Art Foundation as one of the Midlands Women on the Move, and she was an award recipient of the 2016 S.C. Black Pages Top 20 Under 40. In 2019, she received the Living the Legacy Award from the National Council of Negro Women, Columbia Section for her contributions to her profession and community and exemplifying the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune.
What saying do you live by? Why? “Don’t cave into the pressure to be like everyone else and rob the world of the wealth assigned to your truth.”
I live by this quote because it reminds me to embrace who I am, my uniqueness, and be who I am called to be, not what people want me to be.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I like that there is big-city stuff to do, with a small-town feel.
My life changed when: My life changed when I discovered what my purpose was (counseling) and grew in my relationship with God. If I think of the darkest moments in my life and of those around me, I know how powerful it can be to have someone there supporting and encouraging you to be your best and most authentic self.
Why is it important to you to provide mental health services to people? It is important for me to provide mental health services because there are not enough places where people can experience unconditional acceptance, positive reflection, and create different narratives and visions for themselves to enrich their lives.
Director of marketing and air service development, Columbia Metropolitan Airport
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Communications, Masters in Mass Communications with a focus on Integrated Marketing Communications
Family: I’m originally from Greenville, and my immediate family all still reside there. My parents, Mary and Henry, my sister, Lillian, brother-in-law, Desmond, and niece and nephew, Lauren and Andre, are my heart and some of the finest (and tallest!) people you’ll meet. I’m thankful for each of them and wouldn’t be where I am today with out their constant love, support, encouragement and guidance.
Community and professional highlights: I’m a proud Historic Columbia board of trustee, chair of the marketing committee with Historic Columbia, 11 year member of the Junior League of Columbia, a member of Midtown Fellowship and an executive committee member of the national Public Relations Society of America Travel and Tourism board.
What saying do you live by? Why? There are so many, but I do keep coming back to, “She believed she could, so she did.” On those stressful, taxing days, it’s helpful to reset with this reminder, and then ... keep pressing forward.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? There is something new happening or opening seemingly every time I turn around. I’ve loved watching this city grow over the years and look forward to seeing what’s next for our beautiful capital city.
My life changed when: Personally, when I became a believer. Professionally, when I met, interned, worked for or volunteered with some key people in the area, including, but not limited to, Robin Waites, Geah Pressgrove, David Campbell, Ric Luber, Kelly Barbrey, Bill Ellen, Beverly Shelley and Mike Gula. These leaders, and so many others, were instrumental in supporting and steering my career, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. For that, I’m forever thankful.
Why do you volunteer time to work with Historic Columbia? I invest my time, talents and treasure in Historic Columbia because I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of the organization. They not only work to preserve and protect Columbia’s history, they make every effort to educate individuals on the importance of saving, remembering and honoring the area’s historic sites and trailblazers.
Merrell “MJ” Johnson
Development and marketing officer, Mental Illness Recovery Center Inc.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications and Journalism, major in Public Relations, minor in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina, Columbia; Master in Business Administration in Marketing from Louisiana State University-Shreveport
Family: Father, David Johnson; mother, Barbara Johnson; sister, Brenda Johnson; nephews, Marcus and Michael
Community and professional highlights: Columbia Chamber Leadership Columbia Class of 2018; Columbia Business Monthly’s Best and Brightest 35 and Under, class of 2018; board member for Carolina Women for Change and Empowerment; board member for Communities in Schools of the Midlands, Governance and Policy Committee; board member for BeginningsSC, board recruitment chair; board member for Association of Fundraising Professionals, communications chair; board member for Turning Pages, communications co-chair; United Way of the Midlands, Education Council Committee member; and Talented Tenth-Tenth Fellowship Committee Chair.
What saying do you live by? Why? “In order for change to take place, the work must be done.”
It’s a simple common-sense equation even for someone, like me, who isn’t great at math. But this saying reminds me, even with the smallest goals, that in order to move the needle a little, it will take effort, and that I or we, if I’m working with a team, must have laser-sharp focus and be willing to commit the necessary effort in order to achieve our desired result.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is made up of, what I feel, are some the greatest counties in our state. All of which focus on leaving the ladder down for the next generation and extending a helping hand to those in need. In Columbia, it’s not hard to see how the work we are doing influences every corner of our state, from industry to higher education and government. This kind of thoughtfulness and energy is what I most appreciate about the Midlands.
My life changed when: A close friend passed away from a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Her spirit was magnetic, and her method of leadership always included laser-sharp focus, hard work, fun and grace. She’d call challenges opportunities. And she made sure you knew you were important. She taught me to focus on the areas in people’s lives that were often muddy or overlooked, because those areas were the ones that needed the most love and care.
Explain the work that is done at the Mental Illness Recovery Center. The Mental Illness Recovery Center Inc. (MIRCI) is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit established in 1960 that assists individuals with mental illness and a history of homelessness. MIRCI provides homeless outreach, behavioral health care, permanent supportive housing, benefits assistance, payee services and youth services to its clients. MIRCI is the only internationally CARF-accredited (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitative Facilities) behavioral health care provider specializing in supportive housing and behavioral health care for this targeted population in the Midlands.
Senior reporting officer, S.C. Retirement System Investment Commission
Education: University of South Carolina, Moore School of Business Bachelor of Science, corporate finance, 2006-2010; University of South Carolina, Moore School of Business Master of Business Administration, 2018-2020
Family: Wife, Lauren
Community and professional highlights: Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee, board member, September 2018–present; Cola Town Bike Collective, vice president, co-chair, April 2016-present; Krewe De Columbi-Ya-Ya, volunteer, January 2017-present; Junior Achievement, volunteer, January 2016-present
What saying do you live by? Why? My grandfather always used to say that our family name means hard worker. To this day, he works as a doctor full time at age 92. It has become ingrained in my personality, and I’ve found it is a pretty good solution for most of life’s challenges.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I’ve lived in the Midlands for the last 13 years, and I truly love the people here. We’re a small enough city that every single person can make a meaningful impact around them, and I love seeing the great things we can accomplish when we come together. We’ve turned a relatively lifeless (and hot) city into a vibrant community during this time. I can walk out of my office almost every night of the week and find art, music and culture. The saying “it takes a village” applies here, and the Midlands has one heck of a village!
My life changed when: I got very sick in my mid-20s and had a very long and uncertain journey back to health. During the peak of that uncertainty, I realized that I had been living a very unfulfilling life. I made a promise to myself to do better. I started surrounding myself with positive people and working to lift up other people. As my health recovered, I found new friends, hobbies and passions. I went on to meet my wife, Lauren, and we have built a life together that I could have never imagined!
Describe the work done at the Bike Collective: I became involved with the Bike Collective about four years ago. At the time, it was being run out of an abandoned warehouse on hopes, dreams and hand-me-down tools. I helped form the original board, write the by-laws and incorporate into a nonprofit. Once we had this status, we were able to start to build our reputation, fund-raise and write grants for projects. Over the last four years, we have installed a network of physical bicycle repair stands across the Midlands, provided more than 400 bicycles to people who need access to transportation and have become a permanent resource for, and advocate of, people from all walks in life who rely on alternative transportation as a means of living their lives. Recently, we moved into our permanent home and continue to enjoy growth in terms of our outreach and mission, but also our community.
Jason P. Luther
Deputy director and general counsel, S.C. Department of Revenue
Education: Bachelor of Arts in History, Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Georgia; Juris Doctor, University of South Carolina School of Law
Family: Wife, Emily; three sons: James, 6; Everett, 3; Hoke, 9 months
Community and professional highlights: Working alongside the top-flight attorneys at Nelson Mullins, Murphy & Grantland, and the S.C. Department of Revenue is certainly a professional highlight. I will always be proud of my time as editor-in-chief of the South Carolina Law Review and my judicial clerkship for the Honorable Dennis W. Shedd, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. I’m grateful to serve on the board for Junior Achievement of Greater South Carolina, and it’s been especially rewarding to participate in Leadership Columbia, Historic Columbia Palladium Society, S.C. Philharmonic Conductors Cabinet and various ministries as a Deacon at First Presbyterian Church.
What saying do you live by? Why? “In all things Christ preeminent.” — Covenant College motto
My alma mater’s motto comes from Colossians 1:18. It embodies the conviction that the person and work of Jesus has implications for every sphere of life. For me, “living life well” means exploring and expressing the Gospel in my relationships, vocation and community.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? This is home; we cherish living near extended family. Columbia has so much to offer — and just 10-ish minutes from our house. Our kids are frequent fliers at Riverbanks, EdVenture, Saluda Shoals and Riverfront Park. We’re constantly exploring unique local events (e.g. Soda City and Gervais Street Bridge Dinner), historical sites and outdoor recreation. Plus the people here are spirited, selfless and hospitable — who doesn’t want neighbors like that?
My life changed when: In October 2008, I offered to take a law school classmate on a motorcycle ride for her birthday (ambiguous first date). After we cruised the strip in Forest Acres and stopped for late-night coffee at McDonald’s, I dropped her off at her apartment on Devine Street ... two blocks from where she, I and our three children now live.
What caused you to leave the roofing company that you helped found to enter law school at USC? In eighth grade, I attended a federal trial in Charleston. The plaintiff (a family friend) was represented pro bono by Terry Haskins, who was House Speaker pro tempore. Mr. Haskins was gracious and inspirational; the entire process fascinated me. I knew then I wanted to become a lawyer.
I applied to USC law school but wasn’t accepted. So, a college buddy and I started a roofing company in south Florida in the aftermath of Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Wilma. Fantastic job that never felt like work, but law school was still the long game. I applied to USC again, got wait-listed, then accepted. It was hard leaving a growing business in the land of warm beaches and cheap golf, but I’d finally gotten the opportunity to pursue the dream that had begun 13 years earlier.
Adriane Michelle McGillis
Senior associate/project architect, Stevens & Wilkinson
Education: Bachelor of Architecture, Bachelor of Science of Environmental Design, Ball State 2005
Family: Father, Dr. Joe McGillis; mother, Gail McGillis; brother, Sean, his wife, Stephanie, and their two children, Quinn and Calla Mae
Community and professional highlights: I was recently promoted to senior associate and architect at Stevens & Wilkinson and am currently serving as the American Institute of Architects Greater Columbia (AIAGC) president. Also included: AIA South Carolina Equity in Architecture chair 2016-2017; created and implemented the People’s Choice Award as part of AIAGC’s Design Awards Program; opened the Center for Architecture to the public at First Thursday for the first time; took part in the yarn-bombings of Main Street; won a The Moth Asheville Story Slam that was featured on NPR’s The Moth Radiohour; served as project architect for numerous projects including the CaroMont Free-Standing Emergency Department-Mount Holly, the Center for Innovation, and Denmark-Olar’s New PreK-8 and High School Renovation.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I like to joke that I moved here after college for the weather. Have you lived through a Midwest winter? Honestly, though, the reason I’ve stayed is that I see this community growing and evolving and it is exciting to be here, to get to be part of it through my work as an architect and sometimes participant (yarnbombing or story slamming or my work with the AIA) or simply as an enthusiastic consumer of other people’s work.
What saying do you live by? Why? “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to live the width of it as well.”
– Diane Ackerman
For me, this means don’t be so guarded or scared of disappointment and regret that life passes you by. Figure out what a full life means to you – for me, that’s inviting people in, being vulnerable and seeking out new experiences. Since adopting this outlook, I’ve done things like start the Culturettes, get on stage at The Moth story slam, accepted on offer to join the AIA Columbia Board when a colleague called me (thanks, Robyn Rogers!) and stepped forward to be the first Equity in Architecture chair for the state.
My life changed when: In late 2012, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was lucky in that it was caught very early – otherwise, she might not still be with us. Her fight with cancer had a profound effect on everyone in my family; we began to speak more words of love to each other. I have become more careful to let people know what they mean to me. Cancer can and does traumatize those it touches, and everyone’s story is different, but the underlying theme is that life is far more fragile than we like to acknowledge. I try to be in the moment, to relish the good things. Sometimes I exceed that expectation; other times, I fail miserably. But I always try to get back to living the full width of my life.
Why did you found the Culturettes, and what do they do? After my mother’s cancer battle, I realized that after a decade in Columbia, I had never toured the State House grounds and didn’t have anyone to go with. So, the Culturettes were born. In the four years since, we’ve gone camping, toured small towns around the state, “hiked” to nine waterfalls, toured Mepkin Abbey, and gone to puppet slams, screenings at The Nick and plays at Trustus and Workshop. And in so doing, many amazing women have come into my life.
President, K2 Tech
Education: Dutch Fork High School and University of South Carolina
Family: Wife, Marshall Minton; daughter, Tinsley Minton
Community and professional highlights: Leadership Columbia Class of 2017, CAT Advisory Board member, United Way Small Business Alliance Steering Committee member, STEM mentor at Ridge View High School, Columbia Chamber Small Business of the Year 2017
What saying do you live by? Why? “Make it happen.”
You can surround yourself with the best people and have a plethora of tools at your disposal, but at the end of the day, you are still responsible for your actions and your future. It is on you to make it all happen.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I love the people in our town. We have shown time and again that when things get tough, we lend a hand to those in need and band together to get things done.
My life changed when: My wife said “yes.” Since that day in 2015, she’s encouraged me to persevere through being a co-founder of a company; I’ve made it a priority to become more involved with the community, and in January she gave birth to our beautiful daughter.
You spend a lot of time encouraging young people to develop STEM skills and to understand entrepreneurship. Why is that important? I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great mentors throughout my life and career, and I realize that without their help, I would not be where I am today. I just hope that someday, somewhere, something that I say or do will inspire one of those students to chase down their own dream.
Matthew S. Mungo
Principal, Mungo properties
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Wofford College, 2004
Family: Wife, Mary Grace; two children, Stewart, 4 and Wells, 2
Community and professional highlights: Member, St. Marys Episcopal Church; BBB Board of Directors of Central SC and Charleston; board member, American Red Cross of Central S.C.; Hammond School Alumni Advisory Board; Wofford Terrier Club Board; Building Industry Association of Central S.C. Board; American Heart Association Heart Ball Committee; City Year Gala Committee
What saying do you live by? “Courage is grace under pressure.” — Hemingway
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The true sense of community that is inherent here. Not to dog a certain popular city in the Lowcountry, but we tried to start a Community Builder program there and we had a hard time even getting nominations so we ended it pretty quickly. In the Midlands, we often have more nominations than we can go through. I think that speaks volumes about the community that we live in.
My life changed when: When we had our first born child in 2014. I realized that there were much more important things in life than I was previously aware of.
Why are you involved with the Michael J.
Foundation’s Community Builder Awards program? As I mentioned earlier, it is a blessing to be a part of such a strong and caring community. There are so many people that are quietly giving their time or talents for the greater good, without asking for anything in return, and we feel the need for that to be recognized. I was always taught that you need to be good to the community that is good to you, and I hope that I am able to impress that upon my children one day.
Partner, Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough LLC
Education: Bachelor of Science, Erskine College; J.D. Valparaiso University School of Law
Family: Dori, wife; Callie, daughter; Ayla, niece
Community and professional highlights: I began practicing law with Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough LLP in 2009 and was elected partner in 2016. In 2015, I received Nelson Mullins’ Claude M. Scarborough, Jr. Award for an outstanding commitment and contribution to pro bono work. In 2016, I was certified by the South Carolina Supreme Court as a specialist in bankruptcy/debtor-creditor law. In 2018, I was recognized by the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges in its Next Generation Program. In 2019, I was invited to join the J. Bratton Davis Bankruptcy American Inn of Court.
In the community, I graduated from the United Way of the Midlands’ Blueprint for Leadership program in 2015, and serve as vice president of the board of directors for Central SC Habitat for Humanity Inc. I volunteer as a trial competition judge for the middle and high school mock trial programs through the S.C. Bar Association. I am a member of Eastminster Presbyterian Church.
What saying do you live by? Why? “Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.”
My wife and I have been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss lately. This reminds me that not every day is good and life doesn’t always go as planned. However, life goes on, and these disappointments and challenges help me appreciate when times are good.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is large enough to have everything you need and small enough to still feel like a community.
My life changed when: My daughter was born six months ago. Having a child changes every single aspect of your life: your goals change, your sleep patterns change, your finances change, your sleep patterns change, your outlook changes, your sleep patterns change, your priorities change and your sleep patterns change.
In your law practice, you take on guardianship and custody cases pro bono. Why? Every South Carolina lawyer makes an oath to “assist the defenseless or oppressed by ensuring that justice is available to all citizens.” Not many more people are more defenseless than children and vulnerable, incapacitated adults. Plus, for someone who typically represents corporations, it just feels good to help an actual person without an expectation for anything in return.
Robyn Fisher Rogers
Project architect, Quackenbush Architects + Planners
Education: Clemson University, Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, 2006; North Carolina State University, Master of Architecture, 2010
Family: Husband, Kirk Rogers, and we are expecting our first child, a boy, in April
Community and professional highlights: Registered Architect, since 2013; LEED Green Associate, since 2009; project architect for a number of Midlands Projects including University of South Carolina football operations center, Lexington County Baseball Stadium, Columbia and Dreher High School athletic field improvements, and Rosewood Elementary School library addition; American Institute of Architects (AIA), member since 2010; AIA Greater Columbia Section President, 2015; AIA South Carolina Chapter Communications Chair, since 2016; Junior League of Columbia, member since 2012; Leadership Columbia Graduate, Class of 2016; Leadership Columbia Alumni Association, 2016-2018; Washington Street United Methodist Church, member; City of Columbia’s PARK(ing)Day, participant, 2016, 2018
What saying do you live by? Why? “Bloom where you are planted” (1 Corinthians 7:20-24)
Sometimes life hands you the unexpected, and though it may feel tough or unfair in the moment, I am a believer that if you try your hardest to stay optimistic, enthusiastic, keep a smile on your face and truly try to take advantage of every opportunity, you will one day understand that though it may not have been your plan, it was the best plan for you!
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? Apart from going away to college, I have lived in the Midlands all my life. The area has changed so much in the last 10 years, and I have loved seeing that transformation firsthand. The downtown Columbia area has new life with housing, restaurants, businesses, farmers markets and sporting events. It is now a destination.
Additionally, as an architect, there is something very special about having the opportunity to design buildings and spaces for a city and community that helped raise you.
My life changed when: In the fall of 2012, I passed my final architectural registration exam allowing me to become a licensed architect – something I had worked towards for almost 10 years — and I also met my now husband, all within about a week of each other. These two moments changed my life in the best way possible.
What is PARK(ing) Day and why are you involved with it? PARK(ing) Day is an annual event that encourages community members, students and designers to transform metered parking spaces into temporary parks or green spaces.
My co-workers and I originally got involved with PARK(ing) Day because we saw it as an opportunity for transformation. A way to take something as ordinary and mundane as a parking space — used for one car at a time — and transform it into a space that promoted social interaction as well as a healthier, more sustainable urban space, used by a group of people/community.
Robert H. Sanders Jr.
Founder and president of Preferred Specialty, LLC
Education: University of South Carolina, Darla Moore School of Business, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a double major in marketing, and insurance and risk management, 2002
Family: Wife, Rachel Sanders, and daughters, Addison, 11, and Anna Claire, 9
Community and professional highlights: For the past 15 years, Preferred Specialty LLC has been a local, excess and surplus lines wholesale broker that provides specialty insurance products to our retail insurance agency partners. We represent many domestic and international insurance companies including Lloyd’s of London.
I am very active in many insurance industry organizations and served on the National Board of the Wholesale Specialty Insurance Association from 2017 to 2018. I was recognized by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of South Carolina as the group’s 2015 Industry Person of the Year. In 2014, I was featured in Insurance Business America’s Young Guns edition, which highlighted rising young insurance professionals around the country. I received the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation in 2007 and the Associate in Surplus Lines Insurance Designation in 2005. I support USC’s Risk Management and Insurance program by guest speaking to the students, mentoring and providing internship opportunities.
I am actively serving on the JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) Executive Board, and Preferred Specialty is very active in fundraising for our JDRF Walk Team. I am an active member of Shandon United Methodist Church, and I serve on the Lifeline Committee. For the past three years, I have enjoyed coaching both of my daughters’ church league basketball teams.
What saying do you live by? Why? My grandmother would always say “Love one another,” and I have further applied that as treating people the way you would want to be treated. My father taught me about having integrity. So in my personal life and in business, I live by treating people fairly and doing the right thing even when no one is looking.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I am proud to call Columbia my home and have lived here my entire life. I love history, and Columbia is filled with many unique historical places. Columbia is a great place to raise a family and for my children to grow up. I love living and working in Forest Acres, and I am excited about all the new development happening around the city.
My life changed when: My life definitely changed when I started my family and my daughters were born. Rachel and I are blessed to have two daughters who are talented in so many ways. I love coaching their basketball teams at Shandon United Methodist Church and enjoy watching them perform in shows at Town Theatre.
Why is your work with the JDRF important? I got involved with JDRF to support my wife who has been living with Type 1 Diabetes for 25 years. Preferred Specialty sponsors a Walk Team in honor of Rachel, and we have been awarded the Top Corporate Newcomer Team in 2017 and grew to become the second overall Corporate Walk Team in 2018.
I serve on JDRF’s Executive Board, and I have seen firsthand the incredible progress in recent years in caring for those with Type 1. JDRF has been responsible for those advancements, and we work hard to raise important research dollars. There will be a cure one day, and JDRF will be the driving force behind turning Type One into Type None!
Benjamin Oneal Staples
Business banker/assistant vice president, Ameris Bank
Education: Coastal Carolina University, Master of Business Administration, graduated in the inaugural class; University of South Carolina Aiken, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, finance
Family: Wife, Jennifer Staples, April will be our 10-year anniversary; son, Wyatt Staples, 6; daughter, Nealy Staples, 3
Community and professional highlights: Business banker, assistant vice president, Ameris Bank; Leadership Lexington County, board member; South Carolina Young Bankers Division, board member, served as golf tournament chair, 2018; Rotary Club of Lexington, member, served as golf tournament committee member, 2017-current, RotaryFest Committee member, 2017-current; Building Industry Association of Central SC, Ambassadors Club member; Leadership Lexington County, class of 2018 and class treasurer; South Carolina Bankers School, class president and graduate class of 2015; Junior Achievement of Greater SC, volunteer, 2018-current; Lexington Elementary School Youth Mentor/Guys with Ties program through F3, 2018-current; Radius Rocky Creek, partner; Lexington Chamber of Commerce, member
What saying do you live by? Why? “Those who have the ability; have the responsibility” — National Treasurer, 2004
It may be a quote out of a movie but it has always stuck with me. Each person’s individual radius may comprise of their home or extend outward to their neighborhood, community, etc. I think those who have the ability to make their radius better, have the responsibility to do so. Our community improves when individuals come together to volunteer, help or lead to make our radius better each day.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? Most certainly the quality of life. Boating on Lake Murray, dining in Columbia, kayaking down the Saluda River, attending concerts at the Lexington Amphitheater, award-winning school districts, Carolina sporting events (Go Gamecocks!), two-hour drive to both the beaches and mountains of our state … the list just goes on. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
My life changed when: I have never had that “ah ha” moment where my life changed but there is not doubt it changed for the better when I met my wife. I spend a lot of time outside of the house with work and the different organizations I am a part of. I am able to spend time serving my community because Jenn is a super mom at home with our kids. She is no doubt the fuel that keeps our house and family running. She will occasionally go out of town for her job, and when she does, it is basic survival time at home for the kids and I until she returns.
What is “Guys with Ties,” and why is that work important? Guys with Ties is a mentorship at Lexington Elementary School through the men’s exercise group F3. Guys from F3 came together to volunteer at Lexington Elementary and tabbed our group, Guys with Ties, as we all get dressed up with ties when we meet. There is no curriculum, we just meet and talk about life, school, troubles, fears. The goal is accountability. We try and be accountable to each young man we meet with to show up every week and let him know that other than his parents and teachers – he has someone he can count on.
David E. Turner
Director of Music and Worship, Ebenezer Lutheran Church; Artistic Director for Patrons and Friends of the Arts at Ebenezer Inc.
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Presbyterian College
Family: Partner, Mitchell Goldsmith
Community and professional highlights: Currently, I serve on the board of directors for Midlands Arts Conservatory; Bboard of directors for the S.C. Philharmonic: Education Committee chair; S.C. Philharmonic, president of the Crescendo Society in Columbia. I also serve on the marketing committee for City Center Partnership. I’m a graduate of the 2018 class of Leadership South Carolina and a proud recipient of the Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout award
What saying do I live by? “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also what you do not say.” – Martin Luther
In the faith/arts-based profession, the line between speaking your mind and keeping the peace is often blurred. One can never fully imagine what situations will arise with a call to serve others — others who are often marginalized and dismissed. I believe Martin Luther offers us a challenge to search within ourselves and be willing to risk stepping out of our comfort zone so that another life is enriched, if not changed, by your voice.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I’m energized to be living in a community that values tradition, while fully embracing the changes that a healthy future holds. For example, the revitalization on South Carolina’s Main Street exemplifies a community that leads in historical appreciation, economic vibrancy and encouragement for local trade while accommodating, seeking and supporting new trends and ideas. Plus, who doesn’t love being two hours from the coast or the mountains?
My life changed when: I would say that I experience moments of change unexpectedly. We each have a story, and I’m changed for the better when I hear someone retell their own experiences, especially when the arts have played a role in their transformation. I’m changed by teachers who quietly find ways to provide some of the most basic needs for their students, which stretch far beyond the curriculum. I’m changed when I walk around Columbia and hear live music while admiring perfectly restored, historical architecture. I believe change does not always come in a lightning bolt, or like the wisp of a feather.
Why are you involved with the Midlands Arts Conservatory? The Midlands Arts Conservatory was pioneered over a decade ago through individual leadership, community involvement and the support South Carolina. MAC is a non-audition based, public charter school for the arts in the Midlands. The original leadership’s passion for arts education is something I, too, believe in. Accessibility to arts education is needed because it is a fundamental learning tool. I’ve seen experiences in the arts assist a child/student transcend the struggles of their family’s day-to-day living to accomplish meaningful and measurable achievements. Through artistic performance and expression, students, parents, grandparents and members of a community can gather together, away from the many distractions of daily living, to nurture and celebrate social, academic and personal growth. I feel privileged to be a part of students’ lives as they’ve grow in confidence as the result of opportunities to be seen and valued as a performer; be it as a dancer, singer or artist. I look forward to continuing to open doors, remove barriers and secure funding to ensure that those I serve, and those that follow, will continue to find and enjoy artist opportunities in which to thrive and inspire.
James K. Winfield
Assistant director for faculty development/University 101 programs, University of South Carolina
Education: Bachelor of Arts, mass communication, 2008, Auburn University; Master of Education, higher education administration, 2010, Auburn University; pursuing a doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction at the University of South Carolina, anticipated graduation 2021
Family: Wife, Porshia; son, K.J., 15 months
Community and professional highlights: University of South Carolina, co-chair, Professional Development Team, 2015-2017; co-chair, Family Fund Campaign, current; University 101 instructor, current; Invited Faculty for the Institute on First Generation College Students current; National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, New Professionals Institute and Mid-Managers Institute graduate; Faculty for Dungy Leadership Institute, 2018; representative for Socioeconomic and Class Issues, current; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Omicron Iota Lambda Chapter, vice president, current; co-chair, Alpha Academy Program, 2017; Brother of the Year, 2018; and S.C. Outstanding Alumni Brother, 2018
What saying do you live by? Why? “The dream is free but the hustle is sold separately.”
Big ideas are great, who you know is also good. But nothing negates hard work. This combined with the ability to communicate effectively and work with others are how real accomplishments take place. Working in higher education, I take pride in seeing the end goal of how efforts positively impact students, and not dwelling on who receives the credit.
What do you like most about living in the Midlands? I have seen the Midlands grow significantly since my arrival here in 2012, particularly in areas such as the Vista, West Columbia and Northeast. My wife and I enjoy supporting the local businesses, markets and thriving food scene. Previously I lived in a small college town and everything was centered around the neighboring college. Columbia is a bit different being the capital city.
My life changed when: There are a few key milestones to choose from: first marrying my wife Porshia, secondly, moving to Columbia and making this place our new home. Most recently, the birth of my son, K.J. His arrival immediately lit a fire under me to pursue professional goals and start my doctoral work. Through him and the unwavering love and support of my wife, I have a newfound focus to be better and do more as an example for him to see.
How has being in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. influenced you? Being in a prominent alumni chapter of this great organization affords me the opportunity to participate in community engagement and youth mentorship. Distinguished members such as the late Dr. Martin Luther King have influenced me to become a member of Alpha. This brotherhood has served a significant role in my engagement and growth in the Columbia community. The aims of this fraternity, manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind align with my core values and guide my involvement.