What brings a hometown Huntsville girl, Grissom High School and UAH grad back to Huntsville?
It’s been a long circuitous route back. When I was in my twenties I couldn’t wait to leave and now three decades later, I’m so excited to be here. Huntsville has certainly changed since I packed up a U-Haul and drove West. I’ve been back many times, but in the past few years, the pull to come back home has gotten stronger. Part of that is due to family and part of the lure has been the growth and changes I’ve seen happening in Huntsville and surrounding area over the past few years.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I brought my San Diego native husband Kim for a visit and his entrepreneurial wheels started churning. He sees the same potential for growth in Huntsville, a small town poised for big things, that he saw in San Diego twenty to thirty years ago. And, he too is excited to be a part of Huntsville’s future. That’s the short version. For those of you who want to know more, here's the longer version of why Huntsville, why now and why a magazine called Huntsville Life.
Sandra’s Part of the Story
Shortly after graduating from UAH, I married and headed west to the University of Utah for graduate school. It was a grand adventure, which at the time I thought would only last a few years. But, my late husband’s career as an academic kept us hopscotching from Utah, to South Carolina, to North Carolina, finally landing us in Phoenix, Arizona.
Those eight years in the desert were the longest of my life. People were very reserved. The landscape and the fake “lakes” that surrounded our home in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix, were not very inviting. Even the unrelenting sunshine began to feel oppressive after a year or two. The only bright spot was that our son Nic thrived there, becoming a star fencer in high school, graduating with honors and heading off to college on track to complete his undergraduate degree in three short years. At the end of Nic’s freshman year, we found out his father had pancreatic cancer. Nic returned home, and together we cared for Bud during the progression of his illness. It was a very difficult time for us all.
After Bud passed, I needed a project. Something to help me emerge from 15 months of caregiving and get me back out into the world. A student of history and American religion, working on a Ph.D. I decided to travel around the country and visit a different church every Sunday for a year. When I set out to work on Fifty-Two Sundays, my father said, “You know San, this book will change your life.” I didn’t realize at the time how very prophetic that statement would be...
Kim’s Part of the Story
I am a rare native of San Diego. Sandra likes to joke that my childhood and teen years are straight out of a Gidget movie. And, she wouldn’t be far off. When I wasn’t working, I spent weekends and summers surfing and hanging out at the beach with friends. After I graduated from high school, I was ready to experience life outside of California, so I headed to the University of Colorado, Boulder where I traded surfing for skiing, and where they play what my lovely wife calls “baby football.” I’ve learned since marrying an Alabama girl that any team outside of the SEC “isn’t worth watching.”
During college, I worked for my uncle’s photography studio and became a decent, but not gifted photographer. After college, I headed to Washington, where I was privileged to serve first as a member of the Reagan inauguration team. Full disclosure my mother Marge was a legislative aide to U.S. Congressman Bob Wilson for thirty years, so Mom got me a job working for the RNC, which then lead to my time with the Department of Commerce during the Reagan administration.
I was grateful for my time in Washington. I met politicians, celebrities, authors, and spent just enough time there to know that I didn’t want a life in politics. Shortly after returning to San Diego, I was offered a job in publishing and I haven’t looked back. For thirty plus years, I’ve been involved in publications for a variety of markets. The work kept me traveling, taking me around the Pacific Rim, to Alaska, and all over the United States. In the 1980s, I even spent time in Montgomery, right about the time Sandra was graduating from college.
After my mother was diagnosed with dementia, I returned home to be near her and help ease her through the final phase of her life. I am honored to have had that time to get to know her not just as Mom but also as "Marge." When I came off the road, I folded my publishing consulting business into San Diego Magazine and then later moved on to San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine. During all this, I remained a very happy, dedicated bachelor…
On June 9, 2013 Sandra visited La Jolla Lutheran church in San Diego while working on her book 52 Sundays. While chatting with Marie, the church’s matriarch, she noticed a very handsome man sitting at a nearby table. But when a tall beautifully dressed California blond came in and draped her arms around his neck, she assume it was his wife and lost interest. Eventually, Mr. Handsome made his way over to Sandra and Marie and began asking questions about her project.
Sandra: “To be honest, I found him a bit arrogant, so as soon as I could, I graciously moved on and headed into the sanctuary.”
Kim: “When I heard she was working on a book, I thought oh boy, another writer working on a book, just what the world needs."
Sandra: “I went into the sanctuary and started taking notes. When services began, I heard this amazing deep voice coming from the front of the church. I was surprised to see it was Mr. Handsome. He’d swapped his blue blazer for cantor robes. Throughout the service, I watched him help the young guest pastor who was struggling under the weight of his first pastoral appearance. When church was over Mr. Handsome made his way to the back of the church and asked how I liked the service. I told him, Honestly, it was rough, but I appreciated your enthusiasm and care of the visiting pastor.”
Kim: “I found Sandra so warm and engaging after service. We talked for 45 minutes and by the time she was ready to leave, I was smitten.”
Sandra: “After thanking everyone for allowing me to join them for service I made my way to the door. Kim approached me as I was leaving. I thought he was going to ask me another question about my project.”
Kim: “I knew I had one chance to make a connection with this woman who in a very short time had captured my interest and my heart. So, I asked her if she had a boyfriend.”
Sandra: “Who has a boyfriend at my age? I’d recently lost my husband and having a boyfriend was the last thing on my mind. My plan was to finish the book and find a teaching job at a small college and live a very quiet life. But as Kim likes to say, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’ Kim flipped out a business card and said, ‘Give me a call sometime.’ Totally flustered, I dug in my bag for my card and gave it to him, ‘You’re welcome to call me!’ And I was out the door as quick as I could go.”
That night we connected over Facebook. We’d both done a bit of Facebook stalking and when his message popped up I was surprised and a bit giddy. We spent months emailing, texting, and calling. Although I was traveling for the book, I managed to make a few trips back to California and by September, we both knew we were in love. For Kim it was a big step. A lifelong bachelor, he did something he never thought he’d do. After a three-month courtship and a call to my folks, he got down on one knee and proposed. We were married that December, six months after we met, in the church where it all started.
Kim had inherited his family home in San Diego and we spent months renovating the lovely 1960s mid-century modern into our home – a mix of mid-century and southern style to create our “forever house.” He came with me to Alabama for family visits and in March on a visit to Huntsville, we noticed two things – my parents were slowing down a bit and Huntsville was booming. When we married, Kim knew there would be a time when I would want to return home and be close to my family. He’d taken care of his own mother after she was diagnosed with dementia and while my parents are in great shape for their age, spending time with family was becoming increasingly important to me. My son Nic had recently moved to Alabama to attend graduate school, so it just made sense that this is where I needed to be. On that visit, Kim asked to see Huntsville’s city magazine. Given the growth and vibrancy of the city, he was sure Huntsville had an established magazine of its own. Most cities over 250,000 have a lifestyle magazine. The family showed him a number of publications, many of them good, but most only serving a narrow niche.
After returning to San Diego and doing some research of his own, Kim announced that he thought Huntsville was perfectly poised for a lifestyle magazine modeled on some of his favorite publications, “A little Garden & Gun, similar to Sonoma magazine and B-Metro.”
After a house hunting trip guided by one of the best realtors we’ve ever worked with, Alice Battle of Keller Williams Realty, we found a dream home on five-acres in Madison. The house was much bigger than we were looking for but the extra room and the grounds will make great event venues for the magazine and for the writing retreats Sandra hosts a few times a year for the authors she works with in her other job as a literary agent. We’ve named the property Story Tree Farm.
We couldn’t be more excited to be here, to be investing in Huntsville, the magazine and this new phase of our life. We hope you all will enjoy what we are creating and join us in our new venture! Watch for the print edition of the magazine coming in spring of 2017 and for the launch party at Story Tree Farm.