Deep Roots

Photo by Beau Kester

Three families share why they chose Savannah.

 

Photo by Beau Kester

Kenny and Brandy Lee are engineers, patent examiners, Baldwin Park fixtures since 2014, St. Andrew’s devotees and parents to Kenneth III (7), Carter (3) and Zadie Harper (18 months).

Emily Testa: Brandy, did you ever think you’d be raising your own family in Savannah?

Brandy Lee: I think subconsciously I did. I graduated from Jenkins, then from Vanderbilt moved to D.C. and started working. As soon as the patent office decided to offer a telework program, I joked about moving back and living at my grandma’s house. Now here we are, four blocks down the street from her. 

Kenny Lee: When we’d visit for holidays I’d be intrigued by the real estate.

BL: And that’s when family comes in. My sister’s here, and she has two girls and a boy, so we try to go and do things together. Seeing it all through their eyes is fun. It’s sort of a Hallmark childhood for my kids, and technology has us informed about what’s going on. Southern Mamas was so helpful when I first moved back.

ET: Has there been a particular moment that made you glad you’re raising your kids in Savannah?

KL: I’d say being a part of the school community at St. Andrews. The environment reminds me of what I knew growing up in Spain as a military kid. It’s small, all the parents know each other and the kids have healthy competition. Nobody wanted to be the person who got a B. I can already see that with Tré and his friends.

BL: Even though we have a family, I’m obsessed with Kenny and I still being ourselves, and every time I speak something into the universe here, a door opens. Even this house — I wanted something older when we moved back. The two things I wanted were a front porch with a swing and a clawfoot tub. The fact that it had those things was enough.

ET: What’s your favorite room?

BL: The dining room, though I haven’t hosted a holiday yet. Since I had two babies back to back.

KL: I love the TV room because that’s where my art is; Tré’s music room in the attic is a close second.

ET: What’s been the most fun part, so far, of your life with kids here?

KL: There’s more culture here than I thought there would be. The SCAD Museum of Art, the Jepson, the film festival, the music festivals.

BL: We’re engineers, but we like music, movies, art, theater. That’s what connects us as people and keeps our marriage healthy.

KL: Our kids growing up around the things we love — it gives them a global view and lets them know how much is out there. When I grew up it was either basketball or TV.

Photo by Beau Kester

Siblings Ivan Chow (father of three and Harvard-educated architect, seminary graduate, former dean of the SCAD School of Building Arts, now artist-in-residence at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater) and Grace Grund (mother of four and assistant director of alumni programs at SCAD, classical dancer, former purveyor of Fair Trade chocolate) have spent a lifetime adding feathers to their caps. Now, together with their spouses and kids, they call Savannah home.

Emily Testa: After growing up in a dynamic family like yours, was it important to you that your own kids felt close to each other, and to their cousins?

Grace Grund: Absolutely. It’s something Ivan and I both have strong feelings about, and we work hard at it. We wanted our children to feel close, to know each other.

Ivan Chow: It’s amazing how tightly knit they are.

ET: Tell me a bit about how you ended up in Savannah.

IC: It starts with our mom. Maybe ten years ago, I found a pile of diaries our mother had written — she documented how she’d petitioned her father to allow her to study in America. Long story short, she got a scholarship to study at Agnes Scott College. She started in January 1950. Then she met our dad. He used to drive 600 miles round trip —

GG: From Illinois to Decatur, every weekend!

IC: They ended up getting married and then traipsing around the whole world, and six years ago I moved here, and it’s so symbolic. We’ve come full circle, back to Georgia, where our family essentially began. 

ET: Grace, when you were coming here to visit Ivan, what made you think this was a place that you could live?

GG: Well, it’s beautiful. And I was seeking a different pace, and I was ready for a different kind of adventure. My husband’s family is from Florida and Georgia, so he was very into the idea. Instead of moving to a place to retire, we thought this was a place where we could live and work for a while, and it’s a great place to retire too.

ET: And then you found the house.

GG: I lived with Ivan for six months while I looked in Ardsley Park and the Victorian District, and then I landed here in Baldwin Park. It felt the most to me like Berkeley, like Montclair. It’s a Craftsman, built in 1915.

IC: You know, what you’ve done is you’ve transplanted your personality into this house. Within a few months it looked just like every other place you’ve ever lived.

ET: Is the house filled with family things?

IC: Yes. The only way our father would leave his house after Mom passed away is if we took everything. We spent weeks dividing everything by four. 

GG: I took the furniture.

IC: I took the archives.

GG: And the elephants — Ivan has two giant elephant statues from our mom’s ancestral home in Singapore.

IC: They’re solid granite, 130 pounds each. She arranged for them to be shipped to California back in 1975, and they moved around to every house my parents lived in. When we were going through her things, I knew the elephants had to go somewhere.

ET: And what did you do with the archives?

IC: I wrote a book, starting with our paternal grandfather, who was born in 1893 and spent fifty years as a Methodist minister and missionary. Then I found decades of our mom’s diary transcriptions, and self-published a book of them just for our family. Then I found another treasure trove of little stories she wrote about how and why she came to America, and that became another book. So we have this growing library of books and records that are giving context to the greater picture of our family. I hope my kids and Grace’s kids will rely on it one day, to see where they fit in the grand scheme of things — where they come from, and where they belong.

GG: My brother calls it a gravitational pull, but we’re hoping that with both of us here in Savannah, our children will have double the reason to come and see us.

IC: When we moved here, our kids had a moment of wondering, where’s home? Savannah became a new territory we all explored together.

GG: I once read that children gain independence by knowing that they can depend. We raised ours to know they could completely depend on us — on the family, on knowing they could come home and be present — and now they’re off and doing their own things. And I’m having my own adventure, too. 

Photo by Beau Kester

Nate and Maggie Fuller bought Starland Dairy in 2012 and moved here four years later with three kids in tow. Helping to write the next chapter of a historic Savannah neighborhood is no small task, but the Fullers and their cover-star crew (Anna, 8, Malin, 6, and Oscar, 3) are taking it all in stride.

ET: Where did you guys meet?

Maggie Fuller: At Cornell, at a party. After college, I moved back to New York, and Nate moved down to Tybee. 

Nate Fuller: I grew up in Oregon, and then my parents bought a house on Tybee. My mom taught in Chatham County schools for twenty years. The house is old, from the 1930s, and it’s a couple blocks from the beach. 

MF: For years this was our vacation destination, and his parents were really smart — they purposely bought a house near the beach knowing their family would come and see them. They redid the kitchen, built a chicken coop, and made an awesome room with a bunch of bunkbeds for all the grandkids.

ET: How many grandkids total?

NF: Three … six … eight in total. 

MF: We head out there most weekends, and as soon as we cross that bridge, it’s totally a reset for us.

ET: What finally spurred the decision move to Savannah full-time?

MF: We had three kids, and we were in East Harlem. We’d bought the Starland Dairy a few years before, and we didn’t know exactly what it would be, but the core was always something revolving around food and beverage. We loved the idea of having something that we could create together, and we loved the idea of living somewhere we could make a difference, or an impact. We wanted to show our children what it means to create something. 

NF: It felt like we could have more creative energy here, too.

ET: Savannah needs that energy. There’s still so much headroom that doesn’t exist anymore in other places. 

MF: Yes, and that was so appealing — to contribute and be a part of Savannah’s next phase. 

ET: You’ve lived in Savannah a year and a half. Do you feel settled in? 

MF: Mostly, yes. We moved right into our house in Ardsley, Oscar is in preschool at St. Paul’s and the girls are at Susie King Taylor. We have tangerines and bananas growing in our backyard — I’ll never get over that.  

ET: What has surprised you about being here?

NF: We feel welcome. Being outsiders and developers, you never know what the reaction will be, and right away we met neighbors and made friends.

MF: I feel so grateful for the awesome people in our lives, many of them families we met through the kids’ schools. By virtue of our association with the dairy, we’ve been exposed to such a cool group of business owners and residents in Starland. We thought people might have preconceived notions, but the truth is that so many people already felt connected to the space. I’ve met so many people who remember getting Starland Dairy milk delivered, or went on class trips here. This building is really important, given its history in Savannah, and it’s so important to us to honor that. It’s an exciting time to be there, and we feel so fortunate to have been so warmly received by the neighborhood. 

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