From the private Members Club on the Atlantic Ocean to beautiful, planned developments on the Intracoastal Waterway, Grande Dunes is the complete package. Sasee asked Genie and Steve Leonard and Doug and Maureen Ralph to share a little about what life is like in this idyllic resort community.
My Winding Path to Life in Grande Dunes, by Genie Leonard
I was born in Mobile, Alabama to a Methodist minister who served large downtown churches in Mobile, Montgomery, and Charlotte. My father’s church, Dexter Avenue Methodist, in Montgomery, was diagonal to Martin Luther King’s old church. We lived there in the ‘60s, a time of great unrest in the country. My father became a leader in the civil rights movement among the clergy in the Alabama/West Florida Conference. His courage and integrity to stand up for human and civil rights was truly amazing, resulting in our lives being threatened. The legacy he and my mom left us has been a driving force in my life ever since.
Both of my parents had beautiful trained voices and both played the piano. I clearly remember Dad playing “Rhapsody in Blue” while Mom was making dinner. They were both well educated and well traveled, and their love of music, art and literature led them to raise me and my brother and sister in a “Renaissance” tradition. We were all exposed to art, literature, music and dance. If Dad had a meeting at night, one of us would go with Mom to the opera or ballet or symphony, establishing an early love and appreciation for the arts. This exposure was meant to enhance our lives, not to encourage us to pursue careers in these fields. For me, fortunately or unfortunately, I really took to it and ended up pursuing a career in music and drama. I graduated from CSUN in Louisiana, with a BA in voice (opera). I parlayed that into musical theater, concerts, film, TV, national commercials and print. I am a member of SAG/AFTRA and AEA. I am a lyric soprano and have worked in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and North Carolina.
I met my husband, Steve, in Winston-Salem, after I moved there from New York City. My first husband, also an actor and agent, died very suddenly when our son was a year old. I stayed in the city for a while, but found it increasingly hard to single parent there. The cost for a full time house keeper, plus rent, plus not being able to spend the time I wanted with my little son led me to make the move to North Carolina, closer to my mom and very close to my older sister. That way, when I was doing a show or on location, Aunt Anne could take care of my son, Jordan. I met Steve through our son’s soccer team. He has two boys that are close to my son’s age. Ultimately, we ended up blending our families and will celebrate 23 years of marriage on April 6th next year.
We found Grande Dunes by fluke. We vacationed in Myrtle Beach for several years with three other couples. The guys were Steve’s fraternity brothers, and they played golf during our trips, but the women did not. Since I love the game, Steve always found a way to get me down to Myrtle Beach a few days early to play some golf. On one of these trips, we played the Member’s Course and the Resort Course in Grande Dunes. I loved the layout of the courses and the Mediterranean vibe of the houses. Prior to this, when I thought about Myrtle Beach, I thought about beach stores, the beaches in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, and all you can eat overly fried seafood!
When we started thinking about retirement, we knew we wanted to be near good golf, have pretty consistent weather, have access to the ocean and live in a great community. We looked at Charleston, Charlotte, and Wilmington, but kept coming back to Grande Dunes: great golf, access to the Ocean Club, a gorgeous gated community and more. We revisited Grand Dunes, and went in a model house on Serena Drive. We loved it, and I wrote a first refusal check. We ended up taking an early retirement, and sold our historic home in Washington DC where Steve was the COO at Zuckerman Spaeder, a boutique law firm that specialized in white collar crime. I moved here in September 2017 and Steve followed the next year.
When I first got here, I jumped into everything. I went to all of the parties at the Member’s Club, played golf with the women on ladies days, joined First United Methodist Church, and more. By the time Steve got here, I had a group of buddies including church friends, golf friends, and social friends. He jumped in by getting elected to the Golf Village Board. I love that Grande Dunes has literally something for everyone. There is a travel club, book club, gym, tennis, golf, bridge group, and trivia night, just to name a few. I also like that many people in Grande Dunes are involved in giving back to the community. There are a lot of privileged people here, and I think that it’s important to help those less fortunate. A lot of poverty exists in our area, and it is easy to become very insulated if you don’t have an opportunity to stay connected.
Steve and I both like that everyone is basically a transplant. The people at Grande Dunes bring with them a wealth of different backgrounds, experiences, and careers. You might say that we got here in the same boat. (Sorry, bad pun!) All this being said, the most important thing we all should remember when moving anywhere, is that you will probably get back from a community what you put in. I always have high expectations, and I approach every new opportunity with that attitude. People are already set with friends, they aren’t being rude when they don’t respond, they are just comfortable. Therefore you have to get involved and put yourself in close proximity so that you have an opportunity to connect with people through shared interests.
The one thing that every place I have lived has in common…ME. I make sure that every house and place we live in becomes “home.” That it is a place infused with warmth, good friends, humor, sense of humor, and flexibility…Grande Dunes!
Golf, Tennis, but Most of All, Family: Doug and Maureen Ralph
Eight year residents of Grande Dunes, Doug and Maureen both grew up in the Northeast – and by the time they reached high school, both lived in the small town of Ellenville, New York. “This was a small community,” Doug remembered. “There was a single school building with the high school on one side and kindergarten on the other. Maureen’s dad was principal of the high school and my father was athletic director.” The two met, and a high school romance soon became a life-long love.
“We went to separate colleges, but after college we were married, and I took a job with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, where we lived for 21 years, except for five years in Europe, where we lived in Germany and Sweden.” After leaving Procter & Gamble, Doug and Maureen moved to Philadelphia, where he served as CFO of two different public companies before retiring at 52. Then the couple started looking for their dream retirement home.
“We vacationed in Myrtle Beach with family for years,” Doug told me when I asked what brought him to the Grand Strand area. “We drew up a short list of places to check out and Maureen visited Myrtle Beach with a friend while I was working.” Grande Dunes had everything Doug and Maureen were looking for and the couple built their home in Golf Village, a neighborhood just over the beautiful arched bridge spanning the Intracoastal Waterway.
“I play golf or tennis almost every day,” Doug told me. Maureen chimed in, laughing, and told me she does play golf, but not nearly as much as Doug! An athlete from an early age, Doug has enjoyed being able to play as much golf and tennis as he likes since moving to Grande Dunes.
“We are two miles from the ocean, which we love. We have an active social life in the neighborhood, access to good restaurants and entertainment, a good airport, an ideal climate, great medical care and, most importantly, a place our kids and grandkids enjoy visiting.” The Ralphs have three children and five grandchildren. Their oldest daughter lives in Washington DC with her military husband, their only son lived in Denver, Colorado, but much to the delight of his parents, recently moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Ralph and Maureen’s youngest daughter lives in Chicago, and teaches high school math, but is still able to visit often. “We would always like more visits, but they do come frequently,” Doug said. “The kids love to swim in the pool.”
“There really is no other neighborhood in the area with private beach access,” Maureen began. “And we love sampling the local restaurants.” Doug chimed in with his favorite, Scatories, a locally owned Italian restaurant.
“I think because we vacationed here we have happy memories and associate those happy times with the area. And our kids love to visit and know the area.” Maureen continued, thoughtfully, “It makes it home. The people here are mostly retired, and very friendly. We met people right away. Everyone is from somewhere else. It’s sort of like college; you meet people who are in the same boat.”
“Maureen refers to Myrtle Beach as her happy place,” Doug said as we finished our chat. “We travel quite a bit, and it is always a great feeling when we arrive back at the Myrtle Beach Airport, we are always happy to be back. We have a wonderful life filled with family, friends and things we enjoy doing.”