Madelon Wallace, my broker, named Realtor of the Year

Madelon Wallace at Fairview racetrack

For her longstanding efforts to preserve the rural beauty of the Carolina Foothills Upstate area, most recently when it was threatened by Duke Energy’s plans to construct high power transmission lines, Madelon Wallace was named the 2015 Realtor of the Year.

The honor was bestowed by the 500-plus member Hendersonville Board of Realtors at its annual banquet December 19th.

Wallace is broker-in-charge and co-owner of Walker, Wallace & Emerson Realty (WWE) in Landrum, SC.

“Madelon has a passion about selling real estate that goes beyond most,” said presenter Cindy Viehman, a broker with Tryon Foothills Realty.  “She considers it a privilege to introduce others to the unique quality of life that drew her here years ago. She has worked hard to protect and conserve over 2,100 acres of beautiful land from future development.”

“Wallace’s latest fight for preservation began this summer when almost 4,000 property owners in Henderson, Polk, Buncombe, Greenville and Spartanburg counties received letters from Duke Energy notifying them that their property fell along one of the potential routes being considered for their new transmission line,” Viehman said.

“Madelon knew immediately that this proposed 45-mile high-voltage transmission line would have a huge negative impact on our area and she quickly rolled up her sleeves.”

In an interview last week, Wallace remembered that moment last summer and her reaction.

“I knew we had to make Duke understand we are not a fragmented area out in the country – that we are four towns located in three counties and two states, but we are one economic area. We had to make them understand that they were getting ready to kill our area’s economy by destroying the environment it depends on.”

“We are a viable economy here,” Wallace said. “In the past, we spent years (in local civic and economic development groups) looking for an industry to come here that would not negatively affect the area’s ecology.  We finally said, instead, let’s look at our strengths — horses, wineries, tourism, agriculture and retirement — and build on them.”

“When we organized to tell our story this year, Duke heard us,” Wallace said. “They got a picture of the area, and realized what they were proposing was not in the best interest of the community and would devastate our economy.”

But getting to that point took work.

It was partly by happenstance that Wallace was one of the very first to recognize the looming disaster. Mickey Hambright, one of the agents in her office, got a letter from Duke saying his property was affected. He told Wallace, and he started calling neighbors.

Within days, neighbors in Greenspace of Fairview, Caroland Farms, Golden Hills and the Collinsville area were huddling up and asking what they could do.

WWE administrative assistant Dulcie Juenger posted it all on Facebook and WWE started receiving phone calls. Juenger began placing pins on a map in the WWE office to figure out the proposed routes — days before Duke Power put up detailed maps on its Western Carolinas Modernization Project website.

A large meeting was called for July 18 and hundreds gathered at the Foothills Community Chapel on Landrum Road in Columbus, galvanizing and uniting the community. A website soon went up for a new entity, the Foothills Preservation Alliance.

“Everyone said, it’s about the entire area, not just my backyard,” Wallace recalled.

Soon the issue got serious attention throughout the region, including Upstate Forever, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Sierra Club, and several local coalitions.

Wallace was one of the first leaders of the effort and one of its hardest workers, according to others.

“Always a tireless advocate for the place she has called home for over forty-five years, Madelon played a leading role in the community’s successful effort to persuade Duke Energy to re-think its plans to construct high voltage transmission lines and a large substation in the Foothills,” said Jo Quatannens, who wrote the area history for the Foothills Preservation Alliance website.

“Whatever the task — speaking in public forums, assembling economic and demographic data, meeting with the press, working to secure the support of elected officials, and networking — Madelon stepped up to the challenge with the passion and dedication for which she is known and respected in the Foothills community.”

Wallace said she just wants to protect the place where she has lived for 45 years and intends to live out her life.

“I love this area,” Wallace says. “People move for work and look for quality of life, but the places they move are usually not their retirement area, their end all and be all. This area is my end all and be all. I am not here now and then later going to look for somewhere else to retire. This area is not spoiled and we can keep it from getting spoiled.”

Wallace first moved to Landrum in 1971 after graduating from Converse College in Spartanburg. She accepted a job galloping race horses for Tony Wallace at Fairview Farms. She later married Wallace in 1975 and together they ran Fairview Farms, training nationally known stakes horses such as Turkoman and Chris Evert.

Fairview was at the time one of the largest equine related employers in the area, at times with as many as 70 horses in training and over 20 people on the payroll.

In 1995, when Tony retired, Madelon moved into her current career as a real estate broker. But, rather than attempt to cash in, her commitment to preserving that special rural quality of the area remained foremost in her work.

So much so that in the late 1990s, when Fairview Farms went up for sale, she risked her own money to form an LLC to permanently conserve the land.

Being so near to the I-26 interchange, petroleum companies were interested in the cornfields directly across from Four Columns Farms. Housing developers were interested in the beautiful farm acreage, with plans for a suburban-style subdivision stretching for miles.

Wallace said, “I spent most of my adult life on that farm, since I was 22. Saving the farm became my passion. ‘This just can’t happen,’ I said. ‘I have to save the farm!’”

No one could afford to buy all that land and keep it as a farm and if it was bought there was no guarantee it would be protected forever. So Wallace teamed up with then-FENCE past president Bud Myers, an experienced conservationist, and set out to create a plan “to acquire Fairview Farms and to ensure the permanent preservation of its essential character as open space and horse country.”

Wallace put up her personal savings as earnest money and Greenspace of Fairview, LLC got a Contract with just 180 days to complete the deal. Every 60 days, a portion of her deposit was forfeited, whether the deal got done or not.

Within six months, she and Myers and a group of local investors had put it together.

In 2001, those investors, organized as Greenspace of Fairview, LLC, placed the entire 1265 acres under a Conservation Easement with 13 farm sites and 778 acres as commonly held open space, forever protected. Additional adjoining land was added and today a total of 1,331 acres are preserved and protected in perpetuity with 14 farm tracts and 2 agricultural tracts as well as the 778 acres of open space. The owners of the individual tracts are the shareholders of the open space.

In 2003, Myers and Wallace went to work again, this time for the owner of the Cotton Patch, helping to place that historic, 403-acre property under conservation easements.

Three more easements followed, bringing the total acres protected — thanks largely to Wallace’s efforts — to over 2,100 acres. That’s over three square miles of the Carolina Upstate area!

For her work, Wallace was award the Land Steward of the Year award from Upstate Forever in 2005, the land conservancy which focuses on clean air and water, sustainable communities and land trusts in the ten S.C. upstate counties, including Spartanburg and Greenville.

Wallace said she thinks the continued preservation of such a unique community could only happen when so many people care, saying it was amazing that such a small community could be successful in convincing Duke Energy to change its plans.

“This area is home to a dedicated and diverse group of residents who have joined together to keep it a very special place,” Wallace says. “We must continue to be active and caring participants in order to direct the inevitable changes that are coming such that they respect the land, the natural resources and the sense of community.”

How I got to know the Carolina Foothills so well

I have been a resident of Tryon for 26 years.

My wife, Helen, a 30-year school teacher who retired this summer, and I raised our two children in an historic, 1906 house in downtown Tryon. We attend Grace Foothills church in the Tryon Movie Theater, a body which first met as a small group in our living room in 2006.

During most of these past 26 years, I owned and published the Tryon Daily Bulletin. It was still a good time for newspapers, when I began in 1989,  and over the next 21 years, we plowed it all back into the paper and the community. For our efforts,  the Bulletin and its outstanding staff won numerous N.C. Press Association Awards and the paper tripled in size.

We actually covered the news in a small county. It was fun and rewarding and one has to wonder how we are going to run our democracy without the sources of information newspapers provided at the local, and state level.

I digress.

All during those years, I was active in the civic life of the community and have remained so. I am currently on the Board of Directors of the Tryon Fine Arts Center and have been elected its President beginning in January 2016.

In the past, I served as president of the Polk County Chamber of Commerce, editor of “A Sense of Heritage: A Polk County Pictorial History” published by the chamber in 1991, and as the chairman of the first Blue Ridge Barbecue & Music Festival in 1993.

I was named to the chamber’s Hall of Fame in 1998, and as the chamber’s Business Person of the Year in 2005. Hey, it’s not exactly like making it in New York, but New York isn’t this quiet and beautiful!

From 2002 to 2010, I was chairman of the non-profit e-Polk Inc. board, founding the Pangaea fiber optic network at a time when dial-up service was the norm.

During my tenure, e-Polk built an initial seven miles of fiber along Hwy. 108 and went on to administer several million dollars of grants, expanding the network to nearly 200 miles today serving the public interests of Polk and Rutherford counties.

e-Polk has twice – in 2004 and 2015 — won the National Cornerstone Award at the annual Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, TX.

I served as secretary of FENCE from 1999-2003, as president of the Tryon Downtown Development Association, 1999-2001, secretary of the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club, 1995-1998, and Polk Vocational Services chairman and board member, 1995-2003.

I also participated in the state association for our industry. I  twice served on the board of the N.C. Press Association, from 2000-2003 and was president-elect the second time when I sold the Tryon Daily Bulletin in 2010.

By then, the newspaper industry was struggling with both the economy and the trends in advertising support going down. Even a small town newspaper was no longer a “mom and pop” kind of operation.

I have always been in love with this area, having grown up in the crowded Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. Now, I have the joy of working with others as they discover this area, and the joy of working for myself again.

I am enjoying working with clients, responsively, ensuring that all the details are covered effectively, ensuring a seamless and successful real estate transaction in an area with some of the most beautiful real estate in the world.

No two properties are alike around here. It’s an adventure every day. Let me know if you want to go on the adventure with me.

Jeff Byrd’s Tryon, North Carolina real estate and lifestyle blog.

Welcome to Jeff’s blog about the Tryon real estate market and area lifestyle. Check back often for informative blog posts on the area, its unique lifestyle and complex real estate market. All from a real estate professional who is passionate about the area.