In May of 1988, almost exactly a decade after Wes Park had graduated from EMU, he and his wife Bonnie took a trip from their home on Florida’s west coast back to the Shenandoah Valley, in search of a house to use for a bed and breakfast. They loved the Valley, but struck out on the property search, and headed back for home empty-handed.
On the way, they spent a night in Black Mountain, North Carolina, at the home of one of Wes’s college roommates. During an idle moment in the living room, Bonnie leafed through a copy of Country Living magazine and was struck by a real estate ad for a beautiful old home in a little town she’d never heard of: Bennettsville, South Carolina. She didn’t mention anything to Wes; they hadn’t considered buying in South Carolina anyway. A while later, Wes picked up the same magazine, saw the same ad, and asked Bonnie if she was thinking what he was thinking, and the very next day, their route home to Florida included a detour through Bennettsville.
Within a day, they had submitted a contract, and that September, Wes and Bonnie and their son, 7, and daughter, 4, moved into the Breeden Inn, a grand old house built with cotton money in 1886. Originally built in the Victorian style, the home was remodeled in the Beaux-Arts style in 1906 by Ernest Vincent Richards, a young English architect who’d apprenticed on the U.S. Capitol building. The house, which had served as an inn since 1981, was also once owned by a man who piloted Air Force One for four presidents before moving to Bennettsville to open a McDonald’s franchise.
In the 25 years since opening the inn, the Parks have bought and restored three other adjacent 19th-century houses to give them a total of 13 guestrooms that stay busy pretty much year-round.
A first-floor office in the old inn is still set aside for Wes’s CPA practice, which he’d started in Florida after earning his accounting degree from EMU and continued after the move to South Carolina. And then to make sure he doesn’t run out of things to do, he’s fit in a whole other full-time job for the past 23 years, first as the town of Bennettsville’s director of finance, and since 2008, as the chief financial officer for the Marlboro County School District.
(“We don’t sleep!” says Bonnie, jokingly, whose inn management duties extend from the kitchen to the office to the carefully tended flower gardens that surround the old home. “We just go from one project to the next.”)
Overseeing town finances, Wes had to be concerned about two different things – the utility fund and the general fund. Things are considerably more complex at the school district, where Wes looks after about 120 different revenue streams from local, state and federal sources, each with their own unique requirements and restrictions to keep abreast of. During his first couple years on the job, administrative turbulence meant a succession of superintendents came and went. Meanwhile, Wes was tasked with financing construction of the county’s first completely new school building in more than half a century, an initiative approved by voters in 2008, when the school division revenues totaled $47.3 million. Reflecting the economic times that ensued, those revenues had dropped to $41.5 million by 2012.
All in all, it’s amounted to an enjoyable little challenge for someone like Wes, one of those people who was kind of a math whiz as a kid and then just stuck with number-crunching ever since.
In January, the new Blenheim Elementary/Middle School opened to about 500 students, a $22 million project financed through a Wes-prepared package of qualified school construction bonds (funded by federal stimulus dollars), private investment from a French bank and local tax dollars.
Days begin early. Wes is up at 5 a.m. for a 30-minute walk through the neighborhood, before heading to the kitchen to work on breakfast; Wes handles eggs and breakfast meats and casseroles, Bonnie takes care of fresh fruits and other breakfast responsibilities, and they team up for morning chit-chat with guests. Then it’s off to work, spent largely in meetings and on email, keeping tabs on the Marlboro County schools’ budget, answering the money-related questions that arise from all corners of the district, prepping statements for outside auditors, minding the procurements and RFPs and RFQs and all sorts of other decisions and processes that require financial know-how. Evenings get a little less predictable, but there are always interesting folks at the inn to hang around with, after which, especially in tax season, Wes holes up in the office for a several-hour nightcap, chugging through tax returns.
He wouldn’t really have to do all this stuff if he didn’t want to, and sometimes he does wonder if he works too much. Wes enjoys down time as much as the next guy, and he and Bonnie love to travel. Charleston and Savannah are favorite destinations within easy reach. But then again, he really, honestly has a good time doing it all; one person’s work is another’s leisure.