From its early days as Britain’s most prosperous American colony, South Carolina’s history has been marked by diversity – in the form of the many nationalities, religions, and professions that established a flourishing community here, particularly in the ‘low country’ center of Charleston – and adversity, given the dark history of slavery, war, and discrimination that ultimately led to a period of economic ruin for the Palmetto State following the American Civil War. Today, however, South Carolina is a bright spot in the U.S. economy, and an emerging national leader for innovation and foreign direct investment.
For the Global Program, May and the first days of June consisted of intensive preparation at Penn, a student-led visit to historic and picturesque Charleston, and several days of faculty-led touring of government agencies and businesses in and around the state’s capital city of Columbia. We then descended upon the bucolic town of Aiken for a welcome reception at the home of Lauder Institute alumnus, Board of Governors member and Co-Chair of the Lauder Advisory Council, David Trachtenberg (Lauder/French ’88).
David and his husband, Rick Wilson, make their home in this quintessential Southern town located just miles from the Georgia border, where beautiful horses and pastoral estates dot the countryside. Upon arriving, we settled into the Green Boundary Club, once a winter estate, and now a local social club. The beautiful early century-old Georgian-style mansion and grounds, featuring period artwork, croquet lawns, tennis courts, and strolling gardens, served as our home for the evening. David welcomed us and shared his many years of perspective on running successful businesses large and small, fondly recalling the invaluable experiences he had while studying at Lauder and Wharton. Originally a Northeasterner, he has called South Carolina home now for a decade, where he and Rick – whose family has been native to the state since 1680 – live on a charming 60 acre estate with their three horses, just a short drive from the Green Boundary Club.
Their country house is filled with historic artifacts and artwork depicting many periods of the South’s history, as well as artifacts from the couple’s travels throughout the world, including beautiful wall paneling brought back from Italy, and a late 18th Century English clock. Southerners are renowned for their warm hospitality and friendliness, but in my previous travels throughout Georgia, Louisiana, and Kentucky, among other Southern states, never had I experienced such graciousness. David began the evening by taking us on a tour of the grounds. We saw the beautifully maintained stables and tack rooms, where the walls are covered with photographs of the couple and friends riding and fox hunting in and around Aiken, one of their favorite past-times and a longstanding Southern tradition. We then met the three resident geldings before returning to the house for aperitifs, where hors d’oeuvres were served on the porch. Porches – a beloved Southern institution – are ideal for spending evenings watching the sunset and enjoying the cooler temperatures, a reprieve from hot summer days. The rich smells of a grand Southern dinner being lovingly prepared in the adjoining kitchen flowed out into our gathering place, whetting our appetite and our imaginations. I ventured into the kitchen and met Dolores, the evening’s convivial cook and hostess, who was busy preparing our traditional southern dinner.
Once dinner was served, we were treated to a sumptuous feast consisting of homemade Carolina grits, a gumbo of shrimp, bacon and sausage, country-style tomato and cheese pie, a broccoli and cream salad, and for dessert, David’s own banana pudding. Returning to the kitchen, Dolores gave me just one knowing look before smiling, taking my plate, and giving me a second helping of what was by far the richest and most delicious meal I have ever had south of the Mason-Dixon line.
As much as our historical tours, lectures, and visits gave us a feel for the South, this evening was a true embodiment of Southern values: togetherness, family, friendship, and the warmth and comfort of home and country. Indeed, David and Rick welcomed us into a Lauder family that, much like the South itself, derives its strength from within its close ranks of highly talented and diverse community members, as well as from looking outward into the greater world, where our alumni have established themselves around the globe, North, South, East and West.
By George Birman (WG/Lauder ’16, Global Track)