Within three years, Monier Abusaft ’11 has started a construction company, opened a law practice and won a seat on Spartanburg County Council.
He’s also led a U.S. Department of Agriculture food assistance program during the COVID-19 pandemic and been a key organizer of Spartanburg’s Juneteenth celebration.
Abusaft’s recognition of the opportunities to lead and make a difference in Spartanburg led him to return after graduating from Vanderbilt Law School.
“I spent a lot of time engaging with Spartanburg’s leaders, especially African American leaders,” says Abusaft, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. “I had a network that was created while I was in college, and it was sort of a no-brainer to come back. It’s a place that embraced me when it didn’t have to, and it’s a place that needed new ideas.”
Some of Abusaft’s pursuits stem from his willingness to accept a challenge.
He heard people say there weren’t enough minority contractors or that minority contractors couldn’t take on the scale of projects on Spartanburg’s horizon.
“I always prided myself on walking in a lot of circles, not just with Wofford graduates or lawyers,” says Abusaft, who pulled a few people together with experience in construction to launch L.H. Turner Construction.
L.H. Turner was the name of one of Abusaft’s enslaved relatives who was in Spartanburg, according to a family ancestry project. The construction company assisted with building the $134 million Spartanburg High School that opened in 2019; is renovating Victoria Gardens, a public housing community on Spartanburg’s north side; and assisted with the recent renovation of the C.F. Haynsworth Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Greenville, S.C. At least 90% of people employed by the company were incarcerated.
Abusaft’s father was a probation officer in Georgia, and he has memories of tagging along when his dad visited clients.
“I’ve seen for a long time the effect the criminal justice system has on our community,” Abusaft says. “You can receive economic incarceration for the rest of your life.”
Abusaft also has made an impact in the city’s cultural scene. About 50% of the city of Spartanburg’s population is Black, and Abusaft felt that there weren’t enough programs to celebrate Black excellence. In response, he joined those planning the community’s Juneteenth festivities in 2015. Participation and programming have increased each year.
Now in his first year representing Spartanburg County District 1 on county council, Abusaft embraces the opportunity to serve and the responsibility he’s been given.
“I want to live up to the things I promised the community when running for county council,” Abusaft says. “Most people are on the receiving end of government, and a very small percentage of Americans will get to be on the decision-making end.”
Erica Brown ’00 works in a city with a burgeoning homeless population, where low-income and no-income individuals crowd into her office seeking free health care. Many suffer from mental health or substance abuse issues.
Every other Monday, Brown participates in city council meetings that celebrate a vibrant downtown, where people crowd into restaurants and spill into the streets. It’s a city on the move.
Both cities are Spartanburg, S.C., and she’s seeking a third term on city council in November to reconcile the two Spartanburgs.
Making sure the city’s growth is equitable is high on Brown’s list. That means addressing affordable housing and homelessness, something Brown sees the effects of each day in her work as a patient resource manager at St. Luke’s Free Medical Clinic.
“I live on the outskirts of downtown, and a number of years ago, I noticed there was something stirring here,” she says. “I’ve said many times that our city has a problem. We are reactive in a lot of things and not proactive in what we need to be. It wasn’t until the downtown stakeholders came in and asked what was going on that we began to see action.”
Brown is pleased that the city has made gains in the Northside. “They’re doing a lot of things right and can serve as a model,” she says, “but we haven’t aced it yet. We’ve got these affordable units popping up, but they’re all rentals. That’s not how you build equity. We want people to own their homes.”
Brown ran for office so her voice was part of the decision-making process. She saw — and still sees — Spartanburg’s potential, but she admits she may be ready for a change.
If enough progress can be made in her third term — she is running unopposed — she may not seek a fourth.
“When my next term comes to an end, I will have completed my master’s degree in social work from Winthrop University, and I will be ready for a new challenge,” she says.
She has considered running for higher office, but for now that’s not on her planner.
“But that may change,” she says.
When Kathryn Hummers Boucher ’00 came to the Spartanburg Philharmonic as executive director in 2014, the organization presented five concerts each year. This year, 17 concerts are on the schedule.
“We flipped our business model,” says Boucher, who calls herself a “data person.” She compared the Spartanburg Philharmonic to orchestras across the country and discovered that finding a better balance between fundraising and ticket/sponsorship revenue would inject new life into the 93-year-old organization.
“The League of American Orchestras puts out a report of orchestra facts,” says Boucher, who in 2017 was chosen as one of 12 in the nation to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program through LAO. She now serves on the national organization’s board of directors and as chair of a regional group. “We learned we were skewed toward contributed income. Now we’re moving in a different, more sustainable direction, and we’re having a lot of fun.”
In addition to the five-concert Classical Series that stays true to the organization’s roots, the Spartanburg Philharmonic began an Espresso Series — “a short shot of music that follows a happy hour. … It’s very relaxed,” explains Boucher. There’s also a popular Bluegrass Series and performances from the Youth Orchestra, which started two years ago.
“I love bringing opportunities to Spartanburg so everyone has access to hear and learn more about music,” says Boucher.
Boucher’s father was a banker, and she always assumed she would have a career in the financial industry. Then she took an art history course with Dr. Peter Schmunk, who retired in 2020 as the Mr. and Mrs. T.R. Garrison Professor of the Humanities.
“I loved it and was ready to change my major,” she says. Her dad, however, had other plans, so they compromised. Boucher graduated with majors in art history and finance. She worked in development at the Mint Museum in Charlotte and later earned a master’s degree in arts administration from Winthrop University and a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She was teaching courses and working as the part-time art gallery director at Converse College, a position she still holds, when the Spartanburg Philharmonic asked her to serve as the interim for a few months. That was seven years ago.
“On making the transition between art and music, people would say, but you don’t play an instrument (although she now has a daughter who plays the tuba),” explains Boucher. “When I worked at the Mint Museum, I didn’t create art either. You don’t have to know how to make art or music to appreciate them and what they can do for people and a community.”
Elizabeth Blalock Fletcher ’01 arrived at Wofford College and declared biology as her major. She had plans to attend medical school and to practice medicine. She just needed to decide what type of physician she would be.
Fletcher, however, began to realize there were many other career options in health care.
Dr. Dave Kusher, biology professor, and Dr. John Lefebvre, professor and chair of Wofford’s psychology department at the time, got to know her and connected her with people at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. It began with volunteer work supporting a symposium and has led to a career in senior administration.
“That’s when I began to question what type of health care role I was interested in as a career,” Fletcher says. “If I wasn’t in class, I was here tagging along, shadowing and doing whatever I could do with limited experience under my belt.”
Fletcher is SRHS’ senior vice president for system strategy and community health. She spent her first 15 years with SRHS solely focused on strategic services, which involve new construction, adding service lines and paying close attention to the health system’s market data. In recent years, she’s also overseen SRHS’ community health initiatives, which focus on improving the health of the community, especially vulnerable populations.
“We’ve learned that social determinants of health are even more important than the clinical care,” Fletcher says of the importance of working closely with agencies focused on food, housing and education. “Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to at least one or multiple community partners.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, community health has included distributing and providing education on vaccines.
“They are two different worlds, and I keep a foot in each one,” Fletcher says of the business development side of her job and the community health aspect.
It’s a challenge that she enjoys.
“I definitely consider myself a lifelong learner, and there’s always a challenge,” Fletcher says. “Health care is people-centric, and as long as we have people, there will be health care needs.”
She also appreciates her Wofford professors recognizing the traits in her that would make her a good fit for health care administration.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Wofford,” Fletcher says. “My professors knew me as a person and a student. Dr. Lefebvre and Dr. Kusher helped me open a door to let me see just enough to know I wanted to learn more. For that, I will forever be grateful.”
After 24 years in the same place, Jamie Fulmer ’92 wanted a change of scenery. He didn’t go far to find it.
Fulmer became a partner in Loop Recruiting, a company that was founded six years ago in Augusta, Ga., and in January opened a branch on Dunbar Street in Spartanburg, S.C. His office is a stone’s throw from the Purpose Financial (formerly Advance America) building, where he spent the bulk of his career.
“I had a great run, but it was time to move on,” says Fulmer. “I wanted to try different things. I’m really excited about Loop and building a team.”
Loop provides recruiting and staffing services in competitive technical industries. Fulmer says the company is in a growth stage in a booming market.
“I thought this market would be hot coming into the new year,” Fulmer says. “I’m bullish on the Upstate as a whole and Spartanburg in particular. It’s been fun and exciting. Loop has taken off, and it’s on a great trajectory here.”
In addition to launching a new business, Fulmer is running for a second term on Spartanburg City Council. He says his love for his hometown led him into politics.
“I have deep roots in Spartanburg,” he says. “I’m a native, as are my parents. But I don’t live here because I’m from here; I live here because I want to. I was motivated by my desire to make Spartanburg a great place for our boys to grow up in, and to make it a place where they would want to raise a family.”
Fulmer says the success the city has enjoyed over the past several years has put it in position to pursue some “transformational” opportunities.
While Fulmer is excited about the future, he says it’s important not to lose sight of the present.
“One of the critical roles of serving on city council is realizing that the city government directly impacts the lives of people on a daily basis,” he says. “We want to focus on future economic development, but we also have to focus on providing the highest level of service possible now. There’s no more important role than protecting residents with world-class police and fire services, giving them good roads to drive on, reliable public transportation, and first-class parks and recreation.”
One warm evening this past spring, Chris Story ’93 did something he had never done before in downtown Spartanburg. He had to wait to cross the street.
Foot traffic was so heavy that he waited through two cycles of the traffic light to cross Church Street. It made Story smile.
When you’re the city manager, that’s the kind of problem you like to have.
“There were so many people on the sidewalks and at the intersection waiting for the light to turn,” says Story, who has been Spartanburg’s city manager since October 2018. “It was really cool to see.”
Story has worked for the city since 2009, serving as assistant city manager for the first nine years. His first 18 months as city manager went smoothly, but a tornado in February 2020, followed by the onslaught of COVID-19, which for a while turned downtown into a ghost town, made the past 18 months a struggle at times.
The city has bounced back, and now Story’s focus is on maintaining the momentum it had before COVID-19. But, he says, he wants to make certain no one is left behind, and he says city council is committed to avoiding the inequities that can come with redevelopment.
“Downtown has gotten stronger, and there’s a lot of work that’s been done on the Northside,” Story says. “But we have to make sure that translates into more opportunities for the folks who live here. We’re going to have new, cool things downtown, and I hope the Wofford alums who come back to visit continue to see more vibrancy and dynamism. But the real measure of success is whether kids who grow up here have more opportunities to stay and have fulfilling careers.”
Story knows that along with the opportunities, the city also faces challenges. One of the biggest is bringing down the poverty rate.
“We’ve still got more than 40% of the kids in the city who live in poverty. That’s unacceptable,” he says. “We don’t want to get preoccupied by all the aspects of growth unless those aspects of growth are serving the interests of the folks who live here.”
Story says the next few years will be crucial for the city in determining how it takes advantage of opportunities and meets the challenges.
“There were real estate development groups that wouldn’t take our call 10 years ago, or even five years ago,” Story says. “Now they’re calling us. That doesn’t mean everything is going to be easy. But it does give us a different set of choices.”
Jessica Holcomb ’10 began learning about the importance of housing as a Wofford Bonner Scholar. She had no idea how fulfilling a career in the field could be, however, until her first job as an assistant property associate with the Spartanburg Housing Authority.
“I had never really thought about it, never been exposed to this sector of housing,” says Holcomb, who grew up in Boiling Springs, S.C. “I soon knew this is where I wanted to make an impact.”
Now Holcomb is the chief operating officer of Spartanburg Housing (the word Authority was dropped during a branding campaign in 2020). She supervises the organization’s public housing, housing choice voucher, information technology, marketing and day-to-day operations, including management of 33 employees.
In 2018, Holcomb received her certificate in Executive Director Education from Rutgers University through PHADA. The EDEP Program represents a major professional development opportunity for housing authority executive directors throughout the country.
Holcomb did not intend to enroll in college at Wofford. She wanted some distance from Spartanburg and the opportunity to experience a historically Black college or university (HBCU). A tour of Wofford’s campus and a recommendation to explore the Bonner Scholars program, however, changed that. She volunteered with four local organizations during her Bonner service, and that, ultimately, is what has kept Holcomb engaged in the community, even today.
“I’m the biggest cheerleader when it comes to my hometown,” says Holcomb, who was recognized with the United Way of the Piedmont’s Walter S. Montgomery Sr. Award for Young Leadership in 2020. “I realized if I was going to make a difference in the world, I wanted it to be here.”
Holcomb considers herself a lifelong learner, and she puts a lot of stock in her work ethic.
“I put my all into everything I do,” she says. Holcomb is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (one of the Divine Nine historically Black National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations). She’s active in United Way of the Piedmont’s Young Leaders and her church and is a graduate of Leadership Spartanburg and the Grassroots Leadership Development Institute Academy. She’s also moved quickly into a major leadership position with Spartanburg Housing. “I don’t really look at success milestones. I’m just happy to get up and come to work each day and do everything I can to support and promote affordable housing in our community.”
Homeownership has now become even more personal for Holcomb. She recently purchased her first house in Spartanburg, another affirmation of her commitment to the community.
by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89, Dudley Brown and Robert W. Dalton