An Empty Nest, But a Full Life
By Debbie Lagestee • Photos by Valerie & Ed Photography
Rachel and Gil Ballenger are living proof that being empty nesters does not mean life is slow and boring. Quite the contrary. Their lives are full, busy, and adventurous. Gil has a degree in Electronics Engineering which he earned while serving in the US Air Force for 4 years. He also served in the Army National Guard for 5 years. Gil has been working in the network design and infrastructure field for 30 years. Rachel attended the University of South Carolina and earned her BSN Nursing degree. She began her career at Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia and worked in Labor and Delivery for several years. After they relocated to Charleston, she began working at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, where she continued in Labor and Delivery for 20 years and has been working in Obstetric Emergency Department for the past 1.5 years.
Rachel and Gil have been married for 31 years. They have 2 grown sons, Gage and Evan. Gage works in the same field as his dad. He started working with Gil when he was 16 years old, gaining years of on-the-job training. He now works in sales at Accutech, but he has a love of music and art. He plays guitar in a band called Quiet. Gage lives in the Bridgewater Townhomes in Carolina Bay. Evan played inline and ice hockey for 10 years. He is a drummer, and he played in the church band for several years. Evan works as a technician at Lexus. He bought his first home 3 years ago, in the nearby subdivision Church Creek Landing.
Rachel pours her heart and soul into her volunteer work. She has a passion for animals and is incredibly involved with the Eunoia Rescue, a local foster-based dog and cat rescue. She is engaged with fundraising and donation collections as well as transporting and fostering. She and Gil have fostered approximately 15 dogs in the past 2 years, in addition to 4 special pups that did not live at their home but Rachel helped care for until they found homes. Rachel has been instrumental in helping many neighbors foster and adopt dogs from the rescue. She finds joy in seeing the fosters now in loving homes in the neighborhood. “A lot of people in the neighborhood have been really supportive of the rescue and I’ve made some new friends that live in Carolina Bay through the foster program as well”, says Rachel. She manages all of this while having 3 dogs of their own, Bella, Stella, and Kaia, and an 18-year-old cat named Slater. Their son Evan foster-failed for Eunoia Rescue 2 years ago by adopting his puppy Jynx.
Gil and Rachel have an extensive list of hobbies. Gil enjoys tennis, DIY projects, exercise, and fitness. They have turned the third-floor space of their home into a small yet impressive gym. Gil loves watching college football. He is a super die-hard Clemson fan. His grandfather graduated from Clemson when it was still a military college, he later rose to Colonel in the US Army, just another reason to cheer for the Tigers.
Rachel loves to be outside walking, working in the yard, and paddleboarding. After a knee injury in 2016 she was looking for a new form of exercise, last year she finally found what she was looking for.
She picked up bike riding. In her first 11 weeks of riding, she logged nearly 1,000 miles. She enjoys riding on the West Ashley Greenway, in Stono Park on John’s Island, and on the trails of West Ashley Park. On a typical day, she will ride between 20-30 miles. She has been asked by friends to join bike riding groups, however, she declined the invitations. “Bike riding is my time, it gives me time to clear my head and think”, explains Rachel. Her goal for this year is to log 2,700 miles. She inspired Gil to get back into biking again as he was an avid mountain biker years ago. They hope to hit the Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort sometime this year. Together they love to camp and hike, most times accompanied by their dogs. They are working toward taking their first Overlanding trip. Overlanding is the combination of off-roading and camping into one. Their truck is a rigged up off-road camper. Their plan is to pack up their bikes and hiking boots and head west to Colorado and Utah traveling along the Bureau of Land Management Roads enjoying the journey along the way. Rachel and Gil look forward to one day conquering the Trans America Trail.
Several years ago, they enjoyed a wonderful trip exploring New England and Nantucket. They also share a love of roller coasters. In 2019 they went to the Dollywood amusement park in Pigeon Forge, TN to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They spent 2 fun-filled days riding roller coasters. They had such an amazing time they repeated the trip for their 31st anniversary and an additional fall trip.
Gil and Rachel built their home in Salt Grass of Carolina Bay in 2008. There were few homes in the neighborhood when they moved in. They love it and have seen so much change and growth. They enjoy the quietness of their street, the land conservancy, and the grand trees throughout the community. The magnificent walking trails encourage them to take part in outdoor activities. They feel fortunate to have a lot of the same neighbors on their street from when they moved in, including longtime friends who moved in across the street a few months after Gil and Rachel. Gil’s father moved to Carolina Bay from Missouri after his retirement to be close to them as well. As a labor and delivery nurse Rachel has delivered many of the children on her street as well other streets close by. She has the rare opportunity to watch the babies she helped bring into this world grow up.
This couple works hard and plays hard. Rachel says, “We’re trying to live the life we’ve always dreamed of.” Their nest may be empty, but their lives and hearts are full. Life is a journey, and they are ready and willing to hop on the road to the next adventure.