Carolina, Born and Raised

By Debbie Lagestee     •     Photos by Lea Austen Photography

Living in Charleston, South Carolina one quickly learns it is a melting pot. Thousands of people move here every year from many other states to enjoy the endless benefits and beauty of this state. This is not the case for Willis and Natalie Ham. South Carolina has always been home for both of them. Willis was born in Orangeburg and moved to Columbia when he was in high school. Natalie was born and raised in Aiken. She moved to Columbia to attend the University of South Carolina in 1997. In 1998, Willis was recruited by several universities around the country to play football. Ultimately, he chose the University of South Carolina. Willis was a wide receiver for the Gamecocks for 4 years, playing for coaches Brad Scott and Lou Holtz. Willis earned a degree in Psychology. Natalie grew up with the dream of being a doctor. She earned a bachelor’s in science and a master’s degree in public health. While volunteering in the pediatric ER and the Free Clinic, she realized the medical field was not her passion. She turned course and pursued law school. She earned her third degree, Juris Doctor, also from the University of South Carolina. Willis and Natalie are deep-seated Carolina Gamecock fans. Although they were at USC at the same time and had mutual friends, their life together did not begin until years later when they reconnected at the gym Willis owned in Columbia.

While planning their wedding, they were brainstorming as to where the special day would take place. After kicking around several different ideas Willis said, “I wish we could get married at the football stadium.”, referring to Williams-Brice Stadium on campus at USC. Although he was the wide receiver, it was Natalie who took the idea and ran with it. She had previously attended corporate events at “The Zone” which overlooks the football field, so she saw the possibility and potential. With the help of the wedding coordinator and current football coach Will Muschamp, they planned the most spectacular wedding one could imagine. On January 9, 2016, Natalie walked down the aisle in a gown fit for a princess to join Willis. They exchanged their “I dos” in front of their family and friends in a place they hold near and dear to their hearts. Even the Carolina mascot Cocky was in attendance. Since Willis was a former player, they were granted access to the locker room and the football field for their treasured wedding photos. In Natalie’s words, “It. Was. Amazing.”.

Photos by Joshua Aaron Photography

Willis and Natalie are proud parents of two young children. Julia Weston is their “honeymoon” baby. She goes by Weston. She is 3 years old. She is smart, curious, and loves to be creative. She loves anything art or music related and is currently learning to play the violin. Baby Willis is 18 months old. He is full of joy and has a smile that fills the room. He adores his big sister although in typical boy fashion, at times he does not know the difference between wrestling and playing gently. Weston is quick to teach him the difference. He loves music too, but for now, he simply enjoys dancing. His all-time favorite activity is “helping” daddy take care of the lawn. Natalie is 1 of 5 siblings all with names beginning with the letter N. It was important to her that they carry on the tradition of their kids having the same letter of their first name. Weston was named in honor of Willis’ late grandmother Julia and she was born on Natalie’s late grandmother’s birthday. Baby Willis is named after his dad and grandpa making him Willis C. Ham, lll.

Willis and Natalie moved to Charleston in late 2017 when Natalie accepted a job with Charleston County School District as General Counsel. She is Counsel for the entire district handling everything all litigation, risk management, injuries, family court contracts, and insurance. Natalie says, “I’m busy from the moment I wake up until I close my eyes at night, but I love it.” Willis loved owning a gym and being a part of the fitness community in Columbia, however, he always had the desire to work in the human resources field. He sold the gym when they moved from Columbia. Willis presently works at MUSC as a Senior Recruiter on the hospital side of operations. He loves his position and the people he works with.

Willis also has a passion for music. He is a member of the band Power 2 Party. They are based in Greenville, SC but travel all over the southeast. They have played high profile events such as Taste of the South Gala in Washington DC, the Art Museum opening in St. Louis as well as weddings and other special occasions. Willis plays the trombone, trumpet, and flugelhorn and is self-taught on the piano. Natalie is hoping their kids inherit Willis’ musical talent. In addition to learning the violin, Weston is already learning to buzz those brass instruments!

Willis and Natalie like to scout out new restaurants and attend live music festivals. Extended family is a big part of the Ham’s social life. On free weekends they often hop in the car to take a drive to Columbia or Aiken to visit family. When in Aiken the kids can run around on the farm and play with the animals. Earlier this year, Natalie and Willis had their first family vacation planned. It was meant to be a fun-filled spring break trip to Florida with Natalie’s 4 siblings and their kids. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their plans were canceled. They are hoping to reschedule before the year’s end.

The Ham family has lived in Carolina Bay for 3 years. They were first in Essex and then built their current home in the Oakhurst subdivision. They enjoy going for walks and interacting with fellow residents. They love the family-friendliness of the neighborhood as well as the activities planned by the social committee. As a family, they are all-in on Carolina Bay. They love food truck Fridays. “It’s just kind of fun,” Natalie says. As for Weston, she is partial to the Easter-egg hunt and thinks it would be a great idea if that event could take place once a month. Their favorite thing about the neighborhood without question is their neighbors. They feel like they hit the jackpot when they moved onto Beadboard Drive. It is a community within itself. They routinely have playdates, dinners, holiday parties, driveway happy hours and they find any other random reason just to get together. “We can’t imagine what life would be like being somewhere else. We love Charleston, specifically West Ashley. Our neighbors sucked us in, we think we’re here for the long haul,” claims Natalie. Natalie and Willis would like to say hello to all their Carolina Bay Neighbors and invite them to take a stroll down Beadboard Drive on their next walk to for a chance to meet some of the best people in town!

This article was featured in the July 2020 issue of Carolina Bay Neighbors magazine.


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