Humble and Kind

By Debbie Lagestee     •     Photos by Valerie & Ed Photography

Elliott and Kaylee believe life is an adventure. They met at Michigan State University, where Kaylee was pursuing a degree in Kinesiology, and Elliott was in the Fire Academy. During her senior year, they endured the coldest winter and highest snowfalls on record. After she graduated and they had been dating for 2 years, they decided to move to Charleston to escape the harsh weather. Adventures usually have a risk. The risk factor they faced was that they knew no one in Charleston and had no jobs lined up. That did not stop them. Kaylee recalls, “We just thought, we’ll figure it out when we get there. We had nothing to lose.”

Kaylee worked her way through college waiting tables, so when they arrived in Charleston, she went downtown seeking the high-end restaurants. Mission accomplished, she was hired at S.N.O.B. and continued to work there for 3 years. Elliott intended to pursue a career with the fire department but changed direction. He has an innate entrepreneurial spirit. In Michigan, Elliott owned a business promoting concerts and small music festivals. He learned how to run a business, managed the company from Charleston for the first few months, and sold the business after some time. He was introduced to O2 Fitness, took an introductory position, and eventually worked his way up to overseeing all the O2 Fitness clubs in South Carolina.

Kaylee contemplated returning to graduate school until she concluded Kinesiology was not the field she wanted to be in. She always loved animals and decided she wanted to be in Animal Medicine. Kaylee followed her heart and took a leap of faith without any experience in the field. She applied for a position at Park West Veterinary Associates. She started with an entry-level position, and 5 years later, she is the Practice Manager. Kaylee says, “I absolutely love what I do. I will never regret the experience of going to Michigan State. It’s not the path I thought I would take, but I’m happy where I ended up.”

Michigan is known as The Great Lake State. Bordering three Great Lakes and with more than 11,000 inland lakes, it’s easy to see how it earned the nickname. As brutal as the winters are, the summer on the lakes is the reward for surviving them. Kaylee’s family has a lake house on Long Lake in Northern Michigan, which has been in her family for over 100 years. When they first met, she told Elliott all the family stories, and he quickly realized how special this place was to her and her whole family.

Photo by Sarah Jane Photography

While dating, Kaylee and Elliott spent many weekends there with her family. It was easy for him to understand why it was her favorite place on earth. Elliott explains, “You fall in love with the small-town lake life, the family traditions like singing by the fire under the stars, or cooking a fresh caught walleye on the grill and spending time with wholesome neighbors that spend their weekends up there.”

When he was ready to propose, he knew there was no other place he wanted to do it. Kaylee’s family house on Bliss Drive on the lake was the perfect backdrop for their engagement and their wedding in September 2019. The ceremony was held adjacent to the water. The reception followed under a beautiful white tent with the most magnificent view behind them.

Kaylee and Elliott have 2 Golden Retrievers, Charlie and Opie. Charlie is 9 years old, and Opie is 3. Both dogs were rescued in Michigan from horrible living conditions. Opie was a surprise Christmas gift to Kaylee from Elliott on Christmas Eve 2019. They are funny, sweet, affectionate dogs that make their lives better by being a part of it. They love them wholeheartedly, and Charlie was even a groomsman at their wedding.

Photo by Sarah Jane Photography

January 2020 brought a new adventure for Elliott. He and his business partner started their own brand of fitness centers, slated to open in June in Mooresville, NC. Unfortunately, COVID struck, and he and Kaylee entered a season of turmoil. The fitness industry was difficult to be a part of during the lockdowns. Elliott had no income for 9 months, with the gyms closed across the country. By August, their savings account, wedding money, and honeymoon fund were all depleted. Elliott knew he had to dig deep to stay afloat. He reflected on his time in Michigan. During college, he and Kaylee worked for her father, painting homes. He really enjoyed the trade, but little did he know at the time painting would be his lifeline. Elliott knew he had no choice but to figure it out. With less than $500 to his name, he took that last bit of money and started Wade Paint Co. His first painting job in Mount Pleasant led to referrals, and his business began to grow. The gyms finally reopened in September 2020, with North Carolina being the last state to allow the fitness industry to return to work. Elliott had to travel back and forth to North Carolina to tend to the gym. His side hustle of painting continued to grow into a full-time job, so he worked both night and day. Kaylee chipped in to help, painting beside him in the evenings after being at her day job. They were in it together. Elliott says, “We make a good team.” In late 2020, they finally had some happy news. They learned they were going to be parents!

Photo by Sarah Jane Photography

Elliott’s dad, Gabriel, died of pancreatic cancer five years ago. Before he passed away, his dad made Elliott promise to take care of his mom, Karen. Elliott lived up to that promise. As things began to turn around financially for him and Kaylee, they decided to buy a home. In February 2021, they purchased their home in Bolton’s Landing. They specifically chose their house because it had two master bedrooms, one upstairs and one on the main level. It was the perfect home to have Elliott’s mom live with them. The floor plan allowed her to have her own space and privacy, yet she could be a part of their everyday lives. Karen moved to Charleston from Michigan. She was thrilled to be so close to the water and be able to go to the beach regularly.

At the same time, Wade Paint Co. took off. Neighbors supported them, and the references expanded throughout Bolton’s Landing and Carolina Bay. They had constant support from the neighborhood. It was very humbling for Elliott. He says, “They supported us in ways I never thought possible. Our business is much larger than I ever expected it could be. It’s exciting.” Elliott sold his stake in the gym, and Wade Paint Co. is his sole focus. The company is expected to grow to a 3-4 crew team in 2023.

Kaylee never had neighbors growing up, so moving into Bolton’s Landing was eye-opening. Having neighbors close was a new experience for her. She says, “People actually care about us and want to be in our lives. It was shocking to me.” She quickly made friends she could depend on, go kayaking with, and simply hang out with.

The excitement in their home grew as the baby’s arrival date approached. Emma Hall made her way into the world on June 16, 2021. Their home was filled with joy. Kaylee and Elliott were in love with their new baby, and Karen loved being a grandma. Sadly, life took another turn. Karen contracted COVID and never recovered. She passed away in October 2021, just 3 ½ months after Emma was born. Once again, their friends and neighbors rallied around them. They sent messages, brought over meals, and gave them endless love and support. Elliott is still so touched by the outpouring of love and kindness during their darkest days. “Our neighborhood completely embraced our family and changed our lives. From the continuous support of Wade Paint Co. to being a shoulder to lean on when my mother passed away, this neighborhood has been like family to us. We are forever grateful for our community and neighbors, ” Elliott professes.

Elliott and Kaylee like to take their boat out on the water during their downtime. When life gets overwhelming, it helps them remember they live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Kaylee says, “The boat forces us to take a breath. Being on the water helps us to remember why we moved here.” They also feel it pays tribute to Elliot’s mom, who loved the water so much. They don’t take for granted the things she can no longer enjoy.

Emma is now 18 months old. She has the best qualities of both of her parents. She is constantly smiling and giggling, has a big personality, and is fun like her dad. She takes after her mom in that she is super sweet and loves to cuddle but then has a touch of sass. Emma loves all food, dancing, clapping, spinning, and jumping to the music. She truly is the light in their lives. The family is about to embark on the next adventure. Emma will be a big sister to the new baby boy arriving in March. The baby will be named Gabriel, after Elliott’s dad.

Through the ups and downs of the past few years, Elliott and Kaylee have had many adventures. Through them all, they have remained humble and kind. They will be forever grateful to those who lifted them up during the dark times and celebrated with them in the happiest times.

This article was featured in the January 2023 issue of Carolina Bay Neighbors magazine.


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