Learning To Roll With It

By Debbie Lagestee     •     Photos by Valerie & Ed Photography

In 2001, Rich and Jenelle Gordon each made a spontaneous decision to relocate to Denver, Colorado. Although Rich had never been west of Philadelphia, he moved from New York because a friend needed a roommate and Jenelle moved from Illinois on a whim with a friend simply to live in a fun city. They met as first-year teachers at George Washington High School, an inner-city school in Denver. They began dating, enjoying, and exploring all that Colorado has to offer including hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. While in their second year of teaching, Rich was activated with his Army National Guard unit and was deployed to Colorado Springs for 18 months. Rich joined the National Guard because he had an aspiration to serve his country and his community. During his deployment Rich proposed to Jenelle, she of course said yes!

Jenelle and Rich contemplated the idea of a destination wedding but decided to get married in her hometown of Hoopeston, Illinois so her ailing grandmother could attend. They were married in the Methodist church her family attended. They had a beautiful interfaith wedding, with the guidance of their Pastor Janet, they incorporated Hebrew prayers representing Rich’s Jewish faith as well as Christian prayers. The ceremony concluded with the Jewish tradition of Breaking the Glass complete with shouts of “Mazal Tov!” which means congratulations in Hebrew. Upon exiting the church, guests were each given a balloon filled with helium. As the newly married bride and groom stepped outside, they were handed a bunch of balloons and they were all released simultaneously. It was a gorgeous sight and the perfect ending to a meaningful ceremony.

Rich grew up in Staten Island, NY.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, a master’s in education from Harvard University, and a second master’s degree from Charleston Southern University. Rich has held the positions of math and computer science teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He is currently the Director of Career and Technical Education. Rich continues to serve as a battalion commander in the Army National Guard and has been on multiple deployments in the U.S. and abroad in Bosnia. He is presently on deployment in Columbia, SC where he has been since March, working with DHEC on COVID-19 related issues.

Jenelle attended Eastern Illinois University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Health Education. She also has a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Illinois-Chicago. She graduated from Antoine du Chez cosmetology school in Denver, CO. Jenelle has been a hairstylist for 16 years and is the proud owner of Fix Salon Studio in West Ashley.

Rich and Jenelle were deciding between a move to Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC in 2004 after leaving Colorado. Having never been to either city, they made plenty of inquiries to friends who had been to both places. Friends and family had nothing but nice things to say about the Lowcountry and they always had good vibes from Charleston. When Rich received a job offer from CCSD, “we felt like it was the right thing to do when it all fell into place like that”, said Jenelle, and Charleston became home. As a bonus, they were just a short drive away from Jenelle’s parents living in Surfside, SC. Rich and Jenelle have 3 children. Vivian is 14 years old; singing is her passion. She also plays soccer and runs track. Carter is 11 years old; he plays soccer, basketball, and tennis. He enjoys riding dirt bikes, hunting, and fishing. Millie is 9 years old; she plays soccer and basketball. As a young entrepreneur, she started her own slime-making business. They have 2 dogs Wrigley is a 4-year-old medium golden doodle and Luella is a 1-year-old mini poodle.

The Gordon family has lived in Essex since 2008. They absolutely love living in Carolina Bay. When they moved into their home, there were only 6 houses in their area. Jenelle stated, “We’ve grown with it, we watched it all get cut down and all built up. We have met really awesome people and we have great neighbors.” Their neighbors refer to themselves as “pantry friends”, they have such a great bond between them, they know they can rely on each other and reach out to one another if they need a cup of sugar, a stick of butter, or anything else. 

As a young family, they connected with people in the neighborhood with kids. A pleasant surprise came when they became dog owners, they suddenly started meeting new people while walking their dog. They gained a wonderful new group of fellow dog owner friends.

When it comes to holidays, there is no doubt Halloween is the family favorite. They love to dress up and decorate their home outside and in. They go all out! They adorn their yard with 100 creepy mannequin heads. It’s a sight to be seen and a neighborhood highlight, their reputation often precedes them as Jenelle is commonly introduced to others in the neighborhood as “the lady with the heads”. It is a title she is proud of and they continue to add to their spooky yard décor each year.

When Jenelle was a child her family made their own costumes. They were resourceful pulling their costumes together, no plastic store-bought masks. She carries on that tradition with their kids year after year. Rich and Jenelle host an annual Halloween party, it has become customary for their family, Jenelle’s sister and family, who also live in Carolina Bay, and their parents to dress up in themed costumes. They have been cavemen, togas, and a zombie wedding party. The fun and laughter are well worth the effort it takes to decorate!

Rich and Jenelle have instilled a sense of adventure in their kids. They bought each of their kids their own suitcase with spinner wheels. They have taught them to oversee their own bag while traveling. They often say, “Grab your bag. Let’s go!” Jenelle explains, “It’s not always easy, but it’s part of the journey.” Their family motto is “Be adventurous and roll with it”.  As a family, they have taken many vacations. Disney has truly been the happiest place on earth for them. With small children, they appreciated that once they arrived and they unpacked their bags there was no in and out of the car buckling and unbuckling car seats.

They could just enjoy the parks and their time together. Now the kids are getting older they are touring a different kind of park. They are on a mission to camp in all the South Carolina State Parks. So far, they have visited at least 10 of them. They have also visited Glacier National Park in Montana and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

The Gordons certainly have a busy family life. Three kids in sports and activities, two dogs, owning a business, and out of town deployments. They irrefutably have learned to roll with it.

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


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