As I write this, it is my birthday (I won’t mention any numbers), so it seems fitting to share a little more about who I am … who I REALLY am. Bear with me, because my generation was raised to be less revealing and more coy about our true selves. We play things close to the vest and feel rather awkward oversharing on all of the social media channels. This probably gives you a little insight as to what birthday this is for me today. While I’m very comfortable being on stage (I was in a professional dance company in my youth), being in front of a courtroom (I’m a former lawyer) or speaking in front of a large audience, at heart I’m still an introvert. I’m passionate about design and the projects I’ve worked on, but today’s design audience wants to know more of the back story for the designers they work with. Therefore, I’m jumping in with both feet!
So who am I? I am the result of some very influential people in my life . . . my family. I was raised as an only child by a single mother who was also an only child of a single mother. So, it was a matriarchal family of some very strong women. My grandmother was the youngest of nine from Pikeville, Kentucky. She moved to Michigan with her then husband, and began working in the file room of a small physicians practice.
After divorcing her husband, she went on to become the administrator of that medical practice which grew to 25 physicians with an in house pharmacy which she owned, all while raising my mother on her own. She was a self-made millionaire who played the stock market like a pro and gave advice to her investment brokers. She was a stoic, no nonsense kind of woman with a quick wit, a flare for decorating and a great sense of style. The older I get, the more of her I see in my personality every day.
My mom had me when she was very young and after giving the marriage thing a try with my father, decided we were better off on our own. So as a single mother, she raised me while going to nursing school. She went on to get her masters degree in health care administration and worked her way to the top of her profession while carting me back and forth to a variety of dance lessons and sport practices. I had tap lessons, ballet lessons, jazz lessons, baton lessons, played volleyball, played basketball, ran track and was a cheerleader. I traveled throughout the mid-west for various tournaments, performances and competitions. I was an extremely busy kid, so consequently, she was an over-scheduled mom who made sure I had every opportunity growing up. She was / is my rock, my mentor, my cheerleader and my best friend!
I’ve been very blessed to have had such strong and giving female role models in my life to always encourage me to dream big and go after my goals. Speaking of big …(this one is for my JSI team who made me promise to include it)
Yes … I was all about the big hair in my college days and this is my infamous “Glamour Shot”. These were the days of Dynasty and Dallas! But apparently the look worked, because I met my husband in college with this fierce hair. I had actually known him for several years as I was a little sister at his fraternity. All of the guys had nicknames and his was “Stoner” so I honestly avoided him because I thought he was a loser. It wasn’t until I graduated and went on to law school that I really got to know him better and found out that he did not live up to his nickname.
After two and a half months of dating, he was brave enough to propose to me and jump into my crazy estrogen laden family as the only real male figure. We were married in 1993, the day after I graduated from law school. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this past December.
After a couple of years enjoying our dual incomes and a clean house, we jumped into the craziness of kids. We had Ian in 1995 and Kelsey in 1998. During these early years, I was practicing law and had become in-house counsel for Mayo Clinic. I handled the medical malpractice claims for the Jacksonville, Florida location, along with a variety of other risk management and healthcare law issues related to the clinic and it’s 300 bed in-patient hospital.
Then one day, I had an epiphany. Life was too short to pay someone else to raise my kids while I went to work in a job that just wasn’t fulfilling me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew that I needed a change. So, after leaving Mayo Clinic, we decided to get out of Jacksonville and away from Florida’s poor educational system (and mosquitos and palmetto bugs which are essentially giant roaches with wings!).
We pulled out a map and decided that Virginia might be a nice place to consider. Neither of us had spent anytime there or knew anyone that lived there, but it put us closer to Jeff’s family in Baltimore. My grandmother and I flew to Richmond with Kelsey who was 1 year old at the time and we spent a week traveling around Virginia. I called Jeff and told him to get on a plane with Ian because I believed that Richmond would be the perfect spot for us. Luckily he agreed and the whole clan moved to Richmond, including my mom and my grandmother.
We moved to Richmond and I had a great time building our new house. I knew that I always enjoyed decorating, but I had never thought of it as a career choice. Once we were settled in Richmond and the kids were in school / pre-school, I decided to open a furniture consignment store. But, I wanted to do something different, so I went to market in New York and High Point and I brought in new furniture and accessory lines so that we could merchandise the store to be inviting and fresh, not a musty old store of used furniture lined up in rows. Soon, my customers were asking me to come to their homes to help them and the design bug was lit. I hired several designers to come work for me and we built a design practice while I learned from them and took classes. It was an unconventional route but soon I had a booming design business that needed my full attention, so I sold off the retail side of the business to focus solely on design.
Now all these years later, my kids have grown up. They grew up watching their mom go through the ups and downs of owning my own business and finding my way, even if it wasn’t the straightest path. They’ve grown into two amazing young adults who I truly admire.
Ian was always a big guy who played football from the time he was 6 years old. Those muscles came in handy when it was time for me to move my studio. He can regale you with lots of stories of his youth moving furniture, fabric books, rugs, and many other heavy things. After high school, Ian was recruited to play football for the US Merchant Marine Academy. Lucky for Ian, the USMMA, has one of the best engineering programs in the country and one of the most difficult programs to get into. Even with his terrific grades and test scores, he was lucky to have football as a means of opening that door for him. He graduated this past Spring (2018) and is pictured above with Grandpa Bob and Nana Jeann, Jeff’s dad and step-mother.
Upon graduating from the USMMA, Ian chose to fulfill his commitment by going active duty in the Navy and was accepted into the Naval Aviation program. He is currently in Pensacola, Florida in flight school and recently completed his first solo flight. We’re not even going to discuss what this does to his mother’s nerves! Admittedly, it makes me proud to say that he’s in Naval Flight School, but it’s truly his amazing heart and love for his family and friends that makes me the most proud.
His baby sister, Kelsey, had some big shoes to fill growing up in Ian’s oversized shadow, but she quickly learned how to create a spotlight of her own. In grew up enjoying sports like her brother and played on a travel soccer team, but her real passion became evident when she joined The Technology Student Association in middle school. This organization allowed her to discover her love for photography, graphic design and most importantly it allowed her to develop her leadership skills. At 16 years old she became the National President of this 250,000 student organization. She also started her own photography business in high school which has grown tremendously (check it out - Kelsey Stoner Photography).
She’s now a junior at Virginia Tech and she’s studying marketing in the Pamplin School of Business. As a freshman, she joined Prism, which is a student run marketing agency that gives hands on experience to it’s members, as they provide marketing services for a variety of local and national clients. She soon became the director of Photography and has worked her way up to Chief Marketing Officer. She also serves as a Pamplin Ambassador and is a member of the Junior Marketing Industry Mentoring Board. She has incredible drive and is not afraid to go after what she wants. She has had several internships and is ready to set the world on fire!
So now that the kids are out of the house, Jeff and I are able to relax and enjoy life as empty nesters. That said, I haven’t done much relaxing! My JSI team and I are working like crazy on some really amazing projects and we’re developing some great new plans for our future.
And just when we were beginning to enjoy the peace and quiet around the house, we brought in a new member of the family! He has also become a regular fixture around the JSI studio.
Life is always entertaining with Ranger Danger around.
So who am I? I’m a granddaughter, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a dog mom, a boss lady, a friend, an entrepreneur, a lover of food, music, bourbon and good wine, and I’d like to think a damn good designer. Hmmm, maybe this sharing thing isn’t so hard after all. If you’re in Richmond, stop by and visit me, Ranger and the rest of the JSI team. We’d love to get to know you better also!