From Chicago to Here

Tom & Shauna Winters found their finishing touch at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

The wooden bowl is beautiful. It took Tom Winters a full day to cut the mahogany, “turn” it, sand it, and finish it. “The finishing, actually, can be the most challenging part,” says Tom. It’s similar to the process he and his wife, Shauna, experienced when they were establishing life at Reynolds. “We live as close to Heaven as you can be,” says Tom, from a porch with a high view of Lake Oconee, “but honestly, for a while we felt like something was missing.”

Then they discovered their finishing touch.

[Tom] We were young when we decided to move here. Both of us had just turned 50. Our son, Brad, was a junior at Northwestern University, and our daughter, Annalise, had just left for her freshman year at Clemson. [Shauna] Tom traveled for work a lot, and I was having a hard time adjusting to being alone in our home in Naperville (Illinois).

A friend invited me on a girls trip. I didn’t know exactly where we were going, just “a condo in Georgia.” On our first day I saw the walking trails and The Lake Club. I couldn’t believe there was a Ritz-Carlton. We went on a boat ride to see this property for sale from the water. So I called Tom and said, “Hey, I’m at this place called Reynolds Lake Oconee …”

[Tom] That was an interesting phone call. I said, “Where?” And she said, “In Georgia. I’m looking at this waterfront property.” We’re usually conservative with our decisions, so this came out of leftfield. She sounded serious.

[Shauna] We’ve moved a lot. In 30 years of marriage, we’d been in 12 different homes around the country and Puerto Rico. We wanted a place where we could eventually settle for good. [Tom] I trust Shauna’s senses, so I said, “Let’s do this.” We bought the lot with plans to build about five years later.

That winter was the worst we had in Chicago. It only made it harder to be in the house without the kids. We thought, “Why are we waiting? Let’s build our house at Reynolds and enjoy it sooner than later.” Nine months later we moved in.

Something was missing. The boating is fabulous. The golf courses stack up with any six courses you’ll find anywhere. The people are as friendly as any neighbors we’ve ever known. But I could tell Shauna was lacking a deeper satisfaction to make this the place where we could spend the rest of our lives.

[Shauna] I could write a book about adjustment periods. It’s a reality that people don’t always want to admit about moving. Tom was still working and traveling and I needed a purpose. Throughout all of our moves I’d been involved with several charity organizations, including Ronald McDonald House Charities in Chicago. I needed to find my place here in the community so I started asking around and found out there was a Habitat for Humanity here in Greene County. All 16 members on the fundraising committee happen to be Members of Reynolds.

[Tom] It changed everything. She found her calling. This became the home we’d always wanted.

We discovered something about the Reynolds community. These are the most giving and generous people we’ve ever known. It became really clear in 2020.

[Shauna] Things didn’t look good. We thought we’d have to postpone our Showcase of Homes fundraiser because of COVID. But the need for affordable homes does not go away. We’ve seen how a home literally changes the lives of entire families. So we created a virtual Showcase with an online auction. Our expectations were pretty low.

I was shocked. We raised more than double the amount that we raised two years earlier, enough to build three homes. The donations came from donors all over the country, but the majority came from the Reynolds community.

That’s when Reynolds really felt like home. [Tom] I have my woodshop downstairs. In fact, I’ve had one everywhere we’ve lived. I’ve built cabinets for our garage, some furniture for our porch overlooking the lake, the bowls. It’s always relaxing for me. [Shauna] We have a boat for the first time in our lives, and we use it a lot. Sometimes we meet people on a sandbar for what we call a “pontoon potluck” or venture out for full-moon cruises with friends.

It’s easy to make friends here. Reynolds Members come from all over the country. Everyone has their story of how they found Reynolds. To know how caring and giving these people are … it’s hard to describe the contentment of knowing they’re our neighbors and friends. We can now say without a doubt, this is home.

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