Anne Springs Close (1925- ) received the Pugsley Medal in 2001. Close's family has had a major positive impact on the quality of life in the Fort Mill area of South Carolina for well over a century. The Spring Mills Company was started in Fort Mill in 1887. It expanded operations into Lancaster and Chester after Colonel Leroy Springs became president of the mill in 1911.His son, Colonel Elliott Springs, became president of the mills in 1932 and formed the mills in Fort Mill, Lancaster, Chester, and Kershaw into one company. He called this company Springs Cotton Mills.
Elliott Springs was a legendary flyer in World War I. He joined the British Royal Air Corps and later, when the U.S. entered the war, he transferred to the 148th Aero Squadron with whom he scored 10 or more victories, becoming a double ace. He was an outstandingly successful businessman who made Springs fabrics a household name. In 1938, Elliott Springs established Leroy Springs and Company as an operating foundation whose mission was to provide affordable recreational opportunities for the communities in which the mills were located.
Anne Springs Close was the only surviving child of Elliott Springs. In her early years, Close had a German-born governess who was an advocate of children being outdoors as much as possible and insisted on long walks for her even as an infant. She grew up hiking, canoeing, and horseback riding around Fort Mill. She attended Fort Mill elementary schools through sixth grade, Ashley Hall School in Charleston, South Carolina, and Chatham Hall School, Virginia. After high school she attended Smith College in Massachusetts. As a child, she was a passenger on the Hindenburg, the largest aircraft ever built, on its penultimate trip before it was destroyed by fire while landing at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey in May 1937.
Early in her life, Close dedicated herself to improving the quality of life of those around her. She loved the outdoors and encouraged others to find joy there. She has carved out a niche as one of South Carolina's foremost environmentalists and philanthropists, and made extraordinary contributions to the parks, recreation, conservation and environmental fields in local communities in South Carolina. However, her leadership style is always understated. She is a humble leader who is reluctant to be visible. She prefers to work behind the scenes and let others be in the public eye.
As chair of the board of both the Springs Close Foundation, Inc. and Leroy Springs and Company, Inc., Close expanded the efforts begun by her father to provide recreation and park opportunities to the residents of Fort Mill and surrounding communities in South Carolina. Since it was chartered, the Springs Close Foundation has contributed over $85 million to projects designed to improve the quality of life and wellbeing for people in these communities.
At the start of the new millennium, Leroy Springs & Company had recreational assets valued at $50 million and an annual operating budget of $14 million, most which was derived as income from its operations. While its operations are almost self-sufficient, when funds are needed for capital projects or program expansions these are generally made available by the Springs Close Foundations. Leroy Springs facilities include the Springmaid Beach Resort complex on the oceanfront at Myrtle Beach, with 432 rooms that include a resort hotel, a large campground, an outdoor pool, and a fishing pier.
This facility was conceived to provide Springs Mills' employees with affordable and easily available facilities for vacationing, especially with families. The foundation's other major complexes are located in Lancaster, Fort Mill, Chester, and Kershaw. These incorporate four golf courses, extensive athletic fields, three swimming pools, three community centers, bowling lanes, and other amenities. In addition, the foundation operates Springmaid Mountain, a 400-acre mountain property near the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is equipped with cabins, bunkhouse, campsites, shelters, and stables.
One of Close's lifelong dreams (indicative of her love for the outdoors and her commitment to a quality environment) was realized in 1995 with the formal dedication of the Anne Springs Close Greenway. These 2,300 acres of land surrounding her home town of Fort Mill form a greenbelt that will forever protect and buffer this area from the urban sprawl and development extending out of Charlotte, North Carolina. The greenway is used for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and fishing, as well as serving as a formal and informal outdoor classroom for students and teachers. Four schools adjoin the Greenway.
Near the Greenway's headquarters stands historic Springfield, the late-period Georgian mansion that is the traditional Springs family home, now called the White Homestead, which dates back to 1831.Jefferson Davis, fleeing from Richmond, met with the Confederate cabinet for the last time at this house in 1865.The Greenway also is home to three other historic buildings moved from nearby sites for their preservation.
The idea for the Greenway was hers, but Close's eight children were enthusiastic participants because the land belonged to them, and they insisted on naming the greenway to honor their naturalist mother. The Greenway links to the Palmetto Trail, another Close project, to connect South Carolina's mountains to its beaches through a 400-mile-long walking trail. Close also works in tandem with York County Forever and the National Ford Land Trust to encourage transference of large tracts of environmentally sensitive land in York County into public lands, or their protection by conservation easements.
One of the most revealing characteristics of Close is that she is a “hands-on person” and does not just operate at the board level. She personally has been the director of summer equestrian camps for local youth, conducts weekly riding lessons and programs for handicapped children and adults, and is a model for a personal fitness program. She also performs periodically with the Merry Pranksters, a theatrical troupe for the mentally disabled, organized by the Rock Hill Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department.
For most of her life, Anne Springs Close has been devoted to the protection of natural resources and the promotion of public recreation. In addition, to the contributions in her home area, Close has committed substantial energy and resources to serving the parks and conservation cause at national and state levels. She has, for example, served as chair of the National Recreation and Park Association Board of Trustees, as a trustee of the Wilderness Society, as a director of the American Farm Trust, and on the Board of the National Recreation Foundation.