Georgia’s business leaders may have limited spare time, but that doesn’t stop them from capitalizing on the state’s varied outdoor activities and cultural opportunities
by Jennifer Bradley Franklin
Photography by Harold Daniels
Some of Ted Dennard’s happiest moments are spent sitting atop his classic Donald Takayama Noserider longboard along the jetty at Tybee Island’s North Beach, waiting for the perfect wave. “Watching the sunrise or the sunset with dolphins hopping—you just know it’s good for your soul,” says the owner of the Savannah Bee Company.
Though the St. Simons Island native tried surfing a few times in his youth, his passion for the sport didn’t take root until he returned to the States after a stint in the Peace Corps. In 1993 he rented a surfboard in San Diego and caught his first wave. “It was this perfect moment, and I realized why people get addicted to it,” he says. He honed his wave-riding skills in Indonesia before moving to Savannah in 1997.
Now Dennard lives on Tybee Island, so he can be in the water in just a few minutes if the waves happen to be ideal. “When there’s a swell, we go,” he says of his local cohort of surfing buddies who share wave updates via an ongoing text thread (three-foot waves and larger mean “go time”). While surfing has the benefit of being a whole-body workout, Dennard also says, “It clears my head in every way.” Though his business—bees—are one passion, surfing captures his heart as nothing else does. “I light up like a little kid. It's so energizing,” he says. “When you do catch that wave, it's just a thrill.”
Spirit of Adventure
Nature lovers know there’s nothing like exploring a new trail or sleeping under the stars. For Leda Chong, senior vice president for government programs and sales of Savannah-headquartered Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, outdoor excursions have always been a balm for her soul. Born in Hong Kong, Chong grew up in Hawaii, where her parents instilled a love of exploration in their curious little girl. She recalls the wonder of the open road and singing songs in the back seat of a borrowed station wagon as the family trekked through their new country. “It put me on this path of liking road trips. I love the anticipation. It inspired me to go after my National Park Service goal,” Chong says, referring to her plan to visit all 423 of the NPS units in the United States.
Chong built her career in the U.S. Navy and learned about the far-flung locales where she was stationed. When she moved to Savannah, she relished the easy access to Georgia sites that offered a convergence of natural beauty and historic import such as Skidaway Island State Park, Fort Pulaski National Monument, and Chickamauga Battlefield. While she’s pitched a tent plenty of times, today she tends to do her camping in a van, making it easier to indulge her passion for good food and whip up hearty meals. Chong and her husband try to camp once a month, and getting that nature fix is always worth the effort. “When you’re walking a trail, you have a moment where you’re really in the present,” she says. “It keeps me grounded.”
Hitting a High Note
Some artists see sweeping shapes and colors. Others, like Doug Hooker, hear exhilarating harmonies building to a crescendo. Hooker, who has served as the executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission for more than a decade, took a life-changing trip to the Middle East in 1990, where the convergence of history and jaw-dropping scenery left him inspired. A few years later, he couldn't get the music the journey inspired out of his head. After several sleepless nights, his wife encouraged him to do something with the suite playing in his mind, both to fulfill his creative drive and so they could both get some rest. He recalls saying, “Well, I can’t just hum it into a tape recorder—it’s a symphony!”
Though Hooker grew up playing a host of instruments, there was plenty stacked against him. He’d never studied composition and didn’t know music theory. But he found a mentor and learned to compose with software connected to a keyboard. His 24-minute Sinai Symphony premiered at the Dekalb Symphony Orchestra in 2006. The positive response encouraged him to keep composing. In February 2022, his 43-minute Without Regard to Sex, Race, or Color, a wonder of three movements with orchestral instrumentation, a choir, and soloists, debuted at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center. “Composing is such a part of my joy and my self-expression that doesn't have an outlet in any other realm,” Hooker explains. Music has also informed his work. “At its best, music is a collaboration between creator and performer. That’s my leadership style,” he says. “I thrive on getting people harmonized by aligning their interests with what our communities need.”
Jana Dyke comes by her love of skeet shooting, trap shooting, and quail hunting honestly. Her grandfather was a blacksmith who built rifles by hand; some of her earliest memories are of hunting with her father; and her brother was good enough to make the Olympic team. The family traveled for competitions, and Dyke picked up her own sharpshooting skills along the way. “Not many women shoot in an atmosphere like that,” she says. Though her career has taken her to other parts of the Southeast, her role as Albany-Dougherty County Economic Development Commission’s president and CEO brought Dyke back to her roots in 2020. Now, it’s part of her job to showcase the area’s assets, including its many outdoor offerings and high concentration of hunting plantations, to prospective Dougherty County businesses. “Being able to shoot quail or go to the skeet range and know what I’m doing has helped put me on a level playing field,” she says. “It’s empowering to feel comfortable in those environments.”
These days, she picks up her Krieghoff K80 sporting shotgun at least once a month (“more during quail season”) to experience the exhilaration of hitting the day’s first target or see a sporting clay disintegrate on impact. “It’s hard to be perfect with so many outdoor variables, so it will always be a challenge,” she says. Not surprisingly, Dyke and her husband have passed along the family passion to their two sons. “I love knowing that one day I can say, ‘Your great-granddad, the guy you’re named after, built this gun for us.’”
Caught in the Moment
On select weekends, you might find Chris Womack navigating his 26-foot Chaparral through the early morning mist rising from Lake Oconee, looking for the perfect spot to drop a line. The president, chairman, and CEO of Georgia Power learned to fish at just two years old in the creeks and ponds of Greenville, Alabama, where his beloved grandmother passed along her passion for the sport. Since then, Womack has reeled in memorable catches in Alaska, Mexico, and Canada, but the varied topography of the state he now calls home never fails to thrill him. “Part of the excitement of being here is having the well-stocked and -maintained lakes so close by, from Oconee up to North Georgia,” he says, adding that deep-sea fishing off the coast of Savannah is also within reach. “I think that’s one of the luxuries of living in Georgia.”
For Womack, fishing is an embrace of life’s simple pleasures. “There’s excitement and an anticipation of what may be on the other end of the bait,” says the self-described adventurous spirit. “Not knowing what you’re going to catch is part of the thrill.” Though he’s landed several trophy-sized bass over the years, you won’t find them adorning the walls of his office at Georgia Power headquarters in downtown Atlanta. “Fishing is for myself, not for show.”
In the Swing
Jane Marie Kinsey grew up in the epicenter of golf, just a few miles from the site of Augusta’s famed Masters Tournament, but she didn’t fall in love with the links until adulthood. Ten years ago, she joined her husband, who’s played his whole life, on the course. “I thought, ‘No wonder everyone likes to play,’” says the VP of Augusta-headquartered McKnight Construction Company, the business her grandfather and great-grandfather founded in 1961. “[Being on the course] is gorgeous, peaceful, and quiet. And it's fun.” Kinsey’s hobby has come full circle: As a teen, she worked in transportation for the Masters, driving golfers from the private parking lot to the clubhouse, even briefly meeting Tiger Woods, as well as Arnold Palmer (“He’s as cool as you think he is,” she says). Now, she attends as a guest each year. “It's more fun for me now because I understand the game and appreciate how difficult it is,” she says.
Like so much in Kinsey’s life, golfing is a family affair. Her mom fell in love with the sport after her four daughters graduated high school, and Kinsey’s three sisters have joined in, as well. They often play at Augusta Country Club, where there are trees on the course planted for both her maternal and paternal grandfathers. Kinsey, who is a mom to three little boys, is passing on her passion to the next generation. “They keep me very busy, but I'm hoping that they grow up to like golf too so we can play more.”
Seth Herman’s love of running came as a surprise, even to him. Both his dad and his grandmother passed away from heart issues in their early 40s, and at the tender age of three, he was diagnosed with hypertension and high blood pressure. “I ran my first mile in eighth grade and hated it,” says the chief commercial officer of Athens-based Creature Comforts Brewing Company. Herman was 35 when he started running in earnest. He lost 50 pounds, and as the numbers on the scale dropped, so did his blood pressure. After a few short races, he signed up for a marathon on the Silver Comet Trail in Smyrna in 2015.
He soon found friends who were into ultramarathon running—anything over a marathon distance of 26.2 miles—including the “incredibly inspiring” Yeti Trail Runners group. “I fell in love with running longer distances and got so much energy from the people that were into it,” Herman says. “It’s beautiful. You’re out in the woods and no one really takes themselves too seriously.” He completed his first 50k in 2018 and ran a 50-mile race the next year. All told, he’s run more than a dozen ultramarathons, and his sights are set on running a 100-mile race before he turns 50 in 2022. “It would be a moon shot to do it once and hopefully mentor others,” he says. “I love the sport for a lot of reasons, but I'm obsessed with just wrapping my mind around what I think would be my limitations and challenging myself to kind of smash through them.” His post-race reward? A cold Tropicália IPA, of course.
“When I’m on stage, acting, I’m free,” says Ivan Shammas. The newly named president and general manager of Univision Atlanta caught the acting bug early. His father was a stage actor in his younger years and encouraged a deep appreciation for the arts. His Venezuela-born mother ensured that he became fluent in Spanish, a skill that has shaped his 20-plus-year career in media.
In the late 1980s, Shammas began appearing in school plays, scoring roles in The Wizard of Oz and Fiddler on the Roof, later moving on to a national TV spot for Kmart. “The lights, cameras . . . You get hooked,” he says. He’s also appeared in commercials for Equifax, videos for major brands such as Delta and Chick-fil-A, and programs such as Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, honing his skills over the years at the Professional Actor’s Studio in Buckhead. “It’s so cool to see our city as a top destination for so many productions,” he says.
While he doesn’t dig into a script as often as he’d like, Shammas’s time on stage and in front of a camera has paid dividends in his work, where he’s often behind the camera, helping his station’s clients produce spots. “Acting instills a certain level of confidence,” says the exec, who has served on the board for the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for seven years. “I’m able to give direction and pull the right energy out,” he says. Just like his dad did for him, he’s sharing his passion for the arts with the next generation. “I’m blessed to share that joy with my three children.”