The Women of Kiawah

The Women of Kiawah

May 31, 2023

Categories: Legends Magazine, Lifestyle

Community is hard to define—and even harder to create. There is an alchemy, a mysterious mixture of authenticity, shared values, mutual trust, social capital, and reciprocity. The Kiawah Island community has dramatically matured over the last thirty-five years, shaped by careful planning and intentional growth. At the heart of these efforts are women. Women are key to community creation and though this is an imperfect, incomplete list, the women profiled here have influenced the Kiawah Island community in unique and profound ways.  

Robyn Coles
Resident, Activist, and Philanthropist
Since 1982

Robyn and her husband started coming to Kiawah Island in the early eighties and purchased a home in 2003. Kiawah is a kind of spiritual retreat for their family—a place to reconnect, gain perspective, and ask themselves how they want to show up in the world. As a philanthropist, political activist, and advocate, Robyn has dedicated her life to social justice and equality. In 2018 she created the Black Economic Alliance Foundation, a political action committee dedicated to economic justice and equality for Black Americans, and she is a board member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Robyn is passionate about shifting narratives and recently won a Tony award for co-producing A Strange Loop on Broadway, the story of a black, queer man and his journey to self-love. She is also committed to progressing local and cultural institutions, formerly serving as board member of the Charleston International African American Museum and sponsoring the Spoleto Festival’s groundbreaking opera Omar in 2022. Coles was an early architect of Advance Kiawah, a multifaceted initiative to chart a more diverse and inclusive future for Kiawah Island. Most recently, she partnered with South Street Partners to bring the Aspen Institute to Kiawah, to initiate thoughtful discussion around creating a free, just, and equitable society. Her philanthropy has focused on correcting economic and social disparity, reshaping the channels of power and influence, and inspiring a more inclusive cultural canon. 

I have had many opportunities to meet extraordinary people from all walks of life, and the common denominator is their ability to recognize the humanity of others and to create community. This is my north star when I think about how I want to continue my service and how I want to show up in the world.


Liz King
Director of Recreation, Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Since 1992

Liz King came to Kiawah over thirty years ago as a seasonal staff naturalist at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Though she had a masters degree in biology, Liz couldn’t believe there was a job that allowed her to lead canoe tours and nature walks through pristine habitat. In short, she fell in love. There wasn’t a year-round naturalist program at the time, so she spent the first winter repairing bikes. The second winter she cleaned pools. By the third winter, she had created a small nature center in the back of the bike shop with a hodgepodge of native creatures. The Resort saw how popular it was and asked Liz to establish a proper nature program in Night Heron Park. Liz’s purview continued to expand. When she became director of recreation in 2007, she took over all manner of outdoor activities for the Resort: kayaking, motorboat excursions, the nature center, Kamp Kiawah, bike rentals, swimming pools, surfing lessons…the list goes on. For Liz, it has always been about the outdoors. She’s good at her job because she loves getting people outside, loves connecting visitors to the island and its mysteries. 

When you see the island through the eyes of a naturalist, you see that there is wildlife all around us. My goal here is for people to find peace in nature, to reconnect with their families and have a chance to breathe, when they come to vacation on the island.


Elizabeth Lanier Fennell
Sporting Club Director of Instruction, Kiawah Island Club
Since 2019

When Elizabeth gifted her then-husband a series of shooting lessons in the late nineties, she had no intention of taking up the sport. The instructor convinced her to join and after one lesson, Elizabeth was hooked. After a wing shooting trip to Scotland, she decided to gather a group of women to shoot clay courses while their kids were in school. Elizabeth named the group the GRITS (Girls Really Into Shooting), which ultimately became an organization with over fourteen chapters in seven states. Today she is a National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) Level III shooting instructor, no small feat in the shooting world. She is, simply put, a world-class instructor with over sixteen years of experience as a coach. Elizabeth came to Kiawah in 2019 to head up instruction for the Sporting Club program. She has an easy way with people and is quick to toss out a joke or lighten the mood. Most importantly, Elizabeth makes you fall in love with the sport and the great outdoors. She connects people to a sense of place through a meaningful, different, and fun way of interacting with the natural environment. 

As an instructor, I ask my students questions not to see what they know, but to understand what they are seeing and how they are processing the coaching. I like to figure out each person and come up with creative ways to coach. It’s fun because their learning curve is so important for me. 


Stephanie Monroe Tillerson
Town Administrator, Town of Kiawah Island
Since 2015

Stephanie has served the public for twenty-three years, working in government across South Carolina, including Hilton Head, Spartanburg, and Woodruff, as well as with Upstate Forever, a nonprofit conservation organization. Stephanie is built for civic service, utilizing her analytical personality and attention to detail. Stephanie and her team carry out policies created by the Town Council that protect and enhance the Island’s community and natural environment. Stephanie must coalesce the community stakeholders’ demands and expectations while balancing them against the community’s long-term needs. Entrenched in her community, she serves on the boards of the Charleston County Parks Foundation, Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic, the American Planning Association of South Carolina, and on Charleston’s Design Review Board. Additionally, she serves on the Executive Committee of the Urban Land Institute. Stephanie is passionate about community planning and creating authentic partnerships and infrastructure.

I like being the boots on the ground. I like having direct contact, not only with elected officials but also with the community in which I serve. So I think having that love and passion for public service is what got me to where I am today. 


Dixie Norris
Vice President of Human Resources, South Street Partners
Since 2003

Dixie started her career on Kiawah as a benefits manager in 2003 and was promoted to human resources director two years later. After a short stint away from the company, from 2017 to 2019, Dixie took her current position as vice president. Returning to work for a company that cares about employees was an easy decision for her. It is exceedingly rare to see so little turnover in such a large company, especially in hospitality. Dixie gives credit to her team and Kiawah’s incredible employees. Over the nearly two decades of her involvement, Dixie has created sound and mutually beneficial programs for health insurance, compensation management, retirement, training and development, inclusion, and beyond. In short, she elevates the experience of working on the Island and by extension contributes greatly to the culture of the entire community. 

I’ve always loved people. That’s the reason I got into human resources. It’s my job to make our employment experience the very best it can be for all employees. South Street Partners support us, create long-term opportunities for us and our families, and allow us to make a difference in the community. 


Becky Dennis
Director of Operations, Kiawah Island Utility
Since 1978

Becky Dennis began working for the Kiawah Island Utility, then owned by a Kuwaiti investment company, in 1978. She started as a clerk, installing and maintaining meters. She worked her way up in the company to general manager and eventually director of operations in 2016. As Kiawah has grown, so too has the need for consistent utilities. Becky has overseen the development of a secondary water source, a second utility facility, two aquifer storage and recovery systems, and the upgrade of all water meters to automated technology. This expansion of utilities has allowed for the population growth and has dramatically minimized potential service interruptions. Becky is a people person with a can-do, solution-oriented outlook. She is most proud of her team, many of whom have stayed with the company for twenty to forty years. This longevity is a testament to her leadership and the kind of integrity she brings to the company. 

I love interacting with our customers and making a difference in how they see utility operations. It’s all about personal attention. There’s always a solution! Every obstacle is an opportunity.


Dorota Szubert
Finance Director, Town of Kiawah
Since 2007

A native of Poland, Dorota moved to the United States in 1998 to get her MBA at University of New Haven. She vacationed at  Kiawah with friends and fell in love. In 2007 she got a job with Kiawah Partners. Eight years later, she moved to her current position with the Town of Kiawah. Dorota is meticulous and exacting. She finds a kind of creativity in accounting and how budgets come together. Since her start in 2015, there has not been a single deficiency come audit season. Dorota keeps the operation running smoothly, maintaining the financial integrity of the Town and its community. Dorota and the team at the Town operate like a family. There is a strong feeling of mutual appreciation and trust, and Dorota is a meaningful part of that capital. 

I like the people I work with and the people we serve. Our council deals with many different stakeholders. Everyone is educated and sophisticated, and we can have a good discussion, but also we are on island time, so there are happy people. 


Shannon White
Chief Operating Officer, Kiawah Island Community Association
Since 1997

In 1997 Shannon took a job in member services with the Kiawah Island Community Association, and she never looked back. She has held numerous positions during her twenty-five years of service and knows the Island inside and out—from security to stormwater—and currently employs over one hundred people. The community association is responsible for island security and access control, the Sandcastle, member boating facilities, twenty miles of leisure trails, sixty miles of roadways, twenty-six boardwalks, and one hundred and twenty-two ponds. As a key steward of the Kiawah brand and vision, KICA places those values at the center of its work, from common property maintenance to covenant compliance. Shannon is, and always has been, dedicated to service. It is why she found her way to the community association. She has built a cohesive and supported team, one that comes together like family when there is work to be done on behalf of the members they serve.

I have watched this team come together over and over again. I take great pride in what we’ve built and what we can achieve together. 


Amanda Mole
Chief of Architecture and Design, Kiawah Partners
Since 1999

Amanda Mole has worn many hats. Before her role as chief of architecture she was director of architecture, and prior to that she managed the Architectural Review Board (ARB). Amanda has been a key player in shaping Kiawah’s built world, and that meaningful contribution to such a vast undertaking has been a highlight of her career. Amanda and the team at Kiawah Partners have shown the world what thoughtful development can look like. The ARB is responsible for guiding architecture on the Island and maintaining the hallmark principle of designing with nature. As chief of architecture, Amanda guides the architectural identity of Kiawah through project design and development oversight. Throughout her tenure, Amanda has acted as a kind of compass, implementing the original master plan with integrity. She is thoughtful, balanced, a good listener, and a strong collaborator.

Whenever I drive through the island, I am glad to have participated in keeping it the way it is. But there are so many other women who have been involved. Without their support, I could never do what I do.


Stephanie Clarkson
Chief Financial Officer, Kiawah Partners
Since 1992

Stephanie started working for Kiawah Partners in 1992 as a corporate controller. She was drawn to real estate, intrigued by the long-range financial planning and extensive budgeting involved in development and operations. In the last thirty years, Stephanie has helped guide the development of Kiawah through its dramatic rise to the world stage. By forecasting the financial growth of the community, Stephanie has helped ensure the Island has developed responsibly, sustainably. This long-range planning has been crucial to the stability of the development and the overall health of the community. Stephanie is steady and reliable, guiding her departments with conservative creativity. Stephanie was also a resident of Kiawah for many years and has a deep and abiding connection to its people and natural environment. 

I’m always so amazed at what our design departments produce. We’ve had so many talented architects who have done such an amazing job of integrating design with Kiawah’s natural settings. It’s been so rewarding to be involved on those projects and to work with such talented people. 


Diana Permar
Resident, Market Analyst
Since 1974

Diana remembers first visiting Kiawah in the seventies, riding through the dense maritime forest on old logging roads to a wide, pristine beach. She was part of the early team of consultants and strategists that put together the original master plan for the Island. In the forty years that followed, Diana’s real estate consulting firm, Permar Inc., has remained an integral part of Kiawah’s evolution, shepherding the community through a continuum of development and aligning growth to the integrity of that original master plan. A resident of Kiawah since 1979, Diana has an authentic and deeply personal understanding of the Kiawah community. By providing the development partners with a comprehensive picture of the market and its players, Diana has helped grow the Island with clear and well-informed intention and craft conditions that make people’s lives better. 

Community development is extraordinarily complex and sometimes messy–sort of like families–but it is deeply satisfying, meaningful work. It has been a privilege to work with each of the ownership groups and their teams of highly talented people.


Lucinda Detrich
Creative Director, South Street Partners
Since 1996

Lucinda started as a graphic designer for Kiawah Partners in 1996. During her tenure, she has held numerous key positions, including graphic designer, art director, senior art director, creative director for Kiawah Partners, and finally creative director for South Street Partners. For the past twenty-six years, Lucinda has shaped the visual identity of Kiawah. In her design, the core values of the community are always present, the natural environment and sense of place paramount. As a leader of the various South Street creative teams, she encourages designers to think outside of the box and take risks. Lucinda is a problem solver, an innovator, a holistic thinker. Subtle subtext and visual cues that communicate culture and sense of place are ever present in her work. Through her ability to market these nuances, Lucinda has directly influenced the kind of people who have come to call Kiawah Island home. 

 All Kiawah Partner departments are connected and supportive. It’s a great feeling to see all aspects of the design process—strategy, concept, copy, photography, and design—come together to create impactful solutions for colleagues and prospects alike. I love working with this group and learning new ways of looking at and improving our marketing outputs.


Donna Windham
Executive Director, Kiawah Conservancy
Since 1999

When Donna Windham came to Kiawah in 1999, the Conservancy was in its infancy. She planned to get it on its feet and move on. Twenty-four years later, she is more passionate about conserving Kiawah and the surrounding sea islands than ever. She has fallen in love with conservation, with the Kiawah community. Running a board of over twenty people, Donna has learned how to be an excellent listener, to build consensus and find common ground. She has navigated the tricky waters of Kiawah’s development mandate, its passionate stakeholders, and conservation objectives. And the Conservancy team is potent. In the span of twenty years, they have protected key swaths of habitat, initiated important wildlife and habitat research, and created a myriad of educational opportunities for Kiawah and the surrounding communities. They are a member of the Land Trust Alliance and have put over 2,300 acres into conservation easements. Donna has worked tirelessly to maintain this pristine sea island.

I have learned how to be a good friend, how to listen, how to work with differences of opinion. To run a strong organization, you need to hear all differing opinions. 


Story by Hailey Wist
Photography by Susan Pittard