Irv and Eleanor Welling live the path of service
By LISA GRAY YOUNGBLOOD
Photo by CAROLE SHEPARDSON
We began with a discussion of the book The Second Mountain by David Brooks, a well-known author and op-ed columnist for the New York Times. “Irv is on his second mountain,” Eleanor explained, clearly proud of her husband and not at all interested in being the focus of the conversation. I felt myself frown, and she added, “The first mountain is about making a name for yourself and establishing a career, supporting your family and focusing on what you need to do to be successful. Then, when you get to the top of that mountain, or when something horrible happens, you begin to wonder if there might not be more to life.” She paused, smiled at her husband. “That is when you start climbing the second mountain. While the first mountain is about oneself, the second is all about serving others.”
That certainly does seem an apt description of Irv’s journey. Irv graduated from Davidson College and earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a certified public accountant and was the managing partner of Elliott Davis, a large regional accounting firm in the Southeast. He has served in leadership positions for multiple nonprofits, is the Vice Chairman of the South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts and Humanities, and led the development of two large organizations in Upstate SC (covering 10 counties) focused on regional collaboration. In Cashiers, he is the Treasurer and on the Vestry of the Church of the Good Shepherd, where both Irv and Eleanor find strength and spend much of their time and energy, especially in the church’s Outreach Ministries. Irv was also instrumental in the development of the Cashiers Circles Program, which strives to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty.
On a community level, Irv is chairman of Vision Cashiers, which is a large undertaking that he and Paul Robshaw, together with 9 others, started in 2018. “Because we don’t have a government in Cashiers, there are gaps that need to be addressed, and this group is determined to set into motion plans that will ‘improve tomorrow today.’” Those plans run the gamut from creation of our dog park and sidewalks to workforce housing for teachers, nurses, physical therapists and others who keep us and our town healthy, educated and vital, and much more. “There is no such thing as standing still,” he added. “We are either growing or declining. If we opt for growth, we should be the architect of that growth, not the victim.” There are currently over 60 families that support Vision Cashiers through the Crossroads Society.
These are big jobs that require global thinking and abundant leadership skills, but that’s not a problem for Irv. A natural born leader, he is always looking for ways in which to use his many talents to serve his community. “I have been given a lot in this life,” he said then added, referencing the bible, “To whom much is given, much is required.” This is not a precept he takes lightly. His faith and gratitude guide him daily.
What surprised me most about him, however, was the intensity of his focus, which I garnered not so much from his words, for he, too, was uncomfortable talking about himself, but from his art. How he finds the time to pursue his passion for photography is beyond me, but he does, and his talent is evident. Irv and Eleanor share a passion for travel, and it was this passion that led Irv to pursue photography. The photos that now adorn the walls of their home are breathtaking. The wildlife photos from Africa and Australia felt like conversations with the animals, as if Irv had asked them to pull up a chair and have a chat. There is one photo of a kangaroo where Irv seemed literally to have caught the creature’s thoughts. A person who can capture not just the image, but the story, is a person who leans into life—and that is Irv. He is always leaning in, always questioning, always listening. And then, much to his credit, he takes action.
Another story bubbled while I listened and took notes, a story about the nature of service. Of course, there are many ways to serve, all valuable in their own right, but what intrigued me with Eleanor was how her service has evolved. As far as I can tell, Eleanor began her journey on the second mountain, jumping right over the first, and as such has had much time to explore that mountain. Perhaps Brooks has another chapter to write because it seems to me there is something beautiful, even magical, about transitioning the nature of one’s service based on one’s own heart and time of life.
Like Irv, Eleanor has served on more boards and led more charitable organizations than I can list on these pages. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, she taught middle and high school social studies. She worked for the American Field Service in New York, headed several nonprofits in Greenville, raised money for multiple political campaigns and was the at-large member of the Greenville City Council for two terms. She was also a volunteer chair of several arts organizations and was on the board of multiple educational entities, as well as housing and transit boards. Impressively, she was the first female chair of the annual United Way Campaign, as well as the United Way Agency’s Board Chair.
In Cashiers, her leadership and service has not wavered. She has chaired the Cashiers Community Fund and served on the boards of the Wade Hampton Donor-Advised Fund, Hampton Preschool and Learning Center, The Cashiers Historical Society, The Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau, the ELL Program for English language learners, and the Wade Hampton Property Owner’s Association. She also founded Big Brothers Big Sisters in Cashiers, taking on three Little Sisters, and was instrumental in the development of the Circles Program. When I met with her, she shared little of this, and I was left to research on my own. After a few google searches, I realized I had been in the company of an actual Steel Magnolia and had not known it.
What I did know about Eleanor, and why I wanted to do a story on her in the first place, is her heart. She is one of those rare people who is led by her heart, which is not to say her emotions. She is clear-headed, fiercely intelligent, and always on the lookout for the smartest solutions, but she is not driven by ego or the need for recognition. She simply has an innate desire to serve, which she does in graceful Eleanor fashion, respectfully and without reserve. When I asked what motivated her, she blushed and smiled, glanced at Irv, and I understood in that moment that’s just who she is. It’s not about motivation; it’s about being true to herself.
What is interesting about her evolution is her growing focus on the individual. “I increasingly enjoy working directly with the people I serve,” she said. “I enjoy getting to know them and walking side-by-side with them on their journeys.” Among many other activities, she serves as a Daughter of the King, which is an order of women who take vows to pray daily for those in need, as well as for the clergy and the church. She is a Shepherd on The Church of the Good Shepherd Scholarship Committee, a position she takes very seriously. “Most scholarship programs are for one year, but ours is for four, and we stay in close contact with our students. They must maintain grades, and we do all we can to support them in any way they need. Education is so important.”
In the vein of education, that link most likely to empower and lift individuals out of poverty, Eleanor has taken on another, quite extensive responsibility. She has become a tutor in the Read to Learn program at the Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau, working with a second grader who needs reading support. This is no easy task, and she went through rigorous training and committed to twice weekly sessions with her student for at least one, and possibly two, years. “I love the work I do with my student,” she said. “It means the world to me, and I look forward to seeing him every week. I pray our time together will get him where he needs to be.”
I have had the pleasure of being part of the program myself and have watched her develop as a tutor and marveled at her relationship with her student. Her commitment to him is so earnest and full-throated, and he knows it. That alone will have a lasting impact on him. Of course, the proficiency in reading is a gift that will serve him a lifetime, even if he is having too much fun to appreciate his progress, which is exactly how learning should be.
We are lucky to have Irv and Eleanor. Their service supports our community on the macro and micro levels every day. Interviewing them was a challenge because they have done so much, too much to cover in a single story, but it was an absolute pleasure. As we were finishing up, I asked Eleanor how to motivate others to serve. She smiled and said, “The motivation to serve needs to come from within. It cannot be forced upon a person. But often people do need to be asked. When I see a need and think of a person who has the talent and energy to serve that need, I ask—and people almost always say yes. Most people want to help others. They’re just not sure where to begin.” My heart tells me she is right, and that alone makes the world a little brighter.
Irv and Eleanor Welling
Hometown: Greenville, SC
Local volunteer involvement: Vision Cashiers, Cashiers Circles Program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau, Church of the Good Shepherd Outreach Ministries, Hampton Preschool and Learning Center, ELL Program, Cashiers Historical Society, Cashiers Community Fund, Wade-Hampton Donor-Advised Fund, among others.
Family: Irv and Eleanor have been married for 57 years and have three children, Beau, Meg and Katie.
Fun facts: Irv and Eleanor are both artists. Irv is an excellent photographer, particularly with wildlife, and Eleanor is a talented painter who enjoys a local studio called Paintin’ Place with other artists. The Wellings are passionate about travel and have traveled all over the world.