Kelli Hyde and Robert Davis, who have been part of the Sea Island team for over 25 years, reminisce and share the secrets of making members and guests feel special.
By Amber Lanier Nagle
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years that workers have been at their current employer is approximately four—a far cry from the 25-plus years that Kelli Hyde, Robert Davis and other members of the Quarter Century Club have been part of the Sea Island family. Indeed, there was a time in the not so distant past that people stayed at one job for their entire career, but it is nearly unheard of in today’s world.
“Right after high school, I applied at Sea Island, and the rest is history,” Hyde says. “My first position was as a passer—an assistant to the waitstaff. I passed out danishes, jellies and coffee in the mornings, and rolls and raw veggies in the evenings, and I loved it. It was one of the best jobs ever, with lots of walking from the dining room to the kitchen. I was in great shape back then.”
Hyde raves about her 30-plus years at Sea Island, using the word “family” several times during the conversation.
“I’ve always felt like everyone at Sea Island is a family,” she says. “I [loved working in] food and beverage, but Harna Hill asked me to come work for her at The Cloister front desk.” A people person, Hyde has always enjoyed meeting the members and guests and helping with their every need. In her role at The Cloister, she loved seeing the parade of men and young boys in jackets and women dressed to the nines as they strolled toward the dining room. She stepped away from the desk some nights and watched everyone dance to band music. Seeing the joy in others made her happy.
Today, she’s an exclusive concierge, booking activities and dining reservations for Sea Island Club members. “There’s really no secret to hospitality,” she says. “I guess I always try to follow the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Most days, I am truly doing all I can to help our members feel special, just like I would like to feel. I read them pretty well, and I know when they are in a hurry and when they feel like chitchatting.”
A smile breaks across Hyde’s face as she recounts a memory from 30 years ago.
“I was just 18 years old, and it was my first year at Sea Island,” Hyde says. “It started snowing on Christmas Eve that year, and it was so beautiful—like a postcard. The snow just kept falling and falling from the sky, and no one could believe it.”
When the sun rose the following day, a blanket of white layered much of the southeastern coastal regions, breaking all-time weather records in the area, which almost never sees snowfall. Sea Island guests woke to find themselves in the midst of a rare winter wonderland with inches of fresh powder on the ground. While the historic event brought a surreal beauty to the Island, it also resulted in some challenges, as is common in regions that aren’t accustomed to snow and ice. The causeway—a lifeline to the Island—became impassable. Some employees were stranded on Sea Island, while others could not travel to the Island for their shifts.
At some point in the early morning hours, the power went out. “But it didn’t stop us from serving our guests,” Hyde continues. “The chefs made breakfast on gas-powered stoves, and we used Sternos to keep the food warm. We found a way.”
The Sea Island team worked together like a well-oiled machine to provide for members and guests, making the surprise situation even more special. “And it was during that time, as we served the guests, one of my coworkers started singing Christmas carols,” she says. “A few minutes later, everyone was singing along. It is one of the most memorable Christmases I have ever had.”
Hyde describes that Christmas morning in 1989 with such affection it sounds as if she is talking about a holiday memory with her family, and perhaps she is. She, along with other members of the Sea Island Quarter Century Club, consider the Island a beloved home away from home.
Each spring, the resort hosts a special dinner to say “thank you” to Hyde and the other members of the prestigious Quarter Century Club for their dedicated service. During the first such event that she attended, Hyde remembers the crowd recognizing a gentleman who had worked at Sea Island for 55 years. That man was Davis. Today, he has been a valued Sea Island employee for 60 years.
Since 1960, Sea Island members and guests have had the pleasure of knowing Davis’ electric smile and upbeat personality. People call him Mighty Fine, a nickname that pays homage to his upbeat response to the question: “How’re you doing?”
“When I started here, I was only 19 years old, and I needed a job,” says Davis, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in April. “I started as a dishwasher, but through the years, I’ve moved around and done some of everything.”
With his can-do attitude, this jack-of-all-trades moved into the dining room as a busboy, waited tables, then moved into the role of room service attendant, eventually becoming a float man—floating around to whichever positions he was needed in. He’s been a bartender and a porter. Today, Davis lends his talents and charisma to the Men’s Locker Room at The Lodge.
“A lot of times, people who came to Sea Island in the ’60s find me just to say, ‘Hello! I just wanted to holler at you,’ ” Davis says. “I think they just like seeing a familiar face that’s been here for all these years.”
Davis notes that he has always adored the management, and that makes working at Sea Island easy. “The Joneses were super people,” he says, referring to the family of Bill Jones, one of the resort’s founders. “I really loved them. And Scott [Steilen, Sea Island president and CEO]—he’s great, too. And Marybeth [Steilen, Scott’s wife]—she’s our first lady. There are so many bright, kind people in our company—always have been. It’s just a pleasure to work around them. They’ve never treated me like a number. I’ve always felt appreciated and like I’m part of their family.”
Davis feels honored that he has had the opportunity to meet many famous people during his tenure, including several presidents and world leaders. He has a keepsake box that houses hundreds of photos of his history at Sea Island. Among the pictures, there are several of Davis with very distinguished guests.
“Sometimes I go through my box, like a trip down memory lane,” he says. “I have photos of President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. I met George H. W. Bush at Sea Island, too, and have a photo of him. And I met President Ford. I also have photos of a lot of governors because we hosted the Southern Governor’s Convention. Where else could I have worked and had the opportunity to meet all of these great people? Some of them know me by name, and that feels good.”
Another point of pride for Davis is the quality of the service he and his coworkers provide.
“My wife and I have traveled all over the world, and I always compare the places we stay with Sea Island, and I can say this with confidence: I know we are the best around. We make everyone feel special.”
He says the secret to hospitality is a warm, friendly welcome. “I tell everyone that I’m glad they are here, and I am. It’s genuine,” he says. “And when it’s time for them to leave, I tell them that I hope they come back soon, and I mean that, too.”
Davis says he is proud of Sea Island and the team, and he is particularly proud that he is a member of the Quarter Century Club. He credits Sea Island for keeping him young. “I couldn’t have been happier anywhere else,” he says. “I have loved my time here, and I’ve loved the people—the guests and my coworkers. I appreciate them, and they appreciate me. To sum it all up, Sea Island has been a blessing for me. That’s it. I feel so very blessed.”
Working With Wildlife
Sea Island isn’t just a home away from home for human staff. Here, Sea Island Falconer Paige Hansen and Naturalist Haley Watkins provide an overview of a few of our wildlife team members.
Einstein and Big Mike
Joining the team in 2017, Einstein, a male Harris’s hawk, is the oldest, most experienced hunting bird at Sea Island. He works with Ginger, the vizsla (a pointing dog) to catch quail, pheasant and partridge. Big Mike, the other male Harris’s hawk, is the main bird that is present during the Hawk Walk experience, where Big Mike flies in and lands on guests’ gloved fists.
Owlivia, the Eastern screech owl, joined the team in February 2018 and lives in the Nature Center. Members and guests get to meet both Owlivia and Scout, the Eurasian eagle-owl featured in the Owl Prowl class, while learning about owls and dissecting owl pellets.
Grace, Irma and Sweet Sue
The three female Harris’s hawks came to Sea Island in the beginning of 2018. These birds of prey work as a team on the Falconry Experience, the half-day hunt at Broadfield, A Sea Island Sporting Club and Lodge. They scan the trees as they follow members, guests and falconers through Broadfield’s 5,800 acres in search of Eastern gray squirrels.
This 7-year-old Eastern Box turtle, who has called Sea Island home for over two years, is often involved in meet-and-greets at the Nature Center. Carlton enjoys a healthy diet of fruits and veggies. Guests love his bright colors—his shell and scales contain hues of red, yellow and orange. Carlton’s species is native to Georgia.
Our resident Atlantic sting ray Rosie has had her stinging barb safely removed so that guests who visit the Sea Island Nature Center can have a hands-on experience with her. The star of Camp Cloister’s Sting Ray Day, Rosie enjoys showing off for guests and being fed shrimp. She has been here since 2019.