After a youth spent moving around with an Air Force family and the early years of her marriage moving around for her husband’s professional opportunities, Glenda Browning yearned for stability and a sense of belonging.
In Leland she found exactly what she desired and more.
Here, Browning found friends, educators and nurturers for her children, opportunities for leadership and a welcoming community. Now, as the executive director of the Leland Tourism Authority, she is determined to share her positive experiences with others.
While living in Sumter, S.C., during high school, Browning met her future husband, Bill. They met at a community party, which was patrolled by chaperones so strict she had to sneak out through a bathroom window to talk to him. The two chatted and flirted before she had to get back inside. Shortly after their first meeting, Bill drove his family’s boat over to the her lake-house dock and asked her out for a date. The rest, as they say, is history.
After their wedding, Bill worked in tire stores and ascended up the ranks in short order. At age 21 he became the youngest Firestone store manager the company had ever had. Other companies realized Bill’s management skills, and he was hired away from Firestone. With the promotion came more moving. Bill was tasked with turning around under-performing tire stores. He would move into a store, monitor the way in which it was run, make changes to turn it around and then move on.
“He was really good at managing, but his dream was to own his own store,” says Browning.
In 1978 the Brownings decided that they would take a chance and open their own tire store.
“I always wanted to have roots,” Browning says. “You desire for your kids what you didn’t have. I told him that if starting the store doesn’t work out, he’s young enough. We can start again.”
Bill’s family was living in Wilmington at the time, and the Brownings worked with his parents to get a plan for starting up their tire company. They opened Browning Tire Town at the intersection of 17th and Castle streets in Wilmington — the same location where the company is operating today.
Desiring to live in a country setting with open land for their three boys — Bill, Mike and Glen — the couple settled in Leland. They were surprised when some people were taken aback by this decision. Many Wilmington residents told Browning that Leland was too far away and that the schools would not be good for her children.
The couple stuck with their decision, and Browning took the criticism as motivation to help make Leland the great place that she so strongly wanted it to be. At first she did have her doubts. What if the naysayers were right? What if they had made the wrong decision?
Their neighbors quickly answered her questions for her. While starting off life in their new house in the country, their yard needed a great deal of work. The Brownings had carved their lot out of a section of forest, and the yard needed grading work. Stumps stuck out around the yard, but the couple was busy with raising a family and starting a new business.
Each day when she came home, Browning noticed that a few of the stumps had disappeared. One day when she stayed home from work she heard the rumble of a tractor and eagerly peeked out the window to find an elderly neighbor driving his tractor onto their front lawn. He began working on the stumps, and Browning came out to thank him with a glass of tea.
“He was embarrassed that we had caught him helping us like that, but he came back,” says Browning. “When he did he asked my husband for a ride home. He needed a ride because he was leaving his tractor with us. He said, ‘Keep it until you don’t need it anymore.’”
Browning found this gracious demeanor to be a commonality amongst her neighbors, and it really drew her into Leland.
After a while, Browning began volunteering as a tutor at her kids’ school.
“I was able to get into the schools and was able to see all the good things that were going on,” she says.
She furthered her involvement by becoming a substitute teacher and also the PTA president.
“I kept seeing teachers doing such a great job but needing more support,” Browning recalls. “They needed help and they needed supplies … and that is how I got into politics.”
In 1994 Browning ran for the school board. She was elected and served three terms, a total of eight years. She served as a proponent of the children and teachers of Brunswick County with the ultimate goal of making the greater Leland area a better place to live.
“In 2002 I decided not to run again,” Browning says. “People’s kids are their hearts, and it can be really heart-wrenching for the people having to make the decisions (on behalf of the children).”
Wasting no time, Browning went right into her next community endeavor — serving as the president of the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce.
“We started it (the chamber) from nothing,” she says. “We didn’t start under the umbrella of another chamber. We didn’t really have a budget … It was a real team effort.”
While serving as the president of the new chamber of commerce, Browning also served on several boards in northern Brunswick County.
Today Browning finds herself taking on a new challenge, which couldn’t be better suited to her. As executive director of the Leland Tourism Development Authority, she is tasked with promoting Leland as an area to live, work, play and raise a family.
While Browning recognizes Leland’s natural resources, such as the largely natural, undeveloped riverfront and the well-managed Brunswick Nature Park, she believes the people who live here are ultimately the community’s greatest asset, the same asset that first sold her on Leland.
“I started loving the people,” she says. “You start loving the people and then you fall in love with the place.”