Anne Springs Close, founder and namesake of York Co. greenway, dies

Published: Aug. 21, 2021 at 6:25 PM EDT
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FORT MILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Anne Springs Close, the founder and namesake of the popular greenway in York County, S.C., has died. She was 95.

Close died Aug. 20, just days after a falling tree limb struck she and her daughter, Gracie Close, according to a statement released on the greenway’s website.

“The family would like to thank the community that loved her so much for their prayers and support during this difficult time,” the statement read.

Today, community members took the time to visit her greenway as they mourned and celebrated her.

“I wanted to come out here and experience what she loved,” says Andrew Kreuger, whose memories of Close started when he was a little boy. So hearing about her passing was not easy.

“It took my breath away. It was hard. I mean the amount of love she had for this greenway and this town so it was hard to accept,” he says.

Kreuger says the greenway was her gift to Fort Mill. The massive 2,100-acre protected natural area has a little bit of something for everyone, including the four-legged friends. Close’s favorite thing, trees, stand tall in her honor.

“We owe all this greenway to her,” says Kreuger. “This greenway existed because of her dedication to Fort Mill and to nature.”

Another thing Close loved, her horse. Amy Brown, who also came to the greenway to feel closer to Close, shared her experience meeting the beloved greenway creator with her son.

“At the end of the ride, we saw Mrs. Close and come to find out that my son was riding her horse,” says Brown.

Brown says she never expected to see her or be able to speak with the woman behind one of her favorite greenways, but it is a moment she will never forget.

“I’m grateful about that day with my son that he was able to see her and say hello and just how awesome of an experience that was,” she says.

A full profile by the greenway outlined the colorful life of a woman devoted to her community.

Close was born in Fort Mill, S.C. as Anne Springs. Her education (Ashley Hall in Charleston and Chatham Hall in Virginia, then Smith College in Massachusetts) took her away from the area for a while, as did her marriage to Naval Lieutenant Hugh William Close--the two lived in Port Chester, New York until 1947.

The couple moved back to Fort Mill in 1947, when Close found she was pregnant with their first of eight children.

She lived in the same home in Fort Mill for 72 years.

Following the death of her brother, Close was the sole heir to her father’s cotton mill company and her husband was over mills, a bank, railroad, newspaper and an insurance company before his death in 1983.

She used her position and funds to give back to the community in a number of ways.

“Mrs. Close is remembered as a hands-on member of the community, from her charitable efforts with the Springs Close Foundation to the fitness programs and equestrian camps she participated in at the Anne Springs Close Greenway. Close is known for her many contributions to the Town, including the dedication of Walter Y Elisha Park and the donation of the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex, which is now operated by the Upper Palmetto YMCA,” read a statement issued by the city of Fort Mill. “...The loss of Mrs. Close to Fort Mill will be felt for years to come, but her legacy will live on for generations.”

Dedication to education

“Our hearts are with the Close family, friends, and the entire Fort Mill community as we mourn the loss of Anne Springs Close,” Fort Mill School District Superintendent Chuck Epps wrote in a statement.

Close was the chairwoman of the Springs Close Foundation, whose projects benefitted the community in a number of ways. She helped the school district through service programs like summer reading initiatives, backpack programs, student loan programs and more.

According to the district, she was inducted to the Fort Mill Hall of Fame in 2018--despite not being an educator.

Anne Close Sparks (left) was inducted into the Fort Mill Hall of Fame in 2018.
Anne Close Sparks (left) was inducted into the Fort Mill Hall of Fame in 2018.(Fort Mill School District)

“Throughout our school district, as well as those in York, Chester and Lancaster counties, few students’ lives haven’t been positively impacted in some way by Mrs. Close,” wrote Epps. “On behalf of the Fort Mill School Board, district staff and the entire Fort Mill family, please join us as we remember her life with warmth and gratitude for her innumerous contributions to our community.”

Decades ago, Close helped to create the Close Scholars program at Winthrop University, which helped provide financial assistance to students involved in community service.

“Through those students, she reached thousands of people while at the same time shaping generations of Winthrop graduates for bright futures filled with a passion for serving others,” Winthrop University President George Hynd tweeted Friday after learning of her death. “We know her legacy will continue here at Winthrop and through each student that was touched by her generosity and kindness.”

Close was also the first woman board member appointed to the university, then known as Wofford College. She was appointed chair at one point.

An adventurous spirit

At the time of her death, Close was the last living person to have crossed the Atlantic on the Hindenburg. She was given a plaque in 2017 (the 80th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster) by the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society.

In 1996, she was a torch runner for the Olympics.

She was diagnosed with macular degeneration, an eye disorder that leads to blindness, at 55-years-old. Still, she drove until she was 81 and didn’t stop traveling. As her biography notes, she traveled to more than 60 countries and during summers, she brought multiple generations of her family along for some adventures.

Close also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Three times. She may be the only octogenarian to have accomplished such a feat. And she climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire at age 88.

The Anne Springs Close Greenway

Close may be best known for the greenway she created in 1995.

The greenway is a natural preserve twice the size of Central Park, coming in at around 2,100 acres. And there’s plenty to do, from hiking, camping, kayaking, horseback riding, and even hosting special events.

Anne Springs Close Greenway was the product of Close, The Nature Conservancy Founder Patrick Noonan, and greenway planner Chuck Fink. According to the greenway’s website, Close was concerned about Charlotte’s urban sprawl.

Close set aside 4,000 acres for development, now known as the Baxter and Kingsley communities, and then the 2,100 acres for the preserve.

The greenway opened Earth Day of 1995 and just celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The preserve was so important, it’s where her memorial will be held.

The memorial of Anne Springs Close will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 22 at the Comporium Amphitheater at the greenway. The family asks memorial gifts be donated to the greenway in lie of flowers.

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