In a nod to Labor Day and all who labor, some folks have eschewed the more traditional jobs of the corporate world to find their own unique contribution.
Check out these interesting Savannah jobs and the cool people who do them.
Kelley Hanrahan, 27, has lived in Savannah for twelve years and has found her true calling as a quick turn cleaner for vacation rental properties.
Not just that, but she completely changed her business model, all because of her eight-year-old son’s request.
“My mom started cleaning houses in Tallahassee before I was old enough to remember,” Hanrahan recalled. “When I was seven, I started helping her because I realized we would get done faster and I’d have more time to play. Flash forward to now, my son, Bentley, loves marine life and can list facts about wobbegongs, bull sharks, and hammerheads like a pro. He dreams of ending global warming as an adult.”
“When he said that, it was then I realized Savannah lacked an essential service—cleaning that doesn’t harm our beautiful marshes and ocean environments.”
Hanrahan said her son challenged her to become a leader in ecologically-minded business. Traditional cleaning chemicals cause water pollution and damage entire ecosystems, making them uninhabitable for many species.
With short-term rentals being cleaned so often (sometimes multiple times per week) the pollution is only increasing such emissions.
“My son and I researched products together and now every single aspect of my company is geared to being as eco-conscious as possible,” she said proudly. “From creating cleaners that are environmentally sourced where products were lacking, to only using reusable and green sealed products, I limit my footprint as much as possible—even taking home products and food items to the homeless population to prevent waste.”
Even though her efforts are those of one company, she hopes her son’s inspiration to her will also be an encouragement to others.
“Obviously, global warming is real and it’s impacting our planet in detrimental ways. We have a responsibility to leave this world better than we found it for all our children,” she said. Her advice is to “Take a look at this beautiful city we live in and that’s all the motivation you need. Breathe the fresh air, walk through the historic squares, take a swim at Tybee, and then do your part to keep it clean and keep it green.”
Through her desire to honor her son’s wishes, she now deep cleans for real estate properties, residential and commercial sites, and maintains all different types of short-term rentals (even a yacht) which, she says“keeps my eco-cleaning company smooth sailing.”
Speaking of the ocean, 38-year-old Savannah native (minus seven years in Maui), Turner Horton, makes his office in the churning form of Tybee Island. Horton doesn’t just catch the waves for his own edification. Rather, he has a purpose to his daily dallies with the tide.
“My dad taught me how to surf,” Horton said. “However, a former public school bus driver asked me to help him start and organize a surf program for kids on Tybee Island in the early 2000s and it’s been an amazing journey.” He continues today teaching kids how to surf.
Horton explained what he stresses to first-time and new surfers. “It’s important they know the surf basics. I teach them etiquette and safety first.”
Since Horton also teaches music at May Howard Elementary School, he uses his other unique talent to further connect with his students.
“When we’re done with the lesson, I’ll pull out the ukulele and teach them a song or two. They pick it up quickly.”
When asked what it is that motivates him as an instructor, Horton speaks of “The stoke.”
“The stoke is the excitement and positive feeling we get from surfing,” he explains. “Knowing there’s always someone out there who has yet to experience the stoke of surfing is what gets me moving. I always say, ‘promote the stoke!’”
Clara Valzone’s job as a physical therapist at Chatham Orthopedic isn’t something that immediately jumps out as unique, although appreciated. However, Clara offers a special technique to her patients that is providing a new solution to pain management issues.
“It’s called dry needling,” Valzone explained. “It’s a pain management technique that goes back to the 1930s used to improve blood flow and to also hit muscular trigger spots to help combat the patient’s ongoing pain.”
Valzone has spent a lot of time in sports medicine and using manual therapies to help mobilize tissue, which is a more natural way of stimulating healing. Working with needles similar to acupuncture ones, dry needling utilizes a different technique to reach deep trigger points.
Those who might benefit from dry needling treatment include, but are not limited to those with tight calves, heeling bones, tendonitis, some arthritic treatments, Achille’s tendonitis, and shoulder pain, just to name a few.
“I’m really good at pinpointing where distal pain in the shoulder is originating. Most of my patients see positive results and can get back to activities they may not have been able to do previously.”
“I love my job,” Clara said. “I can actually see outcomes and improvements in my patients, which doesn’t always happen. I help them be able to manage any future pain, as well. Once you can manage your pain,” she said. “Then, you can move on to the strengthening stage and will then be (hopefully) less likely to reinjure.”
Above all, Valzone stresses that even with physical therapy and specialty treatments like dry needling, people still have to take care of themselves.
We all just have to focus on helping ourselves at home, at work, and in our activities. But, if needed, I’m here to help.”
When her own beloved fur baby, Moe Joe, was diagnosed with severe allergies that caused him skin problems, Dawn Kirchinger knew she had to do something to help make his life better.
“It’s hard to find dog foods without artificial colors, beef, grass, dairy, rice, and white potatoes, and even harder to find treats without those fillers,” Kirchinger, 51, said.
Dawn spent an exorbitant amount of time researching recipes and testing them out until she created her award-winning “Munchies by Moe Joe,” available locally, and throughout Georgia and South Carolina.
“These dog treats are 100% all-natural with zero artificial colors or flavors,” Kirchinger said.
With the help of her husband, David, and mother-in-law, Alice, the company is a well-enjoyed family affair. However, Kirchinger mainly relies on her furry taste tester, Moe Joe, to come up with new flavors and products.
The Kirchinger family business also supports efforts to find forever and loving homes for homeless dogs.
“10% of our profits are donated to rescue organizations,” she said. “Our products like Susie’s Hope, Buster’s Bacon and Cheese, and Savannah Rock Star are all named after rescue dogs who found new homes thanks to our support and efforts. What’s better than that?” she said. “Moe Joe won’t argue.”
Melvin Dean isn’t your typical musician, yet the sound he plays conjures warm sunsets, tropical beaches, and ocean breezes. He has a unique instrument as his specialty.
“I play a steel pan,” Dean said. “Most people know it as a steel drum, which is a percussive instrument made from a fifty-five-gallon oil drum and played with mallets.”
The steel pan is known to have originated in Trinidad and Tobago and falls into the idiophone family of musical instruments, and is not an actual drum.
Dean said he began playing the steel pan when he was 12 years old at the St. Nickolas Community Center in Harlem, NY, where he grew up. He’s called Savannah home for years and thrives on the authentic and soulful sounds of the Caribbean instrument to set him apart.
Melvin certainly has mastered his craft.
“This is my 59th year playing the same instrument,” Dean said. “Even though I have a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting, I chose music performance. I will say, though, that, in the music business, having a degree in accounting is a major plus.”
While Dean performs locally at weddings, receptions, opening events, etc., he has some impressive engagement experiences under his belt, including performances at Carnegie Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, the Apollo Theater in New York City, The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, The American Black Festival in Montreal Sicily, Regis & Kathie Lee Live, and the 1993-1994 NFL Super Bowl Party in Atlanta.
Dean’s “Steel the Show” certainly is that, whenever he starts playing. And, all these years later, Dean said his continued motivation comes from every single performance he gives. “Nothing but joy from playing my music for people.”
Ken Klehm, 52, has only been in Savannah for five years, but he has left an indelible and flavorful mark for generations to come.
Klehm’s interesting position is head distiller for Ghost Coast Distillery. He is the equivalent of The Wizard of Oz, only he doesn’t hide behind a velvet curtain to make magic happen. Ken operates in the back rooms of Ghost Coast, managing the distillation of gin, vodka, and bourbon, as well as specialty spirits that are uniquely Savannah.
“The biggest thrill I get is when I hear someone say how much they’re enjoying their tipple. There’s nothing like it,” Klehm said, standing next to the giant, copper still at the heart of Ghost Coast’s production area.
“This is ‘The Mistress,’” he explained, pointing to the still. His wife, Professor Bridget Conn, and the biggest fan of his ginger whiskey blend named the equipment such in reference to how much time Ken spends with “her.”
“Some days can be really long, but it’s all worth it in the end when we get our final product,” he noted.
A native of the Chicago area and a recent transplant from Asheville, NC, Klehm said he first started distilling wine and beer on his own in his early twenties and was hooked on the process.
He had a thirst—pun intended—for knowledge about the process which launched him on his current path.
“I went to art school and have a degree in Fine Arts and Chemistry. One great thing about art school is it turns you into a fantastic bartender,” he said with a laugh.
It’s no joke, though, considering some of the blends he’s constructed and how was given the title of “Godfather of the Asheville Craft Cocktail Scene,” before he moved into production, and to Savannah.
Klehm experimented with flavors and blends over the years and ended up getting a degree in distilling from the Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast. When his wife’s job brought them to Savannah, the partnership with Ghost Coast Distillery, then in its founding days, was inevitable.
Klehm touts his outstanding palate as one of his best tools for the job. “I can distinguish tastes and flavors and can figure out how things go together. It just comes naturally to me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done a lot of training.”
There are six members of the production team at the moment and he feels with all he has accomplished, he still has to strive to be better each day.
“I’m not there yet (master distiller), but it’s a fun process along the way,” he said. “We all want to do something where there’s a passion for the work and there’s never a tiring for it.”
With the process of aging alcohol, something that often takes time, Ken stresses patience as one of the key tasks of the job. “I have about four hundred ‘eggs’ in there in development and hatching,” he said, referring to the lines of American oak barrels. “They will each bloom into something different and special.”
At quitting time on Friday, Klehm will pick a barrel and do a tasting from it with his coworkers.
“Seeing their faces when they taste it, knowing we made it and recognizing the work we did that week, has rewards.”
When asked what his personal favorite Ghost Coast spirit is, Klehm said, “Our Master Straight Bourbon Whiskey, one of the first bottles of which I got to open on my wedding night. That was a good day.”
Haley Counihan was only three years old when her brother experienced something that affected not only him, but inspired her future career.
Having spent her entire life—born, raised, raising her kids—in Savannah, Haley knew she wanted to help people like her brother who were in her hometown.
“When I was very little, my brother was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and he had to have his left leg amputated,” Counihan explained. “I have been around prosthetics and people who wear them my entire life, so I knew I wanted to get into the field.”
Haley is a certified prosthetist and orthotist and area clinic manager for Hanger Clinic.
“I love working here at Hanger because we sincerely care for our patients like they are family. We work together with them to deliver the best orthotic and prosthetic outcomes, creating customized solutions for patients of all ages and needs.”
Haley says she is proud of the work she does, helping to make state-of-the-art prostheses, braces, cranial helmets, and other devices that are specifically designed to increase people’s mobility and get them back into life, no matter what their situation.
“My brother continues to inspire me every day. He never slows down despite his challenges. He can do anything he wants. And, I want that for my patients, as well.”
Hanger Clinic has over 800 locations nationally, but it’s the hometown people of Savannah Counihan relishes spending her days with.
“Even for folks who aren’t from here, if they’re traveling and have needs, it’s great to know we have a clinic here if people need adjustments, consulting, or assistance.”
Counihan says she is motivated daily by her patients.
“Most of my patients have to learn to walk all over again, which can be a frustrating process. We do everything we can to get them back on the right path. I can see how our treatment and care gives a quality of life to our patients, often those who thought they may never be able to do things again. They are my inspiration.”
Seven years ago, Patrick Burns, a native of the Chicago area, was called to Savannah and didn’t leave.
“We visited for a paranormal conference I was hosting and we lost our car keys. So much to the point where we couldn’t leave until we had a new set of keys made. We took it as a true sign that Savannah was telling us she wanted us here.”
Patrick is a paranormal investigator—better known as a ghost hunter. That means he goes into allegedly haunted locations and uses science, technology, and common sense to investigate the paranormal.
What better place to practice such skills than the most haunted city in the country?
When asked what got him into investigating the paranormal, he explained it was his quest for ways to connect with his deceased brother.
“I became interested in collecting evidence of paranormal events after the death of my brother, Billy, in a car wreck in 1985. I was seeking personal, anecdotal experiences to confirm my spiritual beliefs, and I was not disappointed.”
His endeavor to learn more led to a starring role on TrueTV’s Haunting Evidence for three seasons.
Now, Burns uses his investigative skills on a six-night basis, leading his GOT GHOST Paranormal Activity tour.
He takes visitors around the historic district, sharing Savannah’s haunted past, her storied history and also sharing many of his own personal tales and encounters here in The Hostess City, a bit of a different twist.
“I love talking to visitors and listening to their stories. It seems everyone has a paranormal tale to tell these days and I’m always willing to hear it,” Burns said. “I tell people we are likely surrounded by spirits all the time. We just have to pay attention, listen, be still and quiet, and be willing to hear whatever they have to say.”
Burns primarily focuses his research on electronic voice phenomena or EVP which are voices that appear on recording devices when someone isn’t there. He also utilizes special tools made to investigate the paranormal like the Ovilus, as seen on many of the ghost hunting TV shows.
Patrick is motivated to help clients determine what is the cause behind unusual activity they may be experiencing in their homes or businesses.
“Many times, it’s not always paranormal in origin. It can be wiring issues, electrical problems, noises from the neighbors, or wildlife wreaking havoc. Above all,” Burns said, “one must keep an open mind concerning the true nature of alleged supernatural events.”
“But…” he added. “I have to tell you that Savannah never fails to play her part.”