Kelley Clarke moved to Swainsboro with her family when she was 4-years-old. She grew up here, moved a short distance away for college, and got a degree in anthropology, only to completely switch gears professionally and become a flight attendant. In the time since then, she has lived in two major U.S. cities. Today, she checks in from Charlotte, North Carolina.
The 28-year-old daughter of Richard and Kathryn Clarke, she says her family moved to the area because her dad got a job in Swainsboro after retiring from the U.S. Air Force. The Clarkes decided to stay because Kathryn found her dream farm and set up her horse riding business. Clarke attended Emanuel County Schools, graduating in 2011. After that, she went to East Georgia. Clarke says she has lots of great memories from the small community college in Emanuel and called it a “great place” to build her college foundation. After she graduated in 2013 with an associate degree in general studies, she did what many students here do next: transferred to Georgia Southern.
Clarke spent another two years in college in Statesboro. From 2013 to 2015, she studied to obtain her bachelor’s in anthropology with a minor in history.
In a nutshell, anthropology is the study of human culture. Given her long-running fascination with history and learning about various ways of life throughout history, the field of study she selected was a perfect fit.
“When I was little, I wanted to be Indiana Jones, archaeologist. I thought he had the coolest job and was super smart!” Clarke explained. Archaeology is a sub-branch of anthropology, and she actually almost changed majors her senior year of college to archaeology after working in Georgia Southern’s archaeological field school. She stayed the course, however, and graduated on time. Little did she know—fate would continue to connect the dots, pairing her love for culture and history as her work life unfolded the next year.
Many members of Clarke’s family, she outlined in an interview with The Chronicle, have either worked in the military or aviation. She grew up hearing stories of the numerous “amazing places” her parents had lived in and places they had seen. She, too, wanted in on experiences like that, so she applied to become a flight attendant.
“Does being a flight attendant have a lot to do with my degree? Not really, except that it allows me to meet some amazing people from so many different places and cultures,” she said.
Clarke was hired by American Airlines in 2016 as a flight attendant, and she loves her job. However, she openly admits there’s more to the job than meets the eye.
“Being a flight attendant requires a lot more than what you might think. After I was hired, I went through six and a half weeks of training. During that training, I learned different aircraft models, how to be a firefighter in the sky, how to be a first responder in the air… Basically, we’re taught how to deal with any and all worst-case scenarios.”
Shortly after finishing that training, Clarke was assigned to Miami, Florida. She describes the first of her two work re-locations, the second of which would come this month, as a “bit of a scramble” because she was given only five days to move to the southeastern Florida metropolis before she had to start working. Clarke spent four years in Miami (2016 to 2020) before she received assignment to her new base in Charlotte, where she lives with her boyfriend, Zach Watson, and enjoys the fact that life is a little closer to home.
“For work, I’ve gotten to lay over in many places around the world. I only got to stay a few hours overnight in some places, but many trips gave me a full day to explore the local area,” Clarke said. “If I had to name a few of my favorite places I’ve been, I’d say Rockefeller Center in New York City, Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, and the lion at Trafalgar Square in London.”
During long waits between flights, Clarke can trustily be found reading a good book. If she’s not doing that, she’s probably planning her next place to visit.
“My job has obviously blessed me with the opportunity to travel—a lot. When I’m not reading, I love to research my next place to go and the cultures there.”
Still, she says nowhere compares to her old neck of the woods. Despite traveling the world, meeting thousands of new people, and living in capital cities like Miami and Charlotte, she still feels a fondness in her heart for Swainsboro.
“The things I miss most about home are the sense of community and the simpler things,” Clarke said. “Traveling to new places is a wonderful experience and meeting new people is great, but there’s no place like home where you know the people and they know you.”
Today, Clarke comes home “pretty often.” When she does, she heads straight for the outdoors to satisfy what some might consider an odd itch: getting her hands dirty. She loves working outside and tending to the horses. She also makes a point to say hello to the familiar faces she hasn’t seen in a while.
Another thing she likes to do in her free time? Visit her nieces and nephews.
“Both of my siblings, Rich Clarke and Jamie Johnson, have kids now. When I’m not working, I try to go to Atlanta and come back to Swainsboro to visit as often as possible.”
In closing, Clarke reflected on how Swainsboro has affected her life and gave a few words of advice for the younger generation. She said, “I think growing up in Swainsboro gave me a foundation of values. Those values were influenced by my family, friends, and the people of the community. My advice for young people is this: find the things you really want to do and work backward from there to build a path to your dreams. There isn’t just one path. Work hard, be creative, and you’ll make it there in the end.”
Ambitious, hard-working, intelligent people aren’t hard to find throughout Emanuel County. From lesser-known citizens to well-known leaders, Swainsboro and other municipalities in the area are fortunate to call these folks, the ones who make a difference, “ours.” Of course, some of “our folks” have moved off and shared themselves with the world in various respects. The “Finding Our Folks” part of The Crossroads Chronicle aims to track down and catch up with our hometown people.
If you have someone you’d like The Chronicle to consider to feature in “Finding Our Folks,” call in your nominations to 478-331-7251. You can also email Halei Lamb at email@example.com or Trudie Kasper at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Crossroads Chronicle also accepts nominations by messaging its Facebook page, facebook.com/thecrossroadschronicle.