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Fort Mill Conservationist And Philanthropist Anne Springs Close Dies At 95

Anne Springs Close, a conservationist and philanthropist from Fort Mill, South Carolina, died Friday of injuries after she was hit by a falling tree limb. She was 95.

 Anne Springs Close
Anne Springs Close

Close was best known in the area for the donation of 2,100 acres of family land to create a nature preserve and greenway that now bears her name. She was passionate about conservation and said on WFAE's "Charlotte Talks" in 2012 that she learned to enjoy the outdoors from a young age.

"I had a German nanny who thought it was a sin to be in the house if the sun was out," she said. "And I had that drilled into me, so I really believe in being outdoors."

Close had plenty of other claims to fame. She was the daughter of World War I flying ace Elliott White Springs, who ran the family textile business, which she inherited. She was a world traveler who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro three times.

And she was the last living person to have flown across the Atlantic on the airship Hindenburg, according to her obituary. She recalled that three-night voyage from Germany to Lakehurst, New Jersey, in that 2012 WFAE interview.

"Everything was made out of this very lightweight aluminum so that the weight was one of the things they were very concerned about," she said. "Because I remember they had an aluminum piano that kind of tinkled."

In that same interview with Mike Collins, she said the nature preserve in Fort Mill came first, before the family decided how to develop the land around it. Usually, she said, it works the other way around. The Anne Springs Close Greenway has become a well-known attraction south of Charlotte.

"The vision was that it would be an amenity for the community, which then was Fort Mill," Close said. "But as you are well aware of, the demographics have changed. Now it has become, rather than a local, it has become a regional amenity. And we're serving people from all around this area."

Longtime friends of Close described her as a woman ahead of her time and a true humanitarian.

“The thing about Anne, she was an original,” said Ken Driggers, the founder and former director of Palmetto conservation foundation. Diggers was friends with Close for 30 years.

“When you think about the scope of her life, from being part of the old textile foundation, being a philanthropist, being a great outdoors person and conservationist, her life lead a broad scope. She had a big impact in South Carolina.”

Driggers recalls meeting Close and how surprised he was to learn how 'down to earth' she was. “When I first met her, I was expecting some society woman, but to my surprise, she was so down to earth—she was really something.”

"At one point, they were [Spring Industries] one of the largest employers in South Carolina," said Teresa Creech, executive director of The Early Learning Partnership of York County (ELP). Creech was friends with Close for 20 years.

"She created this culture of treating employees as family and taking care of them as well. They have great recreational services and provide scholarships till this day," said Creech.

"The fact that she realized how important nature was and the importance of education for young children was to everyone—to humanity, it speaks volumes," Creech said. "She was the matriarch of that family, a family that continued giving back to the community in which she knew and loved."

In a tweet Friday, Visit York County said the organization, "is saddened to learn of the passing of Anne Springs Close, the namesake of the Anne Springs Close Greenway."

Close was born in Charlotte on Nov. 15, 1925 and attended Fort Mill public schools, then Ashley Hall in Charleston and Chatham Hall in Virginia. She attended Smith College, where she studied physics. She and Smith classmates were in New York City on V-E day in 1945, where she met her future husband, Lt. William Close of Pennsylvania. They were married a year later and had eight children.

She served on numerous boards, including Wofford College and the National Recreation Association, which she chaired.

A memorial service is planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. at the greenway bearing her name in Fort Mill.

Dante Miller contributed to this story.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.