Feature: Military Spouse Superstars

By JaneLovesLocal

            Mil*spo (noun): a military spouse who is resilient, confident, empowered, dedicated and entrepreneurial.

We sat down with a handful of dedicated and successful milspos who are rockstars in our own community.

Chairs courtesy of Southern Design Furniture on Raeford Road.

Jennifer Pate, Owner & Floral Designer of Wildly Cultivated

Jennifer Pate is an artist whose medium is flowers. With her art history degree, she has traveled the globe working on military bases as a library technician. She brings that culture, texture and design into each flower design. She even grows some of the flowers in her own secret garden. Her biggest supporter? Her active-duty military man. Check out more at wildlycultivatedflorals.com.

Q: Tell me about your garden. What’s blooming?

A: Right now, tulips, alliums, little blue muscari and five varieties of heirloom daffodils in lots of pretty colors. I grow unusual varieties you don’t see everyday. This summer, I am growing dwarf sunflowers.


Q: Do you grow anything edible?

A: I try. There are a lot of predators from grasshoppers to coyotes. Coyotes eat my sugar-pie watermelons.


Q: When did you realize you wanted to start a flower business?

A: I always liked to grow things. Even living in apartments, I always had a balcony garden. In Germany, I was spoiled with the flower markets. But it took me working for another floral designer in Seattle, and then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to chuck it all and have a flower shop?”


Q: Your floral style is elegant and unique. From where do you draw your inspiration?

A: My business is a creative outlet for my art history background and my years of living in Europe. I make sure every bouquet has shape, movement, texture and color.


Q: You work with a number of brides. What do you love about your wedding jobs?

A: It’s high-stakes. People invest a lot of emotion in that day, and a bride’s bouquet is a big deal. Knowing that you are a part of a milestone in somebody’s life is pretty special


Q: Which part of the process is your favorite?

A: The reactions! One customer emailed me that her mom thought it was the most beautiful bouquet she’d ever seen.

Q: What makes flowers such a timeless gift? Why is it they are perfect for every occasion?

A: They bring something special to your life that is…magical.


Q: Who are the gangbusters who helped your business grow?

A: Marcus is my biggest cheerleader. He is hugely supportive and even builds garden beds for me. He keeps stacks of my business cards on his desk. One of my biggest customers works with him.


Q: What is your version of a bouquet of flowers?

A: I love for people to incorporate flowers into their daily life. I do it. It’s a great way to bring nature and the seasons into your home and connect with what’s blooming. I actually really enjoy getting flowers. Marcus just knows not to buy them from the grocery store!


Q: You make it a point to source local blooms. Why is that?

A: I am interested in the American-grown flower movement, as local as possible. I’m a small business, so obviously I want to support other small businesses. I appreciate what flower farmers do.  Some flowers take years to flower! It’s hard work and you don’t get rich in this industry.


Q: What are your top tips for people when buying a bouquet for someone special?

A: Buy locally. Sourcing local makes a big difference in quality, and your flowers will last longer. For people who love to smell flowers, when you buy local, you get that ephemeral magic flower scent.


Sonny Kelly, PhD student, Philanthropist, Veteran & Thespian

Sonny Kelly is a beacon of light. He met his wife, Elenah, while they were both serving in the Air Force. Now, a retired veteran while his wife still serves, Sonny is still learning, earning his PhD from UNC Chapel Hill. Get to know him better at sonnykelly.com.

Q: Do you prefer darker, deeper roles or being the comedic relief?

A: Definitely darker. Playing Iago in Othello was my favorite performance role. I’m naturally a funny guy, so being challenged out of character makes me be better. My wife was very proud of me, amazed.

Q: Ever had an “oops moment?”

A: It was the top of the play Othello and I see my parents in the audience. I was so excited that I forgot the line, “I am not what I am.” There was a light cue, sound cue, and actor cue, and the actor on stage was staring at me. I never missed that line again!


Q: Fayetteville Urban Ministry certainly has your heart. How did you get involved?

A: Johnny Wilson called me to run Find-A-Friend. He knew I had the skills to spread light and love. I gave it all I had. His plan was really for me to be Director of Operations and Programs, but this was a good way for me to learn about Fayetteville Urban Ministry.


Q: You are a strong advocate for youth. What passion project are you working on?

A: I volunteer with Boomerang youth in Chapel Hill, Find-A-Friend in Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s Misdemeanor Diversionary Program.


Q: What draws you back to Fayetteville?

A: It’s the people. I love the people. Here, people look you in the eye.


Q: You and your wife were both active duty when you met. Has she been supportive of your transition to civilian work?

A: Yes! My wife is my rock and my inspiration. While I’m working on my PhD, she is a single mom as well as a soldier. She constantly supports me. She does have a “no kissing scenes” policy, though.


Q: Academic, actor, director, pastor, salesman and now student. What makes you successful?

A: I attribute everything to God. I always want to connect to human beings in a way that they are not going to forget. That’s why I’m studying Communication Studies & Performance Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. I want research to backup my experiences.


Q: What inspires you to live a life of service?

A: My parents set the pace when I was growing up. “Get up, serve, and teach.” Teaching kids that their life matters is important to me.


Sarah Knox, Owner of At Ease Candles, JAG Criminal Litigator & Veteran


 Sarah Knox is one of those rare personalities that is equal parts brilliant and down-to-earth. She doesn’t brag about her 12 years as a defense lawyer for JAG. Instead she pours her same conviction and intention into her candles. Find out more at ateasecandles.com.


Q: What is behind the name “At Ease?”

A: The military command in formation is not completely relaxed, but relaxed enough to talk. I’m at ease now and out of the military. It’s taking it easy. Everything has a double meaning.


Q: When did you decide to get into the candle making business?

A: I never thought I’d be “the candle lady.” I always loved candles, but I hated what was available. Now, I sell the same candles that I burn in my own home.


Q: Your line of candles are witty and full of character. Where does this stem from?

A: I come from a big Catholic family in Charleston, South Carolina. I am one of 11 kids. Everybody is funny. When dealing with criminal felonies and murders, you have to have a sense of humor.


Q: How does the process go for creating a custom scent?

A: 1. Start with the words. That’s the connection. 2. Use essential oils to create the scent. 3. Begin the science experiment. 4. Then we look at samples, see what it smells like cold (unlit) and hot (lit) and go from there. Finally, I’ll think about packaging.


Q: What step is your favorite? Pouring the batches? Naming the candles?

A: Actually it’s building connections. I think people buy something that has a connection, if, say someone can look at a candle and laugh. The biggest compliment was a client who said to me recently, “I came to you for candles, but I left with so much more.”


Q: You certainly have a zest for life. What is your motto?

A: When I do something, I’m all in. Acts of service is my love language. With these, I take the time to hand wash and dry each candle and let my candles, my “babies,” incubate for the proper amount of time. It’s an extension of me.


Q: The twirl of the candles wicks is unique. Where did this idea come from?

A: I was making candles as usual, and thought I am going to twirl it. They were so cute. Customers love it.


Q: Why did you choose eco-friendly products to make your candles?

A: We have enough waste in the world. Here, you can re-use the box and the little metal tab at the end of the candle is even recyclable. The coaster can be reused. The glass is not marked, so you can continue using it. Everything has a purpose and has been thoughtfully made. American-made is more expensive, but I think it’s important to support our trades.


Q: “Wax On, Wax Off” is your business blog. Is this another creative outlet for you?

A: I love to write! On the blog I share how to re-use the candle glass when you’re done, customer reviews, different sides of the business and my personality.


Q: What should people know about your business?

A: I like to think of myself as a storyteller. I take the time to listen to people’s stories and help them connect with the candles. I try to be outside the box without breaking the bank. I want to give people something that is unexpected.


Evie King, Fort Bragg Military Spouse of the Year, Community Manager for InDependent & Actress


Evie King grew up in a military family in New Jersey. She did not intend to become an Army spouse, but love would have it otherwise. Evie dedicates her life to connecting other military spouses to resources and local gems around Fort Bragg. Get connected with Evie on LinkedIn and Facebook.


 Q: In just a year, you have met and connected with a variety of military spouses. When did this all start?

A: When I first moved here, I got plugged in with InDependent’s local meet-ups and then with InGear Career. I joke that I’m an information junkie. Knowledge is what fuels me. I’m a very curious person.


Q: Winning Armed Forces Insurance Spouse of the Year for Fort Bragg is a huge achievement! What meant the most to you about this recognition?

A: Probably getting access to a network of milspos who are all making impressions in their communities. Now I’m a part of this group of people who are willing to help each other. And to be recognized for the impact you’re making was humbling and motivating.


Q: Fayetteville knows you as a resource for military spouses, but you have also been heavily involved in theatre. How long have you been acting?

A: I’ve been acting since second grade. I was compelled to get over stage fright and since then, I’ve always done live theatre. It allows me to experience people and their motivations. In January, I did the Gilbert Theatre’s August Osage County. I will be acting in Othello by Sweet Tea Shakespeare this summer.


Q: What was your most interesting duty station?

A: Korea! We lived at Camp Casey for two years. We loved the food; there were kimchi fries, bulgogi and bibimbap. We used Airbnb to travel all over Asia. Hiking the beautiful mountains in Cambodia was extremely special.


Q: What are a few of your go-tos in Fayetteville?

A: I love the authentic Italian food at Pierro’s. The garlic knots are to die for! Military bases attract people from all over the world and you find delicious authentic food. My husband and I run the Smith Lake trail before hitting the Fayetteville farmers market, which I am so impressed by. There is fresh seafood from Faith Farms. We also buy the CSA Sandhills Farm to Table box every other month. I believe in eating real food.


Q: You come from a military family. Did they push you to be equally ambitious?

A: I grew up homeschooled. I knew I had to get a college scholarship and to do that I needed to be involved and get good grades. My parents always wanted me to be well-rounded. My mom is like the Energizer Bunny—I get it from her.


Q: What do you enjoy when you’re not working?

A: I love cooking and trying new recipes. Also, reading and…collecting office supplies, so many office supplies!


Q: Do you live minimally?

A: We spend our money on experiences. Especially being a military spouse, it’s what gets you through the times apart.


*Chairs courtesy of Southern Design Furniture on Raeford Road.