Until the early 1900’s, there was only one paid staff position. As the management and protection of the Woods has grown in complexity, particularly in the areas of restoration of the Longleaf pine ecosystem, prescribed burning to protect the Woods and the community, and the education of the public about the health and environmental benefits of the Woods, so has the staff of the Foundation. Today the Foundation employs three full-time employees an Executive Director, Woods Superintendent and an Administrative/Communications Assistant as well as three part-time employees who assist with administration and maintenance of the Woods.
The Hitchcock Woods Foundation office, “The Green House.”
W. Bennett Tucker – Woods Superintendent
Bennett Tucker grew up in Aiken and spent much of his youth exploring and enjoying the Hitchcock Woods. He volunteered with the Axe Club and enjoyed riding and showing horses at the Fulmer International Stables (now The Stable on the Woods). He worked with the Foundation’s former forester as a summer intern for three years while in high school and college, and volunteered to help with prescribed burns and the Aiken Horse Show. He joined the Foundation’s staff as Woods Superintendent in 2006. While in college, he became a volunteer firefighter with the Due West Fire Department and later joined Aiken Public Safety as a volunteer firefighter. Bennett has many first responder certifications, many structural and wildland firefighting certifications, and is a South Carolina certified prescribed fire manager. He has remained an active volunteer firefighter with Aiken Public Safety (winning Volunteer Firefighter of the Year in 2009) and serves on the board of directors of the Aiken Land Conservancy. Bennett graduated from Aiken Preparatory School and then from Christ School in Arden, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina, with a degree in business administration.
Joanne C. Gunnell – Foundation Administrator
Originally from New Jersey, Joanne has lived in Michigan and Illinois working as a consultant in Educational Services for Deloitte and in Development for Elgin Academy. As a volunteer at a major hospital in Illinois, she has chaired many fundraisers including galas, golf outings, and fashion shows. At the hospital she also served on the volunteer board as the Community Outreach Director, Treasurer and President. Joanne and her husband were transferred to Aiken in January 2010. She worked as the Director of Development for Aiken Preparatory School and retired in 2012. She is currently an Eucharistic Minister at St. Mary Help of Christian Church. She is an avid golfer, photographer, enjoys hiking, traveling, cooking and spending time at the beach with her husband Dennis and their dog Anna Sabrina.
Mike Grabowski – Woods Technician
Mike joined the Hitchcock Woods Foundation staff in July 2017. He brings twenty years of public safety experience including Fire, Police and EMS. Mike currently works full-time for the Aiken Department of Public Safety where he is a Sergeant assigned as a shift supervisor in the fire division. Mike volunteered with the Hitchcock Woods Foundation Prescribed Fire Team for three seasons, prior to his hiring, and has since immersed himself in the stewardship of the Woods. Mike grew up in Buffalo, New York and moved to Aiken when he was twenty-one years old. Aiken has been his home for twenty-four years since. Mike is the proud father of daughter, Emma. In his free-time Mike can be seen hiking Hitchcock Woods with his dog Cooper, watching live music, or Buffalo Sabres hockey. Go Sabres!
Karen Peters – Administrative Assistant
The oldest of three sisters, Karen Peters grew up in North Augusta. She attended Georgia Southern College and later transferred to the University of South Carolina, Columbia, where she was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha women’s fraternity.
Karen is married since 1982 to Aikenite Albert Henry Peters, III (Pete), who is known for his expertise on South Carolina history, in particular the Civil War. Together they are business owners for over thirty years of Oreck Vacuum Stores in Augusta, Columbia, Memphis and formerly Tampa. As Manager of the Augusta store her duties included managing employees, sales inventory, orders and various routine reports and deposits. They are the proud parents of two sons and a daughter who for many years participated in the Aiken Horse Show.
Karen is a charter member and past president of Winterbrooke Women’s Club in Matthews, NC, past president of the Aiken Debutante Society, and former vice president of the Aiken Cotillion Club. She was a former advisor to ZTA at UNC-Charlotte and a charter Alumnae advisor to ZTA at USCA. She is a former member of the Board of Trustees of the Aiken Prep School where all three of her and Pete’s children graduated.
She is currently a twenty-year member of Pine Needle Garden Club and a twenty year member and committee chair of the Aiken Women’s Heart Board, which to date has raised over $2,000,000 for the American Heart Association.
Karen and Pete enjoy attending Clemson football games (where Pete and one of their sons graduated) and vacationing at Pawleys Island with family and friends.
Frank Morelli – Woods Technician
Frank Morelli grew up in Aiken and has resided here since 2010, while remaining an active member of the outdoor community. Frank has volunteered with the Hitchcock Woods Foundation Prescribed Fire Team since 2015, prior to his hiring, and has been a volunteer and daily visitor to the Woods for years prior.
In February of 2019, he became a Certified Prescribed Fire Manager with the SC Forestry Commission. Before his employment in the Woods, he was an employee of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Clemson Horticultural Department. Frank has studied in the fields of Forestry, Wildlife Biology and holds a B.S. degree in Agricultural Engineering and an Agricultural Business Management minor from Clemson University. He has also studied at the University of South Carolina in graduate course work in the fields of Landscape and Population Ecology, Plant Science, and Environmental Resource Management Implementation.