Five Questions with Rachel Makson

Rachel Makson leads a double life.

Name: Rachel Makson
Position: Assistant campaign director, Advancement
Time at the Gillings School: Almost three years – and I’ve held four job titles so far!

 

Rachel works outside her barn.

Rachel works outside her barn.

What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): I’m the School’s liaison with UNC Central Development. I manage all things related to the Campaign for Carolina, which UNC just launched as its largest-ever comprehensive campaign. The goal is to reach $4.25 billion by the end of 2022. Of that, the Gillings School has the goal of raising $200 million, and my job is to make sure that our team is on track with all the moving pieces involved and that we stay unified with the University-wide effort. I’m happy to report that we’re already 50 percent of the way to our goal!

My favorite part of my job is that the Campaign for Carolina touches everything we do in our office, so I get to work directly with every team member. One thing I love about my colleagues is that we’re really good at holding intense office debates on critical issues such as, “Is macaroni and cheese a Thanksgiving food?” and “Who has the best burgers in Chapel Hill?” We win at office banter!

 

Outside of work: I’m an aspiring farmer. I have a kind of double life where I leave the office, go home and change into muck boots to feed the chickens. I love it. I grew up in a Connecticut suburb outside of New York City, so this definitely isn’t my background. For some reason, though, I just always wanted to live on a farm! On my first date with Justin – who’s now my fiancé – he told me right away that he had grown up on a farm and I was like, “Oh? Tell me more…”

The barn makes for a picturesque snowy sunrise.

The barn makes for a picturesque snowy sunrise.

Cut to last year, and we’re buying a farmhouse on 11 acres at auction. That’s how we started down the road of renovating a farmhouse built in 1942 that no one had lived in for at least seven years. When we bought it, it had no electricity, no running water, and there were the remnants of someone else’s former life littering all the rooms. We worked all last summer to renovate everything from the roof to the floors, knocking down walls and putting in tile… Some things we hired a contractor for, but my typical schedule last summer looked like this: Spend a full day at the office, change into work clothes I kept in the car, drive straight to the farm – which is outside Pittsboro – and demo laminate flooring or scrape old paint until nine o’clock at night.

The biggest surprise during this process was learning that towels soaked in Diet Pepsi and left overnight are the best way to remove tar paper from a wood floor. The biggest challenge was working through the hot North Carolina summer without electricity. (Read: no air conditioning!) And the biggest reward from this project: has definitely been seeing the tangible proof of what we’ve accomplished with all of our hard work – and the hard work of very generous family and friends. (You can see some of our before-and-after shots on Instagram.)

 

The work done is apparent is before-and-after shots of the kitchen (which Rachel says is still far from finished).

The work done is apparent in before-and-after shots of the kitchen (which Rachel says is still far from finished).

I share my home with: Justin, a barn cat named Poppy, and six chickens. We used to keep bees and cattle, but we sold them just before moving to the new house. The cows were a pretty big hassle at the property we used to rent, which, interestingly, was the house once owned by former UNC professor and acclaimed author Doris Betts. We loved that place: It sat on 76 acres and was idyllic, but the fences were pretty bad. The cows were forever escaping, and one morning I had to call Sterling in the Advancement office to tell him, “I’m going to be late to work because my cow got out.”

Anyway, one long-term goal is bringing more animals to the farm. We certainly will have cows again, and maybe some goats, because I want to learn to make my own cheese!

 

My advice to people tackling big projects: is to always be optimistic and take joy in the simple things. My favorite weekends are the ones when we’re at home with no plans, and we have time to work on projects that give us a sense of accomplishment. It’ll be very emotional if we ever sell this house, because it’s been the first place we could call fully ours, it’s where we’re getting married and it’s where we get to make every decision about how to manage both our money and time to move toward our goals.

2017 marked Rachel and Justin's first Christmas in the farmhouse.

2017 marked Rachel and Justin’s first Christmas in the farmhouse.

Down the road, we hope to raise turkeys. Maybe we’ll run a pick-your-own blueberry business. Hopefully, we’ll sell our products – especially cut flowers! – at the Pittsboro Farmers Market. We’re not quite sure what comes next, but the joy is that we get to decide.

 

Another adventure that I’ve had: is living in Spain – twice! (I don’t want you to think I’m too rural.) I studied abroad in Granada during college, and after a few years of working in development, I decided I needed an adventure. I got certified to teach English as a foreign language and traveled to Europe on a government grant. They placed me in Huelva, a town on the Southern coast near the border with Portugal. I taught English in a school for 12 hours a week, and filled the rest of my time giving private lessons and exploring. The best student I ever had was a retired woman who already spoke amazing English. She never wanted a formal lesson plan – she just wanted to practice – so she would come by and we’d simply enjoy our conversation.


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