Local business owner picked a good time to start winning

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 11, 2009

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE—When Penny Hawkes, owner of LaPlace Optical in Cambridge Corner shopping center, turned 50 in August, she received the birthday present of her dreams, though it wasn’t the one she imagined.

Her husband of 28 years, Ken, knew she always wanted to go to Alaska when she reached the half-century mark, so he gave her the go-ahead to book the trip. She went to her computer and booked the trip, and no sooner had she printed out all the specifics than the phone rang.

It was a call that would change Penny’s life.

Since March, Penny had visited Southern Living magazine’s Web site daily to enter the “Choose Your Home Giveaway.”

On the other end of the line was the editor of the magazine telling her she had won the contest.

“When I got the call, I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

In fact, after she got off the phone, she called back just to make sure it wasn’t some sort of joke. But it wasn’t. It was real. Penny Hawkes had won a house.

And not just any house, but a house nestled up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in the town of Leicester, located a few miles north of Asheville.

Although she had the choice of four homes — the other three were located in Texas, Georgia and South Carolina — the choice for her was easy.

Penny grew up in Huntersville, just north of Charlotte, so having a house in North Carolina also meant for her a chance to return home.

Not that she’s packing up and leaving any time soon.

She and Ken — who met in North Carolina — have lived in LaPlace since 1989, when their employment brought them here. Their two daughters have both settled down with local boys, so they will always have ties to the area.

“We like LaPlace. We’ve made it our home,” she said.

Still, the draw of the mountains may be too much for her to resist. When she speaks of her new retreat, one can easily feel the excitement and enthusiasm in her voice. Surrounded by scenic trails and whispering creeks, the house certainly has something going for it.

“It’s just quiet and peaceful. You don’t even hardly get a cell phone signal,” Penny noted.

Having just returned from 10-days out there, she added, “I didn’t want to leave.”

But for the time being, she will have to be content with occasional visits. “If I could sell my house and business, I’d move back,” she said.

She and her husband are already planning to return at the end of October and for Thanksgiving the entire clan will gather in Leicester.

Although much of her time here recently has been spent daydreaming of a life in the mountains, even after moving there it is unlikely she will forget about the place she has called home for the last 20 years.

The first time she visited the property and met the developers and decorators they sat down to a meal she prepared especially for them — pastalaya and andouille.