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“We try to echo some of what we loved”

September 11, 2018

Heather and Tom LaGarde loved New York and didn’t want to leave, even after she watched the twin towers burn from their rooftop.

They felt at home living on Manhattan’s then gritty-artsy Lower East Side. She worked at a human rights organization and he, a former player with the Denver Nuggets and other NBA teams, ditched a Wall Street job to found a roller basketball program for neighborhood kids.

So at first, the ramshackle North Carolina farm they spotted online in 2002 was only an occasional getaway. They’d started to want one after worrying about their 1-year-old daughter’s health in the 9/11 smoke. They had no intention of moving back to North Carolina, where Heather had grown up and her 6-foot-10-inch (2.1-meter) husband had been a UNC basketball star.

But over time, “we were very unmoored by 9/11,” Heather says. “Even though I wasn’t physically harmed, just to see it that close changes your perspective. ... Your priorities change.”

So in 2004 the LaGardes moved into their farm near small-town Saxapahaw with two children, a few months’ consulting work for Heather and no more of a plan than to keep their eyes open.

One day they saw someone tearing down a nearby barn. That led to starting an architectural salvage company, which led to starting a popular free music series and farmers’ market at an old mill that was being renovated. Which led to starting the Haw River Ballroom, a music venue in a mill building, and founding a humanitarian innovation conference held in the ballroom.

“We try to echo some of what we loved” in New York, Heather says, “but living in an easier, simpler, more natural place.”

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