Saltwater Portrait

Chuck Greaves: A passion for turning old into new

School administrator finds new calling in retirement
April 2, 2013

Chuck Greaves just wasn't ready for retirement.

After decades of working in the Prince George's County school system, Greaves and his family moved to Rehoboth Beach 11 years ago with the full intention of retiring, but it didn't turn out as planned.

"I thought I was going to retire and relax and do nothing, but I found it very boring," he said.

So he found himself a project – the Mansion Farm on Route 16 where Greaves and his wife, Cristy, have lived for the past five years.

Renovating the property, which recently received distinction on the National Register of Historic Places as the David Robbins Homestead, was a labor of love, he said.

"When we found the farmhouse, we fell in love with it," he said.

He gutted and enlarged some rooms while keeping other rooms their original size, touching up the plaster-and-lathe walls. A rear addition gave the home more living space.

"We designed it to be a bed and breakfast," he said.

A first-floor sunroom has a wall of windows that overlooks a manicured garden. Outside is Greaves next project, a silo that he would like to turn into an observation tower. He uses another outbuilding as a workshop where he reclaims wood that he makes into lamps, lanterns and birdhouses – some beachy, others folksy. There are so many items, Greaves also is renovating a home across Route 16 where he said he plans to open a shop.

"It's fun to take something that doesn't look like much and turn it into something that people really want," he said. "Whether I sell them or not isn't important, but I'm running out of room."

Raised inside the Beltway

Growing up in Bethesda, Md., Greaves was the youngest of three. His father, Percy L. Greaves, was an economist who worked in the Truman administration. He ran for president in 1982 under the American Party and wrote a book after the United States stopped using the gold standard. In the book, Percy Greaves warned the government would face out-of-control spending and debt as a consequence of printing money at will – a foreshadowing that has now come true, Greaves said.

When he was a young boy, Greaves said, his family always spent a week or two in Bethany and Rehoboth Beach. Greaves hated crossing the Chesapeake Bay; visitors in those days took a ferry to cross the bay, and his older brother led him to believe the ferry would sink under the weight of the cars.

Still, Greaves said all fear faded when they arrived at the shore.

"The beach was heaven to me," he said. "I could run and jump all day. Going to the beach was the happiest time of my life."

When he wasn't playing, he worked on the boardwalk setting pins at the Bethany Beach bowling alley for 6 cents a game, or he and his siblings would collect whelk shells and sell them for 5 cents apiece.

"We'd sell out," he said.

True calling

Born in a family of academics, Greaves said he didn't realize how much he loved working with his hands until after he graduated from Davison-Elkins College with a psychology degree and got a job as an environmental education specialist running summer camps that specialized in farming, forestry and carpentry.

"Oh my God, I thought I died and went to heaven," he said about his time working at the Maryland camps. He also caught the eye of the superintendent, who asked him why he spent so much time working at the camps; he made Greaves sign a waiver agreeing he did not expect to be paid for the extra hours, Greaves said.

Downsizing at the camp cost Greaves his job, but with a master's degree in administration and supervision from Bowie State, he soon moved into administration with the Prince George's County public schools.

It was during his work in Prince George's County that he met his wife, Cristy – now principal of H.O. Brittingham Elementary School. The two married and have three daughters.

New lease on life

Now that he knows he can renovate a mansion and bring it back to its former glory, Greaves said he has plans for other area homes. In addition to the home he plans to turn into a store for his handmade goods, Greaves owns another home that he said he is going to renovate. When he lived in Maryland, Greaves was a licensed Realtor, and at one time owned 11 homes, most of which he rented out.

He said he regrets letting his realtor's license lapse, but that won't stop him from continuing doing the kind of hands-on work he loves.

It's the kind of work a career aptitude test once predicted Greaves was best suited for.

Greaves said as a young man just starting his career, he was surprised when a counselor gave him the results of the test showing his strengths were in carpentry and other outdoor jobs.

"I was told you wouldn't feel like you were going to work every day with those jobs; you were going to play," he said.

Turns out the test was right, he said.

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