HODGES

Featured prominently on an entrance sign for the relocated Big Oaks Rescue Farm is the smiling face of a white horse.

That’s appropriate, given its mission of rescuing horses from hazardous situations and nurturing them back to health. But fluttering just a few inches from the happy equine is a monarch butterfly: a symbol of chaos theory — the science of surprise, of unpredictability.

In Big Oaks’ case, the story involves farmland, the needs of a legacy Greenwood County company and a steadfast determination by the rescue organization’s leader not to let the vision of its founder cease.

“Words can’t express what I feel. This, this is what it’s about. I wish Joe was here to help, but he left it to me to carry on because he knew I would,” Big Oaks owner Mary Moss said from atop a picnic table at the 47-acre parcel at 809 E. Townsend Road in Hodges.

Her tears of gratitude replaced ones of fear when a year ago, Moss pleaded with the County Council for financial assistance to help keep the enterprise, launched by Joe Mann in 2007, afloat.

Mann died in October 2016 and left Big Oaks to Moss — his business partner and confidant.

“I was just barn manager. I took care of the horses, I took care of their needs and he (Mann) took care of the business. It’s all been dumped on me now, and I don’t really know what to do,” Moss told the council in October 2017.

At the time, county leaders said they admired Big Oaks’ work but were reluctant to fund it because Moss had no business plan or strategic vision.

Enter Lonza, which on Aug. 30 purchased Moss’ 2305 Kateway plot for $900,000, providing her with enough money to buy the Hodges site and assure a future for the animals she loves.

“The money was running out, and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ I looked up to the good Lord and he answered my prayers like he’s always done,” Moss said.

Moss and her Realtor, Renee Simchon of Greenwood Realty, scoured property across the county, but none worked out.

Until one day when Moss’s son noticed a “For Sale” sign at the Townsend Road location. The pair drove out — and it was love at first sight, Moss said.

According to county property records, Moss closed on the 35.7-acre site Sept. 10 for $285,000.

“We went through several pieces of property. We come on up here, I knew this was the farm for me. I knew it,” Moss said.

Travis Dover, Lonza’s vice president of capsule operations, said the company — which in September went public with its plans for a $47 million expansion at the Greenwood campus — considered the Kateway land a strategic investment for future growth.

More significant, he said, was the commitment Lonza was making to the community and Big Oaks’ endangered horses.

Hence the butterfly on the sign.

“The flutter of a butterfly’s wings triggers an event that triggers something even bigger and so when Renee told us about Mary’s struggles, and the opportunity for Lonza to do something special, that’s the butterfly effect,” Dover said. “Greenwood Lonza is a strategic site for us, and we hope to bring new opportunities, new jobs and through you, we have the opportunity to do that. So this is a situation where everybody wins.”

Within the next couple of weeks, Moss and her group of volunteers hope to have all 60 horses moved to the Hodges location. Currently, there are 15 — including Big Man, who belonged to Mann personally.

Some of the equipment at Big Oaks is so new, volunteers are still learning how it works.

“We still got to learn how to open these doors,” Moss said to her friend and executor of Mann’s estate, Penny Lillis, who was one of about 70 people in attendance for Wednesday’s grand opening, as they walked through a covered stable.

Moss then turned and walked to the other side of her new farm, where Big Man trotted over for a nuzzle.

“Joe’s here,” Moss said. “And I know he’s proud.”

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.