The commute to Savannah. Many of us have made that daily trek. Many of us still do.
One Richmond Hill resident who spent many years commuting to the big city is Brianne Yontz, who no longer has to make that daily drive because she is executive director of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce. She watched Richmond Hill, and her commute, grow substantially over the last 25 years.
She originally moved to the area when her husband, Mark, took a job with Picker International. Leaving Gahanna, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, with their two small children was the start of their journey to putting down roots in Bryan County.
The climate of Richmond Hill drove her family to settle in the community. When she found a job in Savannah, there wasn’t even a light at highways 204 and 17. Highway 17 was only two lanes. The drive from the Strathy Hall subdivision on Bryan Neck Road to the Savannah Mall was only 10 minutes.
When she took her first position in retail at The Parisian, she made this drive with no problem. The traffic was not an issue then.
“It took 10 minutes to drive to the mall, and to get downtown was a 20-minute drive,” Yontz said.
But as Savannah grew, the commute became more taxing. It made working retail hours extremely difficult, especially for a mother with two small children. So she looked for a new job.
She became a licensed tour guide in Savannah, which allowed more flexible hours, but still forced her to drive into the city.
Through the connections she made as a guide, she joined the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce — and her commute time from Richmond Hill continued to grow.
Working at the Chamber as an administrative assistant was a blessing, Yontz said. She loved being able to see the beauty that Savannah had to offer and experience the walks to and from lunch breaks.
But her one-way commute had grown to about 30 minutes.
“I drive fast,” she said with a laugh. “Now, it would probably take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Let’s not forget to mention, there we no cellphones at this time either, which made things much harder.”
Because her husband had his own commute-to-work schedule, they had to work as a team in dropping their kids off in the early mornings.
“Mark could be anywhere,” she said. “He bounced around a lot with his work. Getting to work on time was a major issue.”
They would do what they could to drop off their school-aged child and their younger daughter at the Montessori school.
Despite more than 20 years passing, Yontz said, parents still face the same issue. Dropping off and picking up their kids can be tough on working parents who commute outside Richmond Hill for work.
After taking a new position as a marketing manager at Comcast, Yontz faced yet another shift in her commuting life. For about seven years, she battled traffic to her new location, at Abercorn Street and Derenne Avenue in Savannah.
“It was worse of a drive,” she said. “It varied from 45 minutes to an hour and sometimes longer.”
She remembers sitting on Interstate 516 at a standstill, sometimes for more than 20 minutes.
“I definitely think commuting impacts health, it is so stressful,” Yontz said. “You never know when you will be faced with an accident and longer traffic times.”
Now when she has to travel to Savannah, Yontz allots an hour for driving time.
“You just never know how long it will take,” she said.
After leaving Comcast, she found herself back at the Savannah Chamber, this time as vice president of member services.
“I don’t know what I would have done without the Community-(Education) Program. It was a godsend for our family during that time,” Yontz said.
Community Education, run by Bryan County Schools, includes an after-school program. This provided the Yontz family with the security of knowing their girls were OK after the school day was over. It allowed their daughters to participate in such activities as gymnastics, Girl Scout Brownies and Tuesday-night communion classes.
Working parents who commute need a backup plan in case they can’t pick up their children on time after school is out. That was what Community Education did for the Yontzes.
Yontz acknowledges that Savannah-area commute times “aren’t really a big deal to those living in larger cities.”
But even the Richmond Hill-to-Savannah commute “truly is a trade-off,” she said.
“We pay this price to commute because we wanted to live in this incredible community,” Yontz said. “Like so many families, we wanted to put our roots down here. At the end of the day, it is about quality of life. People still desire a connection.”
As the commute continued to grow, along with the Savannah area, Yontz had to make a decision. She loved working with her co-workers and the city’s beautiful scenery. But it was time to make a change.
In 2011, she took over as executive director of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber. This gave her the chance to work without battling rush-hour traffic in and out of Savannah. Life became much less stressful.
Yontz said Bryan County’s largest employer is the public-school system. But with the growth of businesses such as Gulfstream and Caesarstone, more options for work are available in Richmond Hill.
Hopefully, she said, “we will be able to create more jobs so people don’t have to leave our community to find employment.”