Laura Sams has three family branches: her relatives, her rugby family and her zoo family.
Laura calls home the city of Greenville, South Carolina, which is a town nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her parents and younger brother still live in the revitalized town that overflows with southern charm and natural beauty. Her father works in television, and as a youngster, Laura appeared in many television commercials and at promotional events. She had many early interactions with the public, which would later serve her well in her career.
While growing up, she spent many summer vacations with her grandparents who live in the Richmond, Virginia area. During these visits, she learned the value and importance of volunteering by doing charity work for Habitat for Humanity. She has continued this giving spirit by volunteering at a local Columbia, SC non-profit, Transitions, that helps clients transition from streets to permanent housing.
The quilts made by her grandmother are some of her most valuable possessions. Laura wraps herself in memories with these quilts made from a childhood collection of t-shirts, as well as one made from fabric scraps from clothes lovingly made by her grandmother. Fishing with her grandfather is another favorite memory. She learned how to bait a hook, catch the fish and then release them. She laughingly shared that her younger brother didn’t like fishing, as he loved to hate everything she liked. Now that they are older, the siblings are closer.
Laura graduated with a degree in public relations from the University of South Carolina, an institution established in 1801 that’s bursting with southern history. While in college, she worked at The State, the daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina’s state capital. She also started working in the Riverbanks Zoo retail shop. However, she said if she didn’t have her current job, she’d like to be a meteorologist. It may be somewhat of a surprise that she didn’t pursue a career in zoo marketing and PR, with her background and the fact that her cousin, Tara Henson, is the director of marketing and public relations at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
While in college, Laura started to play rugby after her roommate saw a flyer recruiting players. And women’s rugby is played exactly like the men’s game, tackling with no pads. It is a physical sport where there are lots of superficial injuries, such as cuts, scrapes, bruises. Laura said she was terrified the first few times on the field, but now enthusiastically plays and can endure normal scrapes, sprains and bruises. Like many sports, rugby requires different physical attributes for various positions, but strength and speed are key. Laura specializes in playing lock, a power position that uses her height and skills to the best advantage. Her college team traveled all over the southeast competing. She now plays on a local team, which practices twice a week and plays a game or two a month. Laura said her rugby mates are like her family
Her favorite sport to watch is baseball, and Laura is fanatical about the Atlanta Braves. She attributes it to her mom, who let Laura watch many Braves baseball games on television from the time she was an infant. Laura said that her mom claims her first two-word sentence was “John Smoltz,” referring to the award-winning Braves pitcher and recent Hall-of-Famer. And as Laura grew up, the family would regularly attend games of the Braves Double-A team that played in her hometown of Greenville, and of the team’s Triple-A club in Richmond, where her grandparents live.
Laura said that staying in Columbia after graduating from college was the smartest thing she has ever done. She was facing the end of a lease on her apartment and didn’t have a plan, but one of her friends offered her some advice, and Laura decided to stay in Columbia. Now her zoo family provides friendship and support. She has been at the zoo for several years and has worked for SSA for the past two years. While looking for a part-time job in college, her friend suggested that she consider working at the zoo, as she enjoyed her job working with the animals in the zoo’s
farm exhibit. Laura said with working with animals wasn’t her thing, so she applied to work in the gift shop. It was the right decision, as she rapidly moved up the management ladder from retail associate to concessions ops manager to assistant general manager. She shared that she’s passionate about her career.
The zoo has recently formed a softball team; players include both zoo employees as well as ones from the SSA team. As a Little League softball veteran, the talented left-hander said she’ll play wherever they need her: first base, third base, even outfield. Plus, she’s a pretty good power hitter.
Laura said she thinks nothing tops mac n’ cheese; whether it’s the creamy baked variety, or one of the popular stovetop boxed versions, it’s her favorite food. When she slows down, Laura likes to watch Grey’s Anatomy, the medical drama about doctors who balance their careers with personal lives and relationships. Laura said her favorite entertainer is Taylor Swift, one of the best-selling artists of all time. On her bucket list, Laura has penciled in a trip to Australia because of the wildlife and beauty of the land. So far, she doesn’t have any stamps in her passport, as she has never traveled outside the country.
The self-described shy individual couldn’t be without her phone, as she’s very social and becomes outgoing as she gets to know a person. Laura said she’s always doing something somewhere, whether it’s going to dinner, running along Columbia’s river paths, playing in the park or floating down the river. She said she’s so busy these days that she doesn’t even have time to read for fun! Right now for Laura, it’s all about working at a job she loves, while being active and hanging out with friends . . . and all the branches of her family.