Alumna Jenny Baxter ‘11 Catches Wind as New Owner of Gambell and Hunter Sailmakers

Jenny Baxter

Growing up in a small town in Tennessee, Jenny knew she wanted to attend a small liberal arts school. Luckily for her, she had a family friend recommend Brevard College, and after visiting the college campus and meeting the faculty, she said, “it was hard not to fall in love.” At 18, Jenny had a whole ten-year plan set. She was going to get her bachelor of arts in Music Education, teach somewhere for three years, and then work towards her master’s degree. 

Through Jenny’s time at Brevard College, some of her favorite memories consist of her professors, such as Dr. Elwood, who “always managed to turn music theory into an extravaganza.” She liked that he “never shot down questions, and on more than one occasion, the class burst into unprovoked song.” Jenny loved that during her time at BC, she had access and was encouraged to try new things and take different classes that gave her confidence building new skills she wouldn’t have considered pursuing. Her Voice of the Rivers adventure was one of her classes that she went on in 2009 with Professor Robert Dye and Dr. Tina Holland down the Catawba to the Santee and Charleston harbor.

Even though Jenny served with her good friend Maggie McRae ‘11 as VP and Treasure of the BC Old Time Dance Club and sang with BC Connections, she often questioned herself; like most students transitioning from high school to college, “we continually challenge ourselves.” Jenny says, “I always thought of myself as an awkward, uncoordinated kid, but through learning to improve as a kayaker, I found I was physically capable of much more.”  

While a lot of hours are required to attain a Music Education Degree, it taught Jenny time management and self-motivation, which she finds herself doing a lot these days. After Jenny graduated, she worked for Randolph Mountain Club as a backcountry caretaker in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She started to “reconsider her ten-year plan after she fell in love with the place and work.” With a focus shift from music to working outside with her hands as much as possible, she moved to the coast of Maine to work on the region’s traditional tall ships, where she found another community excited about the outdoors and history of the area. 

Jenny recently became the owner of Gambell and Hunter, a traditional sailmaking shop in Maine, where she has worked for the past six years. The shop primarily focuses on traditionally built sails for the local sailing community, though they have projects across the country. Currently, they are building a mainsail for an 80+ foot, 100-year-old schooner (a type of sailing vessel). Jenny loves that projects like this require a lot of hand sewing, which she says is “always a treat.” This boat is part of a local fleet of historical passenger-carrying vessels, and they see a lot of miles each year. Building these sails for them has to balance durable, rugged designs and traditional details. 

When looking back on her time at Brevard College, she says what she remembers most are the people and the mountains. “Places like Brevard draw in really cool people, and it’s hard not to be enthused by the phenomenal natural playground right on your doorstep.” From loading up in cars with blankets to watch meteor showers on the parkway, cookie parties and impromptu caroling parades around campus and serenading students in the super lab during finals, to late night trips to Ingles, “there was always someone down for an adventure, day or night.”

If she could share with current students one thing, it would be: “don’t be afraid to try new things. The skills we learn along the way are more varied and tangible than we often give ourselves credit for. Part of the process might mean that you struggle some, but I’ve found most things worth learning don’t come easy on the first go.” 

Jenny always leaned on communities for support and mentoring to get her where she is today and gives credit to the Greshams (Dr. Kathryn Gresham, her advisor, and Dr. David Gresham, her voice coach) as they were always encouraging whichever path she took. She also cherishes her work-study job under Ms. Mary Hess, who showed Jenny “that a boss can be kind, compassionate, and effective.” And she will always be thankful for Robert Dye, who delivered her “and the rest of the motley VOR crew” safely on their trip and helped get her job in the White Mountains, which she credits for setting her on the course she is on today. She still quotes him when she needs a shift in view.