Jen McConnell pictured outside COBE

Jen McConnell ’06 to be featured on HGTV’s House Hunters on Aug. 30

Published on Aug. 30, 2023
College of Business and Economics

Jen McConnell, a 2006 graduate of Ashland University and co-owner of a highly successful real estate agency in Charleston, S.C., will be on HGTV’s popular show House Hunters on Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 10:30 p.m. The episode is the first of House Hunter’s new season.

Accent magazine featured McConnell, her successful business, her young son’s battle with pediatric cancer and the foundation that it inspired, in the Fall 2022 issue. That original story is published below.

Passion and Persistent Meet: The McConnell Family

Jen McConnell '06 with her family on the AU campus

“Luck is when opportunity meets persistence.” That oft-referenced saying from Ashland University marketing professor Paul Lewis inspired Jen (Hempfield ’06) McConnell as a student and still resonates with her today as the co-owner of McConnell Real Estate Partners, a highly successful agency that focuses on luxury real estate and custom home building in Charleston, S.C.

For as far back as she can remember, McConnell always had an interest in real estate, even tuning into those real estate listings on the community access channel from the 1990s. “I watched those type of shows before church. Looking back, that’s kind of weird. What six-year-old likes that kind of stuff?” she recalled with a laugh. “It was just natural for me.”

Fast forward to McConnell’s junior year at AU, when as a marketing major with a minor in finance she needed an internship to help fulfill her bachelor’s degree requirements. On a whim, she made the short drive to Schumacher Homes’ model homes sales center on State Route 30. They were in the process of hiring; however, the position had just been filled. McConnell’s persistence—there’s that word again—paid off, though, as she asked to be interviewed anyway and wound up with a sales assistant position. “I didn’t even know if the builder was hiring, just showed up with a résumé, and I forced my way in,” she said.

After impressing the higher-ups at Schumacher Homes, the expanding company presented an offer to her to become a new homes consultant in South Carolina shortly after completing her degree at AU. Having been born in Mansfield and raised in Ashland with a close set of family and friends, the decision wasn’t easy, but McConnell accepted and suddenly found herself in the charming city of Charleston designing and selling seven-figure homes.

The chance to design allowed her to explore a true passion, something she couldn’t pass up, but it came with significant challenges. “(Schumacher is) a semi-custom home builder. We were an Ohio builder coming to build Ohio homes in Charleston, and that didn’t fly,” she explained. “Right off the bat, we needed new plans and they left that up to me to send them floor plans with Southern architecture that would work in our market.”

Never hesitant to meet a challenge head on, McConnell eagerly poured herself into the work. “Literally, I had a whiteboard and I started with a floor plan, but I could redline and change anything I wanted to, which was amazing. I was 20-21 (years old) and designed these multi-million-dollar, waterfront homes from scratch. You just don’t get that opportunity very often,” she said.

Behind McConnell’s efforts and leadership over three years, Schumacher’s first center in South Carolina became a success. The builder became a known commodity and now has three model homes sales centers in The Palmetto State and about a dozen scattered throughout the southeastern United States.

Looking back, McConnell feels incredibly fortunate how her first few postgraduation years played out, but it should be noted her newly-formed persistence had a lot to do with it too. “It was luck that I was able to get that internship. It was luck that I was able to be with a builder who has that type of business model (and) doesn’t just stick with the cookie-cutter model. And, the luck of the opportunity to get to Charleston, which is now where I reside and will forever,” she said.

As her career was thriving, her personal life also perked up. Through mutual friends, she met a graduate student at Clemson University named Josh McConnell, who also grew up in Ashland. The two discovered they had much more in common—beach life, faith and real estate—than just their hometown and were married on Isle of Palms, a barrier island of South Carolina, in 2010.

The couple initially settled near Columbia, S.C. Josh worked in corporate finance, while Jen diversified her experience in new construction, working exclusively for custom home builders from 2010-16. After welcoming their first child, daughter Bennett, they moved back to Charleston where they wanted to raise their family, and shortly thereafter, along came son Bodhi.

As if she didn’t have enough on her plate with two young children, McConnell was in the process of transitioning to general brokerage. With 11 years of new construction experience, it was time to create her own real estate firm – McConnell Real Estate Partners.

The McConnell’s fairy tale story, though, came to a grinding halt. At a doctor’s appointment to find out why five-month-old Bodhi’s lingering cough wouldn’t go away, the pediatrician who had worked at the oncology unit at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) pressed hard on his abdomen and was concerned. A few hours later, their worst fears were realized as an ultrasound confirmed there was a tumor in Bodhi’s belly.

Jen McConnell '06 with her son Bodhi on the AU campus in 2022

The good news was that Bodhi’s diagnosis of neuroblastoma is a treatable and common form of pediatric cancer. On the other hand, the tumor was big enough that it wrapped around the major organs, so surgery to remove it was not an option. He was diagnosed with stage three neuroblastoma, meaning they had up to eight rounds of chemotherapy ahead of them.

As one would expect, McConnell said they experienced some “rough” days, but each treatment was followed by “best-case scenario” updates from the healthcare providers at MUSC, where one of the nation’s leading oncologists for neuroblastoma resides, Dr. Jacqueline Kraveka, who is Bodhi’s oncologist. Bodhi ended up going through four rounds of chemo there and was declared cancer-free by his 10th month birthday. He continues to receive regular checkups to this day.

In addition to the expert doctors at MUSC, McConnell credits her family’s unflinching faith for Bodhi’s successful outcome. “Everything was 100% God. How (Bodhi) had the original diagnosis when the pediatrician just happened to check his abdomen when he was in for a cough and how we kept getting good news after the initial diagnosis. We know that it wasn’t just us,” she said.

“Even with my business, the phones stopped ringing the day Bodhi got the diagnosis and the phones started ringing again the week he went back to school,” she continued. “That is not me, that is God. I had my best year in real estate that year, the year I only worked for six months.”

With life having returned to normal, Josh and Jen became co-owners of McConnell Real Estate Partners. They offer concierge real estate services to buyers, sellers and investors, with properties ranging from multi-family investments to multi-million-dollar homes on some of the most beautiful beaches throughout the Charleston area. Jen is the broker-in-charge, overseeing all the agents while continuing to work with clients as well, and Josh’s expertise lies on the finance and real estate investment side.

The motivation for their business changed, though. It wasn’t simply an opportunity to combine and explore their passions anymore, but a calling. With Bodhi and those nerve-racking five long months of appointments and trips back and forth to MUSC forever etched in their minds, now a portion of every commission their agency makes goes toward pediatric cancer research that is being done by his oncologist. Over the past two years, their brokerage has donated just over $75,000 to pediatric cancer research. As a way to raise additional funding for Dr. Kraveka’s research lab, the McConnell’s also formed a non-profit—the McConnell Foundation. Quite simply, they want to help find cures to fight pediatric cancer, so other families can experience the same miracle they did.

The McConnell Foundation hosted its first event, a black-tie gala in June of this year and raised $44,000 that night. That brings the McConnell’s total donation to pediatric cancer research to about $120,000 in a short two-and-a-half-year span. “We are excited about the momentum we have with the foundation and will continue to donate to pediatric cancer research through the brokerage as well,” she said.

McConnell’s persistence, something she first embraced under Dr. Lewis at AU, has not only led her to an impressive career but down a path to become a budding philanthropist.